The grand palace of the King trembled as flames licked its surface of gold and silver. The kingdom's long suppressed subjects had reached the King's dungeon, where he tried to hide as his guards stood defenseless against the mob. They dragged him, the once King, now deprived of his crown and throne, through the carefully polished marble floor, putting rusted chains around his hands and ankles. The very chains that the King had used to imprison his opponents. They rid him of his long gorgeous robe, using mere rags to cover his now scarred body. The old King murmured, but his mouth was soon slammed shut by the angry crowd.
The riot went on, with exploited farmers and workers and even the once loyal and lawful citizens, rushing into the palace to grab their share of the treasure. The followers and servants of the King were all butchered with knives and swords or even by heavy sticks and stones. Even the jester of the court was not spared. He was caught crying as the people put his head against the beautifully decorated palace wall. His mask lay broken on the ground, and his blood soon stained the royal carpets as the fire grew silently, taking the palace slowly apart.
But the wiser men of the city did not join this parade of madness. Unlike the uneducated crowd, they knew very well what the things in the King’s dungeon meant. Not just corruption and indulgence of pleasure, but something darker, whispers and prayers to things that should not be remembered. The tomes and symbols reminded them too much of the ancient gods of down in the abyss, the dark red liquid in the silver cup unsettlingly resembled blood. A lion, which was once the King’s pet, now reduced to mere skeleton, had carvings on it that they wish they could unsee. And they knew that the soldiers fell before the angry people not because their weapons were not sharp or their armors were poorly-made, but because their bodies so weak, that they weren’t even able to put up a fight. The soldiers were hardly the young men in good health they were when they were recruited, as they appeared lost and confused with a broken soul, as if something had sucked their life dry over the years. So they fled, scholars grabbing their scrolls, painters taking their paintings and tools, leaving this cursed city without looking back.
The cheering in the city however, did not cease. The people celebrated their victory, throwing filthy things towards the King, picking up stones to break his fragile bones once more. Even the smallest children had come up and kicked the old man, leaving him crawling in the mud. They hardly understood what this all meant, but they too laughed with the crowd. The crows gathered on the branches nearby, and they made noises harsh and shrill, as if mocking the men below.
Tortured people had taken their revenge, but even those who had been the King’s accomplice had joined their rank. The criminals who had murdered tens of people stood alongside those who were too afraid to even speak ill of the court, and they all cheered and cheered. The thieves walked proudly in broad daylight, for on this one day, the only thief was the King, who stole the Kingdom from its people, and everything else done was to serve justice. Innocents had died and the ones with blood on their hands were praised heroes, but the crowd did not care. They were vultures, feasting upon the dead body of a giant, who had been weak and sinful, now a lair for things so much more filthy than he was.
And the climax of the feast came when the King was taken through the long streets and out to a small hill where an old tree stood. They were going to use the gallows to hang him, but someone suggested that the King did not deserve a formal execution, but should die nameless and forgotten. So they took him here, a deserted place where the tree happened to be big and tall enough for him to be hanged. The King, who had crawled on his broken knees all the way there, hardly resembled a king anymore. Covered in dirt and rags, he was more along the lines of beggars than anything of royalty. But even as people spat at him and cursed him, nobody dared to look at him in the eyes. Even with his jaw broken, he murmured unholy words that no one wished to hear. So the crowd shouted and yelled as loud as they could, trying to hide the unsettling feeling stirring their hearts and minds.
The execution was done easily and swiftly, as it merely took a long rope around the King's neck with its end tied to a large tree branch. The King was hanged, heavy chains still on his body, for the people felt unsafe to take them off. He had struggled like every hanged man in human history, but the words slipped through his lips were unlike anything others had spoken. He did not ask for forgiveness, nor did he curse his rebellious subjects for he knew they had already been cursed. He spoke inhuman words that came from places of dark, and then laughed and laughed until his final breath. Then there was silence, as his hands and feet finally stopped moving.
There was no longer cheering, as everyone tried to get out of the place as soon as they could. Nobody wanted to look at the Hanged King for a second more, as his eyes, now lifeless and wide, still seemed to be staring at them. The courage they built up when taking the palace was gone, the pride and the triumph they felt now reduced to void and fear. The King was hanged, but it was as if his laughter was still echoing on this small hill.
They never intended to bury him as they eventually did, for they wanted him to be exposed in the wild for crows to come and maggots to grow, and his body to decay, so that the King would die humiliated. The crows did come, circling around him but never landed. They just laughed and laughed with their ugly voices as if mocking the crowd once more. And the lifeless look of the King was so resentful and disgusting that everyone wanted to cover this foul creature with earth, as if mere soil would help them escape from his hateful gaze. They did not make him a tomb, however, and they buried the King only shallowly as nobody was willing to stay long to dig a hole deep enough. Then the crowd left. They went back to the city, and indulged themselves in their newly gained treasure, trying to forget what they had witnessed.
On the first day, nothing had really happened, except that a homeless reported that he had heard strange noises coming from the hill, where the King was hanged and buried. He also said that crows had gathered, their eyes fixed on the King’s grave, as if waiting for something to happen. But this was dismissed as a madman’s words.
On the second day, however, many residents of the city found themselves badly ill. They coughed, bled, and trembled lying on the floor as if they were bound by heavy, rusted chains. The river that flowed across the city had turned red, and smelled of human blood. Those who enjoyed their new power and wealth found themselves helpless after merely one day, clutching at the gold they took from the palace and died beside it.
On the third day, those who were still alive were able to move again. But they stood up only to put a knife against their throats or to scream while ripping their faces off. Their blood streamed out of their houses, staining the river with red even more. All animals had fled the city, except for the crows, which were now almost everywhere. They stood watching silently as the city spiraled down into madness. At the same time, the soil on top of the King’s burial rustled. The crows laughed with their harsh tone as the Hanged King climbed out of his grave, with chains around his hands and ankles and the rope around his neck.
He was hanged as a king of men but he came out of that place something else. His body lifeless, but he was not dead as he refused to walk that path, and used souls he had and didn’t have to make the bargain. The chains hit the ground, clashing against each other as the Hanged King made his way back to the city. The very city now flooded with blood and watched by dark crows, where people kept screaming until they could scream no more.
He moved past the streets where he was dragged along just a few days back, stepping on the blood of his former subjects. He walked slowly towards the ruins of the once magnificent palace he had built all those years ago. The treasures had been taken, and all that was left were dead bodies and broken weapons. The King moved past a broken mask, which was once worn by his favorite jester, but he paid no attention. He walked towards the dungeon where a throne covered by sharp, rusted spikes was placed. The ones who had taken the palace thought it was meant for torturing, and did not bother to move it. The King, leaving a blood trail behind, stepped upon to the throne, and placed his body through the cold metal spikes.
As the spikes went through his dead body, the King trembled. He would have screamed, if the rope had not rendered him breathless, for the pain was in the soul rather than his body. He was there to suffer forever, but it had been done and it was then his one and only rightful throne. For a moment there, there was silence, but then the ruins of the palace began to shake, and the city started to tremble. The flames rose once more, but more of a phantom of the past, and the blood in the river started to boil. The skeleton of the lion stood up, and roared.
The King’s dungeon, where the throne was placed, the center of all these, now became a hole, a hole that warped the whole kingdom inside. It turned everything inside out, making them twisted and inhuman. The space bent, time disoriented, and the city was in another place not quite there, but still where they all were. The whole city was transformed and remade. The crows had taken off and they circled the city, searching for those who were not yet dead, pecking them with their beaks until they bled out in horrifying forms.
The Hanged King, who was now seated in the court of his new city, built upon the ruins of the old one, shall sit there forever and ever. The dead jester came up, once again wore his broken mask, and offered the King a silver cup filled with blood.
He spoke words not quite his in an alien tone: “With this, our blood, it is the Hanged King’s.”
The King took the cup, but his hand was broken and pierced by the sharp blades of the throne. The scarred hand trembled hard, and it was too weak to hold it. The cup then fell on the floor and the blood spilled on his new court.
The crows, who had been watching, laughed again with their harsh voices and left. They left the city as the dead stood up again, bending their broken body to resemble human form. They walked the new twisted streets, putting on masks to cover their bloodied faces, and started to cheer as they did when they were alive on the day they took the palace. They paraded in the new city and started a carnival, as if the tragedy was a grand masquerade all along. They laughed and laughed until the King started to cry and scream, but his throat could not make a single sound, so he merely wept in silence.
So the city was ruled forever by the Hanged King, with the masked dead celebrating and parading until they too rot. But even those who had fled the city when the King was hanged found no peace. They were haunted in waking moments and in dreams, for whispers from the twisted city had found their hidings. They dreamt of a masquerade of corrupted souls, through the long hallways of a labyrinth down to the Hanged King’s grand court. And when they woke up, they would shake in fear. But they could not forget what they had seen, as if the city of decay and rapture had taken roots in their minds. So they wrote dramas and poems about the cursed city, composed songs and paintings of the damned king. Some of them lost and forgotten, but those survived the long history will bring their viewers to the Hanged King’s reach.
And outside the twisted alleys of the kingdom, beyond the spiked throne of the Hanged King, the crows all laugh and fly away, but their eyes shall always be watching.