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The Iron King

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A hundred years from now, when Tortallan mythmaking has had a chance to kick into high gear, this is what they will tell about the Iron King: that she was the Queen of the Dead, who ruled a palace of ghosts and spirits, who turned out the graveyards to assault the countries that rose against her, who executed traitors by her own hand, then brought back their shades to kill even their souls. That she was crowned by the hands of the White Lady Herself, the Carrion Crow; that she was the Black God's lover, and bore him a son.

Their new royal line - still new, even after a century, even with the old line folded in from nearly the start - is set apart from all other royal families, the Tortallans will say with a peculiar pride that is whispered rather than shouted: their royal family is the family of the noble dead. They will tell you that if you go to the Iron King's tomb, sometimes, you can see her walking about, always ready to help a Tortallan in need, and always, always ready to rise again bodily to lop the head off of any traitor.

No one has tested that in several decades.

The truth is, the four hundred and twenty-first Voice says to his people, that the Iron King and her descendants do not wander from their graves. There is no need for it, and besides, the King's own brother saw to it that none of the royal dead could ever interfere with the living, for fear of the dead refusing to give up their thrones. The Iron King sleeps peacefully, just as she has since the night she passed quietly over to the other side.

She is not buried in Corus, anyway, but only the Voices know this. She is buried beneath the great slabs of the Old City, ever watchful but ever peaceful, the only person buried in that sacred ground, by the first Voice to step into that city as Voice, the four hundred and sixteenth. Her sword is buried with her, and it is that, the Voices all know, that keeps the old shades at bay.

In some parts of Tortall, folks will still whisper the old rumors, that the Iron King killed her husband after he was crowned so that she could rule in his place. But do not mention this in the palace itself, or the shades of the dead - there are always a few around - will quickly correct you.

King Jonathan was poisoned by his mistress, the spirits insist, though a few do insist she was innocent and he was instead done in by a friend. The Iron King was quite possibly the last person in Tortall who actually wanted the throne, but that bit of knowledge has been lost to the ages, and a century from now, only the dead remember.

But none of that has happened yet. Now, there is just Prince Jonathan whispering in a tent, and biting his tongue before he says too much. And there is Alanna, whispering, "Yes."