The Tyrant

Everybody must know how grateful I am for this opportunity. I know perfectly well that these sheets of paper given me to use shall soon become a prey of fire, but for the time being they are here with me. I, too, must go. I resemble too much to the divinity of this world and I sufficed of courage to represent him.
I shall die. I know it with same certainty as I know the fact of once being born into this world. What I am trying to say is that I have no regrets. Since the very beginning, I have been seeking for death, although I have never had even a slightest reason to do so. I played with fire and now I am being burnt into ashes, however I have no regrets – it always felt so good and warm.
Only one person in the entire world is able to understand me – the very same to execute me for resembling too much to him. He is unable to bare that sight. There must not be two equally demonic, solitary souls in this world. I shall go, leaving the world with its god. To the lone divine I shall leave his safe solitude. He is not the one to burn me. It is done by… I shall not say by whom.
But I must go to the beginning – no, not the moment of my birth, though I long to be back there to see, what on Earth went wrong that I never learned to give in with all these unwritten laws about how one is normally supposed to behave.
In my mind I close my eyes and go back to the moment, history would account as revolutionary.
It is night. I am crossing a meadow; the snow is glittering in front and around me, burning my body, suffocating my soul. The moon is staring at me and I love him almost physically. I have always loved moon the most: full moon, the monstrous, the somnambulist. We have something in common.
I have come up with a realisation, that trying to give detail descriptions I bore not as much my almost not existing readers than myself. I must confine myself to the most important. What is it? How am I to reckon it?
For now, Donet, Kadar, Bodo and Akto are dead, but that night we all were alive. We were definitely more alive than ever before. Our measures were our scraped courage, weapons and sleeping draught, our purpose to kill the tyrant. We were to put into act the one thing the rest of the country merely dreamed about. However, one of us did not – Akto.
I am not very sure whether I dreamed about the death of His Majesty, the king Zero, but that night Akto was the one who got me doubting, if it was the right thing we were about to do. I had no high principles; I did not know much about humanity nor I puzzled my brains with a thought if we are any better than Zero when becoming his murderers. I was simply afraid. Not so much about death, but the act of murder. I began to think and imagine whether I could kill him in case I was given such command. I was not sure and through that uncertainty Akto had won an ally.
I am incapable to tell in what reasons Akto had joined us. I believe not because our head Donet was his son. Donet did not need a father and Akto never really seemed to have a need for a son. What did he hope for? What did he believe in? I never asked him. Maybe he did not have any other choice than us. I know that his heart ached for people more than ours ever had. Maybe he just never found a better solution than our “rebellion”.
Donet was our leader. He was born to lead. Who knows if he had been born in Zero’s shoes, would that he have been any different? He was a nobody with just one valuable side of character: he made everybody listen to his commands even if those were irrational and inappropriate – which they often were. Donet was a man who did not let him be moved by any normality of ethics or moral. However, he might have been the only possible head to us for he was a man of action afraid of words. We would not have gone much anywhere with a leader like Akto.
Kadar and Bodo were a pair of utopians and quiet philosophers switched on by Donet. While on their own they would only make the world a better place inside their heads.
That leaves me, Malisto. What turned an eighteen years old youth into a revolutionary? Could it have been boredom? Yes, I think boredom it mostly was. Saturation of the heroism of the novel characters and the Grand Canyon between that and everyday life. Shortly, I found an opportunity and clang to it.
Now the facts: we sneaked into the castle. Our chemist Bodo doped the wards – with what, I still have no idea about, but he definitely used the same drug to narcotise Zero before allowing us to enter the king’s bedroom. It must have been one of the two: he was trying either to carefully hide the secret of the drug from us or just fooling us around playing a great mystic.
I saw the tyrant. I saw Zero. He was not a trifle of what I had imagined him to be. He was only a child. Recently the whole country had been celebrating His Majesty’s 18’Th birthday. So few years and so much cruelty, I was thinking. I knew that the man in front of me, caught by violent nap, was a monster, but while asleep his evil had withdrawn. I could only see myself.
I saw myself indeed, for there was a huge mirror hanging from the head of the bead. My own face, so alike to tyrants, was staring at me. Never before had I seen myself with such clarity. What drew the line between us? I no longer saw the tyrant, but myself. He had dissolved in me or vice versa. My entire being was shivering. I had a feeling that something had changed. Back then I knew not what it had been. I could not lope back to my previous life.
I was frightened, shaking, but carried a certain attempt inside me – to make this change irrevertful.
The lie I acted out to my companions was alike to the lies I had remembered from those novels with their shiny titles. I was to be a hero – for them, for everyone. I was to take advantage of my similarity, to fill in his shoes until it is safe to let the entire world know – they are never to be worn again. I trust I was equally considered a lunatic, a fool and a hero – depending on each man’s character. However, I knew I am anyone but a hero. Yes, I longed to be one, for I had dreamed of those deeds all my life. From each day, from each moment I had asked for a chance a heroic deed could be born. Nevertheless, I knew I am not a hero. All I did was a simple walk over the edge of a cliff – not that I would have wanted to die, but I longed for the push out from the regular grey life. The older I got the more I was distracted by having a father who could barely spell and a mother, who could read perfectly well, but kept away from books in panic fear to avoid a terrible disaster, the last account – once in a lifetime to see further than her cave. They had dig a shallow hole in me and planted love for that safe, yet blind cave in it. No wonder I dig it out threw it aside and had the roots of fury begin growing instead. This heroism, this ridiculous madness was the door I slammed shut purposely so hard that the world behind it had to shatter into pieces. Now being 18 I knew myself well enough and realised about my cowardice. That was why I had to cut through the cableway above the abyss – to rob myself from chance to hide there when the lights turn too bright and I find myself in coward’s shoes.
They left. They shook my hands before going and I stood there in complete perplexity, not knowing yet how to play my role – roles, more precisely. The first I was to play in front of them, the second in front of people, the third in front of mirror. “Four days”, Akto had told me. “You have got four days.” It was four days until the message: “Quit the show, go back, turn into nobody once again.” I had four days to live my life or four ways to die.
That night, standing or again sitting in tyrant’s bedroom the entire world stood opened in front of me. I did not allow my body to take even an eyeful of nap. It had to surrender to my spirit that banged and boomed inside my head, causing me extreme pain. All of a sudden, this nutshell sometimes also called “head” was too tight for it. My heart was an internal whiplash against my ribs. I could only see the inner reasons of my deed, no more. I did not see what was to come after daybreak. Perhaps I did not care or the idea just never occurred to me. Just before the daylight rose I found myself tormented by phantoms. I had no idea who they were or where they had come from. They kept chattering, repeatedly. They could have been conferring to me, but there was too many of their words. They were roaring and disputing, then again acting out as moralisers. I rose and made my escape to the garden. I stood there, my head risen to the starry-sky, my eyes catching the glimpse of the first ray of sun. Snow was falling on my thin shirt, melting from the heat of my flesh and slowly dripping down my body. Snowflakes melted in my palms striving to the sky. I am unable to tell for how long I stood there like that, but when I was about to leave a tiny thought made its way to my brain and rented a cottage there. Since then, it kept murmuring to my ear: it is not just any morning you’re escaping from, it is the dawn of your time of rural. Then I recognised my phantoms. All the kings, queens, butlers, Masters of Ceremonies, grooms and tutors who had been lecturing, doubting and arguing, perhaps in a purpose to worn and protect me. I had been willing to not know, and switched them out. What ever it was, they had tried to teach me I never had it with me; I had to manage on my own. I did not feel my strongest. Anyway, was I left with a choice? No, I myself had cut it away, it was no longer a part of my life. I had climbed down to the crater and pulled the rope with me. I could no longer leave; hesitating, doubting, strong or weak – I was there. I found my long lost daredevil in that realisation.
I glanced to the mirror; I did not see much anybody. There was a lot less I in it.
Only when I woke I realised I had slept. Nevertheless, had I? Perchance I had only thought of dreaming, imagined to sleep. The fact I rose from a bed confirmed that I might have been sleeping; the sleep had had a spirit of awareness.
My head felt very heavy and simultaneously light – too light. When I rose so did my body. It was so downy I could not keep it up, so it sank back to the bed. I could not tell what the awkward change was about but in seconds, I grew keen on it. My heart rose up to my throat and for the first time in my life I was convinced I have a heart.
The sun was up high and probably I was late for breakfast. Strange that I never doubted my plot would succeed. However, I could not confirm as I had wished for my failure. On the contrary, it was likely the last thing I did wish. Somehow I excepted the new state of situation as utterly normal, as if I should be in position I am – and vice versa. I am not sure if I really was dissolved in the tyrant, but I had unquestionably lost myself – at least for some smaller amount of time. Moreover, I did not miss myself back. In case I had asked myself the propitiate question that moment, I surely would have doubted if there ever had been any me. Indeed, I had always lived dissolved in somebody. Firstly because I needed it for my existence. Secondly because being on my own I sensed my absolute nobody as a form of being and was afraid of it.
It was afternoon when it occurred to me that I am drunk. No, I was not drunk, only felt like being. Why, I cannot say. Perhaps just the natural desire to label each existent thing with an existent label; to see, how its eyes appear to jump out from their nests; how a frog green tongue makes its way through the gate of lips. Then I glanced at the passed hours. I could not remember almost anything. Why? Because nothing had happened! My hopes, my expectations had been deceived. In the deepest corner of my soul I had still presumed that acting out my role would be some more complicated; they would doubt it, because doubt itself is the presumption of the progress of humankind, the basis of philosophy. A completely common breakfast; rarely spoken phrases; “Hellos” on the fork, a couple of “Your Majesty’s” sipped down the throat with wine. I waited and waited for something to grow out of it, something big, but it did not. Therefore, I lowered my expectations down to something so-so, but not even a tiniest thing happened. It was time to leave the table, two dozes of sweets were travelling towards large intestine; I was exhausted.
I spent my time rambling around in the castle. It certainly did not feed my restless spirit, though kept my feet and restlessness busy. What is a king – a tyrant – supposed to do? Is he to constantly be up with some plan to rotten the souls of the people? Is he to take part of multiplying discussions? Associate with hordes of guests, servants and courtiers? At least be obliged to have constant fun? None whatsoever, I had figured out before nightfall. They just let him be, not paying any regards to if he dies of boredom. Perchance this is the virus kings catch and die. They certainly seem to be roasted in it all day long like they were chanterelles instead of emperors. I would really have liked to ask somebody if it was true. I could have asked my crone, but I never found him. I never found anybody. When the sun fell to the sea I had to ask myself, if the tyrant really was what we had thought of him? Was he not the fruit of our imagination, sprouted and matured under careful guard? Did he even exist? Alternatively, perhaps he had come up through our common desire to label everything, personalise each phenomenon. I was no longer sure.
I had a fever. Now I found and explanation for my state of being drunk and feeling downy. However, what is a king supposed to do when having a fever? To call for his physician of ordinary? Perchance this physician would have the king’s flesh considered too ordinary and too commonly seen. No, I considered, I cannot do that. Nevertheless, my brain has never been anything but an organ of digestion for my heart; that was exactly what I did. I had not yet lost hope experiencing something momentous.
It pleased me to get naked before the poor terrified physician, paying no attention to his cries that tried to convince His Majesty to stop. I have never seen anybody more frightened. His awkward behaviour made me realise that he had never gone any further than cautiously feeling king’s pulse; he had used this simple procedure to fill his empty life. I found his embarrassment amusing. Nevertheless, it was an indiscreet amusement, perhaps even cruel. However, I felt my behaviour was justified after all the ways they had not treated me. The piteous man, His Majesty’s physician of ordinary, had not even the courage to give me the diagnosis I had given myself long before and only needed him to reassure it. He dared to neither prove nor deny the fever, probably because he never knew what I want him to say. Only when I asked him to leave I thought I saw some glimpse of joy on his face.
I waited until the midnight to leave my room. Convinced, that every living soul is under Hecate’s possession, I walked the corridors, maybe frightening every possible light sleeper. The amusement I had felt about the physician’s confusion was replaced with understanding and therefore sadness. Fear, momentous and innumerable, had frozen both truth and lie in his throat – the fear to make a slightest mistake. An insane perfectionism, conditioned not by deadly strong character, as in my case, but on the contrary – weak and easily surrendful. This automatically led me to the question what kind of a man was the cause to the virus of perfectionism that had seized the whole castle, perchance even the entire country. What kind of intellect, mind, did the man have whose shoes I had put on my frivolous feet? There was no way I could have known. However, he must have been a somebody; he must have been powerful enough to create the myth, courageous and stubborn to keep it up.
Indeed, I had a fever. I seized the wall to keep myself up. My body felt free and my spirit could fly. Unfortunately, its head soon collided with the ceiling and fell back to my chest.
“Four days. You have four days.” Why had Akto stressed this sentence so neatly? Why had he looked at me, as if it consisted a world? Maybe because he had hidden his world in it and trusted me to keep, waiting and expecting me to know how to keep and change it. It was too much responsibility. I had never asked him for that, then why had he given it to me. Things are not given just as that, without you not even begging to have them, are they. What had he seen in me? Maybe all he ever saw was the same insensible 18 years old youth others saw as well. However, just maybe he considered me insensible enough to have his wish come true. I was crazy. I had always been crazy, though mostly unaware of my insanity. Nevertheless, Akto had seen me through. Was he crazy, too – enough crazy to detect insanity. This was how it had to be. He wanted too much of me. I had just one night to figure out, what it was and how to make it come true. One night to add a feverish body up with a feverish soul. To find an answer and be ready to use it by the daybreak. It was to be a dreadful night. It was to be a great night. I was ready. An insane gave an insane excepted. The insane excepted.
The day before my second day of rural I slept deeply. If I had known answers to the questions that tormented me, could that I had slept it deeply? However, sleep is a child that prefers to do everything tomorrow instead of today.
I had always thought a king’s morning begins with aids rambling and booming behind his door and later continues with the fuss of getting dressed. Last morning I had somehow forgotten about it, but now I was alert. Fortunately not for too long as I realised the habitual will ever take place.
I knew – at least I trusted I did – what Akto had wanted me to do. I was to be drastically positive, therefore drastically inhuman. He wanted me to be everything the tyrant was not. Maybe it never occurred to him that I was also to be everything I had never been. I was not familiar with the role I was about to play – and succeed. The role of a golden fish that complies all requests until there are requests to be complied.
I have no idea how the second day met its dawn. If I only could have taken it by arm and hurry it to the meeting! Never before have I played a total imbecile. Never before have I felt myself so foolishly. Can a worse horror be imagined than a man acting out to be someone he is not in any conditions? I tried to play someone 180 degrees different from the tyrant, but I failed – because I was destined to fail. Mutes can be spoken to; depths can be made to listen. However, how is a man to open the throats and ears of those who have locked them willingly? All I ever did was that I put out all my strength to be good. Actually, I was so good that the charade made me want to puke. I figured out, if a person is too good he is no longer a person, because he is peeled of his natural colour. I know why I failed while trying to act out virtues I never had and never will have. Because I was not expected to have any virtues. A proverb says is swell: “A man only sees what he wants to see.” What if everybody want to see a tyrant? What if everybody give their best to see a tyrant?
Can these people not be moved? I was asking myself, how far am I to go. So what did I do? I only tried to be friendly with my family, to smile them. I admit, I did not do my best, but it was a smile. Faded faces, corners of mouths petrified upwards were my enemies, but my neat smile did not surrender in the first battle. I picked up my baby sister and had her sit in my lap – only to feel her cold petrified body dripping down my feet towards the floor. I tried to converse my younger brother, a 14 years old handsome boy, about literature and philosophy – the only response I ever had was a couple of “Yes, Your Majesty’s” forced out of him. Then I trusted of having found the right way to get to him – I had fouls brought. I thought of teaching him a little about fencing. However, my student made it impossible for me to be any teacher. One strike and he let his foul fall and began staring at his toes. I was so depressed of him being so subservient, that I would only have felt good when giving him the final stroke to slid through his velvety neck. I felt almost sorry of not having done that. However, I was supposed to be good, so I smiled my little brother and let him be.
They were not bad to me, that “family” of mine; neither were they good. They were not anything at all. So I was thinking – Akto had wished me to be good, but what did they wish? Did they wish anything at all? Did they think anything? Feel anything? I was rarely convinced that they were alive. Some momentary glimpses assured me of that, yet being so fast when racing over their faces, that the light never reached their eyes. Their eyes were dark. Their eyes were blank. Their eyes were blind. What were they alike? They reminded me of some glamorous masks used in theatre in the “good old times”. Only that half of the colour had been washed off by rain, and so a part of the face showed some expression and the other part showed none.
Nevertheless, I did not give in – I was not one of them. Neither was I good. I was I, the “good old” stubborn I. It was to be either victory or death. I wanted one of the two and made no difference between them.
I trust there was just one thing I indeed blamed my “family”: the fact that I was unable to understand them. I acted out with my own mother and father, as well, but at least they believed, they were alive. However, these here, I could not really think anything about them. Did they believe? Did they see my game through? As I was not playing it well. I did not bother, I never knew, how. Shortly it occurred to me that they know; that every soul in the castle knows about it; and yet they do not bother, they are simply not interested revealing my cover. That they are just pleased with anybody who is not trying to shake them from their mute emotions. I, too, have been oppressed and not little, yet I have not lost courage, the courage to feel. The courage to love, despise and hate. The greatest courage of all.
All right, I decided, but I must do something for the people, something for the poor, miserable and suffering people. Therefore, I wrote I plan of action for the next day.
· To cut half of the taxes. (I lacked of courage to decrease more)
· To release prisoners, at least those condemned to death.
· To disband the Council of the Spies and Executioners.
· To raze servants’ salary. (In case they were being paid at all, which I was not sure about.)
· To pay women benefit after each childbirth. (Thinking about my mother.)
That was all I was able to put down, no more. Moreover, even those five in the list were the result of a half night hard thinking. I realised how much easier it is to moan for changes than to be concrete and start making them come true. Yet, I slept with a peaceful heart because now I had something to show Akto that I had not just been a good-for-nothing, but really tried to do something.
Unhappy is the man who tries to make changes, I had figured out by the dusk of my third day. I felt tempted to cry, to give in and cry out of humiliation and shame. My poor -poor reformations, children of insomnia, how beautiful and lovely they looked! How far had I gone, how deep had I sunk to have them come to life! Why did I want to release those condemned to death, if not to wipe the penalty of death thereafter from the floor of Earth. To kill a “phenomenon” which I hate and despise with all the strength of my will. Yet I had to take advantage of it to accomplish my wish – I had to threaten the Grand Council. So, what was I to do now? Despise myself? Hate myself?
Indeed, I was insane. Insane ever having begun this crazy operation. Shall I suffice of strength, insanity to go to the end I was asking myself? I had doubts I had hesitations. I was no superman, I was no king; I could not even govern myself.
Insane, they called me. Insane. All of a sudden, the whole country was worried about His Majesty’s mental state. The castle was hissing the court was fizzing, rumours spread over the country. Suddenly everybody was concerned about His Majesty’s mental health. What so horrible had I been trying to do? Nothing but well. The prisoners were free. Then why was I held in prison in the name Insane?
I tore the coat of philosophy down on me and clearly looked at the world. I wished to cry – I could not bare the sight of it.
I thought about my companions. By the end of the fourth day, they had promised to send me a message. Then it was to end. I was to die. Yes, I had to die, for I had destroyed my previous life and this role on this big stage was my only property, my whole life. I never longed to be back for I knew I have no place to go.
Unquestionably, their plan had been a success. Zero was dead. They had killed him. They could not know they had killed themselves and me as well.
The easiest way to live is without a choice, with no path to turn to, just a room to walk, live, kick the bucket. This castle, this role, this stage. Was it not what I had been looking for? A man only gets what he wants to get.
If there is no bottom beneath then why should I not keep on falling? What for, for whom had I care about it? Nobody. I did not care, all my parents ever worried about was my body, they never saw my dead soul; the only people I had got involved with, were always too far; to the rest of the world I was the tyrant wearing the label “tyrant” – and this label would fit a corpse’s neck as well. Respect would not extend beyond the grave.
I remember a friendly neighbour taught me to play chess. I never wanted to lose. I wanted to cut it off on the half, but the bald-headed uncle told me: “You have to finish the game you’ve started.”
Years later, I often played chess with him. I remembered about his words and no longer cut off the game, though I was not much of a player. Head is used when playing chess, but I put my soul in it. I amazed my neighbour with series of strange losses I myself felt glad about. He could not understand my reason to feel joy until I had explained him. He waggled and told me, a game is not life. Every time I saw I would soon be defeated, I had my king commit a suicide. Therefore, I had not lost because I had done, as I had wanted.
A game is not life, oldie had told. However, life is a game.
Fourth day and I caught a savage fear. I sensed the mortality of time. Suddenly I had so much to do, so much to feel, so much to find out.
My “family” was no longer afraid of me. None would fear a deadly sick – which they must have considered me. I do not rebuke them. A man who makes peace in the middle of a war cannot be considered normal. That was my fourth day insanity. The tyrant had a war – with whom, for how long and why, I still do not know. Besides, it has no importance. The entire country was shocked. However, I did not care. I raced with the time to kill myself before the checkmate. I was dreadfully afraid of the messenger sent by Donet, Kadar, Bodo, and Akto.
Why could I not be “the good king”, only “the mad king”?
I had always thought that I am not afraid of death, that I have achieved plenty and can leave in instant – feeling no regrets. Nevertheless, the sky darkened and I was trembling from irritation and commotion. It seemed to me I had been given a day, just the damn number of hours to live my entire life.
I lost of strength, I felt exhausted. I could struggle no more. What for, I asked myself. If it is taken from me each moment?
I sat on my soft bed and glanced at the ceiling. It was high, too high for me ever to reach.
What’s it all for, I was asking. I could have asked the same about life. What is a life for, if one moment you will be dead and there will be nothing left not even memories?
“Stop it!” I longed to scream. “Give me the end of it! I can no longer bear waiting, fighting over each second! If it has to end, may it end now!!!”
I woke when sun met moon. A brittle pink winter day glared through the window. Zero stood above me.
I was neither surprised nor frightened, as if I had known him to come all the time, as if I had waited for him. I looked at his face. I saw my own face. I was again looking to the mirror. He, too, was neither surprised nor frightened. He was a human. And I was merely his shadow. The Shadow of a Human.
“Tyrant”, he told me: not wickedly, but concretely. For me it was a pure truth. It might have been absurd, it might have been everything or nothing, but I never questioned it.
He no longer looked at me. “Change your clothes.” I did as been told. There was no space for thoughts in my head; the feeling burning in my heart had taken over brain. Now I was experiencing the great thing. I had waited for it and now had it with me.
“Disguise yourself” Zero told.
“How”, my eyes were asking.
“Do something to your face. That it would not remind me of me.”
My hands were moving impulsively. I cannot remember the procedure. “That it would not remind me of me.” That it would not remind him of him. Therefore, he was afraid of that thing. His eyes were empty.
“All right”, Zero told, taking a glimpse of my face. “I shall call the guards now.”
I wavered. “What are you going to do with me… Majesty?”
He stopped in front of me and gave it a second thought. Then he said, I shall have you burnt.
A knock on the door. Zero jerked, then opened the door. There was nurse standing on the doorstep. I knew her well: wherever she went the fuss and the rumours went with her. However, my “family” considered her dear. “Get out!” Zero yelled and slammed the door. “Wait”, he told me and left the room.
I stood by the window and saw the nurse racing over the yard. I partly opened the window.
“Thank God and Virgin Mary, His Majesty is all right again!” she was crying aloud.
Zero returned with the guards. I was taken away. The last I heard was he sending for the general.
Zero and I shall never meet again. At first I coddled myself with the awkward hope that he will come to see me, if not of anything else, then of simple curiosity. Now I know he must never see me. For the same reason as I had to “do something” to my face. “That it would not remind me of me”, Zero had told and I understood him. However, it was not merely my face, that reminded him of himself, it was my entire being, my actions that perchance reminded him too much of his own failed hopes.
Once I asked about my companions. I heard no reply. Nevertheless, I know they died. It could be no differently. The insanity has been cured. The game is over.
There is one thing that isolates me and Zero, the tyrant. We share everything else. We know the answer, what is a life for. For life. Life is for life. Life is to defeat yourself.
At first, I believed Zero sent me these papers to read my thoughts. But he will burn them. I would advise him to burn them.
There is one thing that isolates me and Zero.
I die.

The Tyrant

Diana Ostrat

Tartu, Estonia

  • Artist

Artist's Description

A short story written in the age of 17 or 18, and also translated about then. Excuse me for errors, English is not my native and also I lack of time to retranslate the story.

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