“Service to a King often comes at a price. That price usually includes one’s own time, pleasures, will and every so often, dignity. But my service was no less worthy than hers, so why should I have been thrown out with the rotten kitchen scraps as if I had never served my master faithfully for more than two decades? More importantly, why is she so highly favored of a king that has known her less than a month? She is rotten, I say, rotten! I shall unveil her secret designs, even if it costs me my life.”
A little less than one month earlier…
“My lord, my lord, Princess Aielandi shall present herself before your lordship within the hour with gifts from her homeland. So say the messengers.” I don’t know why I was breathing hard, unless you factor in the 569 steps it took to reach the top of the King’s tower. I, Torm Yailhunt, was used to more composure from myself than I displayed before the king at this moment. I knew I needed to calm myself more or the king would grow suspicious of both me and the arrival of Princess Aielandi. So I gathered myself into the form of a statue and continued my message to the king.
“Princess Aielandi of the southern-most realm of our lands wishes to abide in your presence while the gifts are presented. Although it is custom in her lands to have her servants enter before with such gifts, she wishes to be present at her unveiling. The gift she brings must be remarkable indeed if she is to break with her own tradition. I shall make all necessary arrangement for her housing, she shall be cared for greater than all but yourself, sire.”
Bowing to my King was second nature to me. I actually stopped thinking about what it meant after the first year. But he enjoys watching others bow to him, but he’s never killed anyone for forgetting or for unenthusiastic bows, but I still don’t think I will ever test him on that note. A nod from his head is all that I require to know that my actions are his will. And with a nod I strode from the room back down the tower stairs and into the courtyard to await the Princess’ arrival.
I managed all the King’s affairs, and did it with precision. By the time the Princess had arrived all arrangements had been settled for her stay at the castle for an indefinite period of time. Servants had been assigned to guide and assist the servants she was already bringing with her. A guard had been set around the Princess, 8 of the noblest and mighty knights of our King’s realm (those not guarding the king) were assigned to keep her alive at the cost of all their lives. This was in addition to the guard that she brought with her.
The southern-most realm had been a mystery to many, until recently. Most thought it a mountainous jungle region where civilization was sparse. Certainly it wasn’t the best place for crops, and game was equally delicious as it was venomous. Nobody really expected there to be a thriving kingdom among those trees and mountains, we mostly believed it to be terrain unfit for life…well, respectable, human life to be exact.
Princess Aielandi was the contradiction of our beliefs, and her presence signaled a renewed hope for further exploration of our world and the hope of new peoples heretofore undiscovered. And here Princess Aielandi stood before me, having descended from her carriage and taken three long strides she looked closely into my eyes and smiled. So far so good, I thought to myself. I felt and ease and a sense of comfort that made my mind feel free and lively, but my heart questioned it. Quickly I shut the door on my heart, all seemed in perfect order.
“It is an honor, Princess Aielandi, to welcome you to the King’s realm,” I said cordially. “Our people’s hopes and dreams have been reawakened by your presence. The King awaits the honor of your presence and is particularly curious of the gift you bring and, might I add, the manner of its giving.”
In the moments that followed, most of which I strain to remember now, I heard flow from her lips the most melodious and beautiful voice I ever recall hearing in all my days. The music of it washed over my senses and filled my mind with images of glorious mountain peaks, crystal clear flowing waters, brilliantly colorful animals grazing in the fields that stretched in front of a high mountain castle with golden battlements and silver trumpeters piercing the valleys with even the softest blows on their horns. Princess Aielandi was enchanting.
Upon reaching the King’s chamber at the top of the tower, Princess Aielandi, followed by myself and both of the guards now assigned to her, approached the King. Stopping at the squared carpet containing the royal seal of a mighty golden dragon on a dark green background, with the royal flower embroidered along the edges, Princess Aielandi fell to her knees and offered up her praise to my King. Then opening her hands she produced a small object, a ring.
This ring was made of a pure white element, nothing like gold or silver, but more like a white rock polished until the blaze of it drove your eyes away from its brightness. Set in the white, stone ring was a black jewel. The depths of it’s blackness made it appear nearly translucent, as if by looking at the stone you could see through it to anything that you wished, making it look like it wasn’t there at all, but a vision of another time or place or wherever the heart longed to go. I caught myself staring into the jewel, afraid to see something that would turn my focus away from my service to the King. Looking around a the guards I noticed that I wasn’t alone, all of them were in a trance-like state, all staring at the most startling and beautiful ring any of us had ever seen.
Raising his hand the Princess went forward and placed the ring on the first finger of the King’s right hand. The King smiled, thanked Princess Aielandi, and gave her leave. They would meet again this evening at a royal feast given in honor of the Princess’ visit.
Almost a month later…
Crash! The doors burst open and the new Queen Aielandi’s guard burst through and grabbed me by my neck, dragging me from my room, and down to the front gates of the castle.
“Out you go, traitor!” was the cry; first from the rabid guards, but then by the Queen herself. “You shall never again grace the presence of my lord. You are banished from the King’s realm. Now go! Go before I change my mind and have you executed.”
“You are a devil witch, and I shall kill you if you do not bring the axe upon my neck tonight. You shall be the one who was revealed as traitor, not me!” I yelled. Then, seeing the seething in her eyes and on her lips I did what any rational person would do, I ran. The guards were close behind, but I was able to find my way into a secret grove of trees, one of which was hollowed out in order to fit a small staircase that led to an underground room. Quickly I opened the side of the tree without being seen and slipped in just as a contingent passed by the grove. Safely inside I began my plan for revenge. But first, I had to figure out what changed the heart of the King I had loved and served for so many years.
I suspected, from the first day the Princess, now Queen, visited, that her gift was a trap, a black hole that would suck in the lives of anyone and anything that gazed into its depths for too long. How I was able to avert my gaze at that first meeting, or rather how I became aware of its power and had the will to pull my eyes from it is not so much a mystery to me as it was to the Princess then. She had noticed I did not stare into the gem’s depths as long as the king or the guards, but she didn’t know why. I did.
From my early years I had been the apprentice of a wizard. At least that’s what he called himself, to the general public he was a crazy old man. But what he taught me I had been able to use in the service of my King. More than one time did I save his life with magic, and more than once he thanked me. He knew of magic’s existence and enjoyed learning what he could on the subject. But few were the magicians of the land and fewer were powerful enough to do anything with it. All those with the greatest skill in magic were in service to the King. Until Princess Aielandi showed up. Her magic was darker, magic I had never encountered or learned of. I didn’t have a plan, yet, of how I would rescue the King from the Queen’s spell, but I knew it started and ended with the ring.
I was always one for talking in my sleep, or so said my apprentice. As the morning sun peered through the tiny shafts made for the entry of light into my hidden fortress, I remember saying “I shall unveil her secret designs, even if it costs me my life.”
A voice brought me out of my dream and into reality. “I can oblige you, if you wish.”
Terror, a new emotion for me, was the only feeling seen in my eyes as I looked up into those of Queen Aielandi. Her voice no longer enchanted me as it did the first day we met, I saw past her façade as easily as through clear glass. She continued in what was to be her final speech before my death. Dulcet to everyone else, bitterness rang in her tones.
“Nice place you have here, Torm. I especially enjoy the secrecy of your new home, so convenient for so many things. I see my your extensive library here that you are well versed in magic. Hmm, interesting. But not all kinds, am I correct?”
I nodded yes.
“Yes, well that’s too bad. I’m sure if you knew who I was you could defeat me, but alas you don’t, and so you shall die. It’s a pity, really, we could have been…” then running her finger down the side of my face, along the muscles in my neck and then slowly down my chest, then stomach, then…”friends.”
Repulsed by the idea of being “friends” with the sorceress, I grabbed her hand and yanked it away from my…
Then I noticed something else, she wore a ring on her hand. It was the virtual opposite of the King’s new ring. The stone that made the ring was pure black, and mirrored all light that touched it. Set among the dark stone was a crystal white gem. I looked up at her and smiled, confident I had found what she believed so clever to have disguised.
“White, not black. Very interesting, my Queen. The power to have all things escape you, all your feelings, even your will may leave you, but you need a black hole to draw it in. You needed the King to put on the ring of the black hole in order to receive all that you offered with your white hole ring.”
Startled the Queen tried to step back, gasping as my grip became more fierce. “White holes, black holes, nonsense you speak, Torm, nonsense I say.”
“Our astronomers have their theories, I don’t understand all of them. But often they speak of these black holes amongst the stars that suck in all goodness and light. I assume that if there are black holes that attract all to them, there must be opposition to it, white. These must eject light and matter and whatever else they choose. It seems to me that all it would take is for one to put on your ring with the crystal white stone, present the black hole to someone, and every desire of yours would be absorbed by the wearer of that ring.”
At this the Queen started and was about to scream until I continued talking. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, my Queen,” as I pulled with my free and a knife from under the pillow. “It appears that you will not rule here after all, a new ruler shall emerge from this and I think I know who it will be.”
And with that I cut off the finger of the Queen, who collapsed on the floor to rise no more. Then I slid the ring from the Queen’s finger and placed it on my right hand. Pleased with my discovery I quickly and quietly made my way back to the castle and up the King’s tower to the royal chamber. The King stood as I approached the throne and asked, “Torm, what is it that you wish to do? Have you not been labeled a traitor? Why should I not kill you now? What is it that you want?”
The perfect question, what do I want?
Then I felt the power of my ring, and the King lowered his head, looked into the black gem on his ring, and the Kingdom became mine forever.