A cool spring breeze blew over the plain, catching the tall green grasses as it passed by. Alex sat in the middle of the field breathing deeply, inhaling the warmth of the morning. It was just past sunrise, and the sun was still growing in the sky, with the orange of daybreak slowly fading away in the sky. His legs were crossed one over the other, and his eyes were closed. He held his knees in his hands as if he were pressing them into the ground.

Alex inhaled, tensing his whole body as he did. He counted 1…2…3…4…5…6…then blew out the air through his mouth hard. As he blew out he relaxed his body, letting his stresses melt away like the tension in his muscles. His studies had shown him that every great leader in history had taken to methods of relaxation, and he refused to be the exception. Julius the Conqueror was the first to take control of the fifth island, the home of his people, and was known to take horse rides at daybreak alone to clear his mind. Osiris the Butcher had led his men through the bloodiest expedition in recorded history. He had taken to hunting alone in the morning to catch his own meal. The speed of the hunt apparently made him forget the struggles of war and politics.

Alex’s favorite leader though was known simply as The Khan, and was less a historical figure and more a legend. It was said he was the last man to control the whole of the Silent Hills, a place now lost to all of humanity. It was said that he meditated instead of sleeping, his peace of mind so great that he no longer needed the rest. Some even said that he was so enlightened he had learned the secret of eternal life, and stayed meditating under the mountains. Of course, Alex never believed this, but he did get some happiness from the knowledge that he was in good company.

Alex was thinking of his youth. Now a man in the waning years of his sixties, he had outlived most of his friends, who had either died in arms or died of sickness. He routinely felt alone, though that never made him feel afraid. Being alone was the one place he could quiet his mind. He remembered the day when he was selected as the next ruler by the Council of Nine. It was a spring day, not unlike the present day, with the first of the flower blossoms revealing their beauty to the world. The day was two weeks after the death of Andrew the Iron Fist, the last king of their realm. It was said that Andrew could pierce his enemies with just a glance, but at that time Alex had never even been to the kingdom. He was just 10 when his tribal leader came to him and said that he had been summoned by to the Greatwood.

The trek to the Greatwood took a long month at sea, with strange men and stranger foods, from the island of his people to a smaller one off the shore of the main lands. The island of the Greatwood was an abandoned place, held sacred in their nation. Ten men were chosen from across the nation, one from the family of the former ruler, one from each of the five islands, and one from each of the three states, and a single man chosen from the mountain people, who were outsiders permitted to live within the kingdom as they pleased at the decree of Osiris, who was born among them.

It was there, in the Greatwood, that the leader would be chosen. The Council of Nine was the name they had given to a ring of great trees, each of a different root and color, yet their leaves were all the same. The deep red of blood, it was said that no more than three leaves fell from the trees each year. One on the first day of the year, a second if a nations king died, and a last one said to fall on the next ruler. Of course, nobody was at the island year round to verify this, but when he arrived Alex certainly could have believed it. The grounds were free from the normal litter of leaves, almost completely bare save for some scattered rocks. The 10 men would sit beneath the Council of Nine and wait for a leaf to fall on them. They were required not to move from the time they took their seat until the time that a leader was chosen, not for food nor for sleep. 50 men accompanied them in order to witness the choice of the next leader, though they were permitted to leave as they chose to hunt and feast, so long as at least half kept watch at any given time.

It was 2 long nights before the leaf fell, but finally it came down. Everyone had expected it to fall on Chin, a massive titan of a man. Nobody had expected the youngest among them, Alex, to be the choice of the Nine. He smiled at this memory. He could still see the look of shock on their faces. Even Julius, named by his family after the great conqueror, who was aged and wise, betrayed himself with a look of surprise. He was, however, the first to congratulate Alex.

Alex took one last deep breath, his body now damp with sweat. They were all dead now. The 9 other men he had sat with back then. The 50 men who had accompanied them, even the shipmates he had sailed with back to the mainland. He was the oldest man alive, and yet he still felt the strength of spirit he had enjoyed in his youth. He opened his eyes, stood, and began to walk back to camp.


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