One Hundred Wives
I stare at a teacup and silently watch the steam rise as it sends up whiffs of the exotic past my nose. It’s a sweet and spicy smell that I find appealing. The cup itself is beautiful, of course, with a gilded gold wrapping a wavy rim. The gild extends down each trough of the cup’s side where it disappears underneath. I wonder if the bottom is also gilded but it would be tricky to find out without spilling the tea. In the empty spaces are painted what I think are dragons in exquisite detail.
I do not drink the tea. Instead, I set the cup down and notice for the first time that the dragons continue onto the gilded saucer. Clever. I reposition the cup so the paintings match perfectly. Seems wrong to leave them broken. Both cup and saucer together probably cost more than most people’s homes.
“Where did you say this tea is from?”
“I didn’t, your majesty. It’s from a rare plant grown only in the southern archipelagos, specifically the Sansianta island, which is renowned for its exotic spices.”
Right so, really expensive. I idly wonder whether the tea cost more than the cup. Probably. People are weird about their tea. Still, I can’t deny it smells lovely. I bend over the cup, breathing in the aroma as I attempt to discern anything discordant, but I detect nothing. “And we still don’t have any tasters?”
“No applicants at all?”
“You tripled the pay?”
“And you offered benefits to the family?”
“Yes, Sire… and they were excellent benefits, if I may say so.”
“And still no applicants?”
“I’m afraid not, your majesty.”
I sigh and look regretfully at the tea. I don’t blame them, not really. The King’s Taster used to be a prestigious position fought for by many. But that was almost twenty deaths ago and now, well, let’s just say people aren’t lining up for the job anymore.
I look over to the plate of food and start to consider what might be safe to eat, but my mind drifts back to the tea, which continues to send up its pleasant aroma. The irony here is that I’m not a tea drinker, never was. Some people call me a barbarian, or at least they used to, but I’d always considered that a mark of pride. I achieved greatness from simple origins, rising to heights most people, even those of privilege, could only dream of. So no, I don’t drink tea. We barbarians drank harsher stuff, brewed from roots and usually alcoholic on some level. Good times and sometimes I miss it, but now I have tea and, I admit, I do like it. Of course, I certainly wouldn’t claim the sophisticated palettes of the many pampered sycophants that cater to my every whim. But good is good, and I have grudgingly come to accept that tea can be quite good.
My lips curl slightly as I look at the tea with its incessant steam that now only seems to be taunting me. I can feel my mood sour. That would not be a good start to the day, so I tear my gaze from the hypnotic dance of steam and reexamine my plate.
Eggs, poached I think, though I’m no expert on cooking, some smoked strips of meat which I’d learned long ago was called bacon, what looked like maybe smoked fish, and some kind of red fruit. Or was it a vegetable? I shake my head in annoyance. I’ve discovered the problem with importing everything is I can never remember what anything was called. Oh, and some kind of rich sauce dribbled all over everything. I stare at the sauce suspiciously.
“Is everything all right, your majesty?”
No, everything is not alright. It is never ok when you can’t trust your food, or tea for that matter. And how is it possible that honorifics like ‘sire’ and ‘your majesty’ somehow feel like little insults now? I used to dream of being called these things. Now I wish they’d stop.
“It’s fine,” I say as I rise to my feet, “just not feeling all that hungry today.”
“Of course, your majesty.”
My eyes widen as the realization hits me. It’s the pause, the pause right before the honorific. They always say what they’re going to say, pause, and only then can they be bothered with the title. It’s like they have to remind themselves or perhaps force themselves to say it. I can’t help but wonder what the pause means.
I stand up to leave but stop short of turning from the table. I’ve eaten nothing this morning and feel the insistence of hunger acutely. I look over at the plate and spot a piece of bacon that almost wholly escaped the onslaught of sauce. Good enough. I grab it, wipe the sauce off the corner, and take a bite as I turn away from the table. It tastes wonderful. I used to think that gold, power, and women were the greatest prizes a man could win. I could not have been more wrong. They are all paltry things compared to bacon.
“What’s on the schedule today?”.
“Today you’re scheduled to hear petitions.” I detect a hint of disdain. Talking with my mouth full is one of the things the man hates, which makes it even more delightful for me.
“Yes, your majesty, today is one of the days for listening to your people.” He almost sounds sarcastic there. I almost feel mildly impressed.
I hate petition days. It’s nothing but an endless stream of forgettable faces whining about their petty squabbles and concerns, while my back gets increasingly sore from that cursed thing they call a throne. I refuse to think of it as a chair. It’s not. You sit in chairs to be more comfortable, whereas standing all day would be far more comfortable than that thing. If not for tradition…
“Let’s put this off for next week—”
“You’ve already put it off for two weeks, Sire, and we’ve been forced to use the castle’s gold to accommodate many of the poorer supplicants.”
It’s already been two weeks!?
“Also, Joanna has begun complaining about the smell.”
Joanna… the name sounds familiar but I can’t put a face to it. I’m sure she’s my wife. Otherwise, he wouldn’t bring it up but since I draw nothing but a blank, I dismiss it as irrelevant. Instead, I try a different tact. “Wasn’t that Kingdom… dammit, what was its name,” I snap my fingers as I try to recall, “that Kingdom that was going to attack us…”
“Kingdom of Lorian, Sire.” Definitely sarcasm, and again with the pause. How did I not notice this before?
“Right, weren’t they threatening to attack?”
“Yes, Sire, but we concluded the threat was negligible.”
Dammit. “Are you sure? Perhaps we should look at it again.” If there was one thing I’m good it, it’s military strategy. I’m a genius really, as if that’s not obvious. One doesn’t conquer seven kingdoms by being an idiot.
The man doesn’t even bother to respond. He just stares at me with a flat expression on those beady little eyes. Gods, I miss war.
“Fine, let’s go.”
We leave my expansive room and pass the guards only to find a large group of people patiently waiting. I have no idea how long they’ve been there. Part of me feels guilty for making them wait but I squash that pretty quickly. Of course, they’re expected to wait on the king. Also, they’re always there when I come out. Always. I half expect that should I leave my room in the middle of the night there would still be a group waiting for me. I haven’t had the chance to test this, though, as I have other ‘duties’ to perform at night that tend to leave me exhausted.
I notice two of my generals are here, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. We’re not at war and Lorian is too timid to attack, apparently. I make a note to myself to make sure I talk to them before the petitions. Generals are important, always, and even more so when both of them are old friends. Also, there’s a slim chance their concerns will get me out of petition day.
I turn to possibly the three most important people in the Kingdom: The Groundskeeper, The Lord Chamberlain, and the Head Cook. The Groundskeeper and the Chamberlain begin speaking at the same time. Some rodent had stowed away in a recent shipment of imported food. By the time it was discovered, the thing had bred and infested both the castle and the surrounding grounds. They’re requesting extra personnel to deal with the problem. I idly find it fascinating what constitutes an emergency now that we’re no longer at war. But I led armies to conquer kingdoms, not exterminate a pest infestation, and so I decide to leave them to their pests. I authorize their extra personnel.
The head cook is probably the person you most want to be happy. And even though I’ve barely eaten lately, I’m confident we will soon find the person (or people) trying to poison me. I need this man to be happy, and so I listen closely as he describes how some significant portion of imported meats had gone bad somehow, making it urgent I allow him to order an extra shipment. I wonder if it was the same shipment the rodents had stowed away on. My eyes widen at a brilliant idea. The poor man goes sheet white even as I fail to hide my teeth behind the grin forming on my face. I can’t believe they didn’t see it. It’s the perfect solution.
“Oh no, your majesty, we can’t eat those… we have… I’d be ruined Sire, utterly ruined. Nobody would eat my food ever again. Please, your majesty, we have a certain standard of quality our food must conform to…” Wow, the man was genuinely descending into a full-blown panic. You’d almost have thought I suggested he cook with dirt.
I notice movement out of the corner of my eye and turn to see the Chamberlain and Groundskeeper quickly making themselves scarce before I have a chance to rescind their authorization. Cowards. I turn back to the Cook who hasn’t even noticed my lack of attention. He’s segued into an accounting of specific pathogens carried by common pests and the effect of their diseases, which I’m pretty sure can’t be right. I mean, isn’t that why we cook things in the first place?
The man hasn’t really taken a breath yet and I grow concerned. “Of course, I never meant to suggest that at all. You certainly have the authority to secure more food and you know you have my utmost confidence,” I say as magnanimously as I can. As I said, I need the man happy. The man closes his eyes a moment, takes a deep breath, and slowly releases it before saying, “Thank you your majesty.” I can’t help but notice he doesn’t pause.
My slow procession down the hall includes a large parade of Nobles trying to curry my favor. I used to think that gold was the power that made the world go around. I was an idiot. These people shit gold. No, what makes the world work is favors and as King, I’m expected to give out favors, especially to those who favored me during the war. Of course, no one here actually favored me during the war but I admit some turned coat quicker than others. Those were the smart ones, the sociopaths. The ones who opposed me were the loyal ones. So I’m expected to give favors to disloyal sociopaths concocting obscenely complex schemes, while at the same time disfavoring the only people truly loyal to the kingdom.
Also, I suspect every single one of them as my poisoner. And why wouldn’t I? They concoct schemes, care only for power, trade only in favors, and they smile way, way too much.
I’m about halfway down the hall now, giving out what is probably my tenth no, when the entire procession comes to screeching halt.
I blink. Two of my wives stand before me and they look livid. Panic sets in as I desperately try to remember their names. Nobody around me is close enough to ask except for the Nobles and I could only imagine what would happen if I tried to ask one what the names were of my two wives standing before me. Let’s just agree it would be really bad. No, I needed to be very careful how I handle this.
“Can I help you?” I keep my tone even and as neutral as I can. I can only hope my face won’t betray me.
“Did you actually give her an entire floor of the eastern wing?” one of them demanded loudly while pointing at the other.
“He did and you have no right to take it from me!”
Wow, did I really give someone an entire floor? I rack my mind and try to recall doing this. I doubt she would lie about something like that. That would only lead to a quick death for her. On the other hand, I obviously have trouble keeping track of these things. The more I think about it, though, the more familiar it sounds. I look closer at my suspect wife, the one I supposedly gave a floor to, and suddenly it clicks. Oh yeah, I did give her a floor. That was… that was a really good night. Oh, she earned it.
“I did.” I’m careful to make sure I use that even tone I’d applied earlier. I’m trying hard to keep things civil.
Silence descends as the accusing wife goes very, very still. I watch in fascination as her face loses all trace of emotion, flattening into a carefully blank expression that reveals nothing. “I see.”
She turns and calmly walks away. The clack of her heels echo somehow seem to fill the hall and I notice even the nobles look nervous. The wife with the floor looks delighted as she follows the first one. I’m pretty sure something significant just happened but I know from experience that I will never understand my wives. They play at games that make the Nobles look like rank amateurs. My mind spins as I try to figure out just what I’d done.
I make it to the end of the hall before I realize I’ve completely ignored the Nobles. They’ve been getting more and more insistent while my mind plays over the events with my wives. They eventually become loud enough that I’m forced out of my thoughts and I turn to stare at them blankly. I wonder whether they’re more incensed at being ignored or being told no. I decide it doesn’t matter, so I turn away without a word.
I stop at the end of the hall and pause. I’m missing something important. I turn back and look around before spotting my two generals waiting patiently toward the back . Ah yes, that was it. My ticket out of this trap.
I wave off the Nobles amidst angry mutters but they do as they’re told. Even they know I have limits. My generals approach and I’ll admit I’m a little excited. Just seeing them brings to mind the old days when I swung a sword and commanded armies in a terrifying march of conquest. They then speak and I wish I’d ignored them too.
At first, I’m stunned by what they say. As they continue to speak, a large rock solidifies in my gut and drags me down into the depths of desolation. I have trouble processing their words, despite the evil simplicity of their logic. Accepting it is unthinkable.
They want to reduce the army. It’s too large, too difficult to manage, too expensive to maintain. The soldiers need to go home and build real lives, marry women and contribute to the Kingdom. At our present size, if the biggest threat to my Kingdom ever chose to attack, barely a tenth of my army would need to even wake up in the morning to defeat them. And so my generals, the men who’d help me conquer Kingdoms and overcome impossible odds, were telling me my army was too big.
I don’t cry. I’m a warlord. So instead, I hem and haw, rationalize weakly, and then finally promise to think about it. Of course, I’ll listen to them. Of course, I’ll follow their advice. I didn’t conquer the seven Kingdoms by ignoring my generals. I’ll do it, I promise. It’s just… well, when I do, I think a part of me will die and all that will be left is this… this, throne.
I turn on my heels and head into the throne room as dangerous thoughts and fantasies fill my mind. Can I start a new war? Maybe try and conquer Lorian? They’re not part of the seven Kingdoms but that’s mostly because of the impassable mountain range between us. Troop movements would be horrendously difficult across the mountain passes but at least it’d be a challenge.
Or… or… or maybe I can start a rebellion, instead? I know it may seem horrifying to orchestrate a rebellion against myself but at least it would get me away from these pandering fools. All of these thoughts and more fill my mind as I enter the throne room.
The room itself is massive, something like three or four stories high with incredible marble pillars — gilded in gold of course — and stain glass windows spraying the room in an indiscernible tapestry of color. I vaguely recall my awe when I first walked into this room victorious, sword in hand as all the Nobles trembled before me. I hadn’t realized at the time this place was a prison in all but name.
Toward the back from where I enter is a dais no less than twenty steps raised above the rest of the room. It is, quite literally, on the second floor. Anyone stupid enough to rush up the steps would barely make it to the fifth one before they were cut down by a dozen or so archers above. For some reason, that doesn’t make me feel better. I enter on the level of the throne and once again feel happy I don’t have to actually climb the twenty steps. I’m not lazy. It’s just that I’m reasonably sure I wouldn’t make it up in these stupid robes before tripping near the top only to die on the way back down. I can’t decide if that would be good or bad.
There are two thrones. Mine is a massive, gold monstrosity set dead center and beside it is a smaller one for my first wife. She’s not called a queen, by the way. She would only be called that if she were in my place as ruler of the Kingdoms. But because she’s not queen, she doesn’t have to actually be here for the petitions. And she’s not. She never is. I forgive her, though. Of all my wives, Sorai is the only one I know for certain who loves me. She’s the only one who’s treated me with admiration and compassion. So yes, I wish she were here if only to share this burden with someone.
I don’t sit yet, not that I want to. They must announce me, as though all present don’t already know who I am, and iterate through my many titles, listing each one out clearly and in sequence before I will sit down. Most of them I inherited once I became king. It takes five minutes. The whole time I think how nice it was when my only title was ‘that barbarian.’
Once I sit, the endless procession of petitions begin. They’re all the same. They’re always the same. Land disputes, thievery cases, requests for favor, requests for commendations, murder cases, and, of course, the occasional appeal for clemency, usually by some whimpering fool who thinks a warlord has mercy. I’d never realized how many idiots there were in this world until I began listening to them.
The first case is a land dispute. The offended parties are trotted out with an obscene amount of papers and documentation proving they own the contended land. Each will probably talk about long traditions and how the land had been passed down through the generations. If I’m lucky, the dispute will have devolved into a blood feud and I’ll get to hear about how their sons and daughters killed each other over the piece of dirt.
I’m not lucky. Not only is there no blood feud but it seems to boil down to some incompetent, long dead constable who managed to allocate overlapping lands. I idly wonder if I can have his descendants put to death. The man should not have been propagating his seed. I also wonder how it went so long without anyone noticing but then realize I don’t care.
What I do notice is there’s a road nearby, and that gives me a wonderful idea. So I interrupt whatever inane argument they’re babbling about and have the map of the region brought up to me. After waiting for some servant to make the arduous trek up to my heights, I take quill and ink and begin to draw. First, I shift the road between the two properties. It’s a little out of the way, but that road was curvy to begin with. Realizing the road is too narrow for more than one cart, I double its width. Now, just to be safe, I add margins on each side of the road in case weary travelers need to stop. Of course, roads are the property of the Kingdom, so I annex all that land. Once done, I lean back and look in satisfaction at the map. Each party’s property has probably been reduced by almost half from the land I took for the road. I think it an appropriate cost for wasting my time.
I hand the map back and explain what will happen as the map slowly makes its way back down. Since I don’t want to hear the inevitable whimpering about lost land, revenue, crops, or whatever, I proceed to explain that if either party opens their mouth to object, they will immediately be put to death, their lands forfeit to the other. To my delight, silence descends on the room. I watch in amusement as several people move out of line. Some of them are talking to each other, obviously somehow finding a way to reconcile irreconcilable differences. Realizing what I’d just done, I smile.
The rest of the day becomes a game to see how quickly I can get petitioners to vacate the line. It’s actually fun enough that I almost don’t notice the day’s passing, except perhaps by an increasing ache in my lower back. I fully confess that the severity of my decrees may have been closely tied to that ache.
Once done, I eagerly head back into the hallway before the announcer even had a chance to start. There is the usual assortment of favor-seeking Nobles but I summarily ignore them. I’m tired, stiff, and sore like I’d never been during the conquest. Most of my mind is dominated by the meal I’ll have with one of my wives tonight.
I get back to my room and my clothes are quickly changed by servants. I haven’t removed or donned my own clothes in a long time and I have yet to get over the humiliation I feel at this. But customs are customs and if I want to rule, I must abide that their customs. Kings are too lofty to dress themselves.
I’m quickly led out down a dizzying path of endless corridors, turns, and doors that constitute my palace I’ve never had the chance to explore. As we walk I recognize where we’re going and feel some excitement. I know this route. This route goes to my first wife, my favorite, Sorai. She’s always been the kindest to me. No, that’s not right. She’s always been the most geniune with her affections. That means a lot. Most of them are little more than little sycophants who desire nothing more than anything I want. I used to think that was perfect. I was an idiot. I admit it, I was, but I would beg the forbearance of any virile young man. We get strange ideas in our heads at times.
We arrive at her door and I immediately enter. There’s no need to knock since she’s my wife. What I see makes me smile, but I quickly close my mouth and swallow hard before I start drooling. She’s gone all out, adding candles and ambiance to an already massive feast set on a table that almost dwarfs the room. She stands beside her chair wearing an elegant dress that’s cut to accentuate her features, of which she has many. If that weren’t enough, the dress is just sheer enough to catch the barest of glimpses of what lies beneath it. I feel my loins respond, and for a moment, I’m tempted to forgo the feast. That desire flees before my famished hunger. I’m walking toward my chair before I’d had a chance to think it through. Sorai sits after me and we begin to eat.
I do not fear to eat with my wives. It’s the only time I don’t fear eating anymore. It would mean their death should I be poisoned at their table, and so I have the utmost confidence that every single morsel of food has been triple checked.
“So I hear you made quite the stir at the petitions today?” Her perfect lips tug upwards in a wry smile.
I snort between bites. “I finally found a solution to their problems and mine. I think it revealing just how many fled the line to resolve their issues on their own.”
“My husband… always coming up the most innovative solutions.”
I nod in return and reach for my cup, which I notice has a dark ale. Most of my wives give me wine, so another point for Sorai. I taste it and relish the deep bitter taste combined with high sweet notes of pine that make me feel as though I’m home. It’s perfect. I drink deeply and manage to finish the cup in just a few large gulps. My head swims and I smile.
Sorai watches me with interest as she sips her own wine. I can’t say I don’t enjoy the attention. Her black hair doesn’t even have a single strand out of place. I fully intend to fix that later.
She gets up and walks down the long side of the table with a pitcher in hand. My attention is torn between the pitcher and her hips, which sway gently from side to side.
“I just don’t understand why no one else sees it. I swear the nobles go out of there way to vex me.” She leans forward to fill my cup as I reply and I almost forget about the ale.
“Just give them time. I’ll make sure they see reason, husband.” Did she pause?
“You? What are you going to do?” I can’t quite recall ever drinking something this good.
“Reshape the Kingdom, dear.”
It takes me a moment to process her words. It takes me several more as I watch her backside sashay toward a nearby desk. Reshape the kingdom? What does that even mean?
I reach for my cup but find my hand struggling to respond. Now I really am impressed. It takes a lot of alcohol to get me like this. Must be some kind of double brew. I persist and manage to finish the cup. I lean back, feeling full and satisfied.
“I did that already. Conquered all seven Kingdoms and—”
“Yes, you did but don’t you realize the fatal flaw in your design?”
“I united the seven Kingdoms, what possible flaw could there be?”
I frown and try to reach for my cup again but my hand refuses to respond. My head continues to swim as I look toward my wife who has turned back around and is walking over. Her gait is slow and confident. Her sashay is gone. Something niggles at me, doubt maybe, but I can’t be sure. When did it get so bright in here?
Suddenly, she stands before me. I swear by all the gods I did not see her take those final steps. She takes my jaw tenderly in her hand and tilts it up so my eyes meet hers. I blanch. I see no love in those eyes, only victory.
“Your time is over, husband.”
Her tone has turned cruel, her smile vicious. But it’s the pause that strikes me dumb. Has she always paused before calling me husband? I think it must be so and yet I can’t understand how I never noticed it before.
She flings my face away with such force that I feel my head snap around before bouncing back. From the corner of my eye, I can see that her other hand holds a dagger and I know with certainty she intends to kill me with it.
I distantly regret that I will not die in glorious combat but instead will have my throat slit like some animal led to the slaughter. Yet I do not feel fear. Nor do I feel anger. Nor do I feel despair. I feel nothing as my emotions continue to die under the numbness that even now begins to creep up into my face.
The last thing I see is the hate in my wife’s eyes before the darkness takes my sight. The last thing I hear are shouts and what I think is a fight. My last thought is regret that I could not join it.
I feel a gentle rolling in the darkness. The back and forth of the constant motion lulls me for a while until I feel a lurch that drives my head into wood. I groan, daring to open my eyes but the sun spears my mind through them, creating a splitting headache.
“Ah! The fool’s awake!”
I recognize that voice. I’ve fought with that voice, conquered with that voice. It is one of my generals and the best one at that, Joren.
“What happened?” I dare not open my eyes again.
He chuckles for far too long. “Your wives happened.”
“Wait, wives… plural?”
“Every single one of them.”
I struggle to sit up but pain drives me back down.
“Well, poison, obviously.”
“Not what I mean.” I groan and earn another chuckle. He should not enjoy this so much.
“Your wives tried to kill you and take your throne. Failed at a that, they did. Or at least the killing. The throne, though, is theirs. Or perhaps I should say the thrones are theirs.”
“Sorai sits on your throne now. Calls herself Empress. Each of the seven Kingdoms was taken by one of your other wives, and the rest gained their own provinces, estates, and such. Knifed up the kingdoms, they did, like many so portions of a rare-done steak. And all done neatly. No war and without a single drop of blood, aside from yours that is. All well planned in advance, I’d guess.”
I take a few moment to process that. My wife… no wives tried to kill me and then stole all seven Kingdoms, doing in a day what took me a decade to conquer. I’m not sure what to think about that.
“Up to you, I’d guess. Us generals, we’d thought this might happen. We’d planned to hide away a good number of soldiers during the disbandment. Didn’t get a chance to, though.”
“You knew my wives would take my Kingdom?”
“Ha! Them? No. No, we thought it’d be the Nobles and we’d more thought it a rebellion than a coup. You right pissed off a good number of them and they’d been sticking those sticky fingers of theirs all up in the army and such. No, your wives we did not see coming. I dare say few did.”
“Then how am I alive?”
“Well, we heard about some plot to kill you. Seemed more plausible than all the others and—”
“Wait, what others?”
“—and so we aimed to intervene. I’ll be honest, though. We thought it a Royal plot. Had I not see Sorai with the knife in hand…”
“Come on now. You didn’t think you could do all that conquering without stirring up a few hard feelings, did you?”
“Well, no but… and why are we not at the palace? If you stopped the coup—”
“I did mention all your wives were involved, yes?”
I sit up, successfully this time, and look around through blurry eyes. We’re on a farmer’s wagon, and I sit amidst mounds of corn. I must have been out for a while for we’ve traveled well outside the plains. Large, grass covered hills surround us with an occasional patch of thick trees. We’re navigating the foothills as we slowly make our way toward mountains, the eastern reaches I think. Oh, the mountain passes.
“No other place to go. The wives, they call you dead, but if some random joker finds you about, I bet they’ll make good on that statement all quick like. What we do from there is up to you.”
I have no doubt he’s right.
“What’s Lorian like?”
I’d never bothered to find out. The seven Kingdoms were all I’d cared about during my conquest. Crossing the eastern reaches were treacherous on the best of days. I’d had no interest in trying to get an army through them.
“Farms, crops, livestock, and lots of empty space.”
“You been there?”
“Nope, just what I heard.”
We both fall into silence. I look behind me to see one of my other generals, Kreche, sitting with a pair of reign loosely held in his lap. No, not a general. These men lead no armies anymore. Instead, I decide to think of them as just friends. It was better that way. We were friends before we started this whole damn conquest and now we’re friends again.
Kreche looks exactly like a farmer. I look down and notice that I do too. Oddly, I don’t mind. The cloth itches a little but I know it’ll soon fade. More importantly, it is the last time someone will ever dress me.
“Any plans?” Kreche turns around to look over.
I lean back I place my hands behind my head and stare up at the clouds.
“No idea at all…”
I stare at a teacup and watch silently as the steam rises, noting the pleasant and familiar scent of a local herbal tea I’ve come to enjoy. The cup is dingy and a little stained, chipped on the side from before I ever owned it. It’s quite plain, with no gilding or dragons. It’s not wavy or ornate. It’s a simple cup like you might find almost anywhere. It’s my favorite one yet.
I drink the tea and enjoy the sweetened taste. Oh, it’s not so exotic as one from a rare plant grown on a distant island. In truth, the herb can be found all around Lorian, even in my back yard. But it’s free of poison, I know that. I’d swear it’s the best damn tea I’ve ever tasted.
I set the tea down, reach over, and pick up a strip of bacon. I eat bacon every day now and I don’t even have to buy it. I need but slaughter one of the pigs on my land and I can make enough bacon to last me a year. Next to the bacon are several fried eggs. They have no sauce unless you count the obscene amount of butter I cooked them in. I savor the taste.
It doesn’t take me long to devour the meal. I wash my plate, set it aside to dry, and then immediately head for the door to begin my day. On my way out, I grab a travel sack I’d prepared earlier. I step outside and smile to feel the morning sun on my face. There’s no one around but me and the animals, and so far they have not yet once asked me for a favor.
Today will be a good day, I think. I have to go into town for some supplies, so I secure the travel sack to my belt, check my coin purse, and begin walking. To my left is a barn with pigs, chickens, and cows about. I bought the barn off an old couple that’d been too elderly to care for it properly. I paid too much, and they retired in the city, which in truth is little more than a cluster of buildings that constitutes the town I’m heading to now. They always give me a warm, genuine smile when they see me, which itself was well worth the coin I paid.
It’s a good day for walking. I enjoy the warmth on me from the sun as much as I do the burn in my legs. I pass the seemingly endless fields of wheat that are my neighbor’s farm and enjoy the sound of it rustling lightly in the wind. The repetitive rows of yellow grained grass seem to extend out beyond the horizon. It looks to be a good crop this year. Joren and his new wife will be pleased.
There’s a girl in town I’ve had my eye on, the baker’s daughter in fact. Unless I’m blind, she’s had her eye on me as well. She’s not the beauties my other wives were but she has a nice smile and she says exactly what she means, which I like. I think to ask her on a date if she’ll have me. There’s a tavern nearby that should be fine for such a thing. It’s a little loud, perhaps, but I’ve learned to like such things since Kreche bought the place.
I decide that today I will buy a pastry from the baker.
I was born a barbarian and conquered seven kingdoms. I had a hundred wives, and maybe, just maybe, I might have one more. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier.