The King’s Lament

“I… Did it for my people.”

She laughed bitterly. “Is that why you killed peasants? Should the land that drank their blood offer its fruits to you? Should the dead forget you unmade them and rise from their graves to offer you – our king, who sacrificed so much – praise fit for gods?”

She clenched her fists so tight the king feared blood would trickle onto the floor. Her words cut with the intent of a sword; he appeared large and confident but within he shook like a child. To have his flesh cut to pieces would surely be a lesser hell than dwelling in the enmity that saturated the walls of his castle.

“It is unfortunate, but sacrifices are necessary for the sake of unity.” The king spoke plainly and slowly with the same masculine authority he summoned while addressing his subjects, but he possessed none of the clarity that normally guided his hand.

“I see it now!” She tore her dress, baring herself before him, pushing her chest outward, mocking him. “You took my body for the good of the country!” She stepped toward him without concern for modesty, her body moving like a viper about to strike its target. “Or was I your reward for crushing everyone who dared raise a single objection to your ambitions?”

She came close enough he could feel her breath upon his cheek. She smirked, then whispered, “there is no such thing as a humble conqueror.” He averted her gaze, and she smiled. She’d won. She had not restored what he’d taken. She had not brought the dead back to life. She had not toppled his kingdom.

But in that moment he yielded to her, and visibly quaked beneath the weight of her contempt. That was enough.

She wrapped herself in the tatters that remained of her dress and walked toward the door.

“Wait.” The king’s voice was a wisp of smoke, devoid of personhood. It sounded like a ghost had spoken to her, but she stopped. She didn’t turn to face him, but she listened.

Several eternities elapsed within the king’s mind before he’d summoned the words to form a simple decree. “I will give you, and your child, land within the heart of the kingdom.” He straightened himself in his throne, forcing himself to sit upright despite feeling as if every bone in his body had spontaneously disappeared. “You will want for nothing. No one will bother you. I…” He hesitated. “You will never see me again. I will not speak of you.”

She turned, smiling bright as the sun, and bowed in an exaggerated manner. “How good of you, my king! The kind and just ruler of this land has taken everything from me, given back a pittance and now sends me on my way. Songs will be sung of your benevolence.” She relaxed her posture and looked upon him with a stony gaze.

“But we both know the truth.”

She left. The king wept.

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