All Hail the King
Thomas Valley"Finish that floor before sundown, or you'll have no scraps at all this evening."
Such were the last words heard by Syd, as he was assigned to mop the floor of the Assembly hall. Syd hated to mop. He'd rather be with Grevaar, where he'd be learning spells and the ways of the wise.
The immensity of the Assembly hall failed to impress him any more. Not since he was assigned the task of weekly moppings did it cause him to follow the high beams up to the ceiling. He was even unimpressed by the Magical Compass, which stood in the middle of the hall.
When he was younger, he used to spend hours watching the compass. Every now and then, it would move in accordance to where the King was at that time. It was of simple design: A small pool of water, on top of which sat a small needle. While this didn't seem all that impressive at first, Syd learned that the Magical Compass had been created by the Wizard that started the royal line of Anassan. That royal blood still ruled the small nation of Cyrin.
It was reported that for every King of the royal blood that ever existed, the needle of the Magical Compass would follow his position at all times. It times of confusion, it was often used to determine the heir to the kingdom.
"I'll not have you dilly-dallying around in this pig-sty. Did you really think you could escape your duties in the kitchen?"
Syd looked up at the cook. In comparison, the cook stood at quite a height from Syd. In other environments, the cook would probably be dwarfed by anyone he met, but Syd was a small boy, and the cook used that to his advantage.
At the moment, the cook stood glowering over him, right in the doorway to Grevaar's quarters. Giving no thought to diplomacy, Syd looked straight to Grevaar for help.
Grevaar, only half listening to the developing conversation, looked up from his bubbling tubes, ogling the two of them through his thick glasses. Grevaar was a weak man, one sometimes got the feeling that if a gust of wind came along, he'd fall over.
"Tell me, Modol, don't you have more important things to do than to pester young children?" croaked Grevaar, his voice cracking under the strain of false seriousness.
"WHAT?" steamed Modol, who's face had grown a beet red.
"I'll go to the kitchens right now, sir." Syd was afraid of anything that might do to harm Grevaar. Of all the people Syd knew in the Castle, Grevaar was the only one that treated him like a human being. Oh, every now and then Modol would give him food long before anyone else was served, but those incidents were few and far between.
Mollified by the boy's sudden obedience, Modol turned from his new-found adversary, and looked the boy straight in the face. Every time he did this, he had to fight his fatherly instincts to reach out and either hug or cuff the lad.
"You'd better get there quick, then, sonny. I don't figure the floor's going to get mopped all by itself. And when you're done with that, finish cleaning last night's cookingware."
Cleaning seemed to be all of Syd's life. He would find a moment here and there, where he could spend time learning things with Grevaar, but one could usually find Syd with a mop in his hands at one time of the day or another. Syd began to figure that people were dirtying up certain sections of the castle on purpose, just to spite him.
Sloshing water on the floor, Syd found himself mopping Grevaar's lab, days later. The mop felt ruff in his hands, as if it didn't like what it was doing any more than Syd did himself. The water seemed to mope on the floor, alone in its cleanliness among the dirt.
"Sydnith, come here," said Grevaar. Only Grevaar bothered to call him by his first name. No one seemed to remember otherwise, except maybe Modol, who called him Syd mainly out of convenience.
"Yes, Grevaar," he responded, dropping the mop to the floor. The solid wood thumped to the ground, devoid of any of its previous and glorious life.
Wiping his glasses off, Grevaar seemed to be taking a break from his work to speak to Syd. This must be something important!, he said to himself. Grevaar proceeded to lean back on his stool, nearly falling off as he overbalanced. Syd suppressed a smile, his master could be all knowing and wise, but he certainly was the clumsiest person Syd had ever met.
"I have a task for you to perform for me," he said. This was probably something menial, thought Syd. So many tasks Grevaar had him perform seemed to have no purpose: Stirring mixtures until the right texture was achieved, mixing regents until the proper smell filled the room, finding the exact plant in the middle of an expanse of forest, all of it seemed so tedious.
"Tell me, Syd, have you ever dreamed of being someone important? Someone with a history or someone who could actually claimed greatness?"
Something sparked in the back of Syd's mind. This was to be something different, today.
"Yes, of course."
"Well, then, I have just the task for you. If you found yourself in the face of something so vile and terrible that it was a blight on the face of the earth, and you had the means to end its existence, what would you do?"
"Get rid of it, of course. What could be that bad in the castle?"
"I'll tell you in a moment. You must fully agree with me. If you knew of one person that lived his life to corrupt our nation, one person who found delight in subversive actions, would you end his life just as you would have ended that blight I mentioned?"
"I...I don't know, Grevaar. If I could, I think I might. But who would give a task like this to someone like me?"
Before he even asked the question, he knew the answer. For years now, Grevaar had been tailoring him for something. He could tell because of the way that Grevaar let him learn only select things. He had a way of convincing Syd that anything else but what he was supposed to learn would simply clutter his mind. He made sure that Syd knew that other information was simply unneeded.
"I have been waiting sometime to ask You for this task, Syd," Grevaar answered, confirming all of his suspicions.
"Who...Who do you think is so bad that they deserve death like this?"
At that question, Grevaar became suddenly serious. He leaned forward against the table and put his glasses back onto his face. His eyes magnified through the thick glass, as if he were trying to encompass all of Syd in his gaze at one time.
"The King, Sydnith. You are to kill the King."
With those words, Syd felt like the world was trying to slip away from him. His mopping job completely forgotten, Syd sat down on the nearest stool, shock and stunned at the same time. He had never met or even seen the King in all of his life. He had no way of saying otherwise against Grevaar's claims on the King's personality.
"I don't understand," was the only thing he felt qualified to say at this moment. Questions crowded at his mouth. Clamping down hard, he used his locked jaw and closed teeth like a dam against the tide of words that came flowing up his throat.
"Of course you don't, my boy, you're too young. Being on the council of Lords, I have witnessed the King in action. He is not a part of our land, of our castle. He is a disease, and there is no one with courage enough to eradicate this disease. I've been pruning you for years: making sure no one considered you a threat in the least, giving you the power of magic to strengthen your purpose as my weapon, and making sure that you had a good sense of what is right and wrong in this world.
"Now tell me, Sydnith, will you complete the task I have set for you?"
Syd didn't have a clue about what was the right answer. He was so confused, he didn't know what to feel or say. He trusted Grevaar like no other, that was a simple thing to base his answer on. Yet he didn't know, his emotions decided that his mind was going to be a battle ground at this moment, and the conflict made its presence known in the expressions on his face.
"Boy, I can see that you are worried. Believe me in saying that you have no cause to be. The people of the castle see you as no threat, and the captain of the guards will look among the Lords of the council for the killer, not a simple castle scullion. Use that brain I've nurtured in you, Sydnith, find in yourself the truth in life: Kill the King!"
At that last, Grevaar was on his feet, fist in the air. Caught up in the rising torrent of words, Syd found himself standing as well. Without thinking, he answered:
"What? What did I hear you say?"
Stunned by his answer, Syd flushed a deep red. He could barely bring himself to whisper his answer once more. Grevaar was close enough to him to hear the hushed "Yes," escape from the gate that was his mouth.
Clapping him on the back, Grevaar began to congratulate him on his decision. Grevaar's own goblet was thrust into his hands, and the vile brew that the wizard called wine was sloshed into it.
"Drink up, my boy, tonight we celebrate your right to manhood!"
The ornamented cup glinted in the candlelight of the room. Whenever he looked back on this day, out of all the haze of that conversation, the ornamental "G" on the cup surfaced to the brim of his memory.
"Find me my spellbook. We must make our plan of spells, and prepare you for your journey!"
One such spell was aiding him now, as he crept forward in the darkness. Syd used to play with this spell when he was younger, hiding from Modol's prying eyes. What he found so fascinating about this spell was that when someone looked at you, nine times out of ten they would look away again, convinced they saw nothing in your place.
This spell, as well as one to help him find his way through the darkness, required a deep concentration that was doubly hard to keep up while one was walking. Syd could feel the sweat breaking out on his brow, but even thinking of that allowed the spell to slip a little. Clamping down harder on his thoughts, Syd became invisible once more, and began to creep onward.
Syd had never killed before, but this seemed much too easy. He simply walked up to the side of the King's bed. Taking a moment to confirm that no one was in the room besides the sleeping form in front of him, Syd reached into his belt and brought out a large butcher knife that wouldn't be missed by Modol.
Raising the weapon as high as he could go, Syd took a moment to make his aim true. With one swift motion, he swiped the bladed edge of the knife across the King's neck.
Blood went everywhere. Syd felt as if he were coated with it. The King began thrashing about, as if wild and insane movement could somehow heal a slashed throat. He quieted down in no time, bringing great relief to a suddenly careful Syd.
Syd, thinking that it would be just his luck that someone would find him before he got all the blood off, began to brush the stuff off of his tunic with a small brush of Grevaar's.
No sooner had he begun than rapid footsteps began to pound down the hall outside the King's door. Syd figured that the King's thrashing must have made more noise than he had anticipated. Acting on instinct, the spells he had up before slammed down into place, and Syd crept back into the darkness from which he had come.
Feeling a bit miffed, Syd bit into the muffin Modol had given him that morning. The whole Castle was in an uproar for an entire week. During that week, Syd had not been able to clean even one room. When he tried, people would just track mud right across where he was working. Now the real pig-sty was the Castle, and Grevaar's quarters looked clean and crisp in comparison.
Court was being held for almost 24 hour sessions, with the haggard courtiers stumbling off to bed every night just to wake up a couple of hours later and begin again. No word had circulated the peasantry of the Castle, but Syd figured that the courtiers were in such a flurry because they had to find the heir before something terrible happened on the war-front.
Syd had seen little of Grevaar since the incident, as Syd had come to refer to it. Grevaar had to attend all of the court sessions as well, and looked none the better for it when Syd did finally get to see him.
It was not surprising to the peasantry of the Castle that even after the week was up, the court could still not find an heir. The King had never married, but was well known for taking many a serving maid to bed. It was said that his bastards were spread all through the army, and that in that sense, it truly was his army.
The court had called a general assembly to form in the assembly hall. No one could remember when the last general assembly was held, as it became something of an inconvenience to gather everyone in the castle together at one time.
A general assembly was usually some sort of gala affair, with much rejoicing and happiness. It usually marked a birth or marriage of some royal nature, something that was due for a little happiness.
On this day, however, the hall was filled to the brim with serious looks and scowls on people's faces. Syd couldn't understand how the people could feel such sadness for a King who was so cruel. But, he figured, if he hadn't known about the King's sickness of mind, he supposed that not a lot of other people had this information either.
"On this day of mourning, the twelfth of day of Banser-Month, in the year of the Goat, the court of King Barlan Anassan hereby announces a search for an heir to the throne of our beloved sire."
Beloved is not the word that Syd would have used to describe such a tyrant, but he guessed that such a description was used to mollify those whose knowledge only thought of him as such.
"Divination of this knowledge will be through the use of the traditional Compass of Maldigar, which will point to the true heir and future king."
A line began to form in front of the compass, and the crowd began to press itself back to allow people to file by it in slow succession. Even those who had obviously no claim to the throne passed by the compass, just to be part of the succession. Old men and women toting young tots filed by, while Syd hung back.
For some reason, he suddenly felt queasy. Should he show his face outwardly to this group of courtiers. Grevaar would know him, but would someone else notice him and recognize something about him that would link him to the King's death? There had been no talk about a search for the murderer, but Syd knew that whoever was the new King would head such an investigation as a matter of course.
Deciding that if he held back, he would look even more suspicious, Syd walked forward. Up to this point, the needle had remained steady and unmoving, as if there were no heir at all.
But when Syd walked by it, it moved.
"All hail Sydnith Anassan, rightful heir to the throne of Cyrin, and now King!"
A great roar erupted from the assembly hall, almost exactly two weeks after that other assembly. People were shouting his name, he was proof to them that anyone could aspire to greatness. Flowers and music and dances riddled the hall, and there would be none with a dry eye in the hall that evening. All was well, all was good.
All, that is, but for Syd.
Syd had passed these last two weeks in a blur, finding himself numbed to the insistent questions coming from his conscience. You have killed your father, how can you live with this lie? They search for the murderer now, and you haven't the courage to tell them that they should search the throne itself.
Such thoughts had plagued Syd like a disease, fighting him at the most opportune moments. These thoughts clouded his mind when the only evidence of the murderer was presented to him just this day.
A small brush with an ornamental "G" was placed in front of him by a rather smug captain of the guards. "I have found the evidence that you seek, sire. All we must do now is find the owner of this brush, and we have our killer."
A word was building in him, rising up in his throat. Spurred by guilt, by blood, and by some sense of finally doing something right, he spoke:
A commotion broke in the back of the hall, as a figure fell from the group of courtiers. A pasty faced wizard found all eyes on him, as he pushed his glasses up his nose.
"S-sire, you cannot believe that anything like murder could enter into my mind."
At the very mention of murder, the calm complacency of the court suddenly gasped, and some thoughts of revenge found themselves easily lodged in the minds of the crowd.
The captain of the guards acted quickly, finding two guards under his command to take Grevaar away.
Two days later, a day after the coronation of the new King, Grevaar the Magician was executed for the death of King Barnath Anassan, fifteenth member of a line of royal blood.
That very evening, Syd found himself alone. He didn't know how he had eluded his guards, or how he had managed to find his way out into the snowy courtyard. His royal robes dragged across the white-dusted cobblestones, and his knees dug into dirt as he dropped to the ground.
He looked at his hands. In the moonlight, they seemed to glow red, as if they were covered in the blood that he had furiously washed off himself not some three weeks ago. All the pent up feeling and emotion that he had carried with him for these past weeks grew up in a tidal wave of sorrow. As it crashed down on his body, he bowed his head to hide the tears that cascaded across his cheeks.
A hand touched his shoulder. Looking around, he found a small figure dressed in a cook's smock, a look of concern on his face.
"Gone to heaven already, and yet we still mourn. When will we learn, I say. Come, sire, let's go to the kitchens, and I'll fix us up some good broth from tonight's dinner."
Two figures exited the courtyard, both walking with a gait that seemed to tell of great sorrow and loss.
Back in the courtyard, a small spot in the snow found no reflection in the moon's caressing rays. It glowed with its own life, a small red glow surrounding a minuscule drop of blood.