And so it was that Prince Theymon grew up knowing that two days after his thirtieth birthday, he would single-handedly save the kingdom from a Great and Terrible Evil, but that in doing so, he would die. Being a Prince was hard enough without dire prophecies about evil and death, but being a Prince with such prophecies was harder still. And the prophecy was not a closely guarded secret. Everyone knew about the prophecy: nobles, knights, servants, peasants, even people in other kingdoms. It was a strange way to grow up.
Prince Theymon never knew quite how to feel. Sometimes King Quillus would get on his case about practicing his swordplay for the big showdown in his future, but Prince Theymon didn’t understand why he needed to practice if the outcome was a foregone conclusion. King Quillus couldn’t offer a plausible explanation, so Prince Theymon spent most of his time moping around in the stables or wandering the halls of the castle, looking with no sense of connection at portraits of his relatives that stretched back hundreds of years.
Also, Prince Theymon didn’t make friends. As he understood it, Princes were rarely good at making true friends, but most Princes at least had people they called their friends. Prince Theymon didn’t even have those. He resented the idea that after he defeated the Great and Terrible Evil and died, those people who were known to be his friends would be the ones left to lap up all the available glory by association. So he preferred to have none. It wasn’t hard. There were always lords and ladies trying to push their offspring on him, but Prince Theymon was no fun at all and the playmates quickly grew bored with him.
One time Lord and Lady Twinway’s gangly, grinning daughter Molayne tried to convince Prince Theymon that since he knew he wouldn’t die until two days after his 30th birthday, he should engage in all kinds of exciting and risky behaviors just for the thrill. Prince Theymon and Molayne, both in their early teens, were playing a spiritless game of cards at a small table in Prince Theymon’s sitting room. “You could jump off the castle walls into the moat,” said Molayne. “You could wrestle a savage bull with your bare hands, or anything savage. You could sneak through the streets of the city at night and kill thieves and peeping toms. You’d have nothing to worry about!”
“Yes, I would,” said Prince Theymon. “I can still feel pain. I could get disfigured. I could hurt my brain so I couldn’t remember things. I could get beaten into a coma that I wouldn’t wake from until it was time to fight the Great and Terrible Evil.”
Molayne pouted. Prince Theymon was pleased to have wiped that disconcerting grin off of her face, at least.
Sometimes Prince Theymon would go visit the Royal Seer to see if there had been any prophetic updates on his fate, but there never had been. Ever since his big prophecy on the night of Prince Theymon’s birth, the Royal Seer had gone back to only seeing the future as it related to crop harvests and outbreaks of infectious diseases. That his predictions were always accurate did nothing to ease Prince Theymon’s mind.
Prince Theymon’s relationship with his parents, especially his father, was uncomfortable. Queen Bessa had very little to say to Prince Theymon and often seemed content to merely be in the same room with him. Every once in a while Prince Theymon would look up and find his mother looking at him with an assortment of complex facial expressions, which he did his best to ignore. But King Quillus was harder to put off. He would often try to get Prince Theymon to go hunting with him or sit in on meetings of the Royal Council, but Prince Theymon didn’t see the point. “You should be the best man you can be right up until the moment you die,” said King Quillus.
“I dunno,” said Prince Theymon. “No matter what I do, when I’m gone, people are only going to remember one thing about me.”
“We need to make the most of the time we have together,” said King Quillus, his eyes filling with tears. “Each moment is precious. My son. My heroic son, conqueror of a Great and Terrible Evil, the savior of our beloved kingdom.”
This was exactly why Prince Theymon didn’t like spending time with his parents. They could never all just relax and enjoy each other’s company. Sooner or later every conversation turned dramatic and weighty with lots of declarations of gratitude and pride and love and so on. Prince Theymon hated it.
On Prince Theymon’s 18th birthday, King Quillus came into the Prince’s chambers early in the morning while he was still in bed. “Theymon,” said the King, shaking his son by the shoulder. “Wake up.”
“I am awake,” said Prince Theymon into his pillows.
“Look at me,” said King Quillus.
Prince Theymon rolled onto his back and looked at his father with dark, bleary eyes. “What?”
King Quillus wasn’t wearing his crown, but was otherwise dressed for the day in finely cut breeches and a velvet doublet. His graying beard could have used a trim, but maybe that was still on the morning’s agenda right after disturbing his only son’s peaceful sleep.
“I was hoping,” said King Quillus, “that we could talk about you taking a wife and producing an heir.”
“I’m fine with whatever,” said Prince Theymon.
“I know that isn’t true,” said King Quillus. “Your mother and I were hoping to have found you a good match by now, but you know how parents are. There have been several girls who were worthy of a Prince, but none who we felt were worthy of the Savior of the Kingdom. We’ve been beating our heads against the wall over this, son. Our line needs an heir, after all, and it’s best if you get started soon. I know twelve years seems like a long time, but despite the best efforts of our royal magicians and scholars, we’ve yet to find a way to ensure that a pregnancy will result in a son.”
“I said I’m fine with whatever,” said Prince Theymon. “Can I sleep now? It’s my birthday. I should be able to sleep in.”
“I was hoping you’d give us more input than that,” said King Quillus. “I was hoping you’d be mature about this. I was hoping the Savior of the Kingdom would want the best wife he could find in order to produce an heir worthy of him.”
“Just a hold a beauty contest or something,” said Prince Theymon. “Personality doesn’t matter.”
And so three months later, Prince Theymon married the gorgeous daughter of a spice merchant in a lavish ceremony at the castle. The girl’s name was Dewinda and, in addition to being the most beautiful girl in the beauty contest, she also had a pretty good personality, although Prince Theymon didn’t take notice of most of the lovely aspects of her character. He thought it best if they didn’t get too attached to each other since he was going to die at age thirty.
Ten months after the wedding, Dewinda bore Prince Theymon a healthy son, which irritated Prince Theymon. There had been so much fuss about getting started on heir-production like it was going to be this long, laborious process and here he and Dewinda had succeeded right out of the gate. They named their son Halon after some relative of Dewinda’s or something.
The King and the Queen and Dewinda had all hoped that having a son would spark something in Prince Theymon, that it would give him a passion for life that nothing else had yet been able to produce. But it didn’t. Prince Theymon was a distant, aloof, wholly unimpressive father. King Quillus spent far more time with Halon than Prince Theymon did, clearly hoping to have the kind of relationship with his grandson that he was never able to have with his son. King Quillus loved to have Halon in the room during Royal Council meetings, happily playing with blocks on the floor, and when Halon was only four, King Quillus started taking him on hunts. Dewinda wondered if this was perhaps a dangerous idea, but when she appealed to Prince Theymon for support, he asked her to cut his hair for him because it was making the back of his neck itch.
For her part, Dewinda admired Prince Theymon for what he was going to do, but if there hadn’t been a prophecy about his eventual greatness, she would not have picked him out as someone who anyone would remember once he was gone. He hardly did anything. Once, Dewinda came into the Royal Library and found Prince Theymon plinking away on a harp, striking arbitrary notes that never cohered into a melody. “Why don’t you learn how to play?” asked Dewinda.
“Nah,” said Prince Theymon.
“You’re only 23,” said Dewinda. “You could get pretty good in the next six years and however many months.”
“And then what?” asked Prince Theymon. “People at my funeral will say, ‘Bless him, he saved our whole kingdom from a Great and Terrible Evil, and he wasn’t half bad at the harp either?’”
“Fine,” said Dewinda. “Forget I said anything.”
When Prince Theymon turned 25, King Quillus presented him with a beautiful, jewel-encrusted sword that he was to use to slay the Great and Terrible Evil when the time came. “Thanks,” said Prince Theymon, drawing the sword from its scabbard and holding it awkwardly in his left hand, which wasn’t his dominant hand. He had never gotten comfortable with sword-holding.
“This way,” said King Quillus, “You will have a weapon worthy of your feat.”
“My feet?” asked Prince Theymon.
“Your feat,” said King Quillus. “F-E-A-T. Your act. Your deed.”
“Oh,” said Prince Theymon, sliding the sword back into its scabbard. “Well, thanks. It seems like a really great sword.”
“Do you want to try it out?” asked King Quillus. “I can get mine and we can do a little light sparring?”
“No, thanks,” said Prince Theymon, and he wandered down to the Royal Kennels to feed treats to the hounds.
When Prince Theymon was 29, his father died of internal injuries sustained from falling off of a balcony. King Quillus had been watching the guards sleeping at the castle gate through a new telescope, snickering to himself, when he walked right up against the railing, toppled over it, and fell forty feet to the cobblestone courtyard. The telescope, which had been a gift from Dewinda’s father, was unscathed. To be polite, Prince Theymon had stood with Queen Bessa by his father’s bed while the king lived out his last few hours. Right before he died, King Quillus had looked Prince Theymon in the eye and said, “I regret that I did not live to see you save the kingdom. But I’m glad I didn’t live to see you die.”
“Yeah,” said Prince Theymon. “I’m not sure how much anyone’s gonna be able to see of the fight anyway. Depends where it’s at, I guess.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said King Quillus, and he died.
Queen Bessa, weeping, fell into Prince Theymon’s arms. Prince Theymon, of course, was awful at hugs.
“Now that your father is gone, who will I have left when you die?” asked Queen Bessa, her face pressed to her son’s chest while he patted her back with both hands.
“Dewinda,” said Prince Theymon. “Halon. Lord Grill. Lady Faxton. Lady Bowerlinn. That servant who does your hair, whatever her name is. Pretty much everyone except for me and father, really.”
In the days following King Quillus’ death, everyone was despondent except for Prince Theymon who would only have known him for another couple of months anyway.
As the newly crowned King, King Theymon did nothing that he hadn’t done as a Prince, and he explicitly refused to go to Royal Council meetings. “Let Halon go,” said King Theymon. “He knows more about how they work than I do and he’s going to be King soon anyway.”
“Don’t you care about the kingdom?” asked Dewinda. “Don’t you want to leave it in good shape for your son?”
“I’m going to save it from a Great and Terrible Evil,” said King Theymon. “And that’s pretty much all I know about it or care to know about it. If somebody needs me to sign something, I’ll sign it. Otherwise I’m taking it easy.”
So Halon went to all of the Royal Council meetings and King Theymon went to none of them. Sometimes King Theymon would ask Halon about the meetings when they saw each other in passing or at meals, and Halon would launch into longwinded monologues about the important decisions facing the kingdom and King Theymon would completely zone out. It was dry material anyway, but on top of that, King Theymon knew that the issues discussed by the Royal Council were too big and too far-reaching to be relevant to him.
The only thing that was really different about King Theymon’s life in the weeks leading up to his date with the Great and Terrible Evil was the fact that he visited the Royal Seer at least once every day. “Anything new?” he asked. “Anything more specific?”
“No,” said the Royal Seer. “I already told you, if there’s anything new, I’ll send word to you right away.”
“If you had to guess about what form this Great and Terrible Evil is going to take,” said King Theymon. “What would that form be?”
“An invading army,” said the Royal Seer. “But that’s not an official prediction or anything. That just seems like the most obvious thing, right?”
For King Theymon’s thirtieth birthday, Dewinda threw a big party. All the lords and ladies and all Dewinda’s dad’s merchant buddies toasted King Theymon again and again. King Theymon got pretty drunk. Then Dewinda made him get on his horse and ride down the main street of the city with his honor guard so the peasants could express their anticipatory gratitude with cheering and shoving and knocking each other down, which was how they celebrated everything. King Theymon wasn’t upset by all the attention. It seemed neither more nor less foolish than everything else that had happened to him over the course of his short life.
That night in bed, King Theymon woke up to the sound of Dewinda crying softly. He couldn’t imagine what could be troubling her. He went back to sleep.
The next morning, King Theymon played fetch with a dog in the courtyard for over an hour. At lunch, he got irritated over how much pepper he saw Halon putting on his beef, but he didn’t mention it. After lunch, he looked for the dog in the courtyard again, but the dog was gone, which cast a dark shadow over King Theymon’s mood that he couldn’t shake for the rest of the day.
The next morning, King Theymon was awakened by Dewinda tapping him on the forehead. When he opened his eyes, Dewinda was leaning over him. She was wearing one of her best gowns and plenty of tasteful jewelry. Her hair looked good. “How can you sleep?”she asked.
“Is the Great and Terrible Evil here?” asked King Theymon, sitting up.
“Not yet,” said Dewinda. “But don’t you want to be ready when it gets here? Do you really want to save the kingdom in your pajamas?”
“I’d rather be well-rested,” said King Theymon, but he got out of bed and stretched while Dewinda went through his wardrobe and selected the clothes in which he would die.
Less than an hour later, King Theymon sat on his throne with Dewinda and his mother on his right side, Halon on his left, and the Royal Seer standing just behind him. The court room was full of lords, ladies, knights, servants, and Dewinda’s father and his merchant friends. They all wanted to be present when the prophecy came true, when the biggest event in the history of their kingdom came to pass. They were quiet and respectful, but a powerful energy crackled through the room, touching everyone except for King Theymon, who was eating a pheasant off of a plate in his lap. “I’ve got nothing to say,” he announced. “Talk amongst yourselves.”
Shortly after noon, just after King Theymon had requested another pheasant, but better seasoned than the first one and also a sharper knife with which to cut it, a breathless messenger burst into the court room and knelt before the throne. The court room was silent. “Sire,” said the messenger. “There is a man outside the city gates calling your name.” A palpable wave of excitement rippled through the court room. Dewinda trembled, King Theymon’s mother closed her eyes and slumped in her seat, and Halon stared at the messenger with fear. King Theymon didn’t know why Halon would be afraid of the messenger, of all people. “At least, I think he’s a man” said the messenger. “He’s enormous and his armor is silver so that he shines like a-”
“All right then,” said King Theymon, rising to his feet. “Somebody better lend me a sword.”
“Where’s the sword your father gave you?” asked Dewinda. “He made it specifically for this occasion.”
“I misplaced it years ago,” said King Theymon. “Come on,” he said, louder this time. “Who wants to lend me the sword that will save the kingdom?”
A hundred voices roared as one. A hundred gleaming swords were raised on high.
King Theymon chose the closest one.
A short but noisy ride through the city later, King Theymon got off of his horse and walked out the front gate of the city. The gate closed behind him with a boom. His borrowed sword, too long for him by a good six inches, swung on his hip. The people of the city had poured from their homes and businesses as King Theymon rode past, and now they were crowded in the streets near the gate, screaming at each other to shut up so they could hear the battle updates shouted down to them from the guards on the wall.
The road leading into the city was dusty and rutted from farmers’ clumsy wagons. In fact, as King Theymon walked towards the knight in the silver armor, he walked past two wagons that were in such bad shape that their owners had simply abandoned them along the side of the road. King Theymon noted that they wouldn’t make a very good impression on a first-time visitor to the city, not that he cared.
“King Theymon,” shouted the knight. He was about thirty yards away now, standing in the middle of the road with his legs apart and his arms folded across his chest. The visor on his helm was down so that King Theymon couldn’t see his face. Maybe the sky was more overcast than when the messenger had seen him, but the knight’s armor wasn’t shining that brightly. “I have come!” the knight shouted. “At long last I have come to slay you, and then I will slay your family and I will slay everyone else! I will smash your city walls and level your kingdom to the ground!”
King Theymon thought that sounded like a tall order for anybody, even someone of this knight’s size and strength. Maybe he was supernatural or had some kind of special weapon or something. That would certainly make him a Greater and More Terrible Evil than he seemed at first look. Regardless, King Theymon didn’t feel inquisitive, so he didn’t ask.
“Do you doubt me?” roared the knight. His posture didn’t change as King Theymon approached. “I’ve slain many of the greatest warriors this world has ever seen! I’ve leveled cities with walls twice as tall and twice as thick as yours!”
“Congratulations,” said King Theymon, and he drew his sword. It was heavy, so he held it with both hands.
“Still you come forward!” shouted the knight, laughing. “You are a fool! My victory has been foretold, King Theymon! My Dark Seer has already seen me standing over your headless body as your kingdom burns!”
King Theymon was going to say something about the knight needing to be more discerning with his seers, but by that point he was within a few yards of the knight, so instead he raised his sword, pointed the tip at the crease between the knight’s shiny helm and his shiny breastplate, and lunged, driving his sword up through the knight’s neck. The knight went down like a big clattery sack of junk. The sword was wrenched from King Theymon’s hands and it stuck straight up in the air as the knight lay dying on his back. A few moments later, King Theymon heard an exultant roar from the people of his kingdom as the guards on the wall relayed the news of what he’d done.
King Theymon looked around. He couldn’t figure out how he was supposed to die now. Maybe the knight would gather his strength for one final blow or come briefly back to life. Maybe the knight had afflicted him with a deadly curse, or still would if he wasn’t dead yet. King Theymon sat down in the road to wait.
A short while later, while King Theymon was flaking the dead knight’s drying blood off of his forearms and still wasn’t dead, a rider came out of the city gate. King Theymon heard the gate scrape open and the sound of beating hooves, but he didn’t look up until he heard Dewinda say, “Theymon! What are you doing?”
“I’m waiting to die,” said King Theymon, squinting up at his Queen. Her gray horse was skittish at the smell of blood. “I don’t know why it’s taking so long.”
“I don’t think you’re going to die,” said Dewinda. “The prophecy said you were going to die in the process, but look! The process is over and you’re still alive!”
“Then maybe this wasn’t the foretold event yet,” said King Theymon. “Maybe that’s coming later today and this was just a coincidental encounter that may or may not have also saved the kingdom on the same day as the foretold event.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Dewinda. “You saved the kingdom and you didn’t die! The Royal Seer was just wrong! You get to live!”
King Theymon stood up, brushing the dirt off the seat of his breeches. When he looked at Dewinda, it was like she’d been wearing a veil the whole time he’d known her until now. He could only imagine how good she must have looked when she won the beauty contest. He had a memory of seeing her that day, but the memory wasn’t right. The memory was flat and distorted, just like everything had been during his whole life until right now.
“Let me up,” said King Theymon. “We’ll ride back together.” His voice was cold and stern in a way that it had never before been. In a few days, he might be happy. Maybe even in a few hours. But for now he was distraught, furious, and so overwhelmed with regret that he felt as if he might fall from the horse but for Dewinda clinging to his back, her arms around his waist. For now, King Theymon had a Royal Seer to execute.