There was something unusual about the king.
Tilda knew relatively little of men. She was a good girl who heeded her father and paid her respects to Brant each Somnday, and her few stolen kisses with Addan, the particularly handsome stable boy, precluded any great knowledge of the opposite sex.
Yet despite her inexperience, she was certain the king was abnormal—even considering his station. No doubt being a king was a burden. It was a difficult job for the wisest of men, and the feud with the southernmost empire must have magnified that challenge a hundredfold. But even that challenge did not seem weighty enough for the hollow set of his eyes, the vacant weight of his stare, or the deep cruelty that marked the nature of his rule.
Stranger still was his tower in the garden.
It was an ugly thing, erected before she could remember, built like a fortress in the center of the palace garden’s most beautiful plantings. It bore no windows and only a single door, which was barred and barricaded and locked at all times.
“A king is allowed his follies,” Tilda’s father had said when she mentioned its oddity. “Had we the means, perhaps we’d be allowed our follies, too.”
She supposed there was merit in that. Yet why, then, did she hear the soft tinkle of water when she pressed her ear to the door as she passed through the garden? And why did the king visit but once a month, in the darkest hour of the moonless night? That was a question Tilda dared not ask her father; if she had, she’d have to explain why she’d been there, crossing through the garden for a single midnight kiss from her dear Addan. Once, it had been a fluke. But the second time she had seen the king unlock the tower door with its strange, arrow-shaped key, it had dawned on her that the situation was purely strange.
Despite the uneasy turnings of her mind, Tilda took the same path as ever, toward the fir-sheltered corner where her sweetheart waited for the innocent midnight rendezvous that had become their monthly ritual. She was there for Addan, as always; that her path meant she might see the king again was purely coincidence, in her mind.
A splash of gold light opened across the path. It widened, then narrowed to a sliver. Tilda paused. She was no later than usual, yet it seemed the king had beaten her there. The faintest outline of gold rimmed the tower’s door and, against all her better judgment, Tilda could not resist.
The soft melody of water reached her ears long before she reached the tower’s door. She did not mean to do more than peek, but when she touched the door, a low, mournful wail rose from the other side.
“How long?” a man moaned. The king, she decided; she’d heard his voice often enough as she worked within his palace. “How long will you torment me?”
“Why should I keep you, if not for torment?” the same voice answered, harsh and yet gleeful at the same time.
Tilda urged the door open an inch, just enough to allow her to peer inside.
The tower was empty, undecorated, lit only by the golden light of the torch in the king’s hand. He stood beside a fountain with his back to the door. The water splashed as cheerily as if it were not trapped where no one would ever see.
“You have what you wanted,” the king cried, and his voice cracked like that of a man who had run out of tears—the way Tilda’s father’s had cracked, when her mother had returned to Brant’s boughs. “Kill me. What more do you stand to gain?”
“I will, someday, perhaps. Yet not now. Not while a shred of hope still remains. You do still bear it, don’t you? And you will, until the last drop of king’s blood is shed and there is no chance for freedom.” The king shifted and the fountain came into view. Water filled the basin almost to the brim. It rippled with the splashes that poured from the fountainhead, yet never flowed over. And within the waters of the basin, the king’s reflection moved the other direction.
It was a kinder king, a younger king, with fine lines that skirted the kind eyes Tilda’s father once described. A king from a different age, whose kindness was renowned throughout the Westkings, both north and south. The king as he was before the princes were slain.
“King’s blood,” the reflection wailed, his voice hollow and mournful. He buried his face in his hands.
“You have the power to end your own torment,” the flesh king snarled above him. “Just tell me where you’ve hidden him. Your whole line will be dead and you… You will be free.”
A spark of energy returned to the reflection and it spun to face the man above it. “I’d sooner remain here a thousand years!”
“Pah!” The king spat into the water and for a moment, the reflection dissipated. “Don’t challenge my patience. I’ll keep you as long as I must. I’ll hunt your blood for ages, until every last drop has been spilled.”
Tilda drew back, her throat tight. A voice rose from the far end of the garden, calling her name. She hurried on to the shelter of the fir-trees, but she feared there would be no kisses tonight.
The king was in the fountain. Who, then, wore the crown?
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This is kind of a new idea I had–writing out the random ideas I have and seeing what’s worth expanding into novellas or full novels later on. My writing schedule is pretty full for 2020, but it’s never too early to plan ahead!
So what do you think? Is King’s Blood novel-worthy? Maybe just a novella? Skip this one and plan on something else? Weigh in with your opinion in the comments below!