All Our Kings Are Dead

An illustration of a paddy field. In the foreground a figure is running to two small figures, one is on its knees with hands uplifted. In the sky the silhouette of a goddess is in the clouds.

The mother goddess is breastless and beloved, her story told in the oldest language in the known world. They say she suffered at the hands of an unjust king. 

What we mean is, before she was a goddess, she was a woman wounded.  

It was Her name the girl held in her mouth as a child:

Chewed on it the nights they mixed tea leaves with sugar because a kilo of rice cost more than the day’s wages; 

Cried it out when a landslide swept their home into rubble;

Bit into it when the rains didn’t come and the soil turned to dust; 

Whispered it when her father’s crops withered into nothing, when he came home smelling bitter and afraid, when he shoved her mother’s head into the wall and put his hands on her, his only daughter;

Clutched it the night her mother clamped a hand over her mouth and dragged her to the edge of the water, before pushing her onto a rickety boat, where below deck, fifty frightened eyes stared unblinkingly back; the last thing she saw before the darkness took her—her mother’s weeping mouth, a river undammed.  

They say her beloved was accused of stealing the queen’s anklet, and the king’s soldiers executed him for it. She confronted the king to prove her lover’s innocence. Realising his mistake, the king killed himself in shame. But what good is repentance when it comes too late?

It was Her name the girl clung to in the dark drifting days, knowing there was a word for people like her—a word that spilled out of the mouths of politicians who insisted they had nothing to spare, that these people, these boat people with dirt in their bellies and no home to go back to, had ruined the places they came from and were going to ruin theirs too. It was a word she’d heard used to close doors and draw lines, to say this, this is where you belong, and nowhere else.

Cracked open with loss, the mother goddess tore out her left breast and flung it into the walls of the city, watching as it burned to the ground. 

It was Her name the girl held close when they landed on solid ground and the light fell on their sun-hungry skin, and no such word came.

When days later she joined the other children as they helped farm the shy wrinkle of paddyfields on the edge of the city; 

Her name she screamed when her foot twisted on mud and she heard the unmistakable crunch of bone; when she remembered the way, so many years ago, her father howled in the dark like a keening animal without the money he needed to enter the gleaming fortress of the town hospital; when she curled into the white heat of the wound; when the children hoisted her up and brought her into a low thatched building where a man examined her foot and gave her a bitter tea for the pain; when he hushed her tears with a gentle smile, when he told her that here, care did not come with conditions; that here, what mattered most was who made it to the next day, and who else you could take with you. 

The mother goddess wandered the earth, bent with the weight of her loss. Wherever she went, we knew her by different names, but we saw her for who she was. We asked her for rain, for relief from disease. We held on to what she knew: that all our cities were burning; that our kings could not save us now. We knew that to start anew is to be moved by care—in the end, what else is there to do than to go forward, one hand holding another’s, not knowing what comes next, but believing that it has to be better than what we leave behind? 

‘All Our Kings Are Dead’ is part of a series of micro-fiction pieces around the theme Speculative Futures in the Climate Crisis. Enjoyed this story and want to read more? Let us know!

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