Kill the child, it’s the right thing to do. Even twelve years later, Heimgar dwelt on his old adviser’s words. Twelve years he’d been King; twelve long years of suppressing rebellions and avoiding attempts on his life by assassins. The only reason for the insurrection in his kingdom was not the boy as Valgin his adviser had suspected, but in fact his sister, Astrid. His sister not only believed that he had slain the previous king’s young heir, but persistently found groups of mercenaries and foolhardy assassins to assault him in his gray, stone keep. Only one person knew what actually happened to the young heir that night, however, and that was Heimgar himself. He reminisced.
Heimgar stood over the corpse of King Ernthwal. He had violated his guest right, having supped with Ernthwal that night, they had made merry, Ernthwal had not noticed Heimgar did not touch his wine after the first cup, knowing that he meant to slay the King. It was well after the dinner that he had strode into the King’s throne room along with half a dozen armed men. Before the alarms could be rung they rushed the throne. Ernthwal had barely had time to clear his blade from its scabbard when Heimgar had drove his blade through Ernthwal’s paunch, the crossguard sinking into Ernthwal’s flabby gut. He’d slid the gasping man off his sword and watched as his men finished off the two guards who had been inside the throne room.
He snatched the crown off the floor where it slipped to from Ernthwal’s brow, it was a modest gold hoop. Heimgar intended to have a more imposing one crafted once he’d solidified his claim to the throne, but for now, this would do. He placed it on his head, then, leaving his bloodied sword next to Ernthwal’s cooling body, he seized the king’s sword and scabbard and went to sit on his throne. Any minute the rest of his band would come into to pay obeisance to their new king and report the death’s of Ernthwal’s family who had been at the castle. Those that had not would likely flee the land once news of the king’s death had spread.
Slowly his trusted seconds entered, knelt, and uttered one simple phrase. It is done, my King. That phrase was the sweetest sound Heimgar had ever heard. Even sweeter then a mother’s voice as she sings her babe to sleep with lullabies. As the last of his seconds paid their respects to Heimgar in this manner, a commotion rang out in the entry hall.
“Let me in you besotted fools,” shouted an old man.
And with a gust of wind the massive doors leading into the throne room burst open revealing a bent old man wearing a threadbare grey robe. Valgin, slouched over a gnarled oaken walking staff, hobbled in before the Heimgar. Heimgar, in response, let out a booming laugh from his gut.
“It all went as predicted, your Ancientness.” he said when he had run out of mirth.
“Not all has gone as planned, Heimgar,” Valgin responded in hist lilting manner.
“What has gone wrong, Valgin? Ernthwal is dead. I hold his sword, wear his crown and sit in his throne. All his family that would have challenged me lay slain in their own bedchambers. I am King.”
“There is one relative of Ernthwal’s that was missed by your trusted men.”
With that, Valgin gestured toward the doors, and Astrid marched in a boy who could be no older than three.
“Damned son of a whore. Ernthwal kept the birth of an heir a secret?” Heimgar said to himself. Valgin merely nodded. The child either didn’t recognize his father lying dead in the middle of the throne room, or understood that there was nothing to be done about a deadman. It was hard for Heimgar to decide which it was. Any question about the child’s lineage was completely dispelled as soon as you looked at him. The boy had too much of the old king’s countenance to not be related.
“Where did you find him?”
“He was sitting in the kitchens,” Astrid spoke up.
“And what do I do with him?” he directed this to Valgin, not trusting his sister to be impartial.
“Kill the child, its the right thing to do,” Valgin said simply.
At this Astrid started and looked ready to speak up.
“Everyone out,” Heimgar commanded, “But leave the boy.”
Again Astrid seemed ready to say something.
“Now,” Heimgar growled.
Slowly and without a word his men, Astrid, and even Valgin retreated from his presence. Valgin swung shut the two large doors with a small gesture, leaving Heimgar alone with the boy. The boy, for his part, merely stood there. Heimgar drew Ernthwal’s, no, his sword and approached. Looking into the child’s eyes though he couldn’t bring himself to slaughter him. He sheathed the blade and picked up the unresistant boy. He made his way to the escape tunnel behind the throne with the child on his hip.
The tunnel itself had an earthy smell, never having been finished by stonemasons, the walls felt of earth as Heimgar groped his way out into the starlit night. Their was a dirt path leading out and away from town, but overgrown with grass and plants, as their had been little occasion to use it. Heimgar followed it in a silence that was seldom broken by crickets or the hoot of an owl in the distance. He tread upon the path until his feet were sore and a lantern shown in the distance.
He made his way to the lantern, growing wearier by the step. Shifting the boy to his other side, he continued until he approached what turned out to be a small farm. He found a stable behind the home with a solitary horse who whinnied nervously as he approached. He set the boy down in the hay of an adjacent stall, and undid his coinpurse from his belt. He tossed it down on the ground next to Ernthwal’s son and the coins rattled.
“This is your true home boy. You were stolen from these farmers. They’ll take care of you, and with that money they’ll care for you well. They’ll find you in the morning. You’ll sleep out here tonight. They’re your real parents.”
When it became apparent that the child was not going to say anything in return, Heimgar turned and started his way back to the castle. The boy would be too young to remember any of this once he came of age, but with every other step, Valgin’s voice rang in his ears. Kill the child, it’s the right thing to do.
Apropos of: This Prompt