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©Wordsmith Crafts 2006

Last updated on 20-nov-06

 

 

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 assembled throng.


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 sometimes).


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 country.


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 the courtyard.


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 beautiful children.

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