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The Mountain King
The cavernous stone antechamber echoed with the screams from the dungeons directly below the crowded, steam-filled room. Terrified peasants, each awaiting their audience with the monstrous king, stood in petrified silence as they were called one by one into the throne room by a diminutive, disfigured man in scarlet robes. “Next is Opus Furgeson. Please step forward and be recognized!” A man no older than thirty rose calmly from his seat. Despite the tight conditions, Opus stood tall and confident. “There goes a very brave man,” someone whispered. “Or very stupid,” someone else replied.
“Right this way, sir,” the red-robed man spat. The sight of the confidant man made his stomach turn. What has happened to today’s young people, he wondered. They need to learn their place like the rest of us. Opus merely grinned widely at the man’s obvious distaste and replied, “Thank you, old page.”
The entire throne room, from the black stone walls to the towering ruby columns, was designed to focus the sounds from below onto the garish throne in the center. Inside the room, the screams, amplified by the specially designed acoustics in the room made by slaves to the king’s specifications, grew to an inhuman pitch, as though the very walls of the chamber were made of tortured souls. Situated upon a wide pedestal, the throne demanded the full attention of every eye in the chamber. The frame, created by the most talented metalworkers in the country, sported intricate designs on the black iron, depicting scenes of torture and war. Scarlet upholstery with gold edging shone in bright contrast to the iron of the frame, creating an illusion of light emanating from the throne. Around the pedestal stood six guards, all of whom wore an expression of disguised hatred for the object of their vigil.
King Sedrik II, possessed the strength of an ox, a mind as quick as lightning, wealth beyond measure, and the physical features of the angels. Yet he was still hideous, for upon his sculpted face his true image resided. Upon that face laid the true horror and treachery the king had committed. In his blue eyes were the faces of innocent lives struck down in that very hall. From his mouth came a voice so full of sharp, uncaring words it sounded as shrill as the screech of a dying pig.
King Sedrik II peered through beady eyes as Opus Furgeson, calm and smug, made his way across the cold stone floor to the base of the pedestal. Even as he bowed before the throne, Opus held his arrogant expression. “What is your business,” the king demanded.
“Your Highness, my name is Opus Furgeson, from--”
“What is your business,” King Sedrik interrupted. “I do not care what your name is or where you are from. My only concern is why you think you are worthy to seek audience with me. I ask again, what is your business?”
Undaunted, Opus stood straight to address the king on his foreboding throne. “I come bearing relics with magic properties from the desert in the east. If you will allow it, I can show you one such item, a cup that turns any liquid into wine.” Opus pulled out a cup. It wasn’t a particularly interesting cup, made of plain looking oak wood. The only significant feature of the cup appeared to be a runic symbol carved into the lip. “Someone fetch a jug of water,” the king ordered. To one of the guards, “Go get the cup. You will test any magical properties the cup may have.” The selected guard stepped toward Opus, who willingly relinquished the enchanted cup. He returned to the pedestal, where a young page filled the cup with water. “What are you waiting for,” King Sedrik demanded when the guard hesitated. More afraid of the king’s wrath than of any potential dangers the cup may hold, he immediately took a sip. An expression of pleasant surprise temporarily replaced the ever present scowl of the guards as he returned the cup to his lip and drained the liquid. “Sir, that was the most exquisite wine I have ever tasted,” the guard confirmed.
Astonished but still skeptical, King Sedrik turned to examine Opus. “You said you have many such artifacts?” the king questioned.
“Indeed, Your Highness. They are with the rest of my things outside the city gate. Oh, and with all due respect, sir, do not try to take it by force. Any who touch my things without my consent will die.” Opus held his arrogant posture, despite King Sedrik’s obvious annoyance at the magical merchant’s forethought.
“Fine,” the king eventually conceded. “Bring the rest of your wares and we will discuss a price.”
“Thank you, sir.” Opus Furgeson bowed low, turned sharply, and disappeared.
Back in his camp, Opus Furgeson laid out his items: A spoon, a dagger, a cloak, a shield, a pair of leather boots, and a pair of cloth breeches. On each one he inscribed the same runic symbol as on the cup he presented to the king. He closed his eyes and began chanting under his breath in Draelic, the language of magic. His hand hovered over each item in turn as he chanted, and each time the rune would glow with a bright green light.
When he finished, Opus rolled his items into a wool blanket and placed them tenderly in his rucksack. He laid the rucksack beside him in his bedroll. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow this kingdom will change forever. With that thought filling his mind, Opus Furgeson fell asleep with a satisfied smile on his face.
The next day, King Sedrik II watched Opus Furgeson unroll his wool blanket filled with magical items. “My king,” Opus began. “I have brought all my wares.” He held up each item in turn as he described them. “Here is a spoon that will turn any food into the greatest soup ever tasted. And this is a dagger that, depending upon the intentions of the wielder, will either kill a person with a prick or cure all ailments. Here I have a cloak that is impervious to all physical weaponry. This is a shield that not only blocks magical attacks but deflects them towards the caster. Right here I have a pair of boots that will increase your agility tenfold. And finally, these breeches give the wearer inhuman strength.”
The king surveyed the pieces with barely concealed excitement. “I will give you ten thousand gold for everything.”
“Make it twenty and you can have it,” Opus responded. King Sedrik’s face grew red with anger, but when he looked at the array of enchanted items, he sighed. “Fine, twenty for everything.” He motioned to the treasurer, who stepped forward and counted out twenty bags of gold coins. “Thank you, my king.” As on the day before, Opus bowed low, turned, and disappeared, leaving the king and everyone in his throne room to stare at the items on the floor. King Sedrik II grinned wickedly. “Send ten guards to kill that man before he leaves, I intend to have my money and my wares.”
The king gathered his treasures together and swept out of the room. In his chambers, he immediately donned the items, feeling the power flow through his body. Suddenly a knock sounded at his door. “Enter,” King Sedrik told the visitor. The young page stood before the king trembling. “S-s-sir,” he stuttered. “Th-the w-w-wizard is a-already g-g-gone.”
“WHAT!?” King Sedrik’s anger flared at the loss of so much gold. “Send word to my royal guards that any who see the wizard are to bring him to me!” The page quickly backed out of the room and shut the door.
Later that night, in the royal dining hall, King Sedrik tasted the wonders of the spoon and cup for the first time. His astonishment quickly turned to anger, however, when all at once his tongue felt as though it had been burned. He immediately took a drink of his enchanted wine, but the liquid only made the burning worse. The burning quickly turned into a searing numbness in his mouth. Unable to speak, King Sedrik stood to fetch the servants from outside the door. But, for some reason, his legs wouldn’t move. The realization of what was happening occurred to him in a flash of smoke as Opus Furgeson appeared directly in front of the immobile king.
“King Sedrik the Great,” Opus mocked. “I hope you are enjoying my gifts?” The king tried to answer the grinning wizard, but the enchanted cloak had wrapped itself around the struggling form of King Sedrik II, preventing his lungs from filling; he could manage only a mumble. “I’m so glad you are enjoying these trinkets I made.” Opus Furgeson continued to grin, his perfectly straight white teeth shining in the light of the candelabra on the wall above. “I have an even greater surprise, my king. That symbol on every item means fire. When I snap my fingers, you will be engulfed in the flames of Hell itself. You will feel the heat to the very core of your soul.” King Sedrik’s eyes, widened in terror, silently pleaded with the magician to spare him. Opus merely chuckled and turned away, raising his hand. His thumb moved up to meet the tips of his pointer and middle fingers. In an instant, his thumb slipped away, causing a loud SNAP. An orange flame erupted around the helpless king, melting his flesh and scorching his bones. Opus watched until the final flame died down, then, still smiling his arrogant smile, turned and disappeared.