In another life, he probably would have been a mudskipper—you know, the slimy things that can survive both on land and water. He was like that. A war was being fought over him, and he would have survived just as well on either side, but he could neither pick a side nor was the choice his.

He lived in a tower.

(It could be nice to say they fought over him because he was beautiful, like some kind of male Helen of Troy, but, like Helen, he was not the real reason for the war.)

There was a kingdom to his name, and a fortune. Two fortunes and two kingdoms, actually. His mother was from one kingdom, his father from the other. She was the queen of her kingdom, and he the king of his. Both kingdoms were fairly small, and situated on similar terrain, but they were nonetheless vastly different. In the king’s land, the rich were very rich, the poor very poor. Neither the poor nor the rich were particularly happy people, and much sad resignation could be found in their souls or even etched on their faces—but there was little civil discord and great civil confidence: the king’s people felt no insecurity in their greatness. That this greatness gave them no joy was beside the point; they were content with the knowledge alone.

Among the queen’s people, in contrast, there were few poor and fewer rich. Quarrelsome and spirited, the queen’s people lived hard by choice and worked harder still. The knowledge that a king’s kingdom lay just next door gave them a proud sort of unity, unity in their desire to prove they were better than their neighbor, if nothing else. They were not a quiet kind of people, but a hungry kind; they sensed but did not feel their greatness—it seemed forever just out of reach.

(It is no small wonder indeed that the rulers of two so different kingdoms could have come together, and been in love of one sort or another, and produced a son; but this is nevertheless what occurred.)

When it was clear that the two kingdoms had the same heir, both rulers’ advisors immediately began insisting that the king and queen should either marry and have more children, or at least have another child together, and assign one to each kingdom. But the king and queen had ceased to be interested in each other. The king felt his closeness to the queen had only revealed his own superiority, subsequently rendering her uninteresting. Meanwhile, the queen had been enduring the king’s increasingly oppressive presence only grudgingly; moreover, her attempts to incense him to anger or debate seemed not only fruitless but unnoticed.

 Soon after the birth of the heir, an anarchist of some kind or another decided the most prudent course of action would be to murder the both rulers. The plot was successful. Thus, the two kingdoms were left with an infant behind both thrones, and the young ruler was sent to live in a tower between the two kingdoms. 

At once, the king’s advisors tried to root out some ambitious relatives of the queen, who might take over her throne, so that they could have the young ruler for themselves. But no relatives could be found—the queen’s family did not want to yield to anything that may put the king’s kingdom at an advantage to themselves. In return, the queen’s kingdom attempted to convince the king’s greatest noblemen that an oligarchic rule was appropriate. Once again, the plot failed: the noblemen feared the young heir’s future revenge. 

(A merging was, of course, entirely out of the question.)

Amidst this all, the boy grew up. As he aged, tensions grew; a war commenced beneath his bedroom window. He grew to fear the oligarchs of his father’s land and to distrust the aggressive ambition of his mother’s people. Only one thing was clear to him, which was that everyone wanted him, even if they did not understand him—for secretly he was sure his mother’s people found him too like his father, and his father’s people feared he was turning out like his mother. Even still, he knew that no one wanted him dead. In fact, they would do anything to avoid such an occurrence.

So, as the years passed, the young ruler alone grew to resent himself. He recognized that he had no identity—nothing, that is, beyond confusion. And fear—fear stole over him in the night and even in the day—fear that the corpses beneath his bedroom window were in fact all his fault.

(I would like to say that he did not succumb to this fear. I would like to say that he escaped the tower in disguise and vanished into a no-man’s-land forest to lead the rest of his life in contentment and subsist gloriously on nothing but berries and self-esteem.)

(But that is not how the story goes. Is that ever how the story goes?)

After some time, the boy had an epiphany: he was not a mudskipper. He was already living in no-man’s land, in his secure little tower. He was already dead in the eyes of the people who were fighting so hard for his life, because the person they so badly wished him to be was already dead, if he had existed at all.

Thus, on the sunniest day of the year, he jumped out of the window of his tower and died.

(I don’t know what became of the two kingdoms after that.)


Anyway, I’ve heard stories are supposed to have morals. I don’t know if this is much of a story, really, but I’ll give it a moral anyhow.

If you can be a mudskipper, always be a mudskipper.

(But you’re not a mudskipper. So I suppose you’ll just have to be… whatever the hell you are.)

(Good luck.)

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