What came before:
Twenty Years After William Took the Throne
Rina pulled the misshapen, withered carrot from dry earth and put it in the basket. She glanced around the garden at the plants that fought to grow, and beyond, to the fields that stretched on with sparse, yellow grass and dry dusty earth to the forest. The trees there were still bright and green, seemingly unaffected by the drought that plagued the land and seemed to get worse every year.
She looked at her mother. “I remember when I was a child, these used to be plump and straight. Is my imagination so rosy I don’t even remember vegetables accurately?”
Margaret chuckled. “No, it’s not your imagination. Fruit and vegetables were more abundant then.”
“No one really knows. The land has been in decline for the last twenty years or so. Some think it’s because of all the magic.”
Rina stood and brushed the dirt from her dress. “What does magic have to do with vegetables getting smaller and the land becoming less productive?”
“I can’t claim to understand it all myself, but sometimes the sorcerers who come to drink at the tavern speak of it. The power of magic comes from nature. Sorcerers draw from the elements, harnessing that power to perform their spells.”
“So using magic destroys everything around? Why would the king allow such a thing?”
“Normally, there is so much energy a little magic actually helps to maintain balance. However, so many sorcerers all in one place, performing so many spells, has depleted the elements.”
“Why doesn’t the king put a stop to it, then?”
“Perhaps he doesn’t realize what is happening. Or, more likely, he fears to rule without the aid of magic. The only reason he holds the throne is because he used magic to obtain it.”
Rina considered her mother’s words as she prepared the evening meal. The king’s sorcerers were destroying the land. The people were beginning to suffer. The king either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Therefore, a new king needed to be installed, one who would protect and care for the people, not destroy them to protect himself.
She didn’t have any idea who the new king should be, only that the current one had to be overthrown.
Rina and her mother ate in silence, and after the meal, when Margaret left to her job at the tavern, Rina went to go see an old friend.
“What you’re suggesting is treason. You could be hanged for this. I could be hanged just for listening.”
“You know I’m right, Troy. We need a new king. Furthermore, I’m sure I can’t be the only one who thinks so.”
“You can’t just replace him. He’s the king.”
“Why? What makes him so special?”
Troy rolled his eyes. “He’s the last in the line of royal heirs descended from the ancient family Evintide, who tamed and settled this land. The land is inextricably linked to the Evintide bloodline. Without a royal heir to rule, the land would not survive. You know all this. Furthermore, as one of the king’s royal guard, I’m sworn to protect both king and kingdom.”
“What if protecting one is at the cost of destroying the other?” Rina took Troy’s hand. “The land is already on the brink of desolation. Perhaps the land will die without him, but it is just as likely to die because of him. If he will not do his duty to save this land and these people, someone else must at least try.”
“Who do you have in mind?”
Rina shrugged. “Let’s get rid of the old king, and then we’ll worry about finding a new one. Please, will you help me?”
Troy squeezed her hand. “You know I’d do anything for you.”
Three nights later, in a small cottage at the edge of the village, Rina stood before a small group of men and women she and Troy had recruited. She explained her reasoning, how the king had failed the land and the time for change was at hand. “We need to kill the king. With him dead and no one to pay their wages, the sorcerers will disband.”
“It’s not that easy,” one man said. “The king is surrounded by sorcerers at all times. They use magic to test his food and create magical barriers against attack. Moreover, even if we succeed in killing the king, what is to keep the sorcerers from taking control?”
“I agree,” another man said. “You are young and idealistic, but do you really think this hasn’t been thought of before? It won’t work. You need a plan to get rid of the sorcerers and to keep more from coming. And you need a leader, someone who is able to train and lead troops, someone the people will follow into battle and support as the new king. Until you have those things, all your plans will fall flat. I can’t risk my family for a half-baked idea.”
Rina bit her lip. She knew what had to be done, but she couldn’t do it alone and she was losing this crowd.
Troy stepped forward. “The time has come. We can no longer sit back and watch our land be destroyed. Rina isn’t suggesting it will be easy, but it is necessary. We need to formulate a plan together. That’s why we called you all here. Who is willing to rise up with us?”
The room was silent for a long time.
Rina looked nervously from Troy to the group before her.
Someone at the back moved, a gentle shuffling as he made his way forward. He was in his middle years, limping heavily on a cane, but his eyes were sharp and his voice clear when he spoke. “My name is Graydon, my lady.”
Rina blushed. She’d never been called “my lady” before.
Graydon stood in front of her. “I was there the day the king took the throne. I failed in my duty to protect the former king. I watched as William murdered his brother, his sister-in-law, and his infant nephew. It is long past time someone had the courage to stand up against him.” He lowered himself slowly to his knees before Rina and bowed his head. “Whatever plan you devise, I will follow. Whatever orders you give, I will carry out. I swear to you my allegiance, Lady Rina. Lead me to battle. Save this land.”
What will be: