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Authored by Nick Knowles

Post Scripted by Sherry Knowles

The Son of the Second King The young man stood upon the watch tower, the highest point in the entire City. His gaze traveled past the buildings of polished stone, and beyond the inner wall, continuing past the farmers’ houses of thatch and clay, and the vast fields of paddies surrounding the City. From this height, he could see the great outer wall, which enclosed the fertile farmlands. This structure of quarried stone, hewn into mammoth blocks, stood over thirty feet high and fifteen feet thick, providing an impenetrable defense against whatever lies outside its four gates. Beyond the wall was the domain of nature. To the west and the south, the blue-green sea flowed past the limits of his vision. To the east, serrated mountains cut across the horizon, providing a jagged cradle for the rising sun. And to the north, less than a day’s journey from the iron gates of the outer wall was the forest. Yest, even from this vantage, with a score of miles between the primeval wood, the trees dwarfed the great wall; the magnificent timbers serving as a constant reminder of the limits of man’s control. Though it was midday, the sun shone heavy in the sky. The forest seemed filled with shadow, adding to the young man’s excitement and apprehension. For tomorrow, along with twenty others, he would go there to enact a rite of ancient tradition…. the Hunt. Girru reluctantly descended the spiral staircase within the tower and made his way home along the west road. Normally, when he visited the tower, he let his eyes linger on the threshold of nature into the forest or the mountains. No time today. There were seven circles of nobility in all. The closest to the center possessed the greatest power. His father’s house, built in the third circle, was made of red stone. Those in the second circle were black. The buildings of the first circle, including the palace of the King, were constructed of brilliant, shining white stone. Those of the fourth and lesser circles were constructed of common gray granite. As a noble of the third tier, his family had both wealth and status. So while not of royal descent, there were few families in the City that outranked his own. Girru opened the wooden door, engraved with his family’s symbols, and passed over the threshold of tumbled green marble. He entered through the waiting room and into the plaza where his mother and two sisters, Kina and Lila, lay lounging and taking their midday meal. He felt hungry but was regrettably forbidden, by tradition, to eat the day before the rite of passage. Nodding to them, he continued through the house, towards his father’s study. As usual, the door to the room remained closed, so he pulled the cord, hearing the bell ring, and awaited an invitation to enter. Soon he heard his father call, so he opened the door and stepped through. It was rare that he was allowed into this room, for it was his father’s private sanctum. Unlike the rest of the house, this room had walls of paneled wood. To the right stood a heavy table laden with papers and curiosities; to the left the wall was dominated by a brick-lined hearth containing a single, smothering log. His father sat in his large chair at the opposite end of the room. He was dressed in the formal attire of the Aristocracy, a blue-dyed robe of woven wool. However, contrary to the current fashion, his father wore his dark hair and beard long and loose. Around his neck, he wore an Amulet engraved with the family’s glyphs. Between them on the floor stretched the hide of a great brown bear, slain by his grandfather on the day of his Hunt, many years ago. The elder held a long pipe, from which he occasionally drew, releasing a thin, bluish smoke with an acrid scent. This pipe weed had a deepening affect on his voice. Girru’s brother, the firstborn son, resembled their father more than he. Both had wavy, 1


dark brown hair and gray eyes, slightly blue. But his own hair was a lighter brown, with a shaggier composition, and his eyes shone a deeper blue. Several moments of silence passed until finally broken by his father’s voice. “Tomorrow’s the day,” he said as he took a puff from his pipe. The dry smoke hovered at head height. “Even you must be excited today.” Girru wished that he didn’t have to go through with it. He had asked his father once, but received no reply. So now, he was trying to approach the ritual for whatever positive influences it might have, even if it just meant pleasing his father. “I have excellent news!” his father paused to draw again from his pipe, “I have managed to place you in the tribunal with the King’s own sons tomorrow.” Girru was taken aback. There were a least four others participating in the ritual who outranked him. His father continued, “This is the first time the twins will participate in a public ritual. All of their childhood ceremonies were held with only the royal family. Everyone is beginning to wonder if they are hiding something. I’ve heard their hair is black, like the King’s, but their skin is fair to his swarthy, and they have light eyes.” “Remember, let one of the princes take the kill. You will benefit from association, but you don’t want to outshine the royal family. You had better get to the Temple now. Tomorrow may prove to be a fate-filled day for you.” Girru bowed to his father and exited the room, closing the door behind him. He felt anxious about the matching his father had made. He hurried through the plaza, so occupied with his thoughts, that he did not even hear the calls for luck from his family. The Temple stood in the first circle, beside the Palace. Girru took the north road through the second circle and directly to the heavy double doors of the Temple. With a deep breath and much conviction, he opened the door and stepped inside the Temple of the Sun. The interior stood in dark contrast to the world outside. In here, the sunlight filtered weakly between the muted tapestries, covering the open windows. The primary source of illumination emanated from a large brazier sitting upon a raised platform in the center of the room. Behind the brazier a stone Altar stood, framed on both ends by a pair of tall, red pillar candles. The platform held the shape of an equilateral triangle, with one point indicating the door through which he had entered. Before each face of the triangle were resting benches. Upon these benches sat seventeen young men. Girru knew now that he was not the last to arrive, and he was glad for it. The empty benches, opposite the doors and facing the Altar, were reserved for the Tribunal consisting of the King’s twin sons and himself. He took his place on the foremost seat in silence, further perceiving the interior of the temple. Three more and they would all be here. The adolescent sons of nobility were all dressed in fine cloth befitting their rank. Normally, the Hunt was held during the seventeenth year, but the stars were in special alignment this year, so that the youngest was fifteen years and the two eldest were eighteen. The air was thick with musty incense, issuing from the central brazier. The smoke rose slowly toward the vaulted ceiling, mingling with the dust, obscuring the errant rays of sunlight that had evaded the tapestries. Within half an hour, the remaining participants arrived. The two princes sat on opposite sides of him; the elder, Elios, on the right side; the younger, Krelus, to his left. The twins each stood close to six feet tall, Elios the taller by a finger’s breadth. Their hair was black, long and straight. Their faces were the same, save for one detail: each had a pair of mismatched eyes; one blue and one green. The placement of colors was different for each brother. With the arrival of the final participants, three Priests entered the Chamber. Two went to bar the door and the third took his place by the Altar. The Priests wore robes of crimson and black and their heads were shaved clean. The two Acolytes joined the High Priest at the Altar, taking their place at the corners of the platform. Then, together in the archaic tongue of the Temple, they began to chant. The High Priest drew forth a powder from a pouch on his waist and cast it into the 2


Brazier. Upon contact with the embers, the powder exploded into a hissing burst of light. The sudden illumination captured the attention of all those assembled, exactly as the Priest had intended. Looking out at the forty-two eyes locked on the brazier, the Priest began in his clear, deep voice… “Tomorrow marks the summer solstice: the turning point of the sun’s yearly journey. On this day, the sun is at its most receptive place to the affairs of men. Tomorrow, boys will become men in the eyes of the people and in the eye of the sun.” “The Lord of the heavens has decreed that man shall be ruler of beasts, and tomorrow you shall understand this responsibility. To realize yourselves, you must prove your worthiness by expressing your dominance over the lesser creatures of this world. As the King holds dominion over his subjects, so do all men hold dominion over nature?” There was no need for the Priest to explain the details of the Ritual, as the boys knew what was expected of them. Seven groups of three would be taken to the forest. There, they were to track and kill one of several totem animals. The type of beast and the skill of the kill would be used in the determination of the status awarded to the hunters. The City subsisted mainly on agriculture and the only meat came from the domesticated pigs, goats and sheep. Hunting was a purely symbolic act, and any animals killed in the Ritual would not be eaten by the people of the City. The rest of the day was devoted to purification rites: bathing in “purified” water, chanting sanctifying prayers and preparing mentally for the arduous task to come. That evening, the boys were led to a chamber beneath the Temple. They were told by the Priest to spend the time sleeping or in prayer. The night passed quickly, and the boys were returned to the Temple before the rising of the sun. They were seated on the same benches as the day before. Today, beneath the benches, they found full bags made of woven fiber. The three Priests took up their positions within the Temple. The High Priest stood before the Altar, whereupon lay a white lamb. The second Priest stood by the eastern wall, holding a braided cord, which was attached to the tapestry covering the window. The third Priest stood at the northern point of the platform. The Temple was dark, even more so than the day before. The brazier was empty. The only light came from the two red candles framing the Altar. Their flickering glow underlay the Priest, bestowing a sinister look to his visage. The lamb lay still in the center of the stone table, only occasionally animated by a small shudder or a quiet bleating. To the left of the lamb was a black-handled knife and to the right, was a silver chalice. The Temple had a strange way of muffling sound and soon, even the scuffling of feet, the sound of breathing, and the lamb’s gentle crying were lost to the stifling effect of the Temple’s ominous aura. Somewhere outside a cockerel called to the sun. At that instant, the Priest by the eastern wall ripped the cord, tearing the tapestry from the window. A searing beam from the sun bore down on the center of the Temple, illuminating the altar. The lamb screamed for an instant, before being silenced by the black-handled knife, wielded by the shaven-headed Priest. The creature’s blood splashed over his face and, for a moment, time stood still. The crimson fluid running down the sides of the altar, collected in channels carved in the stone. The Priest picked up the shining chalice and collected the flowing blood from the spout where the channels met. “This is the water of life!” he roared. “The very essence of existence is contained herein.” Dumbstruck with shock, the boys stared, wide-eyed at the spectacle before them. The Priest met their gaze with eyes of fire. Again he called out, “Drink! Drink from the chalice each of you! By this drought, you are bound to each other and to the task before you.” He handed the cup to the nearest boy, and each, in turn, drank from it. At last the chalice came to the bench of Girru and the twin princes. Elios drank first, passing the cup to Girru. Girru took his drought and passed the chalice to Krelus. The mismatched eyes of the prince locked onto those of his brother as he drained the cup; and in the way of twins, much was said without the voicing of a single word. The High Priest took the empty chalice from the prince, while still the brothers’ eyes were locked. Elios paled, breaking the stare. The Priest replaced the chalice and knife on the altar and 3


looked about at the twenty-one boys. Standing at the northern point, he reached below the platform and gathered some coals and placed them in the brazier. The High Priest withdrew a small candle from his robe, lit it from one of the Altar lights, and then touched it to the coals. A low flame spread quickly through the brazier. The High Priest then returned to the Altar, picked up the knife and removed the heart of the lamb. He held the organ aloft in the sun’s beam from the east window. Then he quickly placed it upon the burning coals. The flames soared in the center of the Brazier, and within moments, the heart of the lamb was consumed. Meanwhile, the Acolyte who had removed the tapestry was unbarring the north door. The second Acolyte joined him and together they opened the heavy doors and then stood to either side, facing the Altar. The sunlight streaming in through the open door reflected off the bronze tips of twenty-one spears leaning beside the entrance to the Temple. The High Priest donned his cowl, and the other two Priests followed suit. “Take up the packs beneath your seats and follow me” he commanded. He raised his arms towards the sky and turned and headed for the door. The Acolytes and the High Priest stepped through the opened doors. The boys rose from their benches, collected their bags and followed him in single file. As each passed through the door, an Acolyte handed him a spear marked with the Emblem of his house. When the last boy had exited, the Acolytes followed, closing the Temple doors behind them. The empty streets suggested the entire City lie asleep. The procession followed the north road, passing through all seven circles of the inner City and arriving at the first gate. At the command of the High Priest, the gateway opened and the procession continued its march. In the distance, the outer wall loomed over the pasture, seeming to grow increasingly more massive as they approached. Until, finally, they arrived at the outer gate. The north gate was wrought of black iron in a complex spiral pattern. Looking through it, they could see only the wild fields that lay directly before it. Again, the High Priest commanded the doors to open, and they did. Stepping through the outer wall was a revelation to most of the boys, for they had never before been outside of the City. Most felt overwhelmed and some were frightened. A few, however, seemed unaffected. Girru felt elated, for many years his eyes had held this outside world in his mind, and now he was stepping out into it. The princes had been out before in the company of their father, but still, the vastness of the landscape was discomforting for them both. Once the Acolytes cleared the gate, it closed behind them. For a moment, twenty-four people stared in wonder at the forest in the distance. The High Priest started onward again and the others followed. By midday, they had reached the forest’s edge. What had seemed vast from a distance could only be described as monumental now. Here, where the plain met the woods, the trees soared taller than the watch tower in the City. Yet, in the distance, the true forest monarchs reigned. Rising from the thick green canopy, the majestic crowns capped venerable trees that made even these giants seem small. The Priest gathered together with the boys, between them and the forest. The High Priest kept his eyes locked on them, stealing the scene from nature’s splendor. “Each group must find its own path,” he began. “Three are as one for the Hunt, but each group must succeed or fail on its own merit.” In three days, we shall return and learn the truth of your endeavor.” “Hunt well.” With this, he turned and, followed by the two Acolytes, headed back towards the City. The boys had no actual experience with hunting. They had been “taught” from crumbling texts the behaviors of some animals and the tracks they had left. They had practiced throwing a spear at a target of bound straw. Their practical ignorance was evident now, as they were overburdened and under-prepared. Each boy looked around the group, searching perhaps for a guiding hand. The seven groups hesitated a while longer before each entered the woods. They headed in different directions, each group seeking a private hunting ground. 4


Beneath the heavy canopy, the sun was enfeebled and it left the forest moist and cool. The slight breeze barely disturbed the foliage. In a way, the silence and dimness of the woods was reminiscent of the Temple, but here, the effect was not stifling. Instead, it was calming and reassuring. The group, composed of the King’s twins and Girru, made their way in a north-westerly direction. They soon lost sight and sound of the other groups. The forest was thick here. The great trees were spaced at a fair distance, allowing the sunlight to reach the lower levels. The abundant brush tore at their legs and obscured their vision. No one spoke. They walked in silence for several hours. Gradually, the quiet of the forest receded and the boys became aware of the myriad of sounds filling the land around them. The farther north they traveled, the larger the trees became. With the thickening of the upper canopy, the underbrush was thinning. They came upon a stream and began to follow it, knowing that not only would they need its water, but animals must drink from the stream as well. “We will camp near the stream.” Elios said. “That way we will have a landmark to hunt from and a steady supply of water.” “You dolt!” his brother replied. “That way no animals will come near the stream! We will camp a distance from the water so we may lie in ambush for any beasts who come near.” “You go and gather the firewood” he ordered Girru. Girru wandered off to find some kindling, leaving the brothers to their bickering. The lush canopy here claimed most of the sunlight for itself, so there was very little new growth, and thus, few branches. He wandered farther and farther from the twins and the stream. He came to a grove filled with birches. The thick ceiling of the forest opened. The massive oaks that dominated the rest of the landscape stood in a wide circle here. Standing still beside the birch trees was a stag, a doe and two fawns. Girru stopped short, having never before seen animals in their natural domain. The stag wore a crown of magnificent antlers. The stag stood staring at Girru, unafraid. Girru’s thoughts returned to the speech of the High Priest. He knew that he was far from being superior to this noble creature. If anything, he should bow in reverence to the King of the Forest. Girru took a step forward. Suddenly, the doe sprung away, followed closely by her young. The stag turned to follow her, taking one last look at the human and then bounding away. Girru stood spellbound, enchanted by their grace and form. How could one kill such a creature as this, he thought. After a moment of further reflection, Girru began to gather dry branches and some paper-like bark from the birches. With his arms laden with kindling and his mind with thoughts of deer, he headed back towards the stream, taking a slightly different path in hopes to find some larger branches for the fire. Looking to the distance rather than at the ground before him, Girru’s foot caught in a hole and he stumbled forward, dropping the wood. Leaning over to gather it up again, he saw that he had tripped, not in a hole, but rather in a footprint. It was unmistakable; the print was larger than his foot and quite deep. The marks of the toes were followed by those of large claws. A bear! he thought, and a huge one according to its step. Girru spotted a nearby pine tree, where a section of its bark had been torn off and was laying on the ground. He walked over to it and saw that the trunk bore the marks of heavy claws. Trapped in a protrusion of the rough bark was a tuft of thick, brown fur. Girru picked up the remaining kindling and made his way quickly back to the princes. . The princes were arguing in low voices as he approached, but when they saw Girru coming, they stopped. Elios raised his hand and called out to Girru, while Krelus busied himself digging a hole, presumably for the fire. Girru piled the wood near a tree and went to wash his hands and face in the stream. The elder prince joined him. “We’re going to camp here for now and look for tracks in the morning.” he said. “My brother says to keep the fire small so that we don’t scare off the animals.” 5


“I found the tracks of a bear down by the stream,” Girru spat out. “Huge,” he gestured. Elios smiled. “A bear? That’s great, the bear is the strongest. If we kill it, we will be heroes!” “Heroes?” Krelus interjected as he joined them at the edge of the stream. “You had better kill it. At least then the people will have one thing to praise you for when you are King.” he snickered. “God knows it won’t be for your visionary majesty,” Krelus continued. “Go to hell, you...bastard!” Elios spat back at his brother. “See that?” spoke Krelus, “that is your future King. By accident of birth, that inane buffoon was born moments before me, which of course means that he should be King. I mean, the fact that he is hardly blessed with half a brain, surely should not disqualify him from the regency.” Girru continued washing the dirt from his hands. “Well, at least I won’t have to bow to his simple-minded desires” continued Krelus. “That privilege is reserved for you lesser nobles and, of course, the peasants.” Girru wiped his hands on his tunic and turned back towards the camp. Krelus stood by the edge of the stream a moment longer before he returned to the site of his fire pit. They quickly completed the construction of the camp, with little talk between them. The boundaries consisted of a cluster of three younger trees to the northwest corner, a small drop-off of perhaps twenty or thirty feet down the southwest side, and a short distance up to the southeast corner. From the northeast corner to the northern side of the drop-off, the three were hidden from the stream by a small cluster of new growth in the trees and a patch of reeds and cattails. The fire flickered gently from the far side of camp, hidden by some taller trees and further veiled by the blind of woven reeds. As night overtook them, the fire pit became the center of activity. The comforting protection of the hearth is a pleasure known by all, regardless of a person’s class. But, in the forest, with your only companions around you, everyone is equal before the fire and all take comfort in the glow of it’s flame. Girru awoke the next morning after a firm shaking from Elios. “Get up,” he whispered. “We have spotted a stag elk over the stream on the knoll with the willow. My brother lies in wait, on guard, but I must take the kill. Take up your spear and join us. We must cut off his escape.” The prince hurried off to a watch position. Girru knew with utmost certainty that this was the stag he had seen the previous afternoon. Rushing about to find his sandals and spear, he stumbled, snapping a twig beneath his foot and eliciting a scornful lingering glance from the younger prince. Girru swiftly gathered his things and ran to join the elder prince. “What about the bear?” Girru whispered. “The bear is a stronger totem than the elk.” “So it is,” Prince Elios replied. “But the elk is known for his cunning and nobility and here he stands right before us. Where is the bear? God has delivered to us the stag and concealed the bear, for whatever reason, and we must follow his guidance.” Prince Krelus stood glaring at them and motioned for them to take up the hunting formation. “Let’s get moving before the stag becomes suspicious,” Elios said as he pointed to the reed patch, which was to be Girru’s position. Girru announced, “He has a mate and has young.” “They cannot survive unprotected in the wilderness. They would make easy prey for wolves or cats.” “What do I care about that” Krelus contended. “He exists for my benefit.” Girru respectively proclaimed: “Your Highness, there may be glory in the kill, but there is no honor in it.” Meanwhile, Girru and Elios noticed that Krelus was starting to slowly stalk in towards the increasingly wary stag. His spear rested on his shoulder with the end of the shaft in the cup of his spear thrower. He was poised for the kill, and gauging his range. “Go!” Elios called out to the stag. “Go to your mate and her young!” The stag jerked to attention, suddenly aware of the danger. The 6


younger prince launched his spear towards the elk, but it arrived moments too late and stuck quivering in the root of the willow. “Damn you!” Krelus cried as he threw his spear to the ground. “Must you have it all Elios? Can you not give me even a moment’s glory? You would have been credited with the kill, and I would have experienced victory! We both stood to gain. But no, you think you must have it all!” Krelus grumbled. “The kill must be mine’” his brother Elios answered. “You know that is what father said, for the Honor of the Crown.” “Should not my success reflect our father’s name as well?” Krelus whined. “I am the Heir and this ritual reflects the most on me” Elios said. “Whomever takes the kill reflects on me. If I take the kill, the glory is not only for me, but for the Throne and the Crown as well,” Elios declared. “Even if I had killed the beast, you could have taken the bear and over-shadowed my stag. We could have both held the laurels,” Krelus protested. “Three are as one for the Hunt. You know there is only one kill from a tribune. That has always been the tradition,” his elder brother retorted. “But we are the sons of the king. We are beyond the rules and laws of the commoners and nobles. An exception would be made for us,” Krelus pleaded. “The stag kept a mate and young. It would be unbefitting of a king to leave them unprotected from predators,” Elios declared. “We could eat the doe and give the young to the Court Yard Keeper to raise as pets for the girls of nobility. That way, all of our needs are met. You get the glory of slaying the stag, we feast on fresh-killed game, and we attract the admiration of the feminine aristocracy,” Krelus contended. “The point is lost, as is the stag. He has taken to the deeper woods,’” Girru interjected. “He is gone to us now, so the argument is futile. We must concentrate on the bear now.” “You dare issue an order to me?” Krelus roared at Girru. “Perhaps my brother is easily manipulated, but you will find that I am not.” He then crossed the stream at a thinner section, walked up the bank and onto the base of the small hill. Removing his spear from the willow’s gnarled root, Krelus stalked back to the camp. Elios approached Girru. “You were right about sparing the stag, but I warn you about making a further enemy of my brother. Once crossed, he never forgets. I think it is better that we hunt the bear, not only for the glory, but for the honor of the act.” Together they returned to the camp where the younger prince sat. Krelus’ eyes were fixed upon the softly glowing coals feeding a tiny tendril of flame, the last remnant of the past nights fire. “For good or for evil, what is done has been done and only the future remains within our control,” he said as they approached. “We shall hunt the bear and my brother will take the kill. I was a fool to let my emotions overcome my reason. The good of the Crown must come before my personal ambition.” He motioned to Elios, “but your call caused my spear to strike a stone and blunt its tip.” He looked over to Girru and continued. “Give me your spear so I will be prepared to help my brother face the bear.” Girru handed his spear to the prince and received the damaged spear in return. “I am glad to see that reason has returned to you, my brother. The bear is the greater prey and the glory of the kill belongs not only to he who throws the spear, but to the tribune as a whole.” Elios asserted. “Show us where you saw the tracks and we shall follow them to the beast’s lair,” Elios said to Girru. Girru led the twins to the damaged pine and pointed out the fur and footprints. “It must have rested here for a while,” Elios remarked. “These needles look as if they have been slept on. The tracks stop at the stream, but they seem to go back for quite a distance. My brother and I will follow the trail back while you check upstream to see if the trail continues further north,” Elios said to Girru. 7


So they parted company; the brothers retracing the path of the bear towards the west and the young man following the trail to the north. Girru followed the stream, walking in the shallow water, investigating the shoreline for evidence of an ursine traveler. Several hundred yards in a generally northern direction, the stream takes a rather sharp, westerly turn. Shortly past this bend, Girru spotted a torn-up patch of mud along the southern bark, sloping down several feet to meet the water. This spot bore the marks of a large creature climbing the bank. Indeed, upon reaching the slope, he finds the water has deepened to nearly four feet, accounting for the scrambled appearance of the prints. He crossed the stream, only to find disappointment amidst the tracks. No water wet the bank where the bear must have stood dripping after wading in the stream. The tracks seemed at least a day old. Luckily, they were still clear to the eye, so Girru took to the bank, following the bear and heading west. He trailed the bear for hours, slowly coming to identify it as male by the size of its prints and the territorial markings he left along his border. For this trail clearly marked a border of some kind, presumably the “guard walk” of the bear. This meant that his den must be near, and perhaps they could catch the beast asleep, Girru thought. The trail headed a hair’s breadth south from the southwest, and the tracks indicated that the bear had taken this stretch of the route with reasonable leisure. At a quick jogging pace, he followed the trail of the bear over a small meadow and through a dank marsh, until finally returning to the pine forest. There was a noise in the distance; a rustling of leaves and snapping of sticks. Shortly after that, there was a cry that must be human and a roar that identified bear. Girru quickly found the direction by following the trail of sound to its point of origin. Coming through a thick swath of reeds, he saw the bear. It was a giant, at least twelve feet tall, when, as now, it stood on its hind legs. He noticed the twins a moment later; the elder hovering within ten feet of the bear, brandishing his spear. The younger brother sitting, apparently tangled in the twisted roots of an old spruce. He held his spear in his hand, using it as a lever to escape from the roots. The bear took a slow step forward, lowering his head and releasing a roar. Elios launched his spear. It burned through the air, until colliding with the colossal beast, taking him in the abdomen. The bear faltered for a moment before rearing up again; this time signaling a charge. Noticing his way of escape was blocked by a wall of tightly growing hemlock, Elios tried a daring maneuver. He backed toward the wide trunk of an elder oak tree and, as the bear charged, he grabbed his spear, with its bronze tip and several inches of shaft still embedded in the bear’s thick hide. He would ride the force of the bear’s attack, holding on to the handle of the spear and positioning it perfectly to catch in the niche of the thick bark of the old oak. He tried to use the bear’s own force to impale the spear deeper into the beast. Instead, the shaft snapped, wounding the bear only slightly and leaving the prince undefended. Girru, seeing Elios in danger and the younger prince seemingly incapacitated, leaped from the reeds and leveled his spear for the kill. He could not throw yet, for Elios could be hit. The bear threatened to rake Elios with his claws. Elios was bleeding and senseless, but his wounds did not appear mortal. Girru found his window and hurled his spear forward. Girru’s cast proved true, catching the bear beneath its muzzle, through the gristly tissues of his neck and straight into his brain. The lordly beast shook twice, before falling dead toward the ground. Yet, as the bear descended with the limp body of the elder prince leaning heavily upon it, the scene was stricken by the flight of the final missile. This one landing in the back of the elder prince, stapling him to the falling ursine, leaving the two hunters locked in death. Girru turned to regard the living prince. The grasping roots no longer bound him. Perhaps they never really did. “By the keepers of the deep, what...what just happened?” he cried. Krelus, unaffected by what had just transpired, calmly made his way to the stream. He washed his hands 8


and face, and then made his way to the fire pit. Krelus sat down and smiled at Girru. He looked happy. Girru then said, “What have you done? Your spear has impaled Prince Elios!” Krelus smiled again and said, “Your spear, my friend. Your spear has killed Prince Elios!” His mouth smiled, but his eyes did not. “As I saw it, he continued. “I saw my brother steal your kill. It so enraged you that you stabbed him in the back. I threw my own spear, felling the bear, but alas, it was too late for the Heir-apparent.” “You are a Serpent!” Girru hissed, “a Kin-Slayer!” Girru made the sign against the supernatural towards Krelus. “You had better hurry back to the Priests before the Huntsman is roused”. “The Huntsman is a fool’s superstition that the Priests use to control you,” Krelus said. “Only the royal family is privy to the true mysteries. Ignorance is obedience,” Krelus snorted as he drank from his waterskin. “Besides, whatever I am, you shall bear the blame and I shall inherit the throne. I have decided to throw you on the mercy of the Council because alive you collaborate my story. Dead, you only raise more questions. If you cooperate and confess, you may be banished instead of executed” he said. “Whatever becomes of me, I shall go into it knowing that you have dug your pit and you must someday lie in it.” Girru growled. “You are a Kin's-Slayer; your fate will be worse than mine!” “You are the murderer” Krelus contended. “You took the life of the Crown Prince. It’s Treasonous! Blasphemous! You’re a damned murderer!” The young prince pulled every drop of sarcasm from his words. “The people will cheer at your execution. There he is the vile dog! Take your time “chopper”, don’t hasten justice. I will be the figure of remorse, reluctantly accepting the Crown in light of my brother’s death.” The evening eventually presented, but not with the calm quiet of the previous night. The forest was withering with unseen life. Eyes were upon the pair the whole night through, watching and waiting for events to unfold. Amidst the calls, cries and screams of the nocturnal haunting, the two boys huddled close to the dying fire. No words passed between them and each sought hard to ignore the presence of the other. The damned night lasted an eternity and when daylight finally broke, the sun was weak behind a gray sky. The wet air lost few raindrops to the fog. The wretched fog, which drains the heat of the season, reflected the sun’s rays above it and kept the land below bitter and damp. The two rose from their beds beside the now smoldering fire, their muscles stiff from stony pillows and their bones aching from the chilly air. Three days before, they had gazed in wonder at the giant trees in the distance. Now they were among them and they had an incredible distance to cover before nightfall. Meanwhile, the dead Prince’s body could not be left behind. His brother did not want his “evidence” disturbed, but he knew they had to take Prince Elios with them. They constructed a sled, using sticks and bed roils, and laid the body therein. They began their journey back to the City. The forest smelled musty and decaying this day, a drastic difference from when they had first arrived. Krelus carried his own pack, which held claws, teeth and other tokens of the bear. They left the bear behind. Girru trudged slowly along, dragging the sled, which was laden with the dead Prince and the Prince’s pack and spear, as well as his own. They kept a steady pace, both anxious to finish what had been started. They walked four long hours, each alone, painfully aware of the other. The dismal day took a turn for the worse when the Prince tripped and sprained his ankle. “We will stay here” Krelus demanded. “The Priests will be quick about locating the King's sons. My injury only gives more to my tale.” Girru pulled the sled into the shade of a gnarled pine. He chose a seat close by and sat still, in silence…brooding. The midday hours crept by. The Prince slept the hours away, but Girru was aware of the passing of every minute. Several long hours past noon, they heard voices in the distance. 9


“They must have come this way,” called a still distant voice. “You're Highnesses! Are you near? Girru?” The voices continued and soon it was evident that they were indeed drawing near. Girru and the Prince heard hounds among the group. “My rescue party has arrived,” sneered the Prince. “Or is that your angry mob? It's hard to tell from here. Also, you will notice, the Huntsman never came last night. The story says that he strikes only at night, and only in the wild. Today, we leave his domain, and tonight I sleep in the Palace,” the Prince boasted. Girru offered no response. Together they sat; neither called out to the searchers. The Prince was content watching his play unfold and Girru was in no hurry to see whose story would be believed. Soon, the searchers found them. The party consisted of the High Priest, an Acolyte and several young indians leading the hounds. News of the elder prince’s death raced them back to the City. A litter, hastily constructed, bore the injured Prince home. His brother remained in the sled that had carried him thus far. Circumstance slowed the return of the group, but left the “messengers” free to run ahead. By the time the Prince’s party reached the outer gates of the City, the inner circle knew there was a new heir to the throne. Upon entering the gates, the group was led immediately to the Palace. Krelus quickly disappeared within the Palace walls. The dog handlers accompanied by the Acolyte, headed for the Temple and the kennels. The High Priest entered the hall, followed by the dead Prince. The Prince’s litter was now bore by two royal servants. Girru fell in behind them. The procession ended with a large guard, who blocked the way to the door. Prince Krelus retired to his chambers while Girru followed the guard to a small room. There, a feather bed on a wooden frame rested underneath a small window. The guard left Girru there, locking the door behind him. The bed was comfortable and wonderfully seductive after three days in the woods. Sleep overcame anxiety and Girru slept as soundly as if in his own bed. The morning came early. Somewhere a cockerel’s call aroused Girru, while the scent of incense permeated the air. A box rested on the low table by the door. It contained a hunk of brown bread, some cheese, and a strip of grilled meat. Girru felt incredibly at ease with himself and the situation. When he was waiting in the forest, worry and dread had held him tightly. But now, he felt calm and ready to face the Council. Soon after he finished the food, the door to the room opened, revealing a servant bearing a basin and a cloth. The servant took the food tray and left Girru to prepare himself. Girru found clean robes on the chair beside the bed. He washed, dressed and waited for things to begin. Soon, a guard entered, announcing a visitor. Girru saw his father waiting for him in the hallway. They were left alone, cramped together in the small room. They each found a seat on the bed. “We don’t have long, so listen carefully” his father said. “If you dispute the Prince’s story, they will believe him over you. If you confess to murder, you will be executed. So, the only choice is to say that you killed him by accident. Your story may slightly vary from the Prince’s but it must not contradict his.” His father warned. “But I did not kill him father! His brother did. I swear it!” Girru exclaimed. “I think Krelus planned this from the start!” “Whatever happened” his father replied, “the Prince has already told his side of the story. What “evidence” do you have to discredit him now? If you call him a liar with nothing to back up your claim, he will have you for sure.” “What will happen if I do say that I killed him by accident?” Girru asked. “It is hard to say,” his father answered. “But it must be better than the ax.” His father stood and turned towards the door. As he grasped the handle, he turned to his son. “I believe you my son, and the people all know what devious kind of person Krelus is, but he is still the son of the King. And now, he is the King’s only son.” The father regarded his son a moment longer before exiting the room. 10


With barely a moment’s hesitation, Girru told the story his father had suggested. The Prince and he had thrown in close sequence, with the younger Prince’s spear killing the bear, while his own spear missed, erroneously striking the elder Prince. Girru begged for the mercy of the Council. The masks worn by the Council members were meant to preserve the anonymity of the Council. The judges were intended to be independent entities, removed from the prejudices of those wearing the robe and mask. The three judges turned their backs on Girru, deciding his fate in whispers. Soon they turned back to face him. The center judge rose to deliver the verdict. His voice was clear, though not so deep as the Priest. It sounded familiar to Girru, although he could not name it. “This Council has found you responsible for the death of the elder prince Elios. However, we have ruled it as accidental. Tomorrow, before the house of Nobles, your sentence will be spoken.” Girru sat waiting. The Council departed the Chamber in silence. The door opened and a guard motioned to Girru. Girru returned to his cell and awaited the morning. The morning arrived with a knocking at the door to the room. Girru found himself curious, yet unafraid of the sentencing to come. He had slept soundly; his dreams were untroubled and even pleasant. The guard led Girru to a large, circular room. Although empty now, the walls were lined with tables and chairs; enough for many people. The guard pointed to the chair in the center of the room. Girru sat and awaited the assemblage of the Council. Soon, the House of Nobles began to fill. People entered through all of the rooms four doors. Seated in front of Girru, the King sat on his tall chair, which nestled between the High Priest and a prominent Nobleman of the Second Circle. The Council was nearly assembled when Girru noticed his father entering the room through the east door. The din of low voices and shuffling chairs quickly faded as the men took their places. When all were seated, the King called for attention. “The death of my son affects not only the Royal Family, but the Kingdom as a whole. The one responsible, whether through malice or folly, must be punished to balance the scales. The young man before you has been named as such and he must bear the consequence. The High Tribune called the death accidental and I have been asked to show mercy.” A pause built suspense as many eyes moved between the King and Girru. “Death is “warranted” for murder with intent. Here, there was no intent. Therefore, the boy will be banished.” A murmur rose throughout the room. In many ways, banishment was worse than death. When one loses his “identity”, his spirit is denied entrance to the next world. However, if one survives the term of banishment, the people can then welcome him back and his name would then be cleared. Through the eyes of the people, exile to the wilds offers little chance of survival. “For twelve years, you are banished,” said the King. “You may never set foot or show your face within the outer wall of our city during this time. On the final day of the twelfth year, the gate will open and you may come home.” Girru saw his father, his head in his hands, unwilling to believe his son’s fate. Twelve years is such a long time. In twelve years, Girru would be twenty-nine, long past the time to form a family or earn a reputation. Why not just kill him? Life as a Noble and member of Council was taken from him. What was left? Living out his life as a ward of his father’s house? Yet, even now, Girru’s mind filled with visions of the birch grove and the vast, coniferous Kingdoms outside the City limits.. One life ends, so that another may begin, he thought. The future no longer seemed bleak. Indeed, it held a promise of personal freedom. Girru was soon returned to the small room. His father came, bearing a pack and three gifts: a bronze spear, a knife and a silver ring. “These will serve you well in the forest” he said to his son. “The spear makes you a Hunter; the knife a toolmaker, and the ring offers you the protection of Spirits.” Their eyes met. Words were no longer necessary. 11


Girru was given provisions by the Guard, which he put inside his pack. Then, in the company of the King, the High Priest and his father, Girru began his return to the forest. The sun bore heavily upon them. Again, the gates opened at the call of the High Priest. The air was quiet and solemn as they approached the edge of field and forest. The Priest took Girru aside. They talked quietly, while the others turned their backs to offer them privacy. Girru rejoined the King and his father. The King motioned for Girru to follow him. They talked quietly behind his father and the Priest, in this close conversing atmosphere, the King's voice sounded similar to his father's. Finally, when all four were together, the King and the Priest took their leave, nodding to his father as they passed. After those two had walked a fair distance away, his father sat, with his back against a tree. Girru sat down next to him. "What did the Priest say?" his father asked. Girru replied "He said, that even though he knew I was innocent, there exists a conflict between moral law and “human” law and he must appease the human law first, so that moral law could be realized in the long run." “He said the complexity of divinity can only be understood by observing the God's plan as it reveals itself, over time and through true morality or divine law.” “That Priest was at the High Council, as the Speaker of the law!” Girru exclaimed. "How do you know the Priest was the Speaker of the Law?" his father questioned. “Were they not wearing the masks?" "Of course they wore the masks” Girru retorted. His father then snapped, “then how did you know he was the Priest?" Girru calmly replied; “I knew by his voice father; he has a pipe voice." "And what is this... ah… 'Pipe Voice'?", his father asked. "Father, I am certain you remember the term. Coined, I think, by Lila," Girru responded. "Truly I do not,” his father retorted. “In fact, I am convinced you have made it up just now," replied his father. Girru knew that his father remembered the term. When he and Lila were both around four or five years of age, they had often teased their father about his "Pipe Voice". His father's face never showed the smile he concealed inside. "What about the King? his father asked. "What did he say?" "He said…He told me the wrong Prince had died.” Girru answered. "Then he too, really knows the truth" his father said aloud. "Then why must I go, when everyone knows I did not kill Prince Krelus?” Girru asked his father. "The people must see the law in effect, to keep them obedient. There is no other way. I am damned that you must be the example," his father stated. The King and the Priest had said more to Girru….something of stunning significance. However, they bound it to secrecy by Oath and threat. Girru wanted to tell his father; to "ask" him, but he was impotent in the face of the dire results that were described to him by the High Priest. The time had come and they both knew it. "Twelve years is not so long, my son,” his father said. “When you return, you will be in your prime and I won't be such a feeble old man either" his father stated. “You will learn a lot in twelve years. I think it so in the wild, as in the City. When you return, we will sit and talk as men, on equal terms". "When I return, we will still be father and son; we can never be on equal terms." Girru replied. "No”, his father said, "on that day, I shall give you the heirlooms of your accomplishments and the talk of secrets." His father took the Amulet with their family's symbols from around his neck and placed it over his son's head. "Wear this until your return." The glyphic Amulet was only passed from a man to his heir, and usually not until the distribution of an inheritance. This gift meant a great deal to them both. They sat in silence for a short while. Then, abruptly, his father nodded to him, stood and turned toward the City. Girru stood shortly after his father began to walk away. For a moment, he wanted to call out, but he realized the futility and denied himself the impulse. Girru turned his back on the City and stepped forth again into the forest. The searing sun soon dispelled by the elder trees intricate headdress. Rich air revived him while the silence filled with bird song. He traveled on into the night.

12


~~~~~~~~~~ Twelve years time developed amazing transformations. The young man who had entered the forest was replaced by a man at the apex of his abilities. Gone were the woven fabrics of the City. Upon his shoulders spanned a cloak of wolf hide, his tunic and leggings made of buckskin. He wore his ratty mane tied back with a leather thong and his beard bore several braids. In the distance, he saw bright light reaching through the trees. In only an hour's time, he would be able to see the City. Civilizations' somber air could be felt this near to it in the woods, renewing memories of the same woods over a decade in the past. A roar to the west revealed a panther attacking, followed fast by a cry that must be human. Girru took his bronze spear and his knife from the pack slung across his shoulders. Dropping the pack, he ran, following the continuing sound barrage to its origin. The panther had a young boy cornered up a short tree. It proceeded in scaling the trunk of the tree and was closing in quickly on its helpless prey. Girru let loose with his spear. A sudden wind carried the spear higher than Girru expected and upon its descent, the spear struck the cat in its right hind leg, slightly injuring the beast. Girru charged: knife in hand, he leapt upon the angry brute, slashing and striking at whatever flesh became available. The spear fell from its leg as the big cat fell backward beneath the onslaught. As it fell, the cat twisted, landing on its feet and throwing Girru over its back to land hard on the ground. His blade had carved its mark on the cat's left side and across its muzzle, leaving a cut the length of the knife blade. As Girru struggled to his feet, the panther licked at its wounded face. By chance, Girru had landed within the reach of the spear, and he retrieved it and threw it in one motion, catching the panther in the neck. The cat shook twice and fell. Cautiously, the boy climbed down from the tree. He wore the colors of Royalty. "He was going to eat me!" the boy said to Girru. He sounded outraged, rather than frightened. "The danger is past now,” Girru said. “Wait here and I will return shortly," Girru commanded. Girru carried the body of the panther off into the deeper woods. Half an hour later, he returned and found the boy sitting where he had left him. "What is your name, boy?" Girru asked. "My name is Rika" the boy replied, "and I am not a boy; I am a Prince." "Strange, I thought your King was too old to father any more children." Girru thought aloud. "My father is not old; he is no older than you," the boy replied. “If you mean my grandfather, he died before I was born,” Rika added. "I must be mistaken.” Girru said and passed it off. "Come on; let’s get you back to the City." The two began walking towards the City. The boy looked to be nine or ten years of age. He had glossy black hair and bright eyes. Girru wondered at the fools who had left this precocious child unattended. "How is it you are here Rika?" Girru broke the silence. "I don't know; how should I know?" Rika replied. "You don't know how you came to be in the forest?" Girru questioned. "Oh…in the forest." the boy answered, "yeah, I know how I got here." He hesitated a moment and then said "I walked." "Your father is accustomed to allow a young boy to walk alone into the forest?" Girru asked. "Well," replied Rika, "he…ah, he doesn't really know that I am here. I snuck out." "Now that you have been here and have seen what can happen, I hope you will give more forethought to your future rebellious endeavors." Girru scolded. "I've been out here two other times too," the boy boasted. "I can sneak out whenever I want to." 13


"You were a fool to come out here by yourself. Girru warned. "That cat would have eaten you up if I had not come along." "But he didn't eat me because you did come along." the boy stated. "Fortunately! You had no way of knowing or even expecting anyone to come to your rescue. Just think how your mother would feel if that cat had eaten you up,” Girru said. "My mother is dead." said Rika. "I'm sorry," Girru replied, "then your father; he must be worried about you." "Why?" asked Rika, “why would he be worried?” "Because a child should not have to lose his mother" Girru stated. "No, my father does not care what happens to me. All he cares about are taxes and the Council and "proper decorum". He does not even know that I am gone." Rika cried. He felt so at ease around Girru. He did not even ponder who he was. Even Girru's barbaric costume did not alarm the boy. To him, it fit within the context of his woodland experience. The boy was inspired by Girru. He felt cared about and protected. It was a feeling he had never had before. He admired his rescuer. Together they had reached the boundary of the forest. They could see the gates to the City. To the south, the silent trees sat centered on the landscape. The City gates were closing in. They had arrived home. Rika quickly ran inside the doors and headed to the eastern halls, hiding like a fox, outsmarting its trackers. It didn’t take long for the people to notice Girru. It was obvious he had come from the wild. “Who are you?” one onlooker inquired. “Are you from the forest?” Girru was brought before the High Priest. The High Priest knew exactly who he was but he did not let it be known. Girru recognized the face of the High Priest too, but he was stunned by how much he had aged. The skin on the Priest’s face was loose with deep creases that Girru had never seen before. Was this a man of God or just an old man? Girru knew his secret. The High Priest was himself a former King. He had given his throne to his son, the father of the twin boys. Girru would never know all the secrets surrounding the King but he knew this one because Krelus’s father had told him the day he was banished to the forest. He also told him that he should never reveal the secrets of the King because if he did, his punishment would then have to be death. The High Priest motioned Girru towards the south hall and then ordered the guards to take Girru with them. Girru was then brought to a room fit for Noblemen. The room was full of fresh greenery, clean linens and a full bath. The smell of the room was enriched with woody incense. Clean clothes lay over brick. Girru first took to cutting off his beard. He then used the blade to clear the hair from his face. He meticulously trimmed his brows and hairline. He left his hair long and braided but pulled back off his shoulders. He was ready to bathe. The bath was warm and inviting. The soap was sweet and it lathered his body effortlessly. It was several hours before Girru arose from the bath. By the time Girru opened the door, his father had arrived to greet him. They both stood staring at each other for a while, smiling. No words were needed. Then the father spoke, “You will live with me for we cannot stay here. Girru settled into his father’s home without any resistance from his neighbors. Everyone welcomed him. Girru was bestowed the respect of his father. Both were honorable men and good to their word and deeds. Girru made many friends, but he missed the forest. The forest had been his home and he sought comfort there. Girru would occasionally go, in secret, to the forest whenever he needed to revive his spirit or whenever he sought contentment. He didn’t tell anyone of his escapades because he knew it was forbidden. His father knew Girru returned to the forest from time to time but never said a word. Sometimes, his father would notice fine pieces of shrub and underbrush in Girru’s clothing. He kept his secret. In the palace, Rika kept a similar secret. He learned to love the forest and would go there often for its solitude. He never ran into Girru again while in the forest, but he remembered him. Girru was a 14


part of the world Rika most admired. Rika was learning wisdom from the forest. He had the mind of a boy but the heart of a man. A day finally came when Prince Rika and Girru happened to both be in the forest at the same time, neither aware of the other. The forest was frenzied that day, heightened by wild activity. It was late spring and the animals were anxiously competing to complete their tasks. The forest belongs to those most capable. Rika heard the cries of baby kittens and his curiosity compelled him to seek them out. They were close by though, crouched in the open base of a giant oak. The mother was nowhere in sight. Rika looked around for the mother. He knew she wouldn’t be far away. Rika backed out away from the kittens in the direction from which he came. He did not want a confrontation with the mother cat. Once away from the clearing, Rika moved on to a field of moss. He felt safe here, far enough away from the cat’s lair. He lay upon the moss. The moss bed was soft and smooth and the sun was warm, filtered by trees lining the region. It was a perfect place to rest. When he awoke, Rika could hear the cries of the kittens in the distance. Had the mother cat not returned? He had not been sleeping long but he knew it was long enough for her to be with her kittens. Rika scrambled to his feet and cautiously headed back to check on the kittens. When he saw the kittens, they looked hungry and thin. Could it be that the mother could not return? Is it possible she could have perished somewhere out there in this vast forest? Rika pondered the fate of the mother cat for awhile, until he heard her unmistakable growl. He spun around to see her creeping toward him; she was clearly preparing to attack. Rika slowly backed away from the kittens and the big cat. He deemed he was about to be ripped apart by massive claws, so he closed his eyes. Then he heard the kittens call out again, this time recognizing their mother. He opened his eyes. The mother cat still had him in her sights, but then she turned and headed towards her kittens. Rika was no match for this colossal cat, and they both knew it. The mother cat returned to her kittens and consoled them joyfully. Rika’s heart was racing now. He knew how lucky he was. He knew he had to get to out of there quietly, without rousing any further suspicion in the big cat. “How noble a creature the mother cat is,” he thought. “She knew I was no longer a threat and therefore no longer wanted to kill me.” Rika slowly backed himself out toward the moss fields. Once he felt far enough away, he turned and started to run. He ran all the way back to the entrance to the City. There, Rika hid in the shrubbery, waiting for his opportunity to enter without detection. This time, Girru spotted Rika as he hid for cover. It had been years since Girru had seen Rika. He was taller than when he saw him last but his frightened face was just the same. Girru was himself hidden and awaiting his chance to reenter the City. The noise at the gate to the City was unusual, but familiar. The coordinated stepping sounds of servants immediately alerted Rika that his father was near. Why would the King be brought to the City gates? Is he looking for me? Rika wondered. Girru watched as his persecutor approached the gates. The High Priest stood beside the King, looking out from the gates and spoke: “Prince Rika, we know you are out there; Present yourself!” he demanded. Rika was shocked and saddened that his “secret get away” had been discovered. He knew he could no longer hide. Even the forest could not protect him from his Royal responsibilities. Rika only wanted not to be controlled by the heartless man he called his father. Rika came out of his hiding place and bowed before the King. “Father, I am sorry if I have offended you,” he said. I know I was never to leave the Palace without permission and I know it is forbidden for me to leave the City unescorted. Please, forgive me Father,” he pleaded. “But, I must tell you, he added, “the forest has been very good to me. I have learned so much here and it has protected me. The forest is peaceful and it treats everything equal with a common justice and purpose,” he explained. “Enough!” the King roared. “This disobedience shall not go unpunished! You dare mock the King!” he cried. 15


As then, suddenly, as if the gates from Hell had just opened, a huge monster came running in through the gates from the forest. The gates were wide open and the City was now in grave danger. The beast was angry too! Girru could hardly believe his eyes at first, it was a colossal bear! The bear was 16 feet high when it stood and its claws were a foot long. What had angered this beast? Girru wondered. Girru knew he had to move fast, if he had any chance of defending the City. Girru jumped out of hiding and followed the bear into the City. King Krelus saw Girru run in from the forest. He was puzzled, but too alarmed by the great bear to ponder Girru’s sudden appearance. The bear circled the King’s men, growling and thrashing at them at every turn. The bear had the advantage over the King’s men by his sheer size and the gripping fear that overtook them. The bear then set eyes on the King. Was this bear after the King? “Protect your King!” King Krelus commanded. “You have the beast outnumbered,” he cried. “Draw your swords; get this beast off of me!” Krelus pleaded. The bear’s eyes remained locked onto the King. It was now clear that the King was in great peril. Most of the King’s men just ran away from the bear, never even drawing their swords. Those that tried to confront the angry bear were just tossed aside by the bear’s powerful arm, like ragdolls. “Girru, protect me!” the King commanded. The bear was swaying back and forth just yards away from King Krelus. Rika watched in horror. The King’s men, peasants and other onlookers watched everything unfold from a distance. Was this the end for their King? Girru called out to the bear, trying to distract the bear’s attention from the King. The bear just ignored him. Why was this bear after the King? he wondered. Was this bear trying to protect Rika? he thought. Girru quickly drew a sword from the scabbard of one of the Kings guards. He would protect his King, even though he persecuted him. The first thrust pierced deep into the side of the bear. The bear took a moment to recognize that it had been attacked, and then it turned on Girru. Girru stood his ground and thrashed the sword back and forth as if to warn the beast of the power of his blade. The beast then turned his attention back to his prey, the King. “Help me Girru! The King pleaded. “This beast wants to kill me!” the King whimpered. Girru looked at the bear and then looked back at his King. Why does this bear want to harm the King? Girru questioned to himself. The King was very frightened. “Girru, I will do anything you want! Please, stop this bear from killing me!” King Krelus cried. The bear then swiped the King’s leg with its giant claws, shredding his flesh. The wound split wide open, leaving a pool of blood beside him. The King cried out in pain, “Ahhhhh!” The bear started swaying back and forth again, toying with the King. Girru yelled out to the bear: “Over here beast! I will fight you!” The bear looked over towards him and then back to the King, swaying angrily back and forth. “Girru, please, do something!” the King cried. “Get this bear away from me!” he pleaded. “I will exonerate you!” he begged. Girru gave the King a puzzled look. The King then quickly announced to all the onlookers there: “Girru is an innocent man! He did not kill Elios! I did! It was me! Please, save me Girru!” he yelled. Girru ran towards the bear with his sword held firmly in front of him, like a jouster in a tournament. The bear kept his sights on the King. From the side, Girru plunged his sword into the bear. This time, making the bear stumble and fall to its knees. The bear quickly recovered though, and looked at Girru. The bear then turned and ran away toward the City gates. As he exited the bear slammed into the side of the gate, dislodging the sword which fell to the ground. In fear, the onlookers quickly closed the City gates. The crowd looked on in horror. Some were in shock. Some were relieved that the beast was back in the forest. The King lay wounded. Then the murmur of the crowd began. “Our King is a killer?” “Did he say he killed his brother?” “Girru is innocent?” “What shall become of the King?” The crowd became restless and started shouting their discontent. “The King is a murderer!” one 16


onlooker shouted. “The King does not deserve to live!” shouted another. “Kill him! Finish him off!” came out from the crowd. “No” roared the High Priest, raising his hand with authority. “No! This is not how it shall be!” he roared. “The Huntsman has spoken! No killer of a Prince of ours shall rule as our King, regardless of his birth! The crown must be passed to prince Rika. King Krelus is hereby abolished as our King. His fate will be determined by our new King, King Rika!” he exclaimed. The crowd began chanting the new King’s name: “King Rika! King Rika! King Rika! King Rika!” Rika knew what he must do, and he courageously stepped forward and addressed the crowd. “Honorable People, please, please, settle down” he commanded. The crowd quickly hushed and anxiously waited for words from their new King. The crowd was silent, except for the moans of an injured Krelus. Rika looked at his father and said, “Father, you cannot be King. You were supposed to protect and honor your King as well as the prospective King!” he roared. “And you killed him!” he shouted. “How could you do this?” “You even allowed another man to be prosecuted for your crime! You cannot be King” he proclaimed. King Rika paused and then declared: “You are my father; I shall not have you executed. You will be given the same fate you gave the man you punished for your crime! Your wound will be tended to and then you shall be banished to the great forest. May God forgive you father!” Rika then turned to Girru. “I am sorry for the deeds of my father,” he said. “You were wrongly accused.” “You are an honorable man.” He declared. “And, I need you.” he continued. “I need your wisdom. I need your protection.” Rika raised his hands to the crowd and said: “My People: Listen to me.” “I declare the honorable Girru to be our first Spiritual Warrior.” he announced. “He shall be my advisor. He will live in the Palace and he shall devote his life to disciplining his mind and body and to developing his spirit in order that he shall be the King’s advisor” King Rika declared. “His wisdom shall be passed on to future noblemen who shall become future Spiritual Warriors. He will work with our High Priests to ensure that our Kingdom, and our world, remains just and true. Spiritual Warriors will master their minds and their bodies with wisdom and strength and will protect their King, and their people, with their lives. And so, the Spiritual Warrior was born. The End

17


A story by Nicholas Knowles  

Nicholas strongly believed in being true to oneself. He lived according to his values. He believed that everyone should be true to themselve...

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