The Warrior King
The Warrior King
Brothers will fight and kill each other. Sisters' children will defile kinship. It is harsh in the realm. An axe age, a sword age, a wind age, a wolf age. Shields are riven before the world goes headlong and no man will have mercy on another. So the prophecy tells. But the nature of prophecy is that it tends to be lengthy in the unfolding and the nature of man’s weak mind is such that he is doomed to forget the lessons of the past and prophecy morphs into folklore; its true meaning twisted and interpreted at the whim of that weakness. Perhaps one might comprehend its true meaning, perhaps others might; perhaps others might learn that one knows the true meaning and kill the one. Perhaps some will heed the warning and arm themselves for the fight, perhaps some will heed the warning and precipitate the fight. Perhaps the battle will be won with steel, perhaps with the mind…the prophecy does not tell.8
Fantasy / Sci-fi
Redlih B. Kram (Australia)
“Your Majesty would prefer some death and sorrow to provide entertainment?”
“Don't you ever tire of being so reasoned?” The legendary Sage was the most unflappable man the king had ever encountered; painfully considered and measured in his words. Also an oddity in that he was perhaps the only man at court who didn't seem to have an agenda of his own to pursue. Right now however, the king had little use for reason. His day had been spent enduring the complaints of various lords, dignitaries and merchants.
“You would think that amongst the scores of whining, petty politics and jockeying for power that there might have been one interesting individual to come before me, just one...”
“Someone with a desire for glory on the battlefield perhaps?”
The king glared, though the slight grin in the corner Sage's mouth as he spoke almost brought a smile to the monarch's face.
The Sage was not entirely without charm, though he displayed it infrequently enough. Once though it had been different. King Mikael’s father had often told tale from his youth of Matheke Woodsbane. Stories of a young man with little on his mind except skirt and hunting. Those times had all ended when the Nilfhel had landed at Southpoint Castle in the Woodland Kingdom and slaughtered, raped and roped his family.
A changed man stood at his side now as they rode the lifter to the king's chambers, high up in the castle towers. He had often thought of suggesting to his Sage that he might consider availing himself of some of life's pleasures, rather than spending all his waking hours poring over laws, ancient manuscripts and kingdom politics. But the Sage was older than he and was his father's friend; what right did he have to tell an older and wiser man what he should do with his life? Likely too much water had passed under the proverbial bridge for the Sage to once again be the man he was in his youth. Life moulds everyone but some get kilned hotter, his father used to say.
Thunder boomed from beyond the walls and lightning cackled through the glassed windows as the lifter reached the end of its journey. King and Sage strode toward the royal chambers, flanked by household guards dressed in the white and blue of House Avalon. From the great balcony facing the south the king could gaze out over half the realm laid out before him. The Plains of Avalon stretched as far as the eye could see, split by the three great rivers: Titus, Malvam and Slidr. There would be no enjoying the view tonight though; foul weather had descended a month ago and had proceeded to worsen steadily ever since. It had done little for the king's mood. “How much longer must we endure these storms Sage? “
“I have no idea Your Majesty, I have never seen weather like this so far inland from the seas”.
The king grunted in return as they entered his cavernous chambers, his lips smiling for the first time that day as a page presented him a goblet of wine and the smell of suckling pig wafted from his dining chamber. At least a King gets to eat what he likes. His father had espoused the great responsibilities of kingship to him when he was young, but had forgotten to mention what the enjoyable aspects might be. Oh, that's right there were not any. “Stay with me and eat Matheke, your ancestors know you need some fattening up.”
“Alas the score of parchments I have to complete after today's hearings will likely keep me busy all night. I will bid you good night Your Majesty,” the Sage bowed as he left.
“Fine”, the king waived away his solemn friend and his valets, then sat alone to eat.
Being a king was an odd business. You could command almost anything you wished, and absolutely anything if you were a tyrant, but these past few nights the sovereign found all he wanted was his lovely queen to share his meal and to spend pleasing time with his young son and daughter. But they were all far away, his heavily pregnant wife to the south visiting her family's seat in the Woodlands kingdom. She was due to give birth at any moment and tradition dictated the child must be born in its mother’s kingdom. Another outdated tradition in a realm filled with them. His thoughts turned to the risk childbirth posed to her life. Many died during childbirth of course, it was common, but such thinking obviously did nothing to lessen the fear in his heart that his wife could become one of them. Not for the first time the king thanked the gods he was born a man – he was not sure he could have coped with being a woman.
It was the duty of every female in the land to provide sons and daughters to the realm and their husbands and especially to a king. Yet after all the struggle of birth only the strongest children survived to adulthood. For every one who lived to see their coming of age there would be two who would be cut down by disease, war, famine or for no apparent reason at all. The king toyed with his pig as he contemplated his melancholy thoughts. The King of the Realm; monarch of all the northern and southern kingdoms save Nilfheim and he still couldn’t be where he wanted to this night.
The thunder roared again from out on the plains. It had been like this the days before the siege of Rivers Mix - the “Great Siege” they called it now. The war against the Nilfhel had lasted for six summers but it had all turned during the that battle. Mikael had been Prince Mikael at the beginning of the it and king at the end. He himself would say he was a boy when it started and a man when it finished. His father, Maximillian, was killed in the early days of the tussle. The prince, born twenty two summers before he was crowned that night, was too numb from his father’s death and too unsure what he was supposed to do without him to remember much of it.
Things had looked grim for the realm that night and all the other kings had bickered about whom should lead them. Few wanted a battle green boy-king when the loss of River’s Mix would surely doom them all.
Matheke Woodsman had come to him that night and made it all clear as crystal. There was no talk of courage or heroism as in the stories now told of it, rather the simple fact that they were all probably going to die anyway so the new king had a simple choice: die meekly surrounded by other squabbling kings or throw caution to the wind and die fighting. No man or animal fights as hard as when they have nothing left to lose, he had said and he had been right.
The next morning, well before the twin suns had risen above the horizon, he had strode into the war council, announced then and there that he was leading his army out the north gate and that anyone else who wanted to come was welcome, then walked out again. It was fair to say that had left them stunned. He remembered King Swan of the Higherlands chasing after him muttering something about madness. He had responded that he didn't give a fuck, mounted his horse and headed toward his fate. The king’s stood about gaping until King Rata of the Morilands had burst into laughter and decided to follow suit. With the second biggest army and the most respected fighter committed to the plan, the others had no choice but to fall into line.
They had surged out amidst a fitting scene of grey, black sky and bright lightning - leaving the rest of the city virtually undefended. But the enemy were scattered all around the capitol’s walls; their warriors split into five by the great rivers that flowed through the city. They surprised the northern force arrayed against them, the weakest of the opposing army, then the two Nilfhil princes’ on the west and east sides assisted by attacking the charging force instead of focusing their attention on the undefended castle walls. The only way across the raging rivers was via the bridges, which funnelled the princes' forces nicely into the teeth of their waiting foes. By the time the Nilfhel monarch arrived and ordered their retreat, half the his army was dead or dying and the two princes’ had been taken captive. King Mikael was back inside the castle in time for his morning meal.
Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1
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