Three in the Chamber, One in the Head
“What do your sparrows tell you, Dansa?”
The Commander-King clutched his drink while sitting aside the steady fire. He stared at the embers, hoping for a sign or a vision to be sparked by the wandering cinders. His drink did little to calm his nerves and he quickly found himself with an empty glass.
“They tell me little, my Lord. I hear them in whispers.”
With the Commander-King was Dansa, the court’s paralytic. Dansa had undergone a procedure as a young boy to lose function of his legs—a requirement for those chosen to become the court’s eyes and ears. No need to run off, tradition decided. As a result of his incapacity to move, the chosen paralytic received a companion who would be responsible for their transport. Dansa’s companion, Liza, was made deaf as a young girl, as tradition dictated for anyone in her position; the paralytic’s information, it was reasoned, was only for the ears of those intentioned. Dansa lifted his finger and motioned to the Commander-King’s empty glass as a sign for Liza to refill it.
“There is talk of creatures approaching our Southern Border,” Dansa started, his eyes carefully watching the Commander-King’s movements. “A horde, I hear, with illusive origins but a determined path northward—towards us.”
“Have you any idea as to the speed of their ascent?” The Commander-King asked. He began to shake intermittently, as if grasped by shivers in episodes. Liza approached him with the jug of wine. The Commander-King briefly smiled and held out his glass. Dansa waited until Liza had finished and returned to his side before continuing to speak. The Commander-King seemed not to notice the pause.
“It’s too early to know when they will reach us, my Lord,” Dansa responded with careful consideration. “But all the signs point to their reaching us eventually—how soon I cannot know yet. But they will be here, my Lord. Now is the time to strengthen our Southern Border.”
“You don’t need to remind me of that, Dansa. I’ve been saying that this entire time,” the Commander-King responded, his voice strained. His grip tightened around his glass, and coupled with the sudden shaking that had overtaken him, the glass’ contents began to spill over the rim. “We will spare no expense! No resource will be ignored to repel what is obviously an invading force! Get the word out to Gritara, tell her to spread the news of my plan. We will meet this evil with a force it has never seen before.”
The Commander-King had almost taken to convulsions after delivering his proclamation to Dansa. It seemed as if he was finally granted the vision he was hoping for from the fire’s dancing embers, and could see himself atop the wall, facing down the coming intruders, and shouting, “Fire!” Dansa watched him for a moment, curious to see how long the daydream would last. Liza was expressionless. Finally, after growing tired, Dansa lifted his finger and pointed first to himself and then to the door so that Liza knew he was to be taken out of the Commander-King’s room. Liza obeyed and closed the door behind them.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye
The townsfolk had gathered ‘round. They were told that The Town Shouter, Gritara, was to give an announcement from the Commander-King. As was their custom, the townsfolk asked questions among themselves about the nature of the announcement, why it had come so urgently from the Commander-King, and whether whatever was to be told to them was well-thought through in the first place. They once fielded these questions to Gritara, but after realizing that she wouldn’t answer any of them in any definitive, or even helpful, manner they decided to ask each other, instead.
Little by little, the townsfolk became aware of Gritara’s approach. They quieted down as they waited for her to reach the platform. Gritara, in her normal fashion, looked angry and bothered, not by the need to deliver the Commander-King’s words, but by the need to deliver those words to these particular townsfolk. She stepped up to the platform and took her place behind the podium.
“Alright, listen up!” Gritara began. “As I’m sure many of you have heard by now, there are Unidentified Walking Objects, or UWOs—that’s pronounced You, like the word, you, and Woes, like the plural form of the word synonymous with heartache—headed toward our Southern Border. Yes, the whispers are true and I know little more than you. Regardless, we are prepared to face this incoming threat head-on with a spectacular show of force that they cannot possibly anticipate. Their actions are malicious. Their intent is evil. This approaching horde has already broken 50 of our laws and we will stop them from—”
“How do we know they intend for us harm?” A townsperson interjected.
Gritara immediately frowned and stared at the man who had asked the question. The man asked his question again. Gritara continued to stare. Embarrassed, unaided by those around him, the man bowed his head in a show of resignation and defeat. Gritara continued.
“—from entering.” Gritara now spoke as if she was directing the rest of her announcement to the man who had asked his question. “Of course they mean us harm. They’re a menacing, unknown crowd heading towards a home. Do you open your doors to anyone who knocks?”
The man continued to bow his head, though he looked around at the other townspeople when Gritara asked her question. Yes, he thought, I always answer the door when someone answers. But he didn’t say this.
“I don’t see how this is any different,” Gritara finished.
She stepped away from the podium and descended the platform. Her task was complete.