King Of Ruins (SW #20) – Short Story

King Of Ruins (SW #20) – Short Story

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King of Ruins

He picks up his father’s crown from atop the dead man’s head. The old man’s eyes staring blankly back at him, the whites glistening from the tears he had shed while the pain and shock of his death set in. His castle had fallen around him and now one large chunk lay on top of his bottom half; one could only assume the state of his body beneath it.

He’d been forced into the bunker when the enemy army was first sighted not far off the distance; he hadn’t seen what had occurred, only felt it. Felt the walls and ground shake around him, and covered his ears from the pained screams that filled the air, their pleas of mercy snaking in through the cracks around the trap door. No one had come down with him and no one had called him back up.

The kingdom before him lay flat, crushed by an unknown force. Silence drove him from the bunker and he took in the unseeable sight of his devastated city. Men, women and children lay flat and broken in the street, their limbs bent at unnatural angles. At first sight, the woman to his right looked as if her right arm had been tucked beneath her, but as he scanned the area unable to draw his eyes from the scene before him it became obvious that the fresh blood pool beneath many of the victims signified something other than stab wounds.

He began to walk the streets of the city. Leaving the castle behind him, crown in hand the man of 22 placed a foot in front of the other and walked. His feets carried him down a path as familiar as his own bedroom, to a place where his mother liked to go, taking turns through the gridded, gravel streets, now littered with soulless bodies and the broken remnants of their houses. Possessions lay in odd places in his path as if thrown there like dice on a table, removed from the houses before the walls were knocked over or just outright flattened.

He picked his way around his father’s fallen kingdom, desperate to get to the only place that matters. The back and right side wall are all that remains of the double story bluestone building; the boy easily able to see inside to the dozens upon dozens of people huddled together for refuge. He could imagine the scene, the shaking fear and terrified screams; maybe even the silent shock as they realised the ceiling was falling, and the crunching bone-breaking sound that would be overpowered by the crashing as it dropped onto those below.

He couldn’t move. His legs buckled beneath him and knocked him to the ground. Unable to ignore the gurgling in his stomach and banish the images from his mind, he let out a cry that left his mouth along with burning bile. It dribbled down his chin as he dropped to the ground defeated. His mother had been there; he knew it. This was her safe haven; the strongest building in the kingdom, not even his father’s castle could match its strength; but it too had fallen and now death lay within its grounds. No longer a place of safety.

It took him a while to compose himself; the voice of hope emerging from the shadows of his mind, begging him to keep going for there may be survivors entombed in the wreckage. He cannot be so certain of his mother’s death as he is his father’s.

The man rose, crown still in hand, the metal now warmed by his touch and the coming of light in the new day. The walls to the kingdom rose high, untouched by whatever force had destroyed its innards and starring out at his kingdom from this angle, the ground looked almost level. He knew the rough location of his father’s castle from memory but couldn’t pick it out from the mess, and as he tried to do so he felt eyes on his back, a strange feeling in a town of corpses. Maybe death had come for him too?

He steeled himself, taking a deep breath bracing himself to face the pale woman that they had known as death. Though to his surprise, another pale woman stood on the other side of the castle gates before him, the army behind her stood orderly and ready.

His mother’s face looked back at him, a smile on her pale pink lips and her royal crown atop her golden hair. She stretched out a hand as if beckoning him to approach her but dropped it almost immediately, her smile shattering and teeth baring. The feral look foreign on her pretty perfect face.

The queen of the kingdom his father presided over; his mother, regarded him once more with feral hunger and reached up to grab the jewelled crown ontop her head. Clutching it tightly, she lifted it and threw it forcefully towards him. The armies; the death; the annihilation of his father’s town was all by her command.

This is war he realised. All those forced fighting lessons his father had forced upon him. The times he’d yelled at the man and told him fighting is not the answer; that knowledge will win in any war, he; in this moment wishes that it would all be taken back. His dreams of becoming a scholar and winning a war with words demonstrated the extent of his ignorance, and as he stands in front of his mother and her army, he understands what his father was trying to tell him all along.

He said a small prayer to Lady Death, that the pale woman would offer him safe passage into the afterlife when his one ends; and places the crown atop his head. A power move. Lowering his head slightly in a nod, he stood there letting his opponent choose his fate.

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