The Ruined King
Long ago, long before the reign of Arthur Pendragon, a King ruled the land. From coast to coast did his grip hold, and the people prospered, the land mirroring the life of its kin. From the loins of the King was born a daughter blessed by the Ancestors, and men from miles around would travel to glance at her beauty. As she matured, the land flourished.
But ’tis never a story without tragedy, and so hardship befell the King when his daughter was taken ill. Every medicine man in the kingdom frantically searched for a cure for her affliction, but it seemed as if life itself was being drained from her, and not a herb nor a spell could defeat her blight. Stricken with fear, the King offered rewards that would bankrupt the kingdom to honour, but still the young girls life waned. That is, until the Raven Man made his offer.
A stranger to the shores that would one day be named Albion, the cloaked man came to the King with an offer he had feared was impossible.
“Your daughter is not beyond aid, my King.” said he, in a raspy, vulnerable voice. “There are magics beyond your Kingdom which can restore her to you. You will be reunited, and your land will once again mirror the beauty of your child.”
The King, caught between the spires of grief and hope, accepted this offer. And so did the Raven Man’s words become truth. His daughter arose, but the blight had consumed her pattern and left her a hollow husk. Her chiming voice was reduced to guttural scrapings, soft hands twisted into gnarled claws. Despite this, the King embraced his once-daughter as he surveyed the effects of his kingdom. True to his word, the land mirrored his daughter; the Raven Man had siphoned the life of the land to fuel his ghastly work. Soon, the palace itself seemed to wither, the people within slipping from life to sickness to unlife. The King’s heart shriveled under the Raven Man’s fist and the land suffered for it.
Soon after, the King looked only to his palace walls. The unliving, to him, were the only of his subjects who didn’t starve in his dying land, and he often went weeks without even a sighting. The living began to resent their absentee King, and as the palace fell into disrepair they dubbed him The Ruined King. As often happens in the face of such apathetic cruelty, resentment boiled into rebellion. One man in particular, a former noble who left court before it had died, began to gather forth those who had suffered from the Raven Man’s dread magic.
“Our King has forgotten the living in his mad grasping for the dead. If we do not show our spirit now, we will succumb to his lethargy and we shall become nothing more than a wound in this world. If we ressurect anything in this world, it shall be our will to survive!”
Many days hence, a civil war had broken out between the living and the dead. The rebels fought with conviction and desperation, but the dead never gave ground and were utterly without mercy. Many brave warriors died before the unnamed noble petitioned the King for peace…by asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Festivities were mute as the noble walked down the aisle, flanked by his former guardians who rasped rotten breath as he passed. The King, seemingly gripped by a confusion, welcomed his future son, and the nobleman faced the Ruined King with a look of supreme sorrow. As he spoke, the Raven Man slipped away, vanishing into the misty shadows from whence he came.
“Your Majesty. No man has known loss like you have, it is true. I would not wish your fate upon my most dire of enemies, but grief without acceptance leads to inaction, and the land has withered without your guiding hand. Your daughter was taken by the cruel hand of fate, but my home died through your doing. Now, more than ever, life must be allowed to grow. Hope must bloom once more.”
Taking one gnarled claw into his hand, the nobleman turned, drew the king’s rusty sword from its rotting sheath and cut through the princess’s heart. She crumpled wordlessly as the Ruined King was brought to rest alongside her. He turned to the shocked crowd and the blank-faced unliving, and spoke again,
“By succession, this crown is now mine. But I refuse it. If you are to take any authority from me, it is to remember the Ruined King. Let no one ever forget that the dead must die, else they will smother life. That I may never forget, I take the Blade of the Ruined King with me.”
Reports differ on what happened next. Some believe the sword was thrust into a stone, waiting for a worthy King to return. Others tell of a guardian in a lake, a remarkably beautiful young woman who awaited her husband. More likely, however, is that the blade faded into obscurity, like the names of this story’s characters, and that the Blade of the Ruined King silently gathers rust, waiting for another opportunity to bring the dead rest.