The horizon glowed orange well after the sun had set. The small group of men, well three men and two boys, made steady progress away from the glow and into the night. One of the boys had his hands bound and he stuttered forward between the others, defeated but defiant. The other boy, who brought the rear walked with his shoulders slumped, despite being one of the captors and having seen his side win the war.
The men had contrasting emotions displayed on their countenances. The one leading their little group had a smile playing on his lips even as his hands toyed around with a flute. He was of slender build and walked with an easy grace in his steps. The other two were hulking brutes who walked on the either side of their prisoner, displaying matching scowls to air their displeasure at their current situation.
The smiling man paid no heed to his colleagues’ emotions as he waded through neck-high wildgrass bushes, charting a path clear from prying eyes. Few hours later the party reached a small clearing and the smiling man gave the signal to make camp. The silent boy was put on food duty and the brutes stood next to their captive, sullen as ever.
The smiling man placed his flute in his waistband and sat hunched before their captive.
‘Supper will be ready in few minutes, Your Highness. I’m afraid it’ll be a frugal fare tonight as well. I hope you have it in your heart to forgive our transgressions.’
The captive glared at him and spat in his general vicinity.
‘I’m sorry, Your Highness. If it was up to me, I’d have untied you a long time ago. But, I’m just a simple soldier following the orders given to him.’
The captive fixed his counterpart with an icy look, ‘If only you had free will, yes? You and your ilk should have thought more about that before siding with the enemy. We fought to free the land from the tyranny of your so-called King. You would have been better served fighting for our cause instead of bowing in servitude to the man who desired nothing but that.’
The man laughed in a soft voice as if they were sharing a private joke, ‘Your Highness, you talk about fighting for a people’s free will, but accuse us for exercising our own free will. Wouldn’t you say that you have contradicted your own statement?’
‘Don’t confuse your cowering to might as an expression of free will. Everyone knows that my father is the rightful heir to the throne and yet you decided to follow his tyrannical younger brother. We would have won if you people had supported our righteous cause. I guess you all are as ungrateful as your king. Now, I have nothing more to say to you. Leave me be.’
‘Your Highness, your father is a just man. I would say I can see flashes of him in you. But your father is also a man devoid of any other emotion other than justice. A people needs more than a just king. Otherwise, they’d perish in the fire of their king’s righteousness. Just like Harbour Town over there.’
He pointed towards the distant orange glow, ‘Your Highness, Harbour Town was a thriving place full of peace-loving citizens until your father’s army descended upon it with their righteous rage. Harbour Town was an important landmark in terms of both business and culture under our tyrannical king. What do you say about that?’
‘Harbour Town was just the beginning of my father’s crusade that will end with your king. Then you can sit back and wonder how the mighty have fallen. I see you carry a flute around. Maybe you can sing paeans about that when the day arrives.’
‘Everybody falls, Your Highness. Only, when the mighty fall they make more noise and the sight is truly spectacular. Do you feel righteous for even one instant when you think about the thousands of innocent men, women and children who have lost their lives as a result of your crusade? Did you feel that justice was served when places of study and worship were torn down? Were you overcome with delight when thousands of homes were kissed by the tendrils of your virtuous flames?’
The young prince did not reply.
‘You speak about liberating us, Your Highness. What would have happened if your father had won the war instead? We would have a new king that’s all. Do you call this liberation of a people?’
‘Then what is true liberation?’
The man removed his flute and took it close to his lips. He sighed and lowered the instrument, ‘True liberation is living in a country where I’d be allowed to play my flute whenever and wherever I please.’
‘My father would have ensured such an environment.’
‘Your Highness, If I had true liberty, I wouldn’t need a king to give me an environment to exercise my skills. Young boys will not be dying in the battle fields for others’ righteous causes. Young girls will not be carried away to satiate the pleasures of those fighting others’ wars. Children will not be rounded up and executed just to ensure that they don’t grow up and take up arms. Instead, they’ll be allowed to live, explore new things in life, follow their passions and fall in love. Do you see the boy toiling over the fire, trying to whip up something for you? Have you seen his eyes? I’m sure you haven’t. I have and I was saddened with what I saw in them.’
‘He has fought a war and survived, flautist. He should rejoice, not despair. Or maybe, he’s just a whimpering coward who has no appetite for war.’
‘He is a lot braver than you, Your Highness!’
‘How dare you! I felled scores of men, much bigger than me, on the battlefield. I’m pretty sure you’d have heard of my prowess. How many did turnip boy here kill?’
The flautist’s eyes took a sudden hard glint that made the prince flinch, ‘Your Highness, how old were you when you first swung a sword? Three? Four? You were born a prince and you were trained to be one. Turnip boy, as you graciously dubbed him, never touched a sword until few moons back. He was a farmer’s boy and he was trained to be a farmer. Like how I was trained to be a musician. You kings and princes, you are the reason that we are far away from home killing people to stay alive instead of growing crops or singing songs.’
‘That is just the way of our lives, flautist. War doesn’t discriminate. War is just.’
‘War is unnecessary! Why do you kings feel the need to let others kill and die to prove your might? Why didn’t your father fight his brother himself?’
‘The war is for the people, whether you accept to believe it or not, flautist. War gives people to fight for their right, a definitive way to determine how their lives are going to be governed.’
‘We keep talking in circles, Your Highness. I feel that war is not required and so are kings.’
‘Flautist, you talk about an ideal situation. The world is not ideal. It is not filled with idealistic creatures. It is filled with people. Human beings are the only creatures in this world that prey upon its own kind. Human beings are governed by lust, hate and avarice. They need to be brought in line by a ruler who is strong enough to rein in their innate cruelties. Otherwise, the world will descend into uncontrollable chaos.’
‘Who are you to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, Your Highness? How can one man decide how others should act?’
The Prince looked at the flautist with a mixture of contempt and pity, ‘A ruler who values the justice he disburses will take the people out from consideration. A crime shall then be treated as a crime and a thief will be tried as a thief. That’s the only way to impart justice – impartial, resolute and devoid of emotion. My father would have made such a King.’
‘You have not understood my question, Your Highness. What gives the right to a King, any King to act as the custodian of justice of a people?’
‘So, you would do away with us Kings and Princes if you got your way. But, tell me this flautist, what would you replace monarchy with? Any attempt to bring order to beings who are chaotic by nature like us will need some rules and methods to implement them. Know this, there are only two types of people in the world – the controllers, and the controlled.’
‘Yes. The controllers, and the controlled. The controllers may use different ways to control the controlled. A King uses his might and goodwill to control his subjects, while a mother uses love to control her children. Make no mistakes, flautist, everyone in this world is either a controller or being controlled by one. You may cry foul and say that the rules are bent in favour of the mighty, but that just shows what you are.’
The flautist sat in silent contemplation. Turnip boy served their miserable looking dinner in mute silence and slinked away into the darkness. The Prince started eating with great relish. It was as if his discussion with the flautist had rekindled his hunger. Within minutes he had emptied his plate and even snatched a little piece of bread from his counterpart’s plate, while fixing him with a smile.
‘Lost your appetite, flautist? We do have at least four days of walking ahead of us before you deliver me to your King. You need to keep your strength, else Turnip boy would be serving chunks of you for supper after a couple of days.’
‘Pardon me for my insolence, Your Highness. But is this the fate of the common man? Be controlled by one controller after another? According to your theory, if I have to escape being controlled then I should become one of you – a controller. What you say doesn’t give me great reasons to live, let alone eat.’
‘Flautist, do you pray? Why do you pray? Even without knowing why or how, you have accepted that God controls you. You might come out and say that you are an atheist and you denounce God, but then you do accept the fact that you, as a single human, are quite insignificant in this huge world which in itself is at the mercy of a greater power. We are made to control and be controlled. Where you stand on the totem pole determines just the number you control. Why do you think Kings and Princes command or in most cases demand respect? It’s our wage for accepting the thankless job of controlling the people under our rule. There’s no reason to be disappointed or disillusioned. Do you think that a thousand years after this moment that humans will break free of being controlled?’
The flautist remained silent.
‘No!’ The Prince continued, ‘There may or may not be Kings, that I cannot say for sure but one thing I can say with certainty is that there will be controllers and the ones they control. We may end up playing different roles, but the story remains the same. Now, eat. I need to rest and preserve my energy for the arduous trip ahead of us.’
He lay down on the hard ground and closed his eyes. The flautist started eating, his mind reverberating with the weight of the Prince’s words. He knew for certain that his King would execute his own nephew in full view of the capital’s populace. What the Prince said was true. His execution would be another weapon in the King’s arsenal to tighten his control over the Kingdom. The Prince’s father was a hard man. The Prince was haughty, but he also had a fine read on the people. He deserved a chance to live afterall. The flautist emptied his plate, unsheathed his sword and crept in silence towards his companions.
Written for #Writephoto hosted by Sue Vincent.