Samii was an outstanding storyteller, one of the best official reciters of the national history there had ever been.
And he was far and away the most popular of the storytellers in the country's army.
Samii was not a soldier himself, but he always moved with the troops, and always with the units on the most hotly contest battle lines.
Whenever a battle ended and Samii came back to town, his head was filled with countless stories - stories of soldiers who had performed heroic deeds on the battlefield, stories of soldiers who had faced the enemy galiantly, stories of soldiers who had saved their buddies, stories of soldiers who had used their bodies as shields to protect their unit's position., stories of daring soldiers who had broken into the enemy camp single-handedly, stories of soldiers who had fought fairly to the end against the most devious of enemies.
It was Samii's job as a storyteller to depict events on the battlefield for the people of the town.
That year, Kaim was always by his side It was Kaim's mission, as a particularly capable mercenary, to accompany Samii to the front and make sure that nothing happened to this nationally beloved storyteller.
Samii liked Kaim from the moment they teamed up.
Not only did they appear to be about the same age, but with the eye of an outstanding storyteller, Samii was able to perceive the long past - the too long past - that this quiet warrior carried with him.
Samii said, "I could tell the minute I saw you that you had more military experience than any of the others in the regular army. Your head is packed with even more battlefield stories than mine.
Am I right? The only difference between you and me is that you can't put yours into words as well as I can. Am I right?"
Samii spoke in the professional reciter's ringing, rhythmic tones.
"Come on Kaim, tell me something. I don't care if it's a scrap of a scrap. Just give me a hint of something you've seen on the battlefield, and leave the rest to me. I'll turn it into a terrific story."
This was probably true, Kaim thought.
If Kaim were to put himself in Samii's hands, his never-ending life would surely be extolled in the form of a never-ending narrative poem.
And this was precisely why Kaim merely shook his head in silence.
The townspeople knew nothing of the actual battlefield - how soldiers fought on the front, how they killed their enemies, or how they themselves died in action. The people could only imagine these things upon hearing them celebrated in Samii's stories.
Conversely, the soldiers fighting on the front had no way of knowing how their stories were being told in the town.
The only ones who knew both sides were Samii himself and his bodyguard Kaim, who clung to him like a shadow.
As soon as he returned from the battlefield to the town, without even pausing to catch his breath, Samii would head directly to the square in front of the castle gate. The people would be waiting for him there - not just the residents of the capital where the castle was located but many who had traveled for days from distant villages to get there.
They were hungering for his stories. They wanted to know how their husbands and sons and fathers and lovers and friends had fought and died on the battlefield.
For these people, Samii would mount the stage in the square and recount the drama of the battlefield in ringing tones, accompanying his stories with gestures and flourishes and, sometimes, even tears.
Samii's stories of the battlefield, however, were by no means composed of unadorned fact. He beautified many parts.
He cleverly concealed elements that could be embarassing to the army.
And he acted out and embellished his stories in ways that were sure to set his listeners' hearts to throbbing.
If a soldier happened to do something that was relatively helpful to his unit, in Samii's hands it would be transformed into an amazing military exploit.
But that was just the normal level of exaggeration he introduced into his stories. At times, a soldier killed after a panicked escape from an enemy attack would be turned into a gallant warrior who died bravely without yielding an inch of soil.
A man who lost his life to a raging epidemic would be described as having met a glorious end after challenging an enemy general in hand to hand combat.
Even a soldier who had lost his mind out of sheer terror and breathed his last after a period of hallucinating, in Samii's hands, could be refashioned into a hero who gave his life in exchange for turning the tide of battle.
In other words, Samii's stories were almost all lies.
It could be said that he was deceiving the people.
But that was the mission of the storyteller.
In the square stood a number of soldiers carrying swords.
If Samii ever said anything that ran counter to the intentions of the military, they would have immediately arrested him, made it impossible for him ever to speak again by cutting his tongue out with a hot iron poker, and imprisoned him for whatever remained of his life.
Kaim knew well enough that Samii's duty as a national reciter was to whip up the people's fighting spirit.
While accomplishing that, his stories also served to comfort those who had lost their friends and family members in battle.
People would often ask Samii, "What was it like when my son died?" or "How was my boyfriend on the battlefield?" or "How about my father?"
Samii would ask the soldier's name, answer, "Oh, him, yes, I remember him well." and speak movingly of the death of a nameless soldier of whom he had no recollection whatever.
Before long, from here and there amid the throng crammed into every corner of the square, would come the sound of sobbing. These were not tears of sorrow, however. Rather, they were the hot tears of pride and gratitude for soldiers who had died fighting for the fatherland, tears of anger toward the enemy troops, tears filled with a determination to win this war at all costs, come what may, in the name of justice.
"And what's wrong with that?" Samii would say in affirmation.
"The families of soldiers killed in action have grieved enough already from hearing the news that their loved ones have died. After that, it's just a matter of how much meaning they can find in the person's death, how much pride they can feel at the way it happened.
Am I right? Nobody wants to believe his or her loved one died for nothing. Nobody wants to face the fact that the person died in an embarrassing way. So I tell them lies, I make everybody into a hero. If it's a choice between actual fact that can only cause sorrow and lies that raise people's spirits, I'll take the lies every time. It's not for the army, it's for the families that I go on telling these beautiful lies.
I'm absolutely committed to this as a storyteller."
This was the kind of man that Samii was.
And this was why Kaim continued to protect him on the battlefield. Beyond his bodyguard duties, he would also go for a drink with him whenever Samii suggested it.
But then there were those times when Samii started pestering him for stories.
"Come on, Kaim, tell me what you remember from the battlefield. Share those stories with me. I'm sure you've got hundreds of them."
No matter how much Samii begged, Kaim kept his mouth shut.
"It's not as if I would use them for story material. If you don't want me to tell anybody, I won't. I swear. I just want to know, I have to know. Call it part of my nature as a storyteller. I have this incredible need to know your stories."
Kaim said nothing.
"You know, Kaim, you look young, but you're actually five or six hundred years old, aren't you? I'll bet you've got more stories packed inside you than a roomful of thick history books. I can tell. That's why I'm so curious about you. Who are you? What are you? What have you been doing all these years? I'm dying to find out."
Still Kaim said nothing.
Samii headed out once again to the front. This time it was for a major battle that was likely to determine the outcome of the war.
Samii and Kaim were sharing a drink in their barrack the night before a major confrontation when a young soldier, just a boy, paid them a visit.
"It's me, Uncle Samii! Aran, the tailor's son."
Samii instantly broke into a warm nostalgic smile. Wrapping an arm around Aran's shoulders, he expressed his joy at their reunion before turning to Kaim.
"Aran is from my home town." he explained. "I've known him since he was an infant. He's like a little brother to me."
Turning back to Aran, he asked, "How's your mother?"
"She's well, thanks. You should hear her boasting about you, though, Uncle Samii. She tells everyone she's so amazed how that mischievous little Samii turned out to be one of the most popular figures in the whole country!"
"I owe her a lot, Aran. She told me so many stories when I was a kid, that's what helped me to be come a storyteller."
"It's true. She made me what I am today."
Samii said this with a big smile, which suddenly gave way to a stern expression.
"But tell me Aran," he said, "what are you doing here?"
"I enlisted. I'm in the army now." he said, puffing out his chest.
"That's what everybody does when they hear your stories."
"You heard me telling stories?"
"Sure. I had to come into town for something and I saw this big crowd in the square. I looked to see what it was all about, and it was you! I stayed and heard every last story. I couldn't stop crying at the end. Out of nowhere, I suddenly felt the courage to fight for the fatherland. As soon as you were through, I went to the castle and volunteered."
Aran had not been the only one, apparently. The young men in the square had enlisted en masse.
"No wonder you're so popular! The man in the enlistment office was saying the number of volunteers jumps every time you perform."
Aran innocently sang Samii's praises, but Samii's stern expression never changed.
"Aran, you're the only son in your family, aren't you?"
"Sure, but that doesn't matter."
"Don't you know this is the very front line?"
"Of course I know that much."
"So what did your mother say?"
"Well, she tried to stop me of course, but so what? It was my decision. And besides, it was you, Uncle Samii, who taught me that fighting to protect the fatherland is more important than anything you can do for your parents."
Suddenly the bugle sounded for nighttime roll call.
"Uh-oh, I'd better get to my post." Aran said, and after a quick goodbye he hustled out of the barrack.
His conversation with Aran having been cut short, Samii sat up straight and gulped down his cup of liquor.
Kaim said nothing as he refilled Samii's empty cup.
"You know, Kaim, starting tomorrow, you don't have to protect me anymore."
"What are you talking about?"
"I want you to protect Aran instead of me."
He gulped down another cup of liquor in a single breath. Kaim refilled it again without comment.
"I can't let him die. His mother really did do a lot for me from the time I was a little kid."
Samii pounded his fist against the wall. "Stupid, stupid, stupid." he moaned.
The battle started at dawn. The fighting was intense.
Soldiers on both sides died in great numbers. Kaim stationed himself besides Samii, protecting him from the enemy blades that came slashing his way.
"I told you Kaim, forget about me! Protect Aran! He's the one you should be guarding!"
"I can't do that."
"Of course you can. You're the only one who can keep him alive!"
"If I move away from here, I can't be sure of keeping you alive."
"I told you, it doesn't matter about me!"
"I've been ordered to keep you alive. It's my job."
"No, I told you! Guard Aran!"
Samii stood there shouting when an enemy soldier charged in from the side, swinging his sword.
Kaim swept the sword aside and stabbed the soldier in the belly.
It was a close call.
If anyone other than Kaim had been assigned to guard duty, Samii would surely have been killed.
"I can't let you die." Kaim said.
"Is your duty that important to you? Or are you looking for a reward?" Samii taunted Kaim.
Just then another enemy soldier charged at him.
"Neither!" Kaim replied, as he cut the man down with a single slash and hid Samii behind him.
"So then, why?"
"Because there's something left for you to do - something only you can do!"
Samii screamed at him "Don't be stupid!" and came out from behind Kaim, exposing himself to the enemy.
"Something only I can do? What, tell another bunch of lies? Make up more stories about phony heroes? Excite more little kids like Aran to enlist?"
Kaim shot back, shielding Samii again and cutting down another charging enemy soldier.
"That's not your real duty."
"What are you talking about?"
"Not the duty the army assigned you. Your duty as a human being."
"Now you're talking nonsense."
"No. I'm telling you, it's something only you can do."
Kaim continued swinging his sword, cutting down enemy soldiers to protect Samii.
Eventually the enemy attack ended.
Kaim grabbed Samii's hand and started running.
They rushed toward the position of Aran's unit.
Kaim had no intention of standing by and allowing the under age soldier to be killed, but abandoning Samii on the battlefield was out of the question.
His only option now was to guard them both at the same time.
But he was too late.
Aran was lying on the ground, drenched in blood, moaning in pain, weeping.
His guts had been gouged out.
He was done for.
Barely conscious, Aran caught sight of Samii and managed the faintest of smiles.
"Uncle Samii . . . I couldn't do anything to serve the country . . . I'm sorry . . ."
Samii, in tears, shook his head.
"I messed up." Aran continued. "I couldn't even kill one enemy soldier . . . and now look at me . . ."
Samii tried to speak through quivering lips, but his words were drowned out by his own sobbing.
"I never knew . . . how scary it is to fight . . . how much it hurts to die . . ."
Aran vomited blood.
Convulsions wracked his entire body.
His eyes had lost their focus, and his breathing came only in snatches.
"Mama . . . Mama . . . oh, it hurts so much . . . my stomach hurts . . . Mama . . ."
Bloody tears poured from his empty eyes.
"Mama . . ."
That was the last word that Aran spoke.
Samii came back to town a few days later. The square was already filled with people anxiously waiting to hear his latest stories.
There were more people dressed in mourning than usual, evidence of the ferocity of the recent battle.
Samii took a long, deep breath before entering the square.
"You know, Kaim . . ."
"You said those strange things to me the other day. That I have a real duty to perform, that it's my duty as a human being and only I can do it."
"If, today, I do a good job at performing what you call my 'real' duty, will you tell me those stories of yours?"
Samii added that he had a vague idea of what Kaim was talking about.
Then, lowering his voice almost to a whisper, he said,
"Tell me, Kaim, how many men are standing guard in the square today?"
Kaim did a quick surver and reported that there were five guards.
Samii mumbled, "Can't get away from all of them, I suppose . . ."
When he heard this, Kaim realized that Samii's "vague idea" of what he was talking about was right on the mark.
"I'm sure I can get you out of here, Samii." Kaim said with conviction.
"Forget it." Samii answered with a grave expression.
"I don't want to get you in trouble."
"You know what they'll do to you if they catch you . . . "
"Sure. I'm ready for that."
Yes, without a doubt, Samii understood what his "real duty" was.
He not only understood but he intended to carry it out in exchange for his life as a storyteller.
"You know, Samii, you may be the one person who can stop this war."
Kaim thrust out his right hand, and Samii grasped it shyly.
"It took me too long to realize it."
"Not really." Kaim said.
"You think there's still time?"
"I'm glad to hear that." Samii said with a smile and, releasing Kaim's hand, he strode into the square. Amid cheers and applause, he made his way to the stage.
He never looked back at Kaim.
When Samii mounted the stage, a woman dressed in mourning called out to him.
"Samii, tell me what it was like when my sweet little Aran died. I'm sure he gave his life proudly, nobly for our dear country. Tell me, tell everyone, about Aran's final moments."
Eyes red and swollen from crying, she stared up at Samii, all but clinging to him.
Samii took heed of the look in her eyes.
Without a hint of a smile, he gave her a curt nod.
And then, he began to tell the story in a soft and gentle voice.
"Aran was in tears as he died. He was calling for you, his mother, and crying out in pain. His guts were hanging out of his body, he was smeared with blood, and he vomited blood at the end."
A stire went through the crowded square.
Not wanting to believe what she had just heard, Aran's mother covered her ears.
Samii did not let this stop him.
"Aran wasn't the only one. They're all like that. They're in pain when they die. Some of them die soon after the pain begins, but for others it's not so easy. Their wounds just barely miss a vital organ, so they die after tremendous agony that goes on and on and on. Bodies lie on the battlefield exposed to the weather. They get trampled and rained on and baked under the sun, covered with flies and maggots, rotting and giving off a foul stench that would make you sick."
The stir in the crowd changed to angry shouts.
The guards on duty turned pale.
Samii went on quietly.
"I've been to dozens of battlefields and I've seen more deaths than I can count. I have learned one thing from it, and I'll tell you honestly what that is. There are no beautiful deaths in war. It's true for our enemies and it's true for us. Everybody is afraid to die, they miss their home towns, they want to see their families again, and they want the damn war to end so badly they-"
"Enough! Stop right now!" shouted one of the military men standing guard.
"Have you gone mad?" another soldier yelled.
Samii went on talking without a glance in their direction.
"Nobody really wants to kill another person. They just have to do it because they've been ordered to. That's what war is. If you hesitate to kill the enemy, he kills you first. I'm telling you, that's what war is!"
The shouts of "Traitor!" "Arrest him!" that had been coming from the soldiers in the crowd gradually stilled as Kaim circulated through the audience, knocking one after another with well-placed blows.
Kaim was determined to do this much for Samii whether the storyteller liked it or not.
Of course, there was a limit to how much extra time he could buy for Samii.
But he would protect him to the end - until Samii had his final say.
"Listen, everybody! Why do you think I've been making the rounds of the battlefields? It was a terrible mistake on my part. What I have seen out there . . . my stories about what I have seen out there . . . I should have used to bring a halt to this stupid war!"
The commotion in the square had given way to utter silence, such power did the words of the peerless storyteller have over the crowd.
"Listen to me everyone! Let's end this war. Let's end all war. Don't you see how crazy it is to call a man a hero for killing another man? Don't you see how sad it is to call a man a hero for being killed by another man? Think of the people who have died in agony and tears. The one thing that we, their survivors, can do for them is not to venerate and glorify them but to stop producing more victims like them."
Soldiers outside the square came charging in when they heard the commotion.
"Let's stop having wars. Let each of us lend his or her own power to an effort to bring back the peace!"
A soldier leaped onto the stage and smashed into Samii with his massive shield.
Sprawling on the stage, blood gushing from his head, Samii gave a deeply satisfied smile.
"Cut my tongue out with a hot poker! Do it for the way I've been deceiving the people all these years! Go ahead, do it!"
The soldier kicked him in the stomach until he vomited blood, but still he went on.
"It's wrong for people to kill people. It's wrong for people to be killed by people. The nation has no right to make murderers out of us!"
Soldiers surrounded the stage.
Behind the wall of soldiers, Samii was pinned to the floor, his mouth pried open, and his tongue cut out with a red-hot glowing poker.
Even so, he kept up his appeal.
No longer capable of producing words, he continued his desperate appeal with groans.
Before long, the groans took the form of a melody - a song so beautiful and sorrowful, so frail and yet so powerful, that it was unforgettable after a single hearing.
The soldiers pounded Samii with their clubs, shouting, "Shut up, you traitor! Take that!"
Even so, the song did not end. Though it had no lyrics, it took on words as it reverberated inside each listener.
No more war.
"Shut him up! Kill him if you have to!"
In response to his superior's order, a young soldier drew his sword.
Even after Samii had been stabbed in the chest and had taken his last breath, the song did not end.
The crowd filling the square went on singing.
Everyone was crying and singing, and as they sang they threw stones at the soldiers.
According to the history books, this was the beginning of the revolution.
Many years passed by.
There was no one left in the country who knew the living Samii.
Many more years passed by.
By then only the scholars of history knew that there once lived a storyteller named Samii who primed the pump of the revolution so long ago.
Now Kaim is here, on his first visit to this country in several hundred years. In a back alley in a far corner of the city, he hears a familiar melody.
A little girl is humming to herself as she bounces a ball. Yes, without a doubt, it is the song that Samii was singing after the soldiers cut out his tongue.
"What's the name of that song you're singing?" Kaim asks the little girl.
Still bouncing her ball, she answers "It's called 'Give Us Peace.'"
"Do you know who made it?"
"Uh-uh," she says in all innocence, "but everybody sings it."
Kaim gives her a gentle smile and says, "It's a nice song, don't you think?"
The little girl catches her ball in both hands and, hugging it, says with a beaming smile, "Yes, I just love it!"
Kaim pats her on the head and begins to walk away.
Before he realizes it, he is humming "Give Us Peace."
When it finally dawns on him what he is doing, he thinks,
Humming? That's not like me at all!
His grim smile is accompanied by a warm glow in the chest.