Bretwalda

Seventeen cycles of revenge, seventeen chapters in the blood feud, and one man left on the throne. One man, old in years and aged beyond them, tired and victorious.

And so he sat, the king, in his court where nothing changes. Peace is stillness, conflict is motion. He had conquered the last attempt at motion. The kingdom lay in pale, breathless calm, not even a twitch or a whimper to disturb his triumph.

The flames of the hearth danced in his eyes, messengers of warmth and comfort wreathed in unfitting livery. His skin roiled at the sight. Memories of hot, pillaging fire came roaring through his mind. In the solitude of the hall, he saw an axe in every stray glint, heard the beating of shields in every creak.

Outside, the wind was picking up. Through the beams, it howled its sombre chants. He wondered briefly if they were those of the old Father or the new. Drums of thunder pealed in the distance. He recalled how, as a boy, he would fear that sound. Those memories had grown strange to him, milky and ephemeral – a fiction.  Those times had passed. He now sat upon the very object of his hopes. His fears had been lashed and scalded into numbness. A false king still feared betrayal. There was nobody left to betray a true one. His old heart would never again beat faster.

He had lived his life. He would die his death. All that remained was to bathe in the nothing in between.

His grey eyes watched, impassive, as a sparrow darted through the hall. From storm, through calm, to storm again, in the space of an eye’s swiftest repose. He sat, unmoved, in the epicentre of his regnal calm. He traced the bird’s path, now empty, from window to window. For a moment too brief to name, the oldest human fear stirred. In the next it was refused, and peace regained its dominion.

The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960 by Rene Magritte

The End

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