Today is the tenth day of the challenge, and my eighth story.
With this theme, I’ve come up with a ghostly little tale.
The king was not a bad man. Naive, ignorant and often selfish, but by no means bad. At the very least, he was not malicious. He wasn’t greedy, or mean-spirited. He just wasn’t the sharpest ruler to sit upon the throne. Many in his inner court would say, in hushed tones, that he lacked ambition. He was content to sit upon his throne, in the castle high atop a hill overlooking his kingdom. Many important decisions were made and written up by his closest advisors. All he had to do was dip his quill in the ink jar and scratch his regal mark to ratify them.
He was a good husband and a fair father. His family were looked after, though were not in any way privileged. The king ensured his children learned the meaning of their station, understood the responsibility that befell them. The army had been stripped back to almost nothing. So agreeable, was the king, that he had no enemies. He got along with everybody.
His biggest problems were an abundance of laziness and a substantial appetite. In fact, he loved nothing more than entertaining, for that always ensured the biggest spreads right at his fingertips. It seemed he always had cause for a celebration. Sometimes it seemed he didn’t know what the reason was himself, at least not beyond the lavish feast that would accompany it.
His brother, however, was a bitter man. He always believed he had the right attitude to rule. He had a mean streak. He was aggrieved that he was the youngest sibling. His ideas were filled with war, and power, and avarice. He didn’t want to be liked, he wanted to be powerful. For decades he had watched his fool brother make merry with other royals, befriend his subjects, and fritter the crown coffers. Oh no, if he were in charge, everybody would show him respect. No, more than that, they would fear him. He would expand the realm and rule over it all with an iron fist.
It was the eve before the king’s latest lavish soiree. The castle was a hive of activity. The kitchens were filled with steam as cooks and servers prepared and moved food about to cater the enormous event. The Great Hall was filled with voices clamouring to be heard above one another. Decorations were hung, tables and seats set out. The king observed everything from the balcony, a contented smile played over his face in anticipation of the exquisite meal he would gorge himself upon tomorrow evening.
Lost in his reverie, the king did not hear the balcony door open. He did not hear the hushed shuffle of footsteps behind him. In fact, the first he knew of another person being up on the balcony with him was when he experienced the searing pain of a knife blade driving deep into his back. As the blade withdrew, sinewy arms caught him, rolling him to look up at his attacker.
“You,” the king gasped, as he coughed. A spray of blood stained his lips.
“You do not deserve to be king. You are a fool! You cannot be everybody’s friend, you have squandered your reign! Now I will be king! Your queen, your darling daughters,” his attacker spat, “will finally understand what it means to serve a real king!”
The king opened and closed his mouth, but no words would come. His time was over. The attacker dropped his body over the balcony as the last of his life ebbed away.
~ ~ ~ ~
He awoke to a chorus of shrieking and wailing. His wife and daughters were hovering over him, crying. He sat up, ready to reassure them. Something was wrong. He could see he was sitting, but nobody seemed to react. He stood, commanding them to all regain control of themselves. They ignored him. He looked down. He was looking at himself, lifeless upon the flagstones. His body was twisted in a way not compatible with living. Confusion washed over him, like a wave crashing upon the shore. He was dead. Then the realisation struck him. His brother had killed him. The coward had driven a knife through him as his back was turned.
He raged. His anger set free. He overturned tables, and knocked furnishings over. Screams rang out at the sudden carnage. Only then did the former king realise he was a spirit. An unseen force that could seek revenge for his cowardly slaying. But not immediately. He would bide his time.
~ ~ ~ ~
The following years had been hard. The new king was cold, uncaring. He ensured his subjects knew their position. He also cut off the kingdom from its neighbours. Vast walls were built, and an enormous army was formed. The unseen spirit paid his brother visits from time to time. In the beginning, he only caused minor inconveniences. Moved trivial things about, knocked things over. Just enough to put the new king on edge.
But it graduated. Strange happenings in full view, gruesome messages scrawled on mirrors, paintings slashed with knives, empty suits of armour walking towards him before noisily collapsing to the ground. Such was his fear, the new king had turned to drink. He had become irrational, jumping at his own shadow. Nobody in his court could understand what was going on, having never witnessed anything out of the ordinary.
Finally, the new king got his way. He declared war on their nearest neighbour, beyond the forest. Sat alone in his tent, the king slumped into a sullen mood. He drank. Drank far too much to be wise the night before a battle. The disembodied spirit chose that moment to pay a visit. It rattled the tent poles. A jug of wine fell forcefully from the table. Ink was spilled all over the map. Huge letters began to form, scrawled in the flow, spelling out a single word – MURDERER.
The king screamed, a shrill, blood curdling sound. His state of mind, weakened by years of unknown visitations had finally broken. A pair of guards entered his tent to see what had happened.
“Get back! Get away!” The king lunged forward with a sword. With a deafening bellow, he rushed them. The first didn’t expect an assault, and fell to the floor as his king brutally slashed at his throat. The second turned tail and attempted to run. The demented king jumped on his back, driving the sword through his ribcage. Having taken leave of his sanity, the king roared as he raged through the camp. Everyone was after him. He attacked anyone that came near him yelling as he did.
“Murderer? I’ll show you a murderer!” He cackled maniacally.
Awoken by the commotion, some of his soldiers had managed to come to their senses. Coming up behind the king they subdued him. Though he did not give up, kicking, biting and gouging at them. The king managed to break free. A young, terrified soldier acted on instinct. Before anybody knew what had happened, the king dropped to the muddy ground, the knife in his neck spilling his blood.
The old king felt a peace wash over him. His revenge was complete, and now people would understand that their new king had killed his brother. No longer bound to this plane, the spirit of the king passed on.