Well this is an unexpectedly quick second post. I thought that I’d put up a prologue I wrote a couple of months ago to see what people think about it. Feedback of any kind would be appreciated, though constructive criticism is always more helpful than insults!
The last king died with bloodshot eyes and a rasping breath. His killer took a step back and left the sword quivering in an unprotected chest stained scarlet with the blood of royalty. Where one man died with fear in his eyes, the other lived on with the fire of victory in his own. Light a candle and mourn the passing of an age.
“The king is dead!” The call rang out over a clash of men and steel, reaching every man, woman and child as it was taken up in a wave that swept throughout the city. The morning sun that had brought hope to the king and his army when it ascended in rosy dawn now seemed a cold and distant witness that passively observed their downfall.
This same army was swept aside like cinders and ash in the winds of a hurricane, crushed as much by the death of their leader as by those that pressed against them with steel in their hands and murder in their hearts. What is there to live for when that which is most important to you is stripped away? The soldiers swayed limply and were cut down. The rebels showed no mercy; mercy was not something they were required to show. The blood of good men dyed the streets much as it had dyed the chest of their king, a cruel parody of the hopeful dawn. It was impossible to distinguish the cries of the dying from those of the triumphant as they merged together to become a single crashing of humanity. All over the city, a fatal dance was twisting along the streets and within the squares that transformed the place from a sleeping giant to something akin to a writhing ant hill. The scene was all the worse as it was not only the men of the city caught in the slaughter.
One man ascended the wide flight of steps that led up to palace of Horizon Mount, the home of kings, before turning to survey the sweeping boulevard before him. Sword in hand and dressed in battered and bloodied armour, this man was the war hero that his people wanted to see. General Cholem, leader of the army of the Freedom Uprising. The body of King Kaidezhe lay at the foot of the marble stairs, half in the shadow. The freedom of the new rising over the tyranny of the old.
The rest of the tree-lined boulevard that stretched away in front of the palace had been cleared of bodies and washed with copious amounts of clean river water. It had taken several hours, but the task was now complete, and similar clean-up operations were underway elsewhere in the city, flushing every street, alley and square free of human detritus. As Cholem drank in the scene before him, he knew that clearing this area had been worth every drop of sweat. Now the sun shone down on an open path leading up to a liberated palace: the best of omens for the day to come. Tomorrow, the Freedom Council would join him here in the palace, eleven men who would rule alongside him in brotherhood and equality, in tolerance and fairness. No, they wouldn’t rule, he corrected himself, they would guide. They would guide this nation of abused and oppressed people into a new age of peace and prosperity, living in harmony with one another regardless of personal situation or circumstance.
But today belonged to the army, to the men who took up arms and fought for this utopian vision. Furthermore, he could not afford to wait until tomorrow to assert the authority of the Freedom Council in this city – the people had to be made aware of the change immediately. So he would be the figurehead on the steps of the palace, the herald of the new dawn, the voice of freedom. The dirty work was not yet done, but today, the rebuilding of a nation could begin.
“Permission to speak, General?”
Cholem looked down to a man kneeling at the foot of the stone stairway, slightly away from King Kaidezhe’s ruined body, “Stand up, soldier. I am not a king or a god for you to bow to.”
The soldier stood, obeying his general’s every word, “Shall we bring the people here for your announcement now?”
“Yes. Tell them that a representative of the new Freedom Council is ready to address them officially. It is mandatory that they attend. Anyone not here within the hour shall be assumed to be an enemy of the council. You know what that means.” General Cholem spoke hard words with a set face, the spark of victory still dancing in his dark eyes.
“It shall be done, General.”
“Good. It’s time to tell these people that they’re free.”
An hour later, most of the city was assembled on the boulevard before the palace, a vibrant mass of people thronging to hear the voice of the new regime. General Cholem faced them triumphantly, a line of armoured soldiers standing to attention at his back. The afternoon sun remained strong, and cast his athletic frame in an angelic light, playing off his dark hair as if caressing a loved child. Nothing was out of place. He was strong and in control. The herald of triumph.
“People of Horizon Mount and all of Jeshrual, I am General Cholem of the army of the Freedom Uprising,” he projected his voice effortlessly over the silent crowd, “Today is an historic day for our nation. King Kaidezhe has fallen, and the monarchy has died with him. No more shall you be oppressed by one family, subject only to them. Today, in victory, we shall begin the restoration of our nation to its former glory, free and strong in equality. Tomorrow, my allies from across Jeshrual shall ride into this city. Together, we shall stand united and address you once more. But today, rejoice! Revel in your newfound freedom! Until tomorrow, fellow humans, go in peace.”
A great cheer erupted from several areas in the crowd, building into an ovation that spread across the mass. General Cholem knew that there were many royalists among these people, supporters of the dead monarch, but he would leave them for now. Tomorrow, more hearts and minds would be won to freedom’s cause as he and his co-councillors emerged before the city once more. Together, they would seal their victory over this choked land.
Throw off the cloak of your inhibitions and run riot in the anarchy of your freedom.
Lank hair shrouded a dark face in darker shadow and eyes smouldered in its veil. The afternoon sun was oppressive and relentless as it beat down on his exposed back. Every cut a line of red that burned. His breathing was heavy and it rattled out of his chest in throaty, strangled heaves.
His voice wheezed out in a cracked whisper, “Where are you, Adonai? Why are you silent now?”
The harsh grate of a laugh barked over him and a hot drop of saliva drummed onto his shoulder blade, searing like a brand on cold flesh. A boot kicked savagely into his ribs, bruising the bruises, forcing him onto his side with a groan. The hot dust on the ground around him was no comfort. Shadows fell over him and a hand yanked his head up by the matted clumps of his hair, grabbing a fistful of the grimy locks in meaty fingers. A snarling face thrust itself into his vision.
“Adonai is dead. In fact, he was never alive.”
The hand released his hair and his head fell back onto a welcoming carpet of sand and stone. What was one more bruise when his whole body already wept blood?
“Up,” a new voice this time, one commanding and devoid of emotion. He rolled to face the sun and saw the newcomer: another man, dressed in armour like any other, but marked as a higher ranking officer by the muddied swathe of the cape that was clipped onto his shoulder-guards, “I said, up!”
The man on the floor closed his eyes against the pain and the glare. He didn’t move. Seconds passed, then a hot breath tickled its way into his ear, “If you don’t get up, I’ll break every bone in your right arm, starting with your fingers. You’re wanted alive, but I was never instructed to leave you intact…” a pause, a mocking laugh, “my lord.”
Lord Jaish worked himself into a kneeling position, looking away from the soldiers and fixing his gaze on the ruins of his home. He was a defeated man. With great difficulty, he pushed himself to his feet.
“I see that you know what’s good for you. Get into the cart. You’re coming with us to Horizon Mount on the orders of General Cholem.
The name of the capital brought a shot of panic straight through to Lord Jaish’s heart. It could only mean that Horizon Mount had already fallen to the Freedom Uprising and their loathsome general. He sealed his eyes once more against an upwelling of grief within himself as he realised that his uncle, King Kaidezhe, must surely be dead. His resistance gone, Jaish was limp in the guiding hands of his conquerors. Around him, his village smouldered in tandem with his house. Smoke formed a choking burial shroud for the fallen.
“Jaish!” His wife’s voice came trembling to his ears as he was bundled onto the cart.
“Daddy!” His young daughter, too!
Jaish raised a tearful prayer of thanks to Adonai when he saw that his small family was essentially unharmed, huddled on the unforgiving wooden planks of the cart.
“I thought you were killed in the fighting!” He exclaimed, clasping them close to him despite the fire of his wounds.
His wife, Dana, glanced furtively over her shoulder, back towards their once-grand home, “Some of the soldiers shut us in the inner rooms, but they didn’t harm us in any way. They’re taking us to Horizon Mount.”
Jaish nodded, “They want me there alive. I don’t know what they want to do with us or what we’ll find when we get there.” He winced as the wheel of the cart hit a stone and jolted the passengers harshly. Slowly, they began to move away from what remained of their village.
“May Adonai’s will be done,” he murmured after a while.
Dana looked him in the eye, a single tear shining in her own, though her voice was strong, “It always is.”
The cart continued along the uneven road, the passengers feeling every bounce ad jounce of the wheels over the stones. In just a few hours, they would arrive in Horizon Mount. Beyond that, nothing was certain.
The sun dawned golden and glorious on the first morning of the new age. General Cholem rose from his bed in the temporary quarters that had been allotted to him within the palace and crossed to the room’s floor-to-ceiling window, basking in the light. The cloudless daybreak was yet another good omen to add to the multitude that had saturated the Freedom Uprising from the start.
The nobles from the surrounding area, most of them relatives of King Kaidezhe, had been brought into the palace over the course of the night, unharmed save for a few unavoidable flesh wounds. They were being kept somewhere in the far wing of the palace until their grand appearance later today.
Cholem’s mind skipped from the prisoners to the forthcoming events of the day. The rest of the Freedom Council should ride into the city in the next few hours, then, together, they would formally address the city’s population, the final step in establishing the new order in Jeshrual. After that, messengers would be dispatched to take their words to the other Jeshrulian towns and cities and they would be followed out by Freedom Council officials ready to take up local government posts in those areas. After years of bloodshed and struggle, the monarchy and its barbaric, ancient regime had been overthrown.
A smile creased his strong, authoritative features, momentarily skewing his meticulously shaped beard. He slipped out of his night-shift before pulling on a set of simple clothes, the picture of humility, the embodiment of peace. With his head held high, he strode out into the palace corridors. A pleasant smell drifted into his nostrils. It would seem that his soldiers had encouraged the palace staff to prepare breakfast as normal. General Cholem’s smile broadened; today was a good day.
In the suburbs of the city, supporters of the Freedom Uprising – and there were many – lined the street that widened out inside Horizon Mount’s inner circle to become the boulevard that led up to the jewel in the city’s crown, the King’s Palace. The people waved banners and shouted praise as the members of the Freedom Council rode past them, into the city proper. Each council member made a point of smiling and waving at the crowds from the backs of their beautiful stallions, riding regal and proud like angelic princes.
They came from all corners of Jeshrual, the sowers of the seeds of sedition in cities from the north to the south and the east to the west of their country. Riding in pomp and finery, their status was clear to all and the people adored them as they had adored the kings of old, recognising the roles of these men in the shaping of their nation.
Following the councillors up the street were ranks of Freedom Uprising soldiers, tramping in united solidarity, the heralds of a new order. The parade continues up the road to the palace where General Cholem waited to establish them in their power and thus complete the revolution.
Jaish heard the rumble of humanity from beyond the palace walls and his heart became as stone in his chest. Had these people abandoned Adonai so readily? He turned to his wife, who returned his bleak gaze with a sad smile that somehow seemed all the more bleak than his own expression.
“So this is what we’ve come to,” he sighed, crossing to their bed and sinking down next to her with a wince. He, along with his wife and child (who remained asleep in an adjoining room, exhausted from the previous day), had actually been given comfortable accommodation within his uncle’s palace. They could almost be considered guests of the Freedom Council but for the guards stationed outside the main door of their apartment.
“Adonai’s will shall be done, always,” Dana said, resting her head on his shoulder and letting her loose black fall over his torso. She was vulnerability clothed in human flesh, but was he any different?
“I just don’t understand,” he muttered.
“Then don’t try. Just trust him.”
Jaish pulled his wife even closer and kissed the top of her head, overwhelmed with love for the woman who was truly a blessing on his life sent straight from Adonai.
He looked up at a knock on the room’s main door and watched as an armed guard entered without ceremony, grim-faced.
“Nephew of Kaidezhe, General Cholem requires your presence on the palace steps,” the guard said, looking into his eyes without flinching.
Jaish’s reply was measured, “I am not his servant to command.” He was aware of Dana’s cool hand on his arm and kept his visage controlled and neutral.
“Don’t make this difficult for yourself,” the guard warned.
Jaish exchanged glances with Dana, “I shall go.”
“And your wife.”
“What of my daughter?”
“She may remain. A servant shall be sent in to sit with her.”
Dana stood with Jaish and together they followed the guard out of the room.
General Cholem stood with the other eleven councillors on the wide flight of stairs leading up to the palace. Assembled before them was an oceanic mass of civilians, almost the entire population of the city, interspersed with soldiers. They were the flock of the Freedom Council, the people of the new regime. He looked across the top of the steps at the row of councillors. They were a strong group, the perfect balance of youth and experience. They were the prophets of all the gods. They were the prophets of nothing.
Silence gradually permeated the pores of the crowd. General Cholem stepped forward and began to speak.
“People of Horizon Mount and all of Jeshrual, yesterday I addressed you to announce the fall of the old kingdom and the tyranny that it stood for,” he paused, allowing his voice to ring out around the trees and buildings that surrounded the crowd, allowing his words to settle into the minds of those gathered, “But today is not yesterday. It is a new day and it marks a new beginning for our nation. It marks the beginning of a time of peace and tolerance, a time of harmony and equality. And so, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you eleven of our nation’s finest men. They are visionaries and revolutionaries, men who joined with me in purging this nation of bigotry and authoritarianism, men who will now join with me in guiding Jeshrual along the smooth, hallowed path of peace. It is an honour for me to introduce to you Marlial, Chair of the first Freedom Council by a unanimous vote, and my great friend.” General Cholem stepped back into the line as a smattering of applause became a thundering. His heart swelled with pride as he surveyed the crowd before him, adoring and free.
Marlial, a slim, tall, middle-aged man from the northernmost region of Jeshrual stepped forward now, dressed in a beautiful robe of blue. His black-silver hair reflected the sun’s light majestically; he was an impressive figure to behold.
“People of Jeshrual, today you may consider me the harbinger of change for this nation. What I have to say may shock some of you and you may not believe me at first, so I ask you to open your minds and trust that what I say is the truth. Trust me, and your lives shall change for the better to an extent that you would never have believed possible. These three words shall be your salvation: Adonai is dead,” as Cholem had done before him, he paused. The quiet in the crowd was terrifying, “For centuries, the worship of Adonai has been the dominant religion of this land. It has always been the religion championed by one particular group of people: our kings. But in recent years, I, and others like me, have come to realise that not only is Adonai dead, but that he never lived. You may be wondering how I know this, so listening closely, people of Jeshrual. This great god, named Adonai, was never more than a creation of Jeshrual’s kings, artifice that they employed to control you and bleed your money away from you, employed to make you think that there was hope for you as they taxed you again and again, more and more each time! Do you see now? Therefore, from this day forth, there shall be no more public worship of Adonai; we shall tear down his temple.” He paused briefly to gage the crowd’s reaction, “Furthermore, the Freedom Council has decided to rename this city ‘Liberteria’. No more shall this place be Adonai’s holy city, we proclaim it a city of freedom and choice, the flourishing heart of a free nation! You will no longer be punished for a failure to adhere to the laws that apparently come directly from Adonai, for we shall create new laws, fair laws. You are all different and your beliefs should be your own. Let’s stop judging one another for what they believe, or don’t believe, and let’s stop feeling pressured into believing in something that doesn’t feel right to us. It’s time to make our own truths in this world. I saw it again: Adonai is dead!” Marlial bowed his head and waited. It seemed that the silence in the crowd would never end. Then a lone person began to clap, the more people clapped, then still more, before eventually, applause sang out from the hands of well over half of the people in attendance.
General Cholem moved forward to be in line with Marlial and raised a hand to renew the silence, “We appreciate that this is a monumental change and an uncertain time for some of you, so to demonstrate out good will in these circumstances, we have some of King Kaidezhe’s nobility here in the palace as our guests!”
Jaish emerged into harsh sunlight at outside the entrance to the palace, his wife alongside him. They stood in a huddle with around ten more people, all relatives of the dead king and therefore himself. He recognised all the faces, but no one spoke as they waited to see what the Freedom Council had planned. All were known to be devoted followers of Adonai. They were led to the top of the steps by a handful of soldiers. The members of the Freedom Council parted to accommodate them. General Cholem and Marlial, still standing forward to address the crowd, turned in unison and smiled benevolently at the newcomers.
“My friends,” Marlial began to speak, his smooth tones seeming to flow over both the nobles and the crowd simultaneously, “Let me first say that you are welcome here in shining Liberteria. Your presence at the palace brings joy to hearts of me and my fellow councillors. We know that you were a part of King Kaidezhe’s regime, ruling towns and cities throughout the region in his name, but that regime is gone. However, this does not mean that your lives are in danger. We will not make ourselves hypocrites by advocating freedom for the masses whilst condemning you all to death. After all, your service to the monarchy was a mere accident of birth and should not be the architect of your deaths. For sure, you shall be stripped of your titles and your authority, but you may return home in peace as friends of the Freedom Council.”
Marlial beamed endearingly at the nobles, before turning to the crowd to show them his pleasure. This time, the people’s response was instant, unanimous applause.
Jaish looked out over the city, sick. He knew with utmost certainty that being pardoned was far worse than being killed or imprisoned. There would be no heroic martyr’s death for him. Marlial had ensured that if he or his relatives opposed the Freedom Council in any way then they would be seen as the villains, repaying mercy with murder. It seemed as if a heavy fog was wrapping itself around his brain, suffocating his thoughts. He stared at the ground, lost, as the ceremony came to a close. When he looked up, he caught the gaze of General Cholem. He would never forget what he saw in that man’s eyes.