Still, he worried about the fact that the goat had a beard, and he secretly consulted an oracle in a neighboring country, who assured him that only a bearded spirit could seriously threaten his rule. Though he read this as meaning that no human could overthrow him, for, since they had no bodily form, spirits could never grow beards, he became sensitive to beards and then decreed what came to be known as the Law of the Beard, that all goats and humans must have their beards shaved off.
There are some who dispute the story of the bearded he-goat and even argue that the Law of the Beard applied only to soldiers, policemen, civil servants, and politicians, and that the herdsmen shaved their he-goats out of their own volition, shaving goats' beards then being the fashion among Aburirian herdsmen.
These skeptics wondered: what has the cry of a he-goat whose anus, ears, and nose being sealed, have to do with the strange illness that befell the Ruler?
Others now came up with a third theory, which said that since nothing lasts forever, the illness had something to do with the aging of his rule: he had sat on the throne so long that even he could not remember when his reign began. His rule had no beginning and no end; and judging from the facts one may well believe the claim. Children had been born and had given birth to others and those others to others and so on, and his rule had survived all the generations. So that when some people heard that before him there had been a first Ruler, preceded by a succession of governors and sultans all the way from the eras of the Arabs, the Turks, the Italians, to that of the British, they would simply shake their heads in disbelief saying, no, no, those are just the tales of a daydreamer: Aburiria had never had and could never have another ruler, because had not this man's reign begun before the world began and would end only after the world has ended? Although even that surmise was shot through with doubts, for how can the world come to an end?
The fourth theory asserted that his illness had its origins in all the tears, unshed, that Rachael, his legal wife, had locked up inside her soul after her fall from his grace.
The Ruler and his wife had fallen out one day when Rachael asked questions about the schoolgirls who, rumors claimed, were often invited to the State House to make his bed, where he, like the aging white man of the popular saying, fed on spring chicken. Of course, the Ruler would never admit to aging, but he had no problems with the "white man" comparison, and so he amended the proverb to say that a white man renews his youth with spring chicken. Imagine how he must have felt about Rachael's attempt to deny him his fountains of youth! How indiscreet and indecorous of her to ask the unaskable! Since when could a male, let alone a Ruler, be denied the right to feel his way around women's thighs, whether other men's wives or schoolgirls? What figure of a Ruler would he cut were he to renounce his right to husband all women in the land in the manner of the lords of Old Europe, whose droits de seigneur gave them the right to every bride-to-be?
Rachael thought she was being reasonable. I know you take the title Father of the Nation seriously, she told him. You know that I have not complained about all those women who make beds for you, no matter how many children you sire with them. But why schoolgirls? Are they not as young as the children you have fathered? Are they not really our children? You father them today and tomorrow you turn them into wives? Have you no tears of concern for our tomorrow?
They were dining in the State House, and to Rachael the evening was very special because it was the first time in a long while that they were alone together: the burdens of presiding over the nation hardly ever gave them time to share meals and engage in husband-and-wife talk. Rachael believed in the saying that clothes maketh a woman, and that night she had taken particular care with her appearance: a white cotton dress with a V-shaped collar, short sleeves pleated at the edges, a necklace highlighting her slender neck, rings on her fingers, and dangling from her elegant ears, diamonds sparkling all about her.
Excerpted from Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o Copyright © 2006 by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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