I ruled as far as the eye could see, providing you didn’t stand on any
hills. From my people’s ringfort above the confluence of waters, I
succored my beloved subjects and scourged my—
“Oh mom, look at this! Gross!”
Listen here, kid. Like you’ll look any better after two millennia,
presuming you survive that long. I’m one of the lucky ones, you know.
Actually, I prefer to think of myself as divinely chosen, spared from
shifting tectonic plates and oxygen-rich environments to serve greater
purposes. In some respects, I’m more powerful than your superheroes,
even if my muscle tissue has atrophied and I’m trapped under glass,
displayed with iron tools I never even saw whilst I lived. You’re
referring to me, aren’t you? I can’t exactly turn my head here.
“Is that a real person?”
Yes, reading is a stretch for you people. The plaque on my display case
defines me as “Linfield Man—Bog Body, c. 2nd century BCE,” but I’m
so much more than mere labels. For one, cast your eye on my full,
lustrous hair. Two thousand years buried in rotting sphagnum moss turned
it crimson; I’d say it’s one of the few upgrades to my condition.
Moreover, I was a king, and you can’t take that sort of thing away. A
“minor” king according to this august institution, but how would they
know? You think my people interred me with all of my hammered gold
bracelets as the gods demanded, or pocketed some for themselves?
Devoutly worshipping Dagda, my leathery a—
“But why did they kill him?”
You children don’t appreciate the philosophical advances of my
descendants. You think I wouldn’t have scribbled down a law or two if
I’d a written language? Something like “thou shalt not snuff the king if
the barley doesn’t come in” would’ve been lovely. A sacrifice to the
water gods, I’ve got the defensive wounds to prove it, and I still have
the stakes used to pin me to the bottom of the bog keeping me company in
here. But those treasonous bastards got theirs—they forgot that
sacrificing your king to the spirits turns him into a spirit, and I
turned off the rain for years. Years! At least a year. Or I think I did;
I practically radiated hate from the bottom of that bog.
“But why would they hurt their friend?”
Ha! Friend. Pray to your gods that your friends never strip you naked
and drag a dull blade across your neck. That they never follow a
supercilious priest who diligently served your regal father through lean
years but jumped at the first chance to scapegoat you, and that your
faithful subjects never get it into their skulls that they’d prefer to
keep the tribute you demanded from their barren fields. It’s then that
your royal furs are torn from your inviolable carcass, all your bits
exposed as you bleed out at the edge of a bog, your dear friends’ eyes
finally seeing your too-mortal body as they approach for the finishing
“So he’s not as old as the deer?”
No, I’m not as old as the Dagda-damned elk. Had you listened to your
mother earlier, you’d know that big idiot was found underneath me. A
purely ancillary discovery! I was in the bog because my people
deliberately placed me there; that hoofed ignoramus sank into the
pre-bog mud five thousand years earlier looking for a drink. And now
everyone wants to see a brainless animal instead of an
“Can we see the deer again?”
The Irish elk is also known as megaloceros giganteus, according to the
staff who know at least two more languages than you or me, and to whose
idle chat I owe all of my knowledge about the current nation that arose
around my bog. And the Irish elk drives me as insane as one can be in a
glass-and-polished-wood, climate-controlled case. He’s all browned bones
and antlers on a pedestal at the entrance, whilst I crumble back here
with my golden skin and one open eye that you could see if you weren’t
asking your mother asinine questions. Look at my unpilfered bracelets,
at least, if you won’t take a straight-on look at one of your betters.
“Well, can we go to the gift shop?”
Bored, eh? Your mother looks like one of my new kingdom’s guests who
read every word of every sign. What, she takes pictures of them, too?
Sure, I almost pity you, walking around and gawking at me and breathing.
I bet you’ll never raid villages at sword-point or receive tributes of
oats from the grumbling unanointed.
“I have to pee.”
Wait! Not yet! Maybe I can give you a wink with my good eye. I’ve spent
57 years back above ground failing to get a response from these withered
extremities, but lately, if I concentrate, I can almost feel—
“Mom! Mom! His eye fell off! It’s right there!”
It’s come to this, then. Ah, to be one of my treacherous farming clan,
gone gracefully into the afterlife without a trace. Yes, yes, go with
your mother and inform a docent; maybe they’ll wedge it back into the
socket, or perhaps it’ll get its own display case. At best, I’ll get a
new layer of dust on the one pane of my little world that I can see
through. Or could; that eyeball is iris-down.
When I’m alone here, it’s almost like I’m back in the bog. The
loneliness of the first few centuries would’ve killed me if I weren’t
already dead. You feel what little warmth trickles through the surface
as each planting season returns. Eventually you feel the tremors of your
progeny’s progeny’s machinery as they invent it and destroy it and
rebuild it. But in this other loneliness, where you’re exposed to the
hoi polloi, you start to forgive those who were delighted to shut your
mouth and keep the meager fruit of their fields, and you begin to value
the brief attention of a common—
“Whoa, come look at this guy’s dick!”
Oh, fuck off.