A Wise Man

“Take him away for his insolence and disrespect!”

Nathaniel woke with a start, the shouts of his liege in his dreams frightened him. Surely, it was all a nightmare. However, the wet, dark stone wall that greeted him when he woke proved Nathaniel’s folly. A chill shook Nathaniel’s spine as he heard the muffled cry of some tortured soul,  echoing from the depths of the stone prison. Nathaniel turned his head quickly to see faint light flickering from sconces down winding corridors. And Nathaniel saw all of this through the heavy bars of his prison.

He was on The Island: where degenerates, the diseased, and political enemies rotted. Nathaniel’s urgency had put him here. Had his liege fallen so far that the urgent need to feed the people and stop costly wars would place Nathaniel, a loyal man for fifteen years, in the deepest prison for the treasonous?

An iron door groaned open beyond Nathaniel’s limited vision. He heard two pairs of feet moving across the slick stone floor. They stopped before coming into view.

“I’ll be fine from here on, guard.”

“Of course, just wrap on the door when you are ready to leave.”

The iron door closed and the only sound that remained was a pair of boots coming to Nathaniel’s prison. Lantern light was swung near the bars as Nathaniel’s visitor came into view. Nathaniel recognized his visitor immediately, it was his friend and fellow member of the court, Michael.

Michael leaned up against the iron bars. “You really put yourself in a situation this time.”

“I don’t remember being brought down here,” Nathaniel replied, still lost in his new reality.

“Well, you had to be knocked out after assaulting the guards who tried apprehend you.” Michael shook his head with a sigh. “You just had to make a bad situation worse.”

Nathaniel’s voice lacked the conviction that probably put him here. “I was trying to do what was right. The people need to be fed. There is enough anger and desperation for open rebellion.”

Michael nodded in agreement. “Which will lead to the death of many peasants to a well-fed, well-armed army.”

“An exhausted army, bewildered at the constant threat of wars against nations that have committed no crimes to our liege.”

Michael stared down his friend. “But you made a terrible mistake. Calling our Lord unsympathetic or ignorant of his subjects does not persuade him to your point of view.” Michael gazed along the length of the bars in front of him. “It leads you here.”

Nathaniel was about to protest, but Michael raised a hand for silence.

“You need not worry, Nathaniel, the people will be fed. Our Lord has heard your concerns.”

“What do you mean?

Michael turned his back to Nathaniel and continued. “After your outburst, I explained to our Lord that you were simply distressed. What you did not understand was that our Lord, in his infinite, divine wisdom, knows that his subjects are hungry and desperate. I also explained that it is his political enemies in other countries that are forcing him to threaten the borders of other sovereign lands.”

Nathaniel eyes widened. “That’s the most ridiculous—“

Michael turned around quickly, gripping the iron bars with his free hand. “I told him that his name would be remembered throughout history as the great leader who reached out to his suffering people during the drought, famine, and war that has gripped the known world. He will be known for his strength and wisdom if he would open the food stores for the army to the populace to help alleviate the hunger of the peasants. He could also reduce the food stores needed by the army by pulling them from the borders and ending the saber rattling. Since all the nations that share our borders are suffering, let our Lord show the compassion that the others lack, let him be an example. God would surely show his blessing on our Lord for this wisdom.”

“But ingratiating his ego will not—”

Michael talked over his imprisoned friend. “He agreed! He agreed to feed his people and end the threats of war! We have won, Nathaniel!”

Nathaniel was stunned and silenced. He was relieved that his desire was met, but the methods.

After a pause, Michael continued, “And he understands your outburst.”

“So, he will give me a pardon?” At this point, Nathaniel felt a loss of self-respect even asking. Just flattering his lord’s pride to get him to act, was not an act of compassion.

Michael’s tone and head dropped. “No, I am sorry.”

“What?”

“Your open rebellion and pardon would weaken our lord’s position within his court. So, you must stay here as the traitor you are.” Michael smiled, Nathaniel would remember this smile. “And as his chief adviser, it was my recommendation.”

Nathaniel dropped to his knees. The pain of the fall was not equal to the betrayal in his heart. His friend made a power grab at a time of national crisis, a power grab that took Nathaniel’s position.

“Our lord is very wise.” Michael’s words pushed the metaphorical dagger deeper into Nathaniel.

“Our lord is a fool that feeds off the feigned love and fear of his court.” Nathaniel spat.

“The fool flatters himself,” Michael said, his smile smoothed his words with poison, “the wise man flatters the fool.”

Nathaniel then heard the last words he would hear from another human being.

“And that assures my survival, where you have failed, Nathaniel, my friend.”

© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.

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