“We are the dead,” the corpse replied. “We are freed from many limitations.” His voice, Marius noted, seemed to come from within him, as if someone were utilising a speaking tube from the other side of a wall, or some hole deep inside the dead man’s chest.

“Remarkable,” he muttered, then aloud, “I hate to be a bother, but there seems to be some sort of terrible mistake. I… what am I saying? What the hell is going on here?”

“There has been a battle.”

Marius swallowed. “Um, yes.”

“A king was killed.”

“Ah. Well. You see–”

“We are in need of a king.”

“We didn’t know it was him, of course. And even if we did, we wouldn’t… I beg your pardon?”

The dead do not breathe. It could only have been in Marius’ imagination that the corpse sighed in irritation.

“We need a king.”

“Um,” Marius squinted at the rows of implacable dead. “Would it be impertinent to ask why?”

“He is the sovereign, anointed by divine right.”


“He is placed upon the throne by the Lord God himself.”

“Uh huh.” Marius had dined with several kings. On the basis of that evidence, divinity came at the end of a thief’s knife. Still, he wasn’t going to debate that with someone who could hold him aloft with no apparent effort. “And?”

“We are the dead.”

“Established that.”

“We lie here in wait,” The corpse swung about on one stiff leg, an arm raised to indicate the grimy expanse of the cavern. “Alone. Unheeded. Forgotten.”

“And this means…?” The exertion of keeping this conversation going was beginning to tell on Marius. He couldn’t imagine where it was leading, but he could taste the pint of ale he should be drinking at Saucy Kat’s House of Welcome right about now. It didn’t help.

“God has forgotten us.”



“Oh.” A single penny dropped against the stone floor of Marius’ understanding. “And a king is God’s representative.”

“He is.”

“A conduit to God. To remind him you are here, waiting.”

“That is so.”

“I see.” Marius frowned. “Well, it’s very interesting, but I don’t see how I…”

“You are the king.”

Marius blinked. He knew he hadn’t heard that properly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You are the king. Of an earthly realm. You were smote, and laid your life aside, and a warrior who had commenced the journey to join us observed you, and so you came.”

“You what? Are you kidding me?

“It is as was seen.”

The crowd behind the corpse parted, and a warrior, fresh killed and bearing only the injuries of weapons, not time, stepped forward. Marius saw the grin, and the scar that ran from low down the side of his face to the top, and the hole where an eye had been destroyed. The soldier stepped in front of the corpse and lowered himself upon one flesh-bearing knee.

“Your Majesty” he said. The rest of the assemblage followed suit, as well as their dead and rotting limbs would allow them. Marius shook his head, half in disbelief, half in protest.

“Oh no,” he said. “Oh, no. You have the wrong man. I’m telling you. You really, really…”

He struggled against the grip of his warder, twisting to release himself. Something shifted under his shirt. Before he could lower his arms to grab it, a circle of gold fell out and rolled across the floor, to fetch up against the foot of the dead warrior. He gripped it between stiffened fingers, and raised it up so all could see. Then slowly, with great deliberation, he stepped forward until he stood in front of Marius, their faces separated by mere inches. He raised his arms, and with great care, placed the crown of Scorby upon Marius’ brow.

“Your crown, Your Majesty”

Marius closed his eyes, and uttered his first words as King of the Dead.

“Oh, fuck.”


The throne room was nothing more than a cavern carved out of the earth by dead hands, no more or less square than any other hole and no more or less careful in its construction than any other burrow. The throne itself was a wattle and daub frame that resembled a chair in the way a corn doll resembled a full-grown human, and really, what else could he expect when the only resources available were roots, earth and the shit of the world? And kingly robes. Good God, they had even found him raiment. They smelled of dirt and worms, and lay stiff as old blood against his body, but they were his kingly robes, and Marius was too numb to ask where they had come from, or who might have possessed them before him. The Ruler of the Dead, in his dead man’s clothes, sitting upon his throne of dead man’s shit. It was all so perfect.

Around him milled an obscene parody of a court. The dead, dust for voices, emptiness for eyes, facing him in impatient rows, waiting for his first proclamation. Expecting the word of God made flesh for confirmation that they were no longer alone. Marius stared above their heads, at the crowded entrance to what he now thought of as the main hall. There was no escape, he knew, no exit in that direction. Still, it was the only bearing he had left, and so he stared at it. And waited.

The figures in his “court” shuffled about aimlessly, conversing about who knew what, sparing him an occasional glance, hiding behind bowed heads if he attempted to match their gaze. Marius slumped in his throne. A bubble of fear and panic sat at the base of his throat, and unless it was released, he would choke to death upon it before long. Which would be ironic, he thought, and very carefully did not laugh.

A figure appeared at his elbow, silent and respectful. Marius ignored it. Eventually it offered the politest of coughs. Marius sighed, and glanced up. It was the soldier who had crowned him. Marius snorted, and returned his chin to the fist upon which it had been resting.

“What do you want?”

“Your Majesty--”

“Sod off.”

“Majesty, the people are waiting. They need to hear you speak.”

“Fine. Tell them to sod off.”

“Your Majesty, Please. Can you not see how they wait upon your word?”

Marius looked at the crowd. They glanced at him, he realised, not from awe, or fear. They waited in anticipation, and with more than a little unrest. He frowned.

“That’s another thing. How the hell can I see so much, anyway? We’re underground. I haven’t seen any shafts, or torches.”

“We are the–”

“Yeah, yeah. You are the dead. That’s your reason for everything, isn’t it? That still doesn’t explain why I can see.”

“You are our leader, Your Majesty. Our king. Whatever we can do, you can do. We are your subjects and

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