Long Forgotten Plans
Five years passed. I had finally managed to convince people that slavery was wrong. We were now squabbling over a justice system and what appropriate punishments were for certain crimes. The king seemed to think that all crime warranted the most severe of punishments, but I disagreed. I simply wanted to form a system where one day, people would take care of themselves with minimal help from a leader. It was better for everyone, especially my son who would be forced to give up aspects of his life that I didn’t think he should have to. The king disagreed with my belief system. He claimed that people needed someone to show them how to behave. In the forests, we called those people parents, but then we grew up and knew how to behave.
People stopped coming to the councils after a few shouting matches between the king and me. I guess nobody likes to watch two grown people squabbling about how we are all going to live our lives. I know that I would feel angry if I had to watch others decide my fate when I should be able to decide it for myself. Maybe that isn’t the case for some people though. Maybe some people just want peace.
We had spent another extremely stressful afternoon once again yelling at each other in an empty room, except for the elderly men that always showed up at the head table around us. The king had stormed off again in one of his fits about how he had been trained on all of this and that his way was for the better. There had been three generations of royalty to prove it. I had mentioned that there had been many generations of tribes as well in the forest, and they were doing just as well. I heard the old man who always sat beside me chuckle as the king slammed the door behind him.
“He understands what he is supposed to do,” the old man giggled, “but he’s never understood why he is supposed to do it.”
“Excuse me?” I asked perplexed.
“You, on the other hand,” the man continued, “don’t know what you are supposed to do, but you understand why you are supposed to do it. I thought that the two of you together would be able to figure it out. I guess I was wrong. Perhaps it is time for me to intervene.”
“I don’t understand what you are talking about,” I frowned.
“When he was young,” the man explained to me patiently as the other old men in the room leaned in to listen, “he was trained on how to be a good leader. He was told how to punish someone, how to act mercifully while at the same time being stern enough to command loyalty, and how to make laws that would benefit the majority of the population. As he grew, he was trained on how to keep the society together. It was all part of a greater plan. When it came time for him to learn the lesson that would teach him the point of it all, his teacher died. All he could do was rule by the way he had been trained. He had no understanding of why he had been taught to do the things that he did, and that he was meant to take the next step.”
“The next step to what?” I asked, intrigued.
“The plan to help us all grow up,” the old man informed me. “I think it’s going to have to be you.”
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I still don’t understand what it is that you want me to do.”
“What is the one thing that you want more than anything, even though you have gotten used to the way things are and seem comfortable enough?” he asked me. I thought for a moment.
“Freedom,” I answered him. His eyes sparkled and he tapped his nose to show that I had answered him right.
“You see,” he explained again, “you have the answer, but he has the question. He is primarily concerned with leading everybody into a better life, but he doesn’t yet understand that he can’t provide it all. He can’t have all the answers. People have to figure those out for themselves. His job has always been to be the next person in a long line of people to slowly change the mindsets of everybody so that they would have the ability to think for themselves without killing each other over it. We were all brought into this world as children, but we must grow up eventually. Sadly, he was never given the chance to learn that lesson. In fact, he fights it. You, however, have had the opportunity to learn it from birth.”
I started to become frustrated. I had no idea what he was talking about and it must have shown on my face. He smiled at me reassuringly, letting me know that I would understand in time.
“I want to show you something,” he said, producing a sheet of paper and handing it to me.
“What is this?” I asked, as I took it from his hands and began to read.
“It was called the Bill of Rights,” he explained. “When I was a child it was no more than a fairy tale, but it held some significance at one point. Not enough people cared about it to keep it alive, I guess. I’m still learning about the world that produced it because nobody alive has ever lived in it.”
“How are you learning about it if nobody has lived in it?”
“Books,” he replied. “It’s difficult sometimes. Sifting through and trying to find the ones that are filled with facts, and separating those that are packed with nonsense. Not to mention that they are old and falling apart and some of them are missing large chunks. Still, we have people out there that are copying and recopying them to keep them together. There is a whole library of them in the west, beyond all of the kingdoms. The west kingdom is sort of a refuge for everybody that can’t stomach the rules of the rest and they welcome strangers there.”
“I know,” I announced, “I told someone to go there once.” I sighed as I remembered Joseph.
“We will go there when you are ready,” he offered. I looked at him doubtfully.
“How do you know that I will ever be ready?” I asked.
“You will know, and that is how I will know,” he promised.
“What is your name?” I asked, realizing that I had referred to him as “the old man” for years, and I suddenly had a desire to address him. It was as though he had suddenly become my father.
“Gage,” he smiled at me warmly.
“It’s nice to finally know your name,” I smiled back at him. He acknowledged my warmness by nodding his head. Then he stood up and walked out of the room, followed by the rest of the old men. I thought about following them. I was now curious as to where they went. I never saw them around the town, and they definitely did not live in the castle. I decided not to follow them, though. Something told me that they needed their refuge.
I sat in the completely empty room for a long time, pondering what Gage had told me. I wanted to understand everything that he and I had discussed, but I was still lacking in some forms of knowledge that the king had been taught from birth. I got a bad taste in my mouth when I thought about working together with him, but at this time I realized that it was the only way for us to both realize what we were supposed to know all along. I decided to seek him out. I left the room in a hurry to look for him.
“I need to talk to you,” I said urgently when I caught up with him in one of the gardens. “It’s important.”
“You will not listen to reason,” he countered. “I have nothing to say to you.” He started to walk away. I reached out and grabbed his arm. He stiffened, and then softened. He turned around to face me.
“What is it you want?” He looked at me accusingly.
“I just want to try an experiment with you,” I answered. “Nothing big, I just want you to come into the forest with me and trust in whatever I say. Two weeks. We can have the men at council run everything for a while. It will teach us to work together.” He glanced at me suspiciously.
“Rossannah probably wouldn’t like it,” he countered.
“Rossannah will understand,” I disagreed, “she always does.” I had my doubts but didn’t let them show.
“Fine,” he reluctantly agreed, “When do we leave?”
“Tomorrow,” I replied, “I’ll tell Rossannah tonight. You can inform the men from council.”
“I can’t. I don’t know where they live.” The king sighed. I scowled. I had assumed that he would know.
“We’ll have to tell them at the next council,” I replied, “then we will go right after.”
It took surprisingly very little to convince Rossannah that to go into the forest alone with the king wouldn’t be a mistake. Shyla, on the other hand, was not so easy to pacify with words. She begged me not to go and to stay in the safety of the castle. As the king and I walked into the forest on the appointed day, Rossannah and the Hawk held the screaming woman back as she called out my name and tried to break free to get to me. I couldn’t blame her for her concern. I was a little apprehensive myself.
We walked for a day and a half, only stopping to eat the food from our sack that was prepared for us by the servants. We stopped completely when the food was gone.
“What do we do now?” The king asked me, clearly concerned over his lack of food. He had never been in this position before, but it was something that I had planned out.
“We get our own food,” I replied. I gathered some materials and told him to watch me to learn how to make a bow and arrows. Then I told him to do the same. It took him a long time to get it right and it was dark before he had a useable product, but that was fine with me. He was learning and that was all part of my plan.
“I’m hungry,” he complained, “where is the nearest town? I’d like to get something to eat.”
“We just left it,” I explained. “We are going to get ourselves something to eat. It’s hard to hunt in the dark. We’ll have to find some fruit.” He followed me around the trees and pointed out trees with little berries here and there. I had to explain to him they were poisonous and he sighed heavily every time. We finally managed to find a clearing with a line of raspberry bushes surrounding it.
“You can eat those,” I told him, pointing out the berries. He rushed to the bushes gratefully and began stuffing himself.
“These are good!” he exclaimed, juice running down his greedy chin. “I’ve never had anything like this. We should have people come and gather these.”
“Or we can come out here and gather them ourselves,” I mentioned, “That way we could get as many as we wanted and wouldn’t have to rely on other people. They might spoil by the time they would get to us.”
“Oh,” he frowned, “I didn’t realize.”
“We will hunt tomorrow,” I announced. I picked a couple of berries and ate them. Then I built a fire to keep away the wild animals and lay down beside it. I was tired after walking all this time without rest. I fell asleep within a few minutes.
When I woke up, the king was lying beside me, painfully close. I was stunned at his proximity and the fact that I hadn’t noticed it in the night. I stood up and walked around the ring of rock and pile of ashes that had been our fire last night and sat down on the other side. He stirred and woke up seconds after the warmth of my body had left him. He sat up and smiled at me like a silly little baby, red raspberry juice still staining his face.
“Get the bow and arrows you made,” I ordered him forcefully, “I’m going to teach you to hunt today.”
I didn’t realize how hard it would be to teach somebody to hunt with a bow and arrow. I found a new respect for Sheena as I watched the king miss every animal he aimed for. After a couple of hours, I decided to shoot a rabbit to ensure that we would have something to eat that night. Then I went back to teaching him how to do it. I remembered that Rossannah had a hard time adjusting to the forest as well.
We ate my rabbit that night. The next night we ate another that I had shot. For two weeks we had my rabbit kills. Then it came time for us to go home.
“One more night,” he pleaded with me, “I can do this. I just need one more night.” I reluctantly agreed, thinking I had failed in my mission and that he would never be able to shoot anything.
I was wrong. The next morning I watched him spend an hour making error after error. I eventually just gave up on giving him instruction and sat down on a fallen tree, waiting for him to decide that he had enough. He didn’t want to make that decisions I stood up to try to convince him that it wasn’t a big deal that he couldn’t hunt. As I approached him, a doe walked out of the trees and into our sight. We both stared at it in awe for a moment or two, marveling in its beauty. Then I saw him slowly raise his bow and pull back the arrow.
The arrow hit the deer in the neck and it immediately fell to the ground. I looked at him astonished. He had a surprised look on his face, which eventually changed into one of pride and excitement.
“I did it!” he exclaimed to me and then embraced me. “I actually killed something.
“Let’s cut it up and carry it home,” I said stiffly, uncomfortable with his entrapment. He dropped his embrace and looked at me questioningly, as if he didn’t understand why I didn’t act like he accomplished the greatest feat ever.
“Okay,” he responded dejectedly.
We butchered the deer and put it in our two large food sacks to take home and began the long walk home. It was very lucky that it was a cold day or the meat might have spoiled on our way home.
“Why did you have me do this?” he wondered as we walked along.
“I wanted you to see how satisfying it is to be independent,” I answered him. “I would think you would want that same satisfaction for your people.”
“I guess I would,” he agreed. “You’re right.” We walked along in silence for a while.
“Joby?” he addressed me. “I wouldn’t have been able to experience that without you.”
“What?” I asked, turning to him.
“I needed you to teach me to hunt. I couldn’t do it on my own. I would have never ventured out into the forest unless you had suggested it. I would have never learned to make a bow or arrow without you. I couldn’t have shot an animal in my lifetime if you didn’t show me how. I needed you. Even my own father couldn’t have taught me how to do that. Don’t you think that people need someone to show them the way?”
This was it. I now understood what Gage had been trying to convey to me. I had gone into the forest trying to teach the king a lesson, and I had gotten one in return. It was true that freedom was a great reward for people, but they needed to be taught how to use it in the right way so that they didn’t end up destroying themselves in the process. The king and I were now on the same track. Our new goal was to teach people how to strive for independence after they were able to safely achieve it.
“This could take a while,” I sighed.