No one sees the King of China anymore. He used to be so powerful. So brave. So caring. Everybody loved our noble king. The last time I saw him was at the last royal Chimerical Ball. Bright lights and sparkle; candles lit with golden wax and chandeliers glinting with diamonds and rubies lined the room with glistening colour. The royal orchestra played the finest music, and even the sounds themselves danced. The band played on through the early hours of the morning, keeping the colours alive; winning the hearts and the imaginations of the honoured pageant guests.
Bells tolled for days ahead of the great celebration. Their sounds rung out across the fourth kingdom calling “Make way for the Great King of China! The day of the Chimerical Ball has come!” The land was silenced as the day approached- for the day that shouldn’t exist. The townspeople listened as the music played on, waiting in the streets for the guests to arrive. The guests in chiming spirits greeted the homes of the villagers one by one as they fluttered through the town. The roads were lined with ribbons, flowers and the land’s finest jewels. The gold and silver streamers waving in the wind guided the guests through the streets leading to Great King’s palace. Everything as far as the eye could see flourished in colour, the Bayberry plants in full bloom. Children called out the guests’ names in awe of their presence. Market stallholders came bearing gifts to the King’s most loyal subjects. The smell of cinnamon, sweet honeys and chutneys flown into the air brought the sky to life with joy. Everything stopped for the Chimerical Ball, as if the world sits patiently waiting for something wonderful.
People travelled miles upon receiving that prestigious invitation. Hand-picked by the King himself, the guests were chosen and cordially informed no less than 3 years before. Only the richest and finest patrons were expected to attend the sacred event. Only those who the King himself commends. The honoured guests kept their letters in guarded rooms, in the hope of secrecy. Keeping themselves away from prying eyes, guests would send for the finest dressmakers from distant kingdoms, so not to be seen or heard by fellow guests, maybe not for years. A pilgrimage to perfection. But with the greatest beauty comes the greatest rivalry- and oh, how the peasants glared!
The King and I often laughed at how his beloved subjects begged in the streets to be invited. I watched them give him great gifts that one could only imagine how long they had worked for, but it was never enough for the Great King. They would have to wait the day they were given the gift out of grace, even if it were for a hundred years. The day that might never come.
Yet now the town is silent. The bells never ring, the candles never light, and the diamonds never shine. The palace sits like a melancholy moon on top of the shaded hill. Days roll by like clouds in the sky, faint whispers in the air. Slowly the town wore away. Colours abraded by the wind fell back onto the brown canvas and the air hung with the smell of damp and decay. I’m watching the town fall into chaos, everything slowly dying. One night, I heard a hideous shriek from the palace gates up on that old golden hilltop. A great blast of energy shattered the evening skyline and drained the world of life. I ran to the palace, only to find it a ruin of the ancient promise. I watched it collapse around my feet, as if it were unloved for a century. The king was nowhere to be seen. The winds tore at my vision, burning my eyes with the dust. Rockfalls blocked the entrance to the great hall, I became trapped. I had no choice but to run, to flee for my life.
Since then the shrieking never stops; echoes lingering in the dark.
After a while the people, once the guests of that palace, forgot the King. His memories are lost among the echoes. The kingdom receives no visits; we remain in the shadows of history. The townspeople became reclusive, hibernating like animals. They hide from the dust brushing over the kingdom. All that we were, all that had been, is gone. How can they forget our noble King? Forget is an invention for people without hope. Every night I pray for him, that our good king might be returned to us. I cannot abandon him; my duty is to my liege.
I’m still searching throughout the land for my great king; turning back isn’t an option anymore. It seems the more I ask for help, the less the townspeople know. A year is passing me by, and soon will come the month of February. The month of the Chimerical Ball. And not a sound to be heard.
As I walk through the grey market square a commotion brews in the corner of the street. Three peasant men squabble over a loaf of bread with a fourth. His brown ragged clothes swallow his figure and swish like a tidal wave. There is a smell of damp cloth drying in the baking sun. The man fights with all the strength he can muster, as I’m watching I see the determination in his lashings get weaker and weaker. With one mighty kick the fourth man falls to the floor. He scrambles in panic, scrabbling to get up off the floor. He writhes like a poisoned snake, freshly caught from the wild. He twists and turns so viciously I struggle to see what is human of him, and what is beast. A flash of his face in my direction was like a dagger in my side.
It could not be.
He scampered off into the alleyways.
No, it could not possibly be.
I asked after the three men, but they held no memory of him. Another blind face in the dark. I follow the trail of the lost old man- round the twisting streets and alleys, passing bottle after bottle. In the damp alleyway hidden behind the temple, I found him. I stared at the sight before me in disbelief.
It is him.
There he lay. A lowly tramp in the gutter. His clothes brown and decayed as the gutter, his body limp as a lifeless doll. Bottles spilling putrid spirits pour a river that runs between his feet. His hair flops over his brow in a heap, just skirting the lashes of his eyes. His irises monochrome in colour, fading slowly out of sight.
‘Your majesty?’ I call to him, he barely hears me. ‘My lord, is that you?’
Drips off the black walls crawl down and splash on the floor beneath. He begins to stir, and struggling to find any words laughs slowly. The ripples of sound bouncing off the mouldy walls and out into the open air. I have not heard such a laugh before. It is like torture.
‘Your majesty!’ He exclaims. ‘Your majesty indeed!’
He lurches his body forward, bottle in hand, wobbling unstably. I cannot believe my eyes, what is this creature?
‘My lord, please, let me help you.’
‘Don’t come near me! Stay away, good sir. I am not worthy.’
‘But my lord...’
‘I am NOT WORTHY!’
The crack in his voice shatters through the air like a piercing splinter in the silence. I fall back a little way. The king starts to tremble; I look at his face and see for the first time the life gone from his expression. All the colour has faded from him. The king slumps back against the wall and cries in broken empty sobs.
‘Please let me help you’, I said.
He turns from me. He’s hiding in shame.
‘There is nothing you can do for me. Leave me here. I am nothing, sir. Let me fade away. I have been nothing all my life.’
‘My lord I do not understand.’ I speak softly, confused.
His face scrunches up in agony.
‘I’m a fake. My kingdom is a lie!’
He cries out like a child. It is clear, he is wrecked with madness.
‘You make no sense my lord!’
‘No! I am not a lord! Oh how you address me does impale me! To think I could have been a royal. To think I could have been him! I cannot bear it, not a moment longer. I was wrong to take his life, the prophecy is upon me!’
‘Sir, you must come with me. Don’t you remember who you were? This is your kingdom!’ I say.
‘My kingdom indeed! This is the Kingdom of the mythomane!’
He turns to face me, and beckons me to his side. I do so immediately. His breath wheezing dim as the hum of an engine. I am afraid of what I’ll hear.
‘This is not my kingdom. I am the second son of my mother’s only birth. She was told by an ancient prophet she was to bear two sons. I was to be a double, sir. Not alone. But he never felt the joy of life. A heart never beating.’
He lurches forward onto his knees, raising his arms into the air. Creature what possesses you?
‘My unborn brother, I bear your signature yet you are not I. Prophets tell of us, of you as the noble and I as the keeper of darkness, only darkness. I took your signature and I wrote my name, and now I hang my head in torment. The prophet! The prophet, he warned me of the darkness in me, and of my brother. His great riches, his fortune. We were to be two poles of this earth. He vanished in my mother’s womb, taken from us by the gods. I paid a great price to keep this kingdom for my own. When I could hold onto it no longer, the prophet took back all that I had stolen. My clothes ripped into rags, my palace walls fell into dust.’
Rising slowly from this earth, upon his feet the man looks me in the eye and says with absolute truth:
‘And now you see me for who I am, and the darkness will prevail. Leave me, I must face the truth to which I am bound forever. I want to forget this life. I wish to see my brother again.’
I cannot find the words to begin. This man is no royal- he is a conman.
All that I am is nothing.
No. No, this is not fair! He has taken this kingdom, the colours of the sky and the sounds of the air but he shall not take my soul. I will bring back what we have lost. The prophet’s wise words are false. How dare he rob the King of China!
‘Your majesty, you must come with me now. I will take you to the palace where they can heal you.’ I say.
‘Please, my lord, you must trust me and take my hand.’
He takes my hand weakly; I can feel in his touch how his whole body has aged with sorrow and pain. Grief wears him like a cloak, he can barely stand. He slips back and falls against the wall. Voices move toward us, and at the other end of the alleyway a group of villagers appear. They advance towards us, and one by one they each help to carry the man out of the squalour and into the daylight.
The people carry him into the town, and he smiles at them blissfully, as if this is his first moment of peace in years. The villagers do so in return- yet they do not recognise him. They do not recognise our monarch? They begin to lead him into the village.
‘Bless you! Bless you all!’ he exclaims, tears streaming from his exasperated eyes.
He is leaving me, he is turning from me! I have to stop this.
‘My lord, wait! You must come with me to the palace now! You cannot leave me!’
The good king of China turns around and faces me.
‘I’m sorry my kind sir, do you I know you from somewhere?’