A medieval metaphor for modern times
Alexander paused for a moment on a parapet of the castle in which he was born. He knew the world outside the wall could not be trusted. There were thieves. There were killers. But he assumed there were good people as well. In fact, thousands sent letters to the castle each day, seeking permission to enter its walls. As captain of the guard, Alexander made the decision long ago to close the gates to anyone unless they had paper in hand showing they had been accepted by the kingdom.
Yet, the numbers grew.
Peasants would arrive unannounced. Some would try to squeeze through the portcullis. Others tried to climb the wall or swim the moat.
Alexander looked down and saw a family huddled near a boulder far below to keep out of the wind. He thought he recognized them.
"You'll not enter today, Gerhardt," Alexander called from the tower.
A man's head rose above the cluster of blankets the family had wrapped around themselves.
"Gerhardt died two days ago," the man called back.
Alexander was perplexed.
"How did he die?" he asked.
"He starved," the man replied.
That wasn't uncommon, Alexander thought. It surely was a hardscrabble life in the wilds.
"Well, he knew the risks of traveling so far when he set out," Alexander retorted. "If he couldn't enter through our gates lawfully, he should have stayed in his own land."
The captain was about to resume his rounds when the man raised his voice.
"There was no food there either," the man shouted, his eyes constant.
That thought, however, was preposterous to the captain of the guard. There was most certainly food outside the walls of the castle. There had to be, though the thought dawned on him that he had never been outside to see it for himself.
"Then he should have grown some crops," Alexander said, looking toward the hill on which he believed the outsiders grew wheat, but once again he realized he lacked the knowledge to be sure of himself.
"He couldn't," the man said, tilting his chin up a bit. "His land was stolen."
Alexander thought to himself how Gerhardt let a simple problem become his downfall. He snorted at the idea of a man crossing deserts and mountains and rivers just because of theft.
"He could have reported the theft to the guards in his own land and spared his own life," Alexander said.
But the man just shook his head.
"It was the guards who stole his land," he said.
That thought enraged Alexander. He and his men had taken an oath to do good and to protect the people of his kingdom. The idea that those entrusted to do the same elsewhere would unjustly lay claim to a man's land and crops made his brow drop and his eyes narrow.
"And Gerhardt's King? What has he done?" Alexander asked.
The man stood to his full height. Even from such a steep vantage point, Alexander could tell the man was tall — much taller than he expected him to be.
"Nothing," the man said. "The king ordered them to take it. The neighboring king isn't much different. Tyrants are a common breed. Some are greedy. Some are murderous. The worst are both. Everyone is told how much better life is inside your walls. Some of Gerhardt's neighbors sent letters to your king, but most never received a response. The ones that did had to wait years upon years. Some starved while they waited for your kingdom's seal of approval. Others were killed for scraps of food or anything else we all scrounge for out here. Gerhardt's family didn't have years to wait while their friends and neighbors died around them. They came seeking mercy. They fled starvation, but they still starved outside your walls anyway. Maybe your kingdom is just like the rest."
Alexander was hurt. He couldn't understand how such places could exist outside the walls. He couldn't comprehend such extreme circumstances in which one does not have time to follow the law. He had never had to choose between following the law of another land or watching his family die in their own. He had never considered entire peoples might be living every day under kings who see their people only as cattle to be used. And he was just beginning to realize he could have just as easily faced the same choices if he had not been fortunate enough to be born inside the castle walls.
"What's your name?" he asked the man.
"Hugo," the man replied.
A strong name, Alexander thought.
"You'll not enter today, Hugo," Alexander said, as he continued his rounds.