*This story is not a metaphor. You will be doing yourself a favor to just read it as a dumb story.
There once lived a king who ruled a fair land.
It could be said that while he was not the greatest of kings, he quite aptly represented his people.
For he wasn’t particularly strong, and bore the physique of a sedentary ape who’d indulged in a life’s work of honey and cheese. Nor was he quite clever, and more often appeared to be devoid of any common sense. He was perpetually selfish, regularly petty, and rarely kind, thoughtful, or just. But also, like his people, he responded swiftly to unfavorable circumstances, and generally did so with resounding proclamations.
Indeed, when a bulbous, barrel of a man could not be pulled free from a stockade, the king proclaimed:
“Release him with the grease of a goose. I will show the people my mercy while not sparing this miscreant deserved humiliation.” The people thought and nodded.
And when there was a grain famine in the land, the king decreed:
“When there is no food, we must not feast on one another. But bring me the belly of a swine and we will feast together.” Then nothing happened, except a few journeyed off to find swine.
And when a plague struck his people one cold winter, he dictated a message from his warm bed to be distributed throughout the land.
“Courage, courage. I have called on Providence to awaken your fledgling bones that you may skip into glory like a virgin calf. Take heart and eschew the wicked vermin from your abode!” The people listened and coughed and a few fell over.
And so it went, for many years. Problems arose, the king spoke, and the people remained generally satisfactory.
For from the West, a menacing and fearsome clan had traversed through the mountainous terrain and into the kingdom’s outer villages.
Townspeople were tossed aside. Their homes were ransacked and burned. Most of them fled to escape the devilish brood of barbarians.
News traveled quickly to the king, who was presently bathing while imbibing a flagon of fine wine.
“Your Majesty! The kingdom is under attack. Barbarians have come and attacked us from the West.”
The king shot up, spilling his drink upon his beard as bundles of bubbles flew into the air and burst around him.
He lifted his finger and cleared his throat.
“Hear this! A tree has no power without its roots, while a thorn shall not sting with no flower.”
Tell my people. ‘Dig. Dig deep. Dig deeper, as though your very trenches may birth a soul. Find the snake and eat it. When the ogre vomits, harm it with a fiery lance upon a dirty mule!'”
The king’s men slowly nodded and hurried from the room. They ascended their horses and disbursed throughout the kingdom, bringing the king’s message to all the towns.
“Hear ye, hear ye!” cried one of the king’s men in Millerton. “The kingdom is under attack. But be not alarmed, for the king has sent his people a message. He implores you to ‘Dig deep. Nay, dig deeper. As though your very, uh, trenches may birth a soul.'”
At first the people gasped, then they looked at each other in bewilderment.
“And furthermore,” the king’s man bellowed, “‘Find the snake and beat it. I mean, eat it. And…when the ogre vomits, you must harm it with fiery pants upon…uh…30 mules!”
Some people panicked and ran to their homes. Others scrambled to begin gathering supplies. Most stared at one another, rubbing their chins and counting their fingers.
“Go, all of you! Do as your king instructs.”
Likewise, the rest of the king’s men delivered messages in other villages, determined to galvanize the people and accurately dictate the king’s stirring oration. Likewise, the people panicked, scrambled and stared.
Meanwhile, the clan was moving quickly through the western region, primed to pillage whatever town lie ahead.
Townspeople, knowing they were no match for the barbarians, abandoned their villages and retreated toward the country’s epicenter and home of the royals.
The mob was a motley assortment of peasants, plebeians, and soldiers in the king’s service. Strange sights and noises accompanied the group. Some were holding objects that seemed to have no place at such a gathering, while others rode upon odd beasts typically not purposed war.
Suddenly, a clamor rose among the people. Rumblings turned to shouts. Someone was coming.
From the north of the square ran a long, bright green hill that steadily ascended to the castle. Down the one road coming from the castle rode a phalanx of horses and men, carrying the colors and flags of the old and honored Sir Wesley. Behind them rode a stout man in heavy velvet robes with a shimmering golden crown upon his head. There was no doubt. It was the king.
As the riders and their king descended upon the square, all marveled and subsequently genuflected as he passed by. Within moments the liege and his subjects were in the center square, and came to an impressively synchronized halt. The dust cloud slowly lifted to shine the sun upon the men and their king.
The clamor had rapidly dissipated, and a quiet stillness set in. As all stood and stared, with the king peering out upon his people, a dull, thumping murmur seemed to whisper through the air. Slowly, very slowly, it rose to more of a clapping, and the ground seemed to tremor. All bodies and heads turned to the West, and one could fairly descry a thin, dark line of motion upon the horizon. There was no denying it. The barbarians were approaching.
The king raised his head and surveyed the people surrounding him. He observed a diverse mob of civilians, a group that was as odd as it was interesting. Were his people prepared for battle?
This wasn’t unprecedented. In the past, the king had moments where he had attempted to galvanize his people. And sometimes his orations were taken quite literally, and other times quite seriously, and other times they weren’t quite taken at all.
The king stroked his beard and pondered. Had the people received his message? Had it mattered?
“What say you my people?” the king shouted. “Are you prepared to encounter this filthy Western brood?”
“We are ready, your Majesty!” exclaimed a burly commoner, brandishing a very large shovel. “We have been digging deep, deep holes for hours.”
“As have we, your Majesty!” proclaimed a thinner man, caked in dirt. “We dug until my fair lady bore our seventh offspring this morning in the trench. A new soul for the kingdom!”
“Hurrah, hurrah!” the people shouted. The energy seemed to build, and now more people were grinning and speaking than before.
“Yes, your majesty! We are ready!” another proclaimed. “Though it took time, we have found the snake. ‘Twas the most ill of vipers in this land. On the way here, we beat it!” And he lifted the dead snake into the air.
“‘Scuse me goo sir,” remarked another man, who was hard to understand, because he appeared to be chewing on a snake. “Why d’ya beat it? We were to bind it and eat it.”
“What say you, my fair fellows of Galen?” asked another. “Why did you disturb the snake at all? Our instruction was to mind the snake and treat it. So we considered our village snake and blessed it with a plump rat.”
At this many mutterings erupted from the crowd. Some laughed, some cried, some continued to chew on their dead snakes.
Despite the many rumblings, the king remained calm and undeterred. But the barbarians were near. The pounding horse hooves produced a thunder coming down toward the square. The king drew his sword. “Behold, the ogre!”
The people gasped. Battle was upon them. “What shall we do?” many cried. But there was no time to think. Barbarians were now entering the square. All they could do was act on the king’s words.
The king’s soldiers withdrew their red lances and charged. While doing so, men all around the square hastily removed their trousers and set them ablaze. Ascending their dirty mules, they lurched forward.
For they had seen the ogre, and would harm it with fiery pants.
A cacophonous clash of metal now rang throughout the town’s center. Screams and roars echoed all around. The surrounding air thickened with smoke and the stench of burning hemp and wool.
Then above the cacophony ascended a different, melodious sound. Many curious citizens and barbarians alike raised their heads to observe a queer yet harmonious procession. For a group of men eloquently pranced into the fray, playing sweet tunes for all to hear.
For they had seen the ogre, and would charm it with lyre and dance.
From here, nothing very good happened. Grubby villagers, fatigued from hours of digging, couldn’t lift a shovel, much less a hand to attack the enemy. Men everywhere frothed and keeled over with half-eaten snakes in hand. Incinerated trousers were trampled upon while their owners shivered and shook their cold, bony legs. Lyres and dancers alike were indiscriminately and promptly obliterated.
The foreign clan was rapidly overtaking the town. The spirited battle cries had now mostly been replaced by moans and mule brays. There was no mistaking that circumstances looked dire for the kingdom.
But, there was the king. His presence among the multitude was undeniable, and those left standing found it remarkable he was not dead. Unflinching and unrelenting, the king moved around on his weary steed, swinging his sword and bellowing spirited utterances at every barbarian he encountered.
“Behold my brandished blade! May you taste its silver and plunge into a pool of your own crimson!”
“See the door of death! Knock, enter, and be greeted with a guillotine of profound terror!”
“Meet your end, worm! ‘Tis time to writhe in your lonely abyss ad finitum!”
The opponent, though filled with bloodthirsty wrath, would generally pause at whatever remark the king spewed. For these clansmen from the West knew nothing of monarchy and had never witnessed such valor or unabashed boasting from a general of men.
And the pause was enough, a momentary lapse of concentration that allowed the king to meet his mark upon each and every unenviable swing. The enemy fell one by one.
The king’s people noticed this sudden and unexpected success. So inspired by this newfound, naive confidence, they too purposed forward, with pomp and unmitigated braggadocio. Some upon horses, some upon mules, they lunged at their adversary with swords and tongues.
“Rabid ghoul!” one man spewed. “Inspect your soul, make peace, and bid your beating heart adieu!” And he thrust his sword into a bewildered barbarian.
“Inhale the toxic cypress, ripe and ready to plunge you into the world of nether!” said another, as he walloped his foe.
Still another provoked his challenger. “See my sickle, fiend! See it and greet it. Usher it into your abode, fluff its pillow and serve it a lukewarm tea. Then, insist it stay the evening and be ensured that-” and was unfortunately cut short by an emphatic body blow. Indeed, elongated addresses proved inadvisable.
But for the most part, men eloquently recited their threats and subsequently pummeled the enemy, to the shock of the citizen and foreigner alike. Each fallen barbarian inspired confidence in the king’s people, while the confidence of the foreign clan waned. Rebel yells were quieted with pithy declarations. Thundering horse whinnies were replaced by mild mule brays. Even the pluck of the lyre returned.
In minutes, it was over. The distressed, decimated clan hurriedly retreated from the town. The kingdom roared in victory, clanging shovels and throwing snakes into the air. Amidst it all, someone shouted “Long live the king!” Others repeated it, and then looked around. Where was the king?
As the town quieted, what was noticeable was the many remaining clansman retreating up the hill to the West. As they did so, a lone figure chased them upon a horse. Yes, valiant to the end, it was the king purging the enemy from his land. He held his sword high and rode semi-swiftly behind his foe. Though it was hard to tell from the vantage point of the square, he seemed to be barking still, only more vigorously than what was his custom.
Then suddenly, the king and his horse disappeared into the earth. For what he had not foreseen was a vast, gaping trench, freshly dug by undoubtedly a great number of his people. A collective gasp arose from the townspeople, who wasted no time rushing out of the town and up the hill to the scene of the catastrophe.
When they arrived, they looked into the trench, fearing the worst. The hole was deep and dark, so much so that they saw no king, or horse, or bottom.
“Your Majesty, your majesty! Tell us, are you alive?” shouted one of the king’s men.
At first there was no sound, but then a light rustling started. Then there was a deep moan, which could’ve been the horse. And then more silence, enough to deflate the men’s hopes.
“Aye!” came a cry from below. Men crowded around the trench at the sudden, welcome response of their king.
“Aye!” he bellowed again. “Though my bones be a mangled wasteland, though my blood hast breached the dam of my flesh, though all feeling hast retreated my corpus like those filthy savages from this fair land, I say to you, ‘Aye,’ I retain the vitality of a juvenile vulpine! So bring forth the vestiges of yore. Find the elaborate garb and drape it upon the most pristine of willow trees. Gather in gaiety, take your finest fool, and wade together in the sweetest of stews!”
Then some cheered, some scratched their heads, and others shared strong opinions regarding the finest region for willow trees.
But they all lived happily ever after.