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Palicrovol Becomes a King In His Heart
This is the story of how God taught an unambitious man to seek a throne.
The Dream of Zymas
Zymas was the King's right arm, the King's right eye, and -- so the
irreverent said -- the King's right cobble, too. Zymas was born to a
stablehand, but first his strength, then his skill, and at last his wisdom
brought him such fame that now he was general of all the King's armies, and
the terror of Zymas spread throughout all of Burland.
Zymas had only five hundred soldiers, both horse and foot, but this was
a day when a village had five families and a town had fifty, so that five hundred
soldiers were quite enough to subdue whoever needed subduing. And if some
group of barons or counts combined their petty forces so that they were ten
such barons, they could be sure that one had joined the rebellion as the King's
agent, two had joined as Zymas's men, and the rest would hang before the
month was out.
Zymas had known days of glory on the frontier, when wild tribes from the
inner mountains destroyed themselves against the pikes of Zymas's army. And
there were days of glory on the littoral, when the raiders from the east beached
their craft and died by the hundreds before they could get beyond the tideline.
Oh, Zymas was a mighty warrior! But now, with the king's outward enemies all
broken and paying tribute, Zymas led his men from mountain to coastline, not
to defend Burland from attack, but to protect the tax collectors, to punish the
disobedient, to terrorize the weak and defenseless.
There were those who said that Zymas had no heart, that he killed for
pleasure. There were those who said that Zymas had no mind of his own, that
he never so much as questioned any order that the King gave him. But those
who said such things were wrong.
Zymas camped for the night with his half a thousand men on the banks
of Burring, high on the river, where the locals still called the stream Banning.
The village was too small to have a name -- four families, recorded in the books
as "seventh village near Banningside." It was recorded that this village had not
paid their assessment of thirty bushels. This was causing resentment and was
a bad example to the other villages. Zymas was here to punish them.
Tomorrow he would come with fifty footsoldiers, surround the village, and then
call for their surrender. If they surrendered, they would be hanged. If they did
not surrender, they would be spitted and hung over fires or seated on
sharpened stakes or some such thing, the normal these days, men and women
and children, the normal. Zymas contemplated tomorrow and felt his heart
drain away as it always did, so that he would not be ashamed.
When at last his heart was empty, he lay on the cold ground and slept.
But tonight his still rest was broken by a dream. It surprised him to be
dreaming, surprised him even within the dream, for dreaming was something
he had given up long ago. It was a most holy dream, for in it he saw an ancient
stag walking painfully through a wood. What was the pain? A rat hung by its
teeth from the hart's belly, and at every step the stag shuddered with the pain.
Zymas reached out his hand to take the rat, but a voice stopped him.
"If you take away the rat, what will close the great wound in the hart's
Zymas looked closer, and now he saw that the rat's teeth were holding
together the lips of a long and vicious wound that threatened to split the stag
from breast to groin. Yet he knew the rat was poisoning the wound.
Then a fierce eagle stooped and landed brutally on the hart's back.
Zymas saw at once what he must do. He took the eagle in his hands, turned it
upside down, and thrust its feet under the hart. The talons reached and
seized, spanning the wound, binding the edges together far more firmly than
the rat's teeth. Then, still upside down, the eagle devoured the rat, every bit.
The stag was saved because Zymas had set the eagle in its place.
"Palicrovol," said the voice, and Zymas knew it meant the eagle.
"Nasilee," said the eagle, and Zymas knew it meant the rat.
Nasilee was the name of the King. Palicrovol was the name of the Count
of Traffing. Zymas awoke then, and lay awake the rest of the night.
Before dawn he took his fifty men and went to the village, and in
moments the people had surrendered. The patriarch of the little village tried to
explain why the taxes had gone unpaid, but Zymas had heard the excuses a
thousand times. He did not hear the old man. He did not hear the moans of
the women, the crying of the children. He only saw that each one stood before
him with the face of a great old stag, and he knew that his dream had not come
to him by chance.
"Men," he said, and all heard his voice, though he did not shout.
"Zymas," they answered. They called him by his unadorned name
because he had made it nobler than any title they might have given him.
"Nasilee gnaws at the belly of Burland like a rat, and we, we are his
Puzzled, they did not know how to respond.
"Does the true King hang these helpless ones?"
Unsure what kind of test Zymas was posing, one of the men said, "Yes?"
"Perhaps he does," Zymas said, "but if he is the true King, then I will
follow a false King who is good, and I will make him true, and the people will no
longer have to fear the coming of the army of Zymas."
It seemed impossible to the soldiers that Zymas could speak such
treason, but not so impossible as the idea of Zymas telling a lie or making a
jest. So Zymas was going to rebel against the King. Was there any man there
who would chose the King over Zymas?
Zymas let them choose freely, bu all five hundred marched with him
away from the bewildered villagers, toward Traffing. He did not tell them whom
he meant to put in the King's place. The dream had said Palicrovol, but Zymas
meant to see the man for himself before he helped him to revolt. Dreams come
when your eyes are closed, but Zymas only acted with his eyes open.
The Guard and the Godsman
In the land of Traffing, in the dead of winter, a figure in a white robe
walked like a ghost upon the snow. The guard at the fortress of the Count
trembled in fear until he saw it was a man, with his face reddened by the cold,
and his hands thrust deep into a bedroll for warmth. Ghosts have nothing to
fear from the cold, the guard knew, and so he hailed the man -- hailed rudely,
because the guard had been afraid.
"What do you want! It's near dark, and we do no work on the Feast of
"I come from God," said the man. "I have a message for the Count."
The guard grew angry. He had heard all about God, whose priests were
so arrogant they denied even the Sweet Sisters, even the Hart, though the
people had known their power far longer than this newfashioned deity. "Would
you have him blaspheme against the Hart's own lady?"
"Old things are done away," said the Godsman.
"You're done away if you don't go away!" cried the guard.
The Godsman only smiled. "Of course you do not know me," he said.
And then, suddenly, before the guard's very eyes, the Godsman reached out his
hands beseechingly and the bar of the gate broke in two and the gate fell open
"You won't hurt him?" asked the guard.
"Don't cower so," said the Godsman "I come for the good of all Burland."
From the King, then? The guard hated the King enough to spit in the
snow, despite his fear of this man who broke gates without touching them.
"The good of Burland is never the good of Traffing."
"Tonight it is," said the Godsman.
Suddenly the sunset erupted, hot streams down the slope of the sky, and
the guard became a Godsman himself from that moment.
"Were you invited?" asked Palicrovol.
The Godsman looked about him at the nearly naked men sitting on ice-covered rocks around a fire. "I am invited to the feasts of all the gods."
Palicrovol was young and beautiful, even with the treebark mantle on his
shoulders; the Godsman loved the sight of him, even though the Count was
angry. Anger would pass. The Count's beauty would not.
"My guard is impressed with you," the Count said.
"Such men are easily impressed." said the Godsman.
"I've seen magic before," said the Count, for beside him sat Sleeve, the
pink-eyed wizard who served only the master that he chose.
"Then I will give you what no other can: I will give you truth."
Palicrovol smiled and looked at Sleeve, but Sleeve was not smiling, and
Palicrovol began to wonder if he ought to take this Godsman seriously. "What
sort of truth?"
"Words can only tell two kinds of truth. Words can name you, and words
can say what you will do before you do it."
"And which will you do?"
"To name a man is to say what he will do before he does it. So I will
name you, Palicrovol. You are King of Burland."
Suddenly Count Palicrovol grew afraid. "I am Count of Traffing."
"The people hate King Nasilee. They have given him their life's blood,
and he has given them only poverty and terror. They long for someone to set
them free from this burden."
"Then go to a man with armies." If Nasilee heard that Palicrovol had
even listened to this Godsman, it would be the end of the house of Traffing.
"General Zymas will come to you and follow you to the day he dies."
"Which will be very soon, if he dares to rebel against the King."
"On the contrary," said the Godsman. "Three hundred years from now
you and Zymas and Sleeve will all be alive, with a man's life yet ahead of you."
Sleeve laughed. "Since when does your magic-hating god give gifts to a
"For every day that you're glad of the gift, there will be five days when
you hate it."
"Palicrovol leaned forward. "I should have killed you."
"What would be the point? I'm only a poor old man, and when God lets
go of my body, I will know even less than you do."
Sleeve shook his head. "There is no poetry in this man's prophecy."
"True," said Palicrovol. "But there's a tale in it."
"This is not a prophecy," said the Godsman. "This is your name. Zymas
will come to you, and in the name of God you will conquer. You will enter the
city of Hart's Hope and the King's daughter will ride the hart for you. You will
build a new temple of God and you will name the city Inwit, and no other god
will be worshipped there. And this above all. You will not be safe upon the
throne until King Nasilee and his daughter Asineth are dead."
These words spoken, the Godsman shuddered, his jaw went slack, and
the light departed from his eyes. He began to look about him in tired surprise.
This had no doubt happened to him before, but plainly he was not yet used to
finding himself in strange places -- particularly in the midst of a very serious
Feast of Hinds.
"What bright servants this god chooses for himself," said Sleeve.
Palicrovol did not laugh. The fire that had left the old man's eyes had left
a spark in Palicrovol. "Here before you all," he said, "I will tell you what I have
not dared to say before. I hate King Nasilee and all his acts, and for the sake ofall Burland I long to see him driven from the throne."
At these treasonous words, especially spoken at the Feast of Hinds, his
own men grew still and watched him warily.
"It is good that we love you," said Sleeve. "We will all keep silence and
tell no one that you spoke against King Nasilee. And we will pray to the Hart
that you will not be seduced by the flattery of a strange and jealous god."
Sleeve's words counseled against rebellion, but Palicrovol had learned
that Sleeve's words rarely gave Sleeve's meaning. Sleeve might mean that it
was already too late for Palicrovol to change his mind, for now he would live in
constant fear of betrayal by someone who had heard his words. And as to the
Godsman's prophecy of victory, was Sleeve doubting? Or testing? Palicrovol
looked at the unnaturally white face of the wizard, his transparent skin, his
hair as fine and pale as spiderweb. How can I read your strange face?
Palicrovol wondered. Even as he wondered, he knew that Sleeve did not mean
his face to be read. Sleeve probed others, but was not himself probed; Sleeve
comprehended, but remained incomprehensible. "You came to me for no
reason I could understand," said Palicrovol. "Until now. You came to me
because of now."
Sleeve pursed his lips contemptuously. "I follow the entrails of animals.
I use the power of their blood and in return they teach me where to go.
Whatever plans God has for you, they're no concern of mine." But his denial
was a confirmation, for never had Sleeve bothered to explain himself before.
A trumpet sounded outside the palisade. Count Palicrovol leapt to his
feet. The treebark mantle slipped from his shoulders as he stood. "The King,"
whispered some of the men, for such was the terror of King Nasilee's Eyes and
Ears that they thought he had already heard of this treason and come to
punish Palicrovol. They felt no easier when they saw an army of five hundred
men gathered outside the fortress.
"Who are you, who bring an army to my gate!" cried Palicrovol from the
"I am Zymas, once general of the King's army. And who are you, who
stand naked at the battlement!"
Palicrovol felt the winter cold for the first time in the Feast of Hinds: the
prophecy was already being fulfilled. In that moment he made his decision. "I
am Palicrovol, King of Burland!"
But the army did not raise a cheer, and Palicrovol felt the giddiness of
despair: he had spoken treason in front of the King's right hand, all because he
had believed the mad prophet of a foolish God.
"Palicrovol!" called Zymas.
"Can these gates keep you out if you want to come it?" asked Palicrovol.
Zymas answered, "Can these soldiers keep you in of you want to come
"If these soldiers are my enemies, then I will not come out. I will stay
here and make them pay in blood for every step they take inside my walls."
"And if we are your friends?"
"Why did you come to me?" cried Palicrovol from the battlement. "Why
do you taunt me?"
"I dreamed of you, Count Traffing. Why did I dream of you?"
Palicrovol turned to Sleeve, who smiled. "It is the Feast of Hinds," said
"It is the Feast of Hinds!" called Palicrovol.
"The tripes were heavy, and the womb was all but five days full," said
"The tripes were heavy, and the womb was all but five days full!" called
Palicrovol. As he echoed Sleeve's words, Palicrovol was relieved. When the
hind that gave herself at the Feast of Hinds was utterly full, the enterprise of
the master of the feast could not go wrong. Someone's enterprise, anyway, and
it was usually polite to read all good omens for the host.
"I know nothing of augury," said Zymas. "Who is the wizard who is
teaching you what to say?"
Sleeve spoke for himself then. "I am Sleeve," he said. "The Sweet Sisters
showed me a heavy hind. God spoke to Palicrovol through an old fool. And the
Hart has come to you in a dream. If all the great gods are with Palicrovol, what
will withstand him?"
Zymas had not said there was a hart in his dream. "What need has he ofme?"
"What need have you of him? It is enough that you are both committed
to treason now. If you work together, you can bring down this King. If you
oppose each other, Nasilee will find his work much easier."
Zymas thought of still another argument. Sleeve, the greatest of the
living wizards, is with this Count Traffing. "Palicrovol, if you would be King, I
will help you wed the King's daughter and have the throne. Will you be a just
and good king?"
"I will be the same sort of king as I have been Count," said Palicrovol.
"My people prosper more than the people of any other lord. I am a just judge,
as far as any man can be."
"If that is true, I will follow you, and my men will follow you," said Zymas.
So the Godsman's prophecy was perfect, though it had predicted an
event as unlikely as Burring flowing backward. Zymas had come to him, and
come even before Palicrovol himself had taken one single act toward rebellion.
God was now his god. "And I," cried Palicrovol, "I will follow God."
And I, whispered white-skinned Sleeve, pink-eyed Sleeve, I could shake
the earth and unmake this fortress, and with my left hand I could cause a
forest to rise in the place of Zymas's five hundred men. Why should I link
myself to these unmagicked men, particularly if they fear that ridiculous god
named God? They have no need of me, nor I of them. But Sleeve felt the
hind's blood hardening on his arms and hands, and he was content that
Palicrovol should be king, even if he did it in the name of this angry young God.
And that is how Palicrovol began his quest for the throne of Burland.
Copyright © 1983 Orson Scott Card