It’s not always good to be King

Long silk curtains fluttered gracefully in the cool morning breeze. The warm sunlight poured into a large room from arched windows. A large man with thinning gray hair and a short gray beard sat at a long table. Under his extravagant red wool court coat, his rumpled white shirt was stained with several food stains. He rested his chin on his palm allowing his body to lazily slumped forward.

The man continuously reached over to a bowl of fruit popping red grapes into his mouth as he looked over a large map. He glanced idly at the sunlight streaming in through the arched windows. A faint smile curved his thick lips. Spring, he thought. His smile widened. Taxes would be rolling in from his estates.

“Lord Vorick,” a tall, slender man dressed in dark clothing called out upon entering the room. Dust from the road still clung to his boots and pants periodically falling onto the floor as he approached.

“It’s about time! I expected you yesterday!”

“I’m sorry your lordship, I had some difficulties,” the slender man said as he produced a pouch from under his cloak.

Vorick popped another grape into his mouth, “what difficulties?”

The slender man stepped forward setting a small pouch on the table and quickly stepping away. “The towns on the eastern side all all gone. Only a few farms left.”

“That’s all?” Vorick knew of and counted on at least four towns that had plenty of land that always paid their taxes each year. “What of Framshire?”

“Abandoned, your lordship.”

“Pendleshire?”

“Abandoned.”

Vorick stood up in frustration, pointing his thick finger down on the map in front of him, “Munclaven? Lapendal?”

“Both gone.”

“What’s this nonsense? What’s the reason?” Vorick asked loudly. If Marcus was joking, he did not find it amusing.

“I’ve asked the farmers there. They said crops continue to fail.” Marcus paused for a second casting his gaze to the floor. “Livestock and even townsfolk have mysteriously died. They blame it on monsters from Castle Ghrakus. The people just moved away.”

“This nonsense again? I’ve heard these same tales as a child. How it was supposedly sealed by great magic two centuries ago to keep hideous monsters inside from getting out. I’ve never seen any monsters!” Vorick said pounding the table with his fist. “Bandits have been plundering the area under the guise of its dark reputation for years.”

“It’s what they told me, your lordship.”

“Where do these towns move to? Farther west?”

“No, I’ve been told they moved out of your kingdom. They no longer feel benefited by your protection.”

Losing people and towns was one thing but the thought of losing out on land taxes and damage to his reputation was something Vorick took very seriously. “Send out our guards, scour the lands and kill these so called … monsters.”

“Yes, your lordship,” Marcus said as he quickly exited the room.

“Monsters…” Vorick muttered to himself rolling his eyes and sitting back down. Glancing back over the map he pushed the bowl of fruit aside determined to restore his reputation as a protector and to collect the taxes due.

. . .

Six months later, Vorick sat back at his table. Slumped in his chair, he stared mindlessly into the table’s surface. He contemplated his future and the decreasing income of the kingdom.

“Lord Vorick,” Marcus entered the room.

Vorick looked up anxiously, “Yes? What word do you bring?”

“Bad news, your lordship. We’ve sent all the guards we could to the eastern side. They’re not returning. If we send anymore we will be unable to defend your castle.

“Enough with the guards. They are much too expensive to lose anyway. What about the mercenaries I hired?”

“None of the three groups have been heard from again.”

“This is terrible,” Vorick’s said in a shaky voice. “I’m quickly running out of resources and men to send. Find six more mercenaries, tell them they’re get paid upon their return,” Vorick said with a sigh. Sending mercenaries to deal with this issue over trained guards made economic sense. If the mercenaries never came back at all, it was no cost to him.

“We have already searched for new mercenaries but no one is volunteering.”

Vorick sat up in this chair with narrowed eyes. Pointing his finger at Marcus he said, “I don’t care what it takes! Get some men to that area to clean it up. I don’t care if you have to go as far as Mortimer to find someone willing.”

“Right away. I’ll send our scouts.”

“See it done.” Vorick muttered once again staring into the table.

“Another thing your lordship.”

“What is it? Vorick shouted. He wanted nothing more but to be left alone.

“I do not have a formal report on this but there are whispers of a possible revolt,” Marcus said with his head held low.

“Revolt? I’ll have them crushed!” Vorick said in anger raising his fist toward Marcus.

“Yes, your lordship. But as I’ve mentioned, your forces are now dangerously low.”
Realizing Marcus spoke the truth, he wanted to quickly end this eastern side terror. Hanging his head, he took a deep breath. Letting it out, he spoke, “well, hire a large group of mercenaries and find the best man you can to lead them. This may be our last chance.”

“How large, your lordship?”

“Double the size, make it twelve. Pay the leader an advance and have the others paid upon their return.”

“Very well, your lordship.” Marcus spoke, quickly exiting the room.

Vorick slumped back in his chair. He rubbed the back of his neck with his thick fingers. The deterioration of his reputation as a competent king and the thought of revolt rested heavy on his mind.

His only hope rested with this large group of mercenaries. If they fail, it could very well mean the end of his reign.

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The Mirror

Sarah hurried along the street, chastizing herself for choosing today of all days to lose track of time in the library. Her mother’s birthday dinner was to begin in a few hours and the decorations still needed finished and the cake needed iced. Thankfully she had assistance grilling the steaks and she lived fairly close. If she just could make it to the antique store to retrieve the gift she had been eyeing she might just make it in time.

Gasping breathlessly, her chest aching from the effort, she approached the shop window. Outside, she paused to admire the large floor length mirror again. The ornately hand carved wooden frame was stained a dark walnut. The unique scrolling design was rare in more modern pieces. It had narrow pedestal legs with carved feet that reminded her of a lion’s paw. The swivel frame completed the design that her mother had missed so terribly.

It was in pristine condition, as it should be for the price. But Sarah had been saving for months, walking by the window weekly to ensure it was still there. She didn’t have a second thought about choosing this particular gift. Her mother had eyed it wistfully through the window, in similar fashion as Sarah did just now, only for different reasons. Sarah’s gaze only had her mother, Donna, in mind; however Donna’s eyes had misted over as she remembered her dearest grandmother, Mertyl, who had passed away just before Sarah had been born.

As Donna had reminisced about her grandmother, her eyes teared up lovingly. She got lost in the memories as she told her all about hovering around her grandmother’s skirt while watching her primp for the county fair. Her greatest pleasure at the time had been mimicking her and getting into her makeup. Donna’s giggle had caught in her throat when she told Sarah about the time she climbed onto the nearby dresser and had knocked over a tiffany lamp into the mirror’s frame, shattering the gorgeous stained glass shade.

Mertyl had quickly picked her up and transported her to safety away from the glass, her kind words eased her young worried mind and dried her guilty tears. It was only an object and tender little toes were not easily replaceable she’d said with a gentle smile. While Donna had never completely forgiven herself for the deep gouge the incident left in the virgin wood frame, it was obvious the woman held nothing but love for her granddaughter.

The biggest heartache of all was the fact that no one quite knew what had happened to the mirror. Over the years, as Meryl’s health had declined and moves between nursing homes and hospitals were made, things were lost or sold or given away. A familial tragedy that perhaps only she recognized for what it truly was…a sentimental treasure lost forever.

Sarah suddenly shook her head, willing herself to break free of the memories, her sense of urgency returning. As she entered the door old copper bells signaled her arrival. She walked over towards the mirror glancing around for the shopkeeper who was nowhere in sight. Feeling slightly impatient now as she turned back towards the mirror, she tilted it slightly running her hands over the carved wood as she waited.

Sarah noticed the reflection of an elderly woman shuffling across the old hardwood floors towards her. The woman caused Sarah to pause, pursing her lips as she tried to determine the cause of her familiarity. After a few beats she attributed it to her visits gazing through the shop window at the masterpiece of all gifts. Sarah reached into her bag for her wallet, anxious to complete the transaction and begin her trek back home. After paying for the mirror and arranging for delivery that evening, Sarah rushed home to complete the tasks for the party.

Sarah was beginning to get nervous. Dinner was done and most of the guests had already left. While it was still early in the evening, her mother’s gift had not yet arrived. Just then there was a knock on the door. Anxious, Sarah ran to the door, grateful to see the shop’s delivery men.

Thankful her mother was still visiting with the stragglers in the back of the house, Sarah directed the movers towards the front living room, hoping they didn’t scuff the natural hard wood floors when they brought it in. Once the mirror was muscled through the narrow door she called for Donna, pleased they left the large sheet covering it so she could thoroughly enjoy her mother’s expression when she lifted it.

Donna finally made her way to the living room and Sarah could barely contain her excitement. Her mother’s confused look at this large, awkward thing under the sheet was obvious as Sarah urged her to come closer. Donna hesitantly approached the gift, wondering what in the world her daughter had done now. Sarah was known for being impulsive so Donna wasn’t sure quite what to expect. As she began to lift the sheet she gasped.

Donna recognized the lion paw feet instantly and tears welled up in her eyes. She hurried to remove the sheet from the top of the mirror. As she ran her hands over the carved wood, her breath caught in her throat. The emotion the memories brought on was overwhelming. She grabbed Sarah in a giant hug, so great that Sarah was sure her mother would crush her ribs, and nothing had ever felt better. Sarah started crying with the joy she felt at pleasing her mother so much.

Suddenly Donna tensed up, a frozen gasp stopped her mid-spin as she released Sarah and stared at the mirror. She turned her body to look at the room behind them leading towards the door to the front hall, then back to the mirror, and back again to the doorway. As Sarah wondered what on earth was wrong with her mother she noticed something strange in the mirror. She looked closer at the old woman from the antique shop staring at them from the hallway. Sarah looked at the hall towards the old woman, wondering when she had came in, her confusion growing as she found no one there.

Sarah looked back towards the mirror to find her mother with a mixture of confusion, joy, sorrow, wonder and love on her face. As they both looked back towards the mirror it dawned on Sarah that she did know the old woman; why it was that she had looked so familiar to her when she saw her in the antique shop. It was Mertyl, Donna’s beloved grandmother. It had been a very long time but Sarah remembered Donna showing her the pictures as a young child as she entertained her with stories of her own childhood. As Sarah and her mother gazed into the mirror, Mertyl gave them a small, simple smile filled with the gentle love that Donna treasured about her.