Buried to the Hilt
In very olden times, there existed a kingdom named Midland. It was very prosperous, receiving both flattering awe and venomous envy from surrounding kingdoms. Territory held was unwaveringly stable, resources were never depleted, no ill will, supernatural nor of mortal hand, had ever befallen on the Royal Family, and unrest in the kingdom’s people was but an alien concept that could only be associated with other kingdoms. Each Midland King seemed to be personally blessed by a god inhabiting the heavens, or he was a divine being himself that has descended upon the land. Countless generations came and passed, yet none could still best the might of this empire, neither in warfare or wealth. Over time, the Kingdom of Midland had grown from a dominion embedded with well-earned success to a sovereign attributed with modern myths and epic descriptions.
However, King Canute, the current king of Midland, became the prey to an unrelenting disease that was never heard of before. Despite of the Royal Family’s attempts to withhold information concerning the Midland King’s stricken state, the other kingdoms caught wind of it. Some tossed and turned in their sleep, severely worried for the well-being of the Midland King. How could they not be when the Kingdom of Midland is the sole leader and pivotal center of the economy and trading? A loss to Midland would be equal to the loss of all.
While some nobles were pleading to the gods for the return of King Canute’s well-being, others were giggling in anticipation for his downfall and were secretly plotting to further ensure his demise. Those that shared this attitude discovered one another, and they formed a faction for the exclusive purpose of overthrowing the Kingdom of Midland.
Soon enough, King Canute passed. Everybody was astonished, including those that wished for its eventual occurrence. The death of a Midland King in the midst of his prime not only demoralized his subjects, but shattered the kingdom’s reputation as well. Never in the empire’s overwhelming history has an event like this ever transpired. Each and every inhabitant of the once prosperous kingdom sincerely thought that their flourish was going to endure until to the end of time.
As tradition dictated, the eldest son of the Royal Family would be bound to the throne and be the inevitable King of Midland. However, since the former Midland King withered in the midst of his prime, his son, Prince Avalon, hasn’t even breached teenage years and was still stranded in early childhood. But in the face of duty, a complication as such does not hold justifiable value. Prince Avalon, whether it pleases or displeases him, will be the King of Midland.
Yet, because of the same duty and tradition that enslaved King Avalon to the throne, corruption quickly developed within the nobles of Midland. They saw their opportunity to seize management of the empire. The affluent families took advantage of the newly appointed but incompetent Midland King, and they slowly but surely established their control on the kingdom. King Avalon, being the clueless fool that he is and was correctly perceived to be, soon became nothing more than a puppet with a crown.
The kingdom was torn apart, piece by piece, by the nobles’ insatiable greed. Other kingdoms watched as event by event unfolded, and they expressed great concern and took lengthy measures to bring the nobles’ nefarious activities to the attention of the oblivious King Avalon. However, he just dismissed these reports as rumors spread by the carnivorous majority and continued to believe that everything is as it should be, as it has always been.
The nobles continued to act as they pleased, and friendly kingdoms soon halted their efforts of educating King Avalon. Ultimately, the Kingdom of Midland could no longer be recognized as an empire of the highest reverence.
King Avalon progressed into old age, and he was able to conceive male twins named Arthur and Alistair. As they matured, they too became ignorant of Midland’s true situation. This development was the result of the nobles’ intentions. It also produced an undesired effect on the Midland King. He has finally become aware of their endeavors.
But King Avalon’s death was quickly approaching, and there is little he could do now for his kingdom’s state nor for his two sons’ futures. After several sleepless nights wasted by pondering on how to overcome the problems that has evaded his assiduity since the beginning of his rule, he realized that there was a method to mend what he has neglected.
King Avalon summoned his sons to the throne room, along with the nobles that has been manipulating his rule since its beginning. There, he announced, “As subjects of the Kingdom of Midland, you are well aware that only the elder son will be the heir to be King. However, since I have produced male twins, Prince Arthur and Prince Alistair, it was apparent that this was to be a problem in the later years, certainly when I have reached old age and leaning towards death, which is undoubtedly my current state. Therefore, it is of the utmost imperative that I address this dilemma as soon as possible.” He paused to clear his throat. “Today, I hereby declare that Prince Arthur and Prince Alistair fight to the death.” Subsequently, there were startled gasps. Some were genuine and others were exaggerated acts. The subjects present whispered to one another, sharing thoughts, criticism and numerous proposals as to how they might twist this into their advantage.
“Silence!” shouted King Avalon.
The clamor dissipated immediately. Eyes were fixated on the Midland King once more. Satisfied, the King continued his announcement. “The winner will be named King of Midland after my death. As to how the duel might take place, I bear no responsibility in that matter. However, I do have one rule I would like to implicate.” King Avalon paused. “Everything, and anything, will be allowed.” Whispers were uttered once more as the subjects present pondered on the rule’s ambiguity. “That is all. You may be dismissed.”
Everyone in the lavish hall politely exited, including the two princes, leaving King Avalon to promptly contemplate on what he has just set in motion.
Even when the King has ordered everyone to leave him to his own presence, he knew that his Royal Advisor nevertheless chose to accompany him. He sighed, and reached out to his only friend for advice.
“Was this the right move to make, Askeladd?”
The Advisor stepped forward from behind the tall throne and gently clasped the king’s shoulders reassuringly.
“I’ll make sure that it is, Your Majesty.”
The announcement’s affair spread through the lesser subjects of the kingdom rapidly. They were absolutely outraged. They staged protests in front of the castle, harassed the soldiers who tried to order them about, and demanded a new family lineage to inherit the title of Royal Family.
Life was but a loathsome cage for these people; they were completely disgusted by their empire and they harbored a deep hatred for it, a kingdom they once adored and boasted about shamelessly long before. As much as they may wish to, these commoners are not allowed to transfer kingdoms that mayhap be more desirable, much less temporarily leave its premise for legitimate purpose of trading.
Meanwhile, the appeal for a new Royal Family solely captured the interest of the nobles. Before they were in silent conflict with one another, each desperately struggling to control what little is left of the Midland economy. Now, they are unable to create the most basic of interactions with each other. Yet, however it may be done, the noble family that’ll promote itself to Royal Family status will have the function to restore Midland back to its long-forgotten prominence.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned group of kingdoms that assembled for the intent of overthrowing Midland has finally begun mobilizing its forces towards their objective.
Lastly, the two princes that were ordered to a death match were quite flabbergasted. The two didn’t have an inkling of a desire to kill the other, nor do they plan to be subject to the decree that stated for them to do so.
“Father is insane!” exclaimed Prince Alistair. “What good would it do for us to fight?”
“I don’t want to kill you, brother.” Commented Prince Arthur.
“Neither do I.”
Days pass and the storm in the people’s hearts showed no signs of ceasing. A new Royal Family is the only approach that could appease them. The nobles responded by mitigating them with good deeds executed publicly for the masses to witness, lying with fabricated promises preaching of their will when they might rule Midland, and by coaxing influential men that once maintained a neutral stance in this contest for the throne to be their allies.
All the while, Prince Arthur and Prince Alistair refused to obey their father. They simply continued their lifestyle routine, acting as if the order had never been uttered. This upset King Avalon, and he summoned them to the throne room. Before their arrival, the King made the preparation of clearing the throne room of other presences and potential nuisance.
With great hesitation, the twins marched towards the famed space.
As is tradition, those that enter the throne room must first address the King. Before speaking, the two princes bowed, then King Avalon greeted them, automatically recognizing their existence and granting them permission to interact with him. Only then could the visitors rise from their bow.
“Your Highness, we have arrived. Please tell my brother and I what is it that you wish of us.” Prince Alistair said.
King Avalon stared at them, then replied, “It has come to my attention that you two are choosing to ignore my mandate. Why is that?”
The twins glanced at each other for a moment. Prince Arthur answered with, “Your Majesty, please do not take offense, but we chose to ignore your command because we find it unreasonable and--”
“You two dare assume that you have the authority to disobey my order! Even more, you two dare have the audacity to think that you know better!” King Avalon shouted, interrupting Prince Arthur. Although they expected their father to scold them, they were still startled nonetheless.
King Avalon sighed. “What do you two have to say for yourselves?”
Prince Arthur and Prince Alistair paused with reluctance.
“Your Highness, despite of your objection, we will not alter our decision to your liking.” answered Prince Alistair.
King Avalon glared at the two, who cowered under his smoldering eyes. An uncomfortably long second passed, then King Avalon said, “Do you have knowledge of the history of Midland?”
The princes exchanged incredulous looks. “You are asking if we have knowledge concerning the history of Midland?” asked Prince Arthur.
“I don’t have to repeat myself, do I?”
“We beg your forgiveness, Your Highness.” Prince Arthur quickly apologized. “To answer your question, we do, and have studied the subject extensively. Why is it that you ask this, my lord?”
King Avalon’s lack of reaction showed no response to the question. Instead, for no apparent reason, he started nonchalantly tapping his fingers on the armrest as his eyes lost focus and glazed over to a random point in the ceiling.
“When a man has become this decrepit, he often mixes the present with the memories of his past. When he reminisces, he thinks of it not as reminiscing, but as an ongoing narration colored by his imagination.” The king chuckled. “Consider yourselves fortunate. What will soon be bestowed upon you is a first-hand account of events that have recently transpired.”
The twins shared another confused look as the Midland King’s lips formed words on its own, guided by his misshapen memory as it blindly trusted its own legibility.
“Many decades ago, Midland was a prosperous kingdom. A far cry from our pathetic state today. It was the time before I was even born, you see. Old Midland had no internal or external complexities to deal with, no preposterous obstacles to overcome, and no aggravating kingdoms that bothered every nobleman but themselves. Truly, we were once an empire of insurmountable elegance and grace of an untouchable degree which was crafted through many spans of generations with our effortless perfection. However…”
The King’s melancholy expression suddenly shifted to a contorted face overflowing with animosity.
“…same as how gold is only a resource that will inevitably be depleted, so was the luck lavished upon us by biased fate. The previously ruling king, my father, who may be eternally dined by the dead dogs we’ve amassed as enemies for cursing me prematurely with this insufferable circumstance, otherwise widely known as King Canute, met death improperly in the early stages of his life. An unforeseen development as you can guess. To a number of his subjects, it was unbelievable grief and anguish as if it was their loss of a personal loved one. But to many, it meant that Midland was not invincible. Midland was conquerable. Midland was vulnerable, just like other kingdoms.”
The two sons wondered why their father was recounting this particular share of Midland’s history. It’s infamous and there is not a soul still alive that doesn’t occasionally comment on it in relation to the kingdom’s current state.
“But the other empires dared not make a move, or even squeak about their day-dreamed intentions. Old Midland’s military might was still more than enough to crush like-minded kingdoms into submission. Without doubt, our strength as a nation has waned conspicuously over my course of my reign. By fortune’s hand, no one has attacked us over that duration. Our forces are still more than capable of intimidating enemies into surrendering the thought of forming their idle conquering desires into a well-organized action. However, that’s not to say that this state of uneasy standstill will last forevermore. Midland needs a strong leader.” King Avalon eyed his twin offsprings. “That person will be handpicked by irresistible destiny from you two. Arthur and Alistair, sons of mine, you both have no choice. You don’t have the privilege or the right to refuse the circumstances you were born with. However, since I have recently established the mandate for you two to fight for the throne until your last breath, I have unknowingly bequeathed you with a gift.”
King Avalon, to Prince Arthur and Prince Alistair’s surprise, hoisted the huge, sheathed claymore that has been the throne’s static companion since an indefinite beginning without apparent difficulty.
“You see, this kingdom is like a sword. However, since the weapon’s enclosed, the blade exists yet is concomitantly non-existent. We don’t know if the blade was brought to King Avalon’s grave as a modest offering, or if it still rests in the heart of its people. Your task is to discover which of the two. Hope that it is of the latter and prove yourselves to be worthy of the sword, whose long forgotten stature have long been buried deep beneath the sands of time. Nigh impossible to recover, but if you do succeed, you earn the right wield it as you wish. Once you do, return Midland to its former glory. You must. Arthur…Alistair…promise me this.”
He received no response from his unresponsively dumbstruck sons, so King Avalon repeated his request.
“Promise me. You will fight each other to the death, the means of which escapes me. Nonetheless, it must be done. One of you will emerge victory and be entrusted with the power of Midland King. Promise me.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. The royal twins fidgeted, careful to consider their answer. Quickly they must do so. The emphasis from their father’s stare pressed them for an immediate reply void of hesitation and filled with complete anticipation. Otherwise…
“Your Highness, we promise you that we will comply with the order you have imposed upon us, and that we will carry out the duties accompanied in the form of conditions.” were the words that flowed out of Prince Alistair’s mouth.
“And you, Prince Arthur? Do you swear on your dignity that you will follow the decree that is now, and will be your duty for as long as you may live?” King Avalon asked the brother.
“Yes…Your Highness.” Prince Arthur answered.
The Midland King released the tension from his muscles as he slacked back into the seat of his throne.
“I am relieved. Relieved for the future of Midland and of my duty as King.” He rose with a grunt and unsheathed the locked sword, revealing a colorless blade in flawless condition.
“Farewell, my sons.”
With those last words, King Avalon plunged the claymore into his abdomen. He shuddered in pain and his knees weakened. Slowly, he kneeled, still clutching the hilt that was now wet with the continuous surge of blood that poured out of his self-inflicted wound. He spared one last glance at his only beloveds as he collapsed in front of his throne with tears streaming out of his eyes.