In mid cheer, Nusalleans everywhere gasped watching as their beloved king collapsed on his face by the fountain, in front of his own palace. When a Blue River Guardsman turned over the prone form of the king, he shook his head, signifying that the Nusallean monarch was no more.
Silence washed over the throngs; the mightiest of all warriors ever to tread the earth was dead. For the Nusalleans, it was inconceivable that he had fallen. It was believed that he was invincible; none could believe that the prone form that lay on the stone slab was none other than “Tonunda the Savage.”
The double-edged axe, which lay at his side, was ceremoniously presented to his adopted son, so that the weapon may remain in his family.
The burly man bowed his head in gratitude.
‘Who will give words of remembrance?’ called Togullen, chronicler to the king, looking to the young man, who shook his head vigorously.
‘Can you not do it?’ he asked Togullen.
‘I cannot,’ he whispered.
‘Mother?’ the young man said, turning to the queen.
Tears welled in her eyes and steadily fell.
‘I cannot, my son; you are the king now…speak to your people,’ she said gently, kissing his cheek.
Placing his own great weapon against the wall, the king of Nusalle swept his long ebon locks back from his bull-like neck to address his countrymen.
‘As all are aware, my father, Tonunda was born a son of the Dog clan, thus his crest is the orange snarling dog, which you see emblazoned on the tunics of the elite guard! …his lot was hard since he was a babe; being offered as a sacrifice to the heathen dog-god, Yekunga…the wild dogs of the bush did not eat him!’ he said, straightening with pride. ‘…as time passed…’ he said, pursing his lips against the tears. ‘…a young boy grew among the pack to lead them on the hunt…he would track and bring down game with a ferocity that even beasts of the wild came to revere…but my father was not a mindless brute as his enemies had supposed…after he had learned the ways of animals, he learned the ways of men to become our first king!’
Heads lowered further, and a twinge of guilt could be felt in the air. All had rejected the infant only for him to return and deliver them. They knew that he had given his life out of love for his people.
‘I once asked him what life was to him! He told me that all life was a game!’
The thickset monarch nodded, before continuing.
‘I could only imagine the thrill of the hunt he tried to explain to me when he was with the pack... the harmony he enjoyed with the other beasts… and the games he played with his dog siblings… even when I watched him on the battlefield, there was a zest to him when other men would be afraid… here is the greatest of our number, sons and daughters of Nusalle! …out of love he bled for us and died… at his very hands, I saw him slay the king of the south, Natas.’
His hands trembled clenching into fists. Taking up his great double-edged axe in one hand, he raised it effortlessly above his head.
‘This I vow, that every Vindavian will grieve for the loss we have suffered this day!’
None cheered his words, as it was a hollow oath.
He looked down to the once king.
Saying no more, the king’s hands took hold of the stone slab. His arms corded around the stone byre as he reverently hoisted his father and stone alike until both rested on his iron shoulders. Without assistance, he trudged up the hill, with the rest of his people walking behind until finally laying the body within the prepared tomb.
Blue River Guardsmen rolled the stone in place for the final time.
‘We will remember you father,’ he said.
‘Aye,’ muttered The Forgotten One, examining the bandages covering his limbs as self-imposed exile, but who will remember me?
He envied his father’s life; life wasn’t a game to him; life was a continual frustration. Togullen had warned him that he would never find peace in good deeds. It was true, for all the good works he did, there was no solace to be had for his soul. He was like a dog that continually chased his own tail.
Perhaps it was time to allow Jesus to carry his burden as the scribe had suggested.
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