Until that moment, the prince and never really thought about what would happen to his father after stepping down from the throne. His father often talked about how he would move out at the palace and into a country home, someplace away from the center of the kingdom, along the edges perhaps. Somewhere, thought the prince, like where the hermit lived. And once he moved to such a place, and the crown passed from father to son, prince to king, what title would his father bear? As long as the prince could remember, there never was a turtle who called himself the once-king.
As his mind raced through one hoop then the next, King Toad’s voice broke the stride. “Forgive me, old friend,” he said, “but don’t the turtles honor their elders as the toads themselves do? Do they not stay familiar with more than one generation?”
“But you forget one thing, my young friend,” replied the hermit. “We turtles live many years more than toads, sometimes a hundred times that of a cicada, and to know more than one generation is a rare feat indeed.”
“So rare,” muttered the prince, “that to do so is to bring undue attention to your family.” He nodded to the hermit–no, his grandfather–in understanding. “Almost as if to say that you are better than those who do not know their grandparents.”
“It is an odd stigma,” continued the hermit. “But the royal family of the turtles decided long ago that their reign was attention enough and that there was no need to further tout their status.”
“So once a prince becomes a king, what happens to the once-king turtle?” asked the toad.
“They move to the edge of the kingdom and live out their days as a commoner,” answered the prince.
“Or as a hermit,” smiled the once-king hermit.
“It is very different from us turtles, as you have seen,” said King Toad.
“And vastly different from the cicadas!” agreed the hermit. “Come, my friends, let us hop back to Toad Country once more. Perhaps their king will find a place for us at his table.”
“Perhaps he will,” said the king. “But if it is not a place of honor, he is no king of mine!”
At this the companions laughed and began their trek back toward the pond, away from Royal Tree and its family of cicadas. And just as the tip of that great tree was swallowed by the horizon, the prince thought of all the families he had met over the last few days: the toads and their laughter at table, the cicadas and the song they carry on for their cousins and second cousins. He thought of the queen, and what she had said about a king’s legacy, and there just a few pages behind the grandfather he never knew he had, he decided to revise his plans for a lasting legacy, one that may well reshape the lives of turtles for generations to come.