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  • Writer's pictureJeff Bacon

The Head of the Snake

Part 1 of 7

The smoke from the fires rolled over the grassy ditch where I kneeled next to my father. The two arrows sticking out of his chest and the blood splattered over both of us told the story. The hero of days past had fallen, and it was my turn to grab glory. The last words he gurgled as he choked on his own blood were, “Be brave.”

Father always preached about honor and bravery, but what I felt was unlike anything else. These marauders came to our island to pillage, to strip our kingdom of its wealth. They started with our greatest treasures, the warriors of old who kept us safe and gave us our soft life. I felt a calm need for revenge; the sadness turned into a desire to see the men responsible choke on my blade as I plunged it into their toothless skulls.

I broke the arrows off and laid father’s hands on his chest. I place my hand on his forehead as I silently wished him a peaceful journey to the next world. The other men ran to the battle, letting anger fuel their actions. My father taught me anger is the enemy of thought. They ran to face them head on; I would hit them from behind.

I sheathed my sword as I picked up father’s quiver and bow. I walked a mile out of my way to avoid the front lines of the fight. I nocked an arrow as I followed a ravine. They only left two men to cover their flank. Their lack of respect for our forces gave me an advantage. I took another arrow out of my quiver and pushed it into the ground. I pulled back the bowstring and took aim. Two perfect shots was all I needed.

I exhaled and let the arrow loose. I nocked the next arrow before the first found its mark in the neck of a dirty man as he leaned against a tree to witness the battle from behind. The second arrow flew straight into the chest of the second man. I walked to where he laid gasping for breath. I dropped my bow to unsheathe my sword and push it through the base of his neck to send him on his way.

I skimmed the ground as I drew closer to the battle. I had to pick my targets wisely; I had to chop the head off the snake. I watched as the men from the villages ran into the wall of locked shields. There were barely sixty soldiers, but it was more than enough against the villagers and farmers. I had hoped to see the king’s army come over the hill, but that was only a dream. The reality was we were on our own.

Three men sat on their horses shouting orders. They would be my first targets. Father always said an army with no leader is just a mob of murderers. The first two men were easy targets, but the third saw my position, drew his sword as he raced his horse towards me. He ducked low so the horse would be his cover. I pulled back the arrow and aimed for the neck of his steed.

The horse tumbled as the arrow pierced his neck, the man’s leg stuck in the stirrups of his saddle as the horse rolled over it. He was of no consequence, not a threat as he laid there and moaned for mercy. I took aim at random soldiers who held the shields. With every arrow I let loose, I moved closer to the line. The soldiers couldn’t decide if they should break and pursue me or hold off the men in front of them.

I had two arrows left. There was one man who annoyed me by yelling, “Hold the line.” He yelled this over and over while he stared at me. I ducked behind a tree as I put one arrow in my mouth and the other on my bowstring. I turned, pulled, aimed, and shot the first, then the second arrow into the right and left sides of his chest. He stood straight with pain. This was the man who killed my father.

The shield wall broke as the remaining soldiers fled back to their ship. I ran through the herd of men, swinging my sword at anything that moved. Once I made it through, I turned with the rest of the villagers to pursue the small remnants of the thieves. We ran to the top of the hill to see the ship surrounded by the king’s army and the once proud marauders on their knees begging for mercy. I stopped to kneel and catch my breath as I watched the remaining soldiers die without dignity.

The king arrived with his guard as his army collected weapons and the spoils of war. A kind woman brought me a bucket of water and two rags. I used them to clean up as I sat at the top of the hill. I saw one of the village chiefs speaking to the king as he pointed in my direction. I continued to wash the blood off my hands; I was not interested in telling the tale, my only goal was to get back to father and give him the burial he deserved.

Two of the king’s guards rode in my direction. Once they made it to the top of the hill, they dismounted their horses.

“What’s your name, boy?”

I looked up at the two guards dressed in their battle armor and blue sashes. “I’m Quinten, son of Francis the Great.”

The guard kneeled next to me. “I’m Archibald. Your father saved my life more than once. Where is he?”

“Father died in the battle. They came to our home and ambushed him.”

Archibald lowered his head. “They knew enough to take out the best of us first. That is a loss to our entire kingdom.”

“Thank you for that. I must leave now to bury him properly.”

“Quinten, the King has asked us to bring you to him. We will find your father and bring him to the castle. We will place him on a boat with full honors and fire it as he floats to the next world.”

“Father was a simple man. A simple burial next to my mother will suffice.”

Archibald shook his head in agreement as he turned to the other guard. “Leave your horse and inform the king we will bury his father then come to the palace.”

The other guard nodded, then turned and ran toward the king’s position.

“Come, Quinten. Let us find your father.”

Archibald and I mounted our horses to begin the trek back towards his father’s body. We rode quietly through the wooded area until we came upon the ditch where the body laid.

“This is a ways from the battle Quinten, how did he die again?”

I pointed towards our homestead. “We were out hunting when the invaders fired our house. When we noticed the smoke, we ran towards the house. I tripped. Father made it over the hill first and they shot him with two arrows. I stayed in the bushes while they walked past father’s body.”

I put my hands under father’s arms to pull him from the ground. Archibald helped as I threw father’s body over my horse’s back. We took the body behind the burning embers of the house to a small grave site where mother laid. I found a hoe and an axe to dig the hole. The gentle wind blew smoke in my face as I laid father down. Archibald waited for me to say one last goodbye before filling the hole. I fashioned a cross from two branches and lashed it together with twine. I placed the cross in the ground to mark the site of the greatest man I ever knew. There was nothing left for me here, it was time to move forward.

Part 2 of 7

The ride to the castle was quiet. I reflected on everything my father had taught me. I remembered one point he made time and time again as we rode through the castle gates. The castle is not for warriors, the further you stay away from it, the better your life will be. It was my intention to leave as soon as I could.

I had expectations of what the inside of the castle would look like. Pristine, clean, and orderly is what I thought. What I saw was disgusting, dirty, and chaotic. The stables smelled of poop that sat too long, several of the animals were sickly. A blacksmith’s shop for sharpening swords and forging steel, everyone covered in soot. I had no words to describe the tavern. The sounds of drunk men arguing wasn’t as alarming as the men stepping outside and urinating on the street.

Archibald and I dismounted from our horses. We walked up the steps into the king’s area of the castle. The atmosphere changed once we passed through the guarded doors. There were paintings on the wall, the floors were immaculately clean, the smell of urine was replaced with aromas of lavender and mint. We turned the corner where two large doors opened to allow us into the king’s court. We walked on a long red carpet to the front of the court where we kneeled before the throne. The king stepped out of the wing to sit on his throne. A beautiful woman with blonde hair, fair skin, and incredible breasts followed close behind the king. I couldn’t stop looking at her, she was stunningly beautiful.

I wasn’t typically nervous, but she made my palms sweat. The king noticed my obsession with the lady and smiled at me.

“Arise Quinten. Meet your king.”

I stood and tried to fix my eyes on the king, but they kept wandering over to the lady. She also noticed my obsession; every time my eyes wandered in her direction, she smiled and tilted her head.

The king stood. “Quinten, it was brought to my attention that you single-handedly defeated the scoundrels that invaded my lands. Your cunning and bravery shall be told around fires and sung about for years to come.”

I couldn’t speak, I simply nodded my head in acknowledgement of his words.

“She’s breathtakingly beautiful, isn’t she?” The king came closer to me. “She is my daughter, Marian. It seems she’s quite taken with you as well.”

I smiled for a moment, then straightened my face. “Yes, your majesty, she is quite beautiful.”

The king put his hands on my shoulders. “I have no heir to my throne. I think a proper reward for your deeds earlier today would be to offer my daughter’s hand in marriage. What do you think about that, Quinten?”

“It seems too generous of a prize for my actions, for I see no greater treasure in the kingdom.”

I couldn’t believe I had spoken those words. I turned red with embarrassment.

The king smiled as he stepped past me. “It is the opportunity you have earned. It does not come without some sacrifices. You must follow our religion and traditions, which includes a stipulation that if she dies before you, you will be placed in her crypt with her body to die as well.”

I did not hear his words. Her beauty and my desire for her made everything else seem distant. I shook my head as I smiled at her. She smiled back as if to acknowledge the attraction was mutual. The king had finished his speech as I stared at my prize.

“Sir Quinten, do you agree to all the terms of this union?”

I foolishly answered a resounding “Yes, I do.”

The king clapped his hands. “It’s decided then. On the morrow, I will wed Quinten to Marian. Take Quinten to the guest quarters, have him cleaned and dressed appropriately. Then escort him to the chapel where he will pray, reflect, and prepare for the ceremony.”

The king wrapped his arms around me. “Welcome to the throne, my boy.”

Archibald escorted me to the east wing to a large bedroom. The bed was, as expected, four pillars, drapes, and silk sheets. The right of the room had a large basin with two naked women who stood in the bath holding soaps and fragrances. My senses returned to me, and the gravity of the situation my hormones had led me into flooded my brain with questions.

“Archibald, what is wrong with her?”

“Absolutely nothing Quinten, why?”

“You are the king’s first and most trusted. Why haven’t you married her and lay a claim to the throne?”

“I have no interest in the throne and my heart belongs to another. Oh, there have been suitors and others with promise, none would tie their destiny to the bride. None had your courage.”

I pointed at the bath area. “What am I to make of all this?”

“I owed you father a great debt, which is now owed to you. You have two tests before the marriage. The women in the bath are here to tempt you. If you control your desires while they bathe you, then you must pray nonstop in the chapel. Not a wink of sleep until the ceremony.”

I looked at the women. The princess had robbed me of my desire for any other woman. “The bathing is not a problem, not sleeping is another matter entirely.”

“The rules of the contest are simple. Your bath can last as long as you wish. Once you enter the chapel, you must remain awake.” I looked at Archibald with a raised brow. “What I’m saying, Quinten, is sleep in the bath. When you wake, I will take you to the chapel.”

The urge to sleep had grown every minute. I no longer cared whether Archibald was truthful, my mind needed rest and my body sleep. I stripped my clothes and stepped into the bath waters. I laid my head back on a rolled-up towel as the women began washing me. I closed my eyes as my body fell into a deep sleep.

Part 3 of 7

The entire kingdom attended the wedding and spoke of its greatness for years to come. The people loved me and Marian; they said we were far better rulers than the king. The king saw the wonderful things we did for the people of the kingdom and gave us the authority to apply our will. Archibald became my best friend and my personal advisor.

Our love inspired people throughout the world. Life for us was perfect, the only thing missing was a child. I had a special house built on my father’s land where Marian and I would go to spend time together. It was where I planned to start our family and create an heir.

Marian and I rode to the homestead. I dismounted from my horse to help Marian down from hers.

“My dear husband, you still think I need your help to get off a horse?”

“No, but I will not miss a chance to place my hands on my beautiful bride.”

Marian smiled as she slid off the horse into my arms. She kissed me, then pushed me back.

“There will be plenty of time for that. Put the horses away and meet me in the house.”

Marian sauntered into the home while I boarded the horses. I barely lashed the horses before I darted towards the house. I swung the door open, prepared to meet my wife and bed her. I stopped in my tracks when I saw Marian’s body, fallen to the floor, a snake attached to her leg. Its jaws released as Marian’s body shook from the venom. The snake slithered off as I kneeled and wept, watching the life drain from the deep blue eyes of my wife.

Part 4 of 7

The tragedy ran through the kingdom like a gale wind. The future queen had died, and her fate had sealed my fate. I had three days to prepare to be entombed with Marian’s body. I would take provisions and water with me. I would lie with her until my last breath. I would honor my promise and be at her side for all eternity.

Archibald came into my room. “Everyone out, now.” The servants filed out of the room. I remained in my chair, staring at the fireplace. Archibald kneeled next to my chair. “I have a ship waiting, my lord. Say the word and we will sail away from this place.”

I turned my head. “My friend, life without honor is not a life I want to live. Would you?”

“Quinten. This promise you made was crazy. I would rather take you anywhere else than to watch you starve in a cave with a corpse.”

“There is no better friend than you. I will fulfill my obligation. When I am gone, take some of my wealth and leave if you must.”

“I will watch over your grave and tell your tale as long as I have breath. Tell me, how can I serve you right now?”

I rubbed my head. “We have time. Let’s eat and drink to our heart’s content. Let’s create a few more tales for you to tell after I’m gone.”

Archibald stood. “I say we start in the tavern and figure it out from there.”

Archibald and I spent the next two days moving from feast to feast and drinking barrels of ale. During our drunkenness we would display feats of bravery and skill by throwing axes, shooting arrows at targets, climbing walls, and swordplay. At least that is what we thought we were doing. In reality, we were just two drunk men making spectacles of ourselves while the rest of the palace guard made sure we didn’t hurt anyone, including ourselves.

The king had supplies and a barrel of fresh water placed in the tomb. He didn’t want to lose his son, but respected my honor in keeping my promise. I walked alongside the casket as it slowly made its way to the tomb. The pallbearers unloaded it from the cart and hauled it through the opening. I was following behind when the king yelled “Stop.”

The king walked up and handed me a small bottle. “I put enough supplies in the tomb for thirty days. If you decide to end your suffering, drink the vile and you will fall asleep.” The king smiled. “It’s painless.”

I took the vile and nodded my head. The king hugged me. “I will come here every day to check on you. There will be guards here until your last breath, my son.”

I walked into the tomb and sat on a stone as I watched them roll a boulder in front of the door and seal us in. I stood and walked around to investigate my living quarters. There were vines and other plants growing in the walls. There were a few rocks with flat tops, and one grated window to allow light and fresh air in while I still lived. I opened the casket to look at my wife. She was pale, but still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I was opening the chest to pull out a piece of bread when I heard a strange noise. Something was moving about the rocks. I pulled my belly knife out and walked over to investigate. I heard the movement again, but this time it was by the casket. I stood on one of the flat rocks to see what was stalking me. It was a snake, but not any snake. It had the same red and black markings of the snake that killed Marian. Its eyes focused on me while I jumped to the next rock.

The snake coiled up and took a defensive position towards me. It was longer than I remembered; it was hard to tell, but I was sure it was longer than a full-grown man. I stepped back to a pile of rocks; I grabbed the largest one I could find and threw it at the snake. The rock rolled over the snake’s body and pinned it against the stone platform the casket rested on.

The snake thrashed and coiled to free itself. I picked up a large rock that had a strange plant with three leaves growing out of it. I walked as close as I could to the snake. It stopped thrashing about and looked at me with its red glowing eyes, as I lifted the rock over my head. I threw the rock down on the snake’s skull with all the force I could muster. The rock crushed the head of the snake. I wasn’t sure if it was the same snake that killed Marian, but it felt like revenge.

The snake’s body lay there, lifeless, as I removed the rock from the snake’s head. The three leaves from the plant growing in the rock laid on its head. I took my knife and cut the snake in half. I took the hind end of the snake, opened its mouth and stuck it in as far as I could. It was stupid, but I thought it was interesting to see the snake eating its own arse. A sort of morbid decoration for my new home.

I sat on a rock as I ate my bread, staring at the dead snake. I saw it twitch, then I saw one of its eyes open. I walked over and put my boot on its head, pulled out my knife and severed it from the body. I held it up as the other eye opened. The snake began hissing. I threw it on the ground.

“What in the hell are you?” I asked, not expecting an answer.

“Hell is where I’m from, boy. You defeated me before I could kill you. I wonder if a deal is out of the question.”

I sat back on the rock. “What kind of deal do you have in mind, demon?”

“Place my body back together and I will give you a way to resurrect your wife. I will leave the island and you in peace.”

“Why would I trust you?”

The serpent rolled its head out of the dirt. “The king once worshiped me and my kind. He stopped and switched to God. This was simply revenge. They left me behind to take his daughter at the height of his happiness. That was the prophecy, and I fulfilled it.”

“That doesn’t answer my question. What’s stopping you from trying to kill me again?”

“Demons don’t lie, that’s what humans do. I swear to you, place my body back together and I will give you the secret to bring your wife back, then leave you forever.”

I thought about it for a minute. It really didn’t matter to me whether I died now or in the next few days, but if I could have my wife back, that was everything to me.

I walked over to pick up the parts of the snake. I had been brutal with his dismemberment, so it took a few minutes to puzzle him back together. Each piece that was laid correctly fused back together until the snake was fully intact.

The serpent slithered around till it found the three leaved plant. It coiled up and licked each leaf with its tongue, then blew on the leaves. “It is done. Take these three leaves and place them on her forehead. In a few hours her soul will return to her body and she will awaken.”

The serpent slithered through a crack in the cave wall. I took a large stone and put it in front of the hole to ensure the demon would not return. I picked the three leaves off the plant and placed them on her forehead as instructed. “Now we wait, my dear.”

Part 5 of 7

I had laid down to sleep and woke to the moaning of my wife. I stood and rushed to the coffin. Her eyes were open. She tried to sit up, but they had sewn her dress into the lining of the coffin to prevent her from moving out of her death pose. I used my knife to cut her free. She sat up. The three leaves dropped into the casket as I lifted her from the box.

“Oh, my dear wife, you live. I love you.”

She looked at me with wide eyes as she coughed. I sat her down on the ground next to one of the flat tops. I grabbed a cup and dipped it in the water barrel as her cough continued. I gave her some water, and the coughing stopped. I brushed the hair from her face and smiled.

“Quinten, where are we? Is this hell?”

“No, this is not hell. You were dead and sealed in this tomb. I brought you back.”

Tears welled up in her eyes as she flopped her head back. “I’m alive?” She brought her head back down. “You brought me back?”

I gave her a hug. “Yes, nothing can keep us apart.”

The guards heard us talking and looked through the barred window cut into the cave. Once they realized Marian was alive, they summoned more men to unseal the cave and let us out. The king met Marian with open arms as he cried. He put her in his coach and took her to the castle. They left me to walk with the guards back to the palace.

Archibald came out of the tomb holding the three leaves. “I pulled these out of the coffin. This is what you say woke her?”

“Yes. Given to me by a serpent.”

“Quinten, have you told anyone else about this?”

“No, only you. Why?”

Archibald put the leaves into a small leather pouch. “Keep this between us for right now. I will tell you more when we have some privacy.”

I didn’t give it a second thought. “Fine. Fine. Fine. Let’s get to the palace.”

We could hear the celebration as we approached the castle. The people danced and drank as they proclaimed the day to be a miracle from God. The guards met us at the gate to the palace entrance.

A guard stepped forward and bowed. “Prince Quinten.” He stood rigidly as he continued, “The king wanted me to tell you Princess Marian has retired to her chambers to rest and is not to be disturbed.”

Archibald stepped forward. “Surely the king didn’t mean to include her husband in that order.”

The guard addressed Archibald. “He made it a point to me to make sure Prince Quinten knew it included him.”

I clenched my teeth and pushed my chest out. “Step aside and let me pass. I wish to speak with the king.”

“We are to escort you to your private chamber. I will let the king know you wish to speak with him.”

The guards surrounded us as they marched us to my chambers. As we entered, they posted two guards outside the doors, then shut and locked them from the outside.

“Quinten, what in the name of our Lord is going on?”

I sat on the bed as I stared at the doors. “I don’t know. We need to wait for the king.”

Part 6 of 7

We stayed in the chambers for three days. The guards brought us food and clean clothes. The doors opened and Marian walked through.

“Archibald, leave us. I need a few moments with Quinten.”

My heart almost leaped out of my chest when I saw her. I didn’t even notice Archibald leaving the room.

“My dear, I hope you’re feeling better today.”

Marian stood and didn’t break her pose. “The king killed himself last night. By law, you are now king.”

I walked over to hug Marian. “Oh, my Lord. I’m so sorry, my dear.”

She batted my arms away. “Do not approach me like that again. You are King and I am Queen, that is it from now on.”

I stepped back. “Did I offend you, darling? Why do you act this way?”

“Quinten, do you understand what you did?”

“Yes, I saved you from death.”

“You took my soul from paradise and put me back into this life. I’d walked in the garden with my mother and grandparents. I was happy and at peace. You took that away from me.”

The bitterness in her voice turned my blood into ice. I wasn’t sure, but my loving wife seemed to hate me. The glare in her eyes and unwillingness to embrace me left a hole in my chest.

Marian continued. “You will be a silent king, only brought out to the open when needed. Otherwise, you and your servant will remain here for the rest of your days.”

My eyes were full of tears. “Can we sit and talk this over?” I reached for her again. “If you need more time, that is fine, but let’s talk about this.”

“You are lucky I don’t let you rot in the dungeon. This is your life now. You denied me paradise, I will deny you love and freedom.”

Marian turned and walked towards the doors. “Guards, let me out.”

The guards opened the doors and pushed Archibald back into the room. The doors slammed shut once Marian was through.

“Archibald, did you hear that? The king is dead.”

Archibald scrunched his brown. “The king walked past your door while Marian was in here.”

“Marian just told me he killed himself last night.”

“She lied to you. The king told me we were free to leave the room whenever.”

“Wait, why did they push you through the door?”

Archibald scoffed. “They didn’t. I was making a joke and tripped, the guards were holding me up. Didn’t you hear the laughter?”

I sighed. “No, I didn’t. I only heard my wife. Keep the lie between us. Let’s go see what is going on.”

Archibald opened the door; the guards had left. We exited the room and proceeded to the main hall, where we would hopefully see the king and Marian. We heard conversations and laughter as we drew closer to the entrance. I walked through the doorway and everyone stopped talking. All eyes were on me.

I grabbed a glass of wine and raised it to the ceiling. “Here’s to Princess Marian. The miracle of her return, and the love of my life.”

Everyone raised their glass and drank to my toast. The celebration continued. The only seats left were at a secondary table. That is where Archibald and I sat. I looked over; Marian was sitting next to the king and the captain of our naval flagship. This was the first time I had seen him even sitting in the hall. I stared as I tried to figure out why he was sitting in my normal seat.

Marian ignored me throughout the evening. I tried several times to speak with her, she would turn and leave any conversation I was a part of. The night ended, I looked around for Marian. I noticed both her and the captain had left the celebration early. I walked up to the king for the first time.

“Your majesty, how are you feeling?”

“So happy Quinten, thank you for bringing her back to me.”

“If I may be so bold, Marian seems different. She certainly has no time for me.”

The king smiled. “She’s been through a trauma. She’s just blowing off some steam and will be right as rain soon. Give her some space and time, she will come back to you.”

Patience was never my strong suit. I walked out of the hall to search for my wife. Archibald followed behind; he knew what I was doing without a word spoken. I assumed that the captain of a ship would want to take her to his boat. I set out to explore the docks to see if I could spot her.

Archibald tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards a small rowboat in the middle of the harbor. I could make out the silhouette of Marian sitting across from the captain. She leaned over and kissed him. My heart sunk.

Archibald grabbed my shoulder. “Let’s go to the tavern. You don’t need to watch this.”

“Three days after. Three days, and she is with another man.”

“Let’s drink Quinten. Let us drink.”

I looked up at the stars. “No. I’m going back to the palace. I need some sleep.”

We walked back. We parted ways at the palace gates. Archibald went home to see his family, and I continued to my quarters. I undressed and crawled into bed. My thoughts were dark as I drifted off to sleep.

A short while later, I felt someone sit next to me in my bed. I opened my eyes to see Marian. I smiled at her. She smiled back as she caressed my forehead. That’s when I felt the sharp pain in my chest. I looked down to see a dagger handle. I looked to my side to see the captain smiling. “Sleep boy, go to sleep.”

The lights went dim as I heard the distant laughing of Marian and the captain. I let my last breath go and drifted into the abyss.

Part 7 of 7

I woke up screaming. My eyes were wide open as I gasped for air. I was in a coffin. My heart was beating so hard I could feel it hitting my ribs. I tried to sit up, but I was too weak.

“Calm down, Quinten.”

The voice came from Archibald as he stood over top of me. “Nice to have you back my prince.”

My throat was so dry, I couldn’t form a word. Archibald cradled my head and gave me water to sip. With every breath, I could feel the strength returning to my body. I raised my arms enough to use my hands to feel where the dagger had rested in my chest.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You were murdered by Marian and the captain. I brought you back with the three leaves of that plant.”

“How long have I been gone?”

“One day. I hoped the leaves would bring you back.” Archibald plucked the leaves off my forehead and placed them back in his leather pouch. “I think these are worth saving.”

Archibald helped me out of the coffin. My legs stabilized, but I still needed help to stand. “We need to get to the king.”

“The king is being executed today.”

I looked at Archibald. “What?”

“Marian and the captain accused him of murdering you. They seized the guard, the castle, and the king. He is to be weighted down with rocks and thrown into the harbor.”


“We have an hour, Quinten. What shall we do?”

“Where is the king now?” I asked.

“They chained him to the dock. He’s being moved to one of the ships soon.”

“Take me to him now.”

Archibald helped me out of the room to where he had two horses waiting for us. I had gained enough strength to ride but could not mount the horse on my own. Archibald threw me up on the horse; I rode off before he could mount on his.

I rode to the docks and saw the king surrounded by guards. They looked at me and dropped their spears as their mouths hung open. I dismounted my horse and walked over to the king.

“Release the king, he is innocent.”

The head guard answered back. “He must pay for your murder my prince.”

I turned to him. “You idiot, how can he be guilty of my murder when I stand here in front of you? Release him.”

They took the shackles off his wrists and ankles as Marian appeared. I turned to face my wife. Her face was white as snow.

“What’s wrong, Marian? No words for your husband?”

She muttered something as she turned her head to the captain standing on his ship.

The king stood. “Secure the captain and my daughter. Bring them to me.”

The guards followed their orders. Marian and the captain were bound and brought before the king.

“Tie their legs to their arms and secure a weight to each. Throw them in a rowboat.”

The king turned towards me. “I have made peace with my death. I have made deals with demons and betrayed my kingdom and God.” He turned to the people. “The only way to cleanse our kingdom is to start anew. I name Quinten as the new king. You will follow him as you have me.”

I stepped in front of the king. “What are you doing?”

The king hugged me. “I must atone for my sins. I may not have plunged the dagger into your heart, but it was my fault. Marian and the captain are poison to the kingdom. We will all meet our fate in the harbor as planned.”

The king walked down to the dock. He grabbed an axe from one guard as he entered the rowboat. He took the oars and gently rowed into the middle of the harbor. He took a rope and lashed himself to his daughter. Then he scuttled the rowboat with the axe. The boat sank slowly as Marian and the captain screamed. The boat and bodies were swallowed by the sea.

We all walked back to the palace. I entered the great hall and took my seat on the throne. The guards kneeled to acknowledge me. When they rose, I dismissed them. Archibald was the only one left in the hall.

“Your majesty, may I take leave and go to my family? I will return in the morning.”

I smiled. “I owe you everything. Take as much time as you need.”

Archibald left, and I was alone. I heard a noise coming from behind my throne. I turned and looked. It was the demon snake.

“Pardon me your majesty. Any interest in making another deal?”

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