fallen king

The Aide

                Most in this asylum were diminished souls. They shrank from the world because it was all simply too much. Merely breathing was too heavy a burden. Ricard could not fault them for their failures. He hid here for much the same reason. Out in the thick of life, in the noise, there was too much choice. You were left too open to pain. Every day carried with it the threat of loss. Yes, he could easily understand why one might secede from sanity.

Life, in these white walls, was simplicity itself. Feed 'the herd' (that was what the other orderlies laughingly called their constituents) the scheduled medicines at their scheduled times; lead them in daily activities—drawing classes, reading, painting, group 'therapy sessions' (mostly they sat in silent circles and drooled), arts and crafts with blunted scissors. It was simple routine: eat, shit, sleep and repeat.

But on the day this… this man was carried in on a gurney flanked by armed guards; iron cuffs shackling him to the table by wrist and ankle, metal bands wrapped tight around his waist and legs, Ricard could see in his eyes—dazed though they were by drugs—the same fire that once burned in his own. Somehow he sensed that the same thirst for vengeance tickled both their insides. He knew he had to reach this man, penetrate the medicated fog and discover for himself what drove him and what had led him to such an end.

                So Ricard got close, insinuated himself as the patient's—listed as John Aible, an obvious pseudonym—primary caretaker. The others were glad to give him the duty. Rumors followed John's entry into the asylum. People whispered that they heard he was a violent felon, bearing a long list of crimes too horrid to be named. They feared what he did not: Ricard was a big man, soft around the middle, but he moved more nimbly than his bulk should allow. Beneath the fat hid a solid, muscular core, developed in his days of… he never would say.

Whispers abound about his past as well.

Though the patient sat still and was always silent, Ricard knew 'John' loved when he told him old stories: particularly fairytales about downfallen kings rising up against their usurpers, or Gods who toy with the lives of men. The flames burned most brightly in his doped eyes at these moments.  Quickly he confirmed his suspicions. While most days, 'John' was any other patient, dully limping through the routines they set for him, one day, the veil was pulled back briefly and Ricard saw the King behind the curtain.

                Ricard was reading the tale of the boy Arthur—who boldly pulled sword from stone and proclaimed himself Briton's King—when he first heard 'John' speak.

                "I… I was…"

                Ricard nearly dropped the book in shock, before quickly recovering and looking around to see if any other aide had heard him speak. Fortunately they were alone in the ward's small rec room. The asylum allowed its inmates to come and go rather freely as long as they were attended and, of course, thoroughly zonked.

                The aide edged closer to his patient-cum-silent confidante. "You were what, eh? Not 'John' I bet, not John… someone else perhaps? Wherever did you come from Mr. Aible?"

                Only then did he notice the chill in the air. Only then did he see how his words left his mouth and became mist. Ricard shivered. Who turned off the heat?

                'John' acted as if he did not hear. Swirling in his eyes, once blank and white with only faint traces of old fire, were coal black storm clouds. They burned hot and angry, belying the room's sudden coolness. The wakened patient bellowed:

                “…CAYNE!”

Ricard stumbled back. He had expected many things, but not this… never this. Instinctively he gripped John’s rippling forearm and felt the muscles convulse beneath his hand. ‘John’s whole body was seizing. It seemed, though Ricard could hardly believe it, that ‘John’ hovered nearly half an inch above his chair. Ricard reached into his back pocket and grabbed the patient’s ‘emergency’ dose. Straddling John in his chair, he pried his clench jaws open, and forced the pills down. After 30 terrifying seconds, ‘John’ finally calmed. His chest went slack, his muscles still. The black fire in his eyes extinguished.

                Still he whispered: “I was… I was…”

                Ricard knew he had mere moments before the true John was again lost in a narcotic shroud. “Tell me John. Go on, you can trust your storyteller.”

                …King…

                And at that word Ricard again felt the chill which haunted the room just moments before. ‘John’s eyes once again went white, spit dribbled down his jaw. Ricard sighed and dabbled at the wetness with his blue frock.

                “And what are you now, eh John? What are any of us now?”

                Days passed with no new episodes. Still only the dull recognition at the tales of heroism, still only silence. But Ricard, the aide, knew what hid with the quiet king. He had been the fire’s sole witness. He watched, with gentle eyes; spoke with a gentle voice. And waited.

                “I know what you were ‘John’. And what you will be again. If only I knew how to help you…”

                Late one night, when ‘John’ was fast asleep. Ricard rooted through the hospital records, searching for an emergency contact or maybe a next of kin. There was only a name, no explained relation, no designation.

                Jorah Cayne.

                Ricard smiled, and put his hand to his lips as if to quell his excitement. This could be no coincidence. He could learn something from this Cayne. There was a number by the name. Fingers shaking, Ricard grabbed the nearest phone and began to dial.

                Here lie our answers, I think, Mr. Aible. Let’s see what light this… ‘Cayne’ can bring.

Once I Was King...

                They tell me the first lines are the most important part of any story; hopefully these will do:

Most days pass in a fog. I sit in a white room, watching the sun track across the sky; I watch the light rise and fall. A gentle aide, smiling, whispers in my ear. He tells me stories that begin 'Once upon a time…' or 'Back when the world was new…'. He whispers words from some fairy-tale, a child's story about vanquished dragons and valiant knights and beautiful princes and princess, their bodies wreathed in fine cloth, their fingers adorned with jewels. Sometimes these stories have Gods, just and vengeful creatures. Sometimes they end with a wedding, with all gone right in the world. Sometimes they end in tragedy; a hero boldly sacrificing themselves so that those they love, or Earth itself, may survive. These are the tales I like best; they remind me of what someone told me—my father perhaps—in another life:

                "No true victory comes without cost. No true King ascends to his throne unscathed. No day passes in this world without those whom you rule, whom you serve, taking from you. They take and they take… until nothing remains. Nothing but what they demand you become.

                "This is what it means to be King."

                Sometimes the fog lifts briefly, and I can see this white room, this sterile building, clearly for what it really is. A hospital… and a prison. On these days, I notice what each passing moment takes from me, bearing me down a river whose current beats me further and further into the future, further and further from my glorious past.

                I was… I was…

Winds blow in my room as my suborned self returns in flashes. Perhaps my feet even leave the ground. In the distance I hear thunder, and in my hands crackle lightning. My eyes become dark and deep. My old name dances on the tip of my tongue. I taste its power, and with it, on the precipice, flirts a glut of lost memories. But the gentle voiced aide rushes in; calms me with his whispers; feeds me pills with his soft hands. There is kindness in his eyes, I see, but also fire. Sympathy, but also fear. He guides me with surprising strength, until my feet again touch the floor.

                "There, there," He whispers, leading me back to my bed, tightly restraining me, watching until my eyes fade back to white. "It doesn't do to get so stressed. Let me read you a story, you like those right?"

                Back in the thrall of the fog, I can do nothing but mutely nod.

                And so passes time, be it weeks, months or years, to me the distinction no longer matters. Deep within me, something remembers, long withered roots grow stronger. Dreams of my past become clearer. With each remembrance I go stronger; my jailor must wait longer for my fits of reassumed kinghood to subside. The doses of whatever they use to subdue my powers, I suspect, get larger yet still more inefficient. The others in white rooms, they who once ignored me, now gaze at me openly with fear or awe or some mixture of both in their eyes. At night, in fitful sleep, I begin to mutter the same refrain, speaking it still as I wake.

                I will cast down my usurpers. I will stamp their names from history. They will be undone as I was undone. They will know fear. They will hear me resurrected, and all their hopes will die on the vine.

Once I was king, and will be so again…

A Fallen King

                Between the openmouthed gate and through hedgerows of ancient stone fled the fallen king, Justice chasing relentlessly after. His sins finally came to bear. Mist choked the maze he stumbled through, leaving all but a few inches in front of his face little more than indistinct shadows that swirled in the dark. He ran, clutching to his heart the power that augured his downfall, that which he had stolen from a God most frightful and most divine. The secret to eternal life. Immortality to seal his clutches on his kingdom.

                But one cannot steal from a God without consequence. Her powers trump even those of the greatest of great men. Her will, though slow, is inexorable. Her decrees sacrosanct. And so, along with her graces, the king watched all he held most dear slip from his grasp: His kingdom, his family, his respect among peers—fellow leaders of nearby nations all laughed at his misfortune. They knew better than to tangle with the Warrior, than to disrespect the most implacable of Gods.

                The white walls of stone extended far above his head, and from them rained down giant boulders, shaken loose by the footfalls of Vengeance. Each step grew further imperiled as he had to dodge falling death. Soon, he knew, his flight would be at an end.

                Finally he turned down a corridor that ended abruptly at a wall. As a shadow loomed behind him, he inched up against it, the world trembling with its steps as the God approached. Alas, he was trapped. The Warrior came to reclaim what he had taken. There was no other option. The fallen king took to his knees in supplication, and prayed that she would be merciful.

                The Warrior approached, appearing in the mist, herself a moving wall. A 20 foot spectacle. Of dark marble, of muscle hewn from obsidian, of flinty brown eyes, of unkempt dark curls. She was naked, and all the more terrifying for it. Strapped around her bare waist, a simple leather belt with an ornate scabbard. A scabbard from which she might pull a thousand blades. Each member of her arsenal waited for her call in the aether.

                And as she menaced, the king began to beg.

                “Please, Warrior, forgive my foolishness. I meant not to offend, only to-”

                SILENCE! The Warrior did not speak, at least her mouth did not move. The words seeped from the porous stone around them, like the whole world was made of God, like the maze was her bosom, like the king merely fled deeper into her folds. You think I don’t know what you intended? You yourself had dreams of a seat in my pantheon!

                “Mercy, I beg of you mercy.”

                The Warrior got down on one knee, meeting the king’s gaze, and did not respond right away. He felt as if she measured his soul. She snorted dismissively and rose again.

                You think you stole from me. It was not a question. You think you can move without a God’s notice. You think one can become a God without sacrifice, without enduring great pain. Without losing everything. Such is man’s arrogance I suppose.

                These next words she spoke, surprisingly quiet for one of such power. “I was like you once. Only focused on how to grow stronger. I was obsessed with conquering the world, extending myself past humankind’s earthly limits. I dreamed of becoming a celestial creature. And so I did. And the cost…”

                The Warrior paused, her eyes far away, remembering a fateful night on a desolate plain. A plaintive look on a lover’s face. An oasis built on death.

                “But you will not get that chance, ‘king’. You dreamed of power without dues, and connived of shortcuts.”

                “My Queen, my omnipotent liege, I-“

                “You thought you could take from me without my notice. But I am everywhere in this world, from every grain of sand, from every brick, I peer out. You stole Godhood from me because I. Let. You.”

                To this the king had no response. He close his eyes, and shivered. Suddenly it was cold in the maze. The mist clung to him, iron shackles chaining him to his fate.

                “Such a pain it is, being all knowing. At first I wondered why Gods toy with men, dangling before them everything they’ve ever wanted only to affix to it a most burdensome price.”

                The mist began to fade, and the maze with it. The stone became clouds. And for a brief moment, the king floated in Paradise.

                “But now I see… it is because we grow idle.”

                And with that, she let the king fall, robbed of the prize that sheltered him from death.

                It felt like an age passed before he hit the ground.