Prompt: Two brothers defend a dying kingdom.
The king was dead and the kingdom soon to follow. They followed as directly as possible, marching along the same path the king’s body had taken when carried through the fields of Tascott. His coffin was filled with red and purple silk, made from solid gold, and carried on supports of silver. A tenth of their wealth had gone into the ground with him.
The people of Varnhold had invested in their kings and queens for centuries. The crown’s success was theirs. The crown’s joy and sorrow were theirs as well. The birth of a prince was the swelling of familial pride all across the land, a swell with effects as positive as a bountiful harvest.
There were two princes currently, but they could do nothing to sway the morale of their people. Only the king had that power, and he had died suddenly, without the proper ceremony for transition. Denied. Denied. Everyone denied their proper sorrow. It was only a small conflict, barely a war by most standards. How had the king fallen? How had one arrow struck so forcefully that all his people felt it?
The work of the devil surely. The princes thought so too, and they were the only ones who couldd see through the fog of grief. All of Varnhold was soon to vanish in that fog, if they did not act. The death of their father had been the worst moment in their young lives, until they’d risen four days after his funeral to find the kingdom left to them emptied of its people.
The markets were silent and bare. Dogs took their opportunity to raid stalls for fish and game. There wasn’t even the cry of a babe, because all of them were in the arms of their mothers and fathers, marching out to their king. The brothers, Dorok and Kirin, ran to the nearest parapet and stared in horror at the fields. They saw the end of the procession of mourners, all dressed in black and gray. The looked to each other and knew it was their duty to stop them.
Dorok had a sword, and Kirin a shield, gifted to them by the people. They were part of a set, for the brothers would have to work together to manage the kingdom. They donned their armor and took up their gifts, but had no idea how to use them. How does one stop cascading grief?
It took them ten minutes just to reach the front of the procession. They tried ordering their people to stop, but they were deafened. They tried turning them back one by one, but the flow of the crowd would not allow it. They shouted until they were hoarse and red in the face, but their people didn’t even react. The king was dead, so the kingdom was dead. If they had princes, true princes that deserved the throne, they would be turned back and given hope, but it was not up to them.
“What will they do when they arrive at his grave?” Dorok asked his brother. They walked in front of the procession as they caught their breath, trying to come up with a sufficiently royal scheme.
“They will find a way to die,” Kirin answered, no doubt in his ragged voice. “They will squeeze themselves into his grave, into his wooden box, and weep over his drying flesh until there’s no air left. We will find ten thousand bones in a single grave. We will be the brothers who killed their people by insufficient worth.”
“What would father have done?”
“Father had but one head, we have two…” Kirin pondered aloud. “We must use them. Go back brother. The answer lies in our land and with our people.” Dorok nodded. He peeled away and sprinted back the way they came. Normal folk could not plot across fields, but the princes had their gifts. The sword and shield enabled them to talk to each other across any space in the kingdom. Kirin wished he’d gone back, as there was nothing he could do but continue to argue against the marching woes.
When Dorok arrived he was greeted by the same eerie silence of their hollowed home. The wind blew through it powerfully, preparing to rip their flags away and claim it. He didn’t know where to go, and his brother wasn’t speaking to him yet, so he headed for the feast hall. That was where most of their happiness flourished. Its stone would still be warm from the last time there were festivities.
“I am here Kirin,” he said once he stood atop one of their feast tables. He surveyed the room for answers, but none came.
“That is good brother. We must act swiftly. We can see his grave in the distance. There is a piper who calls them.” Back in the fields Kirin stared coldly at the figure looming over their father’s monument: death herself in a flowing elaborate gown. Her arms were wide, welcoming the kingdom to her domain. It was she, she who had taken advantage of their grief. Her invitation had struck like cannon fire and knocked the senses out of their heads.
“What do we do?” Dorok asked the empty feast hall.
“We must compete brother. Our song must be stronger than hers. We must prove there is life to be had in the kingdom yet. Dig a grave. Fill it with home. Draw them back, for it is better to die in your own walls.”
Dorok hopped down from the table and ran to get a pick. He struck the stone floor, chipping away at it as fast as he could. His brother urged him on, his voice growing louder as the distance between their people and Death’s open arms closed. He tore through the stone and ripped into the dirt underneath.
Kirin pushed the people at the front back, one by one. It was hopeless, but he pushed on regardless. For every person he moved ten feet back, a hundred more had gone forward. Death told him to relax, to join them, and her voice was as soothing as a warm bath with flower petals. Kirin gritted his teeth. He told Dorok to hurry.
His brother, once he’d dug out a hole the size of a man, filled it with the treasures of Varnhold: sterling goblets, fine fish, luxurious pelts. He tossed them all into the hole as nesting material. Surely this was a better grave than the occupied one out past the fields. It was for them. The people would insult the king if they crawled into his coffin; they needed to take their place here with the princes and the fruit of their labors even as it dried out under them.
The brothers whispered the same words at the same time. They whispered them into their gifts and thus into the ears of the people between them, who had provided the tools. The kingdom ceased its march. Yes. There was a finer grave than this, at least for them. They could die and mourn their king there.
Death, defeated, sank into the monument. There were other places more vulnerable. She would have to settle for claiming Varnhold bite by bite as she usually did. Kirin turned their shoulders one by one and pushed their backs. They moved once again, back towards home. Both princes sighed in relief.
This was merely a reprieve. When they arrived, expecting a comfortable grave, the brothers would have to demonstrate they could be true kings. They would have to prove life under their wing was worth living. If they couldn’t… they had dug the grave. They whispered to each other through their weapons. Even if they failed, they would claim the souls of their people. Not Death. They agreed there was a limit to what she could take from them.
Theirs would be a legacy of denying grief, of walking gilded into the afterlife planting a flag for their fathers.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by TazztheTexan during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!