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Scarlett Stains the Castle Walls
“The king’s head on a silver platter.
The fragile figure of his wife, kneeling beside it.
The son, who stands frozen behind the mass of guards flooding the room.
The beginning... of the end.”
The bookkeeper sighed and shut his book of records. He looked up at the clear-blue sky, not a cloud in sight.
Quite contradictory to the predicament the kingdom was in now. It all happened too soon.
An election had only been closed the day before. Out went the former king’s dictatorship. In came the fresh face of King Keon, and with him, a new way of life. The changes were immediate; ousted was the former Board of Advisers. Generals had their rank stripped away. The army-in-progress--dispersed. Any figure of authority with a notable name and rank--thrown out. Any paintings found of the old king were piled together and burned with a bonfire. Tapestries were torn down. And in the place of the dregs of an old rule was something the people had never experienced before--democracy. Freedom. Hope.
That night, disaster lurked the halls of the castle.
A banquet had been held in celebration of the new king and the bright outlook of the future. Immediate family, close friends, supporters, and many others were invited. In the seat of the host sat King Keon, his cheeks flushed, calling more rounds of wine for all the guests. Next to him in the seat of honor sat his wife Ann, an elegant beauty. In her lap bouncing on one knee was their child, a toddler, Ivan. The young five-year-old watched as his old man grabbed a bottle from a passing server and poured a glass for himself and his wife. “Cheers,” he said rather drowsily, “to a new... a new and prosperous time for all!” Glassware was raised into the air and cheers of approval filled the dining hall. After downing the umpteenth drink, he excused himself from the table and half-walked, half-stumbled to the kitchen. His wife, after watching the door shut behind him, suddenly noticed that all kitchen staff were stationed outside, pouring drinks and mingling with the guests. She wondered for a moment what business he had in the deserted kitchen, but dismissed the thought as an elderly woman attempted to make conversation with her.
Ann began to worry as the banquet was starting to be brought out of the kitchen.
A dish covered by a silver lid was set before mother and child. She knew instinctively what it was--her husband’s favorite dish, stuffed roast duck cooked in red wine, complemented by chives. Ann quickly began to form a speech of gratitude for the guests in the event that her husband would not make it back before the feast began. “Madam, roast duck with chives,” announced the server in a mannered way--just as she had predicted it would be.
When he lifted the lid, the first feature she noticed were the stare of the blank eyes. Then the well-kept beard. Then the thick hair. Then the blood that pooled on the plate. “Keon... Keon!” she yelled, bringing the attention of the guards. The guard captain was the first at the scene. His eyes widened in shock and surprise, but quickly recovered and gave an order. “The kitchen--storm the kitchen! All personnel are to be detained for questioning!” The barred door was broken down; guards swarmed the room, with them Ann. When the woman entered the room, the guards, who had formed a circle, made way for the widow. There laid the body of the late king, staining the floor an unsightly red where the head should have been. She kneeled down next to the corpse, shaking uncontrollably and letting loose mute screams of terror before ultimately fainting from the shock. Two guards escorted her back to the bedroom.
Ivan observed the scene through spaces and gaps between the men surrounding the incident. His solemn face gave away no expression--not grief nor sorrow, not happiness nor joy.
The banquet was left untouched; all guests were dismissed. That night, a silence fell in the castle that was once full of zeal and energy.
The coronation ceremony the following day continued as planned, following the burial of Keon in the royal cemetery, a grave site marked only for those who have died while achieving the title of king, queen, prince, or princess of the kingdom. Ann, sitting and waiting patiently while the crown was bestowed upon her head, showed no expression, giving the impression of a ruthless queen-to-be. Ivan, again, watched his mother from behind the score of guards standing at attention.
Following immediately after the ceremony, she ordered the investigation of the crime scene. A team was quickly hand-picked and moved to the kitchen.
Several hours later, a member returned to the queen to give her their assessment.
“Well?” she asked, her eyes hard and cold. “Your highness,” the man started, “we have found what we suspect to be the murder weapon.” At this, he flicked his head to the door, and another member entered, holding a butcher knife stained in blood. “We found this-” “Are you suggesting it is one of the staff of the kitchen? Bring them here immediately,” she interrupted, speaking in a jumpy and hysterical way. “That must be it, right? A chef upset over the fact that... yes.. That must be it...” The first member to enter cleared his throat. “What, are you still standing there?” she snapped, cocking her head in his direction. He began, “I wasn’t finished with the evaluation.” She stared, then reverted back to her older character. “Proceed.” “We found this knife several inches from the hand of the late king. The handle was pointed down, the blade in the direction of his body.” Ann began to quake again. “You’re not suggesting...” The first member replied, “I am. The death wound could have been self-inflicted. It may have been a suicide.”
It took all of Ann’s will and self-control to calmly dismiss the team of investigators and the kitchen staff. Thinking she was alone, she looked around and grabbed the nearest writing utensil--a purple marker--and began writing. “I can’t take it anymore. It hasn’t been one day and I can’t take it anymore. I think I finally understand what my late husband had been up to. I think-” Her thoughts ended there. At that moment she saw a rather appealing set of stilettos, heels sharp as daggers.
The team was called back again, but this time to the last location of the queen, the self-study room. The first of the men to enter the room stopped before he stepped in the entire way. Another came up beside him, asking, “Why aren’t you going in? The Chief is getting antsy.” Then, taking a peek over the shoulder of the man barring the way understood immediately. The first man said, “Something’s not right here,” his teeth grinding together and his eyes narrow slits. One man read the purple scrawl on paper and asked a passing-by maid to break the news to the son. “As gently as possible!” he shouted after her as she hurried down the hall.
The rest of the team got to work, carefully removing the blood-stained stiletto heel from the fracture it had made in the skull of the late queen.
Reaching the toddler’s separate room, she cleared her throat and knocked on the door before walking in. “Ivan, I-” Ivan held up a hand to stop her. “I already knew,” he replied, solemnly and clearly, then went back to reading Moby Dick. “You know, Clarissa,” he called to the shocked maid, “this book about the hunt of a whale is somewhat interesting, don’t you think? And in the situation we’re in right now, it almost feels like the kingdom is the whale. Clarissa,” he called again. She flinched at her name and looked back at Ivan. “Yes?” Ivan began to pace. “My mother and father have both passed away, right? Which means I’m next in line for the throne, right? Which means I don’t have that much time for freedom anymore, right?” he asked quizzically. Clarissa stammered a “yes.” He continued on in a small voice, “In this small time frame of freedom I have left, can I have anything I want?” Clarissa, taken aback, held down the feeling of a smile. Finally, she thought, an innocent, child-like thought comes from the kid. “As long as it is under my ability to do so,” she answered.
Ivan took a pair of safety scissors. “Don’t move until I’m finished.”
Blood stained the walls and floor. Clarissa screamed.
The guards burst through the door. “You’re too late,” accused the sobbing maid, clutching the lifeless boy’s head in her arms. “You’re all too late!” The men shifted uncomfortably. The blood-stained scissors lay in the fingers on the boy’s right hand; the gash that ran across his neck would not stop bleeding.
“The dominoes began to fall; first the father, then his wife, then their five-year-old toddler--the entire royal family, murdered. After the incidents, the bearer of the name of King or Queen became a curse to any who claimed it, an automatic death sentence. Moving first to the head adviser of King Keon to the head general of the new army to the head captain of the house guards and so on, all standard procedures of passing the power on were practiced; each change in power was immediately followed by the suicide of the bearer. And now it has come to the time when I, the bookkeeper, must become a leader of my country. Will I be able to fulfill that role...?”
The bookkeeper shut the record book for the last time and reminisced an old memory of him and King Keon, before the banquet had started; “Alfred, I’ve made a horrible mistake...”
As Alfred walked out to the battlements on the outermost castle walls, he peered to the ground below. “Quite a ways down,” he said casually to himself.
A noon guard claimed to see a body falling off of the battlements that day.
“Excerpts of King Keon’s Notes”--found by a cleaning maid in between the time of the late king’s suicide and his wife’s coronation.
I cannot stay long; tonight must be the night I pull off the grand scheme. Tomorrow is the day of the coronation; at that point I must be wiped out of the picture. I’ve realized my mistake only moments after willing in the polls.
The country, from the point the crown touches my head onward, would consider me their leader and look up to my decisions. The reality is that it is impossible for me to fulfill such a large responsibility. It was then that I came to another realization; my entire kingdom had been based off of a mistake. My mistake. A mistake that might even bring the country to turmoil. I finally began to understand why the last ruler was a dictator; the fact is, it is much easier to rule as a feared character than it is a humble and giving one. I, on the other hand, happened to be aiming for the latter.
My entire campaign had been based off of the lying concept that is democracy. If I am to correct my mistake, it would involve taking down the kingdom from the inside.
Then it hit me: cluster suicide. In this way, the cluster suicide would involve anyone who held the title “king” or “queen.” I would set the stage with my own death; the strain will hopefully be too much for my wife, Ann, and will cause her to join me in death as well. Ivan, over the suicide of his two parents, is left to join his family and their cause. The death of the entire royal lineage should be able to shake those next in line at least a bit, and then in turn would generate a lie that states anyone who bears the title of the inheritor of the kingdom would die, guaranteed. In this way, no other soul will be left to rule this new empire of mine.
The music of the banquet is starting. Let the curtains rise...