TRUTH IS A RARE COMMODITY
Outside the battle raged on. A fierce maelstrom of violence that started out in many colors and many banners but soon turned only bright red. Even deep inside the royal castle the sounds of killing could be heard. Knights fell, men died screaming and the crunching monster called “Battle” continued to devour everything in its sight and never getting its fill.
Inside the royal castle another kind of battle was taking place.
“Why did you let me do that? Why did you not fight back?”
King Tarses had barely flinched when Dorrick, already called the Usurper, pierced him with his long sword. There was a lengthy pause before the king finally spoke and when he did it was as if he never heard the question.
“I have been king now for . . . nineteen years. Except for that first year when it was all new and exciting to me I have not laughed or smiled in all that time.”
The king sat on his royal throne. No courtiers, no attendants, no servants, he sat on his throne alone and abandoned facing his final moments. The dark hall was vast and covered with tapestries that harkened back to finer days. But now a stark bleakness hung over the room that made it feel cold and foreboding. It was as if the life that was draining from the king was also draining from the room. Lord Dorrick stood there before him with his company of men proud and defiant. But this Tarses whom he had come to kill was not the man he had expected to find.
“I used to like to hunt. Did you know that? I would go by myself after boar or elk . . . sometimes disappearing for days at a time. More times than not I came back empty handed but that was all right – the hunt itself was the thing. Or fishing . . . I can’t remember the last time I went fishing.”
He spoke not looking at Dorrick or at anyone there. His mind’s eye was turned inward. He seemed not to even be aware of the crimson stain that was growing at his side.
“Or wenching . . . to sit at a table with a tavern maid on your lap. You whisper lies in her ear, she whispers lies in yours, none of it is true of course but you don’t care. For the moment, for that one golden moment you pretend it is true and that is enough.”
There was something very disturbing about the entire scene. Lord Dorrick’s men stood fidgeting, nervously looking at each other not knowing what to do and wanting to leave.
“There was a time I could drink any man, every man, under the table. Now . . . despite the fineness of the wine . . . it all tastes like vinegar to me.”
Eventually half of Dorrick’s men did quietly leave without saying a word.
“My wife is cold. It was an arranged marriage between she and I. Because I am king I have to marry within my station – that is what I was told. She is a cold woman . . . everything about her is cold – cold hands, cold features, and a cold heart. I don’t think I have said more than a dozen words to her in all the many years we’ve been married.”
No one moved. No one dared breath. Lord Dorrick stood as if mesmerized.
“My children are strangers to me. Can you imagine that? I don’t know my own children. Other people took care of them, other people fed them, and other people taught them. A man should know his own children. I wish I could remember what they look like.”
The rest of Dorrick’s men quietly left – all save one.
“When I was a younger man full of fight I had boon companions. We fought at each other’s side. We laughed together, we loved together, and we bled together. Andor, Parthes, Barimen, my boon companions . . . what am I doing here?”
For a moment the king’s voice choked and he stopped speaking. When he started speaking again he looked and sounded so frail.
“I have no friends. I have subjects. They say to me what I have to do and what they think I wish to hear. When you rule the truth is a rare commodity.”
King Tarses sighed – a deep sigh – full of pain and regret. There was more emotion in that sigh then in all he had said.
“Some of my subjects fear me – and rightly so. Some of my subjects hate me – which is how we came to be here today. Some of them even adore me . . . but none of them know me. I am a stranger in my own kingdom. I am even a stranger to myself.”
He passed a shaking hand over his face, touching his features as if to remind himself what he looked like.
“What have I become?”
A single small tear breaks free and rolls down his cheek. Another deep sigh escaped his lips. There was too much emotion behind that sigh as well. Lord Dorrick wondered why he suddenly felt so afraid.
“My mother was a good woman. Not beautiful, she was actually kind of plain and frumpy but a good woman. She used to make these biscuits. It’s funny I should remember that now. The house would fill with the smell of those baking biscuits. They were light and airy, and so tasty. Such a simple thing really – biscuits. I can’t remember when was the last time I enjoyed anything I have eaten.”
There is a long pause before the King speaks again.
“I can’t remember when was the last time I enjoyed anything!”
For the first time the king looks directly at the man who has killed him.
“You ask me why? Why did I not fight back?”
King Tarses slipped the royal crown off his head and held it lightly in his fingers.
“I should curse you, Dorrick of Elborne. By rights I should curse you and by cursing you give you this gold crown and let you suffer for your many sins. Instead I tell you . . . run. RUN! Run from this place as fast as you can. Run and never look back. Run as if the demons of Hell were chasing you because if you stay . . . if you stay and become the king . . . it will be far, far worse.”
His head slumped to the side as the heavy crown slipped from his still fingers and fell to the floor. His eyes continued to stare but there was no longer any light in them.
One of Dorrick’s men, the only one still left, eagerly picked up the royal crown.
“My lord this is now yours.”
Lord Dorrick stood there stock-still thinking long and hard. He thought about his ambition, about how it had led to this moment, and he thought about the man who sat dead before him. And he thought about fresh-baked biscuits. Finally he bent forward and gently closed the eyes of the man he had called enemy.
“I don’t want it.” He snapped at his man, “Keep it! It’s yours!”
The would-be usurper dropped his sword, turned on his heel, and walked from that place as quickly as he could.