Kill The Messenger, Please

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra

Painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Paintinng courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 Biko was a slave attached to the kingdom's army. His sole duty was to hurry back to the king, ahead of the army with the news of the battle.

The news was bad. The army had been defeated. All the soldiers and the General had been killed. The enemy army was resting before it would march against the kingdom. The victorious enemy was not more than one day away from the kingdom.

Biko had no intention of returning to the king with the bad news.

The centuries-old kingdom tradition was to kill anyone who was a messenger of bad news. Even in wars the kingdom had eventually won, messengers with bad news before the final victories, were killed immediately by the king. That was why the duty to bring back news, good or bad, of a battle had always been assigned to a slave. The life of a slave was of less value than the value of an army donkey.

He had watched the battle from a mountainside. After the battle, he had sneaked down at night to strip a dead soldier of a uniform to replace his slave rags. He was unbelievably lucky to have come upon the dead General's body. He took the uniform, and the ring the king, by centuries-old custom, gave to his Generals.

Biko then had fled in a direction away from the kingdom. He was on his way at night.

He could risk running away because there would be no soldiers returning to confirm the slave's report. The king would have to conclude the slave had perished with the army.

It was a difficult and dangerous journey because the terrain was foreign to Biko, and at any time he could meet enemy soldiers.

If he were caught by the enemy, they would most certainly use him to mislead his king. While he had no particular loyalty to his king, he did not like being the cause of other slaves like him being killed mercilessly.

Centuries of cruel tradition made it a certainty that when a king knew he was on the brink of defeat, he ordered the murder of all the slaves in his kingdom.

Biko was a few hours into his flight when he was ambushed by a thief. The thief was merciless in his thrashing. Biko, being a slave, had no fighting skills. He had no doubt the thief would kill him. He was already so seriously maimed, he was on the ground, unable to fend off the blows the thief was relentlessly raining down on him. In utter desperation, he called out that he knew how the thief could come by a lot of money. The thief paused to listen.

Biko lied. He said to the thief he was the General of the defeated army. He said he had the king's ring which, if the thief returned to the king, the king would reward him handsomely. The thief was interested.

The thief took the ring. He paused a while to consider if he should kill the General, anyway. Biko guessed what the thief was considering, and so he hastily asked the thief to, please, allow him to run away from the kingdom because the king would kill the General for losing the battle.

The thief chose to grant Biko his request. The thief stripped Biko of most of the General's uniform, and after delivering a few more blows to render Biko unconscious on the ground, he joyfully left in the direction of the kingdom.

The light of dawn was creeping in over unconscious Biko, when Merrin arrived. She had been attacked by the same thief who later in the same evening had crippled Biko.

She had been on her own for as long as she could remember. She was poor, and had lived on the streets from forever. She had acquired crude skills to protect herself. This was why, although the thief had ambushed her and grabbed whatever sparse possessions she had, she had escaped him. She was not bothered by being robbed of her few possessions.

She was seriously chagrinned by the loss of her self-esteem. This was the first time she had been successfully ambushed by someone who was as much a criminal vagabond as she herself was. In all her criminal escapades, she had never cowardly ambushed any of her victims. She always made sure her victims never knew it was she who was the culprit.

When, in the dim early light, she caught sight of Biko motionless on the ground, she assumed it was the thief, asleep. She looked around furtively. She found a heavy dried-up branch. She crept up, fully intending to whack the thief to death in his sleep.

Lucky for Biko, he awoke. At seeing him sit up, Merrin revealed herself as she jumped up in front of him and raised her weapon to kill him. He saw her; he screamed for mercy. She was near enough to see his face was not the thief's face.

In the few seconds at first, she was too taken aback to say anything. She flung the dried branch to one side, and paced up and down in horror and sorrow and confusion. Biko, in difficult speech, thanked her loudly, and repeatedly.

Eventually, as they sat opposite each other on the ground, they shared accounts of how they had been victimized by the same thief.

He told her of how he had sent the thief to his certain death at the hands of the king. He also observed to her that there was the high probability that the thief was cunning enough to survive and to escape the king's wrath; which meant the thief would be on his way for revenge against Biko; which made it imperative for Merrin to go far away, on her own.

When Merrin insisted they flee together, Biko observed he was so seriously injured by the thief's attack, that it would be days before he would be able to walk. This did not deter her.

She said they would, right there, wait out those days; she knew how to be perfectly on guard, undetected. And, this time, she would have a weapon. And, their extra advantage would be the thief's expecting to encounter a maimed Biko, all alone.

Moreover, she said, there was a river not far away. She had grown up around and in it. She would go down there and bring water for him to drink, and to tend to his wounds. There were wild fruit trees along the river. She would bring fruit up for Biko.

He began to dare to wish the thief would return. 

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