Long ago, in a land far away, old King Tauron, the ruler of Sardis, lay dying. Propped up on golden pillows covered in the finest silk, the King surveyed the opulent chambers around him. Marble columns supported curving arches that enveloped the space surrounding his canopied mahogany bed. Through the arched bed chamber, a vast space spread out before him. From an opposite row of twelve foot high windows, adorned with intricately patterned lamé drapes and solid gold cornices, Tauron’s Kingdom stretched out in front of him. Over the stone turrets of his castle, rolling green hills met the horizon. A chambermaid scurried about gathering soiled linens while a nurse gently swabbed the King’s brow with a cool, moist cloth. Merlis, the King’s trusted advisor, sat beside the sprawling bed on a gold leafed side chair. He leaned forward anxiously with paper and pen in hand, ready to record the King’s final instructions.
Tauron, with a feeble wave, dismissed the servants and turned his attention to Merlis. The King, once a hulking specimen of manhood, lay shivering under a satin sheet and goose down comforter. Jaundiced skin and dark brown splotches on his arms and hands betrayed the failure of his vital organs. King Tauron looked down at his trusted old friend through dull, watery blue eyes. With cracked lips, he spoke in a soft, yet commanding tone: “Merlis, I will be dead soon. I wish to set forward my final wishes before that time to ensure they are carried out to my satisfaction.”
“Yes me Lord”, Merlis replied with wide eyes, suddenly at rapt attention. “Whatever you require of me, I shall do your bidding.”
The King struggled to an upright position against the lush pillows that supported him. He raised a withering arm in a sweeping motion. “Merlis, look around us. Tell me what you see.”
Obediently, his advisor looked around, sightlessly. With uncertainty he replied, “The King’s quarters, me Lord, your royal domain.”
Tauron scoffs at the notion with a dismissive grunt. “Merlis, you are loyal to a fault and I should be heartened by your response but, my friend, I don’t have time for such blind observation. Let me tell you what I see. I see the misery of others all around me.” The King pointed toward his bedside. “Look at that silver plate. While I am served the finest meats on precious metal, peasants are eating rodents out of filthy wooden bowls. Look at that gold leafed chamber pot Merlis. Is it not filled with the same piss and shit that the subjects of Sardis haul to the river in wooden buckets? What of these satin pillows that support my failing frame in comfort? Are they in the drafty hovels of the ailing and dying masses? No, my friend, the peasants die on wooden bedframes supported by hair they gather from starving plow horses.” Merlis, the luxury and opulence you behold is bought and paid for by the sweat and misery of others. To see it with blind eyes makes it nonetheless evil and misappropriated. I am sequestered in a cold tomb Merlis, colder than the one I will soon rot in I suspect.”
“You should not speak this way your grace,” Merlis replied with in look of disbelief. “Sire, you were born in the lineage graced by the Gods of Sardis. This was your divine birthright to which you were called. To denounce this is to denounce that which is holy and good. Surely your fever causes you confusion of thought.”
“Merlis, you are a good man but you are stupid and weak. Your blindness saddens me. Granted, your station as my advisor has afforded you great comfort within the confines of this royal fortress, but to dismiss my words makes you a selfish fool.”
Merlis bowed his head in silence wishing to end further discussion for fear that the Gods would strike them both dead.
Tauron, allowed a moment to pass before continuing. “Write down my wishes and draft the decree before the sun sets. It will be my final atonement for the luxury my birth has afforded me. Merlis, you are well aware of the ridiculous amount of gold the Kingdom of Sardis retains within its royal vault. We have pillaged other lands and taxed the life’s blood from our citizens for a hundred years. The putrid spoils of my family’s tyranny lie safely sequestered under this impenetrable fortress. The riches of Sardis are guarded by soldiers as blindly loyal as you are. It is time to rid ourselves of, at least, a portion of its deadly weight. Let it be decreed that the head of each family of Sardis be paid the sum of ten thousand denaris. Let the representatives from each Tribe inform their inhabitants of this. The money will be distributed to all that make their way to the castle gate to pledge their allegiance to Sardis. Those that are employed in the direct service of the Castle and Kindom shall be paid a sum of twenty thousand denaris. These payments shall commence at once. It is decreed by Tauron, the King of Sardis, and disposition of this decree may not be set aside.”
Merlis dutifully recorded the words of the King before looking up from his scroll. “Your Majesty”, he said. “This is a large task. You do realize this, do you not?”
“Yes, Merlis. I am also confident in your ability to carry out my decree.”
“ King, please forgive my questioning but, have you also considered the impact this decree will have on your son who will succeed you. This action will greatly weaken the Kingdom’s central power and may compromise his ability to be an effective monarch. He will be hard pressed to rule the Kingdom on the heels of such extravagant largess…”
The king silences him with a snort of disapproval. “Don’t speak to me of that drunken, ass chasing little twit. He will destroy Sardis regardless of any actions on my part. It is because of him that I make my decree and want it carried out before my demise. Sardis will wither under the rule of that spineless, selfish little jellyfish. He knows little and cares for nothing but his own salacious desires. I want the people of Sardis to have, at least, a little nest egg that might help them weather the storm of his reign.”
“He will act in defiance of your wishes sir.”
“Well then, all the better for you to act quickly, Merlis. Go now and set my decree into action. I am tired and need to rest.”
With the King’s dispatch, Merlis gathered his things and exited the chambers through the heavy double doors, into a long, stone hallway. He offered a nod to the armed soldiers who stood guard on either side of the entrance. Head down, mumbling in disbelief, he scurried away toward a darkened stairway at the end of the hall.
From a side servant’s entrance to the King’s chambers, Prince Phinneas stood at the top of the darkened stairway staring, tight lipped, at the door that separated him from his ailing father. With an ear against the wooden door, he had heard the entire conversation between the two who conspired to squander his birthright. He clenched his fists as he burned with anger. How dare that doddering old fool speak of me in such a disparaging way? He thought of his beloved mother, the Queen. If she was still alive this would never be happening. He was drunk from the wine he allowed himself to ease the hangover from the night before. As his anger rose, so did the pounding in his head. He fought the urge to run away in search of more wine and a willing chambermaid, opting instead to confront the situation. With a shaking hand, he turned the doorknob and entered quietly. The King lay dozing in the opulence of his sanctum. He crossed the room with light steps so not to disturb the old man’s slumber. He stopped short at the foot of the King’s bed and stood rigidly, staring at the gaunt figure in front of him.
“Father, I wish to talk to you”, he said loudly, awakening the King with a start.
Tauron opened his eyes, searching for the source of interruption to his rest. The light through the windows shone brightly around the figure in front of him and for a brief moment he was afraid. Focusing, he frowned at the recognition of his son. “What do you want Phinneas? I need my rest.”
“What do I want? I want to speak to you Father. I want to know why you wish to rob me of my birthright?”
Tauron shook his head in confusion. What nonsense do you entertain today boy? Are you drunk? Leave these chambers immediately before I call a guard to have you removed. Your impudence knows no boundaries. Now leave me at once.”
Phinneas stood his ground. “Not this time father. You think me a spineless jellyfish? You think me incapable of ruling Sardis? It appears to me Father, that you are the one incapable. You in your delirious dotage attempt to give away the Kingdom’s riches to the mongrels that litter our domain. Those that have done nothing in service of the Kingdom we have spent generations building, you wish to reward them? I think not old man. I will not allow it.”
Tauron, awake now, stared at his son, while struggling to sit upright. “WHAT, do you know of these mongrels you speak of?” he hissed, “YOU, the illegitimate bastard of a foot soldier.”
“Have you lost what little mind you have left father? Has the fever overtaken your senses? I am your son you delirious old fool.”
“No Phinneas, I raised you. But my blood does not flow in your veins.”
“I’ve heard enough of this nonsense father. I shall go to fetch the doctor. Obviously you have taken leave of your senses. I will assume your position as King immediately.”
“You will listen to what I have to say Phinneas. After I have spoken, you will take your leave.”
Something in the King’s voice gave the Prince pause. He stood silently facing the King, who now sat up straight in his bed, frail arms supporting his weight. His deep set eyes burned with intensity as he measured the young man in front of him. He spoke with seething intensity.
“Your mother abandoned my bed long before you were conceived. She was young and filled with a passion that could not be sated by a man of my years. She tired of my attention. To be honest, my attention was diverted by the responsibility I bore in protecting our Kingdom. While I was away fighting against the armies of Godan, your mother took a lover. When I returned, her heart was with a common soldier who was left behind, tasked with protecting the Castle. In my anger and jealousy, I had him killed, but it was too late. Your seed was already planted. To save face, I said nothing. I claimed you as my own. Your mother took solace in wine and spirits and died a painful death because of her vice.”
Tauron paused and deafening silence fell over the room as the two stared at one another. Dumbstruck, Phinneas tried to gather his wits, but the bile in his throat robbed him of both voice and reason.
It was Tauron that finally broke the silence. “And you, the son of a commoner and a weak-willed tart, stand before we speaking of birthright. What do you have say of this divine sanction now my boy?”
Phinneus struggled to speak but his scrambled brain allowed only a low moan to escape his lips. With the instinctual reaction of a cornered cat, he reached for the dagger sheathed at his side. In a singular motion, Phinneus raised the pointed blade above his head and lunged at his father. A second later, the two were face to face staring at one another. Phinneus pushed himself upright straddling the old man’s thin frame. He gazed with curiosity, at the crimson colored stain spreading from the knife’s handle across the front of the King’s white linen gown. His eyes moved upward to those of his father who stared back at him, lifelessly.
Withdrawing the blood smeared weapon from the King’s chest, Phinneas slowly crawled down from the ornately carved bed that was now his own. Sheathing the blade, he padded silently across the marble expanse toward the servant’s entrance. He gave brief pause to survey the luxurious accommodations before slipping through the door, closing it quietly behind him. He raced down the narrow, stone stairway with a singular intent. He needed to find Merlis, at once.
Daily Post: <a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/luxury/”>Luxury</a>