The Scholar and the Aged King

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 1

Challenge #10*: Write an allegorical horror story in collaboration with at least one other writer. The story must use each of the five senses at least twice, and include an element of foreshadowing.

My collaboration partners were: GDeyke, IntelligentZombie, ilyilaice, PsychoPath-et-ic, MyLovingWife, xXMoreWithinXx, LadyBrookeCelebwen, and Ag-Cat.

Once upon a time there was a great nation, and ruling that nation there was a great king. Yet the king grew old, and his senses began to fail him. When he gazed across the palace gardens, the pleasant sight was but a pleasant haze, and when he surveyed his kingdom, his eyes were greeted by mere clouds, where his advisors could plainly see smoke on the horizon.

Thus, though this great king was wise and his rule just, his court grew divided and his realm insecure. Bandits roamed the highways like wolves, while barbarians tore through villages like a ravenous inferno. Panic and fear spread like contagion, and soon flagellants became a common sight upon the streets of the capital, proclaiming this the end of days.

Had the king produced an heir, he would have passed on the throne. But he had not, and he could see that to force a new ruler upon the people in these dark times would only make their panic more dangerous still. The king would have despaired then, had his chief advisor not—quite loudly, of necessity—announced a visitor to his court.

This visitor came wreathed in a cloak that rustled like silk, and the cloak came wreathed in a peculiar scent: like woodland earth in rain.

“Your majesty,” began the visitor, his voice the whisper of the scythe through the corn. “Long have I lived in your great nation, and long has its plight moved me. I am but a humble scholar, yet in my studies I have discovered hidden words of unfathomable power. I believe I can restore your youth—and more—if you will be content to pay the price.”

The scholar’s gaze pierced through the king’s cataracts like sun through cloud, and the king could see his words were true. “All the gold in the palace coffers is yours,” he proclaimed, “if indeed you can do this thing.”

The scholar sighed. “Alas, for a feat such as this, gold is no better price than dust. The tithe must be of flesh, and your eyes must be my price.”

There were accusations of necromancy from the assembled court, but the king heard only murmurs. “Is there no other way?” he demanded.

“The servile spirits I command can accept naught else,” explained the scholar, sadly. “It is a terrible price, I know. And yet, I think, it is one that many would make, given the choice.”

“My eyes fail me already,” said the king. “They grow dimmer by the day. This is a choice I can easily make.”

And so the scholar recited the hidden words. All at once, a sulphurous smog filled the room, driving courtiers to the doors and even out the windows. It was a hot stench, hellborne, and yet the taste was of exotic spices when it passed over the king’s tongue. A great fissure opened in the floor of the throne room, and smouldering imps clambered out. In procession, they marched towards the king, then scaled his garments with nails hooked like the claws of bees. He felt their toes scrabbling for purchase against his skin. He saw their hands reaching for his eyes.

And then he saw no more.

And yet the king found himself not wracked by pain or crippled by despair, but sprightly and youthful once more. He leapt from the throne and turned cartwheels around the room, marvelling at how freely his joints moved, how keenly his ears detected tiny hands reseating the floor tiles and closing up the hole. That very afternoon he held a feast, savouring every salted meat, every baked fish, with renewed appreciation, for even the tip of his tongue was youthful once more.

However, the king had not made his sacrifice for his own gain, and so the next morning he set out to survey his lands once more. By the end of that first day, ten barbarians had tried to take his life, thirty thieves had tried to take his crown. But the king’s skill with a sword had been legendary in his younger days—it had seen him claim victory in countless royal tournaments—and so by that first night, there were forty fewer outlaws to blight the kingdom.

Seeing the disarray that had come to claim his realm, the king raised an army to beat back the surrounding hordes, and in no more than a year had made a vassal of each ambitious lord, and a ruin of each unyielding state.

And yet when the king returned to the capital, no sound of music greeted his ears, no smell of feasting touched his nose or made his mouth water with anticipation.

There was a rustle like silk, a scent like woodland earth in rain, and a voice like scythe through corn: “There were a great many who made your choice, your majesty. A great many indeed.”

The king’s horse reared in fright. The king’s men gibbered and screamed. Only the king could not see the scholar, and so only the king refused to flee. “What have you done, wretch?” he bellowed, drawing his sword. “What has happened to my kingdom?”

“Your kingdom has gained all that it ever wanted.” The voice passed high overhead, a cacophony of hands scrabbling for purchase against a wall. “Your subjects happily paid their tithes.”

The king saw then what had been done. He saw how the greatest threat to his kingdom had dwelt inside it all along. But even now, even alone, he would not surrender. In his brief campaign, he had learned to anticipate a foe’s strike by the sound of eye moving against lid, and to direct his own towards the spot where no chain shook or plate snapped.

He brought his guard up as the scholar descended: “No more talk, beast! No more deals!”

“No,” agreed the scholar, so close now. “With so much flesh, I have no need of them.”

A thousand eyes blinked in unison.

Ten thousand teeth closed in.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

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