Another Wednesday, another story. This time it’s a fantasy tale. It’s about 12,900 words long. For me it’s quite compact but I think it turned out well. See what you think!
Grand Imperator Varsius, head of the Order of Sacred Flame, smiles widely. Today is the day he has been working toward for a great many years of his life. He can scarcely believe that this day has finally come, but it has and he couldn’t be more pleased about it. Plus, everything has fallen into place. Not quite as he would have liked, but close enough and just when it needed to. The Solar Moon, a nine year long eclipse of the sun during which the moon is visible and a muddy red colour, is scheduled to begin today.
The head of the cult, the upper echelons of which are made up of the rich and elite in Bovinden, is dressed in his Orders robes. They are predominantly white with a red blazing flame inside a deep orange circle. He loves the design for its simplicity and so as he trundles down one of the many oversized passageways of the castle he runs through how this is going to unfold one more time. He knows the plan by heart; it is after all his plan. Yet, he finds comfort in recalling its details.
King Jakob Porrison has no idea what is coming. Varsius has to stifle an evil cackle at such a thought. He doesn’t think anyone is around but he’s lived within the walls of the ancient stone castle long enough to know that appearances can be deceiving. That is why instead he simply raises his eyes toward the high vaulted ceiling above him. Anyone passing by or observing him will think he’s making a silent prayer and while King Jakob does not like the existence of the Order of Sacred Flame he is not dim-witted enough to simply attack it without reason. To do so would incite rebellion. If only the monarch knew what was truly about to be unleashed upon him.
To Varsius it is no surprise that Jakob is oblivious. He is the latest in a series of King’s, each one of which has been blinder to the potential dangers along the small kingdoms northern and eastern borders. That danger being the existence of free city states which have formed in the recent generations. Jakob and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him, according to what Varsius has read, each believed that the free states pose no threat. Yet, they are fighting against the bonds of traditionalism. That is why they are dangerous. That is why they will attack. There is no doubt in the Grand Imperator’s mind regarding that. It will be a when, not if.
Varsius can barely stop himself from screwing his old deeply wrinkled and grey face up at just the mere thought of such things alone. They are, in his mind, an affront. People are meant to be ruled by their betters, not allowed to vote as though everyone is equal and deserves the right to choose who their ruler is and how they are governed. To the Grand Imperator such things are abhorrent. Yet, he sees the irony in what many of the members of the Order he overseas would believe is the same. It wasn’t, isn’t and will never be. He as head of the Order of Sacred Flame was not appointed by popular vote, even if he made them believe as such, but by managing and manipulating the situation. He is the Orders founder and he is its head. That mantle will only be passed on once he has secured Bovinden and found a worthy successor. But he doesn’t plan to relinquish the throne for a good long time once he’s secured it.
Varsius doesn’t have children. Not because he can’t but purely as a result of being a busy ‘servant’ to the kingdom. The fact that his service is self-serving is irrelevant. The issue now is while he could still have children, there is a high likelihood that they would not only become targets but would not necessarily be worthy of being his successor. The Grand Imperator has read of many issues when such things occur. All of them he wants to avoid. That is why he will pick a successor. Not allow his position, once assured, to pass to an heir.
Of course, there is the risk that whoever he chooses may attempt to mount a coup against him. Such things would not end well for the brave stupid enough to attempt such a manoeuvre. But he can’t refute that it could cause unnecessary rifts and give birth to opposing ideological factions as a result. Varsius though has a plan. A well considered plan. First though, King Jakob will need to be removed. That is why the Grand Imperator has made sure to buy off as many of the King’s guards and soldiers as possible. It cost him a great deal of coin, but it’ll be worth it.
He also made it abundantly clear what would happen if any of them in turn attempted to betray him either for more coin or out of some misguided hope of gaining favour with the King. A few had tried, early on, and they had been made an example of. And that example had been shown to those that had been bribed after. It’s amazing what a flayed, mutilated and blackened set of corpses can do to focus a man’s mind and avert any thoughts he may have of betrayal and independence.
The guards and soldiers whom Varsius has not managed to pay-off will be of little concern as well soon. Especially, as the Order has made sure to position agents throughout strategic areas of Bovinden society. The areas not already covered by its members that is. Their fanatical the lot of them and again the Grand Imperator has to resist a change in his expression that might draw unwanted attention. This time it would have been a smirk, quick and violent. Still, once today is over and the bumbling buffoon is removed from the throne, there will be all the time in the world for Varsius to smirk, smile and cackle until his heart is content.
Finally, Varsius turns the last corner that will be necessary for him to reach his destination. That turn puts him in the grand hallway which in turn will lead him straight into the King’s throne room. Soldiers line either side of the blue carpeted walkway which stretches right down the centre of the eight man wide space. Varsius hates the décor. It’s too gaudy for his tastes. It’ll be one of the first changes he makes once he is sat upon the throne.
The age of frittering coin away to create an image shallower than a puddle will have its throat slit mercilessly, a bit like the guards who have not been bought. Varsius eyes them as he passes by. They are as arrogant and oblivious as their dear king. No matter, they will serve as reminders to the peasants of Bovinden to illustrate what happens if you stand against the Order of Sacred Flame. That is why their severed heads will be impaled onto pikes mounted in the streets to rot and fester. The people will understand the warning and heed it or else Varsius will unleash the vilest of weapons at the Orders disposal. It isn’t men but a flammable substance, a sticky one that once it’s adhered to skin doesn’t stop burning until there is naught left.
The Grand Imperator makes sure to keep his expression blank as he passes through the arch shaped doorway that separates the hall from the throne room. The six pillars loom large covered in finery that really doesn’t suit the space it occupies. The sight disgusts Varsius who will have it all burned with the body of his King. The act will serve as a final insult that will deny Jakob the joys of his possessions in the afterlife. Fool believes such fairy tales to be truth because he’s too simple minded to know better. He’s barely ever even left the walls of his castle and on the handful of occasions he has it has only to been to wave pointlessly and stir favour for his reign. If the citizens were smart then they’d see Jakob for what he really is, a clown with a crown, nothing more. And if they knew the sums he threw away with pointless acquisitions, Varsius doubts the people will love him them.
“Ah, Grand Imperator, how nice it is of you to join us.” King Jakob Porrison of Bovinden says from atop his gilded throne. His short brown hair overly styled, while his hazel eyes gaze into the middle distance. He rarely looks at the Grand Imperator. Jakob cannot stand the old grey man with shoulder length thinning grey hair and dull green eyes. What the King cannot stand the most about the man is that robe he insists on donning. The one that marks the grey hunched over man as a part of the Order of Sacred Flame. Jakob knows he is the head. How that came to happen he does not know, but as ruler of Bovinden he is fully aware that it is little more than a cult.
The members are a fanatical lot, but one of middling interest and fairly low concern or importance. They simply play at power. If they knew what power was they would have grown far larger than the several dozen members the King has been told call themselves a part of the little band. All talk, Jakob would say, and nothing else.
“King Porrison.” Varsius returns with his usual trademark slow, creaking, nasally tone of voice. It’s a tone that elongates and overemphasises the s found in any word. It’s painful to listen to and Jakob can’t imagine where the Grand Imperator learned such a speech pattern. Though, if its goal is to grate then it definitely succeeds.
Yet, the old hunched over man who once would have stood about two metres in height still hasn’t reached King Jakob. The King counts that as odd but not entirely surprising. Varsius is getting old and with any luck he’ll die soon. At least that is what Jakob hopes. The Grand Imperator is a thorn in his side who loves to skirt right up against the line without ever actually stepping over it. It’s infuriating but to be expected for a man who has served his family for so long. Jakob can’t even comprehend how long that is, other than to say that he served at least his father, Terrence. Though it seems unlikely he would have been around to serve his grandfather, Harrison, Jakob cannot say for sure that he didn’t.
Jakob waits for Varsius to finish his ambling along and join near the monarchs’ side. Not at his side. No one stands at his side proper. That honour is reserved for royalty only and the Grand Imperator, while a long serving advisor, is certainly not royalty. In fact, Jakob is not sure where the grey man hails from, other than to say he is sure he is a Bovinden native. It dawns on the king that maybe he should have asked the man at some point during his reign. Though he quickly dismisses the idea as he is unable to think of a poorer waste for his time than entertaining such a discussion which would almost certainly devolve into Order wants to ban this kind of act or that type of development. Their demands are…exhausting, King Porrison feels.
“Now that we are all here, let us not further delay the deliberations for the day, shall we?” King Jakob says alluding to the tardiness of Varsius.
Jakob always likes to get a jab in against the Grand Imperator when he can. It doesn’t happen as often as he would like, yet when it does he is forced to stifle a chuckle.
Varsius reacts in no way to the jab and instead waits, appearing to be dutiful to any who might cast a glance his way. The guards do not and King Porrison wouldn’t even dream of it, but Varsius feels it prudent to retain composure. Internally however he is smiling evilly and thinking about how King Jakob will soon be dead. A sack of lifeless meat drained of blood, splayed out on his gaudy golden throne that once was humble and wooden before this particular member of the Porrison line ascended and decided to do away with what little remained of Bovinden’s historical protocols, ceremonies and artefacts. Royalty does not guarantee intelligence or maturity, Varsius thinks as he stands as straight as his body will allow.
Now, the kingdom is little more than a free city state in many ways, like those that border it and in Varsius’ mind endanger its existence, save for the freedom afforded to the masses to vote for whatever candidate best appeals to them with lies and half-truths. That particular development is yet to afflict Bovinden and will never come to pass.
“I have the first order of business majesty…If you will permit me, of course.” Grand Imperator Varsius drones.
Jakob manages to resist rolling his eyes as he relents, “Out with it, Grand Imperator.”
Jakob rubs his forehead with his right arm, while his elbow is dug hard into the gold dipped arm of his throne. The King can already feel this is going to be a long and painful day and that is without factoring in the headache that he can feel forming behind his eyes. If only the thousands of candles, whose flames are flickering, won’t intensifying the pain in his skull as he is forced to bear witness to them. It’s why he’s shielding his eyes with his hand now. Yet, it leaves him with a large blind spot that in turn leaves him oblivious to the fact that the proximity between him and the Grand Imperator is closing. Just like the King is oblivious to the dagger Varsius has up one of his wide open sleeves. But then no one would be able to glimpse the dagger for it is hidden entirely from view like the Grand Imperator’s hands are. That is the advantage of such large and open sleeves as are found on Varsius robes. And no one suspects a thing. A few of the guards glance in the direction of the grey man but his swaying change of location does nothing to raise the concerns of the few guards not now under his employ.
The reality is however, that Varsius isn’t unstable on his feet. Yet he’s made sure over the years to sow the deception that he is. It has made his current shuffling toward his target easier to accomplish. However, the Grand Imperator knows not to press too strongly, as that will raise eyebrows. Not that he needs to shimmy any closer now. He’s within striking range and has his long bony fingers wrapped around the dark glass of the daggers grip. It’s a relatively simple blade, a far cry from what a man like Jakob Porrison would wish to call a possession, but the King knows little of what things are and are not important.
“I call…for a coup.” Varsius, who has delayed for as long as possible without King Porrison growing suspicious, announces matter-of-factly.
At first, King Jakob Porrison doesn’t grasp the words that have so clearly been proclaimed to the room without a hint of concern. Then they dawn on Jakob, his eyes go wide and he lifts his head from his right hand which had been supporting and cradling it. In an instant the pain is gone as he instead goes to scream for his guards to attack, but just as does his guards turn on one another. Jakob cannot believe his eyes. His jaw drops in surprise as he watches an overwhelming number of his personal protection cut down a much smaller group.
He cannot work out who is for and against him, yet somehow deep down he knows that is why this is happening. Then he guesses that those prevailing are his supporters. That is until he sees one of his longest serving and closest guards, Perthian, cut down. In that instant King Jakob gathers that his supporters are losing, badly and so he turns toward Varsius. It is clearer than day that the Grand Imperator is behind this and he wants to know why.
“Varsius! What is this?” King Jakob manages to spit before a blistering flash of light ripples across the surface of polished metal.
Jakob doesn’t have the time to react before the blade is sunk deep into his throat. Jakob lets out a choked sound before his hands shoot up to his throat to grab at the blade. He doesn’t know what he intends to do; he just knows he must stop Varsius. He knew he should have had the man condemned to the cells once the existence of the Order of Sacred Flame started making demands via him in the kings’ court. Yet, his father had assured him that Varsius was the most loyal of subjects and Jakob had foolishly believed him, against his better judgment.
He curses his father now for he sees no one else to curse. He refuses to curse himself. After all he is King and King’s do not curse themselves. They curse their subjects, or their ancestors for the failings. Like Terrence had cursed his grandfather before him.
“Your time is over, Jakob Porrison.” The Grand Imperator mutters just loud enough for the King to hear as the last of his guards are brutally cut down by agents of the Order and the bribed guards who now serve the Grand Imperator.
Varsius will likely dispatch of most of the bribed, but that will take time. So for now they will serve a purpose and fill a void that would otherwise be left wide if he had them executed immediately.
Jakob grabs the blade of the dagger with one hand and goes for Varsius hand with the other. Unfortunately, the Grand Imperator is quicker than he would appear and violently wrenches the blade across the King’s throat. The initial puncture wound had been to the left of Jakob’s Adams Apple. But now there is a long open gash across the throat through which copious amounts of deep dark thick red blood is spilling out. The blood runs down the dying King’s neck staining the red silk of his robes collar before continuing down his front, darkening the sky blue coloured material covering his wide chest.
The Kings’ eyes are wide. He cannot believe this is happening. His vision continues to blur and grow increasingly dark as he wonders if it is at all possible that this could be a dream. He wills himself to wake, but can’t, so he tries to speak only to simply gargle blood. His hands fight desperately to stem the flow, but it’s too late. King Jakob has lost far too much blood. Blood which is now beginning to pool on the floor at his feet while Varsius grins cruelly at his side.
Jakob feels anger well up inside him and goes to spit. His final act of defiance in the face of death, but Varsius drives the blood soaked dagger into the dying King’s chest.
Jakob feels the impact of the blade as it plunges deep into his chest, between two ribs and through his lung. Jakob begs mentally for mercy, but Varsius offers none as he rumbles, “The throne is mine, Jakob. Long live the new king.”
The Grand Imperator then cackles loudly before wrenching the dagger from Jakob’s chest and then viciously stabbing the dying man a further eight times. Varsius cackles and grunts as he delivers each of the stabs and then convinced that Jakob Porrison is dead, releases his grip on the dagger, stares at his blood soaked hand and sleeve and then bursts into rapturous laughter. His head is thrown back while his eyes are closed. It was an unnecessary act of barbarity to deliver the multiple stab wound, but Varsius has been waiting a long time for this moment and he has always intended on relishing every second of it.
Meanwhile, the surviving guards, those aligned in some way or another to the Order, bludgeon and stab at the fallen, who hoped and failed to defend their king, to make sure they are truly dead.
With the coup complete, Varsius takes what is now his throne and as he does so the eclipse begins and the world beyond the walls of Bovinden Castle is bathed in a red glow.
An evil smile stretches across the gaunt face of the grey man known as the Grand Imperator. For he will forge Bovinden into what it should’ve always been, a strong nation without tolerances within or outside of its borders.