Quite a few years ago, a very famous emperor with very short legs and an overblown estimation of himself lost a great battle and was banished to an island to live out the remainder of his days in comfortable shame.  Or was it shameful comfort.  Regardless, to him it was a fate worse than death, so with the help of his loyal attendants, beneath the radar of the British soldiers patrolling the island, he hatched a plan to escape the place and find his way back to the capital city of his adopted home, with visions of loyal subjects waving olive branches on bended knee.  They found a crewman, with seventeen years of service on one of the emperor’s former ships, that just happened to be the spitting image of him; and so, under cloak of night, the two traded clothes and places.  The sailor would impersonate him until such time as the emperor felt it safe to reveal himself; at which time the man would also reveal his true identity, with the expectation of the emperor’s undying material gratitude.  So, with the ID of a common man in his pocket, and the promise of loyal accomplices along the way to guide him safely, the now-fugitive emperor set off to reclaim his destiny.

 The journey was fraught with setbacks and bugaboos, which began to test his humility and cause cracks in the battle-forged armor of his temperament.  Meanwhile, his “twin”, growing quite comfortable with the sumptuousness and amenities of his new home, decided that seventeen years of hard labor deserved more payback than he had originally agreed to.  So, in an oddly OJ Simpson type of way, he began to believe his own story of deception.  He was, to his captors, the emperor.  His “attendants”, under the watchful eye of the British soldiers were, of course, powerless to deny it.  As his excesses grew, he became a grotesque picture of Dorian Gray, mirroring and magnifying the ugly realities of the real emperor as he had once existed, without a soul.

The real emperor, however, was beginning now to grow a soul.  An old comrade, with whom he was to meet and accompany into Paris, missed their appointment, leaving the emperor to find him—laid out in his Sunday best, inside a pine box in the middle of his parlor.  His former friend’s young wife, plagued by creditors and a failing fruit-selling business, grudgingly offered him temporary lodging, which was all it took for him to ingratiate himself.  He used his tactical skills to plan an all-out fruit-vending assault on the surrounding towns, turning her operations profitable in one day, and her attention on the future.  It wasn’t long before his strength and her sensitivity found comfort in each other, and grew into love.

This collaboration did not sit well with the neighborhood doctor, who had been a friend of the deceased and hopeful suitor to his widow.  He had been waiting for a suitable amount of grieving time to pass before he made his move, and was now being intercepted by an old man with a bossy disposition.  At the same time, he thought he recognized the emperor, but was not certain from where.  He became both jealous and suspicious.

Soon, our hero’s impatience for glory began to nag him.  He spent hours strategizing, reworking plans for resuming power, and increasingly alienating the woman who had opened his rusty heart.  Little did he know at the time that all his efforts would be for naught, as his double on the island, with his daily indulgences, had dropped dead of a heart attack.

Back at the ranch, the discord that the real emperor’s behavior had engendered in his budding relationship was not lost on the doctor.  But his regard for the widow was so great that when he made known his feelings, and found they were unrequited, he set about redirecting the emperor’s attention on what was truly important: the love of a good woman.   After a painful chance meeting with him in a tavern, where he satisfied himself that his rival was the genuine article, he led him through the woods to a mysterious estate, where he left him to witness a frightening picture: dozens of men, dressed in variations on the emperor himself, milling about, mumbling nonsense to themselves, caught in their own delusions of grandeur.  He had been led onto the grounds of an insane asylum.  All at once, our hero realized the futility of trying to convince anyone of past glories, and the shallowness of recapturing an image.  He could now appreciate the happiness he was fortunate to have found, and returned home as the man his woman had fallen in love with.

AuthorDeirdre Brennan