The Walls

Today a man with a ragged hood came to town. He was wearing an orange cloak with big shoes and he was holding two white dice with no numbers in his hand. The roads filled up immediately with idle fellows pretending to have gone out for a walk to stare at the benches of the flea-market, or to visit friends who weren’t even home. The merchants were certain, “it’s the King’s new buffoon” they shouted and sent their wives home. The old maids peaked through their blinds without any desire left, nor oblivion. Just hatred for the funny man, who – despite his mawkish nature – seemed like a way-out. The courtiers smiled sardonically, “the ragged villager” they called him and held their nose up high but from the edge of their eyes they looked at him with a fear they were unfamiliar with. The kids ran after him calling him names that turned the madmen of the town green with envy, yet when he looked right back at them they drowned in silence by the tenderness of his smile. At the port, the fishermen offered him their wine. He stood and looked at them in awe. He did not drink wine but he helped a couple of them to unload their nets. The ones that conversed with him spoke no word of their deliberations.

A patrol ran into him, they violently pushed him away. The chief, formal and implacable asked him who he was and where he was from, why he was wearing a ragged hood, whether he was a beggar, a thief, or a killer, whether he was poor or a criminal. The man, bowing told them slowly: “I am the messenger.” Whose messenger no one ever found out. They threw him into a dungeon until he spoke, with no food, no water. “Maybe he is a spy” the knights observed sharply but the queer appearance of this stranger faltered their words. The King sent his counsel to solve the mystery. “Tell us who you are” he told him “and you will live.” “Tell us who sent you and we will give you food; tell us what you came to find and no one will hurt you again.” The ragged man merely smiled humbly and kept to himself. He only gave out a piece of clay to the counsel and told him: “Give this to your Lord. If he understands, he will come to find me.” The counsel went back with empty hands to the King, gave him the piece of clay and passed on the ragged man’s words. The King – not too wise but not too arrogant – thought about it and came to no conclusion, no understanding. “He is nuts” he mumbled and threw the piece away.

Days later, they asked the man with the ragged hood if he had any last wishes. “I want to see the King” he responded. The King – not too wise but not too vain either – followed the law and came before him. “You asked to see me” he said, “here I am.” The man with the orange cloak bowed. “My Lord” he began, “your town is rich and its people live well. Your merchants are rich, your men tall and your ladies fair. But the Walls of your kingdom are too high.” The King looked at him with pity. “Poor madman, you are daft and you do not understand but the Walls are so high exactly because the town is prosperous.” “My Lord, with bricks and stones and clay you built them up but they will not stand there endlessly. Do you know what’s happening outside of them? Beyond your chryselephantine iron-shut gates, do you know what is happening and what has happened? Kingdoms like this one have perished myriads of times, Walls like yours have been swallowed by the ground, and their gates shattered among the roots of trees. What I am saying my Lord is this: no Wall will stand forever. What stands forever in this world is what never feared. If you want this Kingdom to live eternally, tear down the Walls because I am telling you, the defender is already dead for the world.”

The man with the ragged hood, the big shoes, and the orange cloak was executed the same day. The Kingdom stood proud for years and years, reigned by Kings and Queens. The words of a ragged madman who once held two dice drowned within dynasties of glory and prosperity, until about a century later the famine hit and the kingdom vanished. The houses wrecked and crumbled, the rain took over its streets and turned them into currents. Trees grew where once fountains stood, and a beautiful lake sunk down the Palace. The Walls wore off and filled with cracks, the valley turned into a swamp and swallowed them slowly but steadily. Years later the swamp dried up and the Walls became the shelter of a shepherd who pastured his animals over a buried city, the name of which he had never heard. Neither himself, nor his sons. Everyone who had ever seen this kingdom was dead for years and years. Everyone who had ever heard of its existence had perished, and in the end, the big Walls were nothing but a fence for sheep, in a world for which this Kingdom never existed.

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