Heads & Tales 2021: HUM 243


About
Foreword


The Tale of Nimsay
Polkadedot
The Hungry Man and Squirrel
A Tale of Just Desserts
Earthly Tallies
The Ocean and the Cliffside
Amanita and Sunti
Philipan Stag and the Hunter
Between Two Kingdoms
Globe Light
Cycle
The Dawn of our Sun
The Secret of Silencing
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The Tale of Clyfar and Graddfa Tan
Three Hairs
Serenade for the Little Butterfly
The Demon’s Trials

Afterword


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© Heads and Tales 2021


Mark




Between Two Kingdoms

-
Jillian Frost, ChE’22


Illustration by Patricia Suslo A’21

This story takes place long ago amid tension between two warring kingdoms.  The main kingdom was ruled by the same bloodline for generations with no end in sight.  The ruling family considered themselves fortunate to have produced a male heir.  In the early years of this family’s rule, the king lived lavishly but was also fair-minded and his people enjoyed peace.  The king was prudent and stern, however, his main fault of greed was a warning of how future generations would fail.  He had gotten tangled up in small troubles throughout his life, but nothing that threatened his estate.

As years passed, the ruling family maintained control of their territory, but their desire for material goods clouded their decisions.  Many kings acted impulsively and were quick to anger, often quarreling with neighboring kingdoms.  Even more alarming were the strict punishments when people spoke out against the king or committed some small and often accidental infractions, such as using more land to farm.  Secretly, people were becoming discontent with the rule. Farmers would take more land than needed and some would even trick the tax collectors by giving less money.

At this point, the kingdom was ruled by an aged king whose wife had borne a son named Priscus. Their wealth had reached a pinnacle, and one might think they were the strongest they had been. Yet, the people lived in the poorest conditions.  Farmers, growing crops for the season and selling them in the market, could not keep their surplus goods, which were given to the king.  Others, forced to pay hefty sums in taxes, and groaned under the burden.  Nothing, though, could surpass the fear of the king’s governing tactics.  Anyone caught in a crime, such as trying to trick the tax collector, would be publicly executed for the king’s entertainment.

Outside, tensions over a border dispute with another kingdom grew.  Priscus’s father ordered troops to camp outside the walls to instigate problems.  Now and then, the two armies would fight, only to produce more casualties. Priscus watched as his father commanded a fiery explosive to graze over the other kingdom’s walls and take the lives of a few innocent people as they rushed for help.  Before war broke out, word spread among Priscus’s people praising the peaceful Verus and his kingdom, which, for its faults, was surely a better place for the simple villager to live.  With fear growing in many who lived under an authoritative rule, some villagers snuck outside the kingdom walls at nightfall and headed to settle in Verus’s land.  This was fuel to a flame and war between the two was inevitable: one side felt betrayed by its people, while the other was taken advantage of.

Despite his old age, Priscus’s father decided to fight, determined to secure dynastic power. However, about forty-seven days in, an arrow made its way towards the king.  Having found a hole in his armor, it made its initial contact with his clothes, then the point breached his skin, slowly finding its way to his heart, where upon impact, it took his life. When the wife received word, she felt faint while slowly unraveling the note.  Words became muffled and her eyesight closed in on her like a dark tunnel.  Coming to her senses, she acted swiftly and deliberately by crowning Priscus king the following day to suppress any hope of an overthrow.  Little did the people know that Priscus, raised by his father in the art of statecraft, would be almost his exact copy.  In the coming days, it dawned on them that this young son ruled after his father’s harsh fashion.

As war continued and the new king and his mother settled in, the unspeakable happened.  On one quiet and calm night, Priscus went to sleep but when the next morning came, the servants could not wake him.  His mother was called in and upon hearing that he had no heartbeat due to what a barber-surgeon deemed natural causes, she cursed whatever god could hear her.  With no heir, she knew her days in power were numbered.  She ran swiftly to the library that was guarded by a group of elderly sage called the “Keepers of the Canons,” who preserved and passed on knowledge.  She knew she would never be allowed to enter; so, she changed her clothes to appear as an old man, dressing herself up with a wooden cane and a golden brooch as if she were one of the gifted scholars.  Upon entering, she made it through what seemed a maze of books until she found an ancient text filled with extraordinary tales.  As she flipped to find a particular passage about the nearby forest guarded by a supernatural being, she took care not to tear the brittle pages.  At once, she found the passage describing this creature who had no face; in fact, this creature could not even be seen, only heard by people who dared to enter its presence.  This faceless creature could grant a wish; however, the book warned that there would be a price to pay.  This creature could even drain a person’s life with one breath and collect the unfortunate soul.

Ignoring the warnings, the mother ran into the forest the next night in search of this mythical creature.  She searched and searched and had almost given up when she stumbled upon the cave wherein laid the creature.  The cave was dim, cold, and damp, but the mother knew she could not use a flame to find her way; the punishment would cost her her life.  Rather, she must follow the eerie sound that led her to the creature.  There, to her surprise, she heard a voice coming from all directions, soft but insistent.  She immediately poured out her fears as the words bounced off the cave walls.  The creature was indeed capable of this resurrection, but it warned of the ominous repercussions.  Desperate, the mother ignored all warning and requested the creature have her son awake by morning by way of an unearthly spell.

Back on the battlefield, the war was heading Priscus’s way and victory seemed inevitable.  All was well for Priscus and his mother, that is, until nightfall just a few days later.  He had a dream that he was in battle and a sword pierced him straight through the heart.  The worst part was that no one brought his body back; it became food for the birds as it decomposed into the earth.  These horrific dreams plagued him for many nights and he wondered if these were premonitions.  His mother too dreamt of horrors, that she was to be killed in her own bed as the opposing army barreled through the kingdom walls.

Suddenly, the dreams stopped for Priscus and his mother.  They thought the torment ended and went on with living; however, as quickly as the dreams stopped, a new horror surfaced.  It started off small, as if imagined: a little dot floating through their vision field.  It soon grew larger and would come and go as it pleased.  Sometimes, they would even lose their sight, only to regain it shortly after.  Occasionally their days were interrupted by bright flashes crowding out their vision like a storm in the sky.  To them, these visions were a bearable nuisance.  Soon, these flashes started multiplying and they began to notice hundreds at a time.  In due course, they started to see colors and shapes as if looking through stained glass.  Even more unusual, they would wake up some days, only to find that a limb would not work. When the next day came, sometimes the limb returned to normal, but another one would cease to move.

Unlike the dreams, these problems with body parts persisted.  On the battlefield, more and more soldiers were dying as both armies rained down terror.  As battle plans failed, the war began to turn on a worrying Priscus.  In despair, the mother ran back into the forest to the creature to plead with him.  She interrogated, questioning her family’s torment, to which the creature replied that he had warned of the consequences of disrupting nature’s processes.  She stormed out angrily cursing the creature on her journey.

When the white flag was raised a few days later, Verus and his guards came marching through the gates of the castle.  They believed that death was upon them, as Priscus would have killed any threat to his kingdom if he were in that position.   Instead, Verus handed Priscus and his mother a wooden sword, sparing them on condition that they passed their remaining years serving the kingdom.  They lived in a modest shack and were only allowed to travel through certain areas of the vast territory.  Most of their days were occupied with work made difficult by the curse which caused their limbs to stop working.  When looking around at the people and places of the kingdom, Priscus and his mother were forced to the realization that at one point this was their own and now, they had to learn a new way of life.


Mark