So you can Rule it
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My King lay dying and I said nothing. Root Stone looked to the body of the King in front of him. The crispy flesh on the side of King Shield’s head had died long before he did. In the end the fire took him in another form, the old burns had turned orange-red by plague. His long, green, body was beginning to stiffen, it didn’t matter, the process had started.

King Shield’s shield was a circular piece of grey stone. In the center the diamond symbol of Kingship, and around it the four elemental symbols of water, fire, stone, and air. They set it on the center of the body and wrapped it in a woven cloth. This is the last time anyone will see his face. Face and burns vanished under the cloth and thin sticky sheets. A crown of woven grass was placed on his wrapped head. They picked up the body and set it in the coffin, inside the outline that kept his shape, also surrounded by elemental symbols. On the inside of the lid the afterlife had been carved, the island floating in the sea above, with the great tree growing from it. On the tree King Spear was waiting to see him. The lid was set over the body and sealed for the final time.

Priest Rain had served all through the King’s reign, and it was somehow fitting that he died in the same outbreak. The outbreak that was ravaging the city as they spoke. Root Stone had already ordered the infected quarantined, if the Fire Plague could take their King it could do anything. Unlike the last few priests, with their hundreds of green needles, Priest Flowers had come from the Royal Mother Tree, like Root Stone, and King Shield, and all the Plant Kings before him.

“May Shield, the King Under the Sun, the King of the River, the King of Fire, the King of the Hill, and the ruler of the Plant Kingdom, ascend peacefully to the afterlife and there bask under the shining sun as long as his body remains untouched. May his body remain untouched forever.”

“May his body remain untouched forever.” Stone and the others echoed, they bowed to the coffin and carried it outside the temple. Unlike with Spear, the crowd did not gather in the streets, Stone had declared it a health risk. Root Stone took his place on the royal elk and started behind the coffin being carried in front of them by priests. Priest Flowers took his place beside the Root while the crowd watched them from the windows, both at the coffin and at the Root. Root Stone was well aware of his short stature, how his body bent slightly to the side, and the tip of his head ended in a dip rather than a point. I do not look like a King, yet they will bow to me. For now they bowed to the coffin of their former King. The streets were empty and quiet, except for the hopping of the coffin bearers.

The throne room’s walls towered higher than most buildings in the city. Sun shined through the large windows and the space where the roof would normally be. They set the coffin on the pedestal in the middle of the room. Along the sides nobles had gathered. The Root and the Priest both hopped up the steps to the throne. Root Stone sat in the stone chair while Priest Flowers received the crown. Woven grass, three blades sticking up the front. One was charred black for the Fire Province, one wrapped in sealeaf for the River Province, and on the middle one a ring of stone sat at its base, for the Hill Province.

“Here, under the light of the Sun,” Priest Flowers spoke, “I decree King Stone, King of the River, King of Fire, King of the Hill, and Ruler of the Plant Kingdom.” He set the crown on King Stone’s deformed head. The row of nobles bowed, but otherwise said nothing. King Stone stood.

“The Shield of our Kingdom has been broken. Not by spears or maces, but by plague. A plague that can kill a King is a plague that must be contained. I will show it no mercy, nor will I my enemies. Those who wish to oppose this crown will be torn by it I promise you that. As for our great King Shield, bard, send him off with song.”

The bard began his song, ”I am the fire, the King of Fire said, I will not burn…” Stone stood up and left into the palace, Priest Flowers followed.

“Leave the coffin in the room for the rest of the day, no more than ten, no, twenty may be in the throne room at any time, or those showing signs of plague. When night comes put the body in the palace, when the sun rises again I will oversee the burial.”

“Yes, my King, may I ask, when will you plan to choose a new Root?”

“I’ll ponder it for now, and tell you when we’ve buried the King.”

King Stone went alone deep into the palace. He spotted the pool where the King’s water was collected. Dipping his stem into the pool, he got his first drink of the royal water. It feels like any other rainwater, but straight from the afterlife I suppose.

The sun disappeared behind the mountains. As told, the coffin of King Shield was brought inside and sat down in the storage room. King Stone entered alone, the rest of the room was filled with other artifacts from the past. The mace used to slay King Spear sat spotted with rust against the wall. It was during Spear’s unification he had first fought in battle, his Commander would go on to become Root Iron, along with the Commander that would become King Shield. Scattered about were some artifacts of the First, and items that had belonged to various Kings in the past. One of Shields pots, made of clay and painted blue and green, decorating the outside were sketches of his victories over the Hill Kingdom. Of course just inside the door his coffin rested.

Stone looked down at it, in the same stare and silence he had given the King on his deathbed. “I have spent my reign keeping the Kingdom together, so you can rule it.” The words echoed in his mind. Finally he sat down in front of it. “I should have said something to you. Anything… what could I have said? You just died… it doesn’t matter, I will join you and Spear eventually.” With that he stood up and left.

Who will be the next Root? The King thought after the sun came up. King Shield’s coffin was on the bed of a wagon, hidden under bricks. The King and the Priest watched from the palace as it started its journey. “It will be taken out of the city, where we will meet it and accompany it to the tomb.” The Priest had said. And they did just that.

The City Under the Sun retreated into the distance. The King rode only a small deer, and did not wear his crown, all not to attract unwanted attention. May his body remain untouched forever. The sun was high in the sky and the King continued to ponder the position of Root. The territories will not rebel again. Shield made sure of that. “I spent my reign keeping the Kingdom together…” The river province has been pacified, they will pose no threat. The Fire Kingdom watched their King burn, their faith in fire has been crushed. The Hill Kingdom killed their King after he dragged them into a war they could not win. “…So you can rule it.” I will not be at war, for once the King will rule the Kingdom. My Root will be my successor, I must pick someone to continue my legacy…

The sun was lowering itself to the horizon when they arrived at the steep foot of a mountain. Stone remembered when King Shield had shown him the tombs of the Kings. King Spear’s was walled up with bricks, painted onto it was a now faded pair of crossed spears. Shield’s was still open. Inside a large room opened up. As they unloaded the wagon the King took a peek inside. It was dry and quiet, the perfect place to keep a King’s body intact. Paintings of the King’s reign adorned the walls. He saw the image of the King sitting on his throne above the coffin of King Spear, beside him Priest Rain and Root Iron. The next painting was the King riding into battle against the Fire Province, and of their King burning on the pyre. He saw the execution of the Branch of the River and the Ambassador of the Hill. King Stone remembered the way they both thrashed in the water in their final moments. Finally he saw the King dying of the plague at the very end, the paint still dry.

He hopped back out to find the coffin being gently carried off the wagon. King and Priest watched as they carried it inside and set it down in the center of the room. The mason took the bricks from the wagon and began to lay them down on the doorway. The sun dipped out of site as he put the last brick into place. May he remain untouched forever.

“Your Root?” The Priest asked after a moment of silence.

The sun shined through the tops of the trees. In one King Stone stood, his spear pointed to the hawk in the tree across from him.


The arrow caught it in the chest, and the bird fell. The King looked to the Branch of the Hill, several trees over, his arm wrapped around a carved bow.

“Excellent shot!”

“Thank you, my King.”

They climbed down and joined the rest of the party, with them was the Ambassador of the Sun Province, and several of the King’s own military commanders, among them was Scout, widely renowned for his expedition outside the valley during King Shield’s first year. The rest of the party were all from the Hill, each three lobed with long, skinny, stems. The Branch’s carrier held a sack full of his knives and arrows and various other hunting tools. There were several Commanders belonging to the Hill as well. The one with a large scar across his head Stone remembered from the last attempted Hill rebellion, one of the soldiers who had betrayed their previous Hill King. Another was missing a portion of his arm, all the King knew was that his service dated back to Spear’s conquest. The Branch of the Hill picked up his prize bird, plucking the arrow out. The bird was large, it’s body made of brown feathers, it’s head pure white.

“One less blastphamous creature to tarnish the sun and eat our seeds.” The King said.

“Yes, I’ll hang it’s skeleton in the throne room.” The Branch responded.

King Stone was no stranger to the mountainous Hill Territory. He had fought in it during the last years of Spear’s campaign, and visited several times when King Shield had to take them again. King Shield is one winter gone, King Spear almost thirteen. Now Sun and Hill hunt together like old friends. The trees they walked under were smaller than the ones they had been born on. Unlike the mother trees, their leaves lifelessly rustled in the wind, and sometimes fell.

“One winter into your reign, my King. Tell me, how has the crown treated you?”

“I understand why the successors are often Roots. The second job is hard without the experience of the first.”

“I assume it’s like a Branch, on a much higher scale.”

“You can say that.”

“How has your new Root been?”

“Root Cloud has done well. Though he does not have much to do. I almost wish you would rebel again, so I could lead my troops to victory, while he handles the Kingdom.”

The Branch of the Hill laughed at that. “There are some who would like that, I’m not so ambitious.”

“After the last one, I would think not.”

The one with the scar gave him a look.

“The Lackwit you put in charge was just that, but The Betrayed might have been worse.”

“We have learned from our mistakes, both of us, peace is boring, but we have many winters of it ahead of us… I wonder, what will you be called when you’re gone?”

“That is for my successor to meditate on.”

“In the other three provinces small nobles have already begun to name themselves. Commoners may too in time, and yet you remain nameless until after your death.”

The branch stopped and looked down. King Spear looked too, and saw tracks.

“A bear, my King.”

“We will have enough time before the sun descends.”

King and Branch and party followed the tracks. They were led up and down the mountain, the Branch even sending an arrow into a rabbit as they did.

“Looks like names are no longer reserved for our leaders.”

“Yes, it has been confusing at times, we’ll probably need a way to tell royal and common names apart.”

“You could put your symbol inside of a box.”

“That could work. But a box seems dull.”

“Decorate it like a coffin.”


“Carrier, knife.”

The carrier took the knife out of his pack and handed it to the Branch. He proceeded to carve the Kings stone symbol into a tree, around it he drew a rectangle, decorated on it’s top and bottom the way the front and back sides of a royal coffin are decorated.

“I like it, I will think on it.”

“As it pleases my King.”

They continued across the mountain, until finally they arrived at a small pile of dung, and tracks leading into a cave. The Branch drew his arrow and hopped slowly towards the mouth. He pointed the arrow straight ahead, moments later a roar was heard, and the big black bear charged from the darkness.

The arrow caught it in the shoulder, yet the animal pressed on. The Branch reached for another, but realized it was too late. The bear slammed into him, knocking both bow and quiver away. The bear bit into the Branch’s flesh, and began flailing him around. The King raised his spear and charged. Arrows began to appear in the bear’s side as King Stone thrust his spear into its stomach. It let go of the Branch and turned to the King, then to the rest of the party, pelting it with arrows. It took a step forward and collapsed.

The Branch of the Hill was missing an arm, the parts of his body he had were torn and bruised.

“My Branch!” The commander with the scar yelled, hopping to his leader, “We will take you back to the palace!”

The Branch of the Hill sat silently, in shock. The King turned to the rest of the party, “ASSEMBLE A STRETCHER!”

The Branch looked down at his wounds, and turned his head painfully to the scarred commander, “I don’t think I’ll last…”

The King silently looked down at the dying Branch. After another moment of silence the Branch spoke again, “An old aquaintance of mine… always said… I take too much from the forest… the forest would take me back.” He chuckled.

Another moment of silence followed, and was broken by a high pitched noise from the cave. Every head turned to look, the one of Commander Scout journeyed inside to find the source.

“Will they call me The Hunter? Or The Hunted?” The Branch said.

“My Branch, you must rest, the others will carry you-”

“I am ripped to shreds… I’m going to die here… this is what the end feels like?… I hate it… maybe… maybe this is how the creatures felt?… huh…”

Scout emerged from the cave, holding a small black creature, a cub.

“What shall we do with it, my King?”

The King was still too stunned to speak. “Bring it here.” The Branch said. The King looked back to the commander, and gave a small nod.

His one mangled arm stroked it’s fur. “What shall we do with it?” Scout again asked.

“Take care of it, I owe it’s mother that.” The Branch continued to pet the cub, watching it lay down next to him. His arm went limp.

“May the Great Tree accept him.” The one-armed Commander said.

"May the Great Tree accept him." The others echoed.

The Carrier walked up the mountain with The Branch’s tools, and walked back down with the Branch’s corpse. The sleeping cub was placed in a basket and taken with them. None spoke.

The Hill Palace was a series of rooms and passages cut straight into the rock. The gates at the front were immediately opened to the incoming party. The guards fell silent, eyeing the body sticking from the sack. The throne room was lined with stone carved pillars, just like the throne. A cleaner dropped his rag upon seeing the body.

“Are you dead?” The one-armed Commander yelled, “Get a table!”

The table was brought in front of the throne. The body of the Branch of the Hill was placed on it.

“Is that…” Nobody had noticed the Palace Priest enter, he had the same look of a Hill Province inhabitant, but a much softer mind. He hopped to the table, bowing to the corpse.

“We will prepare his body for the afterlife, while we do it would be best to choose his name.”

“Agreed.” The scarred Commander said. The rest looked to the King and his commanders.

“If I could ask, my King…” The one-armed Commander said, “…it is tradition that foreigners not be present.”

I am the King, Stone almost said, I will be here if I wish. But the Branch of the Hill was dead, and he knew he was hopping on fragile ground. He only nodded and left, his commanders trailing behind.

Outside the throne room he sat. The rest of his commanders were silent, except for one. Commander Scout took a seat next to him.

“Are you well, my King?”

“Yes.” Stone stared at the cub sleeping on the floor next to them.

“Have you decided to name him?”

“I haven’t even decided to keep him.”

“Well, I wanted to tell you… I’ll be leaving.”

“To where?”

“What is outside the valley?”

“You asked that same question to King Shield twelve winters ago.”

“Yes, may he remain untouched forever…”

The cub opened its black eyes, and sniffed around the leg of the bench.

“…My expedition seems to have inspired some, one moon ago a scavenger and his hired guard disappeared beyond the mountains.”

“What could have happened?”

“I spent a winter in the wasteland outside, I can tell you, the Kingdom of the First stretched further than we could ever know, the world stretches further than that most likely. Their ruins are everywhere, full of the strangest of machines and artifacts, I would not be shocked to find something dangerous.”

“I would not be either, I was told you fought a stone monster the size of a palace.”

“A false tale, I never found much to fight in truth. But there was always a feeling, there was something far away, something that could make or break us.”

“Is that why you came with us from the capital?”

“Yes, the Sun made me to go beyond the valley, it is there I will end.”

“Should you find something out there, come back.”

“I don’t think I can… no, I don’t think I will, I will only pave the way for future explorers, and I will carve your symbol where I make my final stand.”

“Defying your King? Then you cannot come back… and my symbol will be made in the style of a coffin from this day forth.”

Scout bowed, “As my King wishes, my last moment will be spent spreading your symbol.” With that he took his spear and hopped away, beginning his journey.

Stone looked to the cub, biting at the blunt end of one of his commander’s spears. The commander seemed to be enjoying the game. Moving it about for the bear to wrestle.

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