Short Story: The Coward King

He was the Coward King.

A man, a ruler of great accomplishment; many lands he’d conquered in his time on the throne, but this hero was a tragic figure, for never was he able to conquer his own fear of feeling.

One day, while out for more pillaging of rebel peasants who would not swiftly yield to his boot heel, the king encountered a falcon. It was larger than most falcons, maybe three feet tall with a wingspan of at least five feet, on full display as it landed gracefully on a tree next to where the king and his men had made camp.

“King, my king!” the falcon squawked; the bold king, fearing no bird, not even a talking one, approached.

“What is it, falcon?” he asked impatiently.

“You must learn to feel…it is the only way forward…” the falcon said at once passionately yet gravely.

“I do not take orders from anyone, let alone a bird!” the king said as he motioned quickly with his hands; three seconds later, an archer’s precise arrow bore deep into the falcon’s deep, deep heart.

“Then…I fear we shall meet again soon…” the falcon said forlornly, its last words this life.

The king moved back to camp, unperturbed, moreover pleased that this petulant, filthy nuisance had been purged from his land. Surely only through might and strength–by instilling fear, by assuring his necessity– could the king feel safe on his throne.

And so, he battled onward, taxing the people’s coins and flesh with equal aplomb. The latest rebel band was annihilated, and the king’s darkness was fed yet another banquet;

still, deep down in places he never acknowledge, king was still afflicted by pangs of unknown hunger.

On the way back to the castle after this latest bloodletting, a cruel twist of ironic fate danced across the stage–

BOOM….CRACK!!

A single bolt of lightning– displaying the same calculated exactitude of the archer’s bow to the falcon’s compassionate, regal chest– struck Bertrand, king’s beloved son, off his horse; he was dead before he hit the ground.

And in that moment, the king did something he had never done before– he cried.

Floods, a river Nile of saline burst down his face as he paid his first visit in 52 years to a place called Grief; so ill-equipped, so utterly unprepared, this foreign brine aroused such maniacal fear that the king– choking on his tears– dismounted his horse and ran madly in circles.

“Someone stop them!!” he cried, clutching desperately at his throat, face.

All the king’s men– whether by fear, love, or both– would die for him in a tenth of a millisecond, yet none knew what to do. So they stood idly by, paralyzed by the same ignorant fear of their great leader.

The king, blinded now by rage, grief, and this saltwater torture, ran straight into the castle moat, where he was devoured whole by a twenty-one foot crocodile.

A kingdom undone, kingdom liberated, by thirteen foreign tears.

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Originally published at blog.lincolngaffney.com on March 12, 2016.