Early during my rule, the wise ones told me that my prejudice would make way for conflict within, and war without, and I laughed at these remarks. Why did I laugh? The answer is simple: it was because I was prejudiced. I was too proud, too sure of my own methods, my own opinions, my own ways… that I didn’t listen to them, the people… my people, standing before my very eyes.
In my youth I was reckless. I see that now. My father – gods rest his soul – tried to teach me that we should all be treated as equals, no matter our race, our culture, our rank in society or our ideas of civilisation. But at the time, I was a warrior, and at that time, we were at war with the orcs.
I despised their kind, with their nomadic, barbaric ways. War was all they knew, and as a consequence, I struggled to see them as a people of a civilisation. I struggled to see them as a people at all, for that matter. Had I known their past back then, had I known the setbacks and the violence and the oppression that they as a race had suffered, then I may have thought of them differently. I may have pitied them; felt sympathy, even. Looking back now, their necessarily bloodthirsty nature was but a hair’s breadth from my own unquenchable battle-lust.
In the early clashes, I enjoyed fighting them: they provided a challenge upon which I could test my battle prowess, something that I could vent all my boyish rage upon. It disturbs me now, to think that I enjoyed the killing, the din of war, the dust and the clash of steel and the reeking stench of freshly-spilt blood – disturbing indeed. For now I fear it. Because now I know, now that I am not as ignorant as I once was, that the stench and screams of pain not only came from the orcs I cut down, but from the men around me, the men that looked up to me, the men that I would one day lead.
The men I must lead now.
My father died that year, when I was but sixteen years, my coming of age. Old enough to take my father’s place upon the throne, to be the king. Some would have said it was fate, to rule so young, so arrogantly. At the time I didn’t know what to feel. I was sad at the death of my father, but angry, too; perhaps angry at the horse that had bolted from battle, carrying my father, dragging him and then dropping him, leaving him for dead. I must have been – when peasants found the poor thing, lost and alone, the royal arms emblazoned upon its barding, I had it publicly executed. The “loyal” beast that had abandoned my father – those were the words I had used. Maybe I should have taken it back into training, taught it discipline, instead of slaughtering it in front of the masses. Maybe then, I wouldn’t dwell on the past as I do in this most critical of moments.
The death of my father spurred me on, and the orcs gave me something to distract me from the feelings of sadness and anguish. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I loved my father. In secret, I admired his wisdom, and envied his supreme sense of justice and fair judgement.
His horse had fled when facing the orcs. That is how he had been killed. I may not have been wise, but I knew that I could use this to my advantage. On the day of my crowning, I announced that, as my first act as king, I, personally, would take a large army, the largest the kingdom had ever seen since the Age of No Remorse, and sweep the lands clean of the orc menace. I would drive them out, and then take the fight to them, to make sure they would think twice about ever stepping upon the shores of our kingdom again. I told the people it was vengeance, vengeance for my father. The thought was just so idyllic. In truth, it was revenge: a campaign to sate my own, personal thirsts. Selfishly, I had used the death of my father, a man widely acknowledged for his kindness and generosity, to initiate a campaign of hate and slaughter.
But I did as I had promised. We won, almost every time. I was a good tactician and a better warrior, something I took for granted back then. When defeat seemed inevitable, we would strike back, counter, and the victory went to us. My men worshipped me as they would the god of war. We chased the orcs back across the ocean, to their desert homeland. We killed their leader. I killed their leader – yet another action I now regret. They were in disarray, leaderless, fighting amongst themselves. With the toughest and strongest vying for dominance, their forces split. When I returned home, months later, I was greeted with cheers. My campaign had worked – or at least, it seemed so. It fuelled my ego. We had lost many in the fighting, and there was still opposition to my rule. But for the next six years, the kingdom experienced an unprecedented reign of peace.
To keep my hunger for battle in check, I often hunted in the woods nearby and regularly held tournaments. I loved the thrill of the chase, the shock of the charge; the moment arrow meets hide, the moment lance met shield. It was a good time to be king: the people were happy, and I was joyfully caught in the illusion that I could do whatever I wanted. Then the first warning came.
We had reports come in from the deserts across the ocean: the orcs had a new leader, a tyrant and a warlord. He had been marching with his tribe for months, conquering other tribes to swell his own. Rumours spread. I remained ignorant. It was said that he had fought in the wars six years ago. The people said that he had been badly scarred. He was burning for revenge. I put on a smile and told no-one to worry. It had been six years, without even a single raid. They wouldn’t dare attack us now. Or so I thought.
The elves from the archipelagos, north of the orc’s land, sent us a warning. The orcs, led by their new Warchief, had attacked one of their ports. It was unexpected, the letter read, and the elves hadn’t had enough time to put together a proper defence. What the Orcs did next, however, surprised them. They stole a fleet of ships and immediately set sail, heading west. They were coming.
I put on a brave face. Another smile. And then I started to look to my ancestors for guidance. My father. My grandfather. All my fathers before. I scoured ancient tomes for wisdom, and I began to find it. But too late. All too late. I was desperate.
Now they are here. Right on my doorstep, so to speak. My people are panicking, losing faith. Three villages in the space of a week. They were spreading like wildfire.
But I am wiser now. There is no negotiating with them – that has been tried. I will meet them, these beasts – no… no, this people, this civilisation – in battle once more. I will face them in a fair fight, not in a slaughter. I will drive them back like I have always done, but not follow them home. I will send them back with a message… no, a promise. A promise that one day, one day soon, I shall right the wrongs, make good the bad that we as a civilisation have committed against them. Then they will know. That we have changed, now that I know that this conflict was born out of prejudice, my prejudice, and my pride.
I am my father’s son. I will do what I must.