No one worked on the day of the funeral. Fog misted over the village as the King’s song was sung by his grave. After the ceremony Gabe plodded home with his family, thinking through all he knew about the King. He knew the King had founded the village about a hundred years before and set as its foundation a book of law he had written himself. He didn’t know anything about the book or its laws and couldn’t think of anything else he knew about the King.
Back at home Gabe’s family sat around the table together. They lived at the inn and ate in the kitchen, the large room being reserved for guests only. Eating a cold meal and discussing the King, Gabe inundated his parents with questions.
Listening were Gabe’s two sisters, who sat side by side holding hands under the table. The older one could have been Gabe’s identical twin if she hadn’t been born a girl. Not only did both have Father’s golden hair, but also his eyes. Whenever they asked their father what color their eyes were, he’d say, “The color of muddy grass.”
Five-year-old Tabitha, with her brown curls and equally dark wide eyes, adored everything about her big sister and stuck to her like the freckles on her nose. Living up to her angelic name, Angela never seemed bothered by her little sidekick. She patiently explained to her why cows needed milking and why the sun went to sleep every night. Though just ten like Gabe, Angela always seemed to know the answer to anything. Now she seemed content just to listen.
“Did you ever see the King?” Gabe wanted to know. “Why didn’t the King ever come down? Why didn’t he ever talk to us?”
Gabe’s father was a wise and humble man, slow to speak and slow to anger. He took Gabe’s questions seriously and pondered each a bit before answering.
“I never did get a chance to see the King, but I know that he used to visit the villagers. My grandfather used to talk about it. He was just a young boy at the time. He said the King was a majestic sight, wearing a golden crown and his royal robe. My grandfather said everyone flocked to be near him because he was full of wisdom and grace.
“No one is quite sure what happened to make the King leave or why he never returned. But my father once told me that he suspected the leaders of our village one day asked him not to return. He thought they were jealous the people adored the King and hung on his words and not theirs. The King left peacefully. At least that’s what my father told me.
“People have different ideas about it all, though. But one thing is sure. When the King left, he told the villagers he would see them again. He said that he hoped it would be a pleasant encounter, but he feared many would not welcome his return.”
“But he never did return, right Father?”
“No, he never did.”
“Why would the King say he would come back and not keep his word?” The question had pestered Gabe for days. He and Angela, with Tabitha in her shadow, were lugging water from their family’s well out back to Betty, the family’s milk cow.
“He didn’t know he was going to die, Gabe. He just didn’t get back in time. He wasn’t trying to break his word. It just happened.” Angela thought it was a reasonable explanation.
“I don’t know. If he really just slipped away in his sleep, he must have known he was getting close to the end of his life. Why wouldn’t he keep his promise before he died?” Gabe was more airing his thoughts than searching for answers from his sister. “If he was as wonderful as some people think, he would have come back before he died.”
“Why is this bothering you?” Angela didn’t understand what Gabe was feeling. “So he didn’t come back. What’s the big deal? We have lived without him. Our parents have lived without him. Things are okay. We didn’t need him to come back. He never did anything. We’re okay without him.”
Gabe wasn’t feeling okay, but he kept quiet. Morning chores were soon finished, and the children joined their parents at the table for breakfast. After warm bowls of sloppy mush, at least as Gabe ate it, Father produced an intricately carved wooden box and laid it carefully on the table. “What is it, Father?” Tabitha asked, wiggling with impatience.
“This box was my grandfather’s. Then it was my father’s. Then it was mine.”
“What’s inside of it?” Tabitha pressed, not satisfied with his answer.
Father smiled and leaned back a bit. “After our discussion about the King, I remembered this old box. I admit it has just sat neglected, stashed away for years. I guess I put it away to keep it from damage since it was so old and beautiful. But in putting it aside, I had forgotten about it. I spent the last few days trying to find it.”
Tabitha wasn’t understanding why Father was telling them about the box he had put away so well he had forgotten all about it. And, she couldn’t understand why the box was remembered and on the table now. “But what is it, Father?” she couldn’t help but ask again.
Without a word he opened the box. It was full of old papers, yellowed and wrinkled with age. Father laughed at Tabitha, who was acting as if she expected a new doll to be buried under the stack.
This time Angela spoke up. “Are they old letters? Maybe great-grandfather’s love letters to his wife.” Angela was pleased with the thought.
“No, Angela, but they are written by my grandfather, at least written in his hand. It’s a copy of the King’s law. Today the law book is just considered an historical book. You know it’s kept locked in a glass case in the Assembly Hall. But years ago, it used to be the law of the village, and my grandfather used to go with his family to hear the King’s law read aloud daily in the Hall. His father must have had him write down what he heard as part of his education.”
Gabe’s interest was piqued, and he moved to the edge of his seat. He was sure that this would make all the uncertainty go away. Gabe’s father had been watching his reaction and speaking to Gabe, he said, “And as part of your education, today you may be excused to read through all these papers.” In a flash Gabe gathered up the box and raced out to the animal shed to be alone with his great-grandfather’s words, the King’s words.
Vulpine was sure no one knew any of the King’s words anymore and moved to erase from the village all memory of the King. The Brothers and Sons had met and decided to hold a competition to distract the villagers from the King’s funeral and to get rid of what current ties to the King remained—his banner and his song. Phineas announced that in just two weeks the winning banner and song would be revealed to the public.
The village artisans got right to work, and the village filled with excited chatter over the competitors’ creations. The only rule they worked under was this: the banner or song had to be completely new and different in order to lead the village into the future.
Gabe, however, wasn’t thinking about the competition; his thoughts were always on the King. He was keen to report what he had learned from reading the King’s law and felt confirmed in his suspicion that something was amiss. He was literally bouncing in his seat waiting for his family to settle in for the evening meal.
As soon as he had the chance, he poured out all that he had bottled up. “He said in the book of law that he would come back. It’s in there! It also says that all the words of the law are sure and true, that the King’s word cannot fail. He couldn’t have died without coming back to the village!” Gabe spilled his words, his mouth trying to keep pace with his mind.
“I still don’t see how that matters.” Angela didn’t find Gabe’s excitement contagious. “He died. He couldn’t help it that he died before he came back.”
Gabe deflated and looked to his father. “Gabe,” Father began, “thanks for reading through those for us. I’m sure there are some other interesting things you could share with us.” Gabe nodded and abandoned his attempt to convince them that the King had to still be alive. He told them other tidbits of the law but didn’t stop believing the King had to still be living on the hill.
Two weeks quickly passed as Gabe read and reread the King’s law and artists brought their banners and presented them to the Assembly, the men elected to lead the village. Vulpine easily swayed the majority to his opinion. With mere comments, he led the Assemblymen to choose the banner that would serve his plans best.
The new banner was green to symbolize the fertile farm lands that ran the length of the road between the inn and the Square and stretched back more than half a mile from the farm houses on each side. On the wide end of the banner was a depiction of the Assembly Hall, honoring its preeminence in the village. The banner came to a point where there was a picture of the well, symbolizing life. Vulpine approved the banner’s meaning: the Assembly pointed the villagers to life.
Vulpine was just as pleased with the winning song. The bell beckoned to the villagers, and the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the winners. The Assemblymen huddled on the porch on that windy, gray day when the new banner was unfurled and the new village song was sung. The villagers were sure their leaders had chosen well as the song stirred their spirits just to hear it, and they were happy to sing its pledge to serve the village.
That evening at the inn, Vulpine snickered with Phineas over drinks about how easily the villagers had their minds taken off the King. “Our fathers got that old man to stay up on King’s Hill and locked up his law book. Now, the Assembly has voted out his song and banner and replaced them with ones of our own choosing. Sometimes it’s too easy, Phineas. The villagers elected me a member of the Assembly. The other members elected me lord of the Assembly,” Vulpine crowed. “There is only one title left for me to attain.” Vulpine reveled in the thought. “I’m practically already the king myself.”