My Kingdom

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“A plague on them,” he mutters through clenched teeth. “A thrice-cursed plague.”

I stand in the corner, half hidden by curtains, and say nothing, like a good slave. I’d like to tell him that he’s already brought down a plague on his people, that it’s his fault they are dying in the streets, but I know better. A slave can’t talk that way to a king, not even a drunken one.

He’s standing at the window, although the breeze coming in through the lattice smells of death. Death from the streets, death from the courtyards where he’s hung every sorcerer and enchanter, doctor and physician in his kingdom. They all told him they could cure the plague that is ravaging the streets, but they couldn’t. Only I know how because only I know what brought it on.

He leans against the window frame, clutching his head in his hands, and shouts for me again. He’s too drunk to know where I am, and I don’t come. He wants more wine, and I’ll bring it to him—soon. Not yet.

But he’s tired of waiting now and sober enough to realize that I can’t be far off. He shouts again, cursing, and says, his voice slurred by wine, “Will! Where are you?”

In a minute he’ll come looking, and I won’t be hard to find. I pick up the chalice he sent me for and come forward, offering it to him. “My lord.”

He snatches at it, cursing me. “At last. Do I have to trade my kingdom for a glass of wine?”

I watch him drink it and smile, seeing the drug already taking effect. He staggers, looking confused, and collapses into a chair. Tomorrow he’ll wake in the dungeons, forgotten by his loyal subjects in favor of their new king. I bow to him again, mockingly this time, and turn to leave. “As you said, my lord. Your kingdom for a glass of wine.”

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