Good morning all, and thanks for stopping by to read the Epilogue of The Cursed King. I have to say I am incredibly relieved to be posting this. I have been writing this story for a long time, have gone through several drafts and this is the first that I have completed from beginning to end. In hindsight, I probably should have chosen something less ambitious, something less demanding and more literary for my first attempt at a novel, but this was the idea that I had, and so I ran with it!
I am glad I did, I have learned so much since I first had the idea for this (back in around 2014/2015), and I have also changed a lot as a person in that time, but this has been the string that has ran through all of those changes. It has been a constant source of comfort and has kept me disciplined and writing consistently. Now, I have something of my own to look back on and say that I did that. That I wrote a book.
I want to use this space to thank everyone who has spent any time at all reading this. If you have read even some of it, it would be great to read your comments on what you thought, so pop a comment below and let me know where you’re reading from. I know for a fact that my parents have not missed a chapter, and I also want to thank them for being my biggest fans. I love them so much, and they have always supported everything I have done no matter how small. Thank you both.
As for what happens next, well, nothing right now. I am going to spend some time to not think about this book, which has been a constant in my brain for years now. I am going to focus on some other hobbies for the time being. Regarding this book, I have a series planned, and so I will probably end up reaching out to literary agents to see if there is any chance I can get my amateurish scribblings published on the off-chance they see something that could be worked into something sellable. If not, then so be it, I never wrote this with the intention to make anything from it, I wrote it because it was fun to build a world and to put a story on a page.
Thank you once again for reading, and I hope you enjoy the final chapter of The Cursed King!
It was the piercing heat of the sun that caused Wright to look up to the blue, cloudless sky. He had not felt such heat on his skin since he arrived on the island, which could only mean that it was the height of Summer, and not only that, but by the position of the sun, he knew that today was Vitamara. The festival of the New Year was traditionally celebrated by the Freemen of the Free Islands like most things were celebrated – with a bottle of bunbo and a raid. Though Wright would usually stay home with Agnes, much to the derision of his Captain. Wright often thought about Olon, sometimes more so than he did his wife, which only served to make him feel intense guilt. The more he thought about the pirate, the more he realised how odd a companionship it was. Wright was no pirate himself, at least, he did not think. He did not have a taste for violence or plunder, and he did not allow his lust to overcome him as many of them did. He did not drink himself into oblivion either. The more he thought about it, the more he realised just how much of an outsider he was with the Freemen. As Wright looked down at his work – a fine canoe made from a hollowed palm – he realised why his lack of commonplace with the Freemen was not such an issue. Wright could say to himself honestly that he had loved three things in his life; Agnes, Olon, and shipbuilding. He had lost one of those to Natos, whilst Agnes must have believed by now that she had lost Wright himself to the Angel of Death. All that was left for Wright was his calloused hands and the way they could mould timber into boats.
To that extent, Wright had found some level of peace on the island. Though he worried about his wife, and though he grieved for Olon, he was able to spend his days occupying his mind with the only other thing that brought him joy. It was Tsegyusè who had vouched for him. Outsiders on the island were not totally distrusted, indeed there was an enormous amount of trade between the Molten Islanders and the rest of the world, but to have a foreigner live and work on the island amongst them was an extraordinary request. Tsegyusè had convinced the elders that he could help them. Despite their gradual acceptance of Wright on the island, he was still an outsider. Wright had his own hut that he had built himself outside of the main village and closer to the beach, and he mingled and traded with the other islanders, and had even picked up enough of the language to get by. In times of celebration he was welcomed, and he had even struck up some friendships with those with whom he worked on the boats, but he was still not one of them. Wright understood this. He understood that he was considered as temporary on this island. Even if he spent the rest of his life there, he was considered too old to marry and to father children here, which meant his impact on the future of the people was limited. It was not through rudeness or prejudice; this was just the way it was for the people of the island.
The Molten Islanders experienced time differently to those in the New World or the Old World. Whilst history was measured in centuries where Wright was from, here it was measured in millennia. Histories of the islands were passed down verbally and received aurally, though there were some things written down, much of the world was committed to memory. The Freemen did things similarly. Without schools and churches, the Freemen also learned to memorise and remember rather than to record. Wright knew how to read and write, such was his upbringing until he reached his early twenties, but he too found his memory far improved since living outside of the structure of the New World.
Wright dragged the finished canoe towards the water. There were numerous tests that he performed before he cleared the boats for use. Canoes were easy for Wright, but they were a nice hobby to undertake outside of the main shipbuilding. He had committed to building ships for the Islanders that would rival those that he built in the Free Islands. They needed lots of them, but it had been tough to find the materials. Moreover, no one on the island knew how to build boats of that size and complexity. Wright had spent more time teaching in the past year than he had spent building. The islanders were keen to learn, and they worried, rightly, that should Wright die, so would his knowledge of shipbuilding.
After testing the buoyancy, and the balance, Wright checked to make sure that the inside of the boat was bone dry. He paddled out a way into the turquoise water, and looked back upon the island. It was truly beautiful with its white sand and glistening waters, its vibrant trees and the looming volcano that made the island look tiny. Each island in the Molten Isles was home to a volcano or two. The island that had taken Wright in was one of over a thousand separate islands, all with their own people and customs and culture. Wright was teaching men and women from several islands on how to craft boats. They came to this island specially to see him and to learn, but Wright would not be able to teach all of them, and that saddened him. There were hundreds of thousands of inhabitants throughout the islands, but his ships would only be able to take a fraction of them away.
Wright considered this as he looked back towards the beach. He noticed that there were some islanders gathered around a certain spot, and as his canoe drifted along the coast, he saw that there was another small boat washed up upon the shore. Standing in front of it was a man with his hands far above his head. Wright paddled back to the beach and saw that the islanders had surrounded him. As Wright reached the shore, he jumped from the boat and pulled it to the sand without taking his eyes off the scene. Wright approached the group with his arms stretched out as the man held his arms above his head, backing away from the pointed tips of the islanders’ spears. “What is happening?” Wright asked in their language.
“We do not know this man. He is not from the islands; he does not speak our language and none of us recognise him,” a man named Dalil replied in the same language.
Wright turned to the man and surveyed him. He was very tall with dark skin, but the only thing that betrayed his age was his grey hair, for his face was smooth and his body statuesque. “Do you speak the Common Tongue?” Wright asked him.
“Yes!” The man replied, and a relieved smile appeared upon his face. “Thank the Gods. Please tell them that I mean no harm, I am a refugee from the New World. I was forced upon a ship and escaped on this raft,” the man gestured to the wooden pallet that had washed up on the shore, the wood nearly rotted through.
Wright considered him for a moment, trying to see if he recognised him. The man’s physique suggested that he was not noble, but he spoke incredibly well, as though he had spent a long time around nobility. There was a twang to his accent too, which implied he was not raised in the New World. Regardless, the man did not appear to be armed, and so Wright indicated to the islanders that he was not a threat. It was Dalil, a young man whom Wright had taught to build canoes, who trusted Wright first and lowered his spear, to which the others followed. “He is a refugee,” Wright said simply to them before turning back to the man, he took a moment to recompose before changing languages again as he rarely had to do it. “I do not recognise your accent. Where have you come from?”
“Cesara,” the man replied, “though I was born and raised in Natonia well into my adulthood.”
“Cesara? Who on earth is at war with Cesara? The last I heard Princess Leona was to marry the Emperor’s son, Nebu.”
The man raised his eyebrows. “You do not know? You do not speak to traders and travellers?”
“I spend my time building boats,” Wright shrugged.
“Well, it seems you have a lot you need to catch up on. Perhaps we can make a trade. I will fill you in on the politics of the New World if you allow me to rest on the island for a time, until I find out how to return to the continent?”
Wright looked back at Dalil. “It is not me you need to ask. You will need to speak to the Island Mother, just as I did when I washed up here.”
“Of course,” the refugee nodded. “Will you take me to her and translate for me?”
Wright tilted his head. “Let’s wait a moment, I am not quite sure I trust you yet. Let us take some time on the beach to talk. You look like you could use some food and drink, and I don’t think it is wise for you to go to the village just yet.” Wright turned to Dalil and reverted back to the language of the island. “Dalil, find Tsegyusè and ask her to meet me at the hill at first light.” Dalil nodded and his group turned back to make their way to the village. Wright faced the foreigner and locked eyes with him. “My name is Wright,” he told him. “What is your name?”
“Hezekiah,” he said. “My name is Hezekiah.”
For all of the delicious food and potent drink that Wright had discovered for himself whilst living on the island, he still could not replicate the same sense of warmth and familiarity that he enjoyed with bunbo. The smell of it reminded him of the pride he felt having built the ships atop which he once stood, it reminded him of the life of the Freemen, and most of all, it reminded him of Olon. The pirate’s breath stank of the stuff, but he was thankful that he had such a pungent reminder of his friend. Luckily for Wright, this little piece of home was available from every trader that circled the Molten Isles, though at a steep cost. There was a similarly strong alcohol on the islands made from sugar cane, and although it was delicious, it was not bunbo.
Wright poured the bunbo evenly into two cups made from coconuts. Almost everything about Wright’s crudely-built hut was temporary. Wright was comfortable building ships, and so the hut was not particularly challenging to him. The only thing that caused him some difficulty was the clay oven that Dalil had helped him build. He only ever used the hut to cook and to sleep, and so it did not cause him too much issue that it was basic. Wright spent most of his time outside during the day, and for long periods of the night he liked to look up at the stars and listen to the waves as they crashed onto the shore. Hezekiah was sat there doing just that when Wright exited the hut and walked back to the beach. The Cesaran guard was sat underneath the palms as the stars began to twinkle in the dusk sky and he stared out over the water towards the horizon.
Wright handed Hezekiah a coconut and sat beside him. “I spent much of my time doing that when I first arrived,” the shipwright told him, “looking across the water for hope.”
“It is not hope that I seek. It is vengeance,” Hezekiah replied.
“Whatever it is, it will have to wait.”
“What are you talking about? There are always traders coming through here. Tomorrow I will wait by the shore until I find one willing to take me back to the New World.”
Wright was sympathetic to Hezekiah’s naivety, but refrained from saying so. “I am afraid it is not so easy here. There are not so many traders from the New World at the moment, and those from the Old World are unwilling to dock anywhere with war occurring in almost every corner of the continent. Trust me, when I first arrived, I tried many, many times, but no one would take me.”
“Well of course they would not take you. You are a pirate, are you not? No trader would willingly take one of the Freemen’s own through those harrowed waters.”
“I thought that too at first, which is why I cut my hair and told them to I would be happy to just get back onto the continent. From there, I could find my own way, but they would not allow even that. When I first arrived, we maybe got three or four ships per week that would go back to the New World. I always asked, but none would take me. I started asking ships from the Old World – I thought perhaps it would be easier to find my way home in a more indirect route, but again, none would take me. Eventually, the ships dried up. I am lucky to see one a month now from either continent. I always ask, but they never take me.”
“I do not understand. Why would they not take you”
“Well, in my case, I do not have enough coin to pay them for the journey, and it is not as though I can pay them when I arrive in the Old World either. In truth though, I ask more out of loyalty to my wife back home than for my own sake. I struck a deal with these people to help them, and I fear I could never forgive myself if I actually did leave this place before that promise was fulfilled.”
“What promise did you make of them?”
Wright drank from his coconut. “I promised them that I would help them build a fleet of ships that would take them from these islands.”
“Take who from the islands?”
“Everyone,” Wright replied. “The Molten Isles are made up of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small islands. These are not ‘islands’, as you may know, they are volcanoes. The Molten Islanders have an aural history spanning thousands of years. They are attuned to these volcanoes like we are to our bodies. They know instinctively when something is wrong, and they have ways of measuring when these volcanoes are due to erupt. The largest volcano among the islands is located on this very island, and within a few years, it will blow, and these islands will be destroyed.”
“Destroyed? All of them?”
“Yes. It is not just the islands either. I spoke to the Island Mother and she told me that this eruption would cause a great darkness that will cover the entirety of earth from Skaer to the mysterious distant waters. Ash will rain down and turn the soil to a barren wasteland, fire rain will fall from the sky and a long winter will encapsulate even the most arid deserts.”
“The entire world? If that is the case, then why escape at all?”
“Life will not end all over. It will be tough, of course. Millions will die, and life will never be the same for any of us, but for those who survive, perhaps existence can carry on for them in some form.”
“That does not sound like a life. Certainly not a life that I would want to live.”
“I thought that too at first, but it soon dawned on me that I still have much to live for. My wife, Agnes. Even if we do not survive what is to come, I know that I would live for a thousand years in desolation as long as it was with her. Is there not someone you care about enough that you would live through anything so that you can love them?”
Hezekiah took a moment to think, his face still in shock as he came to terms with what Wright had told him. “Yes, there is.”
“When you really think about it, much of life is pain, but we never ask ourselves why we live through it, do we? We live through it because the alternative is to be without love…to be without anything.”
“What about paradise? Life on the other side?”
“I have never been one for the Gods, but what happens to all of those lost souls? Souls need a vessel, and if millions die, then where we will they go? Those souls who are adjudged to have not lived a life fulfilled? What becomes of them when there are not enough vessels to carry them?
“I did not expect a pirate to also be a theologian,” Hezekiah scoffed, sipping at his bunbo.
“The island has given me a lot of time to think. Perhaps by the time you are back in Cesara, you will have given it some thought too.”
“Perhaps so,” Hezekiah smiled before his face turned back to something more serious. “What is to happen tomorrow when I meet the island mother?”
“You will be challenged on your reasons for being here. If your answers are satisfactory, then you will be asked what skills you have, and if you can demonstrate those skills effectively, then you may be put to work like I was.”
“And if my skills are not deemed useful?”
Wright thought for a moment. “I do not know. There is no precedent for that here.”
The following morning, Wright awoke to a full bladder, as he usually did. Wright liked to rise well before dawn in order spend some time looking out at the stars before first light. The night before, he drank several coconuts of tea before he slept and had awakened precisely when he intended to. Wright ventured over to a nearby palm and relieved himself against it.
By the position of the moon, Wright could tell that it was about an hour from sunrise. As he left his hut, he checked on the hammock that he had made for Hezekiah between two palm trees, and was surprised to see that it was empty. Initially, Wright panicked. He did not truly know this man, and yet he had vouched for him and had given him drink and a place to rest in a place where even he was not entirely welcomed. After a few moments of searching, however, Wright saw Hezekiah sat underneath the moonlight looking over the horizon.
“You are awake early,” Wright said as he approached him.
“No, I am just up late. I did not sleep.”
Wright sat beside him. “It was like that for me when I first arrived. It will take some time to adjust.”
“Do not take this the wrong way, but I hope that I will not have so much time here that I need to adjust to it. I hope to make my case to the Island Mother that I will pay for my stay these nights with service until I find a boat willing to take me back to Cesara. You may not have found your way from this island, but I am no pirate. I am an outstanding citizen with coin to pay anyone for a trip across the sea.”
Wright could not help but feel sympathy for the man. He too had these delusions when he first arrived, and the longer he stayed, the more he realised that the life he lived now was likely to be the rest of his life until that volcano erupted. Wright did not want to think that he had given up on getting home to his wife, but if he was being honest with himself, then he knew that it was unlikely that he would ever make it home.
“Perhaps that is so, but what do you plan to offer by way of servitude? It may be some time before you see another ship.”
“I guarded the Commander of Cesara, the great Marius Pascis, and his daughters. I will offer my services as a protector of the Island Mother.”
Wright could not help but raise his eyebrow at that. “Hezekiah, I must tell you that the Molten Islanders are not a particularly trusting people to outsiders. You saw how Dalil and his friends responded when you landed on the island. Do you think you would be sat here now had I not intervened? Even then, that only brought you a night. When dawn is here, there will be twenty men here to escort you to the Island Mother, and you would not be trusted to protect her. Moreover, protect her from whom? There is no war here. There is no one to protect her from.”
Hezekiah suddenly looked shaken, as though he had nothing else to offer anyone but his sword. “What will they do with me if I cannot offer them what they want? I am a warrior, that is all I have ever known. Without war I am useless.”
It seemed to Wright that this was the first time that Hezekiah had come to such a realisation. Wright had known many men who felt the same. During peacetime, many men departed for the Free Islands from the New World, unsure what to do with themselves outside of the constant toing and froing of war. The Free Islands was a natural step for them. A place where there was always a battle to be had, always a sword to be wielded, always some flesh to cut. Wright never quite grasped the allure, but he knew that without a fight, Olon too would have had little to live for.
“There is more to life than war. Thankfully for you, the people here understand that. Come, let us make our way to the Island Mother. I will take you to my friend and she will escort us, it is better than being marched up the hills by Dalil and his men.”
“Wright, before we go, you must answer me truthfully. What is my fate if I am deemed unfit for this island?”
Wright hesitated for a moment, but realised that he did not have it in him to provide this man with false hope. “If they cannot find a use for you, then you will be given to the Gods.”
Hezekiah nodded. “I do hope they worship a benevolent God.”
Wright averted his gaze, trying not to look up at the fiery volcano that they were about to ascend. “We will do what we can, Hezekiah. We will do what we can.”
It was almost noon before they arrived at the stopping point before meeting the Island Mother. The volcano was surrounded in foliage and jungle which became so tangled that it was almost a maze. Some pathways had been cut through, but to work your way through them was a chore. Wright had only been up this far twice before. Once when he was taken up there to rest and recover by Tsegyusè after Beirus had beaten him senseless, the second time when he was made to beg for his life to the Island Mother and offer his services as a shipbuilder. For the islanders, there were only three things to be done with outsiders – send them away, put them to useful work, or sacrifice them to the Gods for good favour. Wright was told that he could stay as long as he was useful, but even he was swimming against the tide in that regard. He did not have a clue what Hezekiah could offer them to maintain his stay on the island, and he knew that leaving would not be an option for the man for a long while.
“Where do we go from here?” Hezekiah asked.
“We will wait to be escorted.”
“I thought we left early to avoid this?”
“Not by Dalil, by my friend,” Wright gestured with his head over the hill where a figure approached. It was Tsegyusè. Wright always felt a rush of calm whenever she approached, like a soothing hot beverage in the cold. Tsegyusè was like the island’s enforcer. She settled disputes, mediated in negotiations with other islands, and ensured that trouble was kept out. It was Tsegyusè who convinced the Island Mother that Wright could be useful, and for that, Wright owed her his life.
Tsegyusè approached them and had to crane her neck to meet Hezekiah’s eyes, such was his height compared to her own. “Who is your friend?” Tsegyusè asked in the common tongue. It began as a frustration for Wright that Tsegyusè was eager to learn more of the common tongue, when he was trying to learn the language of the islanders to help himself get by, which he considered a far more pressing matter than her own curiosity. Despite this, he admired her tenacity. In retaliation, Wright replied in the island tongue.
“His name is Hezekiah. He washed up on the island after war broke out in his homeland.”
“He-zee-ki-yah,” Tsegyusè practiced, perfectly pronounced first time whilst meeting the eyes of the tall guard. Hezekiah smiled.
“Hezekiah, this is Tsegyusè,” Wright said in the common tongue.
“Tsegyusè,” Hezekiah replied, again, with perfect pronunciation, which seemed to please her.
“Your friend is already smarter than you,” she smiled warmly, but her smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. In the island tongue, she continued. “Does he have an offering for the mother?”
Wright shrugged. “Nothing he can use here. I could have him build ships?” Wright pondered.
“The Island Mother would not allow it. His purpose would have to be greater. We have enough hands here.”
Wright nodded, understanding that arguing with Tsegyusè would do little to help Hezekiah’s cause. “Then we will wait and see,” Wright said.
Regaining her smile, Tsegyusè looked up at Hezekiah. “Follow me,” she said in the common tongue, and the men dutifully followed.
It did not take long before they were halfway up the volcano upon a plateau of greenery. All around them was mist and smoke, and in the distance, Wright could faintly see the podium that was made of bamboo and covered in beautifully colourful flowers of pink and blue and yellow. On the way to the podium was The Road of Bones. This road was lined on each side with the bones of deceased island mothers, that led to the one that lived. It was an honour to have one’s bones lead the way to the living Mother, in recognition that the current Mother could not live unless they had lived and served before her. Wright recalled the tradition, and initially thought it was a symbol of his own impending death, but soon found out that it was a celebration of the life that had lived before them all. Wright recalled his fear, and his agony as he walked the road a year before Hezekiah and patted the man on the back.
“You must walk to her. I will walk beside you, and I will help you plead your case.”
Hezekiah nodded. “Thank you.”
Wright guided Hezekiah as the mist and the smoke became thicker, until eventually they broke through the cloud to be met with the beaming sun once more as the colours of the flora surrounding the island mother burst into life. The Island Mother stood at the altar, her wrinkled face still, her brown eyes burst from their sockets in wide-eyed focus, as the volcano ruptured and roared behind her. The Island Mother was draped from head to toe in a green silk gown with splashes of brown and orange, that covered her from neck to ankle, and atop her head she wore a crown made of hardened lava.
“Do not take another step further,” the mother spoke perfectly in the Common Tongue. Wright was taken aback. It was Tsegyusè who had to plead his case, and not in his language, Wright did not even know the Island Mother knew the common tongue. “Tell me your name.”
Hezekiah stood still as the Island Mother approached him and circled him carefully. She surveyed him with some distance, as if there was a physical block between his body and hers which could only be seen by the Mother. Hezekiah waited patiently for a few moments, before the Island Mother stood before him and gazed into his eyes. Wright got a terrible feeling. He had not been through this. His trial had been much more formal, much more detached. After another few moments, the Island Mother snapped her fingers and her two guards emerged from the shadows to grab Hezekiah by the arms and pulled him to the ground.
“Wait!” Wright shouted and rushed over, but was immediately pulled to one side by Tsegyusè. “He can help me build ships!” Wright shouted.
“What are you doing?” Tsegyusè chaste him.
“Silence the fool,” the Island Mother yelled to Tsegyusè in their language, not once making eye contact with Wright.
Tsegyusè pulled Wright away. “You do not interrupt the Mother.”
“I have a bad feeling. I fear Hezekiah will not leave here alive. You have to speak to her. You have to plead his case like you did for me.”
“I have no influence here. You lived because the Mother found a use for you. I simply told her what that use was. If this man has no use to her, then nothing I can say will change her mind.”
Hezekiah was far too strong for two men to pin down, and so the Mother called on two more who emerged like shadows from the smoke. Eventually, they had restrained him enough to pin him to his back whilst the Island Mother stood over him. She was handed a small blade by one of the men and straddled Hezekiah. Wright yelled again, but it was no use, his shouts were sucked away by the smoke.
“This will only sting a bit,” the Island Mother said once again in the common tongue. She dragged the blade diagonally across Hezekiah’s stomach, and wiped her hand across the open wound. Hezekiah winced, but he did not yell out, and the Island Mother soon stood up and ordered her men to let him free. Hezekiah leapt to his feet and surveyed the damage, only to realise the cut was shallow.
“What is this? What do you think you are doing?” Hezekiah shouted, almost breathless.
“Watch,” the Mother said as she wiped her bloodied hand across the volcanic rock.
After a moment, the blood on the rock began to bubble and spit before turning bright orange and melted the rock until it smoked and fizzled out. Then, in a flash, a beam of light shot past them all over the horizon from where the blood had been smeared. Hezekiah and Wright both looked at each other, as if to confirm that what they were seeing was actually happening. “What is going on?” Wright whispered to Tsegyusè, fearful to ask his question so loud that the Island Mother might hear him.
“It is the Light,” Tsegyusè beamed. “It means that the prophecy is true. The Angels of Life and Death are here on earth, and Hezekiah will lead us to them.”