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The King's Letter

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

The sun poked its ugly head through the canvas. Shadows grew and the warmth of the day set down upon the tent. The sound of a waking campsite followed. Pots, pans, whinnying horses, boots through mud and the all-encompassing sound that groups of people bring with them. That dull background hum of chatter, laughter, mumbling and grumbling. Predictions of the weather were made, plans formulated, and breakfast options decided upon.

He had not slept all night. He imagined not many had. He had sat on his throne, sucking dry his wine skin. Hoping to find a way out. A way to avoid today. Nothing had come to him.

The chatter outside grew as more and more of his men were waking. How many did he have with him? Two, three thousand? It was never going to be enough. He was a fool to be here. A fool for rising to the agitation from his enemies. He should have waited out the winter. Replenished his food stores, gathered more men. But no, he had let his pride get the better of him. He had let a few words rile him and now, now he was here. Three thousand men at his back and two hundred miles away from home. No good in turning back now. If he did, they would label him the king who ran. The coward king. No, it was forwards. Forwards and, if the gods allowed it, to victory. He laughed. The gods? The gods had abandoned him long ago. No, he was going forwards, but it was not to victory.

The king moved to his writing desk and inked a quill. He had to write to her. To his beloved wife. Warn her of the outcome. Plead with her to flee and do so in secret. A fleeing queen would not instil the confidence in his kingdom needed to hold back a coming siege. And besides, one woman was harder to track down than an entire castle. It was not an easy decision to make, but if the kingdom had to fall for his wife and the heir in her belly to survive, then so be it.

He cursed himself. Blasted fool that he was.

“Wine!”. He called out and a squire boy appeared. The boy was pale. Nervous.

“Are you scared boy?”. The king looked up from his parchment. The boy's hand shook as he poured the wine.

“No sir”. He held his voice well.

The king emptied his cup and gestured for more. This time, the boy's confidence gave out. He dropped the wine jug and emptied its contents over the table.

“I…I…I am sorry, your majesty”.

“Fear not lad. Take a seat”. The king gestured for the chair next to his own and stood, so as to avoid the wine that was now falling freely off the table. The boy sat and the king wiped the table with his robe before fetching two fresh cups and another jug of wine from the back of the tent. He poured two cups and passed one to the lad.

“How old are you lad?”. The king sat down again and studied the boy before him.

“Thirteen sir. I mean, your majesty”. The boy took a sip of and wretched. He was not yet accustomed to the wonders of wine.

“Thirteen and yet to drink wine. Who raised you? They must have been a saint”.

The boy was sheepish and slow to answer. He looked at his feet first, then to the canvas flap and finally, to the king's left shoulder.

“My father was king Theon of house McCallister”. The boy's gaze dropped.

McCallister. The king recognised the name. McCallister was another king who had stood against him. A king whom he had killed.

“I’m sorry your majesty. He was no true king…”.

The king raised his hand and silenced the boy.

“No need for all that now lad. He was a king but is no more”.

“No, your majesty. He is not”.

The king returned to his parchment. Poor boy. Forced to serve wine to the man who had killed his father and was now going to march to his death under that man's command.

It was not a pretty business, kingship. If only he had known what he knew now all those years ago, back when he was a young lad, full of testosterone and bravado, with eyes only for one thing. They did not write about this in the songs. They did not sing about a king's guilt or the tragic losses and consequences felt by the other side. All they cared for was the glory of battle. The triumphant victory by a heroic king. No, if he knew then what he knows now, he would have fled for the hills. He would have set aside his royalty and lived as a simple man. But no, he was here. Two hundred miles away from home, in a faraway land, with battle in the air.

The king was halfway through his letter when the boy spoke again.

“Will we win today, your majesty?”. He was looking at his feet again.

The king did not answer. Instead he finished his letter and sealed it. The letter that would get his beloved to safety. Keep her safe from the dangers to come. He had decided to send the boy. He would be of little use other than cooking and as a mule and would provide little in the way of protection, but at least this way the king could face the day with a lighter conscience. The boy would be safe, as would his wife and heir. That, at least, was something.

The king held the letter in his hand. Oh, what he would give to be going with it. To ride back to his love and brush her hair, kiss her cheek, place a hand on her belly and feel his child kick.

The king sighed and stood up. He turned to the boy who was now lost in his head. Panic and worry written across his face.

“Stand lad. I’ve a task for you”.

The boy found his feet and looked the king in the eyes. A lost, blank stare.

Somewhere outside, trumpets were sounding. The calm buzz of noise was gone. Excited panic had taken its place. A man entered through the flap and took a knee.

“My lord forgive me for my intrusion, but it is the enemy. They are here”.

The trumpets grew. Horse hooves were splashing in the mud. Plate armour clanged and swords were being drawn from their scabbards and men shouted. The king looked to his letter and laughed. The boy was no longer able to hide his fear.

“Well, my dear lad. Fetch me my armour. To battle we go!”.

Both the boy and the man left the tent. The king looked at the letter one more time and tossed it to the table. Laughing, he exited the tent and faced the day.

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