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The Good King
The church bell rang: it was midnight. Ten people sat around the ancient hall’s table, which was covered in an abundance of food from all around the kingdom. There were fresh pies of all fillings, exotic breads, spices from the East, and countless confections that no one could seem to name.
The assassin arrived late, slipping into a spot at the end of the table, strategically placing himself away from the Good King. He glanced around the hall silently and examined the murals that spanned across its walls. They depicted scenes from both the Golden and Dark ages of the kingdom, though the assassin knew only the Age of the Dark.
The king spoke. “Aristeides—how kind of you to finally join us.”
The hall remained silent. Everything that the king said was rhetorical. He was unchallenged in power, undisputed in judgment. His word was final, and that fact was implicit to all.
But Aristeides bowed his head and spoke with clean resolution. “Thank you your Royal Highness, the pleasure is mine.” He picked up his fork thoughtfully and gently pressed its tines into a luscious red grape. He ignored the fleeting cautionary stares that came from every side of the room—it was not his safety that hung in the balance tonight.
Outside, the heavy clouds broke. Torrents of water fell from the sky, soaking the citizens that were heading home, lanterns in hand, from late hours of work. They were paid abysmally, the scanty amount of three obols for a full day of intense, productive labor. The dollar had long since been dismissed from the kingdom as the Good King decided on a Greek-based society. Now, the people did suffer.
A streak of lightning lit the sky for an instant, starting a fire somewhere in the Monstres Mountains. Soon it would spread, leaving a black scar to garnish the side. There might even be a death or two: there were many adventurers that traversed the mountains during the hazy months of summer, charting the world around them as they went. The King despised those explorers, for he knew that they brought news of a better world that existed outside of the kingdom.
Aristeides sighed impatiently, ravenous as always. Soon, it would be time. Soon it would be time for the King to die, his terminal ended with the spin of a blade. But for now he would sit elegantly in the bejeweled arm chair, conforming into this delicate society, pretending to be another paltry citizen.
Suddenly, the King spoke, his voice reverberating about the room. “Hall, please be dismissed. I allow you graciously to take your plates as you go. Aristeides, I would like for you to stay. We have matters to discuss, matters of—sedition.”
A mumbling rose up in the hall as the people left, quite aware of Aristeides’ duplicity. He had spoken of the event on several occasions, to several trusted maidens and townsfolk. But betrayal stirred in his heart as he watched the others depart into the storm. He looked back at the Good King, dreading the coming events.
The King stood, adjusting his robe, eyes fixated on the room’s lone occupant. “I never anticipated that it would be you, Aristeides.” He drew his sword in a fluid motion, light-colored eyes displaying a flash of both fear and reckless abandonment. “Tell me one thing, loyal servant—why?”
Aristedies’ mind was flooding with questions, all without any answer. Did the King really know about the scheme, or was he strategizing himself, drawing the assassin out. But he was not a fool. He wouldn’t dare to reveal his own plot, even if the King knew every last detail. “Your Highness, would you care to elaborate?”
The King strut about the place, sword still drawn, waving it in the air as if he was swatting away a bothersome fly. “A duel, then, to the death. The prize is the kingdom and its wealth, and this very hall adorned with gems.”
The assassin stood and drew his own sword, its jagged blade glistening with hemlock. “Then a duel it will be, King. Immediately, he pounced on the table to achieve the upper hand. The King’s sleek blade slashed out, but the assassin parried it quite easily. He returned the blow with a quick swipe and managed to dig a thin cut into the Good King’s chest. “I never anticipated the ease.”
The weak man fell. “I am good as dead.”
The assassin kneeled gingerly, placing his weapon on the ground, a mischievous grin passing across his face, only to vanish in the next moment. “You’ll be dead within the half hour.”
“And that is why we suffer today.” The teacher finished, placing the text back on the shelf and glowering at the inattentive students.
One of the younger students raised his hand, anxiously awaiting an answer to the question that he possessed. The librarian called on him, and he spoke. “But the King was bad, right? Isn’t it a good thing that he died?”
The weary teacher sighed deeply. It was now obvious that the children knew nothing of their own kingdom’s old history. The soil that they sat on now was the same dirt that horses had cantered across in their race to halt attacking armies. Many still failed to locate the Monstres Mountains on a map. “Let me read the very end, then. Let me read between the lines for you. Let us travel back a bit, far before the incident.”
The King sat poignantly on his bedside before standing up and wrapping his robes around his frail, malnourished figure. It had been six days since he had last rested his arms on the balcony and stared at the dying lands below regretfully. If only the people knew that he was just a figurehead, an icon that modeled for towering statues and intricate paintings.
As the day passed, the King began to weep. He wept for the beggars, the poor, and the misunderstood. He wept out of self-pity and pity for the skilled craftsmen that struggled to hold onto a simple job. He wept because he had no power, no control over the fate of those same people.
The King was doomed to an eternity of weeping, of suffering at the hands of his personal advisor. This advisor had taken everything away from him, leaving him with the bare minimum. This advisor had laughed as he kicked his feet up upon his gold-plated tables. This advisor took bread and seed from the poor, spilling it out his back window and into his kitchen’s personal chicken coop. He was the essence of evil, the spawn of the devil.
He was Aristeides.