A fairy tale.

Nestled deep in a dark and foreboding forest, a village exists. This village is special. Its inhabitants are virtuous and good, for the most part, and in their walled and protected village, they shelter from the horrors that abound in the surrounding woods. In those woods live two-headed wolves, bears as tall as trees, and other terrible creatures of the night, far worse than those you might see in nightmares.

Fire erupts from the ground, and a raging river teems with the most frighteningly finned creatures imaginable. The forest is no place for the villagers, and they are protected from it by their walls and by those who guard them. The villagers know they can never leave the village without losing their lives, or at least, without being subsumed into the world of the forest, which is not as virtuous and beautiful as the village, to say the least.

Within the protected world of the village, the inhabitants spend many years working well together to keep themselves safe, and so that they might live prosperous and happy lives. They do this admirably and efficiently, and each member of the community does a job, which they perform to keep the village humming—and safe.

Some build houses. Some build and maintain the walls. Some grow the food and crops. Still others cook and teach the children. Certain individuals keep certain jobs until they no longer want to, or can, do them, and then someone else takes over. The villagers also collectively choose who is to be the leader. Sometimes the leader does his job well, and for it he is admired and respected. Other times, the leader does a poor job, and he is replaced.

Of course there are also those who protect the village from the forest and its horrors. Of this protector class, there are two distinct groups: There are the Armed Protectors, who guard the walls and beat back the creatures when they make their advances on the village. Then, there are the Secret Protectors. These few leave the safety of the village and venture out to scout out the forest, studying its dangers, becoming aware of the many creatures that prowl the dark woods so that the villagers may know how to better defend themselves.

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The Armed Protectors are loved and admired by all. They are virtuous, brave, and wise. Their heroism in fighting the creatures who attack the walls is the stuff of stories, legends, and song. The Secret Protectors, on the other hand, because they must venture out into the forest and come into contact with all of its horrors and unknowns and mysteries, are viewed with occasional distrust. They are sly, crafty, and cunning. They are also brave, in their own way, though their bravery is rarely observed or celebrated by the villagers.

For these reasons, the villagers often ask themselves, “What do the Secret Protectors really do out there? Are they not too powerful and secretive? What if they are not loyal to the village, and are plotting against it?”

All of these questions float nearly daily amongst the villagers, like bees buzzing from flower to flower, or like the whispers of children when they dare speak about the horrors of the woods.

Over time the Secret Protectors accept their role, and the doubt and fear held amongst their fellow villagers that comes with it. They know that deep down the villagers must surely know they are there only to help the village, and they resign themselves to a life of secrets. It can be a lonely life, but they take solace in knowing that they are keeping their loved ones safe.

Day after day, year after year, the villagers keep their village safe and sound within the dreaded forest, thanks to the leader, the Armed Protectors, and yes, the Secret Protectors, too. The creatures of the forest continue to occasionally harass them, and while some of these attacks are successful in penetrating the walls—briefly—they are always beaten back, and the village preserved. Everyone trusts the leader and the protectors to keep them safe, because they always have and always do—though not always perfectly, it must be admitted.

For hundreds of years the village goes on in this way. Good leaders come and go, and bad leaders come and go. The protectors prevent most attacks, and beat back those they cannot predict or prevent. Over time, the villagers become complacent, and this complacency of course is reflected in the leader. Successive leaders begin to see the village as permanent and safe, and they begin to take its existence for granted.

The people begin to treat being the leader as a license to do what they want, and to reward their friends in the village. They begin to see it as a game, and more important to win the position than to be a good leader. They act recklessly. They turn the villagers against each other. They cease to worry about the dangers outside, except to use them as a means with which to scare the villagers into choosing them as leader.

One leader after another begins to act this way, until one day, the newest leader is chosen, despite some of the protectors warning that he might not be the most virtuous for the role. Some protectors speak out against the aspiring leader, while others support him. The village is divided.

The new leader is chosen by the people. The villagers think that the new leader will be good for the village, and after all, he was the best at convincing them that he was right and strong.

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After the newest leader is chosen, he turns against the protectors who spoke out against him. Many were from the Secret Protectors. For this, the new leader banishes the Secret Protectors from the village, never to return. Although everyone in the village is frightened by what might happen without the Secret Protectors, they reluctantly agree to this banishment because the leader has decided it, and he is strong.

In shock, the Secret Protectors accept their fate, and they leave. The Armed Protectors remain, to guard the walls. The leader tells the people that the Armed Protectors are the only ones needed to keep the village safe.

The years move on, and it comes to pass that the village remains safe. No creatures are successful in penetrating the walls, and in fact, none even come to attack the walls. And of course, the villagers all claim the leader is wise, and magnificent, and they say he was right all along. The village did not need the Secret Protectors after all. They were unreliable and untrustworthy, and they must have caused the attacks themselves, because the attacks stopped when they were banished.

The village is better off without them. The leader says so, and the villagers believe him.

What the villagers never know, though, and what the leader himself never realizes, is that the Secret Protectors never stopped protecting the village. They loved the village, and its inhabitants, from whom they were drawn. Because of that love, and despite their banishment, humiliation, and the thanklessness of the villagers, they vowed to a man to continue to protect the village.

Upon banishment, the Secret Protectors simply left the village, and took up their station outside the walls. They lived in the terrible woods, and fought off the two-headed wolves. They fought off the bears as tall as trees. They beat back the creatures from nightmares, too terrible to name.

And they did it all in the name of the village. They knew that the village represented the best hope for their kind, and that protecting it was the key to everything. And so they did.

Despite that the people had turned against them, and that the leader had banished them, they believed so strongly in the village that they devoted their lives to it. They never stopped protecting it. They never stopped loving it, and all of its people, and they awaited the day they would be asked to return, to live again amongst the villagers, safe from the terrible forest.

The end.

(Image courtesy of Martin Driver).