“I’m not supposed to be here.”
Such was my thought that morning, when I saw the Morning King.
The day had held premonitions, from the moment of my awakening. I had showered and dressed in a fitful state, unable to put my mind to rest on any of a hundred pastimes or amusements, and had eventually left the house, intent to get some work done in the office if I was to be denied the further company of Morpheus.
As I left the house a thin sliver of a moon hung, just touching the tips of the mountains on the horizon. I stood, thrilled and immobile, terrified that mayhap the ancient gods of Greece or Rome were walking again, for here of a certainty was Diana’s bow.
I made my way to the train depot under this moon’s eerie auspice, and once aboard that conveyance I quickly became senseless to all outside my own rumbling, rattling carriage. The train seemed a living thing, a dragon rumbling low and fierce along its track, ignored by the sleeping masses as it prowled along its course.
In due time my station was announced and I ceased my moody woolgathering to alight onto the platform. The office was but a short walk from here, and I set out at a good pace.
Alas, the city has fallen into a state such that many could be seen making what accommodations as they could amongst the verdure along the sides of the roadway. I reflected sadly that these, the most noble of all of Providence’s creations, should be reduced to this state, and that society seemed either unwilling or unable to assist them in this condition. I was pondering further on my own culpability in this regard when my musings were again interrupted, this time by some commotion up ahead. One of these unfortunates, by look a young woman, was bounding down the lane, rounding a corner at a high rate of speed. All her worldly possessions were dangling loose from her arms, or hastily pushed into a large, shapeless rucksack on her back.
When she entered the main roadway she abated her pace and collected herself. However at this time my eyes were drawn to a figure beyond her, standing tall and straight on the pavement some forty feet ahead.
At first I mistook the figure for some new work of statuary, for so tall and noble was his bearing that it seemed impossible that any mortal man could attain to it. The illusion was further perfected by the grey-white hue of his clothing, looking so like marble that when a stray breeze ruffled his raiment I half wondered that the world would change so immediately.
I slowed my pace and took stock of my surroundings. Here were clouds, moving as they should through the firmament. Here was the sun, here were other passers-by, all walking through the world as if all were normal. It seemed only I was in this waking dream.
As I watched the poor wretch walked up slowly to the tall, noble man, whose robe, I now saw, was naught but a dirty and tattered blanket, light gray in color and mottled from countless nights sleeping on the earth. She set her belongings on the ground next to his and then circled him carefully, positioning herself so that the mysterious noble was between me and she.
“Surely,” I thought, as I walked closer, “this is nothing to do with me. I shall simply pass by these poor souls, and continue to the office. The world is as it always has been. This is no king of ancient lineage living rough in our fair city, it is simply a trick of the light and the erect posture of this man, who indeed has as much claim to human dignity as any…man…”
But at that point my thoughts faltered, for I had drawn close to him, and he fixed me with his eyes. Gray-blue they are, and clear as the breaking of dawn. His height exceeded even my own, yet about him was none of the softness that has entered into my frame owing to a life of leisure and indoor work. Nor was there about him an air of madness, but rather of mastery. I perceived in an instant that it mattered not of what material his clothing or cloak were made; had he been wearing sackcloth and twine his own being would have made them noble. It seemed to me in that moment royalty wore finery to project an air of nobility, but this man, this King of the Morning, his nobility transformed anything he wore into finery.
I tried to make some small obeisance and continue on my way, but I found my will draining away. His eyes stayed fixed on mine; in the periphery of my vision I could see the waif, sitting cross-legged on the ground, smiling as she watched her master at work.
He said but two words to me, and in them was contained my undoing. “Join us,” he said, quietly, and my will was no longer my own. In those words was contained an ancient covenant, that of liege and vassal. In his words I saw his world, that he and his court moved through our world but were not owned by it. The mores and standards of our civilized society mattered to him as little as the dew on the grass. I saw the rules by which he lived, free and principled, but not owned by any king or government. In his world, one’s word was still one’s bond, and each individual still held individual value, instead of the modern, interchangeability that–we are told–is the marvel of our age. I saw in his eyes a place of value, honor, and esteem held open to me, as this great Monarch lieutenant, the chief instrument of his will.
And in so seeing, I joined my will to his, and remember naught else.
You have laid great charges against me, and I believe them, though I do not remember perpetrating the crimes. I am accused of thievery, and I believe it. I am accused of vagrancy and I accept that, for I know that I have been following my King, and he lives not as mortal men do. I stand accused of drunkenness and dereliction and certainly I have drunk deep, though not of any cup that was filled from an ale-house’s cask.
I only know this, and let this be my final testimony: I walked with the Morning King while he would have me, and when he no longer had use for me he freed me in the streets again. Were this court to free me I could return to my former life, my former profession, little changed. I believe I could be of as great a service to my country as ever before.
But should the Morning King call to me again, for a day or a lifetime, I would again leave all and follow him, even to the gallows!