he went down the back stairs of the palace - actually not “the” palace but one of hundreds scattered through his vast realms - and out onto the empty streets of the provincial capital.
the emperor was happy the streets were deserted. they had been filled for days with an endless and tiresome throng of provincial dignitaries, provincial bureaucrats, provincial citizens, slaves, and peasants, all assembled to pay homage to his, marshak xvii’s, greatness.
it was still dark. when the sun came up it would reveal a modest city but one filled with statues of himself and various monuments and other edifices dedicated to his glory.
and this was just one small provincial capital in a world full of gleaming cities, all likewise dedicated to his greatness.
how tired he was of it all! he wished he had never defeated the empires of atlantis and berlius and caldron.
a tear glittered in the corner of his eye.
just then he noticed an old beggar woman sitting on the sidewalk , so he pulled himself together.
“good morning, citizen,” the emperor addressed the old woman.
“what is good about it?” she replied.
the emperor reached into his pocket. “well, i can give you this nice shiny coin. that’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick or being thrown into a dungeon, eh?”
he advanced to give the old woman the coin and she looked uo into his face.
“oh, it’s you, “ she said. “haven’t we had enough of you the last few days?”
“yes,” the emperor chuckled. “i can understand how you feel. i feel that way myself. but here, take the coin.”
the old woman took the coin. “with your picture on it, i see.”
“yes, i am afraid so,” sighed the emperor.
“why so sad, my friend? “ the old woman asked, as she tucked the coin away in the folds of her wretched garment.
“ah, i just wish i could get away!” cried the emperor. “i wish i could be forgotten!” he hung his head. but i will never be forgotten, i am afraid."
“oh, i think you might be mistaken there. just give it time.”
“but i cover the earth! my name is on every building, in every street. how i wish i had never conquered atlantis and the rest of them! now, there is no escape!”
“give it time, my friend. you will be as forgotten as the rest of us. and so will the empire, and atlantis, and all the other empires - or if they are remembered, only as names - only as stories that no one believes.”
the emperor shook his head. “i appreciate the thought, but - “
“give it time,” the old woman repeated. “you will be forgotten just like everybody else.”
“oh, how i wish i could believe it!” the emperor cried.
“how i wish i could believe it!” he repeated, as dawn began to come up over the provincial city.