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The Affinity of Greed
In the old tavern on the outskirts of the golden kingdom, drunken men’s cheering and laughter thundered constantly during the night. They laughed in the dimly lit tavern, stumbling on the heavy wood tables and chairs. Some were singing horrible, vulgar songs about women and some were sharing adventure stories, which were more or less exaggerated or completely made up to look good to others.
The Prince sat in the darkest corner, drinking quietly while listening to the men tell their stories. Some of the stories amused him, and others he thought were quite ridiculous. Of course, he figured that the men in the tavern knew nothing of what they were talking about. They had never killed monstrous beasts that hid in mountains or saved their “princess” from a group of bandits single handedly and while marrying her in the end. Such stories were never true. There were no monstrous beasts in the mountains. He had been to the mountains, and the Prince was not stupid enough to believe that these ugly men in the tavern would have some relationship with a woman. They were repulsive stupid things; he wasn’t even sure what they were. He didn’t believe they were even human.
On contrast, the Prince always stood tall, beautiful, and full of confidence in his fine clothes. He would never let himself get as grimy and foul smelling as these poor men. And unlike these men, who the Prince believed could not obtain a woman. The Prince had been in bed with many beautiful women. There was absolutely no doubt in his clever mind that these men could not even fight properly, as he had been taught by the best knight in the kingdom.
Suddenly, the loud crowd erupted in silence. An old man, who sat in the midst of the crowd stood up, getting ready to talk. He was wrapped in old, tattered cloth that wasn’t anything recognizable to the Prince and the cloth was smothered in dirty stains. The old man shook with great tremors and looked as if he were going to fall at any time. He cleared his throat, though the crowd was already listening, including the Prince. Apparently, this old man had some importance. He had quieted the entire tavern.
“In a tavern such as this, three men heard of their friend’s death. They were drunk and sought out for revenge against Death. They started their journey, but did not get far. The three men met a man, similar to me, and they spoke with him. This old man told them he knew where Death was. Death was up the windy path near a tree. The men went there to only find money, not Death. Their minds became clouded with greed; they wanted the money for themselves. The two older men sent the younger one to town and they planned to kill the youngest. Yet, at the same time, the younger one planned to kill the others. In short, they killed each other for the money, yet none received the money,” The old man charismatically finished.
“You old man, that’s from the Canterbury Tales!” A bystander yelled. “We’re telling real stories here, not made-up ones.”
“Ah, yes, but you see the story is true! Do not be blind to the truth. The treasure is hidden deep within a dark forest not far from here. Trust me, I know where it is! Ever-lasting fame and fortune! That is what it gives,” The old man bellowed, trying hard to be heard in the tavern as it became noisy again. His face was distorted with a frown and his deep wrinkles caved in more.
“Old man, we’ve heard you. But, there is no treasure, surely,” another bystander said, calming the emotional man.
The Prince sat in his corner, contemplating. Ever-lasting fame sounded wonderful. He would be known forever and he surely would be written epically in books like the epic hero, Beowulf. As he was thinking, he began to yearn to be famous forever. How wonderful it would be! And the fortune! What he could do with it! Closing his clear eyes, he began day dreaming of the possibilities.
The next morning, before the sun set, the Prince set out to find the old man. The Prince’s muscles ached as he walked through the empty market with exhaustion. Every second of every minute of the night was consumed with of thoughts of the treasure. He had no idea where the old man would be. For all he knew the old man could be a traveler just visiting.
As the Prince walked up to the tavern, the last place where the old man was seen, he found the old man sleeping outside. He seemed to be a bundle of dirty rags laying in the mud next the door of the tavern. Unsure of what to do, the Prince tapped the old man with his boot.
“What do you want?” The old man grumbled beneath his clothing.
“You should be wiser than to speak to the prince like that,” The Prince said lightly, twirling a short strand of his golden hair between his fingers. “Yet, though you speak to me as such, I would like a word with you about this treasure you speak of.”
“Oh? Oh! Yes, yes! The treasure!” The old man said in realization, quickly standing up. He made himself look foolish, getting so excited he almost slipped in the mud he was standing in it. The Prince narrowed his eyes, suspicious. The old man looked older last night. He did not have the deep wrinkles on his face and he seemingly stronger. Was it the lack of lighting in the tavern last night? Or was the Prince just imagining it?
“Yes, the treasure. I want to find it, and I have decided you are going to be my guide,” The Prince stated quickly, ignoring whether the old man wanted to do it or not. The Prince had his chest puffed out and he was standing tall, towering over the old man. The old man would have to; he was the prince of the kingdom. Everyone had to listen to what he said, except of course, the king.
“We are starting our journey now. And where is this forest you were jabbering about? You said it was close.” The Prince asked. He began to walk in a random direction, expecting the old man to follow and give him directions. The old man quickly followed with a giant smile creeping up his face.
The old man really was right, the forest was not far. At the edge of the forest, the Prince peered into the foreboding place, where it seemed that its darkness was darker than black.
He wondered if it was smart to find the old man and have him be his guide. The forest didn’t seem to be safe; the Prince had a feeling there were evil creatures lurking behind the ancient trees. And ever since he made the old man his guide, the old man seemed to have a permanent grin on his face. It unsettled the Prince, but his greed wanted the treasure and that was more important than anything on the earth at the moment. The Prince would die for his treasure.
“Yes, yes,” the old man mumbled to himself staring intently at the ground and his hand holding on to his chin.
“What are you mumbling about old man?” The Prince snapped defensively. They still hadn’t ventured into the forest.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he continued but stopped and looked up at the Prince. “It will take only nine days to get there-to the treasure, excluding today. Today, I believe we should rest, though the day still has yet to begin. The forest is not safe. Rest would be wise.”
The departed from each other, going their separate ways and they agreed to meet early in the next morning. It was almost unbearable. The treasure seemed buried deep in his heart. The Prince was almost sure that treasure wanted him as bad as he wanted it. It, too, lusted after him. Throughout the day, he stashed himself in his dark room and obsessed over every possibility. He did not heed the old man’s words of advice and kept his now-clouded eyes open all night.
“Old man, today is the day! With much deliberation, I figure- wait, I know- we can get to my treasure sooner than nine days. That is an irritably long time. I don’t know want to be away from it any longer than I have been,” The Prince ranted.
“Yes, yes Prince! But, I must argue with you. In the dark, dark forest there are unspeakable things that live and thrive there. Sinners. It’s full of sinners! The lustful, the prideful, the wrathful! And oh god, the blasphemers and hypocrites! How terrible, how terrible they are! How unspeakable!” The old man enthusiastically replied, getting louder with every word. The Prince set his hand on his hip and sighed heavily.
“We do not have time for your hysterical delusions. Certainly, no one is in this forest. If anything, there are docile rabbits and deer but definitely there are no ‘sinners’” The Prince scoffed annoyed. The old man was about to go on again, but the Prince shut him up with a wave of his polished hand.
“Let us go into the heart of darkness then,” the old man stated, letting the Prince go first, “I warned you though.”
The beginning of the forest was like a lick of heaven. A soft, warm breeze sighed contently on the Prince, calming his tense senses. The trees’ clapped their leaves as if applauding the spring sun for showing off its warmth. The Prince was no longer afraid of the forest. He was captivated by its beauty though it was still dark. He adored the thick beams of light that came through the canopy of the forest and how all the shades of green leaves contrasted with the dark brown bark.
His calmness was soon ruined by the old man no doubt. The old man always installed some annoyance in the Prince.
“Ha! The virtuous pagans and the unbaptized live here. Sinners, all sinners! Here lives Homer, Horace, Aristotle and many others!” The Prince rolled his eyes and walked faster, simply ignoring the old man. No one lived here and as far as the Prince knew- they were all alone in the forest. Yet, though he could not see any living human, the Prince felt a grieving presence that almost saddened him.
The next day was absolute hell for the Prince and only him. The wind couldn’t make up its mind and blew in every direction forcefully, almost knocking the Prince many times on the now slanted forest floor; and rain pounded on the ground. The wind continued to blow relentlessly, giving the Prince no hope for rest. Every once in awhile, the Prince would look back at the old man, who staggered behind, and noticed another change. The old man no longer shook with great tremors of old age and his hunched back disappeared. He even seemed taller, yet the Prince could not tell for sure. The wind distorted his sight, his hair continuously in his eyes. Like the day before, the old man ranted on about the sinners.
“So many sinners! Yes, yes! How they frolic in bed with others with their minds tainted with lust! What a shame, what a shame. They shall never rest,” he lamented. The remainder of the day, in a futile attempt to forget the violent storm, the Prince thought of his precious treasure. His heart began to go asunder with his yearn for the treasure and now that he was even closer to it; his obsession grew.
“Old man where are you?!” The Prince roared loudly on the third day.
“Right behind you. Yes, yes! I am right behind you!” The old man cackled with amusement.
“Explain to me,” The Prince began in anger, “Why there is black snow and this horrid rain and hail! Explain! I do not appreciate this. Not one bit. This is preposterous, ridiculous! It must be some joke!”
“Oh no, no. It is no joke. How could this be a queer joke? No, no. Impossible!” The old man replied, “The gluttonous live here! They lay in this garbage! Sinners!”
“Old man, quiet yourself. Have I not told you- there are no sinners! None, absolutely none! We are the only ones in this devil forest.”
The forest quickly became filled with boulders, which were all followed by drag marks. The Prince stopped walking on the fourth day, curiously staring at the boulders. He wondered who had dragged them there. Then even more mysterious was how the boulders were all seemingly moving towards the middle of the forest. He knew logically, that nature did not place them there. The old man, yet again, cried about sinners; this time about the greedy.
With every day, the Prince saw less and less of the old man, who walked a good distance behind him. And with every day, the landscape of the forest changed. They had dragged on through the swamp- like water of a river and another river which the old man said was filled with boiling blood (the only time the Prince had seen the old man that day), then he and the old man traveled through gnarled, thorny bushes and trees. With everyday that passed and with the changes of both the old man and the landscape, the Prince continued to be more and more crazed about his treasure.
An anxiety filled the Prince’s body, for what if he did not get his treasure? Or what if the old man had lied to him, and was leading him on a wild goose chase for nothing? Or even worse, what if the old man wanted his treasure and he was just using the Prince to get it?
“Aha! We are close! Yes, yes. So very close to your treasure! And oh my,” The old man squealed, concealed behind a tree, “I can see it from here! In the frozen lake, I shall meet you there!”
The Prince looked straight ahead and saw the lake. It was a distorted view of the lake. His view blocked by numerous tree branches but he could still see the water sparkle brightly in the dark forest. All his worries vanished from his mind, and now his mind thrived on his nearby treasure.
He began to run through the thick shrubbery around him, tearing his precious clothes apart and his heart racing faster than he was running. His handsome face was continually whacked and scraped harshly by the tree branches. The forest’s debris that solemnly laid on the ground, crunched and cracked under the frazzled Prince’s weight. He soon heard a loud splash coming from the direction of the lake, jolting anxiety into his body.
A malicious, crazed laughed soon echoed the lone forest and the Prince made it to the lake’s edge. His body seized up and his eyes widened. The Prince looked like he had been slapped by horror itself. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing; it just couldn’t be! The lake had been unfrozen and there wasn’t any monster in the lake either.
“Oh Prince! How stupid you must be! To follow me,” the old cackled, “I am the Devil! The Devil!”
“No, impossible! Where is my treasure!? I want my treasure!” The Prince mumbled to himself. He began to shake as he stared wide-eyed at the beast in front of him. It was unnatural. Its six eyes were mocking him, the Prince could tell, and his three blood-dripping mouths were turned up into a psychotic smile. The Devil flapped his six monstrous wings, whirling extremely cold wind around and freezing the lake. He continued to laugh as he was frozen waist deep in the lake.
“You asinine prince, there is no treasure! None, absolutely nothing! You deserved to be in hell with me, you greedy bastard!” The Devil bellowed, “Now, you shall stay here for eternity in hell with all the other sinners!”