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The jailor placed the meal-tray beside the desiccated form of the founder of the revolution. The antique licked his parchment lips and said, “Please”.
“No,” said the jailor, “you know what happens – you must eat; if not for the regime’s sake then for yours. If not for yours then for mine. I hate to see it forced on you but more than that I love my family. I will not risk them so please…eat.”
The shell under the sheets thought back to the rough-handed “doctors” and the needles rammed into his decrepit veins that had come with his last refusal to eat. He raised an arm, anchored by years of futility, and brought a tarnished spoon of mash to his lips. He loved his jailor as much as his jailor loved him.
He swallowed hard, knowing that if he died the punishment would fall not only on the jailor but his family as well; no matter the cause. The old man had fought and killed for people just like his jailor. Now he lived for no other reason. Sad that my idiot comrades learned only one lesson in their hollow lives – never make a martyr.
“One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” Stalin had said that and had been proved right. 20 million cadavers and Stalin is barely remembered because of a short-lived upstart named Hitler with a mere six million bodies under his belt.
How many had died during his own uprising? Five thousand at the most, certainly no more than that – and that number came from his external enemies. His internal enemies fixed the number at: 32 civilians, 204 subversives and 593 loyal soldiers. 204 “subversives” devoted to him and 593 “soldiers” loyal to his rivals.
Each of these 829 people had died after his imprisonment. He knew the exact tally of his revolution – as only the forgotten truth still did. His body count was exactly seven. He was no Robespierre, no Villa, no Lenin. His had been a revolution of words not blades. And now his existence was as bloodless as his revolution had been.
He had turned the country with his words alone. There was no doubt, then, that he was the vanguard. Words leapt from his mouth and struck the hearts of the nation like bullets. 15000 were behind him on his march to the palace. 15000 of the most resolute people the city could produce walked behind him opposed by no more than a quartet of drunken youths.
Buoyed by the ferocity of wine these youths, guards they were called, demanded that he and his comrades stand down.
He had reasoned with them until one of the children, that is how he thought of them – as children, reached for a revolver.
With cold comfort the old man reminded himself that he had had no choice. He outdrew the young man and sealed the fate of the other three. It took seconds only before the troop advanced over the four bodies to the palace gates.
“Please.” The guards, again but youths, said. “We have wives and children. Please go home, leave in peace. Please.”
“Step aside.” He had said, “If we can’t go between you we must go over you. Step aside or join us - our only quarrel is with the king.”
“We sworn an oath,” The child, not much younger than himself at the time, had said.
“We must see the king, please step aside.”
“And we must defend him,” sighed the guard on the right while reaching for his pistol. 200 hundred bullets quickly rendered two wives widows; and how many children fatherless? He had never had the chance to find out.
The 15000 advanced into the palace, up the ornate stairs, and a lucky 600 or so po0ured into the king’s sanctuary. They were met there by the king, the queen and their suckling daughter.
“Abdicate.” He heard himself say in the voice of the younger, stronger man he had been, “abdicate.”
“No.” The king had replied.
A single shot answered his obstinacy.
Laying in his cell the relic recalled how powerful he had felt when his finger had closed on the trigger that loosed a bullet to kill a king and killed a king to kill a kingdom.
“I’m sorry.” He had said to the widow and infant. To those who had followed him he said “Give them safe passage to Onersta, from there the Governor will see them from our land.” Historians would later call that order his most lethal mistake, but he never would.
Seven bodies accomplished a revolution. Neither the queen, nor young heiress ever laid claim to the throne. That had both lived long lives and had died in comfortable obscurity – and he still lived because of that.
How very close he sometimes came, lying on his steel cot, to wishing he had slaughtered the queen and princess like the Bolsheviks had the tsar’s family. Maybe then there would have been a counter-revolution. Maybe then a disgusted people would have made a better life for themselves by hanging him and his comrades in the streets. But he didn’t and neither did they.
And so he had, for two full years, allowed compassion and naivety to guide his hand while his rivals consolidated their power behind his benign back.
The coup of his coup him as unawares as he had caught the king. It was led by his Quebec2 Lieutenant3 and came in the night. He was sleeping when the insurrectionists broke into his bedroom, slew his wife and toddler son and arrested him on the charge of treason. He had allowed the queen and princess to live. He was a traitor to the revolution. There was no trial.
For more than a hundred years the corruption of his movement had been trotting him out on October 24 as a living, breathing symbol of the revolution. They displayed him as an example of ideals allowed to grow soft and weak. The fact that no attempt to claim the throne was ever made mattered nothing. He allowed them to escape and that was treason in itself.
He had taught his lackeys well, Never make a martyr or a sacrificial victim he had often said. This same principle had kept his hands all but clean of blood and was a main reason the people had accepted their new rulers. By the time this acceptance waned they were helpless beneath its steel fist in its iron glove. He was the first to be crushed by it, and had lived beneath its weight for 113 years.
At 147 years old he had outlived four different jailors. The first of these had taken pity on him and had tried to help him in the only form of suicide available - starvation. The food had been piled out of the prisoner’s reach but close enough that it could be moved closer in the moments immediately following his death. Neither of them knew about the implanted sensors designed to warn his doctors of any threatening change in his condition.
An irregular heartbeat had brought them in on the last day he saw that jailor. The doctors diagnosed dehydration and malnutrition. They left only to return with IV bags to feed and rehydrate him. They had been given strict orders – under no circumstances is he to be allowed to die.
The needle had barely savaged his withered vein before the death squad arrived with the jailor’s wife and teenaged daughter in handcuffs and hood. After 12 hours of rape and bayonets they were given release. The jailor, shattered through having been forced to watch it all was shot in the belly and left to die in writhing agony on the old man’s floor. It was important that the father of the revolution live – though in disgrace – to prove the benevolence of the regime. To prove their love of the ideals and to justify the countless corpses they had created.
The first jailor was the only one to die an unnatural death. The old man was unwilling to risk a repeat or worse. The weight of ten bodies was already more than his soul could bear.
He raised another dollop of mush to his mouth and smiled weakly while his toothless gums parted to allow unwanted life into his belly.
The jailor closed the door and prayed silently for intercession to free him, his family and the old man he loved from the revolution and it’s order carved into the stone above the door, “Keep him safe.”
1 Mittimus – an order given to ensure that a prisoner is kept safe from harm Brewer’s Dictionary of Fable and Phrase Centenary Edition, pg 718
2 Quebec Lieutenant – Right hand man, second in charge and most trusted advisor/assistant
3 Pronounced Lef–TEN-ant
But would I be a good Messiah with my low self-esteem? / If I don't believe in myself would that be blasphemy? - The Bloodhound Gang Hell Yeah