The people of the Great Lands were known for their prosperity. Known for their livelihood, economy, and well-being for miles around, from places the people of the Great Lands have never even seen. Every year the inhabitants of the Great Lands would throw massive festivals, with music and gaiety and food and bursts of red and gold and blue, throwing confetti into the sky in eruptions of color and sound. These festivals were held in celebration of the King who ruled over their crumbling, sickly village, and the vast grasslands with old, desolate foliage that no one had touched in over a century. The state of their village and surrounding grasslands did not matter to the villagers. Their King kept them safe. Their King kept them happy.
The King’s head advisor would come make a speech to the people of the Great Lands. All would gather around the castle entrance, quiet as the moon in the sky, and listen to the King’s advisor make new promises that he had bestowed upon them. The castle was the only thing in the village that wasn’t falling to dust. It stood with magnificent glory upon the high hill overlooking the village, its vast windows and stone walls giving the villagers a sense of security.
“...And this year, we will increase our trade tenfold!” the advisor announced from the massive podium, his robes of purple and blue flapping madly in the wind.
The crowd roared and hollered in joy. Trading season was always an excellent time. The King’s advisors, who gathered abundant supplies from the villagers each year that they did not want, traded with the generous merchants who, as the advisor said, came in from the east. The goods were then distributed to the villagers, and no one had to worry about rations or lack of food for the entire year. Merchants and traders in the village also had supplies which they could use to better harvest their crops and other items to sell.
“Our King has promised that we will expand our lands to the ever growing population of the Great Lands, into the ocean borders and the jungles and beyond!”
This speech had been made many, many times over the years. And still, the crumbling village sat in the middle of the grasslands, a simple mass of people who had never seen even a glimpse of the outside world in over a hundred years.
But still, the crowd cried out in jubilation. Many people wanted to see the land of ocean borders. Not even the very old and wise knew what it was like to live there.
But all was happy, and all was well, as long as their King was with them.
Yet, although the festivals were the greatest times of the year, the people of the Great Lands still feared the Sleeping.
The Sleeping was a time after the beginning of the year festival, right as the winter months began to fade into spring. Although the masses pleaded and cried for their King to help them through the time of the Sleeping, the head advisor told them there was nothing he could do.
During the Sleeping, those unfortunate enough to fall to it grew pale, weak, and sick. Many fell into the Eternal Slumber, and had to be buried beneath the ground forever. It was nothing anyone could control.
But as if in solace, the time of the Sleeping was the one time each year that the people of the Great Lands saw their beloved King. Only briefly though, would he stand at the window of his castle, high upon the hill. Nobody could see his face, but they knew he was there, for the silhouette of his head showed through the stained glass windows.
And so they moaned, “Long live the King...long live the King…” in hopes that their words would find them solace during the times of such sorrow, as fellow men, women, and children died of the unforgiving plague, that often ended up killing nearly a quarter of the village’s population each year.
It was a cruel time, and it was only during the season of prosperity that the Sleeping would fall upon the villagers of the Great Lands. For, as the head advisor often said, great joy could not go on forever and tragedy was necessary for the balance of the world. They listened to his words, which he delivered right from the mouth of their King, and found peace that the hard times would soon pass and that their lost loved ones were in a happier place.
However, not everybody believed in the goodness of their ruler. Some believed he did not even exist, and that he was a figment of their imagination.
“We’ve never even seen this King!” one man claimed angrily, a week after he was forced to bury his own father who fell to the sickness. “Never! Whoever is up on that damned castle, controlling everything and causing this plague upon our village year after year is a devil in disguise!”
This was said in secret, in the quiet of his home, where only his brothers could hear him. He dared not speak such blasphemy aloud for the village to hear.
The villagers called the nonbelievers Atheists.
Atheists, as a rule, separated themselves from the rest of the people who considered themselves “Believers”. They were primarily farmers, working on the outskirts of the village away from the weekly praise and chanting. Because of their refusal to worship the King, they were not given wares or food from the King’s soldiers and advisors that came in from the east, nor were they given any support during times of harsh weather or food shortage.
They would not have accepted it anyway, for they claimed the yearly sickness was not caused by a deity, but by the diseases traders carried in from the Northern countries.
But they never spoke out against the King in public. No one dared speak out against the King.
Atheists very seldom fell victim to the Sleeping. When many of the King’s believers asked why this was often the case, the King’s head advisor assured them it was because they were protected by the devil, and that when they did enter the afterlife, they would burn in hell for all eternity for their wrongdoings. This put the rest of the villagers at peace, and further secured their beliefs that they were on the right path.
After the time of the Sleeping came to a yearly end, the people of the Great Lands were at peace once more. The unbelievers were silenced. Peace and prosperity would ring once again.
It mattered not if your child or brother was an Atheist. They were to be silenced for any manner of speaking out against the King. It was a village-run decision-- if enough people decided you were committing crimes of heresy, or anything that considered one to be a “non-believer”, you were stoned to death.
Months ago, a young boy began tearing down every flag bearing the phrase “Long live the King!” that was hanging up in the town square. He meant no disrespect against the King. He was merely causing trouble, gathering flags to make a fort that he was building in the grassy area behind his cottage home. But that was an act of heresy.
It was the boy’s mother who first sounded the cry.
“Traitor!” she screamed. “You wretched devil!”
“Non-believer. You have wronged us! Violator of thy King’s word. Devil! Devil!”
Hearing the cries of the distraught woman, the other villagers emerged from their houses, seeing the boy with the flags in his arms. Anger, madness, and rage soon flashed across their faces.
A flash of terror crossed the boy’s face as he realized the weight of the crime he had just committed.
“Traitor!” they hissed. “Devil! Traitor! Liar!”
He hurriedly dropped the flags at his feet, shaking in fright. He turned to run, but the villagers were quickly closing in, rocks and stones in their hands. Their faces ranged from anger, to madness, to pure, blind rage.
But most showed no emotion at all.
It was the mother who threw the first and final stone, until her son was no longer her son, but a bleeding corpse under the sunlight.
The stoning was done by all the people of the village. When it was done, they all murmured “Long Live the King”, and departed. No funeral was to be held for nonbelievers. His body was to be left in the square to rot until he was nothing but bones. Then, he would be thrown off the cliff side and into the sea.
The head advisor, who was making his weekly trip down the hillside and into the village, made an announcement regarding the stoning of the young boy later that day.
“The King would like to grace you with his spiritual presence. For as you all know, he cannot leave his castle, ever, for the castle keeps him safe to ensure peace. But he thanks you for putting down yet another wrongdoer.”
“Long live the King,” the crowd murmured, their heads bowed. Near the front of the crowd, the boy’s mother moaned in sorrow.
“My fault, my fault…” she moaned, her face red and swollen from her crying. Her hands shook. “I did not show him the way...I did not show him the way…”
She fell to her knees as the head advisor looked at her in pity, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I should be proud to bring peace...I do not feel proud...I did not raise my son right...and now he is- he is gone-! Because I did not show him the ways!” her cries were choked, and she struggled for breath as she clutched at her stomach.
“You have done wrong,” the advisor confirmed, wide-eyed sadness in his face. He adjusted his hat. “Do you feel you should be punished for what you have done? For not raising our youth to believe in our King’s greatness?”
She nodded. The crowd was silent.
“Then come up to the platform. Show His Mightiness your devotion. Show him you are sorry for your ways.”
Slowly, showing clear, agonizing pain in each step, she made her way to the platform where the head advisor stood. She looked out at the crowd with tortured eyes, her breath coming in harsh gasps.
“And here we have a woman who is a believer to the very end,” the advisor said. Then he stepped down.
She pulled out a long, slender knife from the belt around her waist and held it out in front of her with both hands on the handle, the blade facing the audience.
“I don’t understand…” she whispered, so quietly that only those in the front of the crowd could hear her. “My sorrow is not for my King...my sorrow is for my son...my son, my son who I could not save...O, I have wronged!”
She plunged the knife into her stomach. She choked and sputtered briefly, eyes bulging as blood soaked her tunic at an alarmingly quick rate. After a moment, she crumpled onto the wooden platform and died two minutes later as the villagers watched
“Long live the King,” the crowd murmured. “Long live the King...the King…”
They dumped her body in the town square, her blood leaking onto the uneven gravel beneath the sunlight. Her body was not placed beside her son’s.
The Sleeping came early that year. Confused, villagers watched as Atheists and believers were killed by the Sleeping, their faces pale and sickly as the fever took hold of the village. When they cried for the King to save them, the advisor replied he could do nothing.
More believers died that year than any other year.
“The Sleeping is to ensure your loyalty,” the advisor ensured them. “None but the wretched Atheists will die in vain.”
The Atheists didn't believe it.
They never believed any of it. Often times, the villagers would see groups of them from the farms whispering and nodding to one another when they seldom made their way into the village. Often times, they'd gather knives and pitchforks, buying them from the villagers in large quantities.
"Liar..." the Atheists whispered among themselves.
“Incidents”, as the Atheists called them, happened all the time. But it was seldom that children were stoned to death. Even the most radical believers often times ignored the wrongdoings of a child against the King, in order to preserve their lives.
The head advisor addressed the concern, as usual.
"Do not worry!" he exclaimed. "Atheists are unbelieving. They have no strength, for they have no faith.”
The villagers nodded in agreement. But something felt terribly wrong. The advisor seemed nervous, unsure of himself. He left for the castle early that day.
“Silencing unbelievers is the only way they can reach Heaven. We did the child a favor, just as you did to all others.”
The others included an old man who, in sorrow, cried out against the King in anger over losing his granddaughter to the Sleeping. His body had only recently been thrown into the sea.
But as the year went on, incidents kept occurring, and outcries against the King were in many. It was the Atheists, purposely trying to stir up trouble within the village. Tearing down flags, tipping over food carts, and vandalizing the streets were many of the crimes they committed during that year. But before the villagers could attack, they would retreat back to the farms where the villagers dared not go. It was an “unholy” land, masked by lies and wrongdoings.
But their faith held strong, regardless.
“We will have it under control shortly,” promised the head advisor. “It is a minor setback. I assure you the King has it under control.”
As the advisor continued reassuring the villagers, a loud noise was heard from somewhere over near the farmlands. It sounded like poorly organized marching. The villagers, including the advisor, turned to look at the source of the sound.
Entering the village from around the hill where the castle stood on high, were what appeared to be a large group of villagers, coming from the farmlands from beyond the hill. They were carrying pitchforks and other devices that the villagers did not recognize.
Only the head advisor recognized them as guns.
As they drew closer, the head advisor let out a cry of fear. Before anybody could react, the man at the head of the group pulled out a small gun from his coat pocket, and shot the advisor once through the shoulder.
The villagers screamed in horror, and chaos immediately erupted. The advisor, not yet dead, cried out in pain. In the mass confusion, the Atheists fired several more shots into the sky, one charging onto the platform to grab the advisor harshly by the arm.
“Now listen!” he yelled. The crowd went silent almost immediately.
“We will reveal the truth of your wretched King! We will show you what you worship every day! Any move and the man dies.”
He motioned to his men with a single, sweeping gesture of his arm. All at once, about half the group began charging up the hill, angry, wild cries erupting from their mouths as they made way towards the castle, weapons in hand. Terrified they could lose the head advisor, the villagers stared in horror and fright, some of them growing furiously angry.
The castle, tall and ancient, stood in its magnificent glory where the advisor was now bleeding heavily on the ground. The Atheists burst in through the rotting wooden doors of the castle, high upon the hill. Gunshots and screams were heard from inside. But after a moment, all was silent.
The crowd began weeping and crying. For what were they going to do to their King? Most screamed and shouted that the King was immortal, undying and unfaltering.
“SILENCE!” one Atheist bellowed.
The crowd fell into a hush.
See what has become of your King!” he roared. “See that this is the man who has “infected us all, who lies and is naught but a false deity!”
Suddenly, the doors burst open yet again, and three men emerged from the creaking, wooden doors carrying something that looked like a sack of rotting food. It was a body. Blood was splattered upon their faces, and they looked grim, disgusted, yet triumphant.
“This is your King!” he roared. All was quiet. No sound was heard from the villagers for nearly a minute.
The body left off a horrid, rotting odor of something that had been dead for many years. Bugs and maggots ate at its flesh, and the corpse’s eyes were sunken in, its skin like yellow parchment. But sure enough, the man’s face matched that of the faces upon the holy flags, and the face of the silhouette at the large window during the time of The Sleeping. It was their King, and he was dead.
First came disbelief. Gasps and moans of surprise sounded from the crowd. Then sorrow. Then tears. The Atheists looked angry and proud and triumphant, for they had been right all along. The people would realize their wrongs. They would rule this backwards land from now on. It was their own, now that the faith was lost.
But they were indefinitely wrong.
“Long live the King,” the crowd murmured, tears of the young and old streaming down sorrow-filled faces. “Long live the King!” The Atheists looked at one another.
The crying turned into chanting.
“Long live the King!”
The chanting turned to screaming.
“LONG LIVE THE KING!”
Knives were in the hands of the villagers now. They turned the blades to face their fallen King’s body and the Atheists began to panic. But instead of attacking the Atheists, they turned the blades to themselves, plunging the tips of their knives into their own stomachs. One by one, they dropped and crumpled. The Atheists tried to stop them, but they were too quick.
It took no less than three minutes, and the mass suicide was complete. And there in the sunlight the Atheists stood among a fallen kingdom, young and old, the blood of the fallen dripping onto the gravel under the sunlight. For it was a hopeless time, as hopeless and relentless as the Sleeping which had taken them all.Start writing here ...
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