A stunned crowd waited for a heartbeat, then a second, and then swiftly turned on the small boy who dared cry out the seditious phrase. Fists fell, elbows jostled, voices shouted in anger, and feet kicked out with wild savagery. The furor did not abate until the small broken body lay twisted and still within a spreading halo of blood.
The Emperor allowed himself only a small, grim smile. His gaze swept across the crowd. What few faces bore a trace of horror quickly fell, eyes falling to the ground in submissive acceptance.
The Emperor knew exactly what he was doing. The crowd had done his bidding without even being aware of the strings on which he pulled.
A third had beat the boy out of disbelief. The first to wade into the slaughter, they knew he wore the finest invisible clothes. The KNEW it with the same certainty that they knew the sun would rise in the east. Some few had convinced themselves that when the light was right, they could catch a tiny glimmer of his fine clothes. A trace of lace that shimmered like the sun on the surface of a lake perhaps, or maybe the glint of a diamond so pure it danced only in the corners of one’s vision. Some men are so easily manipulated they fight to hold the chains of deception around their necks. The fury from that corner was that of righteous true believers.
A third had beat the boy out of shame. They knew, deep within the tiny recesses of their timid hearts, that Emperor wore no clothes. They had donned the chains of meek acceptance of the lie. They consoled themselves with platitudes. “Everyone else see the clothes, it must be me.” “If it makes my loved ones happy, I’ll just go along with it.” “Best not to cause any trouble.” This third of the crowd had reluctantly pulled the skein over their eyes for the sake of peace and neighborliness. But they did not – could not – see the invisible clothes. These had convinced themselves that pretending to see the clothes was a better path than risking the anger of the first third of the crowd. In them, the boy’s shout had awakened the shame of their surrender to the mass hysteria. The discomfit, the reminder of their surrender, aroused in them the fury of a man all at once exposed to his own weakness. Unable to lash out at those responsible for his surrender, these men lashed out at the immediate cause of their pain – the lone small boy who should, like those beating his small body, have kept his mouth shut.
The final third of the crowd…now these represented the Emperor’s finest achievement. Those who had been duped into seeing non-existent clothes were easily led sheep that could be counted on to commit any atrocity in the Emperor’s name. Those who could not see the clothes and convinced themselves that seeing them was better than not, these were men who valued the peace of the small lie and who also could be relied upon to do as they were told. Any threat to the Emperor’s power would come from these men – those who would not and could not see his clothes. They trusted their own judgement more than the Emperor’s finest advisors. They trusted their own eyes more than that of their neighbors.
They might have represented trouble for the cruel Emperor, but he had found a means to weaponize their own judgement against them. They might not have cried out in awe at his fine clothes as he paraded by, but neither did they point out the obvious lack of clothes. They had run the numbers. Too many believed. Too many had expressed a willing and eager acceptance of the lie. And now they had seen the price of protest. Each of them felt alone in the crowd. They could see the certainty in the blows thrown by the murderous crowd, but not the doubt in the eyes of the like-minded honest men. The silent doubt. As invisible as the Emperor’s clothes, but all the more real.
Being prudent men, this last third of the crowd had kept silent. They had retreated from the attack, or perhaps thrown a few performative blows into the mix, that they might hide the evidence of their treasonous hearts. Their fury had been directed at the Emperor, but in their impotence, they could find no better target at which to strike.
The Emperor’s success gleamed dully in the noonday sun. A crimson stain on the hot pavement, streaked, as by now the boy’s terrified family had dragged his remains out of sight.
Oh certainly, he might have had to grease a few palms among the newspaper men, invite their drones to a few marginally fancy balls, promise an appointment or two to some obscure corner of his cabinet. How cheaply they had fallen in with his court. A court made rich by the crowd’s acceptance of his finery. After all, it was the people’s coins who had gone to the Emperor’s best friends for their tailoring services. He chuckled at the thought, and waved the procession onward.
Far from ruining the debut of the Emperor’s new fineries, the boy’s shout had solidified his power even more solidly than before. No voice had been raised in protest. The people had spoken. And they had chosen the peace of the King’s Lie over a fight for God’s Truth.
Only the quiet conspiratorial types would whisper the truth among themselves, in darkened rooms shuttered against prying ears. Each alone in the shadows, and each no threat to his power.
They had bought it, hook, line, and sinker, the fools. The Emperor now possessed ultimate power over Truth now. No powers of heaven or earth could stop him from reshaping the world according to his own whims.
And God laughed.
And in His own good time, His servants laid low the Emperor, whose name we no longer remember.