The King Across the Water is an epic poem describing the adventures of a prince exiled from his homeland.


The first six books (of a projected twelve) were published in Jarrland in 421. The anonymous poet was believed to be the same as the writer of A Lament for Ashenia, published in around 418, and the later work The Defiance of Pryonia, published in the 440s. The poet was in fact widely believed to be Princess Eirwynn of Jarrland, who was married to the Ashenite prince Hazael. By the later fifth century, this was all but confirmed.

In the early 480s, the poem was finally completed with the publication of its second half (Books seven to twelve), titled The Last Days of Heroism. Critics were divided as to the merits of the later additions, with some praising the more mature storytelling and “realism”, while others missed the strong themes of romance and revenge that characterised The King Across the Water. Some went so far as to condemn its disjointed narrative and digressions, cynical tone, and the anticlimactic conclusion to the first half's plot as downright depressing. All agreed its use of language is, however, much more accomplished.

In 487, the poem was adapted for the stage in Ashenia as a grand theatrical and musical production. Curiously, the performance was sung in the Jarr Language and not Ashenite, likely to preserve as much of the original dialogue and rhyming scheme as possible. The first performance at the Ishan Palace was attended by the elite of Ashenite society as personal guests of Princess Eirwynn.[1]


Book 1 Edit

The poem opens with the eponymous king and a small band of followers on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, far from land. To pass the time while waiting for a wind, the youngest member of the crew asks for a recounting of the events that have led them to this point, being only a boy and not having lived through all but the most recent of them.

The king tells him of his homeland, a distant paradise of warm sun, plentiful food, and tolerant virtue. He recounts how the people were unified by his ancestor, the first king, and how rule passed from him to his daughter, a wise and beautiful queen. The queen and her father were much loved by their people and by sovereigns around the world, and it was this family into which he was born.

Book 2Edit

In a distant corner of the queen's realm an evil creature arises, twisted by jealousy and fanaticism. He assembles a band of villains to follow him, but disguises his intentions. After many years of plotting, he travels overseas and wins great renown as a warrior and athlete in the land of the queen's cousin, a reputation he exploits on his return to gather yet more followers to his cause.

The wise queen is aware of the villain's treacherous plotting, but so deceitful and cunning is he at concealing his plans that she cannot find reason to move against him.

Book 3Edit

The queen and her family are betrayed and murdered along with their loyal councillors. The villain seizes power and rules as a cruel tyrant, forcing his new subjects to convert to his dark religion. The young narrator makes a daring escape from the blades of the assassins sent to kill him, and flees into exile overseas.

The queen's friends abroad hear of the news and are horrified. Her cousin, a foreign queen, calls her council to discuss retribution, but they refuse, and the proud queen kills herself in her fury. Many crowned rulers call for the usurper to be brought to justice.

Book 4Edit

A group of heroes gathers from all over the world to confront the usurper. They approach him in his chambers but he refuses to hear them or answer their charges. When they protest he orders them all slain. His guards attempt to execute the heroes, but despite their numbers they are unable to overcome the small band.

In his cowardice and treachery the usurper sets fire to the room and flees, leaving guards and heroes alike to burn. One of the heroes pursues him and strikes him down, but all the rest are lost, slain by the guards or burned to death. In the aftermath of the usurper's death his cronies seize power and order the suppression of loyalists.

Book 5Edit

The narrator returns to his own tale. He travels as a penniless exile across the world for many years, pursued by the usurper's murderers, surviving by his wits and the kindness of strangers. He wins many friends and much renown as an adventurer in distant realms, but never stops longing to return to his homeland.

In a faraway land he meets a princess and they fall in love, and for a time he believes he can find happiness there. Their relationship is challenged by a proud and arrogant son of an emperor, who has also fallen in love with her.

Book 6Edit

The narrator and the emperor's son compete in a series of heroic tasks for her hand, but neither is able to gain an advantage. Over the course of their trials they become fast friends and agree that they will put aside their differences and honour the princess's choice. The princess chooses the emperor's son, and in a heartbreaking speech explains her reasons to the narrator, telling him that even though she has chosen another she will never forget her love for him. She and the emperor's son promise they will help the narrator should he ever call on them.

The narrator realises that his love for the princess has caused him to forget his destiny, and understands that he and his people will suffer until he has reclaimed his homeland. The story returns to the present, and he tells the crew he will now explain his plan to regain his rightful crown.[2]

The Last Days of HeroismEdit

Book 7 Edit

The hero's friend, now Emperor, makes the hero a king in a distant land, where he raises a family, though he never stops dreaming of home. Back in the hero's homeland, the ruling tyrant struggles to impose his will on a fractious people. The tyrant's daughter schemes against him and is exiled.

Book 8 Edit

The Emperor and the tyrant are both killed by a madman. The madman escapes, despite the best efforts of a great king. The hero is torn between returning to fight in a civil war in his friend's empire, or attempting to secure his return home.

Book 9 Edit

A charismatic leader appears and sweeps the island kingdom clear of fanaticism and corruption with the assistance of the tyrant's daughter (hinted to be his mother). He and the hero strike a deal which allows the hero to return home, and marries the hero's daughter into the bargain. Reconciliation between the two sides is agreed.

Book 10 Edit

An interlocutory passage, in which the main characters discuss the invasion of a distant land by unearthly creatures from beneath the soil, faceless and apparently indestructible. They are eventually defeated by a heroic horse lord (who some critics identify as the best-realised character in the whole epic).

Book 11 Edit

The hero muses on the fate of many of his friends and family who have died in recent years, many of them killed in battle against foes not previously mentioned, others disappearing in mysterious circumstances. Many of them are lost in a shipwreck.

Book 12Edit

A rejuvenated island kingdom begins to expand and enters apparently a new golden age, claiming new lands and dominions and with coffers overflowing like never before. The hero bitterly observes that, though he has achieved his ambition in a sense, and his people prosper, he cannot regain all that he has lost, and that the tyrant has secured his own legacy just as surely as the hero has his.[3]


The poem openly refers to the events surrounding the expulsion of the Grant family from AQUA at the end of the fourth century. The early books cover the rule of Jonas Grumby and his daughter Regina Amber Grant, and her overthrow and murder by Tupelo Cornus; the middle books Tupelo's assassination by AQUA's former allies, and the later books the travels of her nephew Martin Grant-Tremblor, the eponymous "king".

Eirwynn Jarrow, believed to be the poet, was Martin's cousin, and the twin sister of his lover Ambryn, who later married Qzare Li Tailong. Given the date of original publication and the relationship between Martin and the Jarrow family, the poem effectively constitutes propaganda condemning the contemporary AQUA regime and advocating Martin's rightful inheritance and return.

In reality subsequent events were more prosaic than the adventure promised by the closure of Book Six. Martin was appointed governor of the Salterri province of Niemidaland by request of King Athelmere (his cousin by marriage, and Eirwynn's father) so that he might build independent support for his claim. In the 430s the death of both Athelmere and Opus Petrichor, Tupelo's heir, led to a negotiated reconciliation between Jarrland and AQUA and Martin's return to AQUA ensued, followed by his daughter Ginger's marriage to Andus Fitzrion, the Skipper-General.

These events were broadly addressed in The Last Days of Heroism, concluding the story of AQUA, but with an increased focus on contemporary events elsewhere, including the Second International Council, and a whole book devoted to the war against the Stone Men in Ashenia.


From Book 3:

The queen called her council, their cool wisdom and words
To hear, perhaps to heed, for cautious counsel
Would not soothe her spirit. Seldom had it, hence
Wrath, righteous revenge, roared and bellowed in her blood.
Friends, cousins, family: felled, slaughtered in their sleep.
They sloped in slowly, shuffling feet in fear
Who would risk her wrath, who dare to defy?
She, standing, surveyed their sad, miserable mien.

"Justice, gentlemen!" she yelled, "and ladies
This outrage shall be avenged! This avaricious dog,
He was champion called, cur of infamy
Honoured at our hand! His prizes are preserved,
His loathsome likeness looms large in our city square
A traitor to our trust, this killer of our kin
To be beheld by babes, a bronze mocking model For our heirs to hold a hero. Here, fellows, we seem fools
To suffer in silence, this sly insult to ignore."



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