King Pageview

There once was a little boy who lived in a small village in the vast land of Borg, adjacent to the even vaster Kingdom of Moogle.

This boy had a gift. His gift was to make people laugh. When he could barely walk, he would make his parents topple over from laughter by his antics. When he was a little older, he’d think up stories that once had his parents send for the healer to cure his sister’s stomach ailment, she had laughed so hard. When he was old enough to attend the village school, the other children were riveted by his stories, so that before long even the teacher gave up on what he thought he should teach them and sat down to listen to the boy instead. Word spread and he was soon invited to other houses in the village to share his gift of laughter. He was sent to the sick and the dying, and he cheered them up.When there was a country fair, he was asked to stand up in front of everyone and tell his stories.

He grew up to be a fine young man who never wanted for anything. The people in the village fed him and clothed him and gave him everything he needed. The people in the village were very happy.

But the boy grew impatient. He wanted more. There was a whole world out there to be conquered. So one day he left his village and set out to seek his fortune. He wandered from town to town and fair to fair for many years, into the farthest reaches of Borg, with ever bigger throngs of people lining the town squares to listen to him. In return for the joy of laughter he brought them, they fed him and clothed him and gave him everything he needed. Wherever he stayed, the people were very happy.

Before long he had a group of Followers who trailed him on his wanderings. At first he was very pleased to see that the Followers became more numerous as the months passed, but then he became dejected on the days they stayed the same. He also started hearing tales about other boys like him who also had gifts and shared them with anyone willing to listen. When he came across the first of them one day, he was surprised to see that they were good at what they did. This nagged at him. He grew resentful whenever he saw Followers at someone else’s gathering, and he would make a point of showing up and walking through the crowds and telling them to come to his own fair instead. Of course he did this very politely, because he was well brought up.

It soon came to pass that a new King had taken control of Moogle. He was adored by the masses, and all the gifted boys soon flocked to his castle. His name was King Pageview. When he heard of this news, the boy set out once again to leave Borg and become a page at the king’s court.

At first his new life thrilled him. King Pageview controlled a vast network of fairs, bigger than anything the boy had ever seen before, and the king always made sure there were plenty of Followers. The boy loved travelling around the countryside in his fancy new carriage, together with his entourage, receiving the adulation of the masses. All the boy had to do was tell stories about the topics the king selected. A small price to pay, he thought.

One day he was feeling especially happy. It was spring, the flowers were blooming, the birds were singing, and there were many people and Followers lined up to hear him. “Let me tell them a really funny story,” he thought. “They are looking so sad today.” So he dug back into his memory and recounted one of his childhood jokes, a very long and elaborate one, and soon the crowd was roaring and clapping like he had never heard before. However, that night on his way back to the castle, his carriage was overtaken by the King’s personal guard, who seized the boy and threw him in the darkest dungeon of the castle without an explanation. There he suffered for an entire week, with only rats as companions, until he was dragged before the Chief Minister to be interrogated.

“It has come to my ears that you told your own story at a fair, one that was not on the King’s approved list!” said the Chief Minister.

“Yes Sire,” said the boy.

“You will never do that again, or you will be thrown out of Moogle, do you understand?” thundered the Chief Minister.”King Pageview is the one who knows best what the people want to hear. Only he gets to decide.”

“What is it the people want to hear?” asked the boy with a small voice.

“Short jokes,” replied the Chief Minister. “Otherwise they will become tired. We need to keep the people entertained. And show them plenty of pictures. They cannot concentrate on your long stories.”

“And remember, Pageview is the king around here,” the Chief Minister called after him as he was led out the room.

From then on, the boy decided to be good, and only did the king’s bidding. Every week he diligently studied the scrolls posted on the town square listing the approved topics, King Pageview’s top picks, and how many Followers were counted by the Kings’ personal guard soldiers who were attending every fair to record attendance.

So it went for many more years, and the boy never had to worry about anything, as long as his stories were to the king’s liking. He did not have many friends, as all the other boys like him were jealous about sharing their Followers. The king assigned new Followers to him every week, just enough to keep him happy, but if he wasn’t careful, he could lose them, which was a very scary thought indeed. And the king fed him and clothed him and gave him everything he needed. So it was for every boy in the entire kingdom, and once a year they all had to come and pay their respects and swear renewed fealty.

Thus it might have gone on forever, had the boy – who was now no longer a boy but an old man – not let his eyes wander over the crowd in front of him one day and spotted his own sister  – by now an old woman herself – in the front row. He had not seen her in years, in obedience to the king’s edict that all fealty must only be sworn to him, and he was surprised to see how old she had become. And she looked sad. So very very sad. He told joke after joke to cheer her up, all of the ones he had carefully studied on the town scroll, but his sister did not laugh. And not just his sister, he suddenly noticed. No one was laughing. Everyone was carefully eyeing the king’s soldiers patrolling the square, recording attendance and watching the crowd.

Could this be? he thought in dismay. Could it be that that the entire kingdom has been silent for years, and I didn’t even see? Was I so busy pleasing King Pageview that I’ve failed to notice I’m no longer pleasing the people?

He paused, and he looked at the crowd stretched out in front of him as far as the eye could see. He saw the people. And he saw that they were not happy. They had not been happy in a long time. The Kingdom of Moogle, and the land of Borg beyond it, lay silent.

No one was laughing anymore. They’d forgotten how to do it.

And with this, a great weight fell off of him. He dug back deep into his memory and came across a story he had once told his sister, the one where his parents had sent for the healer because she had laughed so hard. “Let me tell you a funny story…” he began. He continued on well into the evening, and each time the crowd roared, he came up with another joke that was even better, and longer. For the first time in years, he did not pay heed to the soldiers patrolling the square, and he did not care what King Pageview would say. When the sun had gone down and a chill set over the streets, he slowly packed up his belongings and walked away, his sister at his side.

They had not gotten far before the sound of thundering hooves filled the air, the king’s personal guard upon him in a flash, blocking his way.

“Don’t you know what you did today?” the leader demanded.

“I made the people laugh,” he said.

“King Pageview will be furious when he finds out,” said the leader.

“I know,” said the boy.

“You will be banned from the Kingdom of Moogle,” shouted the leader.

“I know,” said the boy. “I no longer belong there. I am going home.”

And so it was. The people in Borg needed him. He would return to his village, where the people would feed him and clothe him and give him everything he needed. The people in the village would be very happy.

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