October 8: The Liberator
It was night, said Bleddyn. In his palace the king stood alone in front of the rebel.
The latter looked back over his shoulder and saw that the guard had disappeared. He smiled to himself.
'You stand accused,' said the king sternly, 'of killing one of my trusted men. What do you have to say for yourself?'
'He was a tyrant,' answered the culprit calmly. And added intrepidly, 'like you '
The king laughed quietly. 'Have you come to kill me too, hero?' he asked, bemused.
The man rubbed his wrists. 'I found it hard to refuse your invitation.'
'But now that you are here,' his opponent continued mercilessly. 'Now I trust you will kill me?'
He walked over, placed himself in front of his prisoner, looked him in the face, met his glance, and nodded. For a while he trudged up and down the room, unable, it seemed, to make up his mind.
Then he drew his great sword with fearful resolution. The rebel blinked just once.
The king took his sword carefully by the hilt and point and laid it in the confused man's outstretched arms. Then he resumed his wandering.
The liberator weighed it in his hands, stealing glances at the nape of the tyrant's neck. Then he handed it back with a broad smile. The king received it with affected surprise and let it sink back into its sheath.
'It would be easy!' mumbled the prisoner. 'A shout from you, and the guards would rush in and cut me down.
No trial, no execution. Just the king's faithful men protecting him from an armed aggressor.'
The tyrant seemed as if he had already forgotten the matter. 'You say,' he said, 'that you killed the man because he was a tyrant.
But what was his crime? Did he let the peasants starve?'
'No. He provided for them well.
Out of their own money. For a thief he was rather modest.'
'But then '
'You forget,' said the rebel, 'that tyranny, however benevolent, is still tyranny.'
'And now,' said the king, 'the peasants are free. Is that it?'
The other shrugged. 'Until you send your next magistrate. But for him as well a suitable reception has been prepared.'
'And for how long is this to continue?'
'Until the people are free. Truly free. Until they can choose their leaders themselves.'
'What leaders? You?'
'If that is their choice.'
'They may save themselves the effort,' said the king, rummaging for his large seal. Then he said casually: 'You have been found guilty of the murder of the king's trusted officer. You are hereby sentenced to take his place.'
'I don't know what whim this is,' said the rebel angrily. 'But if you send me back as one of your magistrates, my first official act will be to set the peasants free.'
'That was what I expected.' He looked up smiling.
'Freedom!' he spat contemptuously. 'What use is freedom to them?
'My duty!' answered the other quickly.
'To aid my neighbour. To protect the weak from the strong.'
The king shook his head. 'I have bad news for you, my friend. You hate kings, and yet you are a king yourself.
But these peasants. What do you think they will do with their new-found freedom? I will tell you: They will move the dividing line into their neighbour's field. For there will no longer be any power to move it back.'
'I was not speaking of a people without government. I was speaking of a people with a government chosen by themselves.'
'And who do you suppose they will choose? You?
After all you gave them their freedom. And what is freedom to them?
They do not understand it. They think the word means more butter on their bread.
How do you think he became rich, my dear friend? By moving the dividing line.
And can he then make them richer? Yes, for a while.
How? By felling the forests, for what are forests good for? By waging war on the adjoining regions until there's not a straw left standing in all the land.'
'In time the people will learn to choose their leaders.'
'Perhaps. How long are you willing you wait?
A month? A year? A decade?
A century? How much do you think will be left of the world by then?'
'Never the less,' said the rebel, 'the people will be free as they once were.' The king let himself drop into his chair.
'You are right. The people were once free.
Free to eliminate species of animals, poison the water, and darken the sky. And when finally the world thanks to them had returned to primordial chaos the kings returned.
To begin with no more than leaders of wandering hordes in devastated cities, whose only preoccupation was to stay alive. But then one day they looked upon the people and the world they had created, and had pity.
Those were the first kings. The world is not young, but old. And we, you and I, live in what would have been the third millennium according to their calendar.'
'I don't believe you!' said the rebel. The king nodded and waved away his guest as one would an irritating fly.
'Go,' he said. 'Liberate your peasants.
Let them believe they can rule themselves, that they don't need the strong, the noble. Let them tear him to pieces like a pack of dogs flay a fox. You too will feel their teeth, believe me!
Proclaim their rightful and eternal freedom from the roof tops. But don't forget to tell them, my poor unwilling nobleman, do not forget to tell them that the kings always return!'
This text is an extract from the novel "2000".