Long ago there was a mighty kingdom in the center of a thick wood, in a land rich with jade , silver, and rushing clear water. At the center of the forest, atop a massive waterfall, there was a castle carved in stone. Here the King, his family, and his servants and courtiers lived. They were called the Clear Family, for they watched over the sweet, refreshing clear water of the continent.
The Clear Family controlled the flow of water from atop the waterfall, which spread throughout the kingdom. Thus they controlled the realm. With their mastery of the water, they had influence over the growth of crops in the west, the formation of craggy canyons to the south, the flooding of the marshes to the east, and the supply of fish and pearls in the north.
The Clear Family ruled for many generations, with a fair but formidable hand. Their reign was absolute, unwavering, and stolid as the very stone into which their home was built. The lands were never overrun with water. The crops never dried out. All were fed and kept cool and comfortable.
The Clear Family maintained its lineage through strict paternal inheritance. The eldest born son of each generation was crowned the King upon reaching his twenty-first birthday. Women and younger sons were granted sizeable mansions in the farther reaches of the realm– the north, the south, the east, or the west, as befitted the personality and interests. These distant relatives were kept comfortable but at arm’s length, and thus under control.
One year, thousands of years into the Clear Family’s rein, two identical twin boys were born of the Queen Breccia. The nursemaids hurried out of the chambers with the two sons, the eldest swaddled in blue, the second born swaddled in brown.
The King’s doctors, nursemaids, and priests examined the two children, and found that they were identical in every single way. They were not mirror images, and neither was the distorted image of the other. They were simply impossible to tell apart, aside from the differently colored cloths that swathed them.
A few hours after the birth, when the infants were resting and the Queen was recuperating, the King Feldspar came into the nursemaids’ chambers. He beheld the two infants, wrapped to the neck in their swathes of cloth.
“A beautiful brood,” said he. “Now, which is my heir?”
And the eldest nursemaid said, “My lord, it is Hessite, the child in brown.”
And the King lifted the child aloft and surveyed him. “Place them both in cradles of silver and jade,” said he, “and keep them well fed and tended. May a nurse or nun always be holding them, even as they sleep. But keep a watchful eye over this one in particular, and handle him with utmost gentleness, for he is the one that will control the water and the realm.”
The eldest nursemaid bowed and said, “Yes, my liege,” and took the infant from her lord’s grasp.
When the King was gone, the youngest nursemaid came to the elder woman’s side and whispered, “My lady, I am sorry but you are wrong. I have made a note, and it says right on this scroll that the eldest born and heir is the child swaddled in blue. In the brown swaddling is Lignite, the second son.”
The elder nursemaid’s face went ashen and she said, “Dear me, I recall the first child being wrapped in brown.”
They asked around, inquiring to everyone that was present at the birth, save for the Queen Breccia. The elder priest declared that it was the brown cloth that sat at the top of the pile, so it must be that the eldest son was clad in that color. The doctor shook his head and sadly said that no, he saw the young nursemaid clad the first baby boy in blue.
Around and around they went, until the elder nursemaid held up her hands and said, “Stop. Cease this squabbling. This child in brown is the one that was presented to the King as the royal heir. He is to be that child now.”
She unraveled the cloth that held the infant and pulled a scalpel from the Doctor’s table.
“We must never make this mistake again,” said she, and quickly dragged the blade across the side of the infants throat.
“What are you doing!?” they all cried, but soon they saw.
The elder nursemaid drew blood, but did not harm the child, and he produced many deep, unsettling shrieks and cries. They saw what she had done and agreed that it was wise. Within a week, the child’s wound had cleaned and whitened into a scar.
When the children were presented to the King and Queen a month later on the day of Baptism, the King was surprised at the eldest boy’s mark.
“My son, my Hessite, what has happened to my eldest and my heir?” he asked.
“Sire,” said the nursemaid, “this injury came upon your firstborn when the doctor reached into Queen Breccia with his forceps, to remove the child. This long white scar is all that differentiates the child from his brother, and has been on him since birth.”
The King and Queen quickly accepted this, and were thankful that there was a mark to tell the boys apart. As they grew, the boys remained identical, and the scar across the purported eldest’s neck was his sole designator.
Both Hessite and Lignite were treated well, fed and taught the ways of the world and given much love by the Queen, her caretakers, and her consorts. But Lugnite, the youngest twin, grew green as jade with envy, for he knew one day his brother would control the water and he would be dispatched to some distant house on a snow capped hill or at the bottom of a canyon.
When the boys were five, a dreadful winter storm rolled through the wood and all the people of the castle was wrapped in thick cloaks and heavy, high-necked shirts. The eldest boy Hussite was clad in brown vestments and his brother Lugnite in blue, so they could still be told apart even with their necks obscured.
One day, the blacksmith reported that a beloved blade was missing from his stockpile. King Feldspar’s men searched for days, and found it in the boys’ room. Both boys denied taking the blade, and both were sent to bed without supper for three nights. Some days past and the crime was forgiven.
Then one day, Hussite was in the court in his brown vestments, playing chess with his mother Queen Breccia. Both were startled by the appearance on the court steps of another boy, identical to Hussite, dressed the same way.
“What are you doing in my clothes?” the boy on the steps asked. He advanced on his twin and knocked the chessboard over.
“These are my clothes! It is you who are wearing my clothes! This is not proper, you are not the heir!” said the boy who had been playing chess. He rose and attacked his brother.
The boys fell into a heap on the floor of the court, tussling, biting, and clawing at one another. The Queen and King came upon them and tore their sons apart. Each was told to strip his vestments off.
Both boys stood naked before the courtier, each with matching bodies, with identical scars across their necks.
For months the boys were interrogated by the priests and doctors and courtiers, and for months both of them denied having stolen the knife. Each vociferously claimed that he was the true eldest and heir, not his brother, that he was Hussite and the other was Lugnite. Both insisted on being called by Hussite’s name. Both were equally furious at the other’s betrayal.
But as desperately as the court tried, no one could tell the twins apart. The boys possessed the same features and memories. They possessed all the same talents and skills, and spoke in exactly the same way. No test could be devised to differentiate them, and no solution could be invented.
After year of inquiry, the King Feldspar came upon the boys in the middle of the night, holding a tall candle, accompanied by no one. The boys were in twin beds, side-by-side, both wearing dark brown nightgowns.
“One of you has disgraced me through deception,” said King Feldspar. “And one of you has disgraced me by failing to distinguish himself. A true heir should shine like a diamond in a pile of charcoal. But you are both the same. If you both wish so badly to become the same person, then become the same person you shall.”
“Father,” the twins asked. “What will you do with us?”
The King said, “I have placed a parapet at the top of the castle, and filled it with all the things you might need. When you turn twenty-one, I will place your throne there. You both shall rule the realm from that vantage point, and neither of you will be able to make a decision without the other agreeing to it. You shall both become King, but only together may you rule.”
The years passed and the boys were trained and raised as the same person. They learned the history of the realm sitting side by side. Together they learned to fight, to deliver speeches, to receive guests, to dance, and to court potential Queens. Together they dressed and bathed and ate and slept.
When their father addressed them, he did so both at once. They answered in unison. When anyone called out the name Hussite, both boys answered in earnest. The younger brother’s name, Lugnite, was never spoken again.
When the boys turned twenty-one, their father installed them in the parapet and placed atop each of their heads one half of his crown, which sat upon their skulls like headbands. They ruled together from their parapet, passing judgment and controlling the flow of water throughout the realm. They did so fairly and intelligently. Each decision was considered and debated heavily between the brothers.
As time moved forward, the boys found that neither could remember who was the eldest and who was the impostor. They had spent more time denying the deception than they’d spent engaging in it, after all, and their scars were identical. They ruled in tandem, then, and did so without trying to undermine one another.
Many women and men visited the twin Kings at court, from all throughout the realm. However, none of these potential consorts found themselves enchanted with either of the two Kings, and none were ever taken as a husband or wife.
The twin Kings lived and ruled until the age of seventy-five, at which point they both developed gout and pleurisy and became bedridden. As they succumbed to illness, the youngest nursemaid who had attended their birth came upon them and stood at the foot of their bed. She was now the eldest nursemaid, a mentor to the other nurses and a trusted adviser to the Kings.
“My lady,” they croaked. “what news have you for us?”
The nursemaid intertwined her fingers and looked at the ceiling for a long time. The Kings’ uncle was coming on horseback from the South, prepared to take the throne when the twins dropped dead, for they had no heirs.
“My lady,” said one of the twins. “Do you remember, do you know — which one of us was the real heir?”
But the lady did not tell them about the mix-up, about the true origins of the scar. She stared at the ceiling and felt like a young girl once again; unsure, without authority. What use would it be to tell them that the ‘true’ eldest was not, in fact, the eldest?
When she looked back down, the twins had both fallen silent and still, and their sheets were stained brown with old blood.
Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.