Once upon a time there was a rich and powerful kingdom which no one remembers.
One might ask “If they’re totally forgotten, how can you tell us a story about them?” Simple—the kingdom may be forgotten but its stories are not. Kingdoms eventually fall, cultures collapse, but all stories need to continue is someone to tell them, and someone to hear. That’s me and you.
Now the monarch of this kingdom had a dilemma. His ancestors had long since realized automatically handing the crown to their eldest child made no sense. Maybe one accident of birth made those children royalty, but it was asking far too much of providence to grant that any one of them could be suited for the crown.
No, anyone wishing to inherit the throne had to show they had the right qualities. In a family with a lot of offspring, this was no easy feat, and often involved poison, sharp implements, and long falls from high towers. The current monarch had been relatively lucky; he only had one sister and had tricked her into joining a convent. Now he could feel his time growing short and he needed to choose an heir.
He didn’t have one.
Oh, he’d had children, right enough. His late Queen had been safely delivered of five of them: two girls, three boys. The girls were too much alike and thus managed to poison each other at the same tea party. One truly promising lad eliminated both of his older brothers in one epic but completely fake hunting accident, only to die himself one year later in a real one.
His Majesty was certainly not oblivious to the irony of the situation, but the problem remained.
“The system usually works but does not take the whims of fate into account.”
His Majesty’s only option was to send out a call to the other kingdoms in the realm, offering the throne to second and third sons and daughters of their ruling houses, since most royalty of the area was either closely or distantly related. Unfortunately, the other kingdoms were quite aware of the conditions in place to win that particular throne, and on the day set for the arrival of the candidates, only one young man appeared.
He was hardy-looking fellow dressed in forest green and carried a longbow in his hand and arrows in his belt. The king looked him up and down and pointed out the obvious.
“You do not look like a prince,” he said.
“I am the only son of a princess, and thus a prince,” the young man said.
“Who then is your mother? Do I know her?”
“You should. You once tricked her into a nunnery. She escaped. You won’t.”
With that the young man drew his bow and loosed an arrow so quickly that no guard had time to react. Even after the arrow struck him, the king could not stop smiling.
“My heir,” he said, as the light faded, “The system still works.”
©2021 Richard Parks
Despite the usually under-the-table bloodthirstiness of monarchy being completely out in the open (or perhaps because of it), I thoroughly enjoyed this one!
Glad you liked it.