SHUTT

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Chapter 21: Witness

For his own entertainment, King Greedy would bring desperate men into a small arena he had constructed on his fields. Once inside, these men were given a sword and shield. Sometimes, there would be as many as five at a time armed and ready to fight. All they had to do was defend themselves long enough to survive the onslaught of one of King Greedy’s dead soldiers. Should they survive the allotted time set by an hour glass, they were rewarded with food and additional provisions to give to their families. Of the countless men who stumbled in, none had ever come out alive. As they died, they were added to King Greedy’s dead army.

A young man stepped forward, confidently. He understood the price, but his sister was starving, he had to try. With sword and shield in hand, the young man was ready and King Greedy turned the hour glass.

The young man’s strategy was simple: avoid the advances of the dead soldier. He was quick and agile, doing somersaults to avoid the death strikes. To help him stall for time, he would target the legs of the dead soldier and even managed to cut one off. This slowed it down significantly, but it was still very dangerous.

After leaping away from another strike, the young man landed on his ankle awkwardly, twisting it. As he lay in pain, the dead soldier cornered him. The creature approached, hopping on its one good leg, and the young man kicked its leg from under it bringing it down with a heavy thud. Instinctively, the young man stabbed the creature with his sword and scurried as fast as he could to get away before it got back up. King Greedy was amused by the turn of events until he realized something was wrong. His monster wasn’t moving. For the first time in eight years, King Greedy was struck with fear. Even the young man was astonished. He looked to the hour glass as the last bit of sand dropped. The time was up. He survived.

As the young man celebrated, King Greedy rose from his seat and walked over to examine the body closely…no movement, no life. He stood straight up and stared out into the forest. As much as he didn’t want to, he needed to visit the witch.

“This is unbelievable!” the young man said to himself, loud enough for the king to hear.

“Yes, unbelievable!” King Greedy said annoyingly.

The king walked over to another one of his dead soldiers and whispered into his ear. Immediately, another soldier struck the young man down from behind. King Greedy stood over the boy, waiting for him to turn, to join his ranks of the dead, but he never did. Regardless, the king could not have allowed the young man to live or he would risk word spreading throughout the lands about what happened. The soldiers were no longer immortal and the dead were not rising to serve him.

Near the arena was Joshua working with the animals and he happened to hear the young man when he was celebrating. The commotion led Joshua to be a witness to the events. He knew it would not be long before King Greedy began to inquire of those working in the fields to see if they had heard or seen anything in the arena that afternoon. It would be likely for others to point to Joshua as a possible witness since he was in the area tending to his flock at the same time he always was each day. He had no choice but to flee immediately and avoided sharing the news with anyone in and around the castle. The information he had was much too delicate and dangerous. Like a priceless treasure he stumbled upon, he needed to protect it with his life.

Joshua set out on a journey to find others he could trust, others like him, ready to stand up to King Greedy and his dead army. He knew they could win and he just needed to show them.

Friend

After defeating the witch, King Eli carried his daughter through the forest alongside the maid servant. He had so much adrenaline, he felt as though he could carry her forever. The Princess had her arms wrapped around him while she rested her head on his shoulder, asleep.

“Thank you,” he said to the maid servant, “the Queen was very fond of you and your mother. I now know why.”

“That is very kind of you my Lord…”

“No,” he interrupted, “do not call me that. I will no longer look at you as a servant, but as a friend. So please, address me as such. Call me Eli.”

“As you wish…Eli,” she said awkwardly.

“And what should I call you? I’m sorry, I am embarrassed to say, I do not even know your name.”

“It is Miriam.”

“Very well…Miriam.”

“I remember the first time I saw you,” Miriam said. “I was a little girl then, but I remember. I was there when you snuck into the castle to save your wife. You asked me for directions.”

“I remember that,” he said as though he had a revelation, “That was you?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile, “When you first announced you would be King, I remember the excitement around the Kingdom. Knowing you were once a commoner like us. It gave us hope. You were a great King, and I know you will bring that same hope to all the lands again.”

“And what of the Kingdom now? I know it was Greedy Fool that made a deal with the witch. I saw him standing, watching as his army tore through mine.”

“The Kingdom is in ruins. The people are starving, desperate. King Greedy is ruthless and he enjoys watching everyone suffer while he, of course, has everything. Only those of us providing services to the king are well fed. Some think he needs servants to take care of him, but I think he keeps us around for the illusion of being a king.”

“So he has servants? Why hasn’t anyone tried to poison him if they are giving him food to eat?”

“We are all afraid. He told us if he were to die at someone’s hand, his dead army would kill everybody because they would be without a master to control them. They would just run wild. And when they kill, their victims are resurrected as immortal, soulless corpses moving about only to serve King Greedy. Should he die, the world would be full of the dead wandering aimlessly. All would be lost.”

“There is always Hope,” the Princess said silently as if she was talking in her sleep, “We will find a way.”

As they approached the messengers of Hope waiting to greet them, the rabbit shouted out,

“What a sight!”

“Thank you for your help,” the King replied, “I wish desperately to turn around and live the rest of my days with my daughter hidden from the Kingdom, but there is still much to do. Much wrong that needs to be undone.”

“Then let’s get to it,” the rabbit replied with confidence. “We know the witch’s power has been removed. This means King Greedy’s army is susceptible to being destroyed. We cannot just take him head on, not yet. We must build an army of our own and we must do it in secret, for his dead soldiers are scattered everywhere, always watching and reporting.”

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