Are We One?
rating: +7+x


I was never meant to be a King, Shield thought to himself. I only blocked a flaming stick. The crispy orange flesh that had once been soft and green on the side of his body still tingled. I was a loyal commander, not a leader.

The body of King Spear was covered in holes made by the mace of the King of the Hill. That final battle had ended them both, but the Kingdom of the Hill was no more. The King’s stem had been amputated before he died, when the priests thought they could save him, now they mummified body and stem separately. Wrapping each in an ornately decorated woven cloth, and then in sticky thin sheets looping around the body.

The priests put a crown of woven grass on the wrapped head. Picking up the body, they set it down in the coffin. A large rectangular box, on the bottom was the outline of the King’s body, to help him retain his shape in the afterlife. Inside the outline was his symbol of crossed spears which was covered when the body was lowered on top of it. At the corners were the four elements: water, fire, air, and stone. All to sustain his body inside. The inside of the lid was decorated with the afterlife he would ascend to. A large sea, and in the middle of it an island, on the island a tree, the great tree that all came from and all would return too. Next to it was the symbol of Priest Gold, already waiting for him, and above it the shining sun. They put the lid on the coffin, and began sealing it up for the final time.

Priest Rain had ascended to his position after Priest Gold died, five long winters ago. He had never known the King as he was away fighting. Yet here he is sending him off. “May Spear, 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.” Priest Rain’s hundred green needles shook slightly as he spoke, “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.” Shield and the others echoed. The lid of the coffin was decorated with two long spears crossing from the corners. In each triangular space left were the symbols of the four Kingdoms he had unified. On each of the long sides two spears adorned the length, and on the short sides were the traditional straight lines that signified a royal coffin.

They carried the coffin outside the Temple, where a crowd of citizens and nobles had gathered to see their King off. Shield could feel the eyes that were also on him, and knew it was not just for his burns. King Spear had created the position of Root, and less than a minute later he had become Root Shield. The roots are never seen, they work in the dirt, yet they keep the tree up. As both the second in command to the King and being of the Royal Mother Tree, Root Shield was the obvious successor. He took his place on the elk that was to follow behind the coffin. If only this was the King’s elk, he thought. But the King’s elk had died months earlier in the war.

The Royal Priest Rain took his place to the left of Shield, in front of them priests hopped on their stems to carry the coffin down the streets of the City Under the Sun. Shield had to keep a slow pace behind the coffin as citizens lined the streets watching their old and new Kings ride together.

Finally they arrived at the palace. Shield dismounted as the coffin was carried inside and set on the pedestal at the center of the throne room. The throne room had no roof, and the sun shined down on all who poured inside. Root Shield hopped up the steps and took his place just in front of the throne of carved stone. He watched Priest Rain hop beside him, and the nobles now filling the room below him. A crowd of citizens had gathered outside as the last of the nobles entered. All eyes were on him as Priest Rain received the new crown. The main body was the woven grass that the Kings Under the Sun before him had worn, though this one was now changed. Three large blades of grass had adorned the front of the ring in older days. Now the leftmost was blackened, for the Fire Province, it will match my own scars. The rightmost was wrapped in the dark wet grass that grew in the rivers, for the River Province. Finally on the long center blade rested a tiny ring of carved stone, for the Hill Province, the one Spear had died to conquer. I wonder what my first decree will be? Shield thought as Priest Rain began the ceremony.

“Here, under the light of the sun,” the Priest said, “I decree King Shield, King Under the Sun, King of the River…” Less titles would be a start. “…And Ruler of the Plant Kingdom.” He set the crown on King Shield’s head. Where it would have rested on the thin spines lining his body the crown only slumped to one side, where the burned flesh had been cut away. A few snickered, the rest kept to themselves. I cannot look weak now. He stood up.

“You may see these as marks of humiliation, yet I will wear them proud with honor. Had I not blocked the flames Spear would be lying in ashes on the ground instead of preserved before you. He promised you we would be one, and he gave his life to fulfill this promise. I promise you that I will be just as strong! Now to honor our King’s legacy, bard, would you play the song you have made?”

The bard hopped forward, setting his stringed instrument on the ground and began plucking at the strings with his stem, “You are not the sun. The King of the River said…”, the King heard a light tap on stone nearby. He looked to the doorway leading into the palace, inside it Priest Rain gestured for him to join him. The King left his seat as the song kept the attention of the crowd. “…You could not light dried thatch. And the King Under the Sun he glowed…

“What is it you want?” The King asked, “Why could this not wait?”

“My King…” the Priest started, “They laugh at you, representatives from the River and Fire provinces are watching…”

…The sun shines bright and so does your spear. And this army at my gates shines brightest of all…

“The King who brought us together is gone. They know that.” The Priest said.

“I am aware our present state.” The King responded, “I am planning on plucking a weak bud from the Royal Hill Tree, and making him a Branch. He will keep the Hill Province in line.”

…You are not the sun. The King of Flames said…

“The Hill Province does not abide the customs we do, they will throw their Branch down if they feel it right. Though it is not them I am concerned about.”

“They swore their allegiance, the Branches of River and Fire both. But should they rebel, the River was an easy conquest last time, and I have touched the flame.”

…The Shield he jumped and blocked the blaze. And the King of Flames was snuffed…

“The Branch of the River was once the King of the River, or have you forgotten? The Branch of Fire has never tasted Kingship yet he knows what glory could await should the time come to take it. And as far as he knows that time is now.”

“I will think on this and return later, as of now the song is ending and I must return to my throne.”

The King turned and hopped away. He is right, soon everyone from citizen to King will know the King’s crown did not fit him. The King took his seat while the bard started on the newer verse of the song.

…The King Under the Sun he said.
Now I will rest.
For I must fight again in time.
But the King of the Hill he spoke.
You are not the sun he said.
You are flesh like the rest.
We are hard as stone.
And we will not let you rest.

The King Under the Sun he fought.
For one winter.
Then two.
Then three and four and five.
Until the sun and stone met.
You do not shine.
The King of the Hill said.
Nor do you.
Said the sun back.
Through maces and spears they fought.
And the stone finally cracked.
The sun it shined on the broken stone.
And then burned out…

The song returned to the old draft Shield had heard the day the Hill declared their war. He did not trouble to listen to it again. He scanned the faces as the song finished. The Representative of the River Province was similar in shape to the King, but much smaller and darker, definitely a member of the Royal River Tree. The Representative of the Fire Province was also Royal, as judged by the thick dark flesh and large spikes that made his body.

…We are the Plant Kingdom. The King of the Plant Kingdom.” The bard finished and bowed. The crowd hopped several times in applause. King Shield stood.

“May King Spear give the rain strength from the afterlife.” He bowed to the audience, they bowed back. The King turned and left as the crowd gathered to mourn. Joining the Priest on the way inside.

“The royals may pay their respects until midday, then open it to the citizens. Entomb him when the sun sets, do not tell any until it is done. I will not have his body harmed before it is safely away.” He remembered when Spear showed him the hillside where his tomb was to be. Workers were already carving the room into the rock. And tonight it will be sealed forever.

“Of course my King. We have another thing that needs seen too, the Root has become the King, and we need a new Root.”

“I have thought about that, and I know who. I befriended him while I was still a budling on the Royal Mother Tree, he should now be a military commander. Bring him to me.”

“It will be done, should we discuss the matters of the provinces?”

“When the sun rises again, I wish to spend the rest of the day in solitude.”

The King went to the pool deep in the palace, where the rainwater drained into a stone bowl, the King’s water. He realized he was thirsty, so he stuck his stem in and drank. Rainwater, straight from the sky, the purest of water. He quenched his thirst and realized he was hungry, so be basked in the sun for the next hour. When he finished he went back to the King’s quarters. Spear’s possessions had been cleared out, and replaced with his, moved from the Root’s quarters.

When the sun had set and risen again, King Shield filled his thirst and hunger, and proceeded to the meeting chamber. When he entered he found the priest and the one he had called for.

“You have come far since we last met, my King.” he said and bowed.

“I only risked my life to defend King Spear.” He turned to the priest, “How is he?”

“King Spear was sealed away after the sun set, just as ordered, may his body remain inside forever.”

“Good, have them begin work on my tomb in the next few days, next to his.”

“It will be done.”

“As for my next matter…” the King turned to the one he had brought. He was of the Royal Mother Tree, as Shield was, the broad dark green body with a blue tint, lined with thin spines. “We fought together many times, I was more the fighter, but you could lead. You got projects done quickly, and efficiently. I wish to extend this higher…”

“I accept.” He said, quick as that.

“Very well.” The King responded, “what will your name be?”

“Iron, iron my name and iron my symbol.”

“From this day on you will be known as Root Iron, you will be in charge of affairs when I cannot tend to them, you will answer only to me.”

“Yes, my King.” Root Iron said.

Five days later and King Shield was hopping to the throne room again. Past the storage room, inside of which rested several of the old artifacts they had no other place for. One was an artifact of the first, scavenged long ago, simply a large yellow diamond symbol with an arrow through it, along with some lettering of the first. Nobody knew what the symbols meant but they did see the diamond of Kingship and the arrow through it. Next to the sign was the slab of stone with the faded shadow of a first. Our gift of war from the Kingdom of Fire. On top of it rested the mace that had taken King Spear’s life. I should have them all destroyed.

The King hopped into the throne room, by now he had gotten used to Iron taking his place in the Root’s chair. Shield took his place on the throne and the speakers poured in. The first was reporting the state of the Hill Province.

“The new Branch of the Hill is living up to expectations, with your representative he will be a good ally.”

The new Branch of the Hill is as manipulatable as I anticipated, and my representative will make sure he does what we want.

“There is one matter that must be brought to your attention, however. The King of the Hill, his body. The citizens want him buried like a king.”

He killed ours, he can decay into nothing in the dirt… but we need the support of the Hill.

“You may do so.”

The second was from the River Province.

“A village on the banks has been swallowed by a flood, the citizens cannot go anywhere as the surrounding Local Leaders have barred them access.”

“Is this not something for the Branch of the River to handle?” Root Iron asked.

“I agree.” The King said, “This is not a high matter.”

“Then I shall return to the River and inform them that the King has deemed them unimportant.”

Shield began to flare up, “You can tell the Branch that if he cannot handle these matters on his own then I will find one who will-”

The Root interrupted, “The citizens should inform the Branch of their problems, should he prove unable to settle the matter then they may come to us.”

“Thank you, my King, my Root.” He bowed and turned away. The third speaker was obviously more local in origin. He bowed and spoke.

“My King, I come from a village just to the north, we have had an outbreak of the fire plague.”

“How much damage done?”

“We have contained the sick in their homes, we fear it originated with a trader from the Fire Province.”

“Keep them contained, apart from you, nobody may enter or leave the village until the plague has run its course. Root.”

“Yes, My King?” His Root said.

“Have any traders from the Fire Province checked for plague before they are allowed access, order the Branch of the River and the Branch of the Hill to do the same.”

The forth to come was a military commander he had seen several times, but never really knew.

He bowed and said, “My King, I am a simple commander with a proposal.”

“Speak it then.” The King said.

“What is outside the Hill Province?”

“I do not know, I never gave it much attention.”

“Would you like to find out?”

Root Iron leaned forward sightly. The King was interested.

“I assume you propose an expedition?” The King said.

“I do, my King, I have already selected those to come with me. I will lead an expedition outside the Hills and record what I find, be it new lands to conquer or threats to know of.”

“And when will you return?” The Root asked.

“By next Festival of the Sun at the latest.”

“Very well then, should you need any supplies you may come to me.”

“Thank you, my King.” He bowed and left.

The fifth had the look of one from the Fire Province. The King’s burns tingled.

“I come from the Province of Fire…”

“You will bow and address me as your King.”

The representative stood for a moment and said, “Not anymore.”

The room was silent.

“So that’s it.” King Shield said, “Very well, tell the King of Fire I have survived the flame once and will again. And give him something of ours.”

The representative rode off, behind him on the wagon sat the slab of stone with the shadow, wrapped in a hide.

King Shield watched the scouts mount their deer five days later. Covered in armor made of bark, the Commander pointed with a stone spear and they trotted out of the city. They should have had metal. But the Kingdom’s main supply had been in the Fire Province.

The King donned his crown and carved wooden armor, and grabbed his round stone shield. Spear had a spear, Shield will have a shield. The shield was decorated with the diamond of Royalty in the center, and around it the four elements: Water, air, stone, and as much as he detested it, fire.

He hopped to his elk, readied on the street in front of the newly assembled army. He remembered when the Branch of Fire had sworn his allegiance to Spear five winters ago. Back when Shield was the one ruling the Kingdom while the King was off fighting. Now Root Iron would take care of that, Shield was King now.

The King mounted his elk and started forward. There was considerably less citizens to see them off. Most were either inside or going about normal business. They are tired of war. As am I.

Most thought of the valley as an oval, split in two. On the west half was the Province of the Sun, on the east half was the Province of Fire, between the two the River, and the mountains all around belonged to the Hill. The Plant Kingdom had control of three, and the strategic advantage. However the winter came and went, fighting continued, almost as if it had become a way of life. The King and his followers floated through battle after battle. Spring came and went, soldiers burned, soldiers were stabbed, territory was taken and lost.

The Festival of the Sun had started in the city. The moon was high in the sky, yet the longest day since winter would start. The army marched down the path to the glowing city. After an entire winter of fighting the soldiers were eager to be back home. They marched through the streets. Dancing citizens welcomed them and cheered. They approached the palace and the King gave the order. The soldiers cheered and hopped to their homes, enjoying the beginning of several days of rest.

The King rode his elk to the palace. Torches had been lit along the halls of the throne room, and nobles danced inside. The King dismounted and hopped through the large doorway.

“The King has returned!” one of them said.

Several of the nobles bowed and went back to dancing, while King Shield hopped up the steps to his throne, where Root Iron and Priest Rain stood waiting.

“I trust you have kept my Kingdom in order.” The King said.

“I have, you made it back in time too.”

The musicians began playing The Song of the Sun.

Great shining sun.
Nothing can outshine you.
Nothing can outglow you.
Not all the stars.
Not all the gold.
Not all the flames in the world.

Great shining sun.
Thank you for your light.
Thank you for your warmth.
Thank you for your life.

Great shining sun.
Nothing can outshine you.
Nothing can outglow you.
Not all the stars.
Not all the gold.
Not all the flames in the…

The King heard cheering outside in the streets. A crowd was gathering around something, and a moment later he saw them. Riding on deers with stone spears and scratched up armor of bark. I had forgotten about them.

“Commander!” The King proclaimed loudly, “Let them pass!”

The scouts dismounted and hopped into a room of cheers.

“My King, I trust I am not late.”

“You are right on time, come up here, I see you are missing three.”

“I am… one died of the plague soon after we left, another to a monster on the outside, the last left for his home as soon as we arrived in the city.”

“As he has a right to, you must be full of stories to tell, tell us, what is outside the valley?”

The Commander told their stories. The wide stone paths of the first seemed to go on forever past the valley, as did the ruins of their Kingdom. He described large decaying structures, filled with shadows and bones. He described numerous objects of metal and stone, and monsters shaped like animals. Metal wagons that did not need to be pulled, but had since decayed beyond use. Even transparent crystals that glowed like torches.

“Speaking of crystals…” The Root said, “…it is time we use ours.”

Iron was right, the sky was beginning to lighten to the east, just outside of the doorway.

“Yes, bring the crystal.” The King said.

Two Priests brought the large translucent object and set it on the pedestal in the middle of the room. King Shield took his place on the throne, with Root Iron to his right and Priest Rain to his left. Minutes later the sun emerged from beyond the mountains, shining through the window above the doorway. Only when it perfectly framed the circular window did it shine perfectly through the crystal. Three beams of light hit the three leaders. King Shield took in the sun as the crowd cheered.

The sun drifted out of the window, and the light faded. The crowd went back to dancing and singing as the ceremony was over. Only then did he hear a voice from the door into the palace. The King and his Root looked at each other and they went in, where the messenger stood.

“I come from the front lines of the army.” The messenger said, “The King of Fire is dead.”

This is the first good news I have had in a long time. “How?”

“According to rumors, the fire plague.”

“Small wonder.” The Root said, “It has been spreading since the last summer.”

“Anything on the state of the enemy themselves?” The King asked.

“We have had conflicting reports, but most agree another from the Royal Fire Tree has taken the throne. He is more unstable than the last, and will most likely die before surrendering his Kingdom.”

“I cannot predict where this will go.” The Root said, “He could inspire his soldiers to fight even harder, or he could drive them to the breaking point.”

“We will see.”

Three winters. The King told himself. Three winters of war. He was in his tent, listening to a commander say the same words he had heard a hundred times before.

“…I believe we can beat them if…”

The words now only bounced off the King’s crown, under it his mind took him elsewhere. That day on the battlefield he had received his scorching from the King of Fire, he hadn’t truly done much, he only saw the flaming stick and his King, and saved his King. The same King that had made him Root for it, he had saved his King a second time by accepting a position that he was not suited for. I did my best with it, and it got me a crown on my head. Who in the right mind would want a crown on their head? Then when he had heard the news from the mountains, some said the King had been slain, some said he had stood triumphant above the King of the Hill. They were both right, he had figured out when they brought him back to the city. When the priest said he didn’t have long. When he woke up for the last time and only Shield was there. Are we One? He would forget that when his burns healed and the first rebuilt their kingdom.

“My King?” The Commander asked, “Have you been listening? What I have demonstrated could save us if-”

“The only thing that can save us is a miracle.”

The throne was carved of black glass, and sat in a room of stone. The walls were lined with torches, and between them slabs of rock, each etched with shadows of the first, all in their final positions of terror from the day the sun burned bright. Unlike the Throne Room of the Kings Under the Sun, the King of Fire prefered a solid roof and the warm flames to the sunlight of the Plant Kings.

“Please, my King! This is a disastrous idea!” The advisor said, “If this doesn’t work-”

“I AM THE KING OF FIRE!” The King of Fire yelled in his raspy voice, “FIRE CANNOT BURN FIRE!”

He hopped with intention out of the throne room, below the steps his audience watched with anticipation. I am Fire! As was the King before me, and the King before him! But the King before him had died of the fire plague, the same one that was resurfacing even now. We needed a stronger King, and now we have one.

The servants had readied the pyre. Sticks and thatch and even some of the dusty black rock from the mountains. The priest next to it held the flaming stick. The King approached and stood on top of the pile, in full view of his citizens and soldiers who had gathered to witness.


The crowd jumped and cheered in agreement.


The crowd was chanting by now, fire, fire, fire. The King of Fire stood and awaited his rebirth. The Priest tossed his flaming stick into the pile.

A rush of blinding flames engulfed the King, and he took in every spark. FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, the crowd chanted.

He relished in the flames eating away at his flesh, turning him black and melting away. I am the King of Fire.

The King of Fire was a pile of ashes on the steps of the palace. The crowd was silent.

“You will follow the laws of the Plant Kingdom. You will pay your taxes to the Plant Kingdom. You will provide soldiers to Plant Kingdom when ordered. I order that your rise as Branch of the Province of Fire, and govern the province in my name.”

“I will, my King.” The Branch of Fire responded. He bowed and turned around.

“And if I have to put down another rebellion from you, your mother tree will be cut down, and I will install someone I can trust.”

The Branch of Fire stopped, then continued down the steps.

The ambassadors from the other two provinces looked on in silence. A cloud drifted in front of the sun, sending a temporary blanket of darkness over the Throne Room. The King stood.

“I will take no more requests for today.” He and his root hopped into the palace.

“I asked for a miracle…” The King said, “…and the sun granted one.”

“That Fire King was unstable from the beginning.” His root said, “I was not surprised to hear the news.”

“Well, I won’t expect another rebellion for a long time, seeing their King burn has destroyed their faith, and it will likely remain that way for a long time.”

“I hope it will, what can you say about the other provinces?”

“I do not think they will be a problem.”

“I hope for that too.”

“…we found him in the river, he would have gone further through the hills had we not.”

Root Iron’s lifeless corpse lay before him, the sound of flowing water echoed from over the hill.

“What do you think it was?” The King asked him.

“There are no wounds, he most likely drowned. Murder cannot be ruled out, my King. I would suspect the Fire Province…”

“That was three winters ago, why would they wait until now?” He turned his head to the City of the River, in view just upstream. “Take the body with us, we will stay for a night and have the body examined.”

King Shield trotted over the bridge into the City of the River. The city was a collection wood and mud buildings on an island, surrounded on all sides by water. The citizens made sure to move out of his way, and give him their respects. The palace was the only completely stone structure in the city, it’s bottom covered in patches of moss, and from inside it the River Mother Tree rose, it’s branches teeming with budlings waiting until they were mature enough to detach. The door of the palace opened, and the Branch of the River emerged. The same shape as Shield, but much smaller and darker, only standing a quarter his height.

“My King! I wish you had announced your coming!”

“I would have, but I will discuss it inside, over some water preferably.”

The King dismounted, while servants took their mounts to the stables. The inside of the palace was the same mossy stone, and he could hear the faint roaring of an underground tunnel of water. They passed the Throne Room, much smaller and damper than his own. Sealeaf sheets hung from the walls, and the throne was coated in pebbles and shells.

Soon enough a servant brought in two bowls of water. “One from the river, for my Branch, and one from the rain, for my King.” Only when they were alone did they speak.

“My root has washed up dead, in your river.” The King said.

“My apologies, you must have been close.”

“We were, I simply want to know who did it.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, though I will commit every resource I can to figuring it out. I have ambassadors from both the Hill and Sun provinces in this castle, you may ask them.”

“I am the King, I do not need your permission.”

“Of course, apologies, my King.”

They drank from the bowls on the floor through their stems.

“Have you considered who your new Root should be?” The Branch asked.

Iron is only a day dead and he has already been forgotten. “No, it will take time to think on. Though I will want someone experienced.”

“I have governed the River for twenty-two winters, six of which I wore a crown on my head. Of course I eventually had to set it down in front of King Spear, may he rest untouched. Regarding him I hear you were the last to be with him.”

“I was. The only one with him.”

“May I ask, my King, how did he go?”

“He was covered in mace holes, the priest had just removed his stem but it could not save him. He woke up one last time, asked me ‘Are we one?’… I only said yes, a moment later he was gone.”

As the sun went down the lights below the palace lit up. King Shield hopped away from the balcony and began his night of questioning. The Ambassador of the Hill Province was standing in his quarters, using a stick and crushed rock to make a message. King Shield recognized the symbol of gold, along with four crossed lines above it, and the symbol of the River Province above it. The River Province has forty pieces of gold in it’s treasury.

“My King.” He bowed, “An unexpected surprise, I am honored.”

“I came to ask about my Root.”

“Yes, quite the tragedy.” he hopped to a different side of the room and stuck his stem in a cup of water, “From the ground as we like it in the Hills, I’m afraid I don’t have any rainwater.”

“I’m not thirsty. He came here on a tour of the Kingdom, to make sure the Branches are operating efficiently. Did anything unusual happen while he was.”

“I did not see anything, but as chance had it he knew that Sun Province Ambassador already. Very well too. From what I have heard he served under our Root in Spear’s Unification.”

“Where is he now?”

“He has shut himself inside his quarters since the incident. Nobody has talked to him.”

“You have been helpful. I thank you.”

The hall had grown dimmer. As the Shield hopped through it two guards passed. They bowed their heads as they went and muttered “My King.” Shield did the same and picked up his pace. The quarters of the Sun Province Ambassador were decorated with the symbol of the Sun. He rang the small bell to alert it’s occupant. The door opened, the Ambassador was more than likely from the Royal Mother Tree, though much shorter than most of her children, his body bent slightly to the side, and the tip of his head dipped at his stem instead of pointed, all giving him a small and slightly deformed appearance. He seemed to hardly know anyone was there until he recognized the crown and bowed.

“My- my King! This is good, I was hoping to see you!”

“As I was you, may we talk in your quarters.”

The ambassador looked around, and remained silent for a moment. “I believe some fresh rainwater near the docks will clear our minds more.”

He is scared. “So be it.”

“And it would be better should we not cause a scene, why not leave your crown here?”

The burns alone were already enough to give him away to most, but the Ambassador was right in that regard. The King set his crown on a table in the quarters and journeyed down to the city. Two from the sun province, one deformed, one burned, attracted many looks but surprisingly little recognition. They bought cups of rainwater from a vendor and journeyed to a bridge where they would be alone. Both looked to the reflection of the moon shining off the river below them and drank.

“This does not taste like rainwater.” The King said.

“Many scammers roam this city.”

The King looked around, “What else do you know?”

“The River took him, with the help of the Hill.”

The King dipped his stem in the water but did not drink.

“And why did they do that?”

“Hill and River joined together, they want to escape the sun, or should I say the plants. Iron found out. He had someone he knew with him, someone he had commanded during many battles winters ago, he told him. Now I tell the sun.”

“And how did Iron end up in the river?”

“The River didn’t want the Sun to know, and he thought only one knew the truth.”

“Two did.”

“And the second must soon leave the city, he does not want to end up in the river with the first.”

“I hope he will come back, with some force, something more powerful than a River.”

When the sun rose again the Ambassador left the city, carrying with him the Royal Mark, the mark to prove to Priest Rain his trust. Several days he stood in the Throne Room of the River. Soon enough the throne’s owner arrived.

“Why is your army surrounding my city?”

The King’s guards locked the door behind him. The Branch approached only to be halted by their spears.

“Explain yourself!”

“It is you who must explain! King Spear let you live, obviously that was a mistake, and I let the Hill send their ambassadors over the Kingdom, that was a mistake too!”

“I dropped my crown in front of Spear and pledged my subservience-”

“And now you attempt to undo it! You drowned my Root because he found out! I have a new one and he is leading my army over your bridges as we speak!”

Pounding came from the doors. “My Branch!? They are in the streets! We need orders!”

The guards put the locks in place on the door and kept their spears pointed.

“Your Branch will not be giving any! You will surrender the city in the name of your King!”

“NO! Fight them in the streets! Fight them in tha pa-”

A guard stabbed the Branch in his side, not a mortal wound, but enough to give him the message. The Branch of the River turned back to his King.

“I assume you know about the Hill too?”

“I do, but I will deal with you first.”

“Looks like you will, I only hope the new King of the Hill kills you, just like the last one.”

“I will do what Spear should have done, to both of you.”

The sounds of struggle were heard outside, screaming and stabbing. Finally it went silent and two knocks were heard. The King gave a nod, and the doors were opened. The Sun Ambassador hopped in with Commanders behind him.

“The city is taken, my King.”

Two soldiers came through the doorway, and shoved the ambassador of the Hill Province before him.

“Branch, Ambassador, you have both been found guilty of treason, take them to the cells.“

Both were taken away, the Ambassador of the Sun remained.

“Ambassador, you have exposed this conspiracy and as a result we have one less side to fight in the upcoming war. I cannot thank you enough, except for one thing.”

“I accept.”

“Your name then.”

“In the army our Root Iron would call me stubborn as stone. To honor him, Stone will be my name, and Stone my symbol.”

“Very well, Root Stone.”

The King rode his elk through the City of the River. The crowd had gathered on the sides to watch, but few cheered. Good, I will show why they do not betray the crown. Beside him his new Root rode on his deer, and behind him were the two traitors, on a wagon surrounded by guards, they kept silent.

When they reached the shoreline the King and his party stopped and dismounted. The guards took the Hill Ambassador first.

“Cut my head off and be done with it!” He yelled at the King.

“You will die like Iron did, and you will float away like he did.”

The guards took him into the water and held him under. They watched him struggle and thrash and go limp, only then did the guards push him out into the current. They brought the branch next.

“Is this supposed to be ironic? I rule from the river, and to the river I will go.”

“I know you will.”

“I will answer Spear’s question when I meet him.”

The guards held him under, he didn’t struggle until the final few seconds. They pushed him out.

“Iron would have enjoyed this. He likely is, up there on the tree.” Root Stone said.

“Get back on your deer.” The King said, “We are going back to the City Under the Sun, we have a war with the hill to fight.”

The King of the Hill sat in the cave, surrounded by his loyal soldiers. We were supposed to leave the sun together. Two winters ago he had allied himself with the River, now his ally was dead and he had the force of three Kingdoms against him. He would have cut off the Fire Kingdom and let them succeed, we would be independent again. But that Root Stone had ruined it. His army was shattered, and he hid under his mighty hills, where the sun could never reach.

The mace he held was the one he used to kill his predecessor. The lackwit Branch the Sun Kings had put in charge. He looked around, his soldiers stood in groups, talking, others heading into the surrounding tunnels, many of them. Their sounds were drowned out by the loud singing of their bard.

I am the Hills from end to end.
I am the stone that makes them.
I am the trees that grow on them.
I am the clouds that snag on their tops…

I am the Hill, he thought to himself, slowly swaying with the notes. The thoughts of defeat left his mind, the independence he had promised, the glory, the shining strong Hill. He was one with the music.

I bow not to the sun.
I bow not to the flame.
I bow not to the stream.
I bow not to none.

I bow not to none, I will not surrender, he will kill me but I will not. He repeated the words in his head.

The King Under the Sun he said.
Now I will rest.
For I must fight again in time…

The song filled his mind, and he lifted his head.

But the King of the Hill he spoke.
You are not the sun he said.
You are flesh like the rest.
We are hard as stone.
And we will not let you rest.

This is the Song of Spear. The soldiers were emerging from the tunnels.

The King under the Sun he fought.
For one winter.
Then two.
Then three and four and five.

He tightened his grip on his mace, the soldiers held theirs, others held rocks.

Until the sun and stone met.
You do not shine.
The King of the Hill said.

The first soldier came at him, and was just as quickly knocked to the ground by the King’s mace.

Nor do you.
Said the sun back.

The rest came at once. Maces and rocks clashed. He was surrounded.

Through maces and spears they fought.

Twenty spikes pierced his flesh and ten rocks mashed it.

And the stone finally cracked.

Rocks and maces were raised and lowered by his loyal soldiers.

The sun it shined on the broken stone.
And then it burned out.

He didn’t deserve this, King Shield thought. The body before him was crushed and torn, and already beginning to turn brown, but he recognized the body of the King of the Hill. He looked to the ones who had brought it. Killed by his own loyal soldiers, what a terrible way to go.

“My King?” One of them asked.

“I accept your surrender.” After two winters of war I would have wanted him brought alive. “Take me to your palace, and bring whoever has assumed command of you.”

The Hill Palace was a series of rooms and passages cut straight into a mountain. It’s garrison put up no fight, especially upon seeing the King’s host. Though he had dispersed most of his force to destroy the last holdouts, King Shield kept a large enough army to feel secure in the enemy palace. He had to leave his elk at the foot of the mountain as it could not climb the steps. As he neared the top he looked down, below him smaller hills rose, at the top of one the Hill Mother tree stood tall. A gate opened in front and he was allowed in. The guards gave him cold looks, but bowed all the same.

The tunnels were well cut, the natural layers of rock that made up the walls were their own decoration. The throne room was the same, columns stuck with torches lined the room, the throne was carved straight from the rock. The walls were decorated with scenes from the lives of past Hill Kings. And the newest one had just entered.

“I hear you only name your Kings after their death.” Shield said.

“We do, my King.” The Hill King said, “This last one will be known as The Betrayed. The one you put in charge is known as The Lackwit.”

He looked to one of the scenes, a Hill King slaying a Sun King with a mace, and the Sun King stabbing him back.

The End, we call him. King Spear fought well.”

“They both did… I will waste no more time. Bow…”

Ten winters, the King thought. Ten winters with a crown on my head and a throne to sit on. He had faced two rebellions, three had Stone not spoken. The Root sat next to him while in the Throne Room the Tenth Winter Festival raged. Nobles and Leaders all danced to the songs of the ten-year-king.

I am the fire.
The King of Fire said.
I will not burn.
I will turn not to ashes but to flame.
Brighter than the sun and hot to melt stone.
I will not burn.
The King of Fire said as he burned.

The ambassadors all danced with the rest, having seemingly forgotten the ten winters that had brought them to this point. The King looked to the Ambassador of Fire, I fought you for three winters. He looked to the Ambassador of the River, I drowned your leader. And finally to the Hill, I drove your king to be butchered by his own soldiers. But now they danced. The past seemingly forgotten.

I am the River.
The Branch of the River said.
I am the Hill.
The Branch of the Hill said.
United we are Kings.
And United we will rise.
The Iron heard them say.
The River reached out and the Iron was no more.

Shield had enough, and it looked like his Root had as well. They both left into the palace.

But the Stone it heard.
The Stone it told the Sun.
And the river ran dry…

In the pool both drank. Days of rain before had almost overflowed it, so there was more than enough for both.

“Any further news from the rest of the Kingdom?” The King asked to break the silence.

“The Branches wish you another ten winters. The Hill Province is fully under our control, and the fire plague has broken out again in villages outside the city.”

“Any threat of further conflicts?”

“None I could see, the provinces have tried their chances, but they have all been beaten back. I believe we will have peace for a long time to come.”

Stone was right, another winter of peace and prosperity. The eleventh winter of his reign had just started, and the worst looked to be behind him. Throughout the day he listened to requests, and made his decisions with the help of his Root. A messenger from a nearby village had just left when he noticed he was feeling weaker than usual.

“I don’t feel well.” The King said, “Take the throne for today.”

“Yes, My King.” His root said.

The King went straight to his Priest, however a moment of dizziness took him as he hopped through the halls. I must see Rain, he will know what is happening. He made it to Priest Rain’s quarters and knocked on the door.

“My King?” The Priest said, opening the door.

“I need you to look at me, I am not well.”

The Priest sat him down and examined him. Asking him his symptoms and how long they had been happening, ruling out other causes, and coming to a conclusion.

“Fire plague. It has been spreading through the city lately has it not?”

“It has, but how could it have spread here?”

“Fire plague is most vulnerable to those with past wounds, your burns are like sticky honey to it.”

“What is my best option?

“The outlook is uncertain, I will treat it best I can but I advise you stay in the palace, and minimize your chances of spreading it.”

One moon later and he had to stay in his quarters. Another and the flesh around his burns began to turn an orange-red. One more and his priest now had the plague.

“How am I to receive treatment without my priest?” The King asked his Root through the door.

“Another is being sent, to tend to both of you. I’m sure you will both recover.

Another moon passed and he was looking at the ceiling. He was too weak to stand, and day after day servants refilled his water cup, and his Root conducted business through the door.

The sun rose again and the King could hardly lift his head. His strength was gone, his blackouts growing longer and more often each day. His Root arrived at the door.

“My King, there have been messengers from the Fire province, they ask for help with-”

“Stone. Unlock the door.” His voice was too weak to yell, or seem orderly at all.

“My King?”

“Unlock the door.”

The Root unlocked the door, hopping carefully in, and making an effort to touch as little as possible.

“My King? Is something wrong?”

“You are every bit Root Iron and more, you have done your job well.”

Root Stone was silent. The King used all the strength he had, wiggling the crown off and placing it on the ground. He could no longer feel his face.

“I have spent my reign keeping the Kingdom together, so you can rule it.”

His Root stayed silent. King Shield looked to the window next to him, the sun shined through. He could see the ocean above, the island and the Great Tree, on it Spear was welcoming him.

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