The hessian’s horse trotted forward, leaving Declan and the scribe tied by their necks and walking behind it with their hands bound tightly behind their backs. The other men who had accompanied the hessian were spread evenly in the midst of the snow a ways ahead of the steed, searching for the white river battle camps.
“Simon, is it,” Declan asked, craning his neck to speak so his voice would only carry to the scribe and not attract the attention of the hessian.
Declan turned to see Simon’s head give a few determined nods. He didn’t look as if he was angry to be dying by his own kingdom’s company for being in the company of a Granger soldier. Instead, he peered forward looking at the hessian as if he couldn’t expect any less from someone in the White River’s army.
“Yes, now what do you plan to do,” Simon asked. His voice had neither a low carry nor a high pierce. It sounded crisp and cool. Its volume was just high enough to reach Declan clearly.
Declan’s face didn’t carry a surprised look but a look of determination. The sovereign people had lived a peaceful rule until two of the kingdoms couldn’t stand it. Why couldn’t Declan do the same if the people of his kingdom saw the same corruption within the kingdoms? Greed of men for war had corrupted the minds of the kings and had spread to the individuals within their kingdoms.
‘If peace is be the goal of war, perhaps the only blood to be shed is that of the kings,’ Declan thought. ‘He cannot be taken out by simply one or even a few or he would be considered a martyr. We have to convince the people.’
Declan was considering a few possibilities, finally coming to the conclusion that his father was right: A man must find his own victory before seeking to gain the victories of others.
The wind continued to howl and the men were still fanned in search for the camps. Declan eyes stayed locked onto the hessian, who was perched like a hawk atop his horse, torch in one hand and reins in the other. Declan knew of the hessians, skilled in battle and cunning to boot, but, he believed he could outwit him.
As though the hessian could hear the churning of Declan’s mind, he turned, looking accusingly at the Granger soldier. His eyes held a look of pity for the young man. He gave a sort and turned his head back forward.
He spoke with a voice laden with gruff, “You know, you could have fought for the winning side, Grangerling.” The hessian gave a bit of a chuckle and mused, “Although, catching a rat from our own standings may be good enough to grant you a swift death. I’ll make it quick for you.” He gave a a repulsive look as though he had been speaking for the king himself, but continued to trot his horse.
A few moments had passed when the hessian felt his horse almost topple over from the weight of another. The hessian’s dagger was pulled from its sheath, and his head was yanked back severely as the dagger’s edge against his neck.
“Reins steady, now. The kings’ heads are the ones I want, not yours. Not before—and not now.”
The Hessian cut his eyes to see the face of a boy no older than twenty years but, the boy’s eyes were hollowed with the determination of a man clinging to life itself.
While the hessian had spoken, he didn’t notice his own kingdom’s scribe staring with intent towards the granger soldier’s hands. The hessian had left Declan’s packed practically untouched after tossing his quill into the fire of the cave, thinking Declan could have used it as a weapon. He had taken Declan’s sword but, unnoticed on the hessian’s part was the torch Declan had taken from his camp. Its oil pooled in the bottom of Declan’s bag and as the hessian had turned, Declan’s binds had already been doused, his hands beginning wriggle free.
Calm and direct, Declan spoke, “these men are under your orders, yes?”
The hessian struggled behind the blade as the horse continued to trot. “Yes, but they won’t take orders form me if it’s through the force of another–”
“Then why do they take orders from you when your king is sentencing them to the fields of Chimara for sport. Why do you follow such madness,” Declan asked. The hessian stopped wriggling.
“You know why,” he strained, “We fight or we’re already dead to our kingdoms. Our king gives us order—“
“YOUR KING GIVES YOU DEATH EITHER WAY,” Declan hissed. “Your choice is to die by his abandonment or die by his order. Either way we all die by our kings’ hands.”
The hessian was in recession of his words and gained a look of swimming thought. Declan held tight as he turned his head and saw Simon had freed himself from the ropes as well. He showed his wrists to Declan, signifying as Declan turned back to the hessian.
“Your men do not have to lay down their arms, horseman. They need only lend their ears to my words. After that, kill me, if you wish, because I will not die in vain like the rest of our ancestors.”
The hessian nodded his head, “fine, I’ll call to them and tell them to stand down, but what happens next is on your hands, not mine.” Declan lowered the blade and sheathed it in his own belt. He drew the hessian’s sword and tossed it to Simon, taking his own sword and leaping from the mount.
“Climb down,” Declan said.
The hessian looked forward for a moment and saw his men were still walking. In a brief moment there was a look of intent upon his face. Declan saw this and tensed, ready to flay the horse’s legs if necessary, but the hessian relaxed his grip on the reins and whistled to rally the men back to his position. He climbed off the horse and pulled the reins over its head, handing his torch to Declan.
“You had me boy, coulda killed me too, but you let me live,” the hessian said slowly, “I can’t promise they’ll do the same but I’ll order them to stand down until they hear your words.”
“If I’m dead by morning, at least it will have been for something past our kings’ trifles,” Declan said. He waved the torch over his head several times to give their location to the other men. Simon walked towards Declan with a concerned looked.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said, “I could have talked my way out of this mess, but then again—what good would it’ve done?”
Declan turned to him. “You grabbed the sword, didn’t you,” he asked. He gave the scribe a grin, turning back to face what was to come. The men approached one by one; the hessian was holding his hand up, signaling them to stand down.
As the men gathered, his thoughts went to the words of his father and grandfather. He thought of all the innocent young men and the families that had been left behind in order for the kings to carry out their so-called wars. Finally, he thought of the scribe’s story of the sovereign people and how the nameless king had fought for the freedom amongst them.
One of the men piped up, “What is this, Arthur?” The hessian responded by telling him to let the boy speak.
“Your king—our kings have done nothing but bring ruin between us for generation after generation, and for what,” Declan asked. his age was apparent, but he stood boldly, ready to die for the only idea that had made any real sense to him.
“These battlefields were not forged upon the ideas of our mad kings; they were forged on the idea of protecting the peace within a single kingdom. We fight for our kings’ blood sport and receive nothing in returned but broken homes and death upon the fields of Chimara. Men braver than ourselves have fought for something worth more than a simple idea. These men fought for an ethos, a creed amongst brothers that drove our leaders mad with rage and filled their minds with hate. The sovereign people may have lost the first battle of Chimara, but we do not have to fight a war when spring comes. We can ban together and fight as one. We can become the sovereign people and rule our own kingdom.”
The men stood still, not uttering a word. Arthur, the hessian standing at first between the soldiers and the two men he had charged with treason, was now standing on the same side as his men. Sat upon his face was the same questioning but still look as they all listened.
Declan’s poise was as steady as his writer’s hand. He held his position, waiting patiently for what was to come next, when one of the men stepped forward. His silver hair lay mangled around his collar in a somewhat neat manner and his face coiled with age. He began to speak softly.
“I remember the stories, but make no mistake that these kings will not rest until they see you dead, boy.” He spoke out of sincerity, but Declan saw the look of doubt in his eyes. This doubt wasn’t for the nameless king or the sovereign people. After all, they had only been stories for quite some time now. The look of doubt in the old soldier’s eyes was deeper than mere legend, it was out of doubt for Declan’s purpose in saying such things.
“I’ve fought aside three kings on these very fields. So what makes you think things will be any different if word of a nameless king is brought back into existence,” He asked. His look was stern, but what took Declan’s attention were the eyes that lay waiting for an answer. The hessian and the other men held that same questioning look.
Simon had been silent the entire time. Declan glanced over to see him still holding the hessian’s sword. When their eyes had made contact he motioned Simon to return it to its owner. He did so with a bit of hesitation.
Declan trudged over to the hessian, making sure the other men could see them clearly, and held the dagger by the handle, pointing it towards the hessian’s throat. All of the men tensed for a moment and relaxed when the blade was tossed round and handed back to the hessian.
“Kill me if you want, and spare me of living another day under the rule of true madness,” He said. He spoke loudly enough, as if trying to speak to all of the men. As the hessian held the dagger, he peered at it and back to Declan. He returned it to its sheathe.
The hessian turned to his men, and gave a quick glance back to Declan. “Brothers, I do believe I have my vote cast on whether or not to kill a king.” Declan looked concerned. The hessian spoke with an odd hue in his voice, but he turned and faced Declan, placing a hand atop his shoulder. “I’ll fight for what stops this madness, but you’ll have to give more than a speech to most men. You’ll have to show them something worth fighting for.”
Declan considered this, looking at the men and the battle fittings they wore as he did. He considered his own fittings and spoke now as a leader and not a soldier, “follow me.”
The hessian and his men, along with Simon, followed Declan back to the cave where he had crossed paths with a harmless scribe who had nothing but a warm meal and a story to offer him. He knelt at the corpse that laid aside the fire and considered the symbol that had perplexed him.
Echoes began twirling within his head of a story his grandfather had told him once and only once. His father wouldn’t allow the story to be told once more because of dangers it carried with it. ‘The king will behead you if he knew you were telling a child this,’ he remembered his father saying.
The story of the nameless king had never truly died. Many men had tried to conceal it in the past, but something that none of the kings had ever counted on was the truth that lay behind this symbol. ‘You can’t run a sword through an idea and expect it to die,’ Declan thought.
Declan, being careful not to disturbed the remains, unfastened the once silver armor that was now tarnished with years of weathering. He put his own aside and fit the sovereign soldiers armor to himself as the men at the mouth of the cave had watched.
A feeling of odd clarity swarmed his skin, crawling from the heels of his boots and up the nape of his neck. He turned to the men watching, took a deep breath through his nostrils, and began to speak neither as a soldier nor a writer, but as a leader, “Bury the ideas, you might. Forbid the truth, you can. Topple the kingdom, split the people, and send your men to war for nothing more than bloodshed. When the storms clear and the battles are over, know that you cannot kill what which cannot die. We are all sovereign, not to be ruled by men, but guided by the ethos of our people. I do not stand before you as a king; I stand before you as one of the sovereign. I stand before you as a free man asking you not to shed the blood of your brothers, but to fight for their freedom as well as your own. I stand before you to say death to the kings and their incredulous rule. I ask you, will you fight for your own right as man? Or, will you go on to die by the hands which aren’t flayed by the folds of battle, but are corrupted in their guidance by greed? Will you join the sovereign and end this tyranny, or will you continue to die for their hollow cause? I ask you to stand with me and end this rein, or give me death in return.”
When spring broke through the clutch of winter, Declan’s words were heard throughout the Kingdom of Granger’s forces and carried, just the same, to White River. His story rings true to this day: The story of the how the nameless king rose from the earth to restore balance through the understanding of a brotherhood. The kings were brought to their knees and answered for the deaths of their people.
Declan’s remains, as well as the remains of all nameless kings since, were buried within the cave from which the ideas of the sovereign people were restored once more through the words of a scribe offering peace to his king’s foe. No matter the past, nor the quarrels, or even the standing imbalance of men, sometimes, given understanding, your foe is just another brother in arms in need of a kind act rather than a brute force.