I wrote this story as an introduction to a class for 7th and 8th graders. It’s heavy handed and allegorical, an approach I usually don’t care for, but I was trying to illustrate a point and had just come off of a read through of C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Rergress, so it felt like it worked. I offer it here just because it isn’t benefiting anyone sitting as a file in my Google Drive.
Once there were two men, both from the same village, both near to each other in age, both having grown up in similar homes, and both were slaves. Raiders had come to their village and carried them off in chains, and sent them far off across the sea to be forced to work for a foreign king.
They were set to a very difficult and unpleasant task, to work inside a mine every day, digging and hauling and pushing and pulling and carrying huge sacks. The entrance to the mine was barred by a massive iron gate, which was locked with a heavy key kept on the belt of the captain of the guards. Every day they were marched into the mine, the gate was locked, and they worked.
This left them feeling weary, sore, and sad. Many nights they talked with each other and wondered together if they would ever have hopes of being rescued, or if they would be slaves for the rest of their lives. One night, as they sat wondering this, a messenger came to them from the king they served. This messenger was going to all the slaves with a message: “If you work hard and do all the good things you are commanded to do, I promise that someday you will be set free.”
One of the two men, Gregor, said, “This is very good news! I will work very hard to please the king and I will someday be set free!”
But the other man, Pilgrim, asked, “How much work do we have to do to be set free?”
The messenger from the king said, “That is not something I can tell you. You are just to work, and when you have done enough, you will be set free.”
Pilgrim was troubled by this answer, because he thought it very strange that someone would promise him he would be set free if he did enough, but would not tell him what enough was. Gregor, however, told him not to worry about it, and that they should just try their hardest. And so every day as they were put to work, they both tried as hard as they could, and each day they were weary, sore, but not as sad, because they knew they were working for their freedom. But Pilgrim was still troubled every night as he went to sleep, because he wondered if he was doing enough.
Then one day they met another slave from their own homeland. After they had worked hard throughout the day, this slave was also sent to Gregor and Pilgrim’s cell to sleep. That night they questioned him about how things were in their homeland, and if they had any word about their loved ones. The man could not tell them much, but one this he did tell them was that their lord was concerned about them, and that he had a plan to rescue them. “Our lord sent a message throughout the land that he is going to rescue the slaves. He said all you have to do is wait, and soon you will be free.”
Pilgrim liked this very much, but Gregor was not so sure. “How long do we have to wait?” asked Gregor. “And what should we do in the mean time? How can we make sure that when he comes he frees us, and doesn’t forget about us?”
The man shook his head. “I don’t know how long you’ll have to wait, but I know that the lord said that he will free all the slaves, no matter what. You don’t have to do anything, just wait.”
Gregor seemed upset about this, but Pilgrim felt very hopeful. The man would say nothing more, and night after night, though Gregor questioned him, he could offer no more answer than, “You don’t have to do anything, just wait.”
Eventually that man was taken away and sent to work in a different place, and Pilgrim and Gregor were left alone. They continued to labor as slaves, but while Gregor worked harder and harder, trying to earn his freedom, Pilgrim just did enough to get through the day and all the while waited.
Eventually another man from their homeland came, and he brought the same message as the first, “Just wait.” Eventually he was taken away, and they were alone again. This happened twelve different times, and still Pilgrim waited, and Gregor worked. It came to be that Gregor never even listened to the men who came from their homeland, because he always said, “What good is waiting when we can work to be free?” But no matter how hard Gregor worked, he was not being set free. And no matter how long Pilgrim waited, they were still slaves.
Then everything changed one day. A new slave came, and he was a very special slave, because he was the son of the lord of their homeland. At night in their cell he told Gregor and Pilgrim that he had come to set them free, and that he had an escape plan. He told them simply to wait for the signal and they would go free and go home.
Pilgrim was overjoyed, and eagerly waited for his freedom. But Gregor was angry, and did not believe the plan would work. In fact, he didn’t want the plan to work. “I have been working hard to do everything right so that I can get free! How can you come along and promise to free me and him and everyone without asking us to do anything? Has he worked as hard as me? Does he deserve to go free? I want the work I’ve done to count for something!”
The son only said, “My brother, I just want to set you free. Isn’t that enough?”
It was enough for Pilgrim. So he waited. And then the day came. The son gave the signal, and he did something unbelievable. He charged at the captain of the guards and tackled him to the ground. Grabbing the keys from the captain’s belt, he leapt up and ran to the gate and unlocked it and threw the gate open. All the other guards saw what was happening, and raced after him. Then the son took the key and ran away from the gate, deeper into the mine, shouting, “Free! Free! You’re free! Go, and run for your freedom!” The guards foolishly did not understand what was happening, and all they could think was to get the key back from the son. So they followed him deeper into the mine, leaving the gate open and unguarded.
“We’re free!” said Pilgrim to Gregor. “Let’s go!”
But Gregor growled and scowled. “No! Leave me alone! I’m working for my freedom!”
“But we don’t need to work,” said Pilgrim. “We don’t need to do anything! The gate is open, we’re free!”
“I don’t want to be free if my work means nothing,” said Gregor.
Pilgrim tried one last time to convince him, but Gregor didn’t want anything to do with it. Since he wanted to be free, he took one last sad look at Gregor and then ran out of the mine.
Once Pilgrim and the other slaves had escaped from the tunnel and were out under the open sky, they wondered what to do. The son had freed them, but where was he? The last they had seen of him, he was going deeper into the mine. Some feared the son would be killed by the guards, and that they would all be taken captive again. Some began to wonder if it would be better for them to go back in the mine and work, and wait for the king to free them. Some even went back into the tunnel and disappeared again into the dark.
But Pilgrim did what he had learned to do – he waited. And so did some of the others. They didn’t have to wait long before another slave came running down the road. “I have just been set free from another part of the mine!” he called as he ran up. “The son freed us there too! We thought he was lost, because we saw the guards take him and beat him. He looked like he had been beaten to death. But I’ve just seen him! He is alive, and he is free, and he said to meet him at the seashore!”
That man ran to go find another group of slaves, while Pilgrim and all the slaves went to the shore as fast as they could. As they went, if ever they saw a slave coming out of a tunnel (for there were many tunnels along the road as it wound around the mountain down to the sea), they told him that he should come with them to the sea, for the son had freed them. Some went with them, but others shook their heads and went back into the mines.
At last they reached the sea, and there they met a wondrous sight – many large ships, with room enough for all, were waiting at the shore. And standing in the largest of the ships, dressed in royal clothing, was the son, smiling with open arms. “Come, brothers! It is time to go home!”