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What Is A Hero?

By Punkerslut

Image by NiD
Image: "Wisemen" by NiD

Start Date: Sunday, March 17, 2002
Finish Date: Wednesday, March 20, 2002

     Qortaka floated through the window of the king's chamber. Disturbed at the presence of the guest, the king woke up abruptly "What are you doing here?" the king said.

     "One of your slaves died yesterday," Qortaka, the god of the East, spoke.

     He sat up straight and started rubbing the left side of his head, his head cocked, showing little sign of care. He looked up from scratching. "So?" he said, with eyes that held unanswered questions.

     "She was slave #04013920," Qortaka said.

     "Oh, yes," the king said, straightening himself out and becoming firm, "She was the slave who jumped into the river and drowned."

     "Do you know why?" Qortaka asked.

     "Well," the king began, "From what I gather from the overseers, it appears that the slave didn't want to be alive. That she would prefer death over slavery." The king almost chuckled as he said this.

     "Do you know her name?" Qortaka asked in a straight-forward manner.

     The king shrugged. "Like a king should affiliate himself with the names of his slaves," he said, "It seems rather ridiculous that I would even care to know her name."

     "Her name was Hoodas," Qortaka said. "Have you any idea what it is like to live the life of a slavery, to live the life of property?" Qortaka asked showing a bit more agitation.

     "Of course not," the king replied as-a-matter-of-factly. "I am King Tellarius! I know neither pains nor sorrows nor anguish -- my vizier takes care of most of the kingdom and he does a very good job. I do not busy myself with the organization of the slaves -- that is the job of the overseers. My life can be principally defined as thus: pleasure, leisure, and care-free. Now, when there's a war, it's a bit more fun."

     "When Hoodas killed herself," Qortaka continued, "It was because of the way she was treated. Your overseers, despite how much you boast of them, are brutal and heartless. They know not the ways of kindness or hospitality and even though they may show affection for your loyal crown, it must be in tradition, as these men are like clockwork: trained to do your bidding. If slaves could be clockwork, and if they would follow every command without question, then there would be no need for any overseers. But your slaves do not live lives of luxury and happiness, much the way you provide your overseers with. Everyday to them is another day of toil, every hour another hour of pain, and every minute another minute of dissatisfaction of life. To Hoodas, slave #04013920, the slave who killed herself, it had reached the second where life was worse than non-life; that death served a paradise greater than the hell she already labored in."

     "Yes, yes," the king said anxiously, "What is your point?"

     "Well," Qortaka said, pausing for a brief moment, looking down, contemplating, and then returning to the question only a second later, "She died a hero."

     "Don't make me laugh!" the king said distastefully and almost angered.

     "It's true," Qortaka said nodding, "Philosophers, theologians, and thinkers for all centuries have declared that suicide was an act of cowardice, devoid of all virtue and without any merit. But it is something of courage in this case. Hoodas did not suffer from depression, and she did not have any debt or relationship problems hanging over her head. It was the whip and lash of inhumanity that held her down. Your totalitarian regime crushed her spirit, only so that she would end her life. There was no other option for her, no other choice or decision. She would either suffer the rest of her life and die, or decide to end it all right now. She chose to end the most precious thing to any individual: her life. It is something worth more than all the wealth or pleasure or power. Something that held intrinsic value. And she ended it, because she had the courage and defiance of your cruel slavery to refuse to accept what every slave accepted."

     The king sat there, his eyes rolling briefly upwards, thinking. "Yeah," Tellarius said and nodded, "I suppose slave #04013920 was a hero in those contexts." Qortaka smiled, glad that the king had accepted this definition, but still believing Tellarius to be a scoundrel. "What's your point, though?" the king demanded, "Why did you wake me up in the middle of the night just to tell me this?"

     Qortaka's face dissolved into firmness. "Hoodas died as a hero and a slave. There you sit, in your plush bed, and the biggest worry is whether or not your meal will be warm tomorrow morning. You are not a hero or a slave yet you still manage to make yourself appear to be the most despicable being on earth I have yet to lay my eyes on."

     The king's eyebrow lowered in anger, "Now you listen to me! I am King Tellarius! I don't have to put up with your nonsense or your blasted ignorance!"

     "Speak as much as you wish," Qortaka said, not even looking the king in the face and giving him little attention, "You are a still a coward, and you certainly are no hero."

     The eyes of Tellarius lazied themselves, and he began plucking at his beard as his mind plucked at opportunity. "How would I become a hero?"

     "There are numerous ways," Qortaka said, "But to be a hero, it requires undivided devotion and action."

     "What will you give me for becoming a hero?" the king asked.

     "If you become a hero," Qortaka said, "Then that is reward enough."

     "No reward?" Tellarius said, "Then you should not have woken me up in the first place!" He crawled between the covers and tried to start sleeping again.

     "Well, then," Qortaka lamented almost quietly, "You will one day die, after having accomplished nothing. Your name will be just another name on the wall of kings who were cowards. Blessed by the church and hated by the people. Even the slaves detest your name. Your life, unlike theirs, is not one of toil. It is a life that shall end and you will die without any word or merit to your name."

     All the while Qortaka spoke, the king listened with keen ears. After a moment had past, he lifted the covers and sat on his bed. "Now," he said, "Maybe I would be willing to change..." He paused for a second, thinking, and then said, "Willing to be a hero."

     "I will return in the morning with details to what you must do," Qortaka said, disappearing and leaving the presence of Tellarius. The king slept a sleep of kings, between the comfortable sheets made from materials gathered thousands of miles away. His slaves, their lives short and miserable, slept on the ground outside. The king knew tomorrow brought opportunity, pleasure, and leisure. The slaves knew that tomorrow brought the stinging lash of the whip, the hoarse voice of the overseer, the incalculable cruelty wrought upon their blistering flesh.

     Surely, as it did every morning, the sun arose, brightening the land with its florescent glow. As Tellarius consumed the meal prepared for him by slaves, managed by overseers, he sat in wait, pondering when Qortaka would come. "Sir," a slave came to Tellarius, "There appears to be a phantasm that wishes to see you. May she?"

     When he had finished speaking, both the king and the slave -- for a change of pace -- heard the same noise, as Qortaka glided through the walls. "Although I appreciate your willingness to help deliver my request to your king, it is unnecessary." The slave nodded obediently, almost fearfully, and then fled the presence of the king and the god, his sandals making a rough sliding sound as he departed.

     When the slave was gone, the king spoke. "So," he said bending over closer to the god, "What must I do to become a hero?"

     "I find this peculiar," Qortaka said, "Unlike any other way, you strive to become what your slaves are -- or were -- like. Hoodas portrayed what you have never had: being a hero. The rest of her life was significantly unlike your own."

     "Yes, yes," the king said, "Do not concern me with petty things. Can you answer my question, now?"

     "To be a hero," Qortaka began, "You must do what is uncomfortable. Break the traditional barriers, think as an individual, do not favor friends over justice, reform cruelty, become civilized, remove every iota of barbaric intent from your mind. Nothing too sacred to question and destroy, nothing too custom to evict from your civilization. If you do these things, then you will be a hero."

     The king dipped a pastry of his breakfast into a bowl of hot drink ever so carefully, and then with as much strategy as his generals placed the food in his mouth, evading any stains from his dress. He pulled his finger from his mouth, his tongue ruggedly absorbing every bit of taste from it, and with his eyes lazily gazing on his hand, he let out a sigh of pleasure. "Yes," the king said, turning to the god, "I think I have what it takes to become a hero."

     Looking upon the king with a near disdainful expression, Qortaka said, "Then, I leave you to become a hero. I shall return within a year to see your progress."

     "Cheers, then!" the king said, lifting his wine goblet, his mouth full of food. Upon the god departing the presence of the king, the king laid back for a moment, allowing his food to digest. "Slave #59204505!" he called, as a slave in sandals came running.

     "Yes, master?" the slave asked.

     "Bring to me General Wixtor, General Corlak, and General Vixodar," the king demanded, and then with food dribbling down his chin, "Right away!"

     The generals, clad in metals and awards from top to bottom, arrived in the king's palace, ready to do the bidding of their monarch. They had been seasoned from wars, trained and disciplined at the greatest military schools, and had a yearning for wealth and blood alike. "My liege," asked Wixtor, "To what effort do you call us?"

     "Friends and colleagues," the king said, "I have had the most pleasurable experience to have talked to one of the gods."

     "You have spoken with Christ!?" General Corlak exclaimed.

     "Not quite," the king responded.

     "Rufalaz? Canrook?" General Vixodar asked.

     "I have not," the king responded.

     "Then, my great lord," asked General Wixtor, "Which of the gods have you spoken with?"

     "I have had the chance to speak with Qortaka," the king responded. The generals looked displeased.

     "We do not pray to that vile witch!" General Vixodar exclaimed.

     "She worships nature!" Corlack said, "Not a god like Canrook. She is cunning and decisive yet she yearns to be affectionate with the trees and the ground."

     "Nay," General Wixtor said, "She yearns more than to be affectionate with the things we have no value for. She is affectionate and worships such absurdity as nature!"

     "Calm yourself," the king commanded, "This god, Qortaka, has sent me on a mission of conquest! To conquer the known world and to make the people adore me -- this is what she has sent me to do."

     "Alas," stated Corlack, "Finally, an aspect of Qortaka that I can find appealing!"

     From these small beginnings, these four men plotted a course in history, carving out greatness in their path. King Tellarius was the king of a large province in southern Italy. The kingdom embraced several large cities, as well as numerous small villages where trade was common. There was a respect for the king, but nothing grand or superior. It was the common respect held for royalty. As such, every peasant had respect for his king and was obedient to every law. The king's first military campaign was to raid several villages that were north of his province. These villages had been well known to collect a large market from fishing. The generals asserted that the benefits from attacking and raiding such a village would be two-fold: competition would be eradicated and large amounts of money would be had. King Tellarius, not reluctantly or hesitant in the slightest bit, accepted the proposals of the generals. "So tonight, the weapons of our soldiers shall feast on the corpses of our enemies, and our soldiers shall please themselves with their handmaidens!" announced General Vixodar.

     The day the invasion took place was two weeks after Qortaka and Tellarius had talked. When the soldiers of Tellarius's army were marching towards the fishing villages, they could be seen for miles away. "Alas, look, my brothers!" announced one fisherman to a crowd, "Here comes the army to relinquisheth us! Today is a day not blessed by god!" With that, a panic swept through the first village. Many fled, others stayed and armed themselves. When the army had finally reached the village, and the small village militia had prepared themselves, General Wixtor, who had led the army, had the chance to speak with the village chief. "Why do you come here?" asked the chief.

     Walking about the dirty, muddy ground, almost carelessly in front of the army and the militia, General Wixtor responded, "I have come here to take what is right by might. I have come here to take what god has given us." With that comment, the general drew his dagger -- which was emblazed with the holy crucifix -- and stabbed the chief in the throat. With the first pouring of blood, the first sight of unrestrained brutality, the army launched itself forward, slaughtering the poorly organized militia. Houses were burned, loot was taken, women were raped. The village, which had once been such a great trading and culture center, was destroyed. Bodies were strewn about, the amount slaughtered always increasing.

     When lamenting on the destruction of the first village, the king and the generals were cheerful. "And then I told him that god had destined his land to be ours!" exclaimed Wixtor, to which the king and the other two generals laughed.

     "Indeed," said the king, "I think that god has personally given us the right to their land. If this was not so, why had Christ been so unwilling to aid their militia? It is so that god favors us."

     "In two days, we will raid another village," General Corlak said, pulling out a map and laying it out on the table, "I will be willing to offer my own experience on this one. I will lead the army, if there are no objections, my liege?"

     "None whatsoever!" the king replied, cheerily drinking his wine, "These are our days to be blessed and full of happiness!" And so the invasions would commence and the lives would be lost. It is the state of war that it can be defined as a prolonged conflict where men may openly slaughter each other without restraint, remorse, or regard. It was in this brutal, unfeeling fashion that the generals would come to capture the whole of central Italy. Their soldiers raped, destroyed, and pillaged, leaving no village unturned, no house undestroyed, and no woman undefiled. King Tellarius would sit in his king's chambers, full of pride of himself, full of happiness that he had gained so much wealth. He was arguably one of the richest men in all of the Mediterranean. Accompanying wealth, he was also famous. No name had made souls tremble as that of Tellarius. The minions of this devil -- Wixtor, Corlak, and Vixodar -- were the weeds that brought down the tree of humanity. The king's chambers were fill of laughters and the whole of Italy was full of fear; it was all from the same direct cause. And with longing, the king looked forward to being crowned what he had never been: a hero.

     Six months would come to pass and the king, being already wealthy and rich, looked back on what Qortaka had also demanded from him....

You must do what is uncomfortable. Break the traditional barriers, think as an individual, do not favor friends over justice, reform cruelty, become civilized, remove every iota of barbaric intent from your mind. Nothing too sacred to question and destroy, nothing too custom to evict from your civilization. If you do these things, then you will be a hero.

     It is true that King Tellarius became a famous warlord. He incited fear into the hearts of both his enemies and his own citizens -- because of what he did to his enemies. However, to continue on his conquest of Imperialism shows many obstacles. First, there was a great empire amassed under the King Nivard that lay to the North of Italy and to invade such a nation would possibly prove the downfall of King Tellarius's empire. Second, he had to look at the other things that Qortaka demanded of him to become a hero. He decided that if he could build public works and work on making his people, including his newly conquered people, happy, that he would have fulfilled possibly everything needed to be a hero.

     "I have decided what I want to do now," the king said to his generals, over a goblet of wine.

     "What is that, my liege?" asked General Wixtor.

     "We have conquered the whole of central and southern Italy," the king said, realigning his posture, "We have gathered so much gold and jewels we don't know what do to with it all. Now, we must spread some of that wealth. We must fund public works and make our people respect us!"

     "Ah, yes!" said General Vixodar, "My king, lord, and sovereign, you show an exemplary ability to make ideas that would make us gods to our people!"

     "Praise the king!" announced General Corlak, followed by a chorus of all the generals, "Praise the king!"

     The first of the works was to create a paved road for slaves to travel. "The cost is minimal, the benefit is that they will go faster and know where to go, and the public good is that they will not get sore from running as much," the king reasoned to his generals.

     "I agree," General Vixodar exclaimed, "My slaves have sometimes taken an awfully large amount of time when it comes to bringing or delivering goods. I have even had to lash them for the sake of the fact that they were one or two minutes off. But that showed them to be late!"

     "And the public would see it as something good we did for our slaves," General Wixtor said, "They will think highly of us, having done something good for our property with feelings. We may also employ a number of workers to build these roads."

     "Ah, so then it is settled!" King Tellarius said, raising his wine to a toast, "We shall construct roads for our slaves!" And so the construction of many roads in many villages would be done. The roads given to slaves were cheap and shotty. They were too narrow to drive a cart and horse on but just too wide for insects. Hardly an improvement. Yet the king's effort riled up public support and the citizens of every nation soon loved him. He was an icon of affection, beloved and cherished by many of the citizens. The slaves still held him in hatred, but constant public support swayed them to picture him as an ignorant king, full of love yet unknowing of their troubles. One slave even stated, "You see that King Tellarius? No man has done better for this world than he has, and there is no man full of more compassion!" But such a statement of this slave was not uttered until numerous public works were funded. The king spent money on schools and courthouses. In the schools, it was taught that Tellarius was a valiant warlord, a man loved by the people, a man who loved the people, and absolutely a hero. In the courthouses, those who denied any of these facts were imprisoned or executed for uttering such blasphemy and profaning the name of the holy King.

     While the king made it a crime to slander his name, and while the generals waged war against innocent villagers, Qortaka and her kingdom worked in their domain. Caressing the ornate structure of the leaves, their own sacredness held intact and unperverted by conquest or greed, Qortaka breathed a life into the forests and its animals around her. Very rarely had she concerned herself with civilization. Her place was with wilderness. Qortaka brought with her the rains that soiled the ground and gave the trees life. In her footsteps followed the animal life that flourished and grew. Many rangers and foresters were worshipers of Qortaka. Unlike any other god, these followers spoke -- face to face -- with Qortaka, and they worked in the wild to make it a better place for all. Whether it was discouraging hunters or fishermen, these men and women were devout in their beliefs.

     However, the world of civilization and of nature would clash with the character of Ranger Groven. It was this ranger who happened to insult the work of King Tellarius in public. When taken to court and asked of these allegations, he responded, "I did not profane the name of your king. I spoke the truth when I called him a coward and an ignoramus." The crowd, having been led to believe that their king was a genius and man full of love, gasped in response to these comments. The judge ordered him to death immediately. However, a woman dressed in robes walked into the center of the courtroom.

     "Soldier!" the judge called to his side, "Restrain that woman!" As the soldier place his hand on her shoulder, he pulled away immediately, screaming and cursing, holding his hand in pain.

     "It burns!" he exclaimed, while on the floor. The woman took down her hood, revealing the face of Qortaka.

     "Having heard that you have imprisoned Ranger Groven," exclaimed Qortaka, "I came immediately. Your laws and rulebooks have no place in my domain. To the trees and the birds, to the flowers and the grass, who you condemn or what you rule is irrelevant. It is but dust in the wind. Now, I shall be leaving and taking Ranger Groven with me." The crowd in the courtroom carved a pathway for the god and her follower, fearful of the pain should could render by simple touch. Having safely exited the courtroom, Qortaka turned to the ranger. "What was your crime?" she asked.

     "I had insulted the King Tellarius," responded the Ranger Groven.

     "Ah," Qortaka said with a small smirk, turn away from the ranger, "So the king has instituted a Totalitarian rule where freedom of conscience is not even permitted.." Turning back to him, she said, "Alas, I thank you for your patience and I hope that such an inconvenience does not arise again. I wish you luck in your travels."

     Ranger Groven bowed his head in respect to the god, and then in a fleeting second disappeared into the forest, so camouflaged that he appeared to be as natural as the tree roots. The persona that was Qortaka quickly faded away into the air, her robes dropping to the ground in a heap. Under the cloak of invisibility, she, too, returned to the forest. Although Qortaka had not been keeping a keen, unmoving eye on the developments made by King Tellarius, she did have spirits watching and recording his actions. The day would come when one year had finally passed, when the battles were over, the loot plundered, the public works funded, and the people forced to believe that their king was godly and loving.

     The night, of which a full year had passed since the last time Qortaka and the king spoke, had come.. A spirit informed the king that he would guide the king to go meet the god. "Well," announced the king to his generals, "It has been a wonderful year, full of glory and exploits. However, I must take my leave so that I can see the god Qortaka. I am to be rewarded with the title of hero."

     "Well done, my liege," declared General Corlak, "I hope that you have a splendid time."

     "Indeed," stated General Wixtor, "Praise the king!" And then the three generals said in unison, "Praise the king!" The king departed on horseback, following the spirit. They passed through many backroads, traveling near parallel to the crescent of civilization. Yet the sky was clear and the sun shone boldly so it was not an entirely dreary ride. Upon arriving to the place the spirit had guided the king, the spirit stopped. The king got off his horse and approached the spirit. "Why are we here?" asked the king. As the king spoke, the phantasm disappeared. The king looked around him, seeing that he was in a destroyed village that was the result of his orders to take over the fishing villages nearby. "What tricks are you playing for me today?" asked the king to the empty air, "It is time that you descend from the heavens and proclaim the title that is rightfully mine!"

     A lone cloud in the sky slowly formed into the image that is Qortaka. "Alas, you have come finally!" King Tellarius stated, "Now, am I a hero?"

     Erecting her posture to the right angle, the god asked the king, "Do you think you are a hero?"

     "Yes," the king said, "I have conquered village after village -- we are standing in a village right now that I had conquered! The people in my province adore me to no end."

     "Is that what I said being a hero meant?" asked the god.

     "Well," the king said, facing the ground for a second, and then looking back up again, "Yes, I believe so. You said 'You must do what...'"

     Qortaka interrupted, "...what is uncomfortable. Break the traditional barriers, think as an individual, do not favor friends over justice, reform cruelty, become civilized, remove every iota of barbaric intent from your mind. Nothing too sacred to question and destroy, nothing too custom to evict from your civilization. If you do these things, then you will be a hero."

     "Yes, and I have done those things," the king said, becoming anxious.

     "You have not," Qortaka responded, "What you have done is commit the ultimate acts of cowardice. You waged war for the sole purpose of profiting yourself, you fed lies to your people, you made it a crime to think, and in this midst of brutality, you have already called yourself a hero. Even a humane person would not be so vain to call themselves a hero, and you are neither humane nor heroic."

     The king, enraged by what the god had said of him, picked up a rock from the ground and threw it at Qortaka, her figure disappearing. "Come back!" screamed the king in his fit. "Nobody can say those things about me!" The king threw another rock, and another rock, and another rock... They landed into the nearby sea, into destroyed buildings, into the hills, until he was finally exhausted that he fell to the ground, out of breath. Panting and gasping, he looked up, seeing a small, barely clothed, dirty child. Still blinded by his anger, he looked to the child and shouted, "Who are you? What are you doing here?" It was obvious that the king was not in his right mind, as it would have been more logical for the child to ask such questions of a nobleman. It is also good to note that although the king was popular, his name was more popular than his face. It is true that he hired numerous artists to make paintings of him to distribute throughout the city, but the many artists that painted a realistic image of the king were instantly executed, with much hate and scorn by the generals and the king. The artists who did paint him learned to overestimate his physical character: make broad shoulders, broader chin bones, taller, stronger, among other traits. By the time the painting was done, it would be difficult to see the similarity between the king and the painting and it would take labor by anyone to see the connection. Furthermore, only cities were equipped with such paintings and a drab village like this was left without much of any care by King Tellarius. It is for these reasons that the child did not recognize the king and thought of him as a nobleman.

     Standing up, regaining his stature and his breath, the king demanded again, "Who are you and what are you doing here!?" There the child saw him, naked of any protection as to his real emotions, and there he saw the child, naked of any protection from any elders. Scared of the rage that was exhibited by Tellarius, the child fled. Once the king knew nobody was in sight, he groomed himself. Unsatisfied with how he handled the situation in general, the king went off in search of the little child. He walked in a boastful manner, not necessarily looking to intimidate the child any more, nor to prove himself, but to handle the situation so he was pleased with himself. Traveling through the remnants of a destroyed village, Tellarius passed through ruins and dead bodies, only led by his vanity to instill an image of power and grace onto the suggestible mind of the child. And so he walked through the destroyed village, seeing what may have been the last expressions offered to the world by the slain villagers. He saw, in the still and unmoving eyes of children and women, what his generals had ordered of his soldiers. It is true that the gracious King Tellarius -- if such a title be so fitting -- had whipped and beaten his own slaves, sometimes to no avail. With lash and flog in hand, he had no mercy. No matter what the difference of beaten slave and dead villager, he really saw none. But the screams and cries of the slaves did not render him breathless of emotion. In fact, being the sometimes sadistic man he was, it once gave him a thrill to instill such pain. But those days were decades back, when he was but an innocent prince, high in spirit.

     The bodies were still rotting and the stench was unbelievable. Several times the king had nearly emptied his insides. Even more times, he contemplated leaving the child to his childish things, and being a king, return to his own king-like things. Yet such a vain character, he could not admit to defeat, especially against a child that would give the embarrassment an all the more deep sting. Finally, he came to it: he saw the child sitting among the rubble. He looked into the eyes of the child, his own appearance much more distinguished than the angered nobleman, and the child looked back at him. There was a brief exchange of emotion. The king felt the trembling, cold skin. He felt the unknowing of the child, the fear, the pains, the sorrows, the hardship. The king was so exasperated with the undying odor of the dead and the child that he turned away, showing his back to the child. He clutched his cape to his face, breathing deeply and filtering the smell. Regaining his confidence, he turned back to the child, and walked on, past the child. The little one looked at him with bright, wide eyes, now full of curiosity and wonder. Hearing the sounds of people in the distance, the king went on. Past several bushes, he saw people herding pigs. He saw people with maimed legs and arms, people who had been stricken with grief from the decease of their kin. The king remembered the night his own father passed away. The manner in which he treated his father was significantly different than the way he treated anyone else in his life. There was reverence and respect -- even a tint of affection and kindness, despite the chauvinism of such an era.

     Looking over this collective of people, seeing them bent over in prayer over the dead, he saw himself as he was when he lost his father. He remembered the tears, just as rich in sorrows and pains, just as genuine, as the tears he saw before him. "I don't like this," he lamented to himself quietly. He wanted to ignore what he felt. It was a sickness, a feeling that could not be cured by any medicine. It was not guilt alone -- such an emotion is primitive (although, yet, it is not entirely to be disregarded). Looking back and thinking of how he had acted, he remembered when a slave servant's father died. King Tellarius, then being a young and still innocent and naive king, was close with his slave servants. Some slaves worked the fields yet he heard nothing of their pains or of their toil (such as Hoodas). Other slaves were responsible for building palaces and the such. The only time he would understand their pain and sweat was when he walked on the marble floor of his castles -- and such an understanding is barely deserving of consideration. When this slave servant's father had died, it was at a very elderly age. The king was familiar with both of them, he was cheerful upon seeing them and never whipped or beat them. He was respectful, as well, and never over-worked them. At the first sign of excessive stress or exhaustion, he allowed them to retire. Again, this was in the king's early years. When this slave servant's father died, King Tellarius was deeply moved. He saw the slave weep over his father's dead body, and so did King Tellarius weep, too. Being a king, however, he hid his tears and nobody asked him that day -- neither slave nor general -- as to the origin of the wetness upon his face. He was not at all close with the father of this slave. He was close to the slave however and sometimes treating him as an apprentice. There were times when he would share ale with this slave, whose name was Dinn. When the slave servant's father died, he spent a night in mourning. When the sun arose, the King Tellarius had slaves tending this slave, and by the end of the week, the king had granted Slave Dinn his entire freedom, and also gave him a sizable gift that would make the mouths of noblemen water.

     The penetrating odor of the dead brought King Tellarius back to his present state at observing the torn and destroyed village, the orphans, the maimed men, the grieving sons and daughters. The sights that made the town elders cry, the sights that made any soft-hearted, humane person unavailing in sympathy, these sights stood before the King Tellarius as he fully understood what he had done. He knew that he sent his battalions forward to kill and subdue. He knew that the generals would loot and pillage. He knew that the soldiers would burn and abuse. He did not know this, though. He did not know that even as the wives a men begged his soldiers, they still slaughtered prisoners without mercy. He did not know how his soldiers would leave sons and daughters without any guidance, without any pathway, without any future, but a future of pain and suffering. He did not know that his army would crush the hopes and lives of these people, filling them with misery and unhappiness for the rest of their short, numbered days. He did not know that he would come to find so objectionable what they had done. He did not know this. He was, in a true sense, ignorant.

     Turning away from the sight of the village, the sight which had filled him with sorrows, he went beyond, back to the child he had seen earlier. "Hey," the king nodded to the child, receiving no response. The king examined the child, touched his cheek, saw that he had physical scars to prove what would make a man in any of his war academies. He saw the fright of the child. He saw the trembling flesh. He saw... he saw what he detested and what he had always detested, but was unknowing of. The king left the village on his horse and rushed back to his castle. The sun was already setting.

     "Welcome back, your majesty," greeted General Wixtor, "Did Qortaka grant your the right to be called a hero?"

     "Nay," the king said, "She did not and I know all the reasons why."

     "Pray then," exclaimed General Corlak, "Tell us why."

     "I was not a hero in the sense she desired me to be," the king said, looking down to the floor, looking almost sorrowful, almost shameful, almost thoughtful. He knew -- he thought -- he could not tell the generals what he saw. Yes, he saw the bodies and grieving children, but he saw much more. To inform them of his second observation may lead to the generals excluding the king from anything important. "But, I cannot blame her," he continued, leading on his generals, "Still, I have conquered much land, I have many faithful and loyal citizens, and I am rich. This is no time for sadness, my friends!"

     "Yes!" said General Vixodar, "We should hold a feast for all that you have managed to accomplish in one year: the conquest and the works."

     "I would love to join you," the king said, "Yet from riding all day, I am truly exhausted. I shall retire to my chambers. God bless all of you."

     "Praise the king!" shouted General Vixodar, responded with a chorus of "Praise the king!" from the other generals. Going up the marble, gold-tiled stars of his palace, the king's steps weighed heavy on his heart and mind; they almost acted as a deep panging in his humanity. The night was a fast one, filled with thoughts and memories of times long past. He thought about who he was, who he had been, what he had done, and -- more importantly -- what he will do. He did not get any sleep that night. Transfixed on the thoughts that belabored his mental faculties, he thought. Unlike his previous self, he was no longer ignorant. This was the most important change in his life.

     The morning sun brought glory to him. It felt good, having survived a night deep in thought to be able to see what may have appeared to be the end of one part of the dreadful journey: thought. Having seeing the sun, he immediately went to his plush bed and slept what may have been several years. Waking later in the day, he came down to the dining room of the palace, seeing his generals reporting there. "What shall be today's agenda, my liege?" asked General Corlak.

     After pausing, and then walking past the generals who were kneeling in respect, he said, "I am going back to where I met Qortaka last night. It was at one of the villages that we had attacked." He said this last sentence while drinking a rather powerful wine: the reality of it disgusted him.

     "Of what accord?" asked General Vixodar.

     "Personal business," said the king, "I shall also be taking a troop of soldiers with me. Although I appreciate your loyalty to my cause, I must do this alone." With that said, and almost no word in from the generals, the king was off, taking a contingent of soldiers.

     "To where are we riding?" asked one of the soldiers.

     "We are going to a fishing village that was destroyed by our assault," the king said, "I know the way. Just follow me."

     The soldiers followed the king to the scenes of desecration. It was only seven or eight months earlier that the soldiers had wiped out this village, at the orders of the king and at the direction of General Wixtor. "What are we going to do, my lord?" asked a soldier, as the king and his troops reached the village.

     The king took a surveying glance over the village, seeing the same destruction that had existed only days earlier. "First," the king announced turning his back to the village and facing his soldiers, "First we will gather the bodies and give them all proper burials. Let's get to it!" And so the king labored with his soldiers, burying the bodies of the bodies of the deceased. The soldiers gave little question to his orders, but especially so since he had aided in even the particularly disgusting parts. He would aid in carrying bodies, even when the bodies were so rotten that body parts seemingly slipped off as he carried them. The bodies were lined up, and then they were buried with only three feet between each grave. Crosses were erected at the base of each grave, made with driftwood and debris. Once every body had been given a burial, the village seem less carnage-stricken, the air seemed less tinged with blood, and the area seemed less offensive in general.

     "Sir," asked one of the troops to the king in private, "Why are we doing this? Are we trying to appease the god of above by burying these men?"

     "No, sir," the king responded, "We are trying to appease the people of this village. These militia men who died had children. They had sons and daughters. And when the militia men died, their children wept rivers. We are doing this for the sake of humanity." The soldier felt nothing of the hearty response. With his soldiers, the king camped out over night at the village, as it had already been too dark and too late in the day for them to return back to the palace on time.

     When the dawn came, the village seemed to be an entirely new place. The villagers seemed to have a vitality, a closure to the atrocities that have been wrought in their lives. Together, the army, the king, and the villagers helped to reconstruct the village. Several bands of soldiers were formed and each band of soldiers worked on building a house. One of the bands of soldiers scavenged for nails, wood, and other materials that could be quickly used to build a temporary shelter for the remaining population of this village. It was a hard day of work, full of sweat and blood, tears and anguish. When it was over, the king shook hands with the villagers -- something he thought that they would be weary of, but they were all the more obliging. The king rode back to the palace with his soldiers, some of his troops arguing amongst themselves why they did what they did for the villagers. Some of them felt a sort of affection towards the king, that he had muddied himself in work as they did. Others felt anger, as the king had previously ordered them to destroy the village.

     Upon returning home, the king met with the three generals, who were unknowing of the king's actions. "Greetings, sire!" General Vixodar exclaimed upon seeing his master.

     "Greetings, General Vixodar," the king said, "It has been a rough two days." The king was taking off his coat and scarf while walking as he talked to the generals.

     "Yes, my liege," stated General Wixtor, "We had been worried about you and sent out a scout to make sure you had made it safely."

     "According to our scout," General Corlak said, "It appears that you were burying the dead. Of what purpose did you wish to fulfill? Had you hoped to please our Lord?"

     "I did not," King Tellarius said, as he turned to face the three generals, "I did it because I felt it was humane. What we had done there was inhumane." The king used the word "we" in a specific sense. There were times when he felt of said "what you have done" or "what he has done," but he knew fully well that he was the commander that had ordered the destruction of the village. He may have been ignorant of what he was truly ordering when he ordered such destruction, but he was in full mental abilities when he ordered such an attack. It panged his heart whenever he indicated that he was responsible for what happened. He only tries to grudge through it and ignore it, although it seems to not help in the least. When repairing the villages and burying the dead, he seemed to always look down, not look others in the face or make eye contact, and he tried to do what was right without fully feeling the remorse and sadness that had now overwhelmed him.

     The generals looked puzzled at the king's statement and the usage of the word "inhumane." "What do you mean?" asked the distinguished General Wixtor, "Do you feel that what you did was wrong?"

     "What we did, the things we ordered and allowed, were barbaric," King Tellarius responded, still facing the three generals in a near like-interrogation scene.

     "Are you sure you feel it is the best course of action to help out those villages?" asked the merciless General Corlak.

     "I am absolutely sure," King Tellarius declared, almost proud and indignant of their attacks.

     "If you help them build up, they may launch a counter attack!" the aggressive General Vixodar stated.

     "I highly doubt it," the king said, "If we help these people and aid them in their construction, we only give them an admiration of us, and if not, then it is irrelevant. I can understand the hatred they have for us, considering what we have done to them." The generals looked almost stunned at the king's words. After a few brief moments of silence, the king said, "Now, if you excuse me, gentlemen, I must depart. I am tired and have another village to visit tomorrow. Bless you all." The king left, one general stating "Praise the king!" followed by a chorus, "Praise the king!"

     That night, the king slept in his bed. It did not take very long for him to fall deep into dreams. The past two days had been full of hard work and with little rest. As the stars shone brightly that night, the night air combined with a cool breeze, the mind of King Tellarius left the realm of consciousness with a perfect contentness. The king knew his faults, what had to be done, and that he was working towards that. To him, this was the ultimate knowledge, and nothing could have made the night end more perfectly.

     Upon awaking the next morning, the king examined his hand, finding the fingers balled up into a claw-like disfigurment. Moving his fingers and flexing those muscles caused an amount of discomfort and in some cases even pain. There were several cracks and cuts in his hands, as well. This had been from the work of the village he was at last night. He quickly dressed himself and went to the dining table to have breakfast, where he met his generals. "Praise the king!" announced General Corlak loudly.

     "Praise the king!" announced the generals in a chorus.

     "Good morning to you all," said the king, "Is breakfast ready?"

     "Yes, your majesty," said General Wixtor. A slave servant walked into the room, delivering a tray of food to the king.

     "Thank you," King Tellarius said to the slave, as the slave took a brief pause to examine the king's face and check for sarcasm or some hidden meaning in the thanks. Upon the young Prince Tellarius becoming a king, he had become arrogant and conceited. He never thanked his slaves or servants yet he had done this, and in front of his generals. It was for this reason that the slave examined the king for his thanks. As the slave left, the king began to eat his dish.

     "Sire," asked General Vixodar, as he turned his body to face the king, "If I may... Are you feeling right minded?"

     The king stopped eating and answered, "I am feeling more right minded now than I have ever felt." Then he went to his food again. General Vixodar squinted his eyes at the other two generals, insinuating that perhaps there is indeed something wrong with the king, but they had also felt similarly. Upon finishing his meal, the king left.

     "Well, gentlemen," the king said as he wiped his mouth with his napkin, "I must depart. The troops and I are going to another village today. Good day to all of you." The king then left.

     "Praise the king!" declared one general, followed by an all around "Praise the king!" The king rode off with his troops in the day to another village that was previously ravaged by his own soldiers. Together, with his troops, he carried the bodies of the dead villagers and gave them proper burials. He also helped to construct temporary living structures for the surviving people of the village. As the king toiled and labored with the people of his nation-state, the generals at the palace spoke...

     "Well, what do you think of the king?" asked General Corlak, as he tossed a grape into his mouth.

     "I think there is something wrong with him," said General Wixtor, "He has never acted like this in all the years I've known him."

     General Vixodar grabbed an apple from a basket in the middle of the table and took a bite. With his mouth half full of food, he said, "Yes, there is certainly something wrong with the king, but what could be wrong?"

     "I am not sure," said the General Wixtor, "Possibly it was the tampering of the infidel god Qortaka."

     "What should we do about it?" asked General Corlak.

     "I think the real question is: 'Is there anything we can do about it?'" said General Wixtor.

     "If not, then what should we do?" General Corlak said, as he took a bite out of his apple.

     "I am not sure," said General Vixodar, "Perhaps there is nothing we can do."

     Eating another two grapes, the General Wixtor said, "Nay -- there is always something that we can do. It all depends on how far we are willing to go." And so the three generals drank wine together and listened to bards play music, while the slave servants waited on them hand and foot. It was also at this time that the King Tellarius was erecting homes for the villagers of his nation-state who were left to sleep in the mud.

     The next night, when King Tellarius arrived back at the palace and was greeted by his generals.

     "Hail Tellarius!" announced General Wixtor, as the other generals followed in suit in hailing their king. "How was your trip?" asked the General Wixtor.

     "Greetings, my friends," announced the king, as he walked while taking off his extra layers of clothing, "My trip was fine. I assume you had no problems maintaining the palace while I was gone?"

     "None, your majesty," replied General Vixodar, "If choosing a proper wine be a problem!" The two other generals laughed.

     "If you excuse me," the king said, "I must depart. I am unbelievably tired from tonight's work. I would like one of you to send out a notice to every one of the noblemen from the city to come to the palace. I have a very important speech to deliver."

     "Sire, I would be honored to fulfill such a request," said General Wixtor.

     "I thank you with the deepest sentiments of my heart," replied the king, "And now, I retire to my chambers."

     "Praise the king!" the generals spoke simultaneously. The king waved his hand back to them as he walked up the stairs.

     Coming to his bedroom, he laid on his bed, resting the aching bones and muscles of his body. His mind worked almost as tirelessly as his body. But it did not ache his mind any longer to question the things that he had so longer done. In the past few days, practicing what he learned and what he believed made it easier for his mind to accept and understand what he believed. He got up from his resting place and upon a drawer from his royal desk. Waiting inside was a journal that he had not used since he was a young, flirtatious prince. Flipping through the pages, almost like flipping through the years, he learned more about himself as he was a young man, and even more about himself as he was now. He opened to the next blank page and wrote out his thoughts...

"These last few days have been plaguing me. My mind is full of the thoughts of what I have done to Italy -- of what I have indirectly ordered done to people. At least the physical duress of work and labor has somewhat altered my state of mind. I still think about the things done in the name of wealth and in the action of unrelenting viciousness. I think of the pains and hurt I have caused to the innocent villagers of these small towns. It weighs heavily on my heart when I thing of the deeds done to them. I also think of the pains that I have suffered as a young prince. I mean not to hold less weight to what has happened to any villager. I mean to show the origin of my sympathy.

"As a young prince, I lost my father, the king of our land. I was grief-stricken from it, and never had I felt so bad. I cried that night. Especially for someone of high-ranking royalty, that is something uncommon. Knowing that the suffering I feel is not that much different from the weeping children who cried over the dead bodies of their fathers, I realized that there was something similar in suffering of all persons. There have been popular suggestions that suffering can be of types. That there is grief of lost loved ones, pain from physical assaults, anxiety and worry, but these are only the causes of suffering -- but all suffering is one, indistinct emotion that is universally the same to every creature. Although I have lamented on this thought for almost every waking moment of my days, I find it unendingly touching and intriguing.

"As a member of royalty, I think I developed with a conceitedness. I am not trying to say that I am trying to shake that feeling or that I have already removed it. It is simply that I have had the mindset that what I want I take, without question. And it was the ignorance of others suffering that allowed me to act without caprice, without my heart intervening. In fact, if I wanted something, it was most likely obtained from a vizier or general, and then given to me. Such was the case of the massacre of the villages. I knew not of the villagers or their troubles caused by my zeal for the title of 'hero,' or whatever insignificant quibble. It was this royal feeling that I could do whatever I want that allowed me to act so righteously on behalf of the villagers as I did against them. Had I been a man so deeply concerned about respect or money or fame, I would have so many inhibitions that pleasure would obviously become less important. But, being royalty, also, pleasure and leisure were of utmost importance to me. When I allowed the acts of violence upon the villagers, I held no worries about how others would think of me or what rumors they might spread. It may have made me feel important to have been known as "Tellarius the Ruthless" to some, but I had no significant desire to change my appearance to anyone. It was this same carelessness for opinions that allowed me to act on these feelings of sympathy for my fellow villagers, and I think it was this -- these actions of affection -- that have allowed my thoughts to progress substantially.

"Furthermore, it may be assumed that I am a new person, that I may have been reborn or something to that extent. I am entirely the same person -- I love the same music, I enjoy the same wine (although I have not had the chance to have much of any as of late), I enjoy the same pictures, paintings, poetry, and the same Italian night sky that covers me every night. I am the same person, only less ignorant. I knew the pains of others before; I just failed to recognize all along that those pains were similar to my own.

As I reside in this palace, talking with the generals morning and night, I learn to detest them and their petty values more. They seem to be so unknowing; having slashed the throats of a thousand men, they still fail to understand exactly what it is they are doing. It makes me sick to simply be around them.

"The clock directs that I must leave, as I have an important speech to deliver to the noblemen of the land tomorrow."

The Royal King Tellarius

     The king slept a night of peace and awoke in the morning with the same claw-like hands that he had in previous nights. He dressed himself and then came to the dining hall to have breakfast. "Greetings, your majesty," announced General Corlak as he saw the king come down the stairs.

     "Hello, my friends," King Tellarius said, "Have you delivered the notices as I have asked?"

     "Indeed, my liege," said the General Corlak, "Every nobleman for miles received a notice in good faith and pledged to be here. Some have already arrived."

     "Good, then," said the king, "I thank you for your services and I hope you enjoy the speech."

     "Alas," said the general, "I shall."

     The king sat down to the dining table and began eating his breakfast, as he did every morning. When he finished, the rest of the morning was spent on his balcony, watching the noblemen from the surrounding regions coming in. There were so many noblemen, that it seemed the entire city was split in half between the uncompromisingly poor with the slaves and the unbelievably rich noblemen. They rode in on horses and in wagons, every object in their possession -- slaves, animals, soldiers, clothing -- had been colorful and vibrant. The king, feeling that all the noblemen that were to arrive that day had already arrived, walked out to the crowd and stood on the podium set up for him by the generals. Here, he delivered his most passionate speech...

"Friends and countrymen! I welcome you to my palace, and I thank you for your effort in coming here. To travel such long distances, to show such appreciation, is an indefinite showing of respect. The first order of business is that I am repealing all the laws that make it punishable to insult me. Although I may indeed be a great person of a royal background, and although it is true that mockery of the royalty is rarely accepted anywhere, I find that it cannot be a true concept of what it means to live under the rule of King Tellarius. Further, I will be pardoning all men guilty of this crime, so that they may be freed into the real world and given the rights that they so intrinsically deserve.

"Second, I am forbidding the institution of slavery. I understand how many of your industries and businesses are dependent upon unpaid servants, but this foul practice must end today! It must end now! To enslave a man, depriving him of his right to govern his own destiny and work for his own accomplishments, is to enslave his soul: it is to say that his happiness, his desires, are but fickle and fleeting things -- not even real emotions -- and that they are to be given no regard. This cruel and barbaric creed must be dropped and it will not be tolerated!"

     The king went into great depth on the cruelty of slavery and he apologized for the mass slaughtering of the villages north of his palace. His speech must have run on for at least an hour, but unlike many other speeches where a royal official had thanked themselves endlessly, this speech vividly grabbed the minds of the attending noblemen. Although many found disagreeable his words, and many more want to kill the king for his actions, everyone was guilty of paying undying attention to this demagogue. During his speech, General Wixtor said to General Vixodar, "I think the king has gone mad," to which General Vixodar responded, "This is true."

     Upon finishing his speech, the King Tellarius thanked the audience for their patience and their time. They noblemen departed after much debate and discussion. He then sent orders to the jails to release any prisoners guilty of insulting the royalty and then ordered his troops to emancipate all of the slaves and make clear to the slaveholders that such a practice was no longer tolerable. When the troops had left to fulfill his orders, and the noblemen left to return to their own domains, the king retired to his chambers, feeling that he had done the right thing, feeling that he handled the situation well. He would have lunch in his palace, and then eventually dinner, with his generals. Although they seemed cheerful and becoming on the outside, the king could tell that they were distressed at what he had said.

     "Sir, are you sure that freeing slaves is the best thing to do?" asked the General Corlak.

     Putting down his wine cup, the king responded, "Yes, I think it is." That was the only exchange of conversation at the dinner table that night. The troops returned to the palace shortly after dinner, giving the report that every slave within the city was now a freeman. The king thanked the soldiers for their honorable service to the nation-state.

     When the king had finished with the troops, he left to his chambers. There he looked out into the night sky, examining the stars. He thought about tomorrow and the hardships it would bring. Today, for him, seemed to be a day of ease. The real impact would come when the noblemen repeatedly petitioned and even threatened to revolt. Looking into the night sky on his balcony, fully content with himself, the king looked unendingly, and breathed the night air. He turned around for a bit, but just enough to see his chamber door open.

     "Who's there?" the king asked, squinting his eyes to get a better, more clarified look.

     A figure emerged in a robe, indistinguishable. He pulled a knife from his belt and charged the king. Steadfast, the king grabbed the wrist of the assassin, and fought with him. As they battled for control of the weapon, the king quickly punched the assassin in the stomach, making him double over. As the assassin fell to the ground, so did his knife. The king quickly armed himself with the knife, and as the assassin charged him, the king jutted the knife into the assailant's neck. The robed figure, fell to the ground, his hood dropping -- it was General Vixodar. Shocked by what he had seen, the king moved back from the dead corpse. Just then, the General Wixtor and the General Corlak entered the room and charged the king, both armed with knives. The king stabbed General Corlak in the side, wounding him, but leaving his knife impaled in his gut. General Corlak fell to the ground, but General Wixtor rammed into the king, pushing him back against the balcony railing. They fought over the knife, but the General Wixtor shoved his knee into the stomach of the king. As the king bent over slightly, General Wixtor slit the king's throat. King Tellarius grabbed the blood-shooting wound as he fell over the balcony from the shot. He fell forty stories and died.

     And as the blood stained the marble pavement, as General Wixtor looked to the wounded General Corlak, as the heavens wept, as the garden of humanity wilted, Qortaka spoke with the King. Only a brief exchange of words. "Now, you are a hero," Qortaka said.

     The universe must now wait for the next hero.


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