When one gazes upon a place from a distance, they see no more than the tallest towers and grandest trees. They see only the location, and not the people. A great deal of culture remains unseen until that place is truly explored and absorbed. That was certainly the case with one kingdom in the Northernmost parts of Europe. It had terrific castles, gorgeous intertwining brooks, a range of mountains that provided the citizens with plentiful shade, and many defense towers on the outskirts of the territory.
From the outside, the kingdom appeared to be a marvelous spectacle of brick and mortar built atop an already stunning landscape. But anyone who had spent a night in this kingdom, or better yet lived in it, understood it to be much greater than just a visual masterpiece.
It was a land of pacifism. The crime rate was… well, nonexistent. A rate implies there is something to be measured in the first place. A unique lack of tension was felt amongst the citizens. Their government operated peacefully, and was celebrated by all. Even in their oldest records, there was no mention of an internal conflict ever transpiring. Despite vast differences between the residents of the kingdom, no judgement was felt. This beautiful balance even extended to the fauna and flora of the land. Trees were never chopped, flowers were scarcely plucked, and the fish in the streams maintained a healthy ecosystem, undisrupted by the humans. It felt like a utopia.
One would never suspect this was a land at war.
From the highest towers, a distant kingdom could be spotted on the horizon. It had a similar structure, and its gorgeous natural sights were just as astounding. This second kingdom operated with the same level of peace and prosperity. They were considered twin kingdoms, equally serene. And it was these two kingdoms that had a war dating back centuries. The true origin of the war was unknown. Neither side particularly knew what sparked their dispute, yet it had persisted for generations.
However, it was a most peaceful war. No casualties had been taken. In fact, no harm had been done to either side. Early on, these kingdoms had developed a civil manner of combat. On scheduled days, at daybreak, each kingdom would send one warrior to meet exactly halfway between the two territories. It was a mile-long walk through tall, uncut grass. It was expected that the walk would take roughly half an hour at an average pace, give or take a few minutes depending on the length of the warrior’s legs . When both warriors met at the halfway point, no words would be exchanged. No weapons would be drawn. Not even a foul expression, or anything to express distaste. They simply would look one another up and down, observing the muscles, height, age, and stature of their opponent. Then, the two warriors would unanimously decide which one of them was more powerful. That warrior would automatically win. The two of them would walk back to the victor’s kingdom, and the loser would join the forces of that kingdom. No torture was done. No warrior was ever kept in prison, punished, or even questioned. The loser would simply change their residence, and join the forces of their opposing kingdom. And that change never felt especially dramatic, because the kingdoms were so remarkably similar.
The governments attempted to strategize which warriors to send, but they ultimately found it to be a decision that should be made at random. Because on the one hand, sending an incredibly weak warrior meant you would not have to lose a powerful warrior, but you would most likely lose the battle. On the other hand, sending a powerful warrior meant you would most likely win the battle, but there was a chance of losing your powerful warrior, which would have consequences in the future. So this led to rather unsystematic choices. Sometimes a frail old man would be sent, and sometimes a great skilled King would personally venture to the battlefield. It all depended on how everyone was feeling that day, and truly nothing more than that.
In the event that two warriors could not reach a decision about which of them was the most powerful, each of them would return to their kingdoms, and each would bring back one more warrior. A new assessment of power would occur, and then all four warriors would return to the kingdom of the victor. This happened every so often, and it would create tension ever-so-slightly.
After several more centuries of the war persisting, a conclusion was finally reached. Through a remarkable string of good odds, each and every member of the first kingdom had joined the second kingdom. It actually proved as a relief to members of both sides. The war had been a long, slow affair that was beginning to feel rather tedious rather than powerful and symbolic. So the kings, queens, warriors, and citizens were all pleased that the war had ended as peacefully as it was fought.
There was a brief period of triumph within the overcrowded kingdom. A victory had been won. But after the joyful feasts and celebratory parades had come to an end, no one was especially sure what was supposed to happen. A victory had been scored, which meant… what? Not even the highest authorities had the foggiest idea what this success was intended to grant them. Ownership of the other kingdom? That seemed silly, given that every member of the kingdom had, at some point or another, already lived in the other kingdom. Forcing members of the other kingdom to assimilate and become productive citizens? Well, they had already done so. Not much assimilation needed, because everyone’s way of life was practically the same. And there was no such thing as an unproductive citizen among the whole lot. Everyone was, and had been for years, contributing to the best of their abilities. If anything, the end of this war had just made the kingdom a bit too populated, and left a perfectly good territory completely empty.
So exactly half the population, chosen at random, was sent back to the other kingdom. It was as if the war had never even happened. Everyone seemed perfectly unbothered by this decision. Until…
Many citizens began reporting to their governments a sense of discontentment and unfulfillment. Their lives were so simple and repetitive. They craved a disruption; something that would give their existence just enough edge. For as long as they had lived, the war was their entertainment. It was what kept them guessing about what tomorrow would bring. And so, a new war was declared. And the same rules were followed. And it would continue until the exact same outcome would occur, in one kingdom or the other. Not because these two kingdoms were enemies. Not because they had a score to settle.
But because they loved the play of the game.