The Grave

 

I only realised the truth after I had seen the face of the king; and that was after the king was dead.

All through the summer his condition had continued to improve; but he did not get better. Councillors and advisers gathered by his bed waiting to see what orders he would give, and hoped that he would give none. His son was only seven. If the king died, which God forbid, then the Council could expect fourteen full years of power.

Kings, princes, palaces, councillors. They were distant and fantastic to me as I walked through the forest that night, gun in hand, tired, and hungry.

I saw a man who I did not know, checking traps. I think that they were traps; open cages with bait of some sort in them. I could not see what bait he was using; something small and crawling and alive.

He came to one of the cages; the door was shut and there was something in it.

'Got you' he muttered to himself, and reached into the cage to pull it out.

It was not a type of animal that I had ever seen before. It was wriggly and wrinkled and at first I thought that it was some sort of bald rat. And then I saw its arms and its legs and its face and I shouted out in horror because I thought it was a human baby.

He was holding it by the scruff of its neck. Its little feet were kicking; but it was too small to be a baby.

It had an old man's face.

'They get out sometimes' said the trapper 'and I catch them. People will pay me a lot of money for them to get them back. Or to stop them getting back.'

'Some sort of animal?'

'No, not animals. I have heard of people who eat them, though.' He laughed as if he had made a great joke. 'But this one I will sell.'

I left him, and headed for home. But I had not been walking for five minutes when I heard cries and shouts, and the fireing of guns.

There was blood on the grass, gun wounds in the trapper.

'They smashed it with a big rock' he murmured. 'That was what they came for. Not for me; nor for the money they could have had for it, but to kill it.'

It was still moving, its arms and legs wriggling; but its wrinkled, beared head had been crushed. It was not crying, but it moaned, a strange sound.

I took the child thing home and my wife tried to bind its little head up with bandages, and give it herbs to ease its pain, and give it a cloth soaked in milk to suck on. It was a fragile thing; and she fed it and nursed it for over a week.

Then, she buried it in the forest; near the place where the trapper had found it. I marked the place with a few stones and she picked some wild flowers and decorated it with them, and we muttered whatever prayers we could think of. I felt vaguely guilty, as I had when I had read out prayers over my dead puppy.

I tried to find it after the other funeral, of course, but the flowers blew away and the stones got moved.

The kings funeral was full of pomp and ceremony and there were black horses and trumpets and bells. The chief counciller wept openly and expressed his pity for the boy king who would never know his father. I was one of many who filed past the coffin, to nod my respects to a man I had never known.

'Good night, your majesty' I said as I kissed that cold, royal face: the face that I had already buried and marked with stones and wild flowers.

 

 

 

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