THE HUMBLE PRIEST

It came to pass that in the Kingdom of Menasha there was a priest, and the priest believed in the one true god, and knew the one true god was the only one true god. He had been a faithful pupil and had been taught that the god worshipped in the Kingdom of Menasha was the one true god, and that all other gods and all other faiths were but falsehoods, and all who lived in Menasha knew this was true.

The priest, who was called Ogbert, was proud of his learning, and pleased with the following of tens upon tens who listened to his teaching, but the one true god sent him a sign, blowing a gust of supernatural wind and rending a hole in the roof of his dwelling, allowing the rains to pour in upon his pride. Ogbert rolled upon the floor and gnashed his teeth and cried: ‘It is my pride which the one true god reviles, and he has sent me a sign.’ So Ogbert renounced pride and preached humility to his followers.

Now, the mother of Ogbert had taught him to practise whatever he should preach, and he therefore declared himself the humble inferior of his flock, and they listened in awe, and spread the word, and the tens upon tens became hundreds upon hundreds who listened to his word. Ogbert witnessed the augmentation of the multitude and saw it as another sign from the one true god, and felt himself humble upon humble. He cried out to his followers (for he had to shout as they were so many) that he was humbler than the humblest, but his voice rang hollow in his ears, so instead he manifest his humility by prostrating himself before them, and a great roar rose from their throats as they exclaimed: ‘Ooh, look at Ogbert!’

Now more and more disciples flocked to see and hear Ogbert speak wisely, and plead his humility, and throw himself upon the earth, which after many attempts he could do in less than the time taken by five breaths of a panting dog. The hundreds upon hundreds became thousands upon thousands.

So remarked upon amongst the multitude was Ogbert’s prostrating to the one true god, that all other priests also came to throw themselves down, some with true humility, and some muttering a curse of ‘bugger Ogbert’ when they smote the baked earth of Menasha.

One who prostrated himself, not with a curse, but wailing with extremely audible humility, was the priest Erstwail, and his sincerity and self denial likewise caused many to follow his words and to witness his deeds.

Ogbert went to witness Erstwail, and adjudged him fairly humble, although not as humble as Ogbert himself, who was humbler than the humblest. Then it came to be spoken amongst men, that even as Ogbert prostrated himself in the time taken by five breaths of a panting dog, Erstwail prostrated himself in the time taken by three breaths of a panting dog, and a few of the faithless desisted from attending the teachings of Ogbert, and assisted at those of Erstwail instead. Heavily was Ogbert troubled, and let it be known that he had a bad knee, or he would have prostrated himself in less than two breaths of a panting dog.


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And the followers of Ogbert were angered by those from within their number who became instead the followers of Erstwail, and remonstrated with them; and the followers of Erstwail who had been the followers of Ogbert replied with words too brief to be conciliatory, and amongst them there was fighting, and many bruises ensued. Ogbert was angered by the followers of Erstwail who had bruised his followers, and Erstwail was angered by the followers of Ogbert who had bruised his followers. Then the followers of Ogbert and the followers of Erstwail said, we do not wish to be bruised, and approached Jetzpah, the maker of swords, to supply them with weapons so that they should not be bruised by others. Jetzpah did not approve of the followers of humble priests and the devotees of the one true god arming themselves with swords, and he therefore charged them twice over the normal price for his wares, and sent them on their way.

Many were the battles which ensued, where thousands upon thousands wielded their new and hurriedly made swords with cries of rage and anguish, and the streets of the city and the olive groves on the hills rang to the clash of iron. None could see how this might end, and only Jetzpah decided that enough was enough, and sailed with his gold to a distant land where life would be quieter.

And the King of the Kingdom of Menasha came to Ogbert, and Ogbert listened to the King of the Kingdom of Menasha, as the King of the Kingdom of Menasha said unto Ogbert, ‘Ogbert, I am the King of the Kingdom of Menasha, and I decree that there shall be no armies led by priests, and there shall be no fighting between armies led by priests. For the Kingdom of Menasha prospers in its peacefulness, and its merchants sail upon the seas and trade in the Spice Islands for spice, in the Gold Coast for gold, and in the Canary Islands, for I remember not what. And the great achievements of the wise and supreme King of the Kingdom of Menasha are recorded upon paper by the quills of a thousand scribes, and chiselled upon the rock hewn from the mountains by a thousand masons, so that for ever shall it be known that I am a proud and magnificent king, and I’m not having a prostrating priest mess that up.’

And Ogbert looked upon the king with sudden rage, for he liked not the mention of pride and magnificence, and he signalled to his followers and cried: ‘Seize this man, for no longer shall there be a proud and magnificent King in the Kingdom of Menasha, for the one true god demands humility, and henceforth a humble priest shall run this kingdom.’ And his followers seized the King.

The bodyguard of the King, six strong men who commanded the army of the Kingdom of Menasha, placed their hands on their swords, but drew them not, and looked in confusion from one to another. Then Ogbert flung himself upon the dirt before them, landing in less than the time taken by three breaths of a panting dog in spite of his knee, for he feared the removal of his head, and the inconvenience which would follow. He declared himself inferior to them all, and more despicable than the lowest of the low in the bazaar, who take a coin for selling the houses of others, and called upon them to join him in humility before the one true god, and five of them said, ‘Verily, will do, Ogbert,’ and the sixth thought, for goodness sake get up, man, but remained silent, for he too feared for his head.


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Now with the Kingdom of Menasha’s great army at his behest (for the peacefulness was not quite such as described by the King of the Kingdom of Menasha), Ogbert reluctantly disposed of the head of the King, for which a committee of elders could not suggest a suitable alternative use, and sent off the great army with his own army of followers to eradicate the false humility of the priest Erstwail. The armies expunged Erstwail, and expunged his closest associates, and expunged the followers who had watched in awe as he prostrated himself, and expunged the dog by whose breath his prostrations had been timed, and, such was their thoroughness, expunged many others also. The name of Erstwail came to represent the truth that any foe of Ogbert would speedily become a former foe, and after the passage of time, the name of Erstwail ceased to be a name, and became a word in the language of Menasha.

Now all of the land was converted to humility, and Ogbert reviled the former King’s glorification in writing and inscriptions, and declared that none should record any of Ogbert’s words or actions, or indeed of anyone’s words or actions, and all writing was forbidden, and the hands of the scribes were cut off, and any who still wrote thereafter would have other parts cut off, depending upon what remained. Further, he cursed any who should still write, and decreed that critics would heap execration upon the words of any who wrote, and no man in the world would publish them.

But still there were people who did not follow the one true god, and were not humble in his presence, for only in Menasha was the education system perfect, and in neighbouring lands and distant lands they were not taught the truth, and the armies of Menasha boarded the ships of the merchants, and sailed forth in conquest of the Spice Islands, the Gold Coast, and the Canary Islands.

So began the great Empire of Menasha, ruled by Ogbert the Humble, which lasted for twice ten years, until the twelve sons of Ogbert poisoned him and went to war with each other.

This story is true. Proof of the omnipotence of Ogbert the Humble is found throughout the world, for you can study the books in great libraries, and search amongst the relics in museums, and you can attend to the excitable heads who enter houses to gabble of the ancient world, and you will find not a word of the deeds or existence of Ogbert the Humble, which is as he decreed.

And what of me? I, who has writ tale upon tale, now write also this tale. I scribe by the light of my last guttering candle, scratching in my study with a blunted quill, and thrust away the goat which would eat my paper. I am the living proof of the curse of Ogbert the Humble: for the critics heap execration upon my words, and no man in the world will publish them.


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© Roger Woodward, 2013