“King Vulpine!” At Vulpine’s name, the crowd didn’t cheer or applaud. If everyone had been still and silent before, they were now frozen. No one dared do anything that might break the spell of those words. Then in a dramatic, magical moment, Vulpine emerged from among the guards. He leapt onto the platform. Hundreds of icebergs thawed.
One woman screamed. Another fainted. One man just started laughing hysterically. The baffled villagers started asking each other questions all at once. Phineas decided to help the dumbfounded commoners by shouting, “Long live King Vulpine!” The guards and the members of the Brothers and Sons joined in. “Long live King Vulpine!” Scattered groups took up the chant. “Long live King Vulpine!” The words picked up strength in numbers and in volume. And for the second time in twenty-four hours, Gabe vomited.
“Let’s go home,” Angela said as she took Gabe’s arm and led him through the crowd. They walked past the ash heap, out of the square and headed home. How could he have escaped? Without discussion, they slipped into the inn and back into bed.
Scarcely an hour passed before their mother shook them awake. “You have guests” was all she would say. She pulled open the curtain and unlatched the window only to shut it again, muttering something about a draft.
Downstairs in the dining hall, people had been arriving, but they were more family than guests. “Welcome everyone! No, no, it’s fine to come now.” Angela was a gracious host. “We don’t always need to wait for nightfall. Please, come, sit down.” People from their nightly meetings had come straight from the Square. Too much had happened to digest alone.
Gabe and Angela learned what had happened after they left the unveiling of Vulpine that morning. Winnie Goss shared the story with them.
“You were there at first, so you know what it looked like with everyone there crazy over Vulpine just showing up after we all thought he was dead.” She struggled with a pin in her pepper black hair, which had noticeably begun turning salty. “He gets everyone yelling, ‘Long live King Vulpine!’ except those of us who were happy when we thought he was dead. Well, I did see some folks shouting along with them that I’ve also seen right here in this inn.” Her plump fingers fiddled with the collar on her pale blue frock.
“Well, when all the commotion settles down, Vulpine doesn’t even explain what happened—how he’s alive—just starts talking about how he had fulfilled his promise to defend the peace and unity of the village. He told everyone it wouldn’t happen again because the rebels were either killed or taught the ‘invaluable lesson’”— she did her best impersonation of Vulpine —“that he knew everything that was going on and would always be one step ahead of anything the rebels tried. Then he had everyone sing that song. And you know who was singing? Those Winsley boys, father and son, just singing away. I left though, and I don’t care who saw me. It wasn’t law we sing today.”
“I can tell you what happened after that. Do you recognize me?” He was addressing Gabe. Gabe squinted, trying to put the memory in focus.
“Caleb! You’re free! Is that what happened next?”
Caleb smiled and rubbed his wrists. “I’m free. Vulpine had us freed. He told everyone it was to show his desire to keep the village united. He said he was sure we were convinced now by his ‘miraculous reappearance,’”— it was
Caleb’s turn to try to imitate the baritone —“that he was the only king or something. All right, maybe I wasn’t paying close attention. But I know that I’m free.”
Gabe had one more question for Caleb. “How did you find me here?”
“I asked around about a boy who would offer a drink to a stranger.” Caleb laughed. “It was pretty easy to find you.”
Gabe only shrugged in response.
After the meal, Gabe took again to the bench and told everyone about his years at the King’s feet. With tears in his eyes and a catch in his throat, he told them of the King’s love and pleaded with them to follow the King’s law. Angela read to everyone from the Book of Law and led the singing of the King’s song.
As the others left, Caleb sidestepped over to Gabe. “I listened to you today, and I believe you. I believe you about the King. And I was wondering, how I can get to know him like you do.”
“You can learn his words in the Book of Law. They will teach you who the King is. And by coming and being here with me and the others, you can feel what it’s like to sit with the King and be loved. Most of the people here have dedicated themselves to following the King.”
“I would really like to follow the King. How can I start reading the law book?”
Gabe felt foolish. Why didn’t I realize before this moment that I have the only copy of the law? We need to get it to everyone. He gave a few pages to Caleb to start copying, and he and Angela worked on copying pages into the night.
At the next meeting, everyone was given a page, golden with age, to take home and copy as many times as they could. Every day they traded pages and went home and made more copies. In a month, they each had their own copy of the King’s law and copies to share with others.
Now Gabe wasn’t the only one teaching others the King’s law. Everyone became a servant of the King, taking the King’s law to their families and neighbors, and more and more people joined their meetings. Mrs. Bollix started teaching the King’s law to her brother-in-law. She visited his family often to tell them what she was learning. He listened out of curiosity at first but eventually became interested in reading the King’s law for himself. Mrs. Bollix was ready with a copy. Soon he was attending meetings at the inn.
Gabe and Angela started visiting Caleb and his wife and children daily. As a family, they studied the King’s law eagerly. His five children, ranging from little to big, all learned the King’s laws. Soon Caleb started meetings in his home for his relatives and close neighbors.
Sundays came and went and the servants of the King, as those at the meetings started calling themselves, stayed home from the singing ceremony, keeping quiet and hidden around midday. No one seemed to notice or mind—or, so they thought.
Vulpine had been watching those bishops to see what their next move would be. He knew they had mostly kept to themselves, but as the snow and ice enveloped the village, he noticed things heating up. The servants had begun teaching their neighbors about the King. Thirty servants became one hundred.
The quiet, straggly bishops were strengthening and getting louder. Vulpine wasn’t blind or deaf to it. He knew how to take care of them. He would just need to pull on his iron glove.