A Word in Your Ear, From Father to Son (Part 1)

black queen
He could imagine each brick of his city crumbling under the ogre siege of the Black Queen, his subjects screeching as they turn tail and desert him in the face of the enemy, his friends abandoning him for a coward and vacillator.

The Black Queen of the Third Sea of Rhye was marching upon the land. Within a day her ogre hordes would breach the city gates, and before the sun would set that day the Rockhill keep would fall to her hand, she who reigns with the left and rules with the right.

King Peter IV stood over the rampart of the Rockhill keep, the highest height in the Kingdom of his fathers before him, and amid the mutterings of his court, amid the clattering and clanking drawn swords and of pauldrons and cuirasses placed upon shoulders with care, he trembled. He could imagine each brick of his city crumbling under the ogre siege of the Black Queen, his subjects screeching as they turn tail and desert him in the face of the enemy, his friends abandoning him for a coward and vacillator. Those frowns from his friends were the worst of all the phantasmagoria his terrified mind conjured up for his eyes like an uninvited troupe of mummers. He trembled, and waited, and heard the intermittent boom of her great battering ram assaulting the gates of his father’s city, and his fathers before him. He trembled, and waited, and held the letter in his hand.

In your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, his father told him when he was just a boy, young enough to sit upon the lap of his father, King Robert IV, yet old enough to never forget his words, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

Among the myriad troubles that made his fingers quake, this letter, and the injunction his father put upon it years ago, only added to them. Is it indeed my darkest hour, he agonized to himself as the battering ram from afar kept the time like clockwork, or… is it? True, the Black Queen was a formidable foe, and true, she was poised to march upon the ruins of his city any moment now. But was she indeed to be his worst foe? Or would it technically be more appropriate to wait for the moment when the gates were breached, and her army of ogres sacking the streets and houses of the city, and the Queen herself with her ankle pressed against his neck, her sword pointed at his heart? Should that be his worst hour? Or what if he was to scour the depths of his heart to find the courage to face her on his own, and emerge triumphant? Would he then live to see another day, and with that day, another dire moment of urgent need? This thought did not give him any respite either, for he could find no such courage in his heart to do so. Whatever course of action he took this day, fight and die, flee and live in infamy, it pained him to know that his decision would come with the inexorable fact that he had not the fortitude of his own convictions to reinforce it.

He smashed his fist upon the railing of the balustrade once more, despite the dull bruise already forming there. The first of my father’s name would have never sunk to this depth, he told himself once again. That King Robert who slew the dragon that laid waste to the land, brought home with him the bounty of a hundred kings, and founded the grand kingdom for which now he was not worthy to let its sun shine upon his brow, let alone presume to rule it entire.

It was this pang of regret, this display of shame at the memory of his ancestor, that finally made another moment of inaction unbearable to him. He broke the seal of the letter and it burst open with pages, many more than he was expecting. Surprised by the weight of the papers in his hands, he began to read:

“A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Peter, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example:

It was the second year of my reign, long before you, my dear boy, were even a thought. I had placed my own dear father, King Peter the Third of your name, to rest in state in the family crypt, and I hoped to do him proud and administer to the grand kingdom he had left in my care. There were happy times, and there were minor challenges more or less overcome, until one day, when I received an alarming report:

A hamlet village within the confines of my kingdom had been destroyed beyond all recognition. What was once houses made of wood and stone had become piles of rubble and refuse, farmers and their families and their livestock had fallen into enormous fissures in the ground, gigantic openings into what could have been hell itself, where was once gentle fields of wheat and barley.

The outcry from the people over such devastation was too great to ignore. I first sent small dispatches of the king’s army to investigate the site, and they failed to return. I then sent larger regiments, then the best mounted knights, then the best of the landed nobles in my domains, then indeed my top generals and their legions. I sent cannons and horse and archers and men with pikes and axes. All of them left and never returned. Even worse than this was, while I was watching my standing army disappear with no explanation, I in turn received more reports of devastation, of more farming villages laid waste, the trees uprooted, the land overturned, the water befouled, the crops and livestock all gone.

A few months had passed since the first dire report, and by then there was no one left to send, no farmers or merchants left to draft, no revenues left to levy. It became clear that I myself was the only warrior left. If anyone was to stop whatever horror was ravaging the land, it was to be me alone.

I rode from the palace and headed toward the closest town from the capital, the one which at this point was the latest to suffer from the mysterious abomination. Though I rode for what I recognized was a day, I noticed the sun had set far earlier than it should have. The closer I came to the town, the more the smell of whatever the outrage was offended my nostrils, as if the town entire kept their privies directly in front of the city gates and open for all. I arrived, and the moment I dismounted from my horse, even he, my dear friend who saw many a hard battle beside me, whinnied and kicked up his legs and turned tail running away back to the capital before I could get in a single word against it. I turned to the town, looked up, and saw at that moment why it appeared the sun had fallen, and why the air was so foul, and why even my dear steed could not bear another moment thence:

giant
“The next little person who presumes to order me about, king or no, I will squash under my heel!”

A gargantua was in my midst, and indeed, everyone’s midst, or at least anyone still left in the town. I saw the ghastly large man grab heifers by the handful and swallow them whole, barely chewing before the terrified and still-mooing creatures slid down the fiend’s throat. Every step the thing took broke another crack in the ground and made the earth around him tremble. He must not have bathed in years, which already made being in his presence unbearable, but the results of his feasts of entire livestock and entire silos of grain passing through his body created a stench in the area that would have made even those damned souls in the deep stygian retch and wail in further despair.

I could barely keep the traveling provisions I had earlier eaten in haste down in my stomach, and I am sure my face must have turned green as I trembled and drew my sword. I could hardly look my foe in the eye, once I had his attention, and I must have muttered something I thought sounded courageous, something determined, but could have only been ridiculous.

‘You,’ he roared, ‘it’s the little people of the world like you who keep telling me what to do. Telling me I can’t eat here, can’t dance there, can’t piss and shit over there. Never again! The next little person who presumes to order me about, king or no, I will squash under my heel!”

I almost keeled over from his breath alone, let alone his menacing words. I felt worthless. The handful of survivors were looking to me for protection, and I was failing them. I saw a woman there, a poor but proud and beautiful farmer’s widow, shielding her two children from the large man’s attack. In my youth I would have dreamed of rescuing one like her from the monster, sweeping her off on her feet and carrying her back to the palace to be wed, but as those daydreams occurred to me even then I recoiled in shame. What was I really going to do, I a mere little man of the world, just as he said? Poke and prod him with my sword until he became annoyed with me, drive him away like a gadfly so that he runs off to another town to befoul? In my lowest moment of despair, I thought back to the example of the first king of my name, King Robert the Dragonslayer. He would have never cowered like this in front of his enemy. Here I was, wincing and weeping at the mere bad breath of a large man, and here my great ancestor before me was standing tall and brave against a beast whose breath was the very flames of hell! What a man, what a very hero of a king he was, and what an utter little boy I was in his shadow.

My sword would prove to be impotent against the gargantua, but that was not all I had. I of course had the letter. The letter my father, King Peter the third of your name, my boy, wrote to me, the same he gave me when I was just a boy, young enough to sit up on his lap, but old enough to never forget the words he told me: in your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

His words gave me pause, at first. Was this indeed my darkest hour, my most dire moment of urgent need? Was there a chance I’d survive this, I’d overcome this foul gargantua and save the handful of villagers left in this peaceful farming hamlet? I knew that if there was a solution to my plight, I could not find it anywhere within my heart, and that the words of my father before me were the only ones I hadn’t yet considered. I broke the seal and the pages of my dear father’s letter burst open. I was happy he had so much to say to me even in my hour of dire need, and I read on:

‘A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Robert, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example.

It had been maybe a year or so into my reign, long before you, my dear boy, were even a thought, and the memory of laying my dear father to rest, King Robert the third of your name, was fresh on my mind. There were happy times, and there were minor challenges more or less overcome, but all throughout I couldn’t help but think we were behind the times, I and the kingdom I now led, the kingdom of my father and his before him who entrusted it to my care.

I was approached in my court one day by a mysterious man, who called himself a technomancer, a nobleman from a far-off land by the name of Ioannus Mallorium. He presented to me what he called at the time his greatest invention. But when I reached out my hand to accept his gift, he simply placed a coin in my hand. There was nothing unusual about this coin, and in fact I recognized it quite well, as it was the same gold solidus with my likeness upon it that my country had minted not a year past. I asked the man to explain himself, and he responded by first placing an hourglass on the floor and turning it upside down. He then produced a scroll, one I was once again quite familiar with, the Domesday Chronicle which surveyed all the lords and lands of my entire kingdom.

“First,” he instructed me, “observe the state in which this hourglass is at this moment, and then flip the coin in the air as you would any.”

I did, and then he proceeded to read from the Domesday Chronicle! There were easily twenty scrolls worth of writing in that entire document, and after an hour of listening to the man recite this dry census I implored him to arrive at his point. The technomancer insisted, however, that I listen to the entire survey!

“It is imperative I read the all the scrolls therein,” he told me, “or else none of what will follow will seem wondrous.”

It seemed the day was about to end when he finally arrived at those domains starting with the letter Z. An hour and a half later he had finally finished. I rose from my seat in a fury and was ready to throw him out for wasting my time, when he raised his hand to stop me and bid me to catch the coin I had earlier flipped. Astounded, as many hours had passed and I had forgotten about the thing since, I reached out my hand and the coin fell flat upon my palm. The stranger then bid me look at how many of the sands in the glass had passed since we started the recitation. I looked to the floor, expecting the glass to long since have passed the sands to its bottom half. I marveled at what I saw instead: the sands were still flowing, as if he had just turned it over!

“Yes, it’s true, not a single second of time has passed. When one flips the coin, he enters into the aeviternity, where time, rather than passing in eternity, that is, without end, simply does not pass at all! When one flips the coin, one is outside of time, and therefore paradoxically has infinite time to do what he pleases, read what he pleases, invent what he pleases, go anywhere in the world, practice at anything until he becomes proficient. Infinite time, infinite knowledge, and infinite power.”

He was willing to trade the coin with me, all for a single boon: I was to give him my throne for but a single day. I leapt at the chance! What was the throne to me but a chair of wood and velvet, a place to rest myself, compared to this wondrous object? How many more thrones could I make with infinite time, what other grand discoveries could I find and bestow upon my kingdom?

I drew up a contract, and we agreed: when the next sun rose upon the kingdom, he would vacate my throne and return it to me at once, at which point I would return the coin to his hand. Having settled that, I took the coin from the gentleman and bade him sit upon my throne.

I had much to do. I first went to the libraries of the world and read every single book. Philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences, astronomy, and some fiction too. I even picked up a few ideas from the great writers and tried my hand at some epic poetry, but I won’t bore you with it, my son, it was not a great first attempt. With my Queen’s hand in mine we explored every place in the world, and when we needed to eat or a place to stay, we allowed one or two people into the aeviternity to provide us with their services, then discreetly left them to the real world.

I then set up my labs nearby the capital, abuzz with new ideas for flying machines, tall buildings with illuminated signs, entire libraries that could fit into one’s pocket. I finished, and then took a moment to exit the aeviternity, just to see how my kingdom was doing. I was appalled by what I saw.

robot city
A city full of metal men, automatons, and not a single man or woman of flesh and blood among them.

What I had spent the day dreaming up, the mysterious man had achieved tenfold in my absence. There were the tall buildings of my dreams, reaching all the way to the sky. There were the flying carriages, there were even mansions with wheels that moved upon the roads! There were light skiffs designed for instant travel upon the water, and even, if you so desired, instant travel to the heavenly bodies themselves! And who was it that populated my former capital? A city full of metal men, automatons, and not a single man or woman of flesh and blood among them. These people of metal spent their days working, building taller buildings, making things out of iron and tin and copper, and then spending the rest of their days buying with gold all kinds of things, even firearms, even firearms that could spit flame!, all in silence. No one read books, no one danced, and only one group of four metal boys ever sang any songs that anyone listened to.

The man was sitting upon my throne as I arrived, and though the sun had not yet risen, he let out a laugh (which was the only human sound that could be heard in the entire palace) as he rose from my throne.

“Every time! I always wonder, will this next king have the mind to catch up with me, with all the time in the world? And every time he comes up lacking! You may have this back, my friend. I no longer need it, as I have made your entire kingdom obsolete. I may take my city of metalfolk with me to another grand kingdom, and lay that one low as well. When none are left, who knows? Maybe a city on the moon itself?”

As I am a man of my word, I surrendered his coin to him, which he accepted with glee, not because he needed one himself, but because he was depriving me of even that. To prove his point, he smashed the coin into bits before my eyes, making sure I knew only he had a working time-coin. He then left the palace, left it empty of all but myself, sighing upon my own throne. How could I have been such a fool? Blinded by wonders, by phantasmagoria, I let a thief in the night sneak in through the aeviternity and not just take my whole kingdom away, but change it into a monstrosity. The kingdom of my father. I could not help but remember the example of the first king of your name, King Robert the Dragonslayer. Surely a man as great as he would have never let himself be hoodwinked by such a charlatan of time as this Ioannus. Surely he would have seen right through to his treacherous heart and run it through in an instant, just as he plunged his blade into that of the old dragon.

In the depths of my despair I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out the letter. The same letter my father, King Robert the third of your name, my boy, wrote to me, the same he gave me when I was just a boy, young enough to sit up on his lap, but old enough to never forget the words he told me: in your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

Was it indeed my darkest hour, I agonized to myself then. I was not empty-handed, true, I had a palace, a throne, a crown, and all the gold I could ever need still in my treasury, but I had finite time. and I had not a soul to comfort me. Though I scoured the depths of my heart for a shred of courage, I could find none. I therefore decided to accept the counsel of my father before me, King Robert the third of your name. I broke his seal and opened the letter. Several pages poured out, and glad my father had much to tell me even in this hour of my need, I began to read:

“A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Peter, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example.

It had been a long while since I first laid my father, King Peter the second of your name, my boy, to rest in state in the family crypt. Though the long wizarding beard I would soon be known for was well off in years to come, nonetheless the whiskers on my chin started to grow white. My reign had entered a remarkable era of peace, which afforded me much spare time than most other monarchs before my time had enjoyed. Between the time I took the throne leading up to this point, I had therefore in my spare time gained some renown as a skilled, albeit not strictly-speaking professional, alchemist.

The secrets of the elements, of the material world around us all, were as anxious to reveal its secrets to me as I was to discover them. It took me ten years, and in the end I had done it at last: I had found a way to transmute lead into gold!

This was a momentous discovery for the kingdom, and for a while we wanted for nothing. Not only could we build anything we needed, we even improved buildings, and built works of art for the public, for no other reason that they were beautiful. Because we had everything we needed, the kingdom had no need to expand its borders, and so had no need to go to war.

But even this led to hardship for the kingdom. For one thing, the more gold we brought into circulation, the less valuable it became. People at first were enraged that they were getting paid less and less over the years for the same work as the gold coin became more and more devalued. When we adjusted for such influx, they grumbled all the more for having so much gold in their houses they didn’t know what to do with it. We did have to reinstate the standing army after all, since we discovered that tales were told of our great riches all over the world, and the armies of many nations would come to try their hand at sacking us for our great booty. We found it was easier to get rid of some of the gold we had if we just let them win once in a while.

Gold eventually became worthless. We paved the roads in gold, we wove our clothing in fine gold cloth, and when we had more gold than we had things to gild with it, we built our houses, our palaces, our towers, with bricks of gold. We jotted down notes on semi-molten sheets of gold, wrapped up our goods in gold packaging which we threw away in gold wastebaskets.

What became more valuable, as time went on, and as the supply of gold increased, was dirt. The more we paved over the ground of the kingdom with gold, the less bare earth there was to grow vegetable, the less grass there was for the livestock and horses to graze upon. Bread was a fond memory as we first cracked our teeth on stews and filets of gold, and then stirred powdered gold into our tea and ate hot gold porridge for breakfast.

One morning I looked over the ramparts of my golden palace and saw an armada of golden warships, firing golden cannonballs at our crumbling golden walls. It was too much of a golden sheen for my eyes to bear, especially at dawn. Our golden army was also no match for the multitude of warships, as it seemed the nations of the world had united their golden fleets against us. I had no choice but to sue for peace.

gold ship
I saw an armada of golden warships, firing golden cannonballs at our crumbling golden walls. It was too much of a golden sheen for my eyes to bear, especially at dawn.

I met the admiral of that mighty golden fleet, decked in an all-gold naval uniform. He drew a golden sword and placed it under my chin. If I was to save my city, I was to be held ransom by the great confederation of ships while my people would procure dirt, a million pounds stirling of fertile earth for each participating nation. It was hopeless, of course. There was hardly any uncovered ground left in the kingdom, and even if we could conceive of such tools that could burrow under several fathoms of gold foundation, we of course would be forced to build such tools out of gold. But again, what choice did I have? I signed the slightly-molten gold treaty with a stroke of my gold pen and boarded their golden ship, sailing off to the God knew where while my people toiled in vain for all the dirt they could muster.

How could I have been such a fool? Even the most doltish of all schoolboys learns in all the morality plays of his youth that too much of a good thing becomes an evil thing. Worse yet, the very idea was known to all as the Golden Mean! As I was led away from my homeland, afraid I would never see it again, I could not help but think of the example of my ancestor, King Robert the first of my name, the Dragonslayer. He would have had no need for gold, no, none at all, not even the stores of gold that lay within that foul black beast’s lair. He would want for nothing save the courage to stand before his enemy the dragon, and slay it for the good of all his people in kingdom.

Luckily, I still had it on my person, and when I was searched by the admiral’s men they let me keep it as something of no worth to them: it was the only thing not made out of gold I had, the same letter my father, King Peter the second of your name, my boy, wrote to me, the same he gave me when I was just a boy, young enough to sit up on his lap, but old enough to never forget the words he told me: in your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

Was it my darkest hour indeed, I asked myself as the ship sailed away, as the shores of my kingdom grew smaller and smaller. I was off to a long exile, and I doomed my people to an impossible task to rescue me. Tried as I might, I could find no shred of courage, not a single solution to my plight within my own heart. And so, I decided to take up the counsel of my father before me, King Peter the second of your name. I broke his seal and opened the letter. There was a good amount of pages to the missive, and glad he had so much to say to me even in my dire hour of urgent need, I read on:

‘A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Robert, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example.

It was for me, unequivocally, my dear boy, a woman, and the greatest woman I had ever known. It would be five years since I laid my father, King Robert the second of your name, my boy, to rest in state in the family crypt, before I was to know death yet again: my dearest love, my Elisabetha, gave her life to bring you into the world, you the one I love, after her, above all else.

With the passing of your mother the Queen, I could not be consoled. I stayed in the crypt beside my love as she withered away, there beside my father before me and his and his. I almost wasted away myself, not caring to feed myself or drink water, until I was visited by a stranger, a plague doctor. With muffled words through his frightening beak-shaped mask, he asked me a question that chilled me to my already frozen heart.

“You there, king of all the land, would you have her again by your side? Would you have her rise from her bier and embrace you, and place her lips upon yours? Would you gaze into those eyes once again? Would you let her whisper the words I love you into your ear again?”

I naturally told him yes, and that I would give anything, even my crown, for such an end.

“No need,” the doctor replied, “all you need to do is return to her what belongs to her. Something which in her death you cherish above all else.”

My heart not only thawed, but began to beat to bursting within my chest. Of course I knew what he meant. I had kept my dearest’s ring under lock and key, ever since I removed it from her finger once she breathed her last. I thanked the doctor for his kind words, assuring me had done myself and the kingdom alike a great service, perhaps the greatest anyone has ever bestowed, and ever will.

“Have I, though?” The doctor looked at me through his beaked mask and let out a faint muffled chuckle. “Have I truly?

It was a strange reply, but I had no time to think upon it further. I hurried back to the treasury, produced the ring in question, and placed it as gently as I could upon my love’s dead finger.

The doctor was not a liar after all! What was once a lifeless finger filled with life-giving blood, then quivered with life itself. Mere moments later my love opened her eyes, and then looked into mine, which were filled with tears of joy! I must have held her for the whole day, never letting her go, kissing her on her living cheeks, and she held me close as well. The doctor had given us a wonderful gift, the gift of life, the greatest gift of all!

We did not waste a single moment after that day. Every minute of my life I had with my true love back with me was a moment I thanked the God and His Son for introducing me to that doctor. But after a week or so of being reunited at last, I noted a pang of melancholy had overtaken my love.

She had made friends in the underworld, you see. Being away from them for so long, she began to miss their company. This was a simple task, I told her with a laugh, but tell me the names of these dead fellows, and I shall return their rings to their fingers, upon which they will return to the land of the living and greet you as a friend once again! I did this, I must have brought back scores of men and women, fat men, beautiful women, ugly men, short women, all kinds of once-dead souls returned to this world thanks to my munificence.

But then, those scores of once-dead acquaintances then pined for absent friends of their own. Without much of a choice, simply to stop their incessant begging, I divulged my secret to their resurrections, and they in turn became middling witches of Endor themselves. Enough time had passed, and enough had returned from the land of the dead, that there were perhaps two formerly-dead folks to every live one within the confines of my kingdom.

It was also not difficult to tell apart a once-dead from a normal live person. A once-dead had far paler skin, features a bit more sunken, hair just a little more flaxen, and eyes so hollow they seemed black as night, than those who were still living. Prejudices therefore began to form against the once-dead majority in my kingdom, then open animosity, then all-out physical violence.

A man among them, a powerful general in my army who valorously died in defense of the kingdom, fomented unrest.

“Why,” he implored his fellow once-dead, “should we be servile to the living king? There are more of us than there are of them! And if they should make more living people, we can always kill more and bring back more to our side! I say we storm the palace, depose the living king, and I shall take as my bride his once-dead Queen!”

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“I say we storm the palace, depose the living king, and I shall take as my bride his once-dead Queen!”

As I watched the undead army advance upon my palace, with pikes and torches and axes and swords, ready to deal death to my son and I, ready to make me into one of them, I sank into a deep despair. I cursed the plague doctor and the day I ever met him, until I realized it was not his fault at all, but mine alone. How could I have miscalculated so greatly? I should have never shared the terrible power with anyone but my wife. It was meet and proper that I brought her back, as I spent so little time with her that anyone in my place would have understood the undue cruelty fate had wreaked upon me. But all the others? Could anyone seriously justify the resurrection of every man woman and child in that multitude of once-dead? No, a good portion of them was the result of pure selfishness.

Amid these chidings to myself, I could not help but think back to the example of my great grandfather, King Robert the first of his name, the Dragonslayer. While I was pining away for my wife in the crypt and letting a swarm of strange revenants nest in my kingdom, here was a real king. He had no time, no room in his heart, for undue grief, no matter which loved one of his might have passed on. He simply did the job he was called upon to do, and slew the great dragon that troubled the kingdom. A great shame came over me then. Why did I even bother? But I couldn’t possibly give it all up now, could I? Not when my dearest love Elisabetha and I were reunited at last, when we had spent so many happy days together when we once thought those days were gone forever.

I was going to lose my kingdom to a pack of disgruntled undead, or I was going to lose my Elisabetha once again, or I might even lose both. I was sure I had reached my darkest hour, my most dire moment of urgent need. I therefore produced the letter, the same letter my father, King Robert the second of your name, my boy, wrote to me, the same he gave me when I was just a boy, young enough to sit up on his lap, but old enough to never forget the words he told me: in your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

I broke the seal, opened the letter to a fair amount of pages, and without hesitating for a moment I began to read the counsel of my long-departed father:

“A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Peter, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example.

It had been a peaceful, prosperous, and otherwise uneventful twenty years since I had lain my father, Peter the first of your name, to rest in state in the family crypt, before I finally found a wife, and another three before the God blessed us with you, my dear boy. I suppose I always was more of a late bloomer compared to others in the family, but what can you or I or anyone do.

It was when you were still a baby, not even three months in this world, my boy, when I received the summons from a monastery of the God whose tall cold bricks fell within the confines of my domains. There was no wherefore in the summons, only that I, the King of all the land, and I alone, proceed with all haste to this monastery, where all would be revealed to me in good time. I did so, as it was always a good idea to help the good people of the God, or at least not to make them unduly angry, as my dear father King Peter the first of your name, my boy, learned all too well during his reign. Before the sun set upon the third day of my journey I reached the steps of the hallowed abbey.

And what an abbey it had become! The hallowed and once-proud walls of brick and stone had become like a pork aspic, bouncing about to and fro! Hallways curved into slopes and ascended to peaks, doors led into walls, stairways led to nowhere, or even back to where you first started to climb up the stairs! When you meant to go left, you went right, and when you meant to look up you would see down! The abbey had turned into a hall of utter nonsense, a mockery of the laws that govern the world itself, laws established by the God almighty Himself.

I wandered about this silly place until an hour or so in I finally encountered one the abbey’s many robed and barefoot monks, curled into a ball on the floor, cowering within a corner and muttering to himself. I approached him and offered to get him to his feet when he let out a yell and crawled away from me.

‘Is it you?! Is it you at last, or are you still yet the sorceress?! Are you our salvation, or are you an illusion cast by the she-demon herself?!’

I assured him upon my word as the King of all the land that was I no she-demon, let alone a sorceress, and produced for him the ring of my royal signet, hoping that would persuade him, if not calm him down. Whether he trusted me or else believed in my performance enough, the tonsured fellow finally did still the tumult in his heart and explained what was happening in the abbey.

‘A sorceress has infiltrated our hallowed halls! Every day and night she torments us with visions, with topsy-turvy halls and stairs! She lies upon a bed in the abbot’s quarters, and tells us each day that the torment will only end if we… the God! If we break our solemn vows, and lie with her! It’s a fate I cannot bear to think about myself, but my brothers… even the abbot… whether it is the living nightmares we face every day, or maybe… it’s just been that long since… oh, the God gird my heart with strength!’

The monk broke from my firm grip and went back to raving in the corner. There was nothing I could do for him, unless I stopped this mad sorceress and her evil designs upon the brothers. As if on cue, I then heard the laugh of an evil young woman reverberate through the weird halls.

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The hallowed proud walls of brick and stone had become like a pork aspic, bouncing about to and fro!

I pressed on, bouncing up and down along the gelatinous halls the best I could, falling up when I took a wrong step, opening doors that led to the same room I was once in, bumping into what I thought was another monk, but was only the same monk I encountered when I first entered the abbey, and he every time questioning me if I was an illusion of this sorceress, and upon assuring him I was not, every time explaining to me what had happened to the abbey entire. I once again heard that icy laugh, ostensibly one of desire, yet so full of malice, so full of contempt for any man who dared enter the halls of, I suppose I should say now her, abbey.

‘Is it you?! Is it you at last, or are you still yet the sorceress?! Are you our salvation, or are you an illusion cast by the she-demon herself?!’

I started to despair around the eighth time I encountered this man. I saw no way out, not even out of the weird building itself, let alone this sad fate the monks were now entangled in, one I realized with dread I was entangled in beside them.

‘A sorceress has infiltrated our hallowed halls! Every day and night she torments us with visions, with topsy-turvy halls and stairs!’

There was no recourse to me except the one so many of the poor man’s brothers had already succumbed to: rut with this vile sorceress, a moment of temporary ecstasy and with it the promise of release from these living nightmares.

‘She lies upon a bed in the abbot’s quarters, and tells us each day that the torment will only end if we… the God! If we break our solemn vows, and lie with her!’

But what an awful fate that was in store for me, should my flesh be weak enough to sully it so! Never mind what would happen to my throne if it should be found out I betrayed my Queen. But my Queen, my dear beloved Anna, I would lose her love forever.

‘It’s a fate I cannot bear to think about myself, but my brothers… even the abbot… whether it is the living nightmares we face every day, or maybe…’

I was afraid I’d either be trapped in this nightmare hall for the rest of my life, save either two ways: I fall upon my sword, or I debase myself with this terrible woman. I was afraid I would never see you again, my boy, and you not even three months old.

‘It’s just been that long since…’

I could not help at that point but recall the grand example of my grandfather, the best among us, King Robert the first of my name, the Dragonslayer. What a thunder-perfect mind he must have had, when he scaled the black mountain and slew the foul beast that was bespoiling the land entire. He would have never fallen for the cheap mummer’s tricks of a petty, alluring sorcerer along the way.

‘Oh, the God gird my heart with strength!’

What strength could even the God gird me with, at what I knew was my darkest hour, my most dire moment of urgent need? I knew what to do, I removed from my breast pocket the letter, the same letter my father, King Peter the first of your name, my boy, wrote to me, the same he gave me when I was just a boy, young enough to sit up on his lap, but old enough to never forget the words he told me: in your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

I broke the seal, opened the letter, which had a fair amount of pages to it, and began to read at once:

‘A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Robert, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example.

I’ll never forget the sight of my dear father, King Robert the first of your name, the Dragonslayer, who slew the foul beast and brought peace to the land. Though I was not even a thought when that great man went on that great quest, the import of those deeds pervaded through everything he said and did for the rest of his life entire. One could not imagine the man, if you met him, and separate the mighty deed of slaying the dragon from the memory of him.

I was a young man when my father breathed his last and I laid him to rest in state in the family crypt, but once his crown was placed up on head, my head and heart alike were bursting with ideas to benefit the land and its people. I would not disappoint him.

A legate from the church of the God and His Son arrived at my door about a year after the crown was placed upon my head.

“I come directly from the Grand Hierophant,” said the man when I bade him so, “with a message of peace, and cooperation, and our mutual prosperity. His Holiness has in his possession a magnificent invention, that he would wish to give to you. This, Your Majesty, is a listening horn that, when placed within the ear, it can make the listener hear sounds never before heard by man. Quiet sounds that glide through the air undetected by men’s ears. Even, Your Majesty, the sounds of people’s own thoughts. We would like to try it for ourselves, but we do not wish to participate in worldly matters, save that you yourself, who is the God’s mandated ruler over the men of this world, deem it meet and proper to do so.”

It was an irresistible offer. I had to but try it myself, and if I was satisfied with this curiosity, there would be one for the church as well. The legate bade me to put the horn against my ear and listen at that night’s supper.

I did so.

My son, I could not believe what I heard that night! There was a plot against my life being whispered that night, and the conspirators were counted among some of my dearest friends. I summoned the villains before me and they freely admitted their guilt, only marveling that I had discovered the plot after so many precautions were taken by them to ensure there would be no leaks! I executed some and had the rest imprisoned, and immediately summoned the legate before me.

The invention was a rousing success, I told the gentleman. I instructed him to tell his Hierophant that it was meet indeed to use this contraption. Furthermore, I vowed that, as the church saved my life, so I would be an eternal friend of the church and preserve its life in my kingdom. The laws of the scriptures were to be my own laws, which were meet and right for the saints of old and so were good enough for me and my kingdom.

Things went well for a few weeks, until I started to hear the reports. A farmer was taken away from his family by a group of former monks turned soldiers, or was it the other way around? Many in the landed nobility vanished in the night, to be replaced the next morning by priests and friars, their estates converted to places of worship and church holdings. And what was it these otherwise fine people were being rounded up for? For thinking of one’s neighbor’s wife in a bawdy manner, or for being envious of another neighbor’s large yield of crop that year. Maybe another man who thought to himself the things I’d like to do to that tax collector, if he ever set foot upon my homestead, and so on.

I rode off to the great city where the Church and the Hierophant were based, a day’s journey. When I arrived I demanded an audience with the Hierophant, and a couple knight-monks from his strange new order obliged me, escorting me into the man’s throne room.

What I saw astounded me. The Hierophant was all but bound to his throne, and had very likely gained weight since I had last seen him due to his current state, as several cardinals below him fed him and bade him drink and emptied his chamberpot periodically. He was bound, I say, but in fact it was more like he was hooked up to what seemed like scores, hundreds even, of those listening horns.

The man must have been able to hear the thoughts of every man, woman, and child in the whole kingdom!

I took a moment to marvel at the newest iteration of this invention before I spoke my piece, correctly assuming he knew why I was here anyway. What is the meaning of all this, I demanded. Thanks to you and your mounted knighted monks, and this infernal invention, you have stamped out all joy in my kingdom. Now the people live only in fear, no better than automatons, who have built-in instructions made of cogs and pulleys to worship the name of the God almighty, as regularly and without passion as a clock strikes twelve every day.

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“They live every waking moment of their lives, which are given to them only by the God’s behest, with one mind, one heart, and one soul united in perfect love and obedience to Him and His statutes.”

“You are wrong,” the Hierophant thundered to me in response. “Every mind and heart and soul of your kingdom now lives in perpetual joy. Joy that life eternal with the God and His Son is at hand, and joy that they live every waking moment of their lives, which are given to them only by the God’s behest, with one mind, one heart, and one soul united in perfect love and obedience to Him and His statutes. You said it yourself, O King of all the land, the laws of the God shall become your laws, and so they have! Those who disobey will be rooted out and removed from this most-holy kingdom of the God Himself!”

“Even you!” He pointed a bony and wrinkled finger at me. “Do you presume that even you are above the law so written in His most-holy scriptures? Do you not think I could hear the evil in your heart even before you stepped into my throne room? You have the abominable crimes of heresy, of rebellion, of episcopicide! These are foul crimes indeed, for which the sentence would be death!”

At that moment I was surrounded by armed monks, their swords drawn and barring any attempt at my escape. I kept my hand upon the hilt of my own blade.

“But there is one way to save your life in this world, as well as your soul for the next. Bow before me and ask the God through me to grant you forgiveness for your terrible sins.”

I was stunned. If I were to bend the knee before this man of God, before so many witnesses, I would be effectively throwing away my right to rule. I would usher in a new era of terror in my father’s kingdom, where the entire rule of law would be based on the whims of an old, prickly clergy, and where even the mere thought of disobedience would be punished without mercy. Yet, if I were to refuse, they would behead me like a common criminal.

What was once so murky in my head became clear at last, embarrassingly so. Those conspirators must have been lackeys for the church! This was all by design, all to convince me to give the church permission to build up this wicked contraption, all to force me to abdicate rule of my kingdom to the church! How could I have been so foolish? How could I deliver my kingdom into the hands of these corrupt old buzzards? I was so anxious to build up a nation that was good as much as it was great, and I let these angry old men lead me astray in my pure efforts.

I could not help but think of my father, the first of your name, my boy, King Robert the Dragonslayer. A man such as he was already good in his heart, and had no need to put all his hope men, such institutions. He knew precisely what was right when he marched upon the foul lair of that black beast and slew it for the good of all the land. If he saw me now, if he saw how I had mucked up in an instant his whole kingdom which he devoted his life to establish with strong roots… I shuddered in shame to imagine what he would do to me.

It was precisely these thoughts of my father that reminded me of it. Of course, the letter was still in my pocket, the the same letter my father, King Robert the first of your name, my boy, wrote to me, the same he gave me when I was just a boy, young enough to sit up on his lap, but old enough to never forget the words he told me: in your darkest hour, in your most dire moment of urgent need, only then, my boy, only then, take this letter that I give you. Take it, sonny, hold it high. You won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it all again before you die.

I told the Hierophant that this was to be a momentous decision, and I needed time to deliberate upon it, perhaps until dawn the following day. He granted my request, though he could hear within my heart that I did not intend at all to deliberate upon that choice, but instead read the letter of my father. Who can say why he allowed me this boon anyhow, but once the mounted monks escorted me to my dungeon for the night, I broke the seal of my father’s letter, which contained only a few pages (not that I was complaining, for it was the import of the words themselves I valued as gold, rather than the quantity of them), and began to read:

“A word in your ear, my boy, from father to son. So, I am gone from this world, and you are king after me. So, you’ve come to this spot at last, your most dire moment of urgent need. And so, you’ve opened my letter, and though I lie in state in the family crypt, true to my word I’ve come to your aid at last.

The truth, my dear boy, is that I am always with you. I am with you while you read this letter and when you put it down. I was with you when you were a boy, I was with you when you grew to a man, and I even fought with you, fought on your side, long before you were born. So, what is it, little Robert, my dear boy, what is it that troubles you? Is it an army of ghouls, trolls, and/or ogres at your door? Is it a frightening beast laying waste to the land? Is it the wiles of a treacherous sorcerer? Let me guess, is it a woman? I cannot know for certain what addles your mind and pierces your heart so that you come to me in my letter, but I know whatever it is, the consequences of poor judgment will be dire for not only you, but indeed that of the whole kingdom. Let me instead tell you of a time that my kingdom, the kingdom of my father before me who entrusted me with its care, was beset by a grave adversity. Let me instead, then, attempt to instruct you with my own example.

Let me tell you, then, about the time I slew the great big dragon.”‘”‘”‘”

One Reply to “A Word in Your Ear, From Father to Son (Part 1)”

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