Monday, September 1, 2014
And Ye Shall Likewise
In days past and in lands forgotten - certainly far before either you or I were born - there in that far-away land stood a great kingdom. And that kingdom was ruled, of course, by the King, a man of great honor and of great love for his people. This King was a wise monarch, who dealt with his subjects fairly; and so there was peace in the land, prosperity in the markets, and the people there felt safe to leave their doors unlocked at night.
While the castle slept, the King would disguise himself as a pauper and sneak through passages unknown to his guards to the town beyond the castle walls. He would take with him a wallet of gold coins out of his treasury, and so equipped he would wander the streets of his capital looking for those in need so that, in secret, he might give them comfort. Orphans, widows, beggars; he would visit each in turn, under cover of night, and when he left they would discover the King's gift.
And it happened one night, as the King was about this business, that his attendants in court learned of their King's absence. They learned that the King had left the castle, and left it empty, and that now it was theirs. They learned that the King was outside of its walls and unable to stop them, unable to enforce his reign. They learned that they could do whatever they wanted.
Now they could be kings and queens.
When the King returned that night, in his pauper's clothes with the empty wallet of coins, he found the door of his secret passage barred and locked and a guard set over it. Upon seeing him, the soldiers turned their spears upon him.
"It is I!" the King exclaimed, "It is I, the King, returning to my castle. I order you, let me pass."
And the guards knew he was the King, their King, dressed as a pauper and penniless; they would recognize his voice anywhere. And so they laughed. Now they mocked him. "The Great King!" they joined in laughter. "The Great King wandering the streets in rags!" And they kept their spears armed, and made as though to kill the monarch, and so he left them and went to the front gate of his castle.
There, the King saw that his castle was burning.
Whole wings of it were engulfed in flame. The glow of the fire lit the town all around and cast long shadows from the buildings; and above all the roaring fire and crashing of stones, the King could hear, distinctly, the screams of his family inside and the uproarious laughter of the men and women who sat in his court. The King stood outside of his burning home and listened as his wife screamed helplessly, as his children called for their father, as the people who had been his friends and trusted companions cackled inside the flames that devoured all the King had loved.
Atop the parapets of the castle wall, a troop of guards was cracking open barrels of the King's wine and drinking it to his death. They shouted loudly "Down with the tyrant!" and filled their goblets and drained them in a gulp. They were quite drunk, and quite merry, and really quite enjoying themselves.
"Ye guards!" shouted the King. "I command you, open the gates and let me enter; it is I, the King."
As they came to the window to look, and saw there the stately ruler dressed in tattered clothes and begging to them, they too mocked him. From their position they spat at him, and flung wine upon him.
"We don't want a King like you!" they shouted in response. "We are the kings now, and my King lets me drink all the wine I wish!" And here they cheered, and spat more upon the monarch, and returned to carousal.
Yet the King persisted. "It is I, your King. The castle is aflame; open the gates and flee, or ye will perish in the fire."
And this speech angered the guards. It infuriated them to hear about fires and danger. "He threatens us with fire!!" one yelled, indignant. It so incensed them that they picked up their bows and shot at their Lord. But their arrows missed their mark, and so the King moved on.
Further along the wall of his burning castle, the King found the body of his wife the Queen hanged from a tower. Around her, those from court he had most loved and trusted shouted insults at her corpse.
"The Queen of Filth!" they said.
"The Harlot of the City!" screamed others.
"Hanged for sausage like the sow she is," still others jeered to her lifeless body.
The King was outside the castle wall, and saw his wife's body and heard the shouts of the people below the tower; he recognized each voice, the sounds of which only hours prior had been full of respect and admiration of the noble monarch. Voices educated in his court, taught by his scholars to speak with the utmost eloquence and dignity. And it broke his heart, to hear them put to their current use.
"Stop this!" he shouted. "Stop this madness! The castle is burning, and ye will all surely perish. Leave! Flee!" he pleaded, "Flee this castle and stop this barbarous insanity! Take down the Queen and flee this castle at once, or the flames will engulf you."
The friends of the King heard his voice, and knew it for whose it was, and now they took up the new cry "Down with the tyrant!" Picking up stones from the courtyard they threw them over the wall to strike their Lord. The air was filled with the sound of their scorn and derision at the King, and the sound of their enjoyment and pleasure as they humiliated their Queen.
The King moved on from them.
All the more the fires of the castle were raging; the walls were caved in in places and the foundations of the castle crumbling. Finding such a gap in the wall the King entered his ruined home, walked in to the flames of it, and looked around. All about him was mockery of him and hatred. All about was destruction, and murder, and violence. It was ruined, it was wasted, it was made terrible.
And over the wild laughter of the rebels, over the screams of his children, over the jeers and taunts shouted at his murdered wife, over the roar of the fires that even now were destroying the castle and all therein, over all this sound, the King stood in the midst and proclaimed above it all "I will yet save them."
He grabbed one he knew to be a stablehand, who was now engaged in kicking the King's hunting dogs while repeating "Death to the tyrant!" He grabbed on to the boy, and he held on to him, and he dragged the stablehand - kicking and screaming - outside the castle wall, threw him outside its fires, and having so rescued the boy, the King returned into the chaos to rescue more.
Th King grabbed another who was throwing stones at the hanged body of his wife; this one the King knew to be a duchess. He grabbed hold of her, and she screamed at him to leave and to die and to be deposed, yet he dragged her out and brought her to safety.
The King went back and looked through his castle, finding some drinking his wine, others abusing his horses, some pouring oil on the fires of the castle, and found some doing unspeakable things to his sons and daughters; and yet the King grabbed hold of them all the same. And he dragged them all out of the madness, out of the fires, out of the castle, and he set them down.
And standing outside, tired, hungry, heartbroken, the King turned to see the flaming wreck of his home, and he heard inside, even now, the laughter of the madmen within. He heard their brawling, their cursing, their destruction.
"Come out!" he called. "Leave the castle walls! I your King beseech you, stop this and come out before ye all perish in the fires!"
One voice answered above the roaring flames. From a tall tower, the last standing, the voice of a young page shouted to address his Lord.
"You're not our King!" the page said. "We will never accept you as King! After all the terrors you have caused? What King lets his castle burn to the ground by traitors? What King allows all the murders, the rapes, the thefts, that have taken place within your castle's walls? Do you know, O Lordly Lord, what the innocent people herein have suffered? Do you know what I have been through inside this burning fortress? Do you even care? While I was trying to pilfer your wardrobe of its finest silks, another page broke in to your room and broke my arm; he took the brocade for himself and left me with nothing but velvet. I called out to you, O King, I begged you to avenge me, and you never answered me. So I say, you are no King of ours!"
Other voices from the flaming tower joined the page's, all shouting in accord. "No King of ours!" they chanted in chorus.
And so the King turned away from his crumbling castle. And all of those within perished.