From among the newly trained village men, Vulpine hired guards to serve him; most were stationed on King’s Hill just past the edge of the forest. The trees traced their way across the hill, separating king from commoner. Vulpine had parceled out land along the forest green demarcation for Phineas Tract, General Writ and Assemblyman Tate, all of whom had devoted themselves to his service and had proven themselves useful to him. Assemblyman Stone was resentful to not be included in this elite treatment. His beady eyes leered at Vulpine through the smoke emitting from his pipe as he thought how he would make a much better ruler for the village.
But most of the villagers were thrilled with their new king. They were now free to use the forest and field for picnics and berry picking. Since Vulpine’s coronation, hunting was allowed on the hill as well, and men were fashioning bows and arrows to catch their prey. Families began growing fat from their kill.
Vulpine continued to win the favor of the villagers. He took a small table made of gold from the throne room and had it melted down and made into little cubes of gold, which were given out to each family in the village. There was only one other thing Vulpine changed in the throne room. He had the wooden cabinet moved to the Assembly Hall. The single plate was carefully moved with it.
The cabinet became a tourist attraction among the villagers themselves. They loved to file past and find their homes on the intricately carved walls. They also loved Vulpine, praising his generosity and leadership—truly worshipping him.
No one was surprised when during the summer Vulpine decided the village song, in which villagers sang their pledge to serve Vulpine, would be sung daily in the Square at midday. By fall he had decided that attendance at the singing ceremony would be required on Sundays. Phineas announced the new law on a Saturday.
“King Vulpine has issued a new decree. From this day forward each Sunday at midday, every villager, unless ill, must attend the singing ceremony in the Square. Together we will proclaim our loyalty to King Vulpine. King Vulpine, in his wisdom, has decreed this to ensure the peace and unity of our village.”
Gabe never followed Phineas down to the Square. He heard about the new law that night at the meeting.
“What are we going to do?” Mrs. Bollix asked the group.
“We’ll have to sing. It’s the law.” A short, wide man shared his opinion.
“I will not pledge to serve Vulpine.” Percy Katrid was on his feet. “I refuse to call him king!”
“Can’t we just go and not sing?” A timid woman offered her suggestion.
“That wouldn’t feel right.” Gabe’s father stood by Percy. “Do you want to look like you’re supporting Vulpine? It’s time to take a stand.”
“I don’t—” Gabe saw his father’s paternal glare meaning “this is not the time for you to be heard” and bit his lip.
Several men agreed and walked over to stand by Percy and Father.
Percy walked over to one of the tables and leaned his calloused hands on the oak slab. “This is only the beginning. Little by little he has changed our lives. He doesn’t want just change though. He wants control. He’s hungry for power. He wasn’t satisfied with being head of the Assembly. He wanted all the power to himself. He made himself king. He has made it so he will never have to face an election. And he will get away with whatever he wishes unless someone stops him. There is no longer any law in the village to use against him. Since he’s put himself above the law, the only way to stop him is by force.”
Many mumbled their agreement. Gabe retreated to the kitchen. Mother was rubbing salt between her fingers, raining it down on the simmering soup. “What’s the matter? Not getting bored with King talk are you?” Gabe really wanted to talk to someone, but his mother wouldn’t understand. He wandered out back. At least Betty is a good listener.
He stroked Betty’s tan fur. “Everything was so perfect, Betty. Now I don’t know. I wish I could go ask the King what was happening, what was right. They don’t even want to hear me speak at the meeting.” Betty mooed sympathetically. “They are listening to Percy Katrid, and he doesn’t know anything about the King. He just doesn’t like Vulpine. Vulpine is more important to him than the King. He doesn’t care about the King. He’s just using our meetings to gather support because he knows we don’t like what Vulpine is doing.” Whining isn’t helping. What am I supposed to do?
The law. Gabe began reasoning to himself. If the King were to rule, then we would be following his law. If they really want Vulpine out and the King in, then they should obey the King’s law. Gabe wandered up to the family quarters and found the stack of papers marked with his great-grandfather’s ink scrawl. Now where in these pages does it talk about all this?
Gabe knew the King didn’t want them to fight. All these years had passed, and the King had never encouraged a revolt against the village leaders. He just knew it wasn’t the King’s way to encourage his people to rebel against their leaders. But he couldn’t prove it without finding it in the law. He knew the King’s ways because he had sat at the King’s feet and had learned straight from the King’s mouth, but no one was listening to a kid right now. I’m just a kid. He tried to forget about that last thought, though he wasn’t so good at forgetting. He’d been trying to forget for years about the time he fell into the well in the Square because he had been showing off trying to walk the cross bar where the bucket is tied.
Focus. King! His heart cried in desperation. Where do I find your words about all this? They are going to go to war for your sake and you don’t want them to. He flipped through the pages of the law barely glancing down, despairing at the task. It was like searching for a star in the sky without knowing your constellations. You need the constellations to guide you, and Gabe needed the King. He tossed the papers onto the floor, and they glided to a standstill. Gabe held his head in his hands and closed his eyes.
He saw the King. He was on his throne, smiling. Gabe felt a little light-headed in his presence but was still in control of himself. He could hear part of what the King was saying. “The law is just and justice will prevail. Vengeance is mine. I am the only one able to rule with justice. No one else can see with the clarity that I am able to see with from my throne above the whole village. I know the moves and motives of everyone in the village. Justice will be done, but justice cannot be delivered except by a pure hand.” Gabe’s eyes remained shut fast, but he could no longer see the King. He remembered that day. The King had taught him about justice and revenge. Now to find those words…
Gabe snatched up the top sheet and with the same momentum propelled himself up onto his feet. He started doing a jig, hopping, leaping and kicking around the upper room. He had found it. Had it been right there on top all this time? Gabe didn’t stop to ponder. He did a few more leaps and laughed, wondering what they were hearing down below.
He made it down the stairs in two bounds. From the kitchen he barreled through the door so hard it bashed against the wall. He didn’t slow until he had jumped with two feet and landed on a bench.
He didn’t need to quiet everyone to get their attention. His grand entrance had left them speechless. He held up the aged paper and began to read:
“Vengeance belongs to the King. Do not take revenge, but trust the King to bring justice. Do not pay back evil with evil, but pay back evil with good. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him your other cheek. Love your neighbor and treat him as you want to be treated. Above all, love the one and only King. Serve him and obey his laws. This is your first and most important duty.”
“This is the King’s law.” Gabe had stopped reading and was speaking unrehearsed words from his heart. “These are his own words that he gave us to live by. Percy Katrid would have you believe that we are to fight Vulpine to win back the throne for the King, but he doesn’t know the King. I know him and now you know what he says about this. If you believe the King exists, then you better obey his law. If you don’t believe, then go with Percy to your destruction.”
As soon as he had finished speaking, reality smacked him in the face. He was standing taller than everyone else and telling adults what to do. He deflated like a balloon and flopped limply onto the bench, wanting only to slither under the table and hide.
Most were too flabbergasted to speak, but Percy was angry enough to let off steam, a teapot at full boil.
“Kid. You have no idea what you are talking about. We aren’t playing here. We’re talking people’s lives. Vulpine isn’t going to stop his rule by our being nice to him. We need to take action. Every minute delayed is another minute Vulpine’s vice grip on the village tightens. I’m leaving this meeting. I will only be where the real men are. Anyone who wants to fight for freedom can follow me.” To add emphasis he trod heavily across the floor and exited the inn without looking back.
Several men left without further deliberation. Those with wives at their sides dragged them out the door too. Marcus Winsley, stood up slowly, hat in hand. “I just want to do what’s best for the village. This is my home.” He looked down at his grown son sitting next to him. “My children’s home. I can’t let it all be taken away.” He apologized and left after the others. His son followed.
Father turned his attention to Gabe. “You know I believe in the King, but Vulpine is restricting us so we can’t even follow all of the King’s laws if we wanted to. If Vulpine were gone, we could follow the King’s ways. It’s just never going to happen while Vulpine is ruling. Don’t you think the King wants to sit on his throne again? He would want us to get Vulpine out of there. We need to do something. I just don’t see any other way.” Gabe’s father walked out the door of his own inn.
It was Gabe’s turn to be stunned. Gabe felt like Betty had kicked and knocked the air out of him. He couldn’t think of anything to say. Then he heard Angela’s voice, strong and steady like the tolling of the village bell so that everyone could hear its message.
“Vengeance belongs to the King. Do not….” Angela had picked up the yellowed, tattered paper and was reading as Gabe had done. When she came to the end, the lilting words of the King’s song followed. Those remaining, men and women
alike, some younger than Gabe, some shriveled with age, all stood and joined in the refrain. They sang their devotion to the King, the one true King. They sang the song that had been silenced on King’s Hill.