The King Is Dead

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'The king is dead!' The herald's voice rang out as he moved around the small town. People listened from behind locked doors and immediately lowered their blinds to the expected level. Shocked silence followed in his wake and it wasn't until many hours had passed that people began slowly to creep out into the streets. Hushed whispers passed between neighbours. What happened? Who did it? No one dared to say it aloud but the relief was palpable. Could this really be the end? Was it truly over?

Nobody knew what the son was like, but it wasn't possible he could be worse than his father. He'd been just as tight pressed beneath the king's iron fist as the rest of the land. The queen was known to be a gentle soul and everyone prayed her son would take after her.

It was days later that the rumours began. First a thought. Then a question. Then a whisper. Before long the whole kingdom was asking if it was true the queen had killed her husband. Had she finally tired of the endless parade of girls moving from town to palace? But it didn't make sense. The girls were always returned to their families the next morning and her position wasn't under threat. The orphanage never asked questions and the young men couldn't afford to be choosy. They could have a wife who was intact, or one who was pretty. They couldn't have both.

Eventually the rumours died aways but they were always there lurking beneath the surface, waiting for a chance to rise again. The queen was more popular than ever but whenever she appeared in public there were lines of strain on her face that hadn't been there before and her dark hair now had threads of silver running through it.

One day, the news came that she had been arrested. In vain, her son had argued that he – who surely had the strongest claim for vengeance – didn't want her charged. She was taken to the prison like a common criminal and it was then I knew I had to speak.

When they came for my sister I was too young to know. When they came for my love she begged me to hold my tongue. When they came for my daughter I had no power to stop them. My precious girl. Forever sleeping between the willow and the riverbank. The last words I spoke were a promise to her grave. 'No more.' Now, circumstances mean I must break my vow of silence. I break my vow, but I kept my promise.

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