The Task

Once upon a time
a rare and lovely princess was given an evil task to perform.

Her kindly, loving, strangely aloof royal parent insisted she do his bidding
precisely in this matter. He commanded that she go to the edge of the
forest, down in the valley where it first encroached on the farmland claimed
and tended by the villagers below their majestic castle on the hill. He
gave her a vial of villainous potion to pour upon the forest floor, to seep
into the village ground. “Do this.” His eyes were warm yet steely. “My
daughter, it is your charge that must initiate the process. Send my encoded
message into the womb of Mother Earth. She will know the correct response.”

The princess knew the deed was most evil. She knew the process of which her
father spoke. It would set up a barrier between dry earth and moisture so
that no life could find a home within the soil from which to grow. The
plants within the thus enchanted land would die. The animals dependent on
them for food would starve. Even before starvation, water having no
welcoming entry into the earth would evaporate into the wind. The princess,
a good and obedient daughter, did as her father bade her, though not
happily. Her usual joyful countenance became quite sad, even bitter. “Why
do you have me do such evil, father?”

“Why, to see what will happen, daughter. Significant change must move in
effect through the land, vegetation, creatures hunted and herded, to the
nature of the society below. Up here, secure in our strong,
well-provisioned castle, with access to all of the largesse of the many
universes, we will be as ever. Watch what happens below in the village.”
With that explanation, he was off to his usual pursuits: building intricate
fires, chanting over burning herbs, gleefully dancing in the mountain forest
under the bright-eyed Moon, reading and writing hieroglyphics in ancient
well-polished tomes. She barely saw him (as usual) amidst his comings and
goings. When she did, he appeared as endearingly dotty as ever,
occasionally swooping over to bestow a grand hug, a twinkling smile of
affection, a gentle kiss upon her now more often tear-warmed cheek. For the
princess was not charmingly, sweetly, happy as was her wont. She was
guilt-wracked, sad, and a bit more than annoyed with the villagers below.

She had indeed been watching them. Not only did she peer into her enchanted
glass which showed her as if right there any area of the country she wished
to view, but she had as well been making anonymous forays into the village,
its market square, the rows of individually built cottages, the wasting farm
fields, the common buildings and walkways. She watched as the generally
peaceful, hardy, cheerfully hard-working folk degenerated.

At first, believing a temporary drought as had sometimes occurred was upon
them, the villagers were happy to share around what provisions were
available, even to come together for mutual support, ritual healing, sharing
along with water and food the old songs and dances that marked them as kin
and gave nourishment to their collective souls. However, as time went on
finding them no expected relief of their hardship while provisions became
scarcer, the mood of the village became uglier, angrier. The barrier of the
earth against the water seemed to seep into their hearts and minds so that
sharing was no longer practiced to the point of violence against any who
might try to fill their hunger from another’s larder. The violence
escalated as the equation of fewer to need the dwindling supplies means more
for we who survive moved into fashion. From there it was so small a leap
into slaughter of not only the beasts of the fields and forests for meat and
the drink of blood, but cannibalism of the weak and dying of their own kind.
Yet it was becoming more clear by the day that even these bloodthirsty
measures would not allow for even the strongest to survive very long.

Perhaps it was because she was so obviously more healthy than they that the
villagers who remained finally noticed the presence of the princess,
watching their tragic decline in their midst.

“Look, it’s the princess from the castle up on the hill!” “They must have
plenty of water and food tucked away up there.” “We must, for our lives,
climb up the hill and take what is there.” “But so many of us are far too
weak to reach the castle. It is a long and hard path up the hill.” “We
must send a party of our strongest to take the castle and bring back water
and food for us all.” The princess could see they were of an ugly
disposition, desperate and filled with rage against her privilege. She had
no fear of the villagers, of course. “I am immortal, and not vulnerable to
the human violence.” Yet, she felt great pity along with her revulsion at
their hatefilled actions. “People, you may freely take what you will from
the castle. Yes, send a party of your strongest to bring the relief of food
and water to those who are too weak to travel. I will lead the way. But
once you have relieved your immediate need, it will be necessary for you to
find better long-term solutions, eschewing violence which as you yourselves
have come to understand is very limited in its utility.”

“Yes, of course, dear princess.” “We understand the direness of our
situation here. Once we are not so driven by immediate need to merely stay
alive, of course we will be better able to find more enduring solutions.”
“Let us hasten to the castle while there is still a chance to save those who
are so weakened by need.” So she led them up the stony path into the
majestic yet homey and inviting castle and filled their sacks with food and
water to bring back to their brethren below.

“Here are all the provisions you could need that your people regain their
strength and be in a state of health and awareness to look for a long-term
solution to your plight. Now go and do as you have promised.”

“Yes, thank you, princess.” “We are grateful. We will do as you bid.”
“Oh, my, look at this great wealth of the necessities of life. Thank you
for your help.” “Yes, thank you for showing us this largesse. We know what
to do now.”

The princess, feeling better about the villagers’ fate despite her role in
their misery, smiled and danced about the castle. “I will stay here and go
about my usual pastimes while the villagers regain their health and discuss
their possible solutions. I will give them some time to work this out, then
return to help if I can.”

The relief party made their way down the hillside, carrying the precious
cargo, a gift of life for their fellows below. As they went, though, the
solution that came to mind as best for them became a plan taking form. Why
give away this treasure that they had themselves obtained to those who were
too sickly and stupid to have maintained enough strength, such as they had,
to climb the hill? “We have these provisions which we all will need. We
could divide what we have amongst us and hoard it for our own use.”
“Perhaps we have no need of hoarding. Did you see how very much still
remains.” “But will the princess allow us to keep taking it. She wanted us
to find ways to help ourselves.” “Well, we are helping ourselves, to her
great fortune.” “Yes, did her royal family become wealthy by giving their
treasure away to any who might be in need?” “And why should we be so noble?
We aren’t even noblemen.” “Nor are we likely to become so being so foolish
as to give for nothing what could gain us greater wealth.” “We will divide
the goods so that each of us has plenty. Then demand the others give us
their wealth, their goods, that they have collected in their homes.” “Yes,
and we can demand that they work for us, make us the crafts and do the
services for which they have skills.” “Even those without skills that we
have use for can do our bidding, trade their labor for what we have that
they need to survive.” “Yes, we can lord it over them now. Any service we
desire can be ours.” Thus, by the time they regained the village their plan
was ready for execution.

“We will give you the minimal food and water you need to have the strength
to work as we command. Then, you each must earn your daily fare. You can
give us what you have of value.” “Yes, your possessions, your labor, your
craftwork, is now ours.” “We have supreme command over your filthy bodies
while you need us to stay alive.” Of course their bodies were filthy. In
fact quite a stench arose from the village what with no water for washing
and all the bits of the dead which had not been taken into the mouths
of the living. The village became a place of horrible stench and brutality.
Even among the strong the fear of being overtaken for their new found wealth
was palpable. They devised barriers to keep themselves and their
possessions safe from assault that went up as tribute to the barriers in
their hearts and minds structured from greed and isolation. Yet, eventually
the provisions taken from the castle dwindled and again there was not enough
to keep anyone alive for long.

“We must return to the castle and take more food and water.” “Of course we
must. It is imperative that we survive and have the clout to continue
demanding service.” But none could trust others enough to put together a
useful foraging band. Individuals on the lonely road to the castle knew
they would be in constant danger of attack on the way down.

The princess had again taken to checking on the villagers with her enchanted
glass. She saw what had become of their professed good intentions. Again
she was sad, aghast at what was taking place there. “Father, I do not
understand. Why have they become like this? Why have they not even tried
to find a way beyond the borders of the drought, or looked to other ways to
grow food, gather water, even to ask our help and advice rather than merely
demanding our provisions? Why have they not banded together to find a cure
for their common blight rather than insulating themselves ever tighter into
angry spots of fear and rage?”

“My darling child, it is not for me to say what makes this their way. Come,
will you dance with me under the moonlight, help me to stoke the fire of
enchantment, and breathe in the magic of herbal grace, take in the marvelous
sensations of all the beauties of the many universes? Come, we will play
and enjoy our immortal bounty.”

“But what of the villagers? How can I allow them to drive themselves to a
miserable end, to extinction?”

“My dear one, it is their way, not ours, which harries them so.”

“No, father, they were doing so well until you had me interfere so
brutally.”

“Perhaps it so seemed. Yet what I had you do was not for their harm, but to
fulfill a pact with Mother Earth. They are her children, after all. Her
purpose is not to destroy them.”

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