I keep meaning to write about the meaning behind my new tattoo ... but every time I do, my mind drifts, and keeps settling back in on the story of Nobody.
That's unfortunate, because Nobody has very little to do with my tattoo. His story's not even one I like. But it's a tale that has stuck with me through decades and distance. Perhaps by sharing it I can come to some sort of peace with it.
Disclaimer: Nobody's tale is probably fiction. If so, it isn't my fiction. It's something I was taught a lifetime ago, a story whose origin was lost in the generations since its writing.
I don't remember enough context to know those origins. It might be parable, it might be creative history. It might even be truth ... but if so, it's truth molded into the shape of myth.
I call him Nobody because that's literally his name in the texts: Eydrin, "one who isn't."
Nobody, you see, was a shapeshifter. He had names and faces and lives and families, but none of them were him, and none of them were his. None of them were real. Only Nobody was real, and he flitted between forms with ease.
Two of Nobody's identities in particular had brought him great success. In the first, he was a husband and father, a nondescript working man with ties to some shady but well-connected groups. In the second, he was a wealthy merchant, young and single, of high reputation. The two resided in feuding city-states; he profited from a unique ability to move goods safely back and forth to his connections on both sides.
But the political feud, as so many do, turned to war.
The city-states started drafting their citizens. As a quiet and unknown workingman, he could afford to evade the recruiters; but as a young merchant of some prominence, there was too much to lose by disappearing and too much to gain by serving honorably. Nobody's wealth and connections bought him a spot in the officer corps, and he took charge of a squadron at the front lines of the attacking army.
Meanwhile, his oldest son -- not knowing of his father's dual life -- joined the defending army and marched out to guard their city.
When the two armies came together in a giant clash of bodies, Nobody led his men into the fray. They fought honorably and well, pressing against the overwhelmed defenders and ultimately breaking their lines. Then Nobody spied a familiar face.
It was his son, fighting to hold off Nobody's troops as the defenders retreated.
Nobody watched his son fight, outmatched. He looked on as a spear pierced the young man's side. Their eyes locked as the son fell, but the son saw only a stranger, and Nobody didn't betray any recognition.
The victorious army marched through their conquered territory, reaching the city and rampaging through its outskirts before their advance was repulsed. After further back and forth, the armies dug in to a stalemate.
That night, finally able to slip away from his command, Nobody snuck back to his family's home ... only to find that it had been burned in the conquest, and his wife and other children had also been lost.
Heart burning with revenge, he went straight to the leaders of the city-state he'd lived in as a father, and gave them all the military information he could about the side he'd fought for. With that sort of espionage, the defending state rallied its troops and beat back the invaders. Not content with mere survival, they then turned the tables -- pushing the aggressors back to their own city, which was promptly sacked.
Though that counterattack gave Nobody his revenge, all of his business assets were looted or destroyed. He lived the rest of his life alone and penniless.
Charming story, innit?
I used to HATE that damn story last life around.
Because I had Nobody's story BEAT INTO MY HEAD during that lifetime.
In the grand tradition of religious parables, entire generations had grown up with it, COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT and using it as a bludgeon with no relation to its original intent.
The guiding principle of Thiderean thought is honor. The story was meant as a clear illustration of that principle. Honor has nothing to do with prestige and everything to do with right action. When we let ourselves think that honor means doing things that make others think well of us, our actions can cost us dearly. And when we let ourselves think that honor means vengeance, even more so.
But is that the lesson they try to teach when Eydrin's name comes up? Hell no.
Think of how the story of Sodom has somehow been turned into an argument that god hates gays. In a similar way, the story of Nobody was used as a hammer to illustrate that ... mingling with other races (via shapeshifting) inevitably leads to apocalyptic personal destruction.
Edit, 3/16: Sudden and unnecessary cursing removed.