“For the peace and unity of the village!” Vulpine was now ardently addressing the Assembly. “For the peace and unity of the village!” The members of the Assembly rallied around their leader. Phineas led the villagers in the same battle cry, “For the peace and unity of the village!”
Ironically, to accomplish this peace Vulpine turned to General Writ. He issued orders that the General lead his troops up King’s Hill. If someone sat on the throne, then he was an imposter and must be killed. “We cannot let an imposter disrupt the peace and unity of the village!”
Very early the next morning, a trumpeter rallied the troops to the Square. There were several notable absentees, but roll was not called. The troops marched behind their subordinate leader toward the hill. Percy Katrid kept in line as he marched, wanting to see what Vulpine was up to.
At the base of the mountain, General Writ divided his troops into three squads. Two were to march up the right and left flanks; the third was to come from the front. They would converge at the summit when the signal was given. They were ordered to destroy nothing except any man found sitting on the throne. He was to be killed without hesitation.
Gabe, who had stopped on his way up the hill to wait and watch what was happening, shivered when he heard a rallying cry ring out from the troops. The village men were fearless even though—or maybe because—they had never actually fought in battle before. They had trained, but few weapons had been created for them. So while some were armed with swords and bows and arrows, even more were armed with pitchforks and knives. A team of ten had the unenviable task of transporting a cannon up the face of the hill.
The animals remained hidden as the squads progressed slowly up the unfamiliar terrain. At the edge of the pine forest, the troops awaited the signal to charge. First, the cannon, only to be used if they were ambushed at the peak, had to be in place. The men had rammed the charge down the cannon’s barrel, rolled in the cannonball and placed the fuse. One man stood poised with a flint in his hand.
General Writ raised his saber. The signal. The charge. Men from all sides marched double time up the final ascent, brandishing their weapons and releasing guttural cries. Some relished the thought of piercing through the imposter and becoming a hero, perhaps a legend in the village. The prospect spurred them on.
Now the cave was in view. The cries grew louder, the men’s animal instincts possessing them, enabling them to kill or be killed. The three squads converged at the summit, and in one great, climactic moment, everything fizzled. The throne was empty. The trees and streams and flowers and rocks were silent.
General Writ ordered a thorough search of the cave, but it was small and solid and no hiding places were found. Before all the adrenaline disappeared, Vulpine himself appeared. He had followed the troops at a safe distance but had been prepared for such an outcome.
“Men! Do not be disappointed! You are the great ones of this village!” Vulpine’s grandiose words struck a chord with his audience. He had their attention and held it as he made his way toward the cave.
“This village has suffered greatly recently from the terrible sickness, and it is now suffering again from rumors that the old King is living and ruling from this empty spot. You bravely put yourselves in harm’s way to defend the honor of the village. You stood for the truth and the truth prevailed today!” The men cheered.
“We can’t allow the suffering to continue. The village needs a leader, a real leader who is strong enough to make firm decisions and to guide our village into the future. Not a distant king who never makes himself seen or heard.” He paused and placed his hand on his heart.
“The village has suffered, as we all know. And the weak ones of the village have turned to these lies about the King as a way to comfort themselves. So I propose that in order to accommodate the weaker members of our village, we should give them a king. A true leader who will speak for all members of the village, one who understands the weak, but who is man enough to lead the strong.” The members of the Brothers and Sons were listening intently for their cue. It had all been decided beforehand. “And who do you think is the only one able to fill this role with wisdom and dignity?”
It was time. “King Vulpine! King Vulpine!” The chant began among a dozen scattered men but was soon picked up by others. “King Vulpine! King Vulpine!”
Vulpine thrilled to hear his name exalted. He put on regal airs and glided toward the throne. Two men came after him carrying a king’s robe and a bronze scepter. They raised the blood-red robe, and Vulpine slipped his arms inside. He took up the scepter and thrust it skyward.
Gabe had remained at the hill’s base anxiously waiting, plucking up shoots before they could bloom in all their golden glory. Watching for a sign of what was happening past the shield of the forest, he heard the men’s voices steadily rising and falling like the call of a kingbird, but he couldn’t fathom the meaning of the din. Percy Katrid understood all too well.
“King Vulpine! King Vulpine!” The men urged him on with their repetitious shout. He lifted his other hand, motioning for silence, and the men quieted. “Let the will of the people be accomplished!” He sat on the throne. Vulpine luxuriated in his rich surroundings. Percy took one look at Vulpine sitting there and spat on the ground.
The men of the village whooped and cheered. Then a new chant emerged from within their midst. “Long live King Vulpine!”
Phineas Tract knew all was going as planned. Now he was to head up the next phase. Standing on the far side of the mass of men, he called out, “Men, let us go into the village and announce the tremendously good news that King Vulpine has begun his reign!”
Vulpine remained behind, tended by servants. Phineas shepherded his herd back to the village where the chant was taken up again. “Long live King Vulpine!” They moved slowly through the streets. Curious women and children emerged from their homes, trying to understand what their senses were taking in. Once in the Square, Phineas proclaimed the day a holiday and welcomed everyone to come in the evening for feasting and dancing.
The men scattered to spread the news and to relate all that had taken place that morning on the hill. Gabe’s father, who had remained at home, was visited by Percy, their friendship deepened by their agreement over Vulpine.
Gabe returned home and paced around behind the inn, kicking at pebbles and deep in thought. He couldn’t make any sense out of what was happening. He reviewed the facts. They hadn’t found the King. Where was he? Vulpine now is king. Says who? Everyone. Not me. Vulpine wants the King dead. But he can’t find him. I don’t know where he is either. Today was the first day in three and a half years I didn’t pay a visit to the King.
At the realization he slumped into the dirt. He felt like that ten-year-old boy again being bellowed at by Vulpine and wishing he would just go away. He picked up a stick and started doodling in the dirt. His heart flooded his eyes, and a tear rolled down his cheek. He let the tear tickle his chin. What now? Where are you, King? How can I talk to you? A thought came to him. If he couldn’t physically sit at the King’s feet and hear his words spoken to him, he could read his words in the book of law.
His countenance brightened, and he felt that again the King had somehow been responsible for lifting his heavy burden. He flew up the stairs to the family’s quarters and found Angela had beaten him to it. Sitting with their great-grandfather’s papers on her lap, she grinned at him and, as if reading his thoughts, handed him some sheets. “Do you know he’s gone?” Gabe asked as he squatted next to her.
She shook her braids back and forth. “He’s not. He’s right here with us. His words are in his law and in our hearts. We’ll sing his song and share his words. He promised to come back to the village one day. You’ll see him again, and I’ll see him too.” Gabe remembered the last thing the King had said to him and clung to the words of encouragement—he wasn’t alone and he would see the King again.
“We need to keep meeting with the others,” Gabe said, having caught Angela’s infectious enthusiasm. “We can’t let this stop us. We know the truth. The truth hasn’t changed. We need to keep telling others. They need to know that Vulpine is the imposter and the real King lives and reigns over our village.”
Gabe sprang to his feet. “I’m going to tell everyone that we are still meeting tonight at the inn. We won’t let anyone forget about the King.”
Gabe wasn’t the only busy one that afternoon. It seemed that half of the village women had fluttered about most of the day preparing for the party and were finally satisfied with their work as the sun began to set. Lanterns encircled the festivities, each lit as it hung in front of one of the shops lining the Square.
The women prattled on and on about their new king while a group of men gloated over their numerous kills. They had been sent to King’s Hill that morning to hunt for the feast and had found an abundance of game. The children, dressed in their best, held hands and skipped and twirled to the music of their lighthearted laughter.
Phineas attracted everyone’s attention standing on the steps of the Hall. “In honor of our king, King Vulpine, let the festivities begin!” Cheers went up. Music played. The strings twanged. The brass trumpeted. The winds whistled. The percussion boomed. The people stamped and clapped and forgot all about their troubles.
They feasted on roasted bear, deer, pheasant and quail. They gorged on apricots, cantaloupe, plums, mushrooms, potatoes, squash, nuts and dates. They drank their fill until only good memories of the village and Vulpine swam in their heads.
After several hours of revelry, a hush came over the celebration. Vulpine had come down to them. An excited whisper passed like a wave to and fro, undulating through the gathering. Vulpine climbed the steps of the Hall, his robe carried by two men who carefully draped it over the steps for an impressive effect. Vulpine still carried the scepter and looked every part a king.
He raised his arms and addressed his subjects. “My good people, we have this day begun on a new course that will lead us into a prosperous tomorrow. I humbly accept your decision to make me your king and ruler supreme over the village. I will rule with gentleness over all who seek the peace and unity of our village and with an iron fist over all who seek its destruction.”
The villagers cheered. “My first royal edict will be to open up King’s Hill. Too long has it remained shrouded. I will not be a king like the other before me, completely removed from the life of the village. I will be among you and together we will make our village great!” More cheers and clapping and stomping and banging.
Phineas took the stage. “We have a special treat for you. The children’s choir from our school will sing for us the village song, improved for the occasion.” It was the same song that had replaced the King’s after his funeral, but one line had been changed. “Our village” had been changed to “King Vulpine” so that the children pledged before their parents, “King Vulpine we will serve.”
The tune was started again and the congregation sang the familiar melody stirring up patriotism and pride in their hearts. With one voice they sang, “King Vulpine we will serve.”
That evening at the inn, away from the festivities, there was a meal and singing and reading of the law. Percy Katrid was there for the first time and recounted the morning’s events for the group. Gabe sensed there was something strange in the atmosphere, almost palpable, but only almost; he couldn’t put his finger on it. Gabe’s father, however, knew what it was—rebellion.