Machinations in the Kingdom of Althus, Part 1

April 12, 2007

The commoners watched forlornly as the soldiers nailed the tavern’s doors shut. All across the capital, similar scenes were taking place. The edict had gone out the day before – drinking was banned, by order of the King and Church. Bars and taverns were closed down at every street corner, and the property claimed by the crown. 

Oh, their owners were fairly compensated by the royal treasury, but that didn’t stop them from staring at the soldiers sealing away their livelihood – indeed, their very lives. But there was nothing they could do, and they grimly went home, pondering what path in life was left them.

In the castle on the hill, the King watched from above, and he was pleased.

“Sirrah, the people will not be happy with this.” The King’s jester was, in fact, no such thing – once he had been a loyal advisor to the throne, but the ruler had changed in recent years, and the position now demanded a gaudy outfit and a hat with bells on. Yet he was still loyal, and still tried to speak his mind when he thought it might help the kingdom live. If the King listened even once, it was worth the humiliation and indignity.

But the King merely laughed at his words, a cold smile lining his regal features. “Oh, they’ll whine to themselves – but only in the comfort of their own homes, now. And there is nothing they can do, not with the Church having sided with Our decree. They will be deprived of some small pleasure, but they will learn to live without it.”

The jester shook his head in confusion, no longer even noticing the jingling and jangling at the motion. “But, sirrah – even should they do nothing about it, the workforce will be less productive without the chance for relaxation in the evening. What does this accomplish?”

His master looked back at him, as though surprised the answer wasn’t obvious. With a flourish, he spun away from the window and began to pace before his throne. His words, when they came, seemed geared towards himself as much as towards his fool. “Too many gather in the taverns, in the bars. They are a breeding ground for rumors and for lies. They attract all sorts of foul individuals… thieves and murderers and adventurers. I’ll have no common ilk filtering into my kingdom and begging for quests like a dog after scraps! No, better to deprive them of a place to gather. Better not to take any chances…”

As if realizing his words had strayed farther than he intended, the King’s royal head whipped around to stare at the fool standing behind him, staring at him in confusion. Had he said too much? The elderly fool didn’t seem to understand, but the King knew he had once been possessed of a keen and penetrating mind. Yes, best not to take any chances.

The King smiled, and his smile grew, and grew, and grew. His jester stared – now in horror – as the form before him shifted and twisted and changed.

And by the time he remember to scream, it was already far, far too late.

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