A Tale of Two Princes
In the first castle of the land there lived a prince.
Just as the castle was tall and fair, so was the prince. Just as the
castle had stood, impregnable, all the days of the empire, untouched
too was the prince. All his life he had been protected, nurtured and
preserved for his eventual role as spiritual figurehead of the empire.
His knowledge of etiquette was precise, his bloodline pure and is wedding
feast arranged for the next day.
The wedding feast, ahh, now that is an occasion to remember and a story
to tell! The whole essence of empire focused on that day, when the prince
would wed his bride and become the new emperor. In the capital castle
feasting began a week before the wedding, and on the night before the
finest story-tellers in all the land gathered to entertain the assembled
nobles. The stories continued long into the night as the history of
the land, woven with the lives of its people, was laid out before the
As the candles burned low and the shadows grew longer, a hooded man
stood to speak. He stuck the ground three times with his staff, then
told the story of children who couldn't recognise their mother, a father
looking for his lost children, and a child who taught his parents how
to live. With the last words of his tale still hanging in the air, the
man approached the prince and whispered in his ear. He then left before
anyone could speak.
From the moment the prince heard those whispered words, so the tale
goes, he lost all will to live. He retired to his chambers and the wedding
was postponed indefinitely. The shock of this spread throughout the
empire. In a state akin to mourning people went slowly about their daily
lives. The nobles didn't know what to do, and the prince lay all day
in his bed, hardly breathing and unable to speak even one word.
This state of shock perhaps explains why the young man who arrived at
the castle ended up working in the kitchens. Apparently he showed up
at the town gate one morning and said "prince" to everyone
he met until he was shown to the castle. Then when those guarding the
prince decided that he shouldn't be disturbed and recognised that the
young man wouldn't go away, they took pity on him and told the kitchen
staff to set him to turning the spit in the great hearth.
The young man quickly became a part of kitchen life. It was soon realised
that despite his lack of speech he was a competent cook's help. After
a week or two he was considered indispensable, and if there was a specific
task to be accomplished, it was usually given to him. Once he was recognised
as essential kitchen staff it was considered appropriate that he eat
in the servants' hall.
This opinion changed very quickly. He shocked everyone with his lack
of etiquette. He tried to sit at the wrong table, well above his station.
He picked his teeth with his knife and ate off any platter that took
his fancy. Outraged the steward threw him from the hall.
Most would have forgotten all about him, left him to sit dazed and confused
in the corner mumbling "prince" over and over. A certain serving
girl, however, did not forget him. His social ineptness seemed childlike,
rather than obscene to her. She found him in the kitchen and comforted
him. Over a while she began to teach him to speak, and was surprised
at his ability to copy phrases and manipulate language. At first the
only place he could practice talking to people was in the kitchen, so
while his repertoire of dirty jokes was extensive, he was soon shunned
by the nobles for his common speech (even if they were secretly amused
Shunned as he was by most people, he grew closer to the serving girl
who had taken pity on him. Neither of them being particularly unattractive,
and the cold winter drawing in, events followed a fairly predictable
course, climaxing in a hayloft one evening. This evening was soon followed
by another and it became obvious to the girl that despite his childlike
ignorance of customary taboos, he was no stranger to a woman's body.
In fact she was so impressed that she couldn't resist telling a friend.
What she described must have been interesting because soon her friend
visited the hayloft in secret too. One is unique, two is more, and after
more, many inevitably follows. Soon word got around. Whilst the young
man perhaps became more shunned publicly, it is rumoured that he made
a deep impression in places higher than the hayloft.
Eventually the steward heard of this, and concerned with the moral standing
of his prince's household he summoned the young man. As he stood before
the steward, the steward really looked at him for the first time. He
was surprised to see that the young man stood tall and proud. He stood
comfortably in the presence of the guards, well groomed and radiating
an aura of confidence that was obvious once you forgot the rags he wore.
But, the steward remembered, the young man was here to be disciplined.
He had to be taught to respect the traditions of the empire. With the
prince incapacitated the ritual heart of the land was rotting and this
young man was part of the disease. Despite is undoubted competence at
any task given, his lack of breeding, culture and his dubious history
made him an embarrassment to the court. His charisma seemed to be infectious
too, and that threatened the castle's integrity more than any invading
army ever had.
Out in the courtyard a dog barked three times, scaring a cat that had
been sunning itself by the window. In the stunned silence that followed,
the young man stood forward and began to speak. His words flowed freely
and easily, breaking every convention of court with their directness
and insight. Ironically this was most appropriate, for his address was
a satire of court life, poking fun at its pomp and formality. With each
jest, lewd comment or witty caricature the steward was forced to confront
the associated customary value and either keep hold of it, or concede
the point and laugh. To make the choice between horror and humour. He
sat in a quandary, unsettled, unsure, and unready when the prince walked
in through the door. Every smirk vanished abruptly from the guards'
faces, and the courtiers stood deathly silent.
The prince and the young man stood facing each other. Purest diamond
facing rough uncut coal. "My Brother," spoke the prince, and
suddenly everyone saw it was so. From that moment on the empire itself
began to change.
Before dawn the next day the prince and his new-found brother were seen
riding for the great forest and the hunt. Stories of the pair running
with a wolf pack, wrestling wild boar and even running up a waterfall
soon began to filter back to the castle. The steward hardly listened
to them as he brooded on the young man's criticism of the empire. Two
days after the prince and his brother returned, the steward was seen
riding away with one of the castle's cooks. For a while afterwards the
castle seethed like an anthill on fire with activity. Rules and regulations
vanished like smoke, and people did and said what they really wanted
too. Well almost everyone did. A small group sat in the corner of the
courtyard, dressed for mourning and called upon the prince to act before
it was too late.
The only acting the prince did was with a wandering thespian group,
one of whom he took a particular liking to. But only recently having
been freed from marriage to the empire he soon moved on, and stories
about the brothers' deeds spread throughout the empire.
Affairs continued like this for two glorious years. The harvests were
good and hunting plentiful. People spent most of their time talking
with friends, but still had enough to eat. Barons loved barmaids and
barmaids caught princes. Still the group in the courtyard mourned. Eventually
people stopped feeding them, and they dispersed to their homes in the
It so happened that at the end of this time, the brothers were lying
in a meadow appreciating the cloud formations in the deep blue sky.
As they lay there, the sun warming their faces, the prince started to
talk about how happy his people were. The peasants were free from the
obligation to work, and so tilled their fields as free men. The barons
were freed from the responsibility of overseeing the peasants and could
spend time with their families. Every person was responsible for their
own life. They started to walk and saw that the prince's words were
true in every village they passed through.
Every village that was until one fateful night.. They arrived at twilight
and were immediately surprised at how dark and silent the place was.
Cautiously they walked between the houses towards the market square.
Dead centre of the square stood a tall gallows.
The prince and his brother stood shocked to stillness. A body gently
rotated in the breeze. Hardly daring to breathe the prince looked at
his brother, then the body, then his brother again. The body gently
rotated in the breeze. Underneath the dangling feet a notice proclaimed
"And thus shall be the fate of all traitors to the empire!"
Above the notice was placed a badge displaying crossed flails, the device
of a baron who the prince remembered being the leader of the group in
It is hard to imagine the effect this sight had on the two brothers,
but bear with me a while and try. Imagine the initial shock of the sight.
Imagine the thoughts that grew in their minds as they travelled through
this baron's lands. For the prince it was a brutal confrontation with
the practical command of law and the worship that some would pay it.
He saw that he was not only a symbol of pomp and ceremony, but also
embodied a power that affected the very balance of life and death itself.
His brother was no less deeply moved. He also had the power of law impressed
upon him, and as they saw more of its effects on their journey back
to the castle he decided that the baron and his party must be stopped.
For a while he wondered why no-one in the county had stood up to the
baron. As he saw the depression and fear in the eyes of both peasant
and soldier he began to stop wondering about anything much, it hurt
too much to think and acknowledge the pain. He began to concentrate
on mere survival and reaching the castle. Then he realised why there
had been no uprising. The misery of the system perpetuated itself, driven
by fear. One person couldn't break it on their own, and each failed
attempt reinforced the fear in others.
Once they were secure in the luxury of their castle the brothers conferred.
The empire was split, half lived in freedom, equality and...chaos. The
other half had been organised into a realm of terror by the noble adherents
to the empire. The problem was how to defeat the tyrants without replacing
them with the empire as it was. How to ensure that the misery from the
courtyard couldn't rise to dominate the lives of others again, but not
in doing so to become like them. Not an easy task.
The brothers started work. By combining the prince's status and knowledge
of the law with his brother's experience and skill, they began to create
a new peace. The darkness that held half the empire in misery began
to recede as nobles became used to the new freedom. A feast was introduced
where, after harvest, noble and peasant would swap places for a week.
A hard core from the group in the courtyard opposed the change, but
were bound by the law to obey the prince, and so some learned to change.
The baron of two flails refused absolutely and clung to the old law.
However, when he tried to impose his will on one particular farmer the
prince interceded and ensured that justice was replaced with mercy.
The baron couldn't accept this and when the law that bound his life
was shown to be subservient to a higher ideal he fell apart. As the
morning sun rose one day his feet slowly swung round the points of the
compass and everywhere they pointed harmony reigned. The brothers had
succeeded and the empire was made new.
But what, I hear you ask, did the hooded man say that affected the prince
so? And who was he anyway? Rumour has it that he was none other than
the former emperor. The father of both the prince and his brother. Apparently
faced with the problem of two heirs and the possibility of a split empire
he resolved a daring plan. Hiding the lads from each other he had prepared
the events we have seen unfold in this story. A daring plan indeed depending
much on chance and coincidence, or perhaps, given its eventual success,
depending on a higher force.
Oh, and as for the steward, he is currently well fed and father of five