The Tale of the Rusty Nail

There was once a tyrannical emperor in Ethiopia who spent his days counting the sacks of treasure in his many vaults. They were piled from floor to ceiling in rows of a hundred and one – each of them bursting with rubies and emeralds, diamonds and with gold. Each year, as his wealth doubled once and then again through taxes and foreign wars, the people grew eager for change. Their sons slaughtered in battle, their precious savings confiscated to satisfy their ruler’s insatiable greed, they sought a secret way by which to end his run of tyranny.

The problem was that the emperor rarely left hispalace, a vast marble structure twenty storeys high, set on the banks of the sprawling River Walaqa, a tributary of the Blue Nile. The kingdom had been plundered to construct the palace, and to fill its magazines with treasure. And, with such poverty surrounding him, the emperor had no interest in ever leaving the luxurious quarters of his home.

So, instead, he reclined in his gardens, or in his grand salons, and allowed his retinue of servants to drop peeled grapes into his mouth, one at a time. Every so often the secret police caught a group of citizens conspiring against their emperor. The conspirators would be dragged away, hung, drawn and quartered in the main square. Then their heads were skewered onto spikes as a
warning to others. Now, in this land there lived a small boy, about your age.

He had never known his parents because they had been imprisoned in the Slate Tower, which lay on an island in the middle of the River Walaqa. Their crime was daring to question out loud why their emperor required so many sacks of loot when beyond his palace walls there wasn’t enough food to eat. So the boy lived with his aunt, a fresh-faced woman with a limp, who was very good to him indeed.