IN ANOTHER WORLD, WELL, THERE WAS ANOTHER WORLD. It may or may not have existed. It may just have been a figment of someone’s overworked and over-bored imagination. It might very well have been created as a result of the debilitating levels of stress and discomfort that are part and parcel of that thing called life. . .
In any case, this world was called Kalash. Well, it wasn’t a world, really, it was a kingdom; the kingdom of Kalash. It was ruled by the good King Nerik and Queen Isabel. There was a prince and a princess too; Prince Owain and Princess Isabella, and they all lived in reasonable comfort in a world where everything was reasonable and agreeable. Not much ever went wrong in Kalash, but things were about to change.
The king was a simple man who believed in hard work and in treating his subjects well. He was not the most spectacular specimen of a man but nonetheless, he was a good man; a man who had few hates and no enemies and who rarely got upset about anything, except maybe scraggly pieces of lettuce on his plate.
But King Nerik of Kalash, the apple of the peoples’ eyes, was tired. Nothing exciting ever happened in Kalash; there were no wars (not that war was something that Nerik wished for), the people of Kalash worshipped him and his court functioned without any hindrance. It had all become very boring for Nerik of Kalash. . .
So it was that in his 45th year of rule, King Nerik was getting old and worse; he was beginning to feel old too. His hearing was not what it used to be and being old, he had developed that attitude that most old people tend to portray; to say and do whatever he liked, because, well, he was old and had nothing to lose. In recent years he had gotten into this way of thinking. At times, he would stroll through the palace gardens with nought on but his crown. At the sight of a woman, any woman, he would gyrate his pelvis in her general direction to demonstrate that he found her quite attractive. Guards would intervene and shuffle him off, but that’s just one example of his geriatric antics. He had something on his chest, weighing down on him, and he needed to get it out.
Prince Owain was 20 years of age, and his sister 17, approaching her 18th birthday. The prince had been learning (I use the term ‘learning’ very loosely, as learning would entail that he actually learned something, but Owain merely observed the other royals and behaved exactly as he pleased) how to be a royal his whole life, but had never really got it right. He behaved quite like an inbred imbecile at times, often leading to embarrassing apologies from the King at social gatherings. Owain liked to drink and rebel and most especially, he liked women. When not at the castle, he would go to bars in the city of Kalash with his two friends Rod and Clidius, where the three of them would quite plainly indulge in all manner of debauchery.
In the great hall of the castle, where there was a great table (naturally, it’s a castle), people of nobility would sometimes be invited to dine with the king. It was mostly high-ranking officials, such as the Treasurer, the Arch-wizard and the High Cleric, and a few other pompous predictable types that you’d expect to be seated at a table comprised of high-ranking officials. At a normal gathering, the king and queen sat at the head of the table, with prince and princess to the left and right of them, followed by the ‘inner circle’ which were the king’s most trusted advisors.
One evening, everyone was sat drinking and eating and discussing things pertaining to the kingdom. It was a ‘normal’ gathering.
“I believe we should construct a new wizard tower, facing the west border, so that I may launch fireballs and the like at enemies daring to enter from, well, that border,” said the Arch-wizard, who was sipping his wine and smoking his pipe.
The king shook his head at this. There were no wars, so what was the point of expending effort and spending the royal coin to protect the borders of the kingdom? He decided he would let others debate the issue and then have his say afterwards. He sipped on his wine and decided it was all a lot of shit anyway and wasn’t worth thinking about.
“But then in all fairness, we should construct a temple of equal dimensions, uh, proportions, right next to the tower so that I may bless the men and call down the powerful magic of the Divine on our foes,” said the High Cleric, who also had a pipe.
It all sounded so boring to the king, who had to listen to the two men trying to outsmart or outdo one another every time there was a meeting, or a gathering or a ‘how do you do’ in passing, and he had grown quite annoyed in recent weeks. He quickly interrupted their forever ongoing debate and diplomatically said, “Have an architect draw up the plans, and we shall see what can be done. Now, if the two of you could never talk in my presence ever again, that would be excellent. .as well. Anyway-”
The king was cut short by a loud thud and the sound of glass breaking; Prince Owain had been sitting quietly drinking the whole night and now it seemed he had had too much. He had somehow fallen backwards, chair and all, with his drink in hand, had dropped the drink, and was now writhing about on the floor as one is like to do in a drunken stupor.
While he lay there writhing he mumbled, “Where’sh my drinkck, (sniff sniff) oh bothers, why does my head hurt so?”
He sat up and looked around as if slightly confused by the situation he found himself in (everyone was staring at him), and asked if anyone had seen his glass of wine. The king of course by now was rather vexed, he signalled two guards (this was established by a rather complex series of hand gestures and facial expressions) to ‘accompany’ Owain to his chambers, and make sure he was properly ‘secured’. The guards got the gist of it, anyway, and proceeded to do as instructed. Owain saw the two guards approaching him and began crawling away at a speed resembling a centipede or a snail; maybe speed is not the right word. It was not going to achieve positive results, though (for Owain), and soon the guards had him and were carrying him obediently up the stairs to his room, while he cursed their mothers and aunts with words of such profanity that it would have toasted the hair off of anyone else’s head. The guards, however, were used to his uncouth demeanour and took no notice of it. Subduing a drunk prince was easy work for them.
A few thuds could be heard from up the stairs, and soon the guards returned and resumed their posts, which were more or less anywhere in the hall, where they just stood around aimlessly, looking like guards did.
The commotion died down, and the king had to apologise once again to those present for his son’s foolishness and lack of proper etiquette. This was a common occurrence, so much so that those congregated in the dining hall had come to look forward to Prince Owain’s latest antics.
But Owain wasn’t always a drunken miscreant who embarrassed his royal family and gave people something to laugh about; when sober, which wasn’t often, he was quite clever and intellectual, though nobody would have guessed this. Only his father, the king, had any real faith in this, although he would argue with himself whether he was right or wrong in doing so. He had reason to doubt himself, of course, due to the frequency of the outbursts at social gatherings, but somehow he still had faith in his only son and heir to the kingdom; the Kingdom of Kalash. . .
Anyway, back to the story. The king, being so old, was deeply concerned about who would inherit his kingdom should he pass on to the next world anytime soon. Traditionally, the first-born male heir was given this honour, but the king could not see his son fulfilling the role of leading a kingdom; at least, not yet, and he had veritable concerns about Owain’s ability to perform such a role. If Isabella became Queen after Queen Isabel, then it would signify that the royal family thought themselves above the laws and traditions of the kingdom, and ultimately would end up with a great bunch of unruly and rebellious peasants.
So it was after much thought and pondering that King Nerik of Kalash had made a decision, and was poised to announce it at the evening’s gathering. He shuffled in his chair, most frustrated, as the two buffoons (Arch-Wizard Flamebeard and High Cleric Bysmont) wrestled each other on the topic of whose magic was more powerful. The king rolled his eyes and took another sip of his wine.
“Surely you are aware that fire burns pure, and it hath no equal in this world”, said Arch-Wizard Flamebeard, twisting his crooked, orange beard as he spoke. He was a staunch atheist, and on principle always disagreed with the High Cleric, who believed in several different deities.
“As a man of the cloth, healing and shield spells are far more beneficial as a whole, Gods be praised”, retorted the High Cleric, blowing a smoke ring that had a cudgel hanging inside it. He gave the orange-haired wizard a shifty look and slumped back into his chair, letting his smoking cudgel float in the air.
Flamebeard sat up straight and leant forward, as though he had been slapped on the left cheek with an embroidered, wet white glove, hauled out his pipe and blew a dragon out of his smoke. It flew around and ate Bysmont’s cudgel. The two men now rose and exchanged nasty looks. By now the king was fed up, pun not intended. He stood up and slammed his fist against the table, before he shouted, “All right, all right, I can’t take it anymore! The two of you will desist with your incessant ramblings and backwards and forwards mumbo jumbo before I have you forcibly removed from my hall, Gods be praised. And that is no idle threat.”
The two men ‘gulped’ together and began stuffing themselves with food, agreeing on something for the first time in their lives; to keep quiet for the remainder of the evening.
The king remained standing; it was time for him to announce his decision. He looked all around the room, at the mindless, brainless group whom he had given authority, and power, and status. They weren’t really brainless he’d just grown to find them annoying over the years. And he was tired above all. He had lost interest in overseeing a kingdom where nothing ever went wrong, where all his roles could be simply delegated to one of his subjects. He was bored to tears with the dreary routine he had gotten used to and felt he needed a change.
“I have made...a decision”, the king announced. Now, I’ll just let that hang in the air a bit, he thought.
The faces all looked up at the king. Then they looked at one another and tried to gauge what the other was thinking. ′Should I say something? I wonder what he’s thinking; I wonder if I’ll be promoted’, and ‘I really do fancy the Princess’, were a few thoughts that were conjured up. Anyway, we won’t read into their thoughts too much, but they elected to hold their tongues and let the king speak.
King Nerik continued, “I have decided...that I will be going away for a spell, and I shall be taking my son, Owain, with me. We will be leaving on the morrow. I’m doing it and none of you can stop me. You will all continue with your regular roles as though nothing has changed.”
Nothing did change. The faces once again looked up, with a unanimous expression that said, “Oh, is that all?“, and resumed stuffing themselves and engaging in their conversations. Some even had mouthfuls of food which were now in pending as he spoke. The king cleared his throat in order to interrupt the gluttons, and began again, “I will not be divulging where I will be travelling to, so don’t bother trying to get it out of me”, and he gave them a menacing look, before continuing, “But I expect you all to have the utmost faith in my return; your king shall return. In the meantime, please carry on as if nothing is amiss.”
He raised his fist in an attempt to liven the buggers up, which yielded nothing. There were a few whimpers of hooray and a clap here and there but it wasn’t an audience to write home about, or anywhere for that matter. It was a tad inappropriate. I should have used a different gesture, perhaps, he thought, I always complicate these things.
The king gave up and sat down. At any rate, he was glad he’d gotten it off his chest, nevermind how bored the recipients of his speech seemed, not that it mattered anymore. As the king, sometimes you had to do things just because they had to be done and not worry about the reaction it would bring about. Now that he’d said what he needed to say, he could get positively mellow; it was hard work breaking the mould.
The feasting continued for a little longer before everyone left the hall and went back to their homes, some of them staggering and others holding their bellies and hoping that they wouldn’t explode. The king went to bed feeling liberated and excited about his decision. There were some things he felt needed to be reconsidered, but all in all, he was ready for his journey.