Chapters 16 – 24

 Chapters 16 – 24 are all on this post. You may print and read at your leisure.

Freedom & Lies

Chapter 16

If Wishes Were Wings

Samard sat on his horse, with his back to castle, facing the mountains, and watched eagles fly. Their black wings extended to their full length as the floated on the wind. He could easily see their white heads against the blue sky.

“Wish you could fly, my king?”

“How many times must I tell you? Call me Samard.”

“And how many times must we remind you that you are our king?” Epercun said. He turned to their four other friends, and said, “Who thought little Samery would one day be king?”

“Not I.”

“Nor I.”

The men were Samard’s childhood friends his father had forbid him to play with, but as king, he could spend his time with whomever he pleased.

Almost.

Halfway down the hill, King Samard and his friends were perched on, was a small regiment of the king’s men. They were always at his side like goblins ready to leap from the shadows willing to give their lives for their king’s protection.

“I don’t want to be king. I’d rather fly with the eagles,” Samard said.

“Too bad,” Epercun said.

“What is?” Samard asked.

“As king, you can command whatever you want. But even a king can not command wings to sprout from his back,” Threo teased.

Samard signed. “I hate being king. I’d much rather spend my time with you.”

“But even we must work, my lord,” Epercun said.

“Is that a hint that you must go back?”

“I’m afraid so,” Munter said.

“Then go.” He could command them to stay, but then they would cease to be his friends and become resentful slaves. Samard would not override their responsibilities

“Are you coming with us?” Epercun asked.

He considered rolling up his sateen sleeves and help them with their work as he did when they were boys, but they would never let him. It was not fitting for a king to do such things.

“I wish to stay a little longer,” Samard said.

“The day be well with you,” his friends said, and left him on the hill by himself, except for his guards.

What was up in those mountains that only eagles see? If he could grow wings and fly away he would know. His eyes scanned the top of the mountain until they came to the gap between the mountain ranges and the valley that separated the two kingdoms, the valley that had started the war.

If he were a dragon, he’d burn that valley into a crisp. Except it was the only fertile land in either kingdom. His people needed that land to survive.

Ah, but if he were a dragon, he would not bother with such revenge. He’d fly higher and farther than any eagle. He’d see what was on the other side of the mountains.

Such desires were for naive children.

With a heavy sign, Samard turned his horse and slowly followed his friends back to the castle and his responsibilities.

Chapter 17

So Many Problems

“Do not hang my husband. Who will care for my three children?” The woman pleaded with King Samard for mercy for her husband. He’d killed a man because he thought that man was sleeping with his wife, which she stoutly denied.

But the murdered man’s wife wailed, “Who will care for me and my five children? Let him hang!”

The accused man stood before Samard with his head bowed, silently crying. Samard didn’t know if he was repentant of his crime or scared of the hangman’s noose.

He was reluctant to hang the man. A woman without a husband would quickly become destitute. Her children would become beggars. His kingdom was already meager. There was little money to support beggar children. They would become thieves. Once caught, they’d be hanged just like their father.

The children of the other woman whose husband had been murdered were looking at the same fate.

After much consideration of the situation, Samard said, “I will let him live.”

“What?” both women exclaimed, though for different reasons; one for joy, the other for lack of justice.

The man stopped crying and raised his head hopefully.

“But …,” Samard continued, “you will provide for both women and their children. If you try to escape your punishment, you will be hunted down and hanged at the very place you are caught.”

The women were satisfied with the king’s decision, but the man looked as if he’d rather be hanged.

They were endless peasants complaints and problems. It seemed as if Samard spent his life sitting on his throne, listening and resolving their issues.

“My father has died. I took care of him the last years of his life. I should receive his land, not my brother.”

“This one stole my silver candles.”

“This one asks too much money for …”

“What am I to do if …”

Besides solving disputes, Samard spend the rest of his day discussing finances: how much to pay soldiers; how much vegetables to buy, how much fruit, meat, and fowl to buy so all who worked and live in the castle were well fed.

He decided which indentured servants had completed their service and should be set free. He decided of those who requested to become indentured servants would be accepted in order to pay their debts instead of being thrown into the dungeon. He toured the dungeons, to see who’d served their term, who was too ill to remain incarcerated, and who needed to finish their sentence.

When he tried to take a relaxing walk around town, people brought their children and babies for him to touch. Just in the short time since the wedding, five newborn girls had been named Abiya and twelve boys named Samard. How would anyone know which was which when they were older?

When he walked through the market, men brought bags of seed for him to bless. He wanted to say, “I’m no god. My touch will make no difference.” But they wouldn’t listen. He laid a hand on each one knowing his blessings meant nothing.

If only he could fly away.

Chapter 18

Without Thinking

His life was not worth reflecting on.

Samard found himself in the castle gardens. Instead of slowly walking the labyrinth circle as he meditated on life, he walked straight across to the center and sat on the bench. What was there to contemplate anyway?

He’d had the gardens redesigned just for Abiya. But she never came out of her chambers. Had she look out her window and enjoyed the summer red, pink and yellow roses? He hoped so, but he doubted it. Soon winter would come. The bushes and trees had already lost their flowers and were beginning to lose their leaves. The garden was as bleak as his marriage.

He looked up at Abiya’s windows and thought he saw someone step back so as not to be seen. Was she watching him? He never apologized for the way things had turned out. She needed to know that he was wrong for having her shipped to him as if she were produce.

In his haste to end the war, he’d not considered the future or her feelings. Perhaps, he’d thought, Abiya would be overjoyed that the conflict was over, and be pleased to be his wife. He should have wooed her as a lover. He should have gone to her castle and asked for her hand in person instead of sending for her by messenger. They should have talked and walked in her father’s gardens, gotten to know each other properly and fallen in love.xz

No wonder she would not speak to him, but how could he make amends if she never spoke to him? Still, he must try. He ran from the garden to her rooms.

Samard stood with his forehead against Abiya’s chamber door. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have come to you. I should have courted you. Forgive me. If I could, I would send you back so we could start over, but I fear your father will be insulted. And the hostilities would start all over again. Please forgive me. I have shattered both our lives.” He waited as if he expected an answer. “I don’t know how to make amends. Please open the door and tell me what to do.”

If Abiya had opened the door, Samard would have fallen at her feet in remorse. Perhaps he could endure kingship if she sat at his side. Perhaps his life would have meaning if she forgave him.

He’d ended the war, but he didn’t know how to be a husband to a wife who refused to open the door.

Chapter 19

Foreboding

Abiya quickly stepped back from the window.

“What is it, my lady?” Tamerad asked. She moved to the window as if to protect the queen from some danger, but as she tried to look out, Abiya pulled her back.

No one is there, Tamerad thought. It is only more of that jewel’s lies.

“It is him,” Abiya whispered, as if the king might hear. “He looks for me from the garden.”

“He’s not there. Look.” Tamerad gently pulled Abiya to the window. “No one is in the garden. See?”

Tamerad waited as Abiya tentatively searched the grounds below then stepped closer. “He is gone,” she said, with a sign of relief. She again leaned against the wall and looked out. “I wish I could walk in the gardens, but I fear he will be there.”

Did she know what time of the year it was? That the plants were dormant? Or did she still see them in bloom? That jewel. How was Tamerad supposed to set her free if it continually pulled at her? This was the king’s doing. He gave her the topaz to imprison her while he comfortably sits on the throne and rules alone. He leisurely rides his horse in the fresh air, while his wife lives in torment.

When Tamerad had first entered Abiya’s room, the air was stale and it smelled of body order. The room smelled better now since Abiya allowed her to open one window and was occasionally taking baths. Still the room could do with a thorough air freshening, which the queen would not allow.

Some how, Tamerad had managed to pry the jewel out of her hands, but when she tried to take the topaz from the room, Abiya became hysterical. Now it sat in a box on her table. Often the queen would stand over the box and looked inside just to make sure the jewel was still there. To Tamerad’s relief, Abiya did not take the jewel out. If she had, she’d once again come under its full control. Now at least, she had moments of clarity and those moments were becoming longer and more stable. Except for today.

How Tamerad wished she could sacrifice Samard. She’d gladly disembowel a thousand men for Magic, but Magic required a young maiden and someone of value.

The queen released a soft cried of foreboding.

“Now what?” Tamerad asked. She was becoming exasperated with her. Abiya was like a child continually frightened by a bad dream.

“He is there, by the door.” Abiya moved to the door, placed her ear against it and listened. “I hear his lies.”

Placing her ear so she too could listen, Tamerad heard nothing. She did her best to hold her frustration in, and said soothingly, “No one is there, shall I open it and show you?” She reached for the latch.

“No, no please.” Abiya grabbed Tamerad’s arm to stop her. She leaned against the door to keep it closed and whispered, “I hear him breathing.”

“I hear nothing,” Tamerad insisted.

“He speaks. He wishes me to come out.” Abiya back away from the door, and yelled, “I will not.” Then to Tamerad, she said, “See? This is why I need Topaz.” She ran her hand through her hair, agitated. She grabbed Tamerad’s hands, pleading, “Topaz protects me. I must have it back.”

“No. You no longer need its magic. You now have me to protect you.”

Abiya searched Tamerad’s face for assurance that her words were true. “Oh, … I’m… I’m not … sure what to … to do.”

“My lady, the jewel ensnares you so you cannot think properly.”

Untangling her hands from Abiya’s grip, Tamerad opened the door and stepped outside. “Just as I said. No one is here.”

Quickly, Abiya move to see for herself. “No one is there now. But he was here.”

Inwardly, Tamerad signed. What will it take to be rid of that stone? “We must give the topaz back to the king.”

“What?” Abiya slammed the door and forced the latch closed. “I will not give him Topaz. He has come to my door in the hope that he will steal it from me. Now you want me to give it to him?”

“Yes!” Tamerad dragged her to the mirror. “See what it has done to you.”

Abiya’s hand stretched out to touch the glass. Her dress hung about her as if she were a peasant. “I am so thin.” She examined herself up and down. “What happened to me? My cheeks were sunken. My eyes are dark and sullen. What has happened to me?” Every time she looked in the mirror, she asked the same thing.

How many times must I tell her before she hears and believes? “My Lady, the jewel ensnares you so you cannot think properly.”

“Why does it not ensnare you?” Abiya asked.

Tamerad hadn’t expected that question. It took her a moment to think of an answer.

“If it is magic as you say, why does it not affect you?” Abiya asked again.

“Because I do not desire it. I have not touched it, nor do I want to. I will never allow a man or something like that stone to enslave me.” Not again. Tamerad would not tell this child of the things a woman must endure because of one’s foolishness; Abiya was not ready.

“It didn’t affect my other handmaiden either.” Abiya seemed to pause as if she’d frozen in place.

Tamerad was just about to ask her what was wrong when Abiya turned to face her and asked, “What happened to Yamie? Where is she? How did you come to be my handmaiden?”

This was not what Tamerad wanted to talk about. It had been easy to eliminate Yamie. It had been more difficult to cast a spell that would make Abiya open the door.

She’d had no trouble infiltrating the castle. Because of the unhappy marriage, the castle was not as orderly as it should be and was severely lacking in proper communication. Each area, be it guards, maids of kitchen, seemed to function on its own. They asked little of the king for he seemed too unable to give clear instructions, so each group of workers and guards did as the old king would have commanded.

When someone asked where she came from, Tamerad simply said King Samard had assigned her to his queen. No one dared question the king about it.

“Do you know what happened to Yamie,” Abiya asked again.

“I do not know of whom you referrer, my lady. When I came to your service, you did not have a handmaiden. See how the topaz confuses you. It makes you forget important facts. Let us give this jewel to the king to ensnare him. Then we – you will have control over him.” Tamerad could not begin the work the vision had showed her until the king held the jewel. Unfortunately, she couldn’t just take it from Abiya. Magic didn’t work that way. It would not work on Samard if it were still attached to another. Abiya had to give it up of her own free will.

The queen’s eyes moved to meet Tamerad’s. She was finally beginning to understand?

Hopeful, Tamerad continued, “With him out of the way, you will be queen and ruler of the kingdom.” That wasn’t true, but if the lie helped …

“What about his mother?” This was the first she’d questioned Tamerad’s plan, which was good. It was a sign she was beginning to think about the future.

“She is only queen mother. You married the king and you are the rightful queen,” Tamerad said.

Abiya turned from the mirror. “I am rightful queen,” she softly said.

My words are reaching her. Excitement rose in Tamerad. “Yes, you are. He should be locked up in his chambers, not you. You should have the freedom to leave this room and walk in the castle, and the gardens, whenever you chose. You should rule.”

Abiya drifted around the room almost dance like. She stopped. “I should rule?” she asked, as if the thought had never occurred to her before, even thought Tamerad spoke of it almost daily.

“Yes,” Tamerad said. “It is only right that you should rule, not him. But to do so, you must give up the topaz.”

Even before the words were out of her mouth, Abiya’s body stiffened. She jumped backwards as if the plague had just bloomed on Tamerad’s face.

I have pushed her too hard, Tamerad thought.

A smile of peace radiated across Abiya’s face. “Yes.” She said the one word as if exhaling a great load. “Give that detestable stone to him.”

Had Tamerad heard correctly? “My lady?”

“I am tired of being locked up in this room. I want to see what this castle looks like. I want to walk in the gardens.”

“I will do as you say.” Tamerad said, with a bow. Was Abiya free from that stone? Could it be that easy? Samard would finally hold it according to the vision. Tamerad would rule the kingdom through him. She would start a new conclave of strict discipline. Magic would flow as never before. All witches could live free of prejudice and fear of their lives.

Tamerad needed to act quickly and remove the topaz before Abiya changed her mind again.

Abiya raised her arms and swayed back and forth. “I will no longer be locked in this room. I will explore the castle. I will walk in my gardens. I will sit on the throne and rule. Topaz will entangle him and he will become prisoner in his chambers.” Her laugh sounded child-like and innocent.

Abiya could not be allowed to roam the castle as she wished or become too confident, too quickly. The queen must continue to look frail and act disorientated, so everyone will think she died of her illness and not by Tamerad’s hand.

“Shall we celebrate, my lady? I’ll brew some of my special tea just for you.”

Chapter 20

Magical Entanglement

Tiny bits of blue magic danced like sparks over a flame. They swirled around each other and floated up, then dropped into a box sitting on the table, sitting by the east window, and disappeared into the lid. Samard had never seen anything like it before. The magic seemed to be performing for him. Entranced, he quickly approached the box.

A note leaning against the box read: I have been impolite to you. Please receive this as a token of my apology. Abiya

Lifting the lid, Samard looked inside and pulled out an orange jewel so large his hand could not close over it. He’d forgotten about it. Wasn’t it the dwarf and gnome who brought a topaz as a wedding present? Abiya had whisked it away before he could get a good look at it. A blue topaz was rare, but an orange topaz was priceless. Why was she giving it to him? Was she making amends?

He turned the stone over and over so he could inspect every perfect side. He’d heard of places where they chipped the stone away to form what they thought was a more beautiful jewel, but this stone was still in its natural state, just as it was when it was pulled from the ground.

It called to him to look more deeply. He saw bright sunlight, ginger and amber ribbons of light dancing inside the stone, they seemed to leap out and dance around him and like gentle fingers caressed his mind and eased the tension of the day.

He smelled horse manure. It was a strange aroma, but it reminded him of happier times when he helped his friends clean the stables and the thought of his ever being king didn’t exist. He heard his friends’ laughter. The castle and its cares floated away; he was free.

A knock at the door startled Samard. “What?” he asked irritably.

“Evening meal,” a female’s voice said.

“No, it can’t …” It was only early afternoon, hours before the last meal of the day. But when he looked out the window, the eastern sky was already darkening. How was that possible? He’d only just entered his chambers. What had happened to the day?

He placed the topaz back in the box and closed the lid over it.

“Come,” he said.

Haajiyo step in and softly closed the door, as if the noise might disturb the entire castle. She was a tall thin girl. So thin, Samard often wondered if she ever ate.

“When do you want evening meal, sire?” Haajiyo bowed her head as she spoke. She’d been in his service since the day he’d moved into his father’s wing of the castle. She never looked directly at him, but kept her eyes downcast. He didn’t even know what color her eyes were.

“Why do you ask?” No one ever asked him when he wanted to eat. He sat at the table and the food arrived.

“Queen Abiya wishes to join you, sire. She wants to know when you will be ready, so she will know when to sit and not keep you waiting.”

“She will join me?” She’d sent him a gift. Now she wanted to eat with him? Had she heard his apology through the door? Perhaps there was hope for their marriage yet.

“Yes, sire, unless you would rather not.” Haajiyo spoke as if he might be dissatisfied with her words.

“Why would I not?”

You are king and can do as you please.” Even though her head was still bowed, she spoke with a new confidence. The words seemed to blanket him and melt into him like oil seeping into hot bread. He might have asked her about it, but the words so affected him, he forgot she’d just spoken.

I am king. I can do as I please. The idea seemed new and fresh. But why? He knew he was king, even though daily concerns dictated his time and thought. He was king and yet her words “he could do as he pleased” shook him as if he’d never realized until now he could do as he pleased.

“Tell Queen Abiya I will eat be ready in an hour. Send my man to me.” It had been days since he’d bathed. He must smell like a horse. If his queen would sit with him, he would present himself as her king.

“Yes, my lord.” Haajiyo bowed, tuned and scurried out of the room like a frightened mouse.

Was she was afraid of him? He’d never touched her, not to bring her to his bed or to beat her. No, it had nothing to do with him. That girl was afraid of her own thoughts.

* * *

Haajiyo had done as she’d been told. She delivered the jewel to King Samard. She’d called him to dinner, just as Tamerad had commanded.

The chambermaid didn’t fully understand Tamerad’s intentions on giving the jewel to King Samard. She’d seen how it affected the young queen. She didn’t want that to happen to her king. But she knew the witch had her reasons.

It was Haajiyo’s duty to obey.
 

Chapter 21

Dinner Fit for a King

Samard leaned forward to smell the small portion beef, drowning in a mushroom sauce, on his plate. A small portion, he was king. Why should his portion be small? His nose crinkled with the scent of salt, cayenne and burnt flesh. “This meat has been cooked and seasoned,” he said, as if such a thing were absurd.

The kitchen maid stopped in mid-step as she served the others.

His mother gaped at him.

Abiya had been sitting with her head bow and her shoulders slightly bent forward. But at his words, her back straightened. Samard thought her eyes flicked in his direction, but it could have been his imagination.

By the blank expressions on her face, he doubted Abiya saw her.

Only the five menservants standing around the room, waiting for commands to obeyed, showed no emotion at his request.

“Y-yes, my lord,” she spoke hesitantly. “Is it not to your liking?”

“I don’t want it seasoned or cooked.”

Stunned, the maid asked, “My lord? How do you want your meat prepared?”

“Raw.”

“Raw, sir?” Why was she surprised? It wasn’t as if he’d just requested her leg for dinner.

“You heard correctly. Now take this away.” He shoved the plate. It skidded across the table and stopped with a clang as it hit the pottery bowl of bread.

“My lord,” Lucretia said. “Are you sure of your request?”

Instead of, “my darling” or “my love,” his mother called him, “my lord.” Was he no longer her son, but only her king? When he was her son, she’d ask him what was wrong and he’d tell her. His mother was now one of his subjects. He could not confide in a subject.

“Yes,” he said. “I am sure. And I want a large chunk. I want a piece of meat at least three times the size presently on my plate.” He held his hands up to show the size of meat he required.

Both his mother and Abiya seemed to be upset with him. His mother glared at him. Abiya shifted in her seat.

He’d bathed and changed clothes for Abiya, but she would not so much as look at him. Instead, she stared at her untouched meat with head down and shoulders slumped. Of the platters of fruits and vegetables on the table, she’s taken none. Did she expect the maid to serve her every bit of food?

Abiya wore a soft pink, silk dress. Her long, beautiful dark hair looked freshly washed and brushed. Her skin was perfect, never marred by the sun, and not a blemished. He wanted to run his fingers along her arm, her cheek, her neck. But his hands were rough. She might not feel the tenderness in them that he wished to show her.

To date, he’d not heard her voice. He wanted her to speak, to tell him about her home near the ocean. What were her likes and dislikes? Perhaps he should tell her of his likes. He didn’t know how to start the conversation. She frustrated him.

Samard shifted his gaze to the maid still standing rooted to the floor with her mouth agape.

“I am king! I will eat my meat as I please. I do not want this,” he yelled at her. He had spoken. It was her duty to obey, not stand in the middle of the room, and gawk at him as if something were wrong. “I will have my meat raw. Do not make me say it again.”

She jumped to take his plate and ran from the room, crying.

Abiya’s head snapped up as she turned to glare at him. Her skin was pale. Her cheeks were sunken. She was thinner than he remembered. He’d never thought her beautiful, but she was pretty. He wished she’d smile. He wanted to see her happy. Her eyes narrowed. Her mouth moved. Samard thought she might speak. Her lips twisted disapprovingly. She stood, whipped around, and left the room. He was sorry to see her go.

“Why does she leave?” Samard asked, softly.

“Samard, animals eat raw meat. Not kings,” Lucretia said. “Your queen does not wish to see you eat like an animal. This is the first time since your wedding that she has agreed to sup with us and you insult her. What is the matter with you?”

Abiya refused to eat with him, refused to speak to him, refused to sleep in his bed, now she was offended at how he ate? Nothing he did satisfied her.

Lucretia continued, “I didn’t raise you to bark at servants. You were taught to be more respectful. What is wrong with you, Samard? Why are you acting like this?”

She called him by his name. So now he was her son again? Did she wish to mother him?

“I am king. I will eat as I please. You may leave if you do not wish to watch me.” He was her king and he’d dismissed her.

Affronted, Lucretia rose to her feet and with the arrogance of a queen mother, exited the dinning area.

The maid returned and placed a platter in front of Samard with a large piece of raw roast on it.

To the five servants standing around the room, he said, “Take all that away.” He waved his hand over the table laden with bread, berries, pares, potatoes, squash, sweet apple pie and such. “There is a drought and food is scarce. Give it to those begging outside the kitchen door. Stay out. I wish to eat alone.”

When the food was cleared and the servants gone, Samard brought the raw meat to his nose. Yes, this still smelled of life, not like the other that stunk of wood, fire and leather.

He tore into the meat with his teeth. Blood dripped down his chin and smeared his hands. He wiped his chin on his shirtsleeve then wiped his hands on his pants. He’d never tasted fresh flesh before; he liked it. He ate ravenously. This meal was more satisfying than any he’d eaten before. Never again would he eat his meat cooked. What did lamb, goat, and pig taste like in their natural state?

Once finished, after a loud belch, he returned to his chambers. Without washing the blood from his hands or face, or changing his blood stained clothes, he lay down to sleep.

Chapter 22

Horses

Only Samard’s horse remained calm, doubtless because he didn’t wish to eat it. The other horses backed away, side stepped from him, lowered their ears, and bared their teeth.

He didn’t want to frighten them. But their muscles rippled under their shiny hides. Their stomachs bulged. They smelled of fresh meat. Samard’s mouth watered. He couldn’t help it. He tried to enjoy the ride and majesty of the mountains. Then a horse would neigh or shack its head and draw his attention back to his hunger.

Where had such thoughts come from? These were not his. He had never tasted horseflesh. He’d never even desired to eat horse. So why such desires?

“What’s the matter with these animals?” Eperson asked, in exasperation. He was having difficulty staying in the saddle. His horse turned in one direction as he pulled on the reins in the other direction. His horse bucked, stomped, hopped, stomped, kicked, and bucked, seemingly all at the same time. The horse wanted to bolt, while Eperson was doing all he could to keep him from doing so.

None of Samard’s friends or guards could control their horses.

Samard knew why. The horses could smell his thoughts.

He envisioned sinking his fingers into the their flesh and ripping it from their bones and eat it bloody, hot and raw. He imagined the thrill of the chasing them down. He could see the whites of their eyes as they rolled in terror. He heard the shrieks of agony as he ripped them apart. He shook his head, but the images would not go away.

Horses were magnificent creatures, noble and gentle. They did not deserve to be so cruelly frightened. But no matter how hard he tried … the images persisted.

He could see his blood stained hands; taste the sweetness of their meat.

If he could not make the images go away, maybe he should leave.

As soon as Samard turned his horse around and set his thoughts on heading back to the stables, the other horses settled. A quick glance over his shoulder told him no one was following, not even his guards, who never left his side. They all stared at him as if they didn’t know him.

He didn’t blame them. Their horses had warned them there was something wrong with their king. Now the men were afraid of him. Samard understood their fear, he just couldn’t explain to them what the matter was; he didn’t know himself.

Chapter 23

Bad Day

Samard had trouble thinking. His mind wondered not just from what he was doing, but from himself. It was as if his mind was drifting through fog in the forest. And like the trees, his thoughts floated in and out of focus. Often he’d look around and wondered where he was.  This time, he was in his throne room settling disputes.

More than once, he’d had to ask a peasant to repeat what he or she had just said. And when he asked for the third or fourth time, they stared at him as if he were a senseless court jester. He felt like one.

His mind slipped away as if it were a greased pig he was unable to hold. When he tried to reason the problem and concentrated on it, and no answer came, he sweated with fear. Then he’d lose that thought and wonder why he was sweating.

Now two men stood before him arguing over who owned a bull. They both claimed to have paid for it. Therefore they both claimed it as their property.

“Butcher it,” Samard said, “we’ll have a feat.” He envisioned joining them. His mouth began to saliva over the prospects. They would be honored to have him as a guest.

Then his thoughts slipped. In his mind’s eye, Samard saw the bull, large meaty, succulent. He saw himself grab hold of the bull. It tried to struggle free as he bit into it. The shrieks of pain were like music. He would have laughed for delight if not for the mouthful of beef.

How much fresher could meat be than to eat it directly off the bone with the blood still flowing, warm and liquid?

“My Lord,” the men said, in unison. Their eyes were wide and their mouths agape. They were shocked that he’d suggest they butcher and eat the animal.

“He is a prize bull,” the first man said.

“We bought him to improve our heard,” the second man said.

“How are you able to afford such a fine animal?” Samard asked.

“Ah, well.”

“It ah…”

The men stumbled over their words, and Samard knew.

“The bull was set at such a price that you could afford it,” he said for them.

The men smiled sheepishly. “Yes, my lord.” Their heads bobbed up and down.

“And why would the owner be willing to sell his prize bull at such a low price?” he asked.

Their bobbing heads froze. They said nothing. He knew. The seller had stolen the bull. The men were willing to over look the theft if they could have the bull, at a cheaper price, for their herd.

“Seems to me, you have two choices …” The thought disappeared. Samard searched for it, but he couldn’t remember what he’d been talking about. Something about a money — sliver …

As of late, his thoughts not only lingered on what he ate, but on gold, precious jewels and then the topaz hiding in his room; a magnificent jewel almost the size of his fist.

He wanted to be in the room with his topaz. He wanted to hold it, stare into its perfection. Run his fingers over the many facets, long smooth sides, short rough edges, and gaze deep within … at the lights. Why had he left it behind, stuffed in a box? It should be with him. He should hold it up for all to see a jewel worthy of a king’s possession. No one in the kingdom, in the land, the world had anything like it.

Thieves.

He would not show it to anyone. Topaz was his – his alone.

If another knew of it existence, they would desire it. They would try to take it from him. It was his. No one had the right to know of its existence.

He’d left Topaz alone. Was it safe? He should be in his room with it. Why had he left it behind? Suppose someone found it? He must return to his chambers to be with Topaz and protect it from thieves.

“My lord?” the voice sounded alarmed.

His thoughts returned to the two men who were staring at him.

Then Samard remembered. The thought came back to him as if it had always been there. “You have two choices, you can return the bull to its owner … its original owner.”

By the look on their faces, they didn’t like that solution. Not only would they lose the possibility of improving their herd, but the original owner might charge them with the theft. He could take all they owned and have them thrown in the dungeon.

Which might not matter, since they might not be able to find the owner. The thief could have come from anywhere beyond the kingdom and transported the bull here to be sold.

Samard stood. They backed up.

“Or you can share the bull and stop bickering,” he finished.

The men looked at each other in distain.

“You do have a third choice,” Samard said.

They frowned at him. They’d not liked his first two suggestions and doubted they’d like the third.

“I could charge you with thievery, throw you in the dungeon myself, and take the bull to my heard,” Samard said. He swayed and stumbled.

“My lord?” A guard was immediately at his side.

The men seemed not to notice. “We’ll share the bull,” the first man said. The other nodded in agreement.

“Then it is settled,” Samard said. “I will hear no more about this from either of you or the bull is mind.”

The room darkened. Samard tried to walk, but his feet seemed to have forgotten how. Hands grabbed him. He couldn’t tell who it was, but he guessed it was one of his personal guards.

“Shall I take you to your chambers?” the guard asked.

“To my bed, yes.” Gold, ocher and crimson ribbons of light danced before Samard’s eyes. He was flying. He heard eagles screeching, felt the tips of their wings brush against his cheeks. He felt the cold mountain winds as he flew over and around them.

Samard opened his eyes. He wasn’t flying. A guard was carrying him. Disappointed, he closed his eyes and blacked out.

Chapter 24

Dreams

Samard tossed and turned with dreams of racing across the hills on his horse. They galloped over the top of trees. But no amount of urging could convince the horse to move faster. He left the animal behind and soared over the mountains, above where the eagles floated on air currents. He flew high over the clouds.

Free, you are free at last. He heard the words in his dreams; with all his heart, he wanted them to be true.

“I am king. I can do as I please,” he told himself. “I am king. My desires are my own.”

He woke with the words, “What do I desire most?” on his lips.

Freedom from the castle and its responsibilities, the voice in his head said.

“But if I leave, who will be king? Who will attend to my people?”

Do you care?

There was a long pause as Samard considered. “My people are good,” he said. “There’s just so many of them. And they have so many problems. They expect me to solve all of them. I can’t.”

You need a different way to watch over them.

“Yes,” Samard said. “But how?”

You can’t do it within the confines of the castle. You must leave its walls.

“I must leave?” The idea appealed to him.

You will be the greatest king who ever lived. You will soar above the rest.

“I will soar.”

You are king.

“I am king.”

No desire is out of your reach.

“Yes.” Samard accepted the voice’s words as absolute truth.

He heard the sound of glass tinkling, as if something had broken.

In the next instant, his bed crashed to the floor. He’d never been a large man, but somehow, he’d become too heavy for his bed frame.

Laboriously, he tried to roll onto his side, but the mattress was holding him in place. With a loud grunt, he swung bulging, muscular legs over the side of the bed. The movement pulled the rest of his body along. He sat up.

Long, thick, yellow toenails curved in an arch as they clicked on the floor. Fascinated, he scraped them back and forth. They left deep scratches on the gray stone. Sturdy nails, he mused.

He raised his hand and rotated it examining his knobby fingers, which were twice as long as he remembered. They looked like someone else’s. His arms were smooth and hairless with small cobalt, honey colored, and blue-black blotches. A bright, translucent green, sheen covered his arm. His skin was firm to the touch and didn’t give as it normally did.

In the back of his mind Samard had the feeling he should be concerned. Something was wrong, but he didn’t know what. He tried to concentrate, but his mind wouldn’t fix on the problem. He was about to soar. He’d think on it later. Now was time to leave.

Samard ducked his head so as not to bang it against the ceiling. The room had shrunk; he no longer fit in it. How had the room become smaller? That was something else he’d have to consider at another time.

There was something he needed. Looking around, he tried to remember … ah, his chest. He dumped the clothes out, picked Topaz off the table, placed it in its box, covered it, then set box in the chest and closed the lid.

The doorframe creaked and cracked as he forced his way through. His thick scaly skin sent splinters flying.

Careful not to knock into the walls, topple marble statues, or rip hanging tapestry, Samard made his way through the corridors.

His toenails dug into granite steps and left gouges as they pulled him up the stairs.

He felt the drag of something heavy pulling on his backside. It scraped the steps and walls as it followed behind him. The circular staircase was too narrow for him to turn and see what it was. To his surprise, he was able to lift and wag it. It smacked against the wall. He heard a few stone pieces dislodge as they fell. Samard held the thing motionless.

At the castle’s roof he rose to his full height, stretched his neck, lifted his head and took a deep breath. He looked around and saw to the far edges of his kingdom a hundred miles away. All his.

His arms felt long, heavy and awkward. It seemed as if he’d grown a second set, which he didn’t quite know how to use. Nevertheless, he raised them up and extended them, released a roar of satisfaction and leaped off the roof to his freedom.

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Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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