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From the Ruins

The kingdom was in ruins and the king sat on a pile of rubble that had recently been a castle wall, head in his hands and heart in his boots. The war with the old enemy had been won, but by the narrowest of margins. The invasion had been fought off, but at a dreadful cost.

Well at least the other side had suffered even more. They had learned that a seemingly-peaceful country would fight and die, man, woman and boy, rather than give in to a foreign aggressor. Their armies had been decimated and their king cut down, even as he led the last desperate assault. Mayhem, mle and utter madness. It had been indescribable hell.

But now, what was left? From the castle mound the king looked out at a smoking and crumbled realm. In the quiet morning mist it still looked like a broken battlefield. Should he have capitulated? How many lives had been lost? Why had he survived? He looked down at the bloodied and notched sword on his lap and thought long and hard.

"Are you the king?" A small voice woke him from his dark reverie. He looked up and stared emptily at a young man in battle gear.

"Aye, laddie." he said, wondering what else he could say. Sorry, but I probably got most of your family killed or worse. If we'd been better prepared or I'd sued for peace, then perhaps your ordinary life would still be ordinary and free from terrible grief. That should be my burden.

"I've been in several battles with you sir," said the youth, "and just wanted to say thank you."

"Hah, lad!" the king cried, "Why say you that?" Why indeed should you be grateful for the sins of your lord? Why should my stubborn and selfish denial be cause for gratitude?

The youth took off a battered helmet and shook out long and golden locks. "I am not a lad, but I am a free citizen of this land." she said, as the king's jaw dropped, "and I am not the only girl who took up arms for you. When the hordes first entered our lands I was sorely afraid, and rightly so, for when my mother refused them food, they broke down the doors and sullied her and laughed as they took what they would." She paused, red-eyed, and the king saw something unspoken. "And a great anger came upon me, for you had been negotiating and seeking peace, and there were none of our soldiers there to protect us. We lived near the border and saw the signs, but you were in your castle, writing letters of hope."

The king hung his head, "I'm sorry. Somehow I hoped to avoid all this." He looked around. "But it was all for nothing." he said, softly.

The girl looked at him, directly. "No, sir," she said. "From the heat of war I now know the imperative of peace. You sought to avoid the carnage of battle whilst I cried for lost innocence.

"But then the call to arms came, so I concealed my shamed womanhood and took up the sword and spent my deep fury in harsh combat, each day taking further glorious revenge. And then one day I found myself near you in a great battle. Surrounded by the enemy you fought like a demon possessed. For a moment I hoped that they would cut you down and you would be punished in turn for the unfair punishment the soldiers had meted out on my family. My father and brothers slain for their indignity as my mother's and my own bodies were taken for foul pleasure."

Tears ran silently down the girl's face as she spoke of the nightmare and they were echoed by the king's.

"Perhaps I should have been taken," whispered the king, "for many have died in my name, and I fear their souls will not rest whilst I live."

"No!" cried the girl, "Whilst I wished my own vengeance, in that moment of battle I saw my own fury in you, multiplied manifold. For you carried the righteous anger of the nation with you. You fought not for the right to rule but for every father slain and every mother enslaved. As the enemy would rape our fair land, you fought with every ounce to rid us of that evil."

The king nodded, feeling the deep pain of sly invasion again. "And what now?" he asked, "Now it is done and the land is cleansed, what of the deep scars left behind?"

"Now it is done, and the fog of war is lifted, our true eyes must open again to the road ahead. After the euphoria of victory, the next battle is to heal both the land and its people, restoring peace in both body and spirit. My anger is spent and I am born again into a new life. I want direction and support as I relearn and rebuild. You are needed more than ever, my lord. You have proven yourself in battle and now you must prove yourself again in new peace."

The king frowned, collected himself and stood up. Sheathing his sword, he placed a firm hand on the shoulder of the girl and nodded. In his moment of need she had rekindled meaning and given him the fortitude to accept the past and face the future. And without word or need, they stepped forward into the free world ahead.

 

***

 

~by David Straker~

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