By Emma Travis
He loved his kingdom. Every earthly ruler who had ever taken up the scepter had looked to the stunning beauty of his dominion and yearned for it in their hearts. The crown upon his head was not taken lightly, nor considered a mere decoration. To the king, it was a seal. A promise and a binding oath. His people would be safe. He would lead them in every attack, be the last to leave in every retreat.
The thousands, millions of lives that looked to him for guidance were struck every time they laid sparkling eyes on their king. He wasn’t haughty. Nor was he arrogant. Without a word nor any sound, he made it overwhelmingly clear that he loved his people. In his heart, he felt the zealous and passionate love that could be found in a new father, looking down at his newborn child. None could describe the depth or strength of a father’s love. A king’s love.
He was looking out over the land visible from his palace, a castle beyond anything that mortal men had ever dreamt of before its ancient construction. Towers stretched upwards as if they would pierce the sky itself. Banners were waving on a gentle wind, the colors easily visible: a lion, regal and fierce, embroidered in white and gold. Fields of wheat, waving like liquid sunshine, were rippling far below, contrasted to the vibrant forests just beyond them. He looked silently upon the land unparalleled in its beauty, but grief, not peace, was in his heart.
He knew that the prince from the east was causing pain among his people again. The bold, defiant knight had defected from the king’s household and tried to overthrow him. He had little known then that this king was not to be overthrown, but the fact was now widely recognized with fear and trembling after observing the prince’s fortunes. The knight had been defied and defeated by the king himself and banished forthwith from the kingdom of his origin. More than seven-hundred of the king’s lower knights had defected with him and had established themselves in the neighboring territory to the east. Raids and terrorizing attacks had been constantly coming in waves against his dear people. More counterattacks had been issued, and the prince’s forces were always pushed back. Always.
A familiar voice called the king from his thoughts. He turned to face his General. The commander had been loyal through the defection, the betrayals, and the wars. His trust was his master’s in every respect.
“General?” The king’s magnificent voice rumbled so the air vibrated.
“My lord,” the tall, dark-haired knight stepped forward and knelt. He had a warrior’s build, as did most of the soldiers in the king’s armies. But there was a sense of capability about the General that was difficult to find elsewhere in the amount that he possessed. “I fear…” his deep brown, well-featured face showed his torment.
“Do not fear what needs to be said.” The king’s shoulders gathered tension. He knew precisely what was to be told to him. And his heart ached.
“King,” the General tried again, controlling his voice now. “It has begun.”
“The rebellion?” It was a question that didn’t need to be answered.
The General bowed his head in the affirmative. “My liege.”
“Stand up, my friend, and shake off your fears. All shall be well.” At the king’s words, the General’s eyes relit in anticipation and he leapt to his feet.
“It shall indeed! Will you draw your sword, my lord?”
“I shall not. It is not time as of yet. You know this.”
“My lord?” The General’s face portrayed his dismay, bright eyes dimming in their sudden, rapturous valiance. “There are hundreds of thousands of our enemies flooding the eastern border by your own people’s acquiesce. You will not go to the battle and fend off that snake, your enemy?”
“Do not doubt. I say to you again, it is not time.”
The General shut his mouth as the justice within him longed to beat back the traitors and would-be usurpers with all the strength and might that he had. But the king was wiser than any other. The General had seen proof of that hundreds of times. He was ready to obey his lord’s command. But waiting for the commands to come was the hardest impatience to struggle through for the brave-hearted soul.
The king turned slowly, deliberately as the sunrise flooded the sky. Long, powerful strides brought him to the throne room in half the time it would take a regular man. The king was taller than his General by a full six inches, his build near gigantic if it wasn’t for the perfectly-balanced grace that he exuded. A massive sword, ridiculously large for anyone else besides the king to wield, was strapped to his belt. The crown was upon his head. A soft, calf-length cloak was draped around his shoulders over a pure white tunic and brown trousers. Reliable boots were upon his feet, and they made a decisive sound as his footsteps echoed through the corridors. The General stayed at his side. As they entered the open space of the throne room, the General spoke softly, his spirit in awe of the throne room yet again, though he had practically lived in the breathtaking place for the whole of his life.
“My liege, shall I gather the captains?”
“Yes, my friend. I think you should.” The General’s eyes swiveled to meet his liege’s at the deep sadness that was surfacing in the august voice. The king smiled softly, a reassuring look that made the General’s heart immediately go at ease.
“My lord.” The General walked away with the purposeful steadiness that he had adopted over the years through all his campaigns. With one last hopeful grasp of the sword hilt, he caught a messenger’s elbow, giving him a message coded urgent for all of the king’s captains.
The king turned wearily after watching his friend disappear through a pale-marble doorway. He mounted the steps leading to his throne, a gloriously beautiful seat embedded with several precious and semi-precious gems, and sat, fingering the heavy hilt of his battle sword. Part of him wanted to use the weapon, flinging it deep into the ranks of his enemies and dividing them like a saber through mist. He knew that the power that his father had given him was more than capable of doing so. In fact, he knew beyond a doubt that with one word, the entire army set against him could be stricken and destroyed. But that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He and his father had sat in counsel for hours and days, months at a time, speaking earnestly about such matters. He had come to a choice then, and he was holding to it now.
Just then, the General reappeared, leading behind him eleven elite captains, all powerfully built and incredibly strong. Not one of them was unarmed, and the flaring fire of battle was alert in their eyes.
The men knelt, their swords drawn and resting on their palms, the shimmering flats of the weapons facing upward and glittering in the sunlight descending from the lofty windows.
“Give us the word, majesty. All we seek is your blessing.” A striking captain, the most experienced of the eleven and second-in-command under the General, spoke with fervor. The king allowed himself one sigh, resolving not to do so more than once. He leaned forward, looking at the impassioned eyes of his men.
“Before we speak of battle, we must first speak of details. What has happened?” The General and captains were perfectly aware that their king knew exactly what had occurred, but they obeyed. A young captain, chestnut-haired and hazel-eyed, responded to his king’s request and spoke in a clear voice.
“My lord, the prince has stormed the border with more soldiers than he has ever led henceforth. He’s been recruiting, and many of the new recruits are our own people. Men are giving themselves willingly to the prince, and are even paying to get into his ranks. The prince is offering every immoral thing in abundance, majesty, for whoever joins his cause. I don’t wish to say so, my lord, but thousands have joined him, chasing their cursed reward like it’s their only desire.”
“We can destroy the prince once and for all eternity now, my liege! Just give us one word.” The General was fervent. “We can get the traitors back under your leadership. It’d be easy enough, once they see the prince mastered. They’d be forced to come back to you. Your kingdom would be whole again.”
“No,” the king said so softly the warriors had to lean in to hear. “We let the prince run free for a set period of time. Whoever joins him does so by his or her own choice. I will not force them.”
The men sat in silence, their eyes widening as seconds passed.
One of the younger captain’s youthful, hesitant voice came to the king’s ears. “But they are defying you.”
“Indeed. They are. We will not completely immobilize. We will protect the remnant who still love what is just and pure and who still trust in me. But we will not force the traitors back. They must choose.”
“Yes, my lord.” The warriors stood as one, bowing in humility and respect before a king who didn’t force the offer of his love and protection upon any man.
The General hesitated and the king smiled. “My friend, speak what you wish to say.”
“My lord,” the General tried to rein in the righteous, fiery anger mounting within him and one of the captains placed a hand on his arm in quiet restraint. “The usurper is in line to sweep over the entire kingdom. He’ll reach the foot of your throne by the end of the month.”
“He will not. My people who are still faithful will find refuge here. I’ll make it safe for them, as I promised when my father gave me the throne so long ago. I charge you with a perimeter around the loyal. Keep them safe. But if they decide to join the prince, do not prevent them. Merely hinder them. Remind them of my love for them, as I myself will be doing throughout the regions. Their choice is their own.”
The General was visibly relieved, his dark brown eyes softening. “The faithful will be as secure as if they were in your own palace, my liege. We will leave the choice of their loyalty to themselves.”
“Thank you, my friends.” The king smiled with a mighty effort, but the sorrow in his eyes couldn’t possibly be hidden. “Men?” Just before they began to run to their different missions, they froze, turning to their leader once more. “They are like my children. I will watch over them well. I commission you to do the same.”
“It shall be as you say.” The knights spoke in chorus, bowing deep.
Slowly the days turned dark in the land that the prince had captured. The king held half of his original kingdom, but the remnant who remained loyal to him was growing smaller in number. Eventually, after many years, the prince overtook the entire kingdom excepting the king’s personal land which was still blossoming and breathtaking in beauty. The castle was still safe. Still secure. It would never fall to an enemy. But that did not satisfy the king in the slightest. He loved his people, not his land. And all of the people so precious to him were now under the prince’s dominion.
A comfort to the king was that even from the dark land where they dwelt, some still trusted in him and longed for rescue. They were steadily bringing other men and women to feel the same. These faithful ones, despite the immorality that the prince brought with him into their lives, were constantly looking toward the castle: a brilliant white beacon in the middle of a black place. The king was not deaf to their pleas for him to come and challenge the prince himself. One by one, these beloved ones of the king joined him forever safe within his guarded realm, violently driven out of their world by the prince.
Patiently, the just monarch waited. He waited for the prince to try to erase the memory of the king from his people’s minds. He waited for the ones who separated themselves from the obsessive sinning – the ones who remained loyal to his name and their true lineage. He waited for the time that his father had appointed. But he waited not without the earnest desire to throw all protocol to the wind and draw the sword the prince feared most. To eliminate the threat to his dear people’s lives and peace. To destroy his enemy till he was a mere black memory, nothing more than a fading stain.
At length, the day that his father had determined arrived. The king rose from his throne, enormously tall and strong, but with eyes so deep, his strongest warriors couldn’t bear to look into them for more than a second. He bowed his head for a moment and drew his sword. Outside of the sheath, the weapon was so immense, the nobles and knights inside the throne room took several quick steps backward unintentionally. It was double-edged, perfectly balanced, and terrifyingly sharp. In the king’s hand, it could draw blood from the wind. No enemy had ever stood before that sword in the hand of this man and stayed upon his feet. As the king took one step down the stairs leading to the dais, the knights erupted into yells of love, loyalty, and joy, crashing through the waiting silence that had been permeating the atmosphere. Their voices filled the enormous throne room so that the windows shook and their ears nearly deafened.
“The king! The king! To war!” The warriors’ thrill was tangible. They had been waiting for this day as well.
As the king reached the bottom of the stairs, the cheering was slowly choked in the knights’ throats. The king was no less straight-shouldered and regal, but something was wrong in their sharp spirits. So very, very wrong. The king was turning to his General, who had been waiting at his right hand.
“My friend, will you keep this for me until the time is ripe?” The king placed his sword flat-side up in his shocked General’s hands. The tall warrior’s knees nearly buckled under the sheer weight of the weapon. His eyes went wide and panicked.
“My lord!” He looked to his captains, the color fleeing his cheeks. “My lord, what are you doing?”
“Doing what must be done. Look to the prophecies once more, General. You will see what must happen.”
Understanding dawned on the whole of the assembly. Horrified gasps sucked the air from the room. Some of the wiser women, who understood what was to come, began weeping bitterly in pained gasps. The knights couldn’t move. The General looked stricken.
“I am ransoming my people back. They are my children…my choice is made, the ransom offered.” The king looked directly into his friend’s eyes.
“Lord…” the General choked, tears filling his eyes, “…not with your life?”
“With my life.” The words were steady and brave, but heavy sorrow was within him. Three dark days were soon to come. The king turned, taking the crown from his head and gingerly placing it in one woman’s hands. She had never ceased following him, and was joyful through hardship. Her hot, clear tears were pouring down her cocoa-colored cheeks. “Do not weep, daughter. Be still. All will be right.” The woman took peace from the gentle words and nodded almost imperceptibly, though her tears had not been checked. She trembled in heartfelt grief. At the sight, the king’s expression revealed his deep pity and that beautiful, thunderous, father’s love. He placed two hands on her shoulders and held her gaze. She hesitantly met the piercing, gentle eyes. “Peace, dear heart.”
With that, the king turned and walked from his throne. From safety. From the power that royalty afforded. The impenetrable battle armor that fit only him, the chief of warriors, was still in the armory, ignored. The king walked seemingly defenseless. His guards, looking on with silvery tracks down their cheeks, opened the heavy doors leading from the throne room. He strode through them, softly nodding his appreciation. The dank wind from the prince’s dominion was blowing, and the king stepped into it without hesitation. The sun immediately pierced through the thick cloud over the region and lit up the ground surrounding the king’s broad-shouldered form as he advanced, a nearly glowing white-clad figure against the swirling dark cloud that engulfed the great thief’s claimed territories.
The General watched, holding the mighty sword close to his chest as the black cloud eventually hid his king from their sight. All wept. They knew the prophecy, though not one had remembered it until now. The king would sacrifice himself for his dear ones. He would let the prince take him, as the usurper had always longed to do. He would let himself be overcome and beaten horrifically. The king would be killed in the most painful way the prince could invent. And the world would go silent as the righteous was snuffed out by the evil.
The army of light waited as time passed. For the youngest and the least knowledgeable, there was a harbored hope that the Mighty One would summon them, his unconquerable army, to come to his side…but the order never came.
At last, all felt it in their hearts that what was required was done. The sun dimmed and the wind died. The earth shook and the mountains crumbled. Thunderheads swirled in the sky, blue, orange and purple, a bruise stretching from horizon to horizon. The king’s knights and nobles knelt and sobbed in their agony of grief.
For three horrifying days, nothing happened. The prince was celebrating his victory, and the clouds were spiraling and shooting high into the thick air, crying of his triumph. The General sat by the castle gates, motionless. He knew the prophecies by heart and they spoke of an impossible victory. A miracle. He desperately held on to that promise just as tightly as he physically gripped the king’s sword, still in his hands. Even the blade seemed to lose its majesty, as if it could long for its master just as much as the General did. Without the king, there was no doubt that the remaining free land would be overrun. The dark was already advancing. More warriors came to sit beside him, looking out through the swirling desecration of black cloud.
Once, the sun filtered through the clouds, causing all the knights to leap to their feet. Where was he? Then the light disappeared again. It had merely been a trick of the wind. Their eyes lost the glare of wild hope once more. The blackness swirled faster, angrier. The General scanned the broken land and writhing darkness, suspicion surfacing on his pale face. The air seemed tight, tense, waiting to spring. The soldiers looked to the General, their drawn faces thin and sad, their heavy hands fingering their weapons. The war would have to be fought without the king. The prince was moving. The General shook his head, once…twice, his eyes searching through the thickening black as the prince’s forces regrouped.
“They’re not attacking, they’re defending.” The words came like wispy breaths through the General’s anxiety. All at once, the wind held her breath and every living thing paused. The darkness froze. A soft roar of a distant horn throbbed, pure, undefiled, filling the silence, slowly growing to a thunderous crescendo as soldiers dropped their swords and covered their heads to protect themselves from the terrifying sound. Just as the thundering, pulsing note reached its peak, the sun exploded through the mist to earth-shaking trumpet blasts, baring every living thing below. The darkness was instantly overcome, conquered, divided and crushed. No one could see through the brilliance, think through the purest of trumpet notes, hope through the dizziest wonder. The General was on his feet, holding the sword like his life depended on his grip. His eyes were squinting, his throat tight, hands shaking wildly as he and his comrades were thrown backwards by the sheer power of the sight and sound.
The heartbeats of the king’s army faltered, then thrilled. Striding straight out of where the darkest pit had been, the king’s light burst like ten thousand suns surrounding him. He was barely visible through the terrifying brightness, but his people could discern the fire in his eyes and the scars in his hands.
The General fell, crying tears of joy in their fullest purity. When he looked up again, his king was there, leading the remnant of the faithful. His face was alight with victory and where he had walked, brilliance remained.
The coal-skinned commander stood, the tears in his eyes shimmering and falling as he looked upon his commander, leader and friend. His trembling hands held out the heavy sword, now catching its owner’s light and reflecting it in a million directions. The king stepped forward, put one hand on his friend’s shoulder, then caught up the hilt. The sun danced as light erupted from everywhere at once. The deep-throated horns shook the mountains to their roots as the king brandished his sword, and not a shadow remained. The remnant roared praises and honor and glory given to the king.
“It is finished,” the king said, his voice even deeper than the General remembered it.
The King had conquered.
Emma Travis is a sixteen year old living in northern Indiana. She has four siblings, one of whom was adopted from Ethiopia several years ago. Emma began writing when she was eight years old, and hopes to encourage other believers in Christ by what she pens. Besides writing allegory and poetry, she enjoys swimming competitively, reading, archery, and hiking. Emma is hopeful to attend a missionary college in Illinois in order to begin ministry overseas after she graduates.