It was a long way to the capital where the king lived, so Baron Jubal was pretty much the law in all his lands. Recent decades had not been nice to his neighbors, so he was, for practical purposes, lord of all he surveyed. He was feared. He was obeyed.
But he was not loved.
This really bothered Jubal. He thought he was a good baron. He took an interest in all aspects of his people’s lives. He was not merciful or kind, he knew, but he considered himself just. It didn’t matter who you were. If you stole something a second time, you were beheaded. He regarded this as only just. But he thought he deserved to be loved.
Each year on the anniversary of his accession to his holdings he held a celebration with a parade. He would appear to his subjects and speak to them. He would wave and accept their applause. Otherwise he did not appear in public. He didn’t think people needed to see him. He had subordinates to take care of such things. It was unfortunate for him that the day of his accession was the same as the day his father died. His father had been much beloved.
After the first year, Jubal was very dissatisfied. He called in the man who had been in charge of the celebration.
“I am much dissatisfied with the response to my appearance before the people,” he said.
“What would you like to see,” asked the manager.
“I would like the people to be happy to see me.”
“I think the people were happy. They are not very demonstrative people.” The manager said this, not because it was true, but because he was searching for any excuse that would work. The people had indeed been very cool toward their ruler.
“It’s not enough. I want them to be jubilant.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Since this was the first year, I will allow you to keep your job and your head.” One of the least endearing features of the baron was that he could say something like this as though he truly believed he was being generous. It wasn’t even dark humor. He really meant it. “See that things go better next year.”
The next year the manager talked to as many people as he could. He told them that the baron expected a more positive response, applause and shouts of joy, when he appeared. He suggested that the baron might be very angry if these were not forthcoming.
Unfortunately for him the people didn’t really believe the baron could do that much to everyone who was attending the parade, and they didn’t feel very thankful for having to go through checks by the barons guards, then standing in the sun for hours, and finally seeing the not very beloved face of their ruler. So they clapped and said “hoorah!” in an ordinary tone of voice. It was worse than silence.
The baron called the manager in and had him beheaded. Then he appointed another manager. The new manager was very motivated. He was aware of the fate of his predecessor.
When he gathered people for the event he told them that if there was not an adequate response when the baron made his appearance, he would see that one in every ten of them was beheaded. He added that he would have spies in the audience who would see who was not cheering and would make sure the quiet ones were first to lose their heads.
When the celebration came and the baron made his appearance, there was indeed a loud shout. There was cheering. People waved. At first Jubal was very happy, but then he noticed that people were not smiling. He was certain they were faking it.
He called in the manager.
“How did you get the people to cheer?” he asked.
At first the manager tried to lie, but soon the king got the tale.
“If you hadn’t tried to fake the response,” he said, “I would have mercy on you. But since you have tried to deceive me, you will die. And he had the new manager beheaded as well.
The rest of the baron’s servants avoided him for some time, but finally he set his sights on one of his guards and appointed him to manage the next year’s celebration. The guard tried to claim he was indispensable in his current position, but Jubal was having none of it. And again he presented his desire. “I want them to be jubilant,” he said.
The guard thought and thought as days turned into weeks. He couldn’t think of a way to make the crowd jubilant. But then he had an idea. At first he dismissed it. Could he carry it off? Would the people actually be that stupid? Yes, he thought they would be. In fact, if he did it right, they might not even have to be very stupid.
The day of the celebration came. It had been a hard year. Besides all of the normal hardships, there had been a crime wave. Instead of just the normal thefts by the hungry or the marginalized, there was a new factor. A criminal who killed and tortured as well as robbing and vandalizing. He was known only as “the murderer.” One or two of his supposed cronies had been caught and executed, but the man himself was elusive. There was a pretty good description of him. He liked to leave people alive to spread the terror. But nobody could lay hands on him. Three guard captains had lost their heads during the year because they had failed to catch this criminal.
What the people didn’t know when they arrived at the celebration was that “the murderer” had been caught by the baron himself. The manager of the celebration arranged a dramatic introduction of the baron, explaining how he had finally had to personally take over the search, and that it was only through is action that the murder had been caught. The people were so afraid of the bandits and of the murderer himself that they were prepared to believe anything as long as they could think that the attacks would cease. Their fear of the murderer overcame their coolness toward their ruler.
When the baron appeared, the crowds were truly jubilant. They were also jubilant when the man presented as “the murderer” was beheaded. He fit the description so well that nobody questioned that he was the right person.
The manager had correctly assessed the intelligence and observation skills of the people, but he had failed to consider the baron. So he nearly fainted at the look the baron gave him. It was a knowing smile.
“A very good plan,” said the baron. “The people were truly jubilant. I think some of them even love me.”
There was a long pause.
“But I think their memories are short. What are you going to do for next year?”
(This story was written for and submitted to the One Word at a Time blog carnival, on the word “jubilant.”)