Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To Kill a King

Once there was a jolly, rich, wonderful king and someone was going to kill him.  The royal seer told him so.  Evil desires crept through the air.  Rumors flew past them, much faster, as the seer gave this prophecy in the presence of the king, his family, his guards, and his servants.
Horror filled every face but one.  “Kill me?” the king asked, and then laughed.  “Who would want to kill me?  Maybe a wolf, or an ogre, or some other man-eater that sees a good meal on my plump frame.”
“This is no laughing matter,” the seer said.  “Someone in the palace will kill you and will do it tomorrow.  That is all I can see.  Dear me.”
The king went on laughing through the day and carried out his business as usual.  Yet at night, when he lay in bed and couldn’t laugh again until morning, his thoughts turned dark.  He wondered if the seer might be right and worry ate at him so fiercely that he lost several pounds before dawn.
An investigation was needed.  But who to trust?  To the king, no one wanted to kill him.  He had to investigate on his own.
First the king visited his guards in the guardhouse and soldiers in the barracks, where men had means to kill a king.  He checked to be sure all his fighters had the best arms and armor, his archers the best bows, his officers the best offices.  None would want while they served their king.  None turned blade or arrow against him.  His majesty investigated and found only honor.
“There isn’t a man here who would want you dead,” said the highest general.  “Your strength knows no bounds.”
Next the king visited his family in their chambers, loved ones who would inherit if they killed a king.  He checked to be sure the line of succession was known, that the princes had greater prospects, and that his wife and daughters never felt neglect.  None would want while they shared the king’s blood.  None would turn family into feud or seek the throne for his own before his time.  His majesty investigated and found only love.
“There isn’t one in the family who would want you dead,” said the queen.  “Your heart knows no bounds.”
Then the king visited his servants in the halls and kitchen, where slights could rouse a peasant to kill a king.  He checked to be sure his maids were made happy in their work, his cleaners had clean consciences, and his cooks were as well-fed as their ruler.  None would want while they helped the king’s home and hearth.  None hid daggers in their sleeves or poison in the food.  His majesty investigated and found only servitude.
“There isn’t one in this palace who would want you dead,” said the master cook.  “Your appetite knows no bounds.”
The king laughed for the first time that day and at last put aside the silly seer’s visions.  “I’ve been a fool and let worry spoil that appetite.  And I see around me all my favorite foods.”
“They’ll help pack those pounds upon you again,” the cook said, offering the king a platter.
His majesty gorged on hams and chocolates, sweet snacks and cheese bread, geese stuffed with geese and sides of beef with beef on the side.  His gut grew great again and the king laughed a jolly laugh.
“More, your majesty?” the head cook asked.  “We made you plenty.”
“Then I will eat plenty!” the king shouted.  “After all, when dark desires haunt the air, you never know which meal will be your last!”
So the king ate, and ate, and ate, and the cook brought platter after platter.  Grease ran, fat piled on the table, and sugar flaked the ruler’s robes.  He devoured all he could and then some, until he fell over, shaking the kitchen.  A great, wheezing breath escaped his lungs, but no breath ran back in, for the king’s chest was too heavy and his heart too labored.   His heart strained, thumped, and then stopped entirely.  The cook ran for help and the castle was soon uproarious.
Only the seer did not seem surprised.  She only noted the death with a few, quiet words to herself.  “Oh, that’s what it meant.  Dear me.”

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