The scorching white daystar approached the zenith of her daily orbit and burned down upon the gentile slaves toiling away the midday hour. The grunts of full-grown men heaved into the arid summer air, interrupted only by the pitch and ping of spades striking unforgiving earth. The African heat was miserable, almost unbearable, as thirst and sweat and mosquitoes nagged the laborers mercilessly.
Gazing upon the brown-backed workers from afar, the Roman surveyors rested their watchful eyes upon the slaves. Local girls fanned the squinty-faced men with broad-leafed palms while they sat imperiously in the shade, their large fumbling hands resting in the laps of their tyrian robes. Procured at the behest of the provincial king, the foreign architects had been bought and brought in from the imperial capital to supervise the project. They chatted idly of the sensual pleasures of that exotic land, pausing only to wave a dismissive hand or to spit out pomegranate seeds; meanwhile, the weary slaves dragged and rolled the immense sandstone blocks to the giant temple, where the many likenesses of the provincial king were to be inscribed.
At the apex, a monumental throne was being assembled, and upon it, a sculpted image of the boy king. The humongous frontispiece was to become a wonder to behold: a behemoth in the midst of the desert to remind the slaves and wanderers of the all-seeing eye of the majestic sovereign. And surrounding the gigantic structure as far as the eye can see were to be lines and lines of towering, whirling windmills.
Underneath the veranda where the watchful overseers reclined, in the midst of the noon-day heat, a laborer named Saul was striking relentlessly at the sandy, dessicated rock. His hands were leathery, bloody, and rubbed raw from the crude instruments the taskmasters had given him. He took great pride in his work, although he understood the futility and the absurdity of the vainglorious endeavor. The ground meal all-too-rarely doled out by the taskmasters was enough to sustain his existence, but not his life. A merchant by trade and a self-educated man, he was a fugitive from the Roman magistrate, wanted for the capital crime of trading goods in the forum without the proper licensing, and as an official afterthought, for tax evasion. He was not from around here, and did not feel himself a part of it, but rather above it.
Thus it was with great bewilderment and perplexed curiosity one day that Saul struck upon the sandstone face at the foot of the canyon, where the workmen had been brought to do the preliminary work of fashioning sandstone blocks. For no sooner had the rock broken away, that a dark, odorous seepage filled the nascent fissure. After an initial moment of wonderment, he believed he knew what the black liquid was. Having read faithfully his Herodotus and Didorus Sicilus as a schoolchild, he believed it to be an oily pitch, with properties heretofore not fully countenanced, but assuredly useful. Gently he pushed a few loose rocks laying nearby into the crevice, and silently moved on to join a nearby work group, while taking careful note of the deposit’s lay at the canyon base.
By cover of night, Saul escaped the work camp and made his way towards the unguarded work site. By the light of the full moon, he traced a path to the spot where he had been. He passed his hands over the rocks until he found the familiar place. Moving the rocks aside, he placed his forefingers into the damp, sticky earth, smelled it thoroughly, and even gave them a lick. Soon he was biting his garment to rid his palate of the bitter, sulfurous taste. Taking a canteen from his side, he drained the water from it and then pressed its mouth down into the soil until it was half-filled with the oily stuff, mixed up with the sludge and sand. Tomorrow, he would see if this pitch-like substance reacted to the daytime-burning flames that arrogantly hung upon the walls leading to the king’s palace.
The next day, as he shuffled into line to sip the brackish water that passed for mid-morning refreshment, he eyed the whip-bearing brute who kept order in the line. As the guardian turned his piggish face in bemusement to watch a slave pass out from exhaustion, Saul put his head down and walked towards the palace walls. Pulling a piece of cloth from his belt, he dabbed some of the pitch-soaked soil onto the garment. As he held it forth unto the brazen torch, it burst into an intense flame, and after he dropped the rag from his burnt fingers onto the ground, it continued to burn long after he would have expected it to be consumed. He had indeed stumbled upon a bitumen deposit.
“Hey, you!” the guards yelled and in moments he was seized by the arms to be dragged back to the work camp. But before he was carted away, the guards watched as the rag continued to burn. “Where did you get this blackened rag?” the fat guard asked. “Only the king’s men are allowed to possess pitch! Now tell me, or it’s the lash for you!”
“It was my discovery,” Saul proclaimed indignantly. “And if the king wants to know where to find this pitch, he can pay me for it.”
“Oh, a bargainer, are we?” a thin Roman guard with an aquiline nose interjected. “To the stockades with you!”
Just at that moment, a procession of slaves bearing royal coaches aloft upon their slouching shoulders made its way through the open street. The banners of the Abyssinian boy-king strode before the procession, hanging down upon their guiding rods. In the center was the man-child himself, a delicate figure whose personage was marked by a penchant for overly lofty speech and generous, drooping earlobes, which were said by his court to be a blessing of the gods. It was a sign of his willingness to listen to the complaints of the little people, or so the courtesans liked to repeat.
The slaves set the royal coach down upon the ground and a magnificent tent was erected within moments. The king had come to witness the progress of the work towards building a monument to himself. Instantly, slaves fell upon their knees in abject worship. Saul struggled to break free of the guards, who were the only men standing within the purview of the king.
“Guards!” the king spoke with a terrible voice that rang out in the silence. “Who is this slave who dares to defy my authority? Bring him to me, so that I might know the source of his insolence.”
The two guards, who were contracted to protect the lives of the Roman engineers upon the emperor’s command, dragged the presumed slave before the king.
“Release him and stand at the ready,” the king proclaimed, and two native warriors stepped before the wood-framed throne bearing the royal personage.
“What is your name, slave?” the king inquired with a pious tone. The court surrounding him watched on with a haughty and pretentiously concerned air.
“Saul,” the laborer responded. “And I am no slave.”
“What?” the king replied. “Why that cannot be! You bear all the markings of a slave,” he said and paused. “But now that I look closer I can see that you are not of this region, nor of the neighboring lands. You must be a foreigner from far away.”
“I am a Roman citizen escaped from the law,” the man said. “And I have brought you news of a tremendous discovery that would be of great help to your kingdom, if only you shall listen.”
With that, Saul tore a piece of clothing from his dingy white tunic and poured the pitchy solution onto it from his canteen. Walking towards the palace wall, the guards made a jump to arrest him, but were waved away by the king. Saul procured a torch from the wall, whose flame had dwindled low, and he made the sparks jump and dance by adding the cloth to the fire.
“What necromancy is this!?” the king exclaimed. “Are you a sorcerer? If so, you must be executed at once!”
“No, your majesty,” Saul said with a smirk. “This is the work of bitumen, which I recently discovered in your region.”
“Bitumen?” the king inquired. “We have no use for such dark arts. Since you appear to be of Roman blood, you shall now be executed in the Roman fashion. Guards, arrest this man, and nail him to yonder windmill, so that he shall be made an example of to all the slaves who believe themselves to be above the law.”
But before Saul could be dragged away to meet a grisly fate, a slave stepped forth from the line. Speaking in clear, full-throated voice, he addressed the king.
“Your highness,” the man said firmly, and trenchantly for a mere laborer. “If I may, I shall take the stead of this unfortunate man. I am willing to give my life for the world, so that we may remain pure and without the stain of sin. The scourge of this black substance must be cleansed from the kingdom, and the dark arts that set it aflame must be extinguished.”
“Very well,” the boy-king said, waving his delicate wrist to his entourage, signaling that it was time to depart. “It is of no consequence to me who is punished, as long as someone is punished. Take this man…”
“Gorius of Eritrea…” the man said proudly.
“Take this man to yon windmill and nail him upon the cross. And may this land be purged of this wandering sorcerer’s sin.”
And as the man was nailed upon the cross, the merchant slipped away to seek another land, a foreign land, where his desire to trade would be more welcomed. Looking back over his shoulder, the man hanging in the stagnant desert air look strangely happy, having finally satisfied his desire to sacrifice for the good of the people.
Author’s note: The above is satire. It is a fictionalized account intended to elucidate certain ideas and principles by taking them to absurd lengths. It is not intended to be taken literally.
Kyle Becker blogs at RogueGovernment, and can be followed on Twitter as @RogueOperator1. He writes freelance for several publications, including American Thinker and OwntheNarrative, and is a regular commentator on the late night talk show TB-TV.