Short Story Saturday–The Prisoner

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Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12 (NRSV)

“Felix, just say the Sovereign is correct and the war is just. Then your torment will be over.”

The prisoner sat with his back against the damp stone wall, surrounded by the dirty straw which served as his bed. His once fine clothes were torn and dirty, and his unkept hair had fallen down over his eyes. His touched his chest as he drooped over. The crumpled man lifted his head and brushed his hair away from his eyes. His pale green irises blazed with clarity. Felix’s unkept appearance did not seem to reach his soul.

“That would be a lie, Althen. And you know it.” Felix replied with a shake of his head.

Althen sighed. It grieved him to see his old friend in this situation, but took solace that it was his own stubbornness which had led him to this cell.

“What does it matter Felix? The Compact agrees with the Sovereign. Your obstinance accomplishes nothing, and all the good works you do have been halted. Why make the poor suffer just so you can have a clear conscience?”

Felix frowned at his old friend’s words. “Because my concern for the poor goes beyond our people. The war the Sovereign wishes to wage is unjust. We aren’t being attacked, and the Renthi are no threat to us. The Sovereign wishes only for more timber for his ships so he can bring back more and more wealth. But he doesn’t want to pay for it. Greed has consumed him, and he would bring judgement down on all of us to satisfy it.”

Althen huffed with derision. “Judged by what power? No one is greater than the sovereign, and the Renthi are poor. Any suffering we cause will be repaid in the prosperity we bring them.”

“A poor justification for attacking a peaceful neighbor who has never given us cause for grief.”

“Nevertheless, it is what the Sovereign wishes.”

The the Sovereign is wrong!” shouted Felix. His voice echoed down the dungeon’s corridor and caused Althen to jump.

“It would be wise to not shout such things, Felix.”

Felix grunted. “You mean it would not be self-serving. But I cannot hide from truth. This plan is wicked and it springs from corrupt desires. I cannot say otherwise and keep my oath to the Compact.”

“Felix, please. See reason. Return to the good works for which you are so gifted. Your objections are noted. You’ve made your statement. Now tell the Sovereign what he needs to hear and be free.”

“My friend, if I tell the Sovereign what he wishes to hear I will never be free. The oath of the Compact is to tell the Sovereign what he needs to hear for the benefit of our people.”

“You’re all alone in this, Felix. No other member of the Compact stands with you.”

A smile managed to peak through Felix’s hair as his eyes glimmered with joy. “Oh, Althen, this is where you couldn’t be more wrong. It not I who am alone, its you and those who have forsaken their oaths to gain temporary security. I stand with all the Compact who have ever kept their oaths, along with all the Sovereigns who heeded good advice and ruled justly. Their voices echo in my heart, and their resolve strengthens my own. I am included in their song, and they in mine. I am the Compact, my oath-breaking friend. I am the Compact, and I am never alone.”

Disappointment fell across Althen’s face. He thought he might have a chance to convince his old friend to give up his obstinance, but he should have known it was impossible. Even in happier days Felix’s unbending nature was well-known. Once he felt that going along with the Sovereign’s plan would mean breaking his oath Felix’s fate was sealed. Maybe, one day, the Sovereign would feel more forgiving. But for now Felix, head of the Compact and one of the most renown person in the Kingdom, was where he belonged.

“I’m sorry, old friend. There’s nothing more I can do for you.”

With that, Althen backed out of the cell and pulled the door shut with a crash of iron and wood. He placed the lock on the door and turned toward the stairs which led back above ground. As he did so he caught a glimpse of his friend. He’d managed to stand and was peering out the small window in the cell door with bright eyes and a broad smile. Althen paused as he took in this strange sight, and as he did so his friend breathed, “I’m free, Althen. I’m free.”

Althen shook his head in disbelief and turned to the stairs. As he did so, he couldn’t help but wonder if his old friend was right.