Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a benign King who ruled his Kingdom with the Knights of his Round Table.
One day, the King’s servants approached a small hamlet, and told them that they had great news. The King – in his kindness – had been made aware of the parlous nature of the little village’s habitations, and was offering his subjects the opportunity to move to another area where he would provide them with much superior housing and farmland and barns for their animals.
The villagers were delighted. A wonderful new village?! They had long petitioned the Royal Courts for finance, which they had not ever received before, to improve their buildings, as they were getting old and in need of repair.
The first villager asked of the servants, “Where shall we be moved to?” And the servant replied, “Fear not, for the place chosen for you is just over the hill. Please, just sign this paper and we will arrange everything for you”.
That was good news, for they saw that they would not have to move far from their friends and relatives. But a second villager thought about this, and said, “But sir, there is no room over the hill for new houses and farms to be built, for it is already occupied by our neighbours”. The villagers realised this was a very good question, and waited for the servant to respond. “Fear not”, he said, “We will make sufficient room for you, your families and your livestock. Now, kindly sign this paper and we will be on our way”.
The villagers were, by now, starting to feel concerned. “Sir”, a third asked, “where will you build the new houses for us?”
“Ah”, stuttered the servant, moping his brow and looking nervous, “We will not be building new houses and barns for you, we are making space in the farms and homes of those who already live there. After all, you don’t really need all this space, do you?”
The villagers were shocked. Did he mean to remove them from their homes and expect them to live in other people’s houses? “Erm, what I mean to say is”, the servant stumbled on, “we do not have the money to build a new village for you, and the King has decided that it is better for business and trade if more of you live in a smaller area, for you can trade with each other more easily and the economy will improve. So, we really think that this is the best for you all.
You can learn from each other’s farming skills, and it will be so much easier to live much closer together, do you not think? In any case, the law states that a village must have no more than 10% empty buildings in it, and you have many more vacant properties than that, as does the other village. It makes sense to combine you all in one area”.
The villagers shook their heads in disbelief. “But sir,” questioned another. “Those homes are empty because their occupants are away. They will be returning soon – do you not remember? You told us so yourself in the village council last month. You had had notice that they will move back shortly. Why do we need to move to rid ourselves of the vacant properties? They will not be vacant much longer, will they?”
The servant coughed a little, and said nothing. The villagers grew perplexed.
Then one plucky inhabitant piped up, “Sir, what will the King do with our land when we are gone? For we have lived here a very long time and love this land and our homes, and we will be so very sorry to see it all taken away and descend into a fruitless waste”.
The servant pulled anxiously at his robe. “The…erm…the er…land will not lie idle,” he admitted. “The King has promised your village to others. They really do need a place to live as they have been wandering without a home for so very long”.
The villagers considered this. They knew of the people of whom the servant spoke, and had long supported their goal of a permanent home because they could see it was not easy to be lodged in other’s homes as the Wanderers had been forced to do. For the King had never provided them with a home of their own before. But now that they knew that the new home for the Wanderers was to be their home, they were not very happy at all.
“Why does the King want to waste money on moving us when he could just build a new village for the Wanderers?” one asked.
“The Tax Monies cannot afford the cost of a new village,” responded the servant. “It is a far better use of resources to give them a village which already exists.”
“But you are moving us out to make room for them! That is not fair. I do not think that your plan to move us into the homes of our cousins over the hill has anything to do with improving our lives. You just want us out of the way!” The villagers cheered this decisive blow.
But the servant was not perturbed. “On the contrary, my dear people. Our only concern is for your well being. But surely you do not expect us to leave the village deserted? And in any case, the plans are not linked at all.”
“Poppycock!” yelled an elderly lady. The villagers laughed. “You are just saying that. If you try to move me out of the home my family have occupied for generations, I shall tie myself to the village tree! You should be ashamed of yourself, trying to mislead us like that. Did you think we are just poor, uneducated villagers who would not see through your ridiculous plan?”
One villager, in an attempt to cheer everyone up, said “Do not worry, friends, for I am sure we will get a far better home over the hill. Yes, we may have less space, but we will have far better facilities, and we can take with us all our community assets that we have paid for over the years, so that we can make ourselves at home there, right sir?” He looked encouragingly at the servant, who only looked more uncomfortable.
“Well, you see….” he stammered. “Those things in the village, they are on the King’s land and so he…well…he owns them, and he has promised them to the new villagers as they have never had anything like that before. Do they not deserve these things too? Surely you can raise the money again to replace anything you think necessary. After all, you did it once, you can do it again!” He tried to be chirpy and warm, but his words died on his lips as he saw the faces of the villagers around him.
“Please, my dear people, sign the papers now. You must trust that the King knows best and he will ensure you get everything that the law allows for”.
“But what about the things that make our community great but are not enshrined in law?” shouted one very angry looking man.
“We will work out all the details once you have signed the papers”, squirmed the servant.
“But how can we sign something, agree to something, when you have given us no idea what we will get? How much is the King going to spend on moving us?”
The servant looked about. “I cannot tell you how much he will spend as until the time we are ready to move you we will not know. And in any case, if we tell you that, when we ask the carpenters how much it will cost to extend some of the buildings to squeeze you all in, do you not think they will give exactly that figure? You must understand, my dear people, this money is from the payers of tax, and we have a responsibility to spend it wisely and to use as little as possible on every project. It is your money, after all. You don’t want us to waste it, do you?”
The villagers were stunned. They were expected to sign and agree to something and they did not know if what they would get would equal or improve upon what they already had.
“What if we refuse?” one villager boldly demanded.
“Well, if you refuse, we shall just do it anyway as the land belongs to the King and he can do whatever he wants with it. Coming here to talk with you today was really just a courtesy, but as I can see I am getting nowhere I shall now leave. My wife is cooking a lovely chicken for my dinner. Please send in your objections in writing to the King. All your opinions will of course be taken into consideration.”
“But you just said even if we object you will do it anyway”, shouted an irate villager.
“Oh, my dear people, the King is not a despot. He will will listen to your complaints and make the decision he feels is best (once we tell him what that decision is),” the servant added under his breath.
“Where are our Knights?” the people cried. “They will fight for us for this is their home too, and they sit at the King’s Round Table. Surely they will explain to the King how unfair this is and why we cannot agree.”
The Knights surely did come to talk with the worried villagers. But they did not seem to understand the people’s concerns, and kept talking about moving into the 13th century and how they should be grateful that any money was being spent on them at all, as other villages would love to have such an investment.
“But you do not understand!” the villagers declared. “We do not know what we will get. The King’s servants refuse to tell us. They say we will find out after the decision has been made. How can we agree to that?” And on and on went the discussion, but to no avail. The Knights were determined not to break the Circle of the Table, and to stand in unity with the King and his servants.
Then the people remembered that one of the Knights had closed the local scroll swap shop, and now the elderly and the young had to travel far to the big city to be able to swap their scrolls. Many people had objected to that, but the Knight had gone ahead nonetheless, just as he had decided to end the displaying of artistic artefacts in the city even though the people cried out to him to save the display, and all to save the payers of tax some money.
And then a farmer reminded his fellow villagers that one of the other Knights was behind the decision to destroy a lovely tapestry depicting the city’s glorious history, because it was situated in an area that was to become a large market, and there was no space for it there. When the townspeople begged him to use some of their tax money to move it elsewhere, he replied that it would cost too much and would not be a wise use of their money, could they not see that?
So then the people’s shoulders drooped and they could see that their Knights were not going to ride in to their rescue. They would put their duties to the Round Table and their Knightly brethren ahead of their concern for their neighbours in the village.
And so the brave villagers stood up to the Knights and the King’s servants, and demanded answers (which they did not get) and asked for details (which were not forthcoming) of the plan to move them from their ancestral home.
Some suggested they were foolish to even try. Some said that they should be grateful that the King was willing to give them anything at all. Some said they should just trust the King’s Grace, that the ‘new’ village would be a vast improvement on the old.
But the villagers did not give up hope that the justice of their cause would shine brightly enough for the King and his servants and his Knights to turn their heads and consider their concerns.
That Truth and Justice and Fairness would win out, despite the odds, and that in the end they would gain a better, stronger future for themselves and their children and their children’s children.
The very fight itself made the village strong and united and reminded the people that in fact they had more power than they had thought. They also saw their Knights’ true colours, and vowed never to forget what the Knights had done.
The villagers came to believe that they, too, could live happily ever after.
*This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 🙂