“Finally, after forty-eight years, Cadwallo, this most noble and most powerful King of the Britons, become (sic) infirm with old age and illness, departed this life on the fifteenth day after the Kalends of December. The Britons embalmed his body with balsam and aromatic herbs and placed it inside a bronze statue which, with extraordinary skill, they had cast to the exact measure of his stature. They mounted this statue, fully armed, on a bronze horse of striking beauty, and erected it on top of the West Gate of London, in memory of the victory of which I have told you and as a source of terror to the Saxons.”
-Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Briton, pg. 280
Great monarchs leave legends that stand through the ages and their people find ways to memorialize them. Sometimes tombs are built to their glory whose architecture elevates them to works of art, sometimes cities or great buildings are named after them. They may be immortalized in song and story, or in portraits painted by the finest artists.
Or sometimes their corpses are entombed in bronze and set up on top of a church to scare the bejesus out of their enemies.
On a side note, I know how I wish to be interred upon my death.
Something I particularly like about this passage is that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s phrasing could mean that the weapons and armor of the statue may not have been part of the statue’s casting, but real armor made for the statue to wear. That idea makes the image of the statue coming to life, leaping off the church, and charging headlong into an army of Saxons even more compelling. Especially if it’s followed by a horde of spectral Welsh warriors following their king into one more battle.
This also provides a heck of an adventure hook for a game. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to steal the magical armor and weapons off the king’s statue as it sits on top of the church in the center of town. You need to do it without being seen by the populace, without alerting the clerics and paladins in the church, and most importantly without waking the king entombed within the statue.
The XP will be fantastic, but I suggest you have a backup character ready.
Cadwallo, more commonly known as Cadwallon ap Cadfan, is one of the last great legendary kings of the Britons discussed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Stories tell of his battles against the Saxons and his reclamation of large parts of Britain. The tale of his final resting place has shades of the “Kings in the Mountain” concept, placing him in the company of Arthur, Barbarossa, and Tecumseh. It’s a trope that I’m quite fond of.
Here are some other adventure hooks for using dead monarchs:
The Sentinel – The statue of the monarch watches constantly for his hated enemies. When the statue sees them it roars with rage, alerting and emboldening his troops while striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. The purpose of the statue’s enchantments is to protect the city, but enterprising adventurers may convince the new king to dismount the statue and carry it before his army while waging war against the dead king’s foes.
Conversely the adventurers may be from the bloodline hated by the dead king and their mission would be to silence the guardian.
Heads of State – The kings and queens of a certain realm are legendary for their wisdom and deep knowledge of history. It is said that the wisdom of the former monarchs never dies, but is passed on to each new sovereign. This is true, but not in the fashion the populace believes. Through ancient rites the heads of each monarch is mummified and their spirits bound by necromancy. The Macabre Court is kept in a secret audience chamber within the royal palace, accessible only to those who bear the royal seal, and through them the kings and queens can seek council from the dead.
Now one of the heads has gone missing, a very old head from the dawn of the kingdom. The head of a ruler whose iron will dominated the land and united or crushed all other rulers under her banner. A head whose voice has become argumentative over the years, who feels the kingdom has lost its courage and become too civilized and too weak.
Blade of Kings – When the king falls in battle it lays a curse upon the knights who failed to protect him. To lift the curse the fallen king’s body is cremated and his ashes mixed with molten steel. Master smiths then forge the steel into a sword which must be wielded in battle by the new monarch, the lord marshal, or the champion of the realm.
Dire times have fallen on the land. Not only was the king slain by raiders but they captured his body and now hold it for ransom. Rumors abound that the realm’s enemies have begun to mobilize while the young queen calls for adventurers willing to track down the brigands and recover her father’s body. Without the royal sword she will be unable to lift the curse and lead her knights in battle.
The Royal Gaze – In days long past the royal house made a pact with a mysterious being that has given the family a strange and powerful ability. When a member of the royal family dies their body is laid out under the full moon. As the moonbeams touch the eyes they are turned into sapphires of the highest quality. The monarchs have the gems set into works of fine jewelry which they give as gifts to other rulers and nobles.
The origin of the jewels is a closely kept secret, as is the fact that whomever wears the royal crown can see through the gems. What even the royal family does not know is that the dark entity who gave them this gift can see through their living eyes. This information is written on a contract kept in a sealed scroll case deep in the royal dungeon. Revealing this document would throw the court into chaos.
Have you used royal bodies or relics in your game? How did you do it and how did it go?