The Toad King, Chapter 17. The final chapter. Meanwhile, I've written the first two chapters of "Mother Sali," the third of my Tales of the Thirteen Principalities. I like this world.
17.) The Mirror God Cometh.
The Yellow Prince is gone. Not a shred of him exists, torn into such tiny pieces there is nothing left that is recognizable. Unless he somehow escaped, which seems impossible. If he did escape, there is nowhere for him to go.
Out of the crowd steps Marna, and I realize that the gathering wasn’t completely spontaneous. She is still limping, but appears otherwise well.
“It seems the people have chosen their new Prince,” she says, as she joins me.
“Long ago, that’s how it was done,” I say.
She laughs. “I suppose you were there.”
I don’t answer, instead watch as the people once again lift Quarry and carry him to the Casperi Castle. We follow more slowly, at Marna’s limping pace.
“What will the great Princes of the other principalities say?” she wonders aloud.
“They’ll be delighted, I suspect. Having the Eighth Principality back to trade with will make up for having Quarry as one of them. Along with the wilderness, this realm always had more natural resources than any of the others.”
“They’ll think he’s a barbarian,” she muses.
It’s my turn to laugh, “You haven’t met many Princes! No…I suspect they’ll be more alarmed by his piety than by his earthiness.”
Around us, the soldiers of the Yellow Prince are fleeing. Some are shedding their weapons and uniforms as they run. Others are caught, and I see them buried beneath flailing fists and feet. After depositing Quarry at the entrance of the castle, a part of the unruly crowd follows him inside. Soon, they reappear, carrying loot. I hurry the pace, suddenly remembering the Mirror God mobile standing unprotected in the entrance hallway. I doubt anyone will want it, but they might destroy it out of spite.
As we near the castle, Quarry appears on the balcony above. He has cleaned his face and combed his beard and he looks regal despite merely wearing a plain grey robe. He hold out his hands and the crowd grows silent.
“I ask the soldiers of this principality to accept my ascension. If they do so, they shall be pardoned. They are not to be harmed.”
“Throw them in the cages!” someone shouts.
“The Casperi Cages will be cast down!” Quarry roars, and again the crowd becomes completely still and quiet. “The chains will be broken, the bars melted down. Never again will anyone be incarcerated in such a inhuman place.”
Quarry lets that sink in for a few moments, then, “Go home, my people. Tomorrow we will begin the task of making this place a home where people can live without fear, where what they work for they keep, where no one is punished without cause. We shall live by the Mirror God’s Covenant, each and every day.
“Go home!” he shouts, and his deep voice is joyous. “Tomorrow we join the rest of the Thirteen Principalities and the Mirror God’s blessings!”
“It’s time you show me this statue you’ve come so far to steal,” Prince Quarry says to me after a few days.
“Not to steal, but to reclaim.”
He gives me a curious look. “You have always been an honest thief, Toad King. It is what I like about you.”
“Nevertheless, Your Highness, this time I was the victim, not the thief.” It is the way I feel. I truly feel the victim, for I was young and naïve when the blue pilgrim took advantage of me. The knowledge that I stole the statue from Thirteenth Principality in the first place is conveniently buried.
I can tell the Prince somehow senses there is more to the story, but he doesn’t pursue it.
The castle has been cleaned up, appearing almost bare. The Prince has been busy giving away its riches. He has taken a small room on the ground floor and has invited others to live and work in the castle. I say nothing, knowing it can’t last. A Prince must rule, and to rule he must have a castle.
I lead the way. The Prince has gained a retinue; the most shameless of the nobility is already fawning over him. Quarry ignores them. Jarmel and a few others of his original band protectively surround him, but there is little other outward sign that he is anyone but a common citizen, albeit a very large and regal citizen.
Between the looting and Quarry’s beneficence, the hallway near the entrance is stripped clean, all but one object, too humble for anyone to want. A mobile statue made of twirling mirrors.
Quarry grunts when he sees the statue. I blink my eyes, for it is as if the Prince has disappeared, he has become so still. I can see that it puzzles the nobles, who have never seen this side of their Prince.
My eyes, too, are drawn to the mirrors. The jumbled Oaths rattle through my head, as disjointed and disconcerting as ever. Once again, I am filled with a sense that I don’t understand what the object is trying to tell me, that I should be doing something.
But this time, that sense disappears. I am filled with a feeling of completeness, as if a task long delayed has finally been completed. As I watch the flashing mirrors, they seem to become one large mirror, filling the wall, the castle, the principality, the world.
All that exists is the mirror, and I see that it is the Mirror God and it is reflecting back the true nature of those who stand before it.
One by one, the Oaths flash before me, and I see a toad, a creature out of place, who has struggled to fit in. Then I see a man whose features are so ugly it is almost pleasing. I see a failure and a thief, but someone who has become more human than monster. I see someone who has failed each of the Oaths in his time, and fulfilled them too. I see a flawed man, who has forgotten the Mirror God’s Covenant more often than he has remembered it.
But the Mirror God isn’t reflecting me, except at the verges.
Standing beside me, Quarry is reflected in all his power at the center of the mirror. He has kept to the Covenant, and one by one, the Thirteen Oaths are administered to him, and he passes them all.
They who are last, shall also be first,
They who are stern, shall also be kind,
They who are cursed, shall also be blessed,
They who are mistrusted, shall also be believed,
They who are foolish, shall also be wise,
They who are innocent, shall also see the truth,
They who are weak, shall also be strong,
They who are low, shall also be high,
They who are scorned, shall also be honored,
They who hate, shall also love,
They who are far, shall also be near,
They who forget, shall also remember
They who are first, shall also be last.
A sense of dizziness overcomes me and it is as if I’m falling into the mirror, which I see is the Abyss.
And then, I’m standing in a bare hallway again, a statue made of cheap material before me. The twirling mirrors are dull, having lost most of their reflective surface. I no longer hear the Covenant in my mind.
I look about me at those surrounding the Prince, and it is clear they are puzzled, that they saw none of what I saw.
This is how others have always seen the mobile, I realize, except those few who somehow understood its significance.
“What happened?” I say aloud.
Prince Quarry appears unmoved. “The Mirror God cometh,” he says.
“The Mirror God has been summoned. We must prepare ourselves for his arrival.” With that, Prince Quarry turns and starts back to the throne room.
I’m left alone with the statue. It no longer has the slightest appeal to me. In fact, it’s kind of ugly.
Like me, I suppose. We’ve both done the job we were sent here to do, apparently.
A sense of peace overcomes over me. I no longer have the nagging feeling of something left undone. I am free to be who I want to be—a humble thief, who takes from those who are too rich for their own well-being and gives it to those who can appreciate it.
A worthy occupation, in my estimation.
I lift the statue and carry it to my room, where I carefully take it apart. It may be a humble work of art, but it once had great meaning and I will treat it with respect.
I will take it to Prince Mordrial and collect my reward and not look back, however, for the statue is nothing more than a statue.
After that, I will do as I please…
…until the Mirror God comes.
I feel a stab of fear, for I know I am unready for His arrival. I saw myself in His Mirror, I saw how far I have strayed from the Covenant.
What’s more, I have traveled all the Thirteen Principalities and know that most of them are equally unprepared to be judged.
Gods and monsters, there’s nothing to be done.
That day will come, but until then…there are riches to be taken.