The Gift of the Murder King
Year 809, Outskirts of Saolkam City
The mighty lion Knight had felled the last of them. The bandits slumped over, gasping their last breaths, crawling for some faint hope of escape, cursing him for his crimes.
Crimes, he wondered. Was he committing crimes by slaying these near helpless men? They were bandits, merciless on the road and robbing the innocent and poor, although they had spilled very little blood in the several months of activity. They didn’t even provoke attack upon his arrival, but he was hired to aggressively deal with them. Perhaps it was a crime to cut down every man here, but he couldn’t think of it that way anymore. He had become numb to such things.
Not that he was numb to the cruelty of what he was really doing, not all the time, but today his mind was completely preoccupied. This would be the last assignment he takes for a month and he needed it to be finished now so he could prepare for the morrow.
After he had returned to the city and received his payment from the Captain of the lower east district, he gathered what he would need for his trip, his month of meditation in the Jagged Lands. Normally people would visit a Portamancer in the city and have them magically transported to the peaks of the mountains, but the lion would not be slowed by the weather any more than he would be by blade or axe.
It took six days for him to travel to the peak of the mountain he had ritually travelled to for the past sixty-seven years on this month, this day, and the anniversary of his curse. He had constructed a small hut of sorts within a cave on a plateau of the mountain, overlooking the light snowfall over the broken landscape beneath him, with doorways wide enough that he could feel the wind biting his face, but with the hut deep enough that the candles and incense behind him would not be blown out.
He sat and reflected, he asked himself yet again would he have done it any other way. He pondered the right and wrong decisions. He hated the right decisions, and the punishment that this has borne him. He regretted, and remembered as clearly as yesterday.
The mighty lion Knight had felled the last of them. The Knights slumped over, gasping their last breaths, crawling for some faint hope of escape, cursing him for his crimes.
Crimes, he wondered. Was he committing crimes by slaying these royal knights in the King’s chambers? They had done little wrong, personally, and served their monarch faithfully, but they had allowed their monarch to continue down his villainous path. They didn’t provoke attack upon his arrival, but he knew they would need to be aggressively dealt with, as they would never allow him to do what he was about to do.
He stood in front of the King, who was now alone in the throne room facing the most fearsome of Saolkam’s Knights. The lion felt every ounce of honour and dignity bleed out of him, despite not having a wound on him. He knew this was the right choice, the right thing to do, yet he felt sick at himself for standing before his own King, his sword raised, murder in his heart.
The King laughed.
“So this is it for me? My reign over, betrayed by my own? Whatever will I do?” the King mocked.
Was he not taking this situation seriously? Did he not worry?
The lion stepped forward. This was not a time for laughter, nor was he interested in a moral debate with the most heinous King to rule over the city in hundreds of years. Seventy-six years of tyranny and terror, the king had become known as the Murder King, the death toll had become that high under him. No one rebellion or uprising took place throughout his reign, as he did not seem to age, nor weaken, and as each year passed his cruelty intensified further. Nothing seemed to stop him, not even his own life fading. When it was discovered that the King was a powerful mage who had seemingly mastered the magics of immortality, the lion felt if he did not act now, this would continue forever more.
“The first human ruler ever to reside in this throne room and you bring your Kingdom to its knees. The land will never trust your kind again, and never will a human sit upon this throne after today. Your crimes against your people are known, and I am here to sentence you to death, so that the people may recover the damage you have done” the lion said.
He couldn’t muster up a roar, he couldn’t bring himself to be as intimidating as he’d like, he was about to do something never done before in this land. He was committing his own crime against his Kingdom.
The King stepped forward. This was not a time he feared, nor was he interested in a moral debate with the most treacherous Knight to stand by a King in hundreds of years.
“I cannot fight you, beast. I am just a man, humble in my mortal body. I stand no chance against your towering glory. I stand here, knowing with certainty that I am moments away from my execution and there’s nothing I can do about that.” The King spoke, but with a tone that concerned the lion greatly.
“Yet I don’t fear death. You, however,” the King stepped forward to the lion, pressing his neck against the tip of the shining blade, “…have a weak heart. You fear many things. You fear standing here next to me, you fear the unforgivable act you are about to commit, you fear the execution you may well face when you walk out of here. You fear so much, fragile lion.”
The lion told himself that mind games would not work. But they did.
“It’s true. I am alive today, at the ripe young age of a hundred and sixty-nine, as I have mastered immortality. A magic thought both impossible, and undesirable for the curses it brings. Yet I feel no curse, only the gift of eternal life and power. I have the heart and mind of a god, an immortal body has borne a power unlike anything you could ever imagine.” The King laughed to himself, continuing to mock the situation at hand, and laugh in the face of the lion.
“So where’s the curse that comes with this gift?” the King asked, putting his finger on his lip thoughtfully, staring the lion dead in the eye.
“Well that, my most loyal Knight, I give to you. You can have my curse, as my gift to you. You need not fear the execution, for it shan’t keep you down. You need not fear your own pathetic body withering to dust, for it shan’t break down. You can keep your powerful lion body as a cage for your child’s mind and heart forever more. You can watch time pass you by and witness all the death you fear from the safety of your own immortality. I give to you a gift too great for you to ever handle.”
The King roared in laughter, a heartless and menacing noise that belied his human form.
This monster wearing a crown, the King of undying, murder and hatred, had spoken his last. The lion cut him down where he stood, trying to take no mind of the laughter that almost continued through the seconds of choking even after the man had died.
He left the throne room and could walk no more than a few steps before buckling to his knees, needing to take a breath so deep he felt his chest ache. He prepared himself to face the judgement of the city.
He reflected on that day again and again, still convinced his choice was just and true. After he slew the King, he was never punished. The law would have had him executed for his crime, but no person stood beside that law, everyone happy to let the Kingslayer live as he was the one that had finally brought them out of the reign of the Murder King.
He could not continue as a Royal Knight, his intentions believed as they were, there was a dark mark on his history that prevented any ruler from ever trusting him again. He was forced out of the castle and into the city to live his life free of any Royal responsibilities. Although what was a lifelong Knight supposed to do with such talents in a world that did not want him anymore? Determined to remain in Saolkam, he lived as quietly as possible taking on any task he felt suited to. He inadvertently became a mercenary, one of the most feared in the land, despite his age. His age that did not seem to change any more. He felt no weakness in his bones, no tiredness in his muscles, and no weariness of his senses.
It took many years for the Kingslayer to truly fear that the Murder King’s last words may have indeed been truth, most painfully so because he knew in his heart he could not handle such a life of deathlessness. He was not brave enough to put himself to the sword and test the curse once and for all, to find out if he could not be killed. He hoped that he may die in battle, but had never found himself bested by any opponent. He was left to wonder, with never enough heart to truly know.
But it was all worth it. His curse was a good man’s price for doing the right thing. He took on the role of the immortal protector of Saolkam, determined to continue doing good by his Kingdom, and protect the Royals even if from afar. This was his curse, but after many years he would learn to bear it. It was all worth it, because he knew it was his curse, rather than the Murder King’s gift. It was worth it because the King was no longer alive, no longer on the throne, and would never be seen again. They were free of him forever.
Well, that’s what the lion thought anyway. That’s the only way he could bear his curse. He could not live his endless life if he knew the truth.
The Murder King fancied his title as it was because he felt he dictated who may die and who may live. He played god, even with his own life. The Murder King could not simply be murdered, because he chose not to be. The Murder King could not be killed so easily.