I wrote this a while ago, as part of a collection of short creative pieces where most of them were me trying to work through some difficult things that had happened in my life. This one was quite different though. I was reminded of it today, and I wanted to share it:
A hundred thousand dark soldiers marched towards the city. Messengers ran to the palace and told the King of an unbeatable army that would surely raze the city to grey ashes in the wind.
“What is this army if we cannot defeat it? I’ve brought victory from every war,” the King said.
“The soldiers are made of darkness, and we can’t fight something that is immortal. We’ll die,” the messengers replied.
“I will give myself to them.”
“You’re like us. You’ll die too, and our kingdom will fall.”
“No, we’ll triumph and the darkness will be conquered. But first I must face these death-soldiers alone.” The King stood and disappeared through a door. The messengers took his words to the soldiers, despair spreading like a storm cloud over the beautiful city.
The King went to get his weapons and armour, his face like stone and his heart like a snared rabbit, but he knew something his people didn’t and he loved them so much he’d rather die than them face the endless darkness. The only way to save them was for him to conquer the death-soldiers alone. He pulled open the door of the armoury, entering the cool room where a gloomy mood had made its home. Coming here always made him sad; the King hated death and hated to see anyone – whether friend or foe – fall into its hands. He clenched his fist and drew in a deep breath to calm himself, releasing his fist, yet continued to stand in the door way for a moment before shaking his head and stepping towards his armour. Putting the leather armour on, he replaced his crown with his helmet, then put on his sheathed sword and strapped his shield to his left arm. The King moved through his castle to a secret way out so that no-one could follow or stop him. His soldiers would find his lonely crown in his armour’s place and understand what he’d done, and he trusted they would not go to war before he returned – mostly because they did not dare risk themselves, for he knew they wouldn’t believe he could protect. He must go to the death-soldiers and carry out his plan if they were to survive this war.
Once a beautiful place, the lands outside the city walls had become black and barren upon the coming of the death-soldiers. A crow cawed, calling ‘beware, beware!’. The King shook his head and continued, unable to turn back. He would if he could, if there was another way to keep his soldiers and his people alive, but there wasn’t. Left, right, he went on without stopping or even faltering. He had protected his city a thousand times and never once failed, he could do this. The sun was dim, hiding behind the clouds that had covered most of the sky, but nevertheless he knew it shone as bright as always behind them. Fear and darkness can never dim something that only knows light, even it it seems that it can, and the darkness never stays forever. Light always conquers dark. Yet the King could not entirely silence his fears.
Oh how he loved his people that he went to battle the death-soldiers alone, even though he would fall, even though his people could not love him back as entirely as he did. The death-soldiers only brought war to kingdoms whose people did not love their ruler as the ruler loved them. But they couldn’t understand, so he had to face the death-soldiers alone and then, only then, would they know how to love him back.
The distant sound of a marching army made the King look up. Far away, the death-soldiers were coming closer. He’d get to them soon. The thought churned his stomach, but he continued on – he had no choice. He quickened his pace, walking faster than his heartbeat counted now. His heartbeat called ‘I am alive!’ and his mind cried ‘I am afraid!’ but he continued on, on, on, across the wasted land towards the west where the sun went to die each night. Even now it drew west, drawing him west, drawing the death-soldiers closer and closer until they saw him.
“You will not conquer!” the King declared as he was surrounded, his sword raised. Then he was dancing the horrid escape of death, swinging, ducking, raising his shield, felling those who could not escape. His blood burned with anger and sorrow; these soldiers had once been people but now their hearts and eyes were hollow, he shouldn’t have ever had to fight them. There were so many, too many, but he fought with everything he had in him. He could not give up, he couldn’t. He would save his people. He’d trained a thousand times with his soldiers, he knew every trick and move, he always won every war. His people would die if he gave up, if he faltered for even a second, if he gave in to exhaustion. Who knew how long he’d been fighting? Hundreds of death-soldiers lay around him, and hundreds more came towards him to fight and try to kill him and go on to conquer his people.
“You will not conquer!” he cried, desperate now, his heart and mind racing to keep him alive. How many of his foes still stood? How many had come? How could he protect his people if he were to fall? Still he danced with the swords, his limbs aching, his head pounding, his cuts stinging. Still the death-soldiers advanced, to drag him down. And drag him down they did.
And he fell beneath the earth.
He saw no light. He felt no sword in his grasp, and his armour was gone.
“He is awake. You did not kill him!” a voice accused, and there was a shuffling of feet.
“We couldn’t! He wouldn’t die!” exclaimed another.
“We will keep him here then.”
“No! He is made of light. We are made of dark. We can’t keep him here.”
“He calls us death-soldiers, yet you could not give him death.”
“He has no death. It is not attached to the heart of his shadow.”
“He must have lost it. Find it!”
“You are right. I have no death,” the King rasped, his mouth dry. The two death-soldiers came closer.
“How can you not have a death?”
“I am eternal. I love my people more than they can believe. A death can’t live with so much bright love, and as your soldier said, I am made of light.”
“Hollow his heart!”
“Do not bargain your way back to the sun!”
“Listen. I came out to you, from my castle, alone. My soldiers don’t know what I’ve done. I knew I wouldn’t win the war by simply killing all your soldiers. I gave myself to you, however it looks like I fought for my life. I know what I have to do to protect my people, nothing will stop me.”
“And how would you protect your people when you are half-dead and you don’t even know where you are?”
“Be quiet! Just because you love your people enough to die for them – if you had a death, which to not have one is a dangerous fate – doesn’t mean I’m going to let you go! You will stay with us, you will become one of us. You will live the rest of your stupid life with a heart of ice!” The death-soldier knew full well that heart-ice wasn’t something even the brightest light could melt, and it was a strong force that would surely break the King’s spirit. But the King was not afraid.
The lower-ranked death-soldier hollowed the King’s heart and filled it with ice, while the other stood by and watched – although how he could watch in pitch-black no-one knew. They laughed when the deed was done, and left him. The ice was so cold it burnt his lungs. The King lay there in the dark for hours, in a pool of blood. He couldn’t remember his people or the bright warmth of the sun. He only remembered that he had loved them and that he was dying. His people had never loved him as he did them, so why had he? Because they were his people, because he wasn’t like them, because he was made of light and there was no other way to live than to love his people. But now his heart had been hollowed and filled with ice, and a heart of ice can’t love. The ice began to spread. The King cried out in pain. No-one came. He couldn’t melt it, but he would never despair, because he knew he could fight it if he never dared to give in. He’d come to save his people from the death-soldiers and even though now he couldn’t love them, he remembered loving them, and that was same enough to give him purpose. He couldn’t die and he wouldn’t become a death-soldier. So he fought the ice with the only weapon no-one could take: the knowledge that light always conquers dark. Always. It was something the death-soldiers did not know, and he would use it to protect his people he had loved.
The ice inched further. Light conquers dark, light conquers dark, light conquers dark. The King repeated it a thousand times in his mind but the ice inched further. He would have listened to his heartbeat but his heart didn’t beat any more, and the ice inched further. He remembered loving his people, but there was no point now that he couldn’t remember each of them. His breath caught and he coughed, and the ice inched further. He was dying. If the ice didn’t kill him the pain of his wounds would. But he was eternal! He couldn’t die, he had no death. He was made of light. He was the King of a people who couldn’t love him for all he loved them, and now he couldn’t love them. The ice inched further. He had given himself into the hands of the death-soldiers to protect his people. He had known his heart would be hollowed and filled with ice, and he had known it was the only way to defeat the death-soldiers. But he wasn’t invincible, and even though ‘eternal’ isn’t ‘immortal’ it means about the same thing, which is that swords are still sharp however long you might live. The ice inched further, further, further. The King gasped for air.
“Light always conquers dark. Darkness can dim the light but it never stays forever,” he murmured. He knew it to be true.
The ice melted. He had conquered the dark. The King was back on the wasteland where he’d fought the death-soldiers. He stood and returned to his castle, to his people who he loved.