The Father

The great prince was spoiled. It is a hard thing to discipline a child without the cooperation of the parents, even at the best of times: how much harder then when the child himself has the power to decree who lives and who dies? For so it was with the prince. It pleased the king to grant his son this much power, in preparation for a greater, to hold the lives of all his attendants and teachers and guardians throughout his formative years. There would be a few deaths, early on, reasoned the king, for children are prone to anger and ill temper and foolish decisions, but there is no teacher more effective than experience, and what was a tutor here or there?

(You might wonder who would willingly bid to instruct the prince, when the chance for destruction so great, but there are always those who seek only nearness to power. By these was the prince mostly instructed. It should be mentioned, in passing, that the king remunerated the hardy souls exceedingly well for their bravery; thus by greed and foolishness was the prince taught.)

Things did not develop in the way the old king had hoped. Instead of learning a reverence for life and a horror of unneccesary death, the prince, at the knees of a succession of vapid and vicious teachers, grew to crave the sight of a man’s heartblood, and soon lived only for the terror and death he inspired. Great was the sorrow of the old king to see the only child of his age (for the queen had died in childbirth and what women could replace her?) raise red and dripping hands exultantly to the sky when another unfortunate soul met an untimely end. He feared for his kingdom, that would fall inevitably to the prince when his hands, already crabbed and spotted with age, grew too weak to hold the rod and the orb of governance. Gladly would he have taken the grim power from the prince, but the word of a king once given may not be rescinded, and so the deaths and the bloodshed continued.

At last the king resolved on a plan that, while desperate enough, seemed to him most likely to redeem his son, if redeemed he could be. He thought to instruct the prince himself, and thus put his life in the hands of him that had sent more than a hundred men to their deaths for no greater reason than a headache. Long did his counselors argue with him, and in vain, for if the prince could not be redeemed he must be slain for the good of the kingdom, and this the king could not bring himself to do. He would give his life over to the prince, and if his son must die, let it be in the fires of revolution that would surely come upon his accension, and not from a father’s hand.

However, as I have said, the great prince was spoiled, indeed beyond reclamation. For two months, three, half a year, he listened patiently and attentively to the old king, far longer than to any other; great were the hopes of the old king and his counselors, and great was the wonder among the few survivors of the prince’s adolescence, that the old king should live so long. It could not last. The prince, wearied with a night illspent among the bars and the bordellos of the capital city, and plagued with a mighty hangover, lost his temper with the patient and sorrowful old king, and preemptorily ordered his oldest servant — who was of course the king’s own executioner — to slay the king. The hand of the executioner trembled to make the attempt, so that the sword wavered and danced in the morning sunlight. The prince and king together sharply ordered the man to his duty, and the sword steadied.

The old king’s blood flew bright in the air, and ran across the flags of the court, and indeed was the prince regretful for what he had done, but it is not an easy thing to unkill a man, and to break the habit of a lifetime is yet more difficult.