A King for the Rebels
The king was a kindly fellow. If you were to survey his subjects, none of them would have been able to answer that the king had ever dealt with them unfairly. He was known across the expanse of his kingdom for his unyielding devotion to his people. He loved them with every ounce of love he had and knew each of them by name. He would send out his servants to check in on those whose residences were days away from his castle. Those in his immediate circumference he visited personally, often stopping in weekly to have a meal or conversation and to inform them of his vision for the kingdom.
This king knew of no gray areas. He was committed to the highest good of his people and any deviancy that came against that was dealt with swift justice. Thievery, adultery, perjury, murder, greed, envy, all manner of hate- the king knew there were those among his people who were prone to such things. And such things could not stand among a people and the same people hope to prosper. The king took no delight in the punishing of such corruption; he spent many nights in his study pacing the floor and sobbing, thinking of the last look on a man’s face who had been put to death. He remembered all of them- every thief who had ruined his neighbor, every adulterer who had left a wife and child hungry for the affections of his mistress.
The occupants of his kingdom were hollow men. They looked very much like humans on the outside. From an outsider’s perspective, they looked a lot like their king- capable of great good and philanthropy. But their hearts were as black as a night in which all the stars had been swallowed up. They proclaimed his goodness in the streets and even told the citizens in neighboring provinces how wonderful their king was. Yet they broke his decrees daily, first in their hearts and then with their hands. No sooner would the king leave from supper than they would begin slandering him, speaking ill of his goodness and plotting against their brothers and sisters.
The citizens were free to come and go from the kingdom. There were no high walls or gates with imposing locks and chains on them. The king did not bend them and warp them or place a greedy hand into the jars of their lives. He simply desired their highest good, provided for them, and let them live their lives. The men and women traveled to many surrounding kingdoms and traded in their marketplaces. All over they were known as the ones who were loved deeply by their king and were the envy of every heart which desired to be loved.
Early one fateful morning, the citizens prepared their caravan for travel to the City of Slavery. Rumors abounded about the City of Slavery. It was a place rife with all manner of pleasure and one could find his weight in coin as well as anything his heart could imagine, at a cost- his allegiance to any other king. The ruler of the City of Slavery was no king at all. He was a frail, cowardly man who slid around the city walls nodding his head at the things he saw. When men found themselves tired of the pleasures they had so fervently sought, the ruler would shrug his shoulders and throw more possessions, more sex at them. The men and women starved because the ruler had provided no means of income or food. His citizens had come looking for treasures the likes of which they had never seen but instead took up the yoke of heartache and death.
This caravan from the king’s land set out with hope in their hearts. The king had never provided such entertainment for them as they had heard about from the City of Slavery. Surely this new city would be more promising than the archaic monarchy they were leaving behind. They would not be back. What they took with them in their packs and strapped to their horses was theirs now and damned be the king if he wanted it back. They were committing an insurrection under the old fool’s nose. When he awoke he would find his pitiful kingdom drained of its star citizens. What then would he be? What good would his rules be then?
The king was wide awake. He knew how badly his people craved what lie ahead in the City of Slavery but he loved them too much to throw them under lock and key so that they would do no harm to themselves. They were free men and free men can make their own choices. He stood silently on his balcony over looking his city and watched as the caravan trotted away. A merry song rose from among them.
Four days later, the caravan pulled into the City of Slavery, met by a jubilee of music and harlots. Women wrapped themselves around the men and whispered in their ears things which they had never imagined. The ruler of the city came out to greet them himself. He put his arm around each of them and lined the pockets of their minds with promises he could not keep. That evening a feast was held in their honor. They took their seats at the table, filled with content at their sexual conquests and looking forward to the trading they would do tomorrow. This new life was going to be grand.
The people of the city gathered in at the great tables that had been assembled in the meeting square. Their faces were gaunt and their stomachs concave from lack of sustenance. Were these the same folk who had just welcomed the caravan? Indeed, they were. They were filled with great joy that someone else had come to die with them.
No food was placed on the table. Plates and goblets remained empty while the ruler seated himself at the head of the longest table and gorged himself on meats and cheeses from the world over. The people looked with dead eyes as he continued to fill himself with the food that should have been theirs. His cracked fingers dropped bones while he smacked his lips in gluttony. When he threw the last bone down, the ruler called for the gates to be shut and locked. Those who had come in the caravan rose from the table, thanking their host but insisting that they must be on their way for their king would surely miss them.
“What king?” The ruler said. “You came here because you knew here you would be king. Damn the king. You are free men.”
For nearly three weeks, the caravan attempted to leave the city but only found guards and threat of death. The hunger in them grew so much that they started begging for the death they had once feared.
The king mounted his horse and set off in search of his lost caravan. After four days, he too arrived at the gates of the City of Slavery. The guards lining the ramparts hid themselves when they saw him approach. “The king is here. He is here for his people,” they told the ruler.
The ruler scoffed. “No king has ever come for his people.”
The king, in all of his audacity, walked to the gate and began to call out the name of every wayward citizen. “My people!” He cried. “My people, your king is here for you.” When the rebels heard this they hid themselves, saying “There is no way this king would want us now. He is too good for us. He will surely put us to death for our treachery.”
The king beat the gates down. Their rotting wood which seemed so impervious to his citizens was no match for his strength. He walked through the city looking for each citizen, speaking their name into ever nook and alleyway. Those who had been in the city for a long while began to follow him. Wicked men who extorted their neighbors, prostitutes, all manner of those who had long lived under subjection of the ruler. He greeted each one with an embrace and welcomed them into his kingdom. Finally, he gathered the members of his caravan and set his eyes towards the crumbling castle where the ruler was hidden in his bed chamber.
The ruler cowered beneath his bed while he listened to the king ransack his house. He heard the clank as the king, clad in his spotless armor, approached the room. He saw the boots of the king as he stood above the bed. He saw the king’s hand reach down and grab him by his hair. He felt every sting and every pain as the king threw him down the stairs into the entryway.
“Your reign here is ended this day”, the king said as he stood over the ruler. “War has come to the city of Slavery. These people who you would have led to their death- these are my people and I am their king.”
The ruler, bloodied and broken, stood to his shaking feet. He waved his skeletal hand, gesturing toward the city, toward the world. “You know the decrees you set forth, O king. These men have spit in your face. They have purposely disobeyed every law you set before them. Can you forgive them all? I think not. They are traitors, they are rebels. The things they have done in my city are too great for even you to forgive. Let them die here, with me.”
Those who had followed the king heard this and gave the king no time to speak. Rumors surged through the crowd. “He is going to leave us here to die! Why would he even come for us? Just to kill us when he takes us back? This man is no king.”
So quickly, the hollow men turned their back on the king yet again. They rallied outside the crumbling castle, calling for him to be brought out. “We would never return with you- you will kill us! You have no power over us!”
The king removed the crown from atop his head and let it fall to the castle floor. “These people are hard people. No love is in them.” He grabbed the ruler by the throat and lifted him high. “But I love them. And as king, I pardon every one of them.” He dropped the ruler to the ground, the wretch gasping for breath.
Moments later the king descended the steps of the castle. The throng of rebels surged around him. Their cracked hands ripped the robes from him. Their dirty fingers pulled the hairs from his face and head. They slapped him. They kicked him. They spat on him. They cursed his name. But he silently walked through their midst, taking each blow and looking at every culprit with love in his teary eyes. At last the king reached the gate which the people had fastened back to keep him in. He stumbled forward covered in blood and threw the rotting gate open with the full force of the strength he had left to muster. He collapsed at its threshold and died.
The citizens rushed the castle. They poured through its doors thinking they would finally take their liberation by force.
The ruler lay on the stone floor, the king’s sword run through his now dead heart. On the table next to him, a small piece of parchment lay scribbled with the words:
“These people are a rebellious people. Indeed, I believe they hate me. But as king I pardon them by my name and take their blood on my own head. Let it stand that I find no fault in them. They will kill me and my death is sufficient. No longer hold their rebellion against them- The King.”
And underneath all of this, the seal of the king was pressed. The great lion that represented his family’s line bore his fearsome teeth. The king’s word was his perfect bond and it would stand forever.