Retelling Myths: The Sword Above the Throne
The Sword Above the Throne
"Alright," the king said, "You may have my power and my responsibilities for a day, starting right now."
"R-Really?!" I said, leaping at the chance.
"Yes," the king replied, "for the next 24 hours, you will be the ruler of this kingdom."
And with that, I was ruler for a day.
So, of course, the first thing that I did with my newfound power was to throw a giant party for me and my friends.
"Your highness, please..."
The voice faded as I drift back to sleep.
"... up," the voice called out to me again, "Your highness, please wake up! The court is waiting for you!"
I got up and glared at the servant.
Feeling groggy from having barely slept, I angrily yelled at him, "Leave me be, or prepare to be punished!"
"Y-Yes, your highness!" the scared servant hurriedly left the room.
My head fell back onto the pillows again, and I began to drift-
"Get up!" the king yelled.
That woke me up fully.
"Did you think that being the ruler meant that you could just lie in bed all day?!" the king continued, "Get up and assume your responsibilities!"
I got up and began to get dressed.
There was no way to avoid this (unless if I did something unseemly to the king, but I didn't want to hurt him at all), and I didn't want to get punished after the 24 hours was up, so I obeyed.
I made my way into the throne room, where a full court had been waiting for me.
I sheepishly made my way to the throne, while I mumbled an apology.
The king gestured to one of the courtiers, "Let us finally commence."
The courtier nodded, and the first item on the agenda began.
It was a dispute between a noble and a serf.
"Please," the serf said, "my brother's back was injured while working on the field – he just needs a few more weeks of rest, and then we can produce as much as we used to!"
"No!" the noble countered, "Your highness, allow me to evict them from my land now, so that I may hire replacements that can produce more now!"
Well, I thought to myself, this one's going to be easy.
I waved them off, "They stay, don't you dare evict them."
The serf rejoiced with the family that was waiting just outside the court.
The noble, however, stared at me with hatred for a few moments, before finally leaving.
I dismissed it from my mind, as the next item on the agenda began.
"Without the road that I had made on my land," the noble argued, "that trade route wouldn't even exist! So it's only fair that I be allowed to tax them!"
The representative of the merchants countered, "But, your highness, roads should be made for public use! He would have ordered the road to be made regardless!"
I looked between the two of them.
On the one hand, the merchants did have a good point about the public use of the roads.
But, on the other hand, it was the noble's land... and that noble had always been able to get me the best entertainment for my parties.
A compromise then, I thought to myself, should do it.
"You may tax the merchants," I said, "but no more than 5% of their wares."
"Thank you, your highness," the noble bowed.
Meanwhile, I could feel the hatred from the merchants' stares.
And so the day continued.
I made decisions for things that I can barely remember.
I recall making a decision about whether or not to build a dam – one which would dry up a portion of a noble's land, but it would help a nearby village with their water needs.
However, I do not remember what decision I had made.
That, like so many other decisions that I had made that day, has long been forgotten by me.
However, what I have not forgotten, was how each and every decision that I made started to weigh down on me.
How each and every decision affected someone's life, and how some would love me and some would hate me for those decisions.
I could start to feel the daggers from the stares of those who hated me.
"Your highness," the courtier said to me, as I was recovering from the latest decision that I had made, "we have received reports about a credible threat – a planned attack on the palace!"
"W-What?!" I yelled out.
"What would you have us do, your highness?"
Paralyzed, I did not know what to say.
And that's when I saw it.
A sword above the throne.
It seemed to be just dangling there, held by just a thread of some sort, threatening to fall down and kill me at the slightest provocation.
"W-What is that sword doing there?!" I yelled.
The court murmured amongst itself, puzzled.
I stared at the sword, unable to move, for fear that any movement would send it dropping down on me.
"R-Remove it!" I yelled out.
One of the courtiers walked up, "Your highness, are you alright?"
The king stepped forward, "It seems that our acting ruler needs a break. Let us call a brief recess before continuing on."
I protested, "B-But, the sw-"
The king placed his hand on mine, "They can't see it."
The court emptied the throne room.
"Legend has it," the king began, "that when a courtier, Damocles, was given the throne for a day, much like you right now, King Dionysius had arranged for a sword to be hanged above the throne by just a single strand of a horse's hair."
"That sword – the Sword of Damocles," the king continued, "is a reminder of how perilous a ruler's position is."
"It reminds us that what we do can affect our entire kingdom and the people who live it in," he said, "It also reminds us that, for all our power and fortune, we will forever be in danger from those who hate us or from those who simply want what we have."
"Some rulers, however," he sadly noted, "will never see the sword, and their reign suffers for it."
"D-Do you see this sword every day?" I asked.
"Yes," the king replied, "every second of my waking hours."
"Now," the king smiled at me, "why don't you scamper off, my child? Your 24 hours is up anyways."
I got off the throne, and the sword faded away.
The king took his place on his throne once more.
"Enjoy your time without the sword, my child," the king said, "But, prepare for it, for it will be your turn soon."
I bowed and left the throne room, knowing that the sword would eventually return to dangle above my head once more.
Yep, the framing story for the retelling is longer than the retelling itself!
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