Alonz knelt in front of the altar in the castle’s chapel. His lips moved silently in prayer. He prayed twelve prayers every day for the soul of his newly deceased brother. As the second son, Alonz had dedicated himself to God knowing that his eldest brother, Kan, would become King after their father died. But Kan was killed by the invading barbarians this raiding season.
Truth be told, Alonz had been looking forward to the priesthood. He prayed for his brother’s soul every day - the soul of royalty, who must sin in order to rule. Sometimes he prayed to God to release him from the burden he knew would befall him now that his brother had passed. He wanted to go to the priesthood now, at 17, rather than ever be king. He knew it was selfish to ask God for favors for himself while he was praying for his brother. He asked forgiveness from God every time he did this.
Alonz heard the heavy footsteps of a man dressed in armor. He did not cease his praying.
“Son,” his father’s voice echoed through the small chapel.
Alonz raced through the end of the prayer in a whisper and then stood up. He turned to face his father. “Yes, Father.”
“Are you still praying for your brother?”
“Every day, father.”
“It is a fine thing to do for him. However, it is time for you to do for yourself. Come with me.”
Alonz followed his father out of the chapel and onto the open grasses of the hill the castle was built upon. His father looked up and out at everything while Alonz looked down to the ground. They stopped at a point on the hill with a view of the city below and the farms beyond it. Alonz’s father put his arm around the boy.
“This is but a small part of our kingdom,” his father said. “We have many more cities and another castle. I am the High King above many other kings as well. It is a lot for a man to rule.”
Alonz avoided looking at his father and instead looked at the horizon. “It is a heavy burden, I’m sure, father,” he said. It was not a burden Alonz wanted for himself.
“Yes, it is. And I am becoming an old man. It is not good for a man to watch his children die. It means he has lived for too long or been a poor father.”
“That isn’t true. It wasn’t your fault. Zan charged ahead of his entire army into the hoards of raiders.”
“A good father would have taught him better. Now I have to train you better than I did Zan. You will be the next King now.”
Alonz didn’t say anything and a long silence followed his father’s statement.
“If I were to die today, you would have a difficult time with the minor kings. Some would try to take the high kingship by force, saying you were a man destined for the cloth, not the sword. Your piety is well known, my son.”
“I’m sorry, father. I did what the second son does. I did not know I would become the eldest son. I was ready to join the priesthood after my next birthday.”
“You have done no wrong, Alonz. I have come up with a way for us to prepare the other kings for your succession to the throne.”
“What is it, father?”
“There is a small kingdom in Kenther. The King on the throne in that little castle is old and has no sons.The kingdom has fertile fields along the coast. You will take an army with you and take the kingdom for us.”
Alonz was shocked. “But, father, I don’t have the right training...”
“Nonsense. You were trained to ride and fight just like your brother was. You have received all the schooling he had. Just because you are not as brash and loud as he was does not mean you don’t have it in you.”
Alonz felt shamed. His protestations had made his father criticize his dead son.
“I will do as you wish, father.”
“It is nearly fall. We will have to wait until next battle season. I want you to prepare in that time.”
Alonz spent all of fall practicing swordsmanship, riding and archery. He practiced with the men who would be a part of his army. At first they laughed - he was no better than a young child. Alonz would not give up. Well after the men had returned home to their wives and farms, he continued to practice. He would only stop when there was no light left to see by. By the time winter came, he was the best shot with a bow and a strong rider. His men spent the winter with their families as was customary. Alonz continued to practice in the cold, using straw dummies in the snow to practice his thrusts and lunges on.
When spring came, he was ready for battle. As the kitchen prepared a feast to mark his leaving, he sat in the chapel and prayed. He prayed for hours - for his brother’s soul, for his soul, for the bodies and souls of his army. He prayed, too, for his mother’s happiness and his father’s legacy.
At the leaving feast, his mother clung to him. His father drank to his and his army’s honor and valor. His mother wept the morning of his leaving. Alonz let her hold him against her chest while his horse was prepared and the supply wagons were rolled out.
“I will return, mother,” he said. “And I will make you and father proud.”
She stroked his hair. “I am already proud. Just promise me that I will not have to bury another son.”
He promised her that he would return alive to her. His father gripped his shoulder hard and hugged him. Alonz knew he must win this battle, must take this new kingdom. Failure would mean the breaking of his parents’ hearts.
The journey to Kenther took a week. They set up camp with the castle of Kenther in view. In the morning, an army had assembled itself outside of the castle. Alonz’s army rode to meet the other army, stopping a half mile apart. Alonz called his generals to him.
“We must pray before our battle,” he said to them.
“We have priests for that,” one of them replied.
“The priests will give the sacrament and blessings to us and our men. However, we must also pray. We must show God our supplication. Come, gather round,” he said.
The generals gathered in a circle around him in the field. The army could see them as Alonz knelt and the generals followed suit.
“Lord, today we commit acts against men that are sinful. We loose their souls from their mortal shell in order that a more bloodier end does not come to this kingdom when their king dies. We ask that you take in their souls to your heavenly kingdom though they sin against us today also. We ask your blessings and forgiveness for all the men on the battlefield today. We ask for a swift and quick victory that we may lessen the sins of the men here. Amen.”
Alonz and the generals joined the army as they receive the sacrament from the priests. Alonz continued to pray silently until the army was ready for the fight. In the heat of the battle, as blood flew from each body he stuck down, Alonz continued his prayers to God. After each man Alonz stuck down, he would quietly say, “Bless him, Lord.” After every parry and thrust he dodged, he would quietly say, “Thank you, Lord.”
The battle was won and the castle his in only a few hours. He praised God for his victory. They feasted in the castle’s hall, his entire army enjoying the contents of the castle’s kitchen. Half of the army would remain with Alonz to keep the castle, and half would return home to bring his father to the castle.
When his father came, Alonz had the staff prepare another feast. Before the feasting could begin, Alonz brought the crown of Kenther to his father. He knelt on one knee, bowed his head, and held the crown out to his father.
“Your highness, I present to you the kingship of Kenther.”
His father stood from his place at the table and gestured for Alonz to stand. He then took the crown from his son’s hands. He turned to the hall whose eyes were on them now.
“You have won this Kingdom for your father and for this I am pleased and made proud.” He turned to his son. “I would further be proud and pleased if you were to rule this kingdom in my stead.”
He placed the crown upon his son’s head and said, “All Hail King Alonz.”
The hall erupted in applause. The food and drink was served and the castle was awash with merriment for everyone except Alonz. He was now to rule this place, a King who must sin to rule. He needed someone to pray for his soul.