Reflections from a Former Life

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Behr Valentine


“I disagree, your corpulence!” said the elaborately-dressed count. He bowed mockingly to the king while smugly winking to the hall full of courtiers over his shoulder.

The king had done quite well learning his new country’s language, but there were still unfamiliar words. Knuckles to mouth, he leaned toward his advisor. “Corpulence?” he asked quietly, as the advisor bent.

“Lard ass, sire.” The advisor smirked.

The king sighed heavily. The realm had been in the hands of inept and befuddled rulers for a century. The monarchy was now a neutered and collared anachronism to be laughed at even by its servants. He had been reared in secret in another country and brought to the crown when a series of nasty “accidents,” purported to be sorcery, had decimated the royal family. He was the family dynasty’s secret weapon. Their prince-in-hiding, who had been spirited away to grow up unaware he was a prince, safe because it was impossible for enemies to find him and poison his food or mind. No one had worried how hard it might be on him to be yanked from his happy life, told he was not who he thought he was, and placed on a foreign throne.

He had looked into the sorcery allegations out of fear for his own life and found only bored courtiers exaggerating odd coincidences into monstrous conspiracies. Raised among common working-class people who had neither the inclination, desire, nor time to invent such idiocy, he saw it for what it was: a random string of accidents caused by unwise or out-right stupid behavior. These courtiers were fools, yet they laughed at him! His every fault or mistake, once revealed, spread like ripples in a pond that grew to be waves with the re-tellings. They expected the king to be a fool and, the worst part of it was, he looked the part. If he had been a tall, dashing swordsman, things might have been different. He was a hosier, though, not a swordsman. A simple shopkeeper, but a damned clever merchant, who had carved out a large part of his competitor’s market share with shrewd trading. He missed his shop and its small duties and joys terribly, missed the feeling of winning.

The king noticed, as he perused his miserable situation, two young pages sneaking into the alcove where his personal snack tray was kept. Just yesterday, the larcenous little scamps had denied him the only pleasure left from his former life: afternoon tea and scones. “Stop them,” he said, turning and pointing.

The boys ran, giggling.

When the king turned back, he saw the courtiers were dismayed. How did I know they were sneaking back there? he wondered. Ah, he had seen their blurred reflection in the burnished breast plate of one of his royal guards. To others the distorted images meant nothing, but to a shopkeeper every reflective surface was an ally against thievery. He glanced around again. For the first time since his coronation, he saw something other than laughter in their eyes. He realized their bored minds were primed to make more of it than it was. The throne room was nothing but polished sliver and gold on every available surface and person. He cast about for an idea and saw the young cookie thieves now sitting on a bench, playing a hand game.

“I wonder, your grace,” asked the king. “Do you play the game Cloth, Shears, Stone, in this, my kingdom?”

“We call it Paper, Scissors, Rock, your immensity,” replied the count.

“We are at an impasse on the subject before us. Why not settle it with a game?”

“A child’s game, your enormity?”

“Simple, quick, easy! Why not?”

“I suppose it’s as good as any way, my large liege.”

“Very well.” The king placed his hand behind his back. In the multiple reflections from behind the count, the king saw scissors and quickly made a fist.

“Stone… excuse me, rock crushes scissors! I win.” The king grinned.

“It was but a small matter, your rotundity,” sneered the count.

“Yes, but I won! Next!”

Six petitioners presented their claims and all fell to him in quick succession. He used the shrewdness of any good shopkeeper to read them, knew a scissors or rock man by his look, confirmed it in the multiple reflections, and trounced him. With each win, the worry lines deepened in the faces before him.

“Stop those thieving pages,” he yelled, not looking around. When the boys ran again, the courtiers’ worry moved toward fright. It smacked of sorcery! The hawker in him realized it was time to strike. “Don’t fret,” he smiled. “My royal cousins all lost to me as well!”

“But your majesty,” stammered the count, truly alarmed. “You did not know them! They died before you were made aware of your peerage!”

Like any crafty salesman, the king had practiced the art of looking caught in a lie and trying to hide it. “Oh, ah, right, right! Ha ha! I’m joking, of course!” Looking about, he saw the idea take root. This king had risen to his throne because those in line above him had died… of sorcery!

He spotted a reflection of movement from around the corner in the hallway to the kitchen. “Ah, my tea!”

The courtiers looked back at the empty doorway. A second later, the maid stepped in and nearly dropped the tray when she saw so many horrified faces looking at her.

“Next!” the king announced to the line of petitioners.

“My Lord Majesty,” the man went to his knee. “I bow to your wisdom, dread sovereign, and withdraw my petition!”

“As do I,” said several others.

“Good!” remarked the King silkily. Pointing to the scones, he snapped his fingers, and his advisor nearly ran for them. “Much better for your health, I should think,” he remarked to the kneeling petitioner as he examined his fingernails.

Every courtier in the room gulped and stepped back from the fearsome wizard-king.

He sipped his tea delicately. This might turn out to be fun after all, he reflected.

pencil

Behr is a former Electrical Engineer who is now the wine master at a Midwest winery. He is currently working on a novel on the meth-amphetamine problems in the local farm community. E-mail: behrvalentine[at]excite.com.

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