The King is Dead
“The King is dead.” The words fell like molten lead, coming out of the First Adjunct Courier of the Eighth Kingdom’s mouth, spilling onto the ornate tile floor of The Court. They burned those attending, but instead of the screams of wounded, there was just silence. That quiet of the calm before the storm filled the room. The Chief Vizier coughed from beside the empty throne, and stepped forward on spindly legs made of bone and wood. He used his articulated claw to remove his hat. “I see. And how did this come to be known?”
The Adjunct Courier knelt, staring from behind his tragedy mask at the ground. “My Vizier, it happened during the Flesh Storm that beset the Eighth Kingdom three nights ago. The Baron of Tendon and Ligament was in attendance. A play was put on representing the events of Man’s Descent, and in the second act the King began rending his own flesh from his own bone, consuming himself in a fury. All attending cried out, but no one could get near enough to stop his majesty. Soon he had devoured himself entirely, raw and whole. All that was left was the ring bearing the royal signet.” The Courier reached inside of a cavity in his chest, covered by the silk shirt he wore, and presented in his open palm the ring to The Vizier. The Vizier reached a chitinous claw over and jealously took the golden band from the humble messenger. He looked over it, dazzled by the power it held. “This is grave indeed. A grave consumption.” “Indeed.” Pushing through the crowd and past The Courier, a towering human-monster in black armor and cruel chains of razors approached the throne. “So it is,” the mystery boomed, “but it is a fool’s errand to avoid the obvious.” The Vizier looked up from the ring. “The obvious?” “Yes.” The black knight took his mace off his back and leaned on it like a cane. It was made of black iron and bone. “Flesh storms pummel the Kingdoms’ with corpses, the Trall lurks about the chasm of Niz, and we are perpetually a misplaced gesture away from war. A strong hand needs to guide us. If the king is dead, then who will be king?” The Vizier cocked his brow above his third eye. “Are you volunteering, fell stranger?” “Only if duty made it necessary, my lord.” The black knight knelt. “I mean no evil, nor disrespect. I wish to be direct.” The Vizier raised his voice. “No disrespect? But you mention this obvious thing, with gusto and force. But you come here with no intention to serve as the new monarch. You have no desire, sir, to have your flesh fed upon by the moon maggots every third day, as is required? Nor do you offer to be burned in the Cleansing Pool so we may all continue to be bound to this domain and not pass into void. You have no interest in the affairs of state?” The iron beast bowed its head, still holding its mace up by the handle on the ground it rested. “No, my lord.” “You are a fool.” “We all know madness follows the king. In these times there is madness enough.” “Enough to cause an unknown to wade across the court, and declare the obvious that the deceased king is dead?” “Yes.” The Vizier chuckled, so short it almost sounded like a cough. “You are a fool. If you’re already mad, then you have nothing to lose by kingship. I’ll forget about this — the kingdom doesn’t need another jester.” The black knight bowed, and withdrew quietly back into the crowded throng of the court. A shadow, in the shape of patches and belled shoes, slid along the wall toward the throne. “You called, my Grand Thing Knower?” The Vizier scowled and shook his head. “Just because I mentioned a jester does not mean I want you, idiot. You’ll be sad to know that the only person to find you funny is now gone.” “So I heard.” The shadow slid along the floor and came up like a silhouette before the Vizier in front of the throne. “It is a sad day. He was a good king. Very meticulous dental hygiene.” The Vizier was now visibly annoyed. “He was a good king because he ruled. He ruled with wisdom, and he ruled with strength, and he ruled with dignity.” “And spectacular teeth!” “This is a day filled with sorrow and fools.” The Vizier turned to the court. Spreading his tattered wings and spider-like arms wide, he said, “Will no one volunteer to to take up the scepter and lead?” In a rare moment of earnestness, the shadow asked, “What of his heirs?” The Vizier pulled his limbs in tight. “Alas the Madam Queen bore him ten thousand, seven hundred and fifty two children, but they were all cicadas. They took flight in a deafening wail,” he whispered. Despair was entering his voice, not out of loss of their king but out of fear of the future. The black knight had, despite his lack of insight, brought forth the obvious and more importantly pertinent. “We should talk to The Queen. Does she know?” the shadow whispered. “No, not yet. She doesn’t come to court. You know that.” “Indeed.” A path cleared through the mob at the head of the throne. One of The Queen’s handmaidens approached. The Queen seldom attended court herself, but she had eyes and ears everywhere. The handmaiden was voluptuous, with a face of rusted nails, and it sounded like soft, metal wind chimes when she spoke. “If both of The King’s fools wish to see The Queen, then I may take them to her.” She bowed in feigned subservience. The Vizier mouthed a curse. The Lady Corrosia had as much sway as he did through her close association with the exalted queen. Corrosia had spent more time by The Queen’s pit than anyone in court. She’d been touched by the darkness of that corrupt crater, and thrived in it’s caresses. “Thank you, Corrosia,” the Vizier muttered. So they traveled, the Lady Corrosia, the Vizier, and the Fool Shadow. Even the Adjunct Courier was permitted to join them in the carriage, as he was under command of the Barron to report on any news. The wizened driver only spoke when it yelled at the massive Ghuul Worms that writhed and pulled them along the haunted roads and desolate fields. They arrived at the cave that led to the Queen’s pit. As they got out, The Shadow saw a rider on his own worm in the distance. “It seems we’re more foolish than we thought.” It was the black knight, following them through the dusk. The Vizier stretched his wings and the Lady sneered at the new arrival. The knight pulled his worm to the side, and tied it to a stump on the side of the road. The Vizier sighed, “So be it. Come with us. If you could lead the way, madam?” “Certainly,” rang the chimes of Corrosia’s words. They passed into the cave, and through the tunnels and passages. Torches flickered as they passed deeper underground, casting shadows against the wall, whom The Fool talked to with haughty arrogance. The air became thicker, and a moist cold engulfed them. Occasionally they would see another handmaiden in the distance, but the figure would run off when spotted. Most likely they were avoiding Lady Corrosia’s casual cruelty, the Vizier thought. Soon they came to the Queen’s chamber. It was a massive pit ringed with a crumbling ridge. Light and shadow followed different rules here, and The Fool refused to cross the threshold. “Pity Timothy Thomas, my little shade, won’t come to greet me,” whispered something from deep within the pit. “With all due respect, my Queen,” said the Fool, “I think it’s better if I inspect the tunnel walls here for lichen.” “Of course, child.” Corrosia walked tranquil and composed ahead of the rest of the hesitant group. “My Queen.” She bowed. “Corrosia, my dear. Guests are infrequent. What brings this surprise?” “Your husband, The King, is dead. He consumed himself at the Barron’s play.” “His arrogance finally got the better of him. I am not shocked,” the queen whispered. The Vizier found his voice. “It seems so, Madam Queen. We’ve come to humbly bother you on the topic of succession…” His voice trailed off as a tentacle the size of a tree twitched mid-air above the pit. “Is this new-comer in black vying for the position?” The black knight approached. “No, my lady. I’ve only come to pay my respects.” “Husband, you play a part so well. You take in a play, and decide to finally eliminate your most ambitious advisor.” The Vizier began to take flight, and the tentacle whipped around grabbing him by the wing. It pulled him screaming into the pit. “Thank you, my dear,” The King said with love.