When the caged bird sings..

It was perhaps not the first order the emperor Armadius gave, but the order to capture the bird was among the first when he ascended the throne. It was the witch Najeste who caught the bird with a fine net and put the petite colorful bird in a golden cage, which was then placed on a pedestal before the throne set up in the large hall.
Another of those first orders caused the capture and summary execution of those relatives who might be a direct threat to the new ruler or be used by others against him. Among those captured was also the prince Lanare, an otherwise insignificant noble of an insignificant estate, but he was reviled by the emperor for his openly bi-sexual lifestyle. It was well known that Najeste and Lanare were lovers and after some rough handling by guards it was revealed that the witch was indeed a man, although his looks and behavior suggested otherwise. It was something the new emperor had always suspected.
The emperor promised Najeste to spare Lanare from the executioners axe in exchange for the birds capture, but he did not feel obliged to give them their freedom, so he had both men thrown into a dungeon. Each in their own cell: separate, close together but far enough to make communication suitably difficult…
It then took the emperor a year and some thousand lives to squash any potential opposition to his rule, either real or perceived, before he returned to his throne room to ponder the mystery of the bird.
Twenty-five years before, the old emperor had been close to death, but somehow the bird had saved the old emperor from dying. But that was not all. Not only had the bird saved the emperor, but it had also changed him. At first he had been an ruthless warrior whose reputation for bloodshed was only overshadowed by his reputation as conqueror, but the bird had changed him into a gently benign ruler with it’s singing.
During those twenty-five years of reign the old emperor had sat each and every morning on his balcony and listened to the bird and enjoyed the marvelous view of the capital city that stretched out from the palace all the way to the sea. And he had stopped the conquests, encouraged trade, advanced education and alleviated poverty. He had send away the generals and the courtiers and surrounded himself with children. One of which had been Armadius.
Armadius took seat on his throne and he listened to the bird sing for a few days, but nothing was revealed to him. But he was determined to discover the power of this bird one way or another. He sent messengers to all ends of his empire and beyond, and promised untold riches to anyone who would succeed in tapping the power. From far and wide wizards, witches, conjurers, demonists, wise men, hermits and crackpots flocked to the palace, even from far away Siang, but none succeeded in this task.
When all other means were exhausted Armadius had Najeste and Lanare dragged from their cells.
“Tell me the birds secret.” Armadius commanded Najeste,” And I will let you despicable people go.”
The two men held each other close, giving each other comfort and strength. Najeste then looked the emperor straight in the eyes.”I do not know this birds power. The only thing I know is that a child once said that when the bird sings all the other birds come.”
“The bird has sung before me each and every day in this very hall and never has anything remarkable happened.” the emperor said.
“Then the truth must be that the bird has no power whatsoever.” Najeste said,”And whatever happened to the old emperor had more to do with a change in himself than with any outside influence..”
Although the emperor was satisfied with this answer, he had both the prince and witch executed. The prince was staked and the witch torn into four parts by four horses and each part was buried some distance from the other in each point of the compass. He felt that it was offensive to the high gods teachings to let the lovers live and witches were dangerous anyway, especially after being slighted..
Armadius by now had been convinced that the bird did not posses any magic whatsoever and he felt proven when a few months later the bird died of some disease. The emperor was out conquering yet another country when it happened and when he was told he merely shrugged.
When the emperor returned to his palace he ordered the now empty cage to be taken away, and the hall to be filled with the voices of men and women who sang the praises of the emperor and the high god. To him it was a sound much more befitting the palace..
He then sat down on the same balcony the old emperor has sat and looked out over the city.. He enjoyed the view for it gave him to feeling he was a master of all he surveyed, which was true, for everything he saw, but for the sea. He could have his guards go to the city and have them slaughter each and every men. Nobody would be able to stand up to him. Tomorrow his victorious armies would parade down there to demonstrate the might of the empire. He felt satisfied and proud.
He had his servants serve him food and drinks there, like the old emperor had, and when night came he watched the moon rise and the lights of the city flicker below, like the stars did in the sky above, until he fell asleep.
The next morning he woke to see the first light of dawn. The red light flooded the streets of the city. It was the red of morning, but it looked like a sea of blood. The red climbed up towards the mountain and lightened the stake that had once held the carcass of the Prince Lanare.
The emperor rose to his feet and he watched the dawns splendor which took away his breath. And then a petite colorful bird fluttered to the balustrade and picked at some stray crumbs and then started a song. And from the city a wind brought the sound of singing, as the men and women started the new day with songs. And some of those songs were about wise old emperors and others about boundless lovers.
And the emperor felt tears in his eyes as he heard and saw this and then a deep sorrow possessed him as he saw the deceased Lanare and recalled the untold suffering he had caused.
Maybe this sorrow would have lasted a short while and maybe he would have forgotten about it, but he suddenly remembered how the old emperor once had asked him to sing him a song when he was still a child. An innocent song only a child would sing. And the emperor sang that song and the whole city sang to him.

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