Truth's Apostle

There once lived a rich patriarch in a beautiful, grand mansion, built atop the highest hill in the country by one hundred slaves who were driven with whips and burning prods to their deaths, who were now buried in a long ditch, where the tall hill sloped steeply down to meet the broad grounds that surrounded it. The patriarch had made his fortune renting out the labor of his slaves, whom he kept stabled at the base of the hill in a series of shacks built by the hands of their ancestors.

The patriarch lived in splendor and with immeasurable wealth in his hilltop palace, the ceilings of which reached nearly to the sky. The patriarch could have thought in sincerity that he truly was a king, according to the depictions of kings who lived in luxury in the sagas and poems that he read as he lounged on his veranda with a vista facing away from the shacks, if the land's actual king were not a frequent customer for the service of the patriarch's slaves.

Although he was not king in title, the patriarch ruled his hill and its surroundings as one, and he lorded over all the people living there, including not only his slaves but also his family, which consisted of his beautiful young wife whom he plucked from her family in the shacks, his five daughters, each of whom he left to be raised by his wife and the wives of slaves in rooms of the mansion through which he himself never passed, and his one son and only heir, whom the patriarch raised and tutored himself.

The patriarch sent far and wide for writers and thinkers who would teach him so that he could personally pass that knowledge to his darling son. One day the patriarch invited to his home a thinker who had studied directly under the prophet known as Truth and was Truth's Apostle. The thinker accepted the invitation and pleasantly anticipated the impending opportunity to bring enlightenment to one possessing such earthly wealth and thus the potential to effect earthly change as the patriarch.

The Apostle's name was Liberius and he set out early one morning from Truth's temple and walked all day each day for fourteen days, bringing with him only his thoughts and the white linen robes he wore, and ate only when a villager would offer him food. When he arrived at the gates to the patriarch's manor, Liberius was approached by a slave who spoke to him in a language he did not understand. Presently the patriarch appeared, seated on a gold throne carried by eight slaves. Liberius asked the patriarch, "What tongue spoke he?" to which the patriarch responded, "I know not. I make a point to deny them the opportunity to defile our language by passing it through their barbarian teeth." The patriarch waved the slaves to lower the throne, intending that Liberius step on, but Liberius seemed to ignore the silent proposal and himself proposed, "Come take a walk with me then and we shall ponder Truth's word." So the patriarch stepped off, loath to appear foolish as he followed the Apostle's path.

Discussing Truth, the two arrived at a shallow creek over which the patriarch had ordered his slaves to construct an exquisitely designed wooden footbridge. A young slave now sanded the wood to minimize splinters. The patriarch saw Liberius standing at the bank of the creek a few feet away from the bridge and said to him, "Come here up with me and use the bridge to cross the stream." Liberius responded, "I am quite well to cross of my own power," and he stepped through the shallow stream to the other side, wetting his linens, and continued down the way, disappearing in a grove of trees.

The patriarch saw Liberius go on and went to the footbridge so that he could follow. When the patriarch stepped a foot onto the bridge, the wood moaned as though it were dying, and it was. The slaves building the bridge had sent for strong, tough lumber, but when the patriarch had seen the tall order for expensive logs, he had written instead for cheaper and weaker wood. He had then neglected to inform the laborers of the change, and they thought that they were using stronger wood.

A plank split under the patriarch's foot, plunging it into the creek, drenching his satin slippers and silk stockings, and he fell forward on the bridge, hands outstretched, and another plank splintered beneath them. Caught in the splintered remains of the bridge, the patriarch felt cool water splashing against the fresh wounds in his palms.

The slave who had earlier been sanding the rails rushed to him with his arms restless, but reserved at his sides, as though he were eager to help the patriarch but feared punishment for making a mistake in his attempt to assist. The patriarch shouted at the slave to shift the wooden detritus that trapped him, but the slave did not understand the words and could not see the solution in the chaos of debris. So the slave took the shouts as orders to go off and return with assistance, and off he went, leaving the patriarch alone.

And then the rest of the bridge came crashing down, forcing the patriarch prone and pushing his head down under the surface of the creek, his face pressed against the stones of the streambed. The man struggled but could not lift himself from the water against the weight of the debris. Water flowed into his lungs, and the patriarch died, writhing and sputtering and choking, his silk and satin muddy and soaked. A throng of slaves and his heir and the Apostle Liberius all arrived to see the patriarch as he laid motionless, water shimmering under the sun and flowing unimpeded around him, drowned at a depth of less than a foot.