Chapter 19: Killing Fields
Back when King Greedy had taken control of the Kingdom, he employed the servants necessary to keep his castle intact. It was important for him to maintain his personal livestock as well as the gardens, especially the vineyards, to feed his appetite of constant consumption. He relished every bite, every sip, celebrating his reign with indulgence.
There was a family charged with maintaining the livestock and overseeing the hundreds working the land. Within this family was a young boy named Joshua.
Since they were already employed there before King Greedy took over, they were kept on. He had them, as with all of his servants, swear their allegiance. They did
so out of fear for they quickly knew he was not a man of mercy.
During the first two years under King Greedy’s reign, this family was protected. The new king did not want anyone else in charge. Their work had to be perfect and anyone else trying to do their job would not be good enough. Unfortunately for the family, this would change. King Greedy began to lose interest in the day to day activities within his castle walls and around the Kingdom. As long as he got all he desired, it didn’t matter to him where it came from. He no longer desired perfection and valued quantity over quality. This was the beginning of instability and danger for those working for him.
Soon enough, the family in charge of the livestock would see first-hand the desperation within the Kingdom. In the beginning stages, the mere threat of the king’s name would chase away the bandits. It was enough to scare those trying to go unseen. Eventually, the bandits didn’t care; they and their families were as good as dead anyway.
Their outcry to the king about the bandits fell on deaf ears. The only response from him regarding the livestock was to maintain their quota. It was up to them to defend themselves, their positions, and their livelihood, for anyone working for the king received lodging and daily meals for themselves and their immediate family members. Their jobs were coveted by those on the outside looking in, and soon bandits were not just interested in stealing food, but they wanted the jobs of those in the fields. And it was much easier to take someone’s place outside the castle than inside; one could not simply walk in or they would be killed.
For this to be accomplished, it was as straightforward as a bandit sneaking onto the fields, killing a worker and taking over their duties. They would just as easily take their lodging as well. If they didn’t kill the immediate family members too, they would run them off and replace them with their own. King Greedy didn’t care, he just wanted his quota.
Joshua’s father put him in charge of overseeing the sheep and the other sheep herders. Even at his young age he was very skilled as a shepherd. The sheep knew his voice well and trusted him as he had to protect them from the occasional wild animal. Still, it wasn’t the wild animals he needed to be afraid of. His youth made him vulnerable to attacks because bandits saw him as inferior. It didn’t take a man of great intellect to understand this.
In their best efforts to protect themselves, his family stayed in close proximity with each other, at least within eye sight. It was a necessary precaution because having to make these adjustments slowed their work days as well as the efficiency of their duties, all the while, still needing to meet their quota.
Five years past and the family had defended themselves from multiple attacks. Unfortunately, one of these encounters resulted in the mother’s death. After the bandit killed her, the family buried her in the late evening. Joshua’s older brother wanted to kill the man out of revenge, but his father convinced him not to. The man had taken over the duties of their mother and they needed the extra hand if they wanted to meet the demands of the king. This was the new way of trying to survive and without the help of the unwanted stranger, they all faced death. It was a cruel conundrum, a necessary evil, and so the rage of Joshua’s brother boiled.
The days turned to weeks having to work alongside a man they hated. One night, Joshua’s brother snuck out of their lodging and stabbed the man to death while he slept. He stayed up all night burying the body to hide what he had done. The next morning, they were short handed and ordered by the king to surrender many of the best livestock for a large feast he wanted to have. To make matters worse, he only gave them the afternoon to have all of the preparations ready. Without the extra help, they fell short of the order and the king was outraged. He didn’t care for excuses. At first, he wanted to kill them, but instead, he banished Joshua’s father and brother. He reasoned it would be fitting to bring them misery before their eventual deaths outside the castle walls. He kept Joshua on as an added insult to separate the family. Furthermore, Joshua would be all by himself and even more vulnerable to attacks.
“You will leave here knowing this boy will die any day and there is nothing you can do about it,” King Greedy told them.
So his family was gone, exiled. Any attempt to rescue the boy would bring certain death to all of them. Joshua was alone and suspicious of the people brought in to manage the livestock for they were part of a bigger family. The only problem they had, he thought, was after they killed him, which of their family members would take his place. He had some time on his side though because they needed him to show them how things were done. They were nice to him and treated him kindly until they started gaining confidence in themselves and their productivity. As their self-reliance in their work had become more common, their aggression toward Joshua grew.
His usefulness to them was almost over, and to prevent his impending death, Joshua made a deal with them. They only needed his spot and didn’t need to kill him for it. He volunteered to give up his spot and they welcomed the idea. However, they didn’t simply let him leave. They decided he needed to stay on, without lodging and without his share of the food. They forced him to work and gave him bread and water to do the jobs they didn’t want to do. Joshua slept under a tree alongside his sheep and kept to himself.
He often fell asleep thinking of his family. He missed them. He wondered what became of his father and brother. He wanted to leave and find them, but he wasn’t ready to go out on his own. So for the next year, Joshua built himself up. He worked harder than any two men combined and was determined to win over everyone working alongside of him. Not long after, the same family hired to manage the livestock, changed their minds about Joshua and went out of their way to make space for him. They no longer treated him as an outsider. Instead, they highly regarded him and even sacrificed their own meals, if need be, so he could have his fill. Some even had a rotation to skip meals so he could have their portion. He was becoming a man, a leader.
Through the Fog Together
King Eli charged through the forest riding on one of the brown bears. He was determined to find the witch and save the Princess. They moved so fast, they had out run all of Hope’s other creatures. He sensed the urgency and there was no time to waste for he could already smell the burning sulfur. He could see the black ash floating across the path so he knew he was close and he expected to run into the witch at any moment.
However, a fog started slowly before him and soon took the appearance of a solid wall. It was so dense he could not see his hand after extending his arm inside of it. He dismounted the bear and studied it.
“Take heed, King.” The bear cautioned, “Perhaps it is best to not go it alone?”
“Every second guess I waste brings my daughter closer to death. I shouldn’t care about what happens to me. I should jump in right now!”
“You are no longer a coward, King, so now isn’t the time to be foolish. Do not be too hasty just to prove yourself brave. Do not let yourself be controlled by your anger; anger labels you a fool. This is a moment to exercise wisdom.”
The King thought about the advice and decided the bear was right.
“It is as you say. We should wait for the others to catch up so we can all go together. We will be stronger for it.”
“Sorry, my King, but that is not how it works. We cannot join you against the witch.”
“Then why should I wait if I am alone in this fight?”
“You are not alone. Your maid servant is making her way here and will arrive shortly. Pity the man that falls and has no one to pick him up. You will need each other to get through the fog, for you, it is the only way.”
Finally, the others arrived.
“Is there a problem?” the maid servant asked as she dismounted from the bear she was riding.
“They cannot go in with us. They cannot fight the witch.”
“Well, I am here,” she replied without hesitation, “We can do it together.”
Her confidence gave him confidence.
They armed themselves with sword and shield before approaching the fog.
“This will not be a simple walk through,” the rabbit said, “you are stepping into dark magic, her magic. The witch will expose your fears and use them against you. It will not be enough for only one of you to overcome them. You must both do it, only then will you break her spell and make it out of the fog.”
King Eli and the maid servant looked at each other, took a deep breath and stepped into the abyss.
One Last Time
Princess Elise lay in her bed with little strength, exhausted from the previous six days. As tired as she was, she was unable to sleep. She was desperate to dream again of the woman smiling. The Princess longed to see her, to be at peace. With this in mind she thought,
“Perhaps I could fall asleep one last time, never to wake up again, and be with her?”
As each of the previous days ended, the witch seemed more and more excited, almost like a child. A contributing factor to Elise’s insomnia was the witch’s constant laughing; echoing throughout the walls, her voice was piercing. When she wasn’t laughing, the Princess could hear the witch speaking by herself and maybe even to herself.
“Will you be there?” Elise thought, as if asking the woman. “When I die, I want you to be there.”
The door suddenly burst open. The witch had her crooked smile, still laughing.
“Yes, my pet, there you are, such misery, there. All I need, I can feel it all. No time to waste, up, get up. One more time, all will end for you, what you want. Oh, how I’ve waited, patiently waited.”
The witch needed to hurry for she was fully aware of King Eli’s victory and his approach through the fog. Using her magic, she gave life to the bed Elise was on and it carried her outside. The bed took her and placed her on the cold stone one last time.