9 August 2020 / Fiction The Dialogues of the Acolytes: The Olden King So readeth the account of the King's doings thirty seven moons before the Great Falling Away, committed to the halls of record by the Preacher in after years:It came to pass one day, as the Preacher was continuously given to his studies, that the old King went from his place in the castle to visit the halls of the Guild of the Gaolers, a guild tasked with the oversight of all of the jails, dungeons, and places of punishment throughout the Eastern Cities. In those days, before the Prince did away with the custom, it was the King's wont to search through the dungeons, from the deeps to the highest peaks, and speak to any such as might receive his pardon, signed and sealed with the royal isnignia of the kingdom: a dragon upon a field of blue, pierced through the heart by a knight in gleaming armors of plated steel. The King would garb himself in clothes similar to those of the Guild of Stone-Masons, after which he would seat himself in his royal chariot and ride to the nearest jail, search out its depths, and then, if not finding any such as sought pardon in truth, he would get himself into his chariot once more and ride to a dungeon in another city. It pained the king's heart that, although every effect was set in motion to prevent the wickedness in the hearts of men, still on they went into wretchedness. It pained him such that he sought to show mercy, in that great glimmer of beneficence found in the kings of the Eastern Cities who knew the One. After pardoning, the pardoned would stand before the king in the Hall of the Kings, set atop the palace at the citadel's zenith. There they were washed, clothed, and given armor and a sword, as well as a place in the king's army. 'Twas an old and storied custom, and many were those who observed it, having gone through it once themselves long ago, eyes clouded with tears as they recounted to their fellows that out of which the king had once lifted them. Thus it was that the king's army was the most loyal, most steadfast, and most virile of those lands, with few enemies in truth ever to be found. If only they had known of the depths of darkness in the deep. The king rode to the deepest gaol in the land, until he reached a cell surrounded by utter darkness, the kind thick enough to be felt. There he met and talked with a man chained to the wall."What hast brought thee unto this place, O prisoner?" The King queried."Thy lack of oversight, lack of care, and lack of light from atop thy pantheon, O King. Thou art a most cruel liege. Thou hast judged me. Now, listen thou unto my judgement of thee: thou shalt be cursed among men from the smallest child to the greatest warrior, and thy own people shall hate thee. Get thee from my sight."The old King listened intently."Knowest thou that I may pardon thee and remove thee from this place whereat thou art bound, that I may say a single word and seal thy pardon, thy manifold wicked deeds notwithstanding?""Wherefore shall I receive pardon from an unjust hand which hath no right to grant it unto me? Get thee hence!""Verily, I mayest free thee, wash thee, clothe thee, and set thee on thy way from out this place; verily, and I might grant unto thee a captainship in the ranks of the greatest army known to the sons of men? Wherefore deniest thou?""There standeth before me none worth even the uncouth denial. My eyes hath been blinded by the darkness around about me in this subterranean cavern in which thou hast bound me. My very eyesight wouldst flee on seeing the sun – verily be burnt into a darkness darker than here in this gaol, rendering me helpless and reliant, and thou hast required me to accept pardon and join thy military? These things liken themselves to the foolishness of the blind seeing yet again or the lame rising to walk or the dumb loosening their jowls to speak. Get thee hence!"The King nodded soberly, with a slight frown of sadness, barely perceptible in the darkness where the man lay bound in the chains he loved dearly. "My presence shall depart from thee, and thou shalt not know where to run, whether to the right or to the left; verily, thou shalt repent of thy way with tears, but not find me, my son. Hearest thou me?""Get thee hence!" The man said once more with spitting ferocity.So the King departed from that dark place and rode into the north, hand after hand reaching out to him along the subterranean hall where he walked, imploring and cajoling with honeyed words, "O King, let me serve thee. Thou shalt have need of my arm!" "O King I shalt leave all for thee! I shalt do great works in thy name!" "O King thou art my liege, and I am thy manservant." The King did not turn to these. One from the end of the hall said thusly: "O King if I were to be naught but a scrubber of floors in thy house such a thing wouldst be too great for me to consider. My deeds are evil; O King save me!" The King stopped and turned to this man, viewing the tears carving wet paths through his dirt-smeared face. "Rise, my son. Thou shalt be freed." It was as the King spake: the prisoner's debts were paid, he was set on his way to the citadel of the city, and preparations were made for the ceremony. The King rode among the white peaks on the borders of the northern steppes, ever climbing upward until he reached the highest gaol in the land, where only one prisoner was kept, upon the tallest peak of the tallest mountain, racked by winds and ice, howling amid the blackened rocks. As the King climbed the steps leading to the ancient ruin where the man was bound, a fell voice redounded from the stones covered in ice, causing the guards to quake with fear, for they had learned to not go nigh the man lest he waylay them with strong hands and tear them limb from limb. He was imbued with a power beyond human mien."We sense one who cometh from the seat of power, a son of the One, Light of power and might, lit by flames about, You, O lord King! O winds of Fate! O winds of the icey breath of Myrtygar, come and freeze Us here, lest we leave thy sight. We roar at thee, O King, and even now we laugh at thee, for great shall be thy ruin!"A laugh broke from the lonely prisoner's small black form, chained between two adamantine pillars, and it was as if an entire congress of wights broke into laughter roundabout him, or perhaps it was merely the snow and the echoes of the wind from off the rocks? The King approached the pillars between which the prisoner was bound and observed him: a woebegone man, heated as if from within, streaked by sweat, untouched by the cold around him. His eyes held a keen interest, coupled with a gentleness that made the voice which fell from him most jarring indeed, as if a fair, young lad held the rakish voice of a northern rider. He looked as if he might be fair, and tall also, if not for his crimes and boundness in that high place in the mountains."By what name hast thou been called, my son?""We have no name." The young lad spoke, with more gentleness."What crimes hath brought thee to a place as fell as this?""My maid-love came upon me loving another maid. She departed from me, and I, enraged, fell upon her with my hands and, in my uncontrolled rage, slew her.""Is this the sum of thy wrong-doing?"The lad's voice softened yet again."Nay, also for drunkenness, wanton love of bloodshed and violence, and the anger and hatred which mark my way. I am bounded here for these sins. I'm not worthy to stand in thy sight, O King; thy countenance is too lovely for me."The King looked upon the lad and loved him. To the protestations of the guards, he approached him and lifted his head, which had fallen across his chest.The wind and ice went silent, and all of the mountain seemed covered in freshly fallen snow, as if the morn had come, leaving the flurries of night forever, bringing with it hues of golden light, which reflected off the white climes of those white peaks in purest sheets."My son, not for any good of thine doth my hand lift thee and pardon thee this day, but for the sake of my mercy and the honor of my name. Acceptest thou this troth?"The young lad's eyes filled with tears, for tormented as he was by horrors unimaginable on that mountain, he knew not how the King's hand found him, nor knew whether he dreamt or remained awake."O my King, if thou willest and if thou hast seen fit to holpen me in my way, let me serve thee and never be gone from thy house all the days of my mortal life, but always look upon thy beauty, as if it were here in the morning sun, where the sky is clear and my eyes shall never fail me!""My beloved son, it shall be so, though the road shall hold many pangs of fear, alarums of deaths, and disquiet, and thou shalt sin again, whether thou knowest it now or no. My pardon hath made thee clean of all wrongdoing."It was done as the king spake: two prisoners were returned to the citadel for the ceremony of cleansing and initiation into the army of the King. Thus, let it not surprise that the King's army goes to war with thunderous songs on their lips, soaring from one column of gleaming knights to the next, to the great consternation of any northern pagan or southern rider.