snows of winter were thawing at last, but there was
little cheer among the people of the land. Old king
Hollyhorn had fallen into a life of corruption and
debauchery. The feasts that had once been welcome
celebrations of special days had now become excuses
to squander food and wine, day in and day out.
Those he favored were treated like playthings or
pets, while those out of favor were punished
cruelly or left to starve on the streets. Hollyhorn
had grown fat with age, and he seldom washed or
combed his hair, which had become greasy and
closest to the king feared him, because his mood
would shift suddenly and without provocation. His
guards and officials had long since given up all
pretext of law and justice, and now openly worked
for bribes of gold, wine, or sex. They justified
their own opportunism because the king himself was
an unpredictable, selfish tyrant, and his men felt
they must take as much as they can before his mood
turned sour again, costing them their positions or
It would be
planting season soon, but the people despaired even
at this prospect. There was no hope left in them
for another year, for they knew that any crops they
grew would be taken by the king's men and lavished
on their friends and lovers, or else wasted in
reckless feasting to satisfy the gluttony of the
king and his favorites.
began telling old, half-forgotten stories of a
great king of long ago, Goldhelm the Just. Under
his reign, it was said, there was order in the
streets, and judges settled disputes fairly, and in
accordance with the king's law. Each person was
treated equally, and those who acted rightly
received the rewards of their efforts.
men laughed mockingly when they overheard these old
tales, but in secret many of them hoped that the
stories were true, and that a just king would come
again some day. King Hollyhorn himself never heard
the tales. Or, if he had, showed no signs of
caring. He gave no thought to either past or
future, only the pleasures of the moment, however
empty they had become.
It came to
pass one day that a young stranger came into the
city, riding a fine proud horse. A sword hung at
his side, and upon his head was a helmet that
sparkled golden in the bright light of spring. One
of the king's men approached him.
through the gates without paying the
toll," said the king's man. His companions
smirked and chuckled.
stranger reached for his coin purse.
with coin," said the king's man, fingering the hilt
of his sword. "We'll take that fine horse,
"In all my
travels," said the youth, "I have heard of no toll
such as this. By what right do you demand such a
it because we want to," said the king's man. "This
is King Hollyhorn's land, and here we do as we
be right, for kingship is a sacred trust between
king and subjects, between the ruler and the land.
Please take me to this King Hollyhorn, and
I will learn the truth of this matter. I
suspect you are nothing but a common lawbreaker,
and the king will wish to deal with you when he
learns how you greet travelers here."
men laughed, but they led the young man to the
castle. Although it was mid-day, the great hall was
strewn with drunken men and women, and the place
stank. In the midst of the place lay the old king,
lying on the filthy floor, barely awake. "Who're
you?" he grumbled nastily.
"My name is
Goldhelm. Are you King Hollyhorn?"
You have no business here. Go!"
"I do have
business here, sir. This is the land of my birth,
and I have heard that it is in great need. I
thought to come and fight whatever foes threaten
this land, but now I see that the sickness comes
The old king
spat on the floor, and motioned his guards to
remove Goldhelm. Goldhelm, however, quickly drew
his sword and stood firm. He had such an air of
confidence and conviction that the guards stopped
in their tracks, unwilling to lay hands on
your judges?" Goldhelm continued. "You have given
this land to thieves, and they must be judged, as
must their king."
"We have no
judges," snarled Hollyhorn. "We need no laws
here. We are slaves to no rules. We do as we
please. Go seek your laws and judges
shook his head sadly. He spoke now to the guards.
"Spread the word," he said. "One of royal blood has
returned to his homeland to restore justice and
punish those who have done wrong. There will be a
trial at sunrise."
guards were fearful to be held to account for their
own deeds, they obeyed Goldhelm. Better, they felt,
to suffer the stern and steady gaze of the young
lawgiver than to live in fear of the old king's
violent moods and capricious commands. They placed
Hollyhorn under arrest and waited through the
came, Goldhelm stood before the castle and had the
old king brought out. All the people of the town
had gathered in the square, watching and whispering
amongst themselves. Goldhelm walked among them, and
found twelve townspeople of advanced years: six men
and six women, with wise eyes and wrinkles left by
long-ago smiles. He asked them to stand with
Hollyhorn was brought out. Goldhelm accused him,
without anger, of violating the sacred trust of
rulership. The twelve judges spoke softly amongst
themselves, and named the king guilty of this
for this crime is death. The life of a king is
bound to that of the land and of the people. When
you destroy what you are bound to protect, you
destroy your self." Hollyhorn was taken away to
await his execution.
"We now turn
to those who have stolen, raped, and killed under
the protection of the evil king. What should be
their fate?" The old ones took counsel together
again, for almost an hour. At last, an old woman
from among them approached Goldhelm and spoke.
"These men have done great wrong, and because of
them we have lived in fear for a long time now. We
believe that they themselves were also afraid, for
fear creates cruelty and cruelty creates more fear.
It is our judgment that these men should give up
their weapons and whatever goods they have
acquired, and live for a time in the service of
someone they have wronged."
"So be it,"
said Goldhelm. "Now let justice be
done." Hollyhorn was brought forth again, and
Goldhelm drew forth his sword and ended the life of
the king. A guard emerged from the castle
carrying an ancient crown of gold, which had been
polished and now shone with a dazzling light.
Goldhelm knelt, and the crown was placed upon his
head, at sunrise on the first day of