21 January 2011

"Royal Pains"

By Curtis C. Chen

On Tuesday morning, King Roland woke up with a problem.

Now, knowing something of kings and kingdoms, you might think one of two things: either that kings, being in a position of privilege and waited on hand and foot, should have no problems whatsoever; or that kings, having great power and responsibility, would have all manner of problems to attend to all the time. Neither of these was the case with Roland.

His given name had been Yontif Mantgomery Thwimka Groot, and he had been pressed into service as a royal escort at the tender age of sixteen. Yontif had come from a peasant family, and even after all these years, the opulence of the palace continued to alternately dazzle and disgust him.

Some days, the king would succumb to laughing spells, hiding behind the locked door of his bedroom until the delirium had passed, and other days, he would weep at the thought of the citizens he had left behind in the tiny village of his birth, and at the guilt knotting his belly.

His mood swings, however, were mere annoyances when compared to the problem which presented itself on Tuesday morning.

King Roland awakened to see an unusual brightness illuminating his bedroom. Unusual not because of the nature of the light--it was normal morning sunlight--but because of the large amount of it. The servants always closed his shutters and drew his drapes every night, to keep out the light of the watchtowers surrounding the royal residence. King Roland was a light sleeper, and any amount of noise or light could interrupt his slumber.

He grumbled, rolled out of bed, maneuvered his bare feet into a pair of fur-lined slippers, and padded across the stone floor to the source of the sunlight, in the alcove near the door to his library. I must tell Luisa to speak to that new chambermaid, King Roland thought. She still hasn't learned how to work the window latch properly.

The drapes and shutters were wide open, and there was a man sitting on the windowsill. The man's gaunt face and day-old beard were smudged with grime, and he clutched his belly with both hands.

King Roland froze just a few steps from the stranger. The man lifted his head from its resting place against the stone wall and stretched his mouth in what might have been a smile, but looked more like a grimace to the king.

The shock of someone greeting him so rudely prompted the king to speak. "How did you get in here?" he asked, looking past the man toward the watchtowers outside. "How did you get past my guards?"

"With great difficulty," the man said, and chuckled.

He moved his hands, revealing a large, bloody gash in his stomach. And then he fell forward, smacking his forehead against the stone floor, and died.


Photo: stone king by Serena Epstein, July, 2009