2 The vendor who aspired to be king
The years pass. I watch over my little hillside, the scenery I have grown so accustomed to. I remember when a slender river used to run by me when I was only a sprout. Its banks invited birds and mice to drink from it. Who in their turn, invited smaller predators to linger around my hill.
My hill, I have come to call it. It is mine just as much it is anyone else's though, trees cannot legally possess anything. My hill, my little kingdom. What a powerful ruler I am, constantly lingering between consciousness and slumber, waiting for the next rain to fall, because the river with her birds and mice since long disappeared, falling victim to the harsh temperatures.
Vaporised. It sounds terrifying yet peaceful when I imagine the water rising higher and higher into the sky, to become a soft white cushion adorning the blue heaven, it doesn't frighten me. The axes of the village I do find frightening. Who would have thought, that I one day would be helpless against a group of lumberjacks? They took the trees surrounding me, even though they couldn't be called trees anymore. Old and barren, without any leaves. I never spoke a word with them, I never heard them cry out when their roots were pulled out to feed the burial fires, hence I never felt empathy for my fellow trees.
If I were to fall under man's axe, they would count as much as three-hundred circles upon my wooden body. But why would they? Against chance and drought, I have stood here, growing leaflets every year. Against nature's laws, I have thrived into a giant wonder of nature. People rest under me when looking over the graves of their loved ones.
Most of the time I shake these irrelevant toughs from my mind, I must be delirious with fatigue and I have no reason to fight against it. So while another shepherd leads his flock past me, I rest my eyes.
"It's time to leave here," the old man whispers to his sheep, who turn their heads, full of understanding, "before we end in this drought."
The hills where I live aren't very high, but still, due to the loose sand, it takes a while to reach me. I must confess I have a sublime view, I can see the whole world, or at least my world, which exists of low, yellow grass and red stones. The trees are thin, barren and leafless but there is a certain beauty in their misshapen bodies when the sun comes up from behind the hills and makes them cast long and slender shadows over the sand.
Then upon a morning, I see a traveller breach the horizon. I greet him, even though I know he won't greet me. As many did before him, he chooses to rest under me, stretching his tired limbs before settling in for a few moments of shut-eye.
I recognise the arching nose and subtle chin, his eyes, however, hide a more savage demeanour. The seed of a rapist lingers in them. I shouldn't be prejudiced, I remind myself, he's only a boy, as young as his mother when I first encountered her. He probably plays with wooden swords and still spies between the bushes when girls bathe.
I have never asked her about the name she would give her child, it seemed trivial at the time. And I would never learn his name, yet I learned more about him than I wished. The young man talks to himself, like all tormented souls. He says he doesn't know. That he doesn't want it, but he has to.
Everything starts from zero, just like his mother before him he dreams of angels. What don't you understand? What don't you want, young handsome boy? Who fooled you into thinking you don't have a choice, the deities of your mother?
"If only I were able to, I might become a scribe, instead of a merchant," the youngster wallows in self-pity, "or an actor, girls like those mysterious types."
'You are lucky to have the opportunity to become a merchant. In the end, some girls might choose the certainty of a man with a steady income above the adventures of love.' He doesn't hear my thoughts on the matter of course, even if he would, he probably wouldn't care much for them. But that doesn't keep me from voicing them.
"I should travel. Get out of here, to the city, become a king myself."
'Young man, you are an idiot," I shake my leafs like a man may shake his head, 'how many have left for the city you think? Dreaming of lands and riches, they now serve kings instead of being one.'
The youngster likes to dream, that much is clear. It comes with the age, I soon realise, dreamers are often young and naive. They should listen to others instead, to wise men with beards as long as their lives and as white as their knowledge. But then again, why believe such a stereotype? I can't consider myself wise, even though I outage these old men by many years.
In my years as a human, I did consider myself wise. A vain characteristic most rulers have. Do you hear that young man? I used to have a kingdom far greater than this hillside.
'There are rules, you know, rules to attain and stay in power,' I say. But the young man prefers ranting over listening.
Even though such knowledge came in handy in order to rule a kingdom, my current kingdom doesn't thrive by the same rules. The insects under my skin are just as essential and dangerous as courtiers, but I can't kick them out whenever I wish. The only delegates from overseas that come to visit me, are birds.
"How much gold would I need to buy myself a palace?"
My... the young man is still talking. Doesn't he realise he has just as much chance to live in a palace as I have at walking again? Perhaps as a servant, but never as the master.
"If I start working now? Would I obtain enough?" He ponders to the sky.
'You think that bird above you knows? Why do you think he could give you advice? Why do you think he cares about your palace?'
The man often leaves and returns, making a habit of resting in the shadow I provide. I don't see the quality of his garments improve, nor see his pockets grow heavy, so I conclude that I was right. The young man took up the occupation of merchant. He never left for the city in hopes of earning himself a palace.
"The vendors next door are rivalling my prices again," the man moans, with just as much self-pity as when he was a youngster with fuzz on his chin.
Once again, the man proves himself to be an idiot. Another example that makes me believe that people are either beautiful or wise. I shouldn't consider myself to be among either of them. Nor the beautiful, or at least not anymore. Nor the wise, as I was never a merchant, so how could I have any knowledge about product pricing.
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"What if we lose the house? Gaia may kill me when she hears of it."
'Gaia? Have you married, young handsome man? Do you have children, I wonder. What did Mia think of it, is she happy? Tell her to visit me once in a while, I miss her cold eyes and warm smile.'
But I never heard from him nor his mother after that visit. Have they moved? Left for that city? Have you earned your palace by now, handsome man? Let me tell you, palaces aren't worth it.
I remember mine, with broad hallways and heavy chandeliers. Men and women packed before my throne, dancing as their cheers filled the rooms and corridors. My daughters enjoyed those parties, more than I ever did. My sons used to show off in the very middle of the festivities, dressed in fine fabrics, prancing as if they were prized bulls on the market.
Do you wish to give your children fine fabrics, handsome man? Exquisite lace and breeches in screaming colours?
You should buy them a harness, to protect them against the daggers of traitors and men with righteous minds. Nothing is as dangerous as a man who acts upon what he understands as 'righteous'. How easily do these people complain about their fate and curse those who really leave an impression on the world.
They come with daggers and tales of revolution, cutting throats and bellies while proclaiming their causes are just!
Give them a home, young handsome man, something I have never been able to call my palace.