Man, It Feels Good To Be King
“Good Morning, Majesty,” a thin, nasally voice sang out loudly above the swooshing sound of heavy velvet curtains being thrown open. There was a wetness behind his voice. Had I been breathing through my own nose, I would have no doubt been choked by the disease that rolled off his festering tongue and filled the chamber air like a poisonous fog. Oh, Gods. My own nose. I wasn’t breathing through my own nose. And what had he called me? Majesty. I told myself to remain calm even as I felt my pulse, his pulse, begin to gallop beneath the suddenly too-thick fabric of my sleeping garments.
Something must have gone hideously wrong. And now I was stuck in this body. A man’s body. I held in the urge to wretch as I listened to the clicking sound of heeled boots swiftly closing in on me.
The solid weight of a metal serving tray being set down at the bed’s end prompted me to open my eyes. The manservant who had spoken before was there as well, bustling around the tray making soft clinks as he opened and closed fanciful little porcelain jars of sugar and milk. His hands trembled slightly as he made my cup of tea, but not out of fear of being in the presence of a King.
At least, some of my senses had remained intact; my initial assessment of him had been correct. He was a squat man of at least forty with a pinched wrinkling face and stringy hair the color of dishwater that had been artfully combed across his prematurely balding head. But, it wasn’t his aging rat-like appearance that told me of his failing health. No, it was the waxy pallor of his yellowing skin and the dark violet smudges beneath his shrewd eyes that told me he would be dead in less than six months’ time. I absentmindedly wondered if I should tell him as he handed me the little cup, keeping his head bowed, still not daring to meet my gaze. The fragrant spiced tea was no doubt made to King Sephiron’s exact liking. My liking now, I supposed.
“Not this morning. I’ll take coffee,” I said as nonchalantly as possible, holding up a palm. Impressively, I’d managed not to wince at the deep booming quality of my new voice.
He looked up then, a confused expression further deepening the lines across his brow.
“Coffee, sire? You never take coffee.”
I pursed my lips, considering if I had already made a grave error that might’ve given me away.
“Do not question your king,” I commanded sternly, willing as much authority into my voice as possible. Though, it wasn’t hard considering the powerful timbre that sharpened this body’s voice like a blade.
The servant dipped his head low again, quickly gathering up the offending tray without another word of protest. He must have known better, then. I hadn’t taken King Sephiron to be a cruel master but… one never knew what happened behind closed doors.
“Milk and sugar, as well,” I called after him with feigned laziness.
I only let myself truly relax back into the luxurious pile of fluffed pillows once he had made his way out of the massive set of golden double doors that led into the hall.
I supposed I could handle being King for another day. Though, I desperately needed to figure out exactly what had gone wrong on my coven’s side of things. I had jumped into King Sephiron’s body yesterday, as a last-ditch effort to defeat the evasive, nomadic coven of witches who had been trying to steal our power. The Elemaeti. But, I was only supposed to stay in this body for a day...just long enough to sign an order for the King’s army to launch an Elemaeti witch hunt, then back into my own body by nightfall.
I’d been chosen because I was the Silverblood coven’s second-in-command. Our High Priestess had volunteered but... I’d known she needed to stay behind to lead our people. It was a sacrifice I’d willingly made, although, considering the position I currently found myself in, it was hard not to wonder if I would’ve chosen differently.
I stared up at the intricate floral weave of the heavily tasseled canopy that hung above my massive bed as I tried to think through my situation. King Sephiron was unwed, which was good. No nagging wife to deal with. I didn’t even want to think about how long I could actually keep up the charade with a woman riding my new white-leopard coattails. A woman would notice a thing like this, any sudden shift in behavior or mannerisms and it would be over for me.
Men, though, courtiers and the sniveling lesser royals only concerned with themselves and their place in the kingdom’s hierarchy? Well, they could be easily deceived. I highly doubted they’d thought about anything other than themselves for some time now, much less deigned to pay attention to the King’s little quirks.
I’d done my research on the King’s closest confidants well enough that I knew all the important names and faces before I’d gone on this godsforsaken mission. Never go in without a back-up plan, I’d learned that over my nine hundred years on this planet. That’s what distinguished the mortals from immortals, and it made sense well enough. Mortals didn’t have much time on this earth and sometimes going into a situation without a way out was the best option simply because it was the quickest.
Witches though, we had time. Time to plot, and plan, and run through scenarios backward and forwards without caring much about the passage of years or even decades if it took that long to ensure that our plan was successful. And this mission had taken that. Decades, I mean. Ever since the Elemaeti coven had discovered how to diminish our true source of power. Once we had discovered that, well the plotting and planning began. It didn’t really matter which King we jumped into, only that the King had to have enough power over the lands at the time that our plot could be enacted. King Sephiron had just happened to be perfect. A tall, fairly handsome man of twenty-seven, beloved by all, and the ruler of the Tri-Continental Arosian Empire with no surviving family to speak of? The Gods couldn’t have given us a better opportunity if we’d crafted it ourselves.
The root of the Elemaeti’s treachery against us could ultimately be boiled down to jealousy. A human emotion to be sure. Witches like myself, the Silverbloods, were born witches. Witches that had inherent power flowing through our veins from birth that increased with our years and only further strengthened by the lingering traces of our buried ancestor’s magick that still flowed through the lands of our holy grounds.
Witches of my kind rarely died though, usually only after many millennia. And, to kill one of our own is considered the highest of offenses. Not to mention the hideous curse that would surely ensue from such a killing. None of my kind had ever attempted such a thing, but we found out the consequences the first time an Elemaeti dared to tempt fate.
To kill my kind meant death, but not one’s own death. No, it meant the death of everyone and everything around you that was ever unlucky enough to receive your touch. Eventually, the witches who had tried died of starvation, but not before half of the Elemaeti coven had been wiped out. Funny, to think we had believed that might be the end of their persecution of us. Alas, their all too human nature took hold of them and jealousy once again prevailed.
The Elemaeti couldn’t stand that we natural-borns held so much power over them, so they eventually discovered another route of attack. Straight through our ancestors, actually. The Elemaeti are technically siphoners, not at all like real Silverblooded witches. Lecherous, parasitic little humans who have found out how to skim power from the lands through our ancestor’s magick mixed with a little bit of their basic elemental spellcasting.
Pathetic really, and no match for the depth and breadth of our powers. That is until they’d figured out how to diminish our magick without getting that nasty little curse laid upon them. As it turns out, even with our natural-born powers, we still owed a lot more to our ancestors than we had originally thought and digging up and destroying their bodies was just the trick to cutting our powers right to the quick. Which then made them hard to attack, and even harder to kill.
Being a relatively new coven, by comparison, they had no lands to call home, meaning no set place we could strike as they do us. Elemaeti are nomadic, always on the move, always slithering about in the shadows. We had tried to stop them, to ward the holy grounds of our ancestral burial sites, but... by the time we had figured out what they were doing, they had already stolen enough of our magick to break through every barrier we’d tried to put in place. Some rumors have claimed the Elemaeti even eat the ashes of our kind to grow their magick.
Sickening. But, as much as I didn’t want to believe it, even I, of nine hundred years, could feel the power fleeing from my blood as the days slipped past. Subtly, at first, yes, but over the years it became difficult to even perform the most basic of spells, such as human possession. A spell that I could once perform alone with a few candles and the right words had taken what was left our entire coven’s magick pooled together.
Despicable. Still, we did have the advantage of long lives. Though, I didn’t see how that mattered much now if we couldn’t even pull off a simple plan such as this. Another body must have been stolen from our lands. It was the only thing I could think of that would diminish our magick to the point that my soul couldn’t have even been retrieved by my coven. Damn them. And now, Gods save me, I was stuck in a man’s body. In my lifetime, I’d never had much interest in interacting with any human, let alone human men. Dealing with them was mainly considered to be a necessary evil. Usually only done to produce witchling’s but...I’d left that burden for the others in my coven to shoulder. Witchling’s were always female, so, to further the bloodline and keep our numbers strong, human men were sometimes needed. I’d always considered them weak, though. Stupid and self-serving, they were easy prey even for human women, who I consider only to be an infinitesimal step above.
A creak of the door alerted me to the servant’s presence again. The bitter nutty aroma of coffee wafted through the room and I sat up a bit straighter as I waited for the clattering tray to arrive. Once more, the man ascended the dais my bed stood on and began preparing the coffee. I desperately needed time alone to think though, so I stopped him short.
“Leave it,” I commanded with a wave of my burly fingers.
He stopped and straightened his shiny blue waistcoat before sketching a low bow. To my endless frustration though, he apparently hadn’t gotten the hint. He just continued to stand there at the foot of my bed, eyes downcast, twisting his fat meaty hands around in tight nervous circles before him.
I bent forward a bit to grasp one of the thick silver handles of the tray and slid it beside me.
“What is it?”
A bead of sweat rolled down his face, “Th- the war council would like to meet at once t-th-this morning, sire,” he said sheepishly.
I wondered again if King Sephiron was fond of corporal punishment. By the looks of his sweaty bumbling manservant, I would have to assume so.
“After I take my coffee, I will meet with them,” I said dismissively as I glanced around the tray, not bothering to watch as he quickly scurried from the room.
It was absolutely loaded with artfully arranged piles of glistening fruit tarts, sweet biscuits covered in powdered sugar, salted meats, cheeses, and thick hunks of bread already coated with butter and various jams. I put a palm on my belly. It was no wonder the King was carrying around a few extra pounds if he was eating like this every day. I pushed past the rich foods and found the steaming pot of coffee, pouring it into a delicately painted cup before adding two sugars and a splash of milk. I closed my eyes, allowing the rich smell to fill my nostrils before pressing my lips to the golden rim of the porcelain mug. Delicious.
Magick was not the only thing my coven had needed to pool together for our plan. It had also taken an exorbitant amount of money. Mainly to hire round-the-clock guards to protect our burial grounds but... I could see that clearly hadn’t worked out either. Never let a human do a witch’s job.
I hadn’t been treated to anything this luxurious in the countless years it had taken for this plan to finally commence. So, I decided to live a little and let myself enjoy the sweet coffee and warmth of the extravagant feather-topped mattress a little while longer before finally swinging my legs out of the heavy layers of blankets piled atop me.
I wriggled my toes on the plush Persian rug beneath me before stepping down from the bed’s platform to survey the room. I hadn’t taken particular notice of this body yesterday as it was meant to be temporary, but... Gods, my feet were enormous!
I’d jumped into the King during one of his frequent late-afternoon catnaps in the sprawling parlor room, so I hadn’t had the chance to see his bedchamber either. It had only been lit by a few beams of soft flickering candlelight when I’d finally gone to sleep last night.
Red and gold seemed to be the prevailing theme of his chambers. Blood red, I noted with nothing short of sheer delight. The color of Elemaeti blood, human blood. I supposed King Sephiron and I may have more in common than I’d thought.
The walls were set with elaborate gold-trimmed inlay panels that held swirling labyrinths of lacy flowers that wrapped around the central royal crest in a delicate embrace. Art was also dotted sporadically around the room, mostly arrangements of oil paintings depicting the many generations of King Sephiron’s royal predecessors either locked in battle on killing fields or perched atop grand bejeweled thrones. The artist who had painted them had made them look so realistic, so lifelike, I had to take a step closer and blink a bit to ensure they hadn’t blinked back.
Despite the painstaking attention to detail that had been paid on the walls, the bed seemed to be meant as the obvious focal point of the immaculate room. I had to do a double-take to confirm that it was actually, in fact, the only piece of furniture on this side of the chamber. How odd, there wasn’t even a nightstand. I supposed the bed, was enough though. It was a mahogany-stained monstrosity set atop a two-step platform, complete with intricate carvings of vicious-looking beasts, some real and some imagined, decorating its headboard and four rotund posts. The thing could’ve fit five bodies across it easily.
Though the chamber was clearly palatial, it also felt overwhelmingly... bare and impersonal somehow. There was a distinct lack of personality to the space; there were no trinkets or books, or stray boots cast aside anywhere. It almost seemed as if this were a guest room in the castle and not the King’s private quarters, despite the imperial bed.
I tried to step as softly as I could manage across the creaky parquet floor as I rounded the bed to get a glimpse of what lay on the other side of the chamber. Although I knew I was alone in this room, I also knew that a King was never truly alone either. The servants, or whomever else liked spying on the King, would no doubt be listening even now. King Sephiron must have known it as well as I. Which would explain the lack of, well...everything.
Lesser royals were always vying for the throne in the shadows, any bit of personal information could potentially be used as leverage or blackmail. Best not to have any at all, then. Still, I wasn’t quite finished with my snooping yet. He may have the cunning to outsmart his enemies, but his enemies weren’t witches. If there was something to find here, I would find it. Any extra facts I could gather about the King would help make this act believable. Though I still highly doubted anyone would ever suspect the King was currently being possessed, I didn’t like taking chances.
Outside, beyond the massive floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the far wall, the creeping orange fingers of sunrise were just breaking across the shedding hedges that lined the perimeter of the palace’s lush gardens. Several servants were already moving about, pushing wide long-handled brooms across the cobblestones of the many weaving pathways, diligently clearing away the dead foliage even as it continued to fall to the earth in steady waves. It seemed a futile act, but I mentally tucked the observation away. The King was a perfectionist, got it.
I turned my attention back to the right side of the chamber. Along the windows, in one corner of the room, sat an imposing desk with another menagerie of beasts carefully carved into the front and sides, a perfect match to the bed. In the opposite corner sat a grand piano of a pretty pearly-white hue, gleaming faintly in the morning light. No visible dust across the keys... a lover of the arts then, too. Another set of tall golden double doors stood proudly between the two… a dressing or bathing room perhaps. Feeling uncomfortable beneath the male gaze of my servants, I’d undressed myself last night. So, I hadn’t gotten the chance to see the King’s other private rooms. Still not wanting to alert any prying ears to my movements, I ignored the temptation of finding out what was behind them and crept towards the desk.
An unused quill sat beside a little clay pot of black ink and a fresh sheath of thick creamy parchment. I flicked through the stack quickly. Nothing, every page was blank. I rounded the desk and perched atop the squat leather stool that sat beneath it as I rifled around the drawers. Replacement quills, a hefty velvet-lined box of pricey cigars from the Southern continent, extra nibs, four sealed pots of ink, more blank paper, the royal stamp seal, an ancient-looking cigar cutter, a full box of matches, and a bundle of blood-red wax held together by a thin piece of twine.
When I tried the third drawer, however, it wouldn’t budge. I pulled on the curved edge of the cupped handle as hard as I could, to no avail. Locked, then. I doubted a desk as splendid as this would have warped drawers. What are you hiding Sephiron? I stooped down to face the drawer at eye-level, looking for any signs of a keyhole when… yes, there.
Barely visible beneath the handle was a small notch in the wood. I grasped it with the tip of my fingernail and pried. A small circle of wood popped off easily, clicking softly as it hit the floor.
The lock looked far too intricate to attempt to pick and… Damn this body! I wished more than anything I’d had my magick back. Now I would actually have to find the blasted key. I focused on channeling my frustration into a deadly calm. Think, think, think.
I thought of all the places I would hide a thing like that. Close. A witch would keep it close. Most likely on her at all times. Hidden, of course, but always on her. A human woman might put it in the floorboards or in some hidden compartment beneath the bed or piano. He may be cunning, but...he was still a man. Yes, he was still a man, and men don’t like to waste time looking for things. A man would keep it close as well, but... not in the same way a witch would. No, he would keep it here, close to the drawer. Hidden in plain sight.
I immediately thought of the cigar cutter, made of rusting iron and old chipped wood. Far too simple an object to belong to a King. Unless it had some sentimental value, which, by the cold minimalist style of the decor in his chamber, I doubted. No, he was not a sentimental man and it was the one thing that was out of place here. It had to contain the key. I fished it back out of the drawer and held it up to my ear as I gave it a little shake. A sly smile leeched across my mouth as I heard the dull rattle of metal hitting against hollow wood. I looked at the thing again, a bit closer this time, feeling for any tale-tell niche in the handle and pulled until I felt wood separate from metal and a delicate key dropped into my hungry palm.
The drawer was stuffed to the brim with folded-up letters and boring royal decrees. I sorted through them quickly looking for any pertinent information. A stained letter with a crumpled black seal near the bottom caught my eye… The Elemaeti seal, I would’ve known it anywhere. They’d sent our coven many, mostly threatening, letters over the years, taunting us about our inevitable defeat. I couldn’t wait to get my hands around that Elemaeti bitch of a High Priestess’s neck. A chill of pleasure from the thought ran down my spine, but I quickly brushed it away, remembering the task at hand and began to read.
“To His Honorable Majesty The Reigning King Sephiron of The Tri-Continental Arosian Empire,
The Elemaeti Coven of the Capital Continent, Lillistad, implore his Majesty to provide aid in fighting the Silverblood scourge that threatens to poach from us our magick that is widely used across this Great Continent for healing purposes and crop growth. If our magick were to be stolen from us, it is our great fear that many of your Empire would suffer immensely. The Silverblood coven is selfish and has never wished to bestow gifts on humankind as we have. In fact, as it is our coven’s primary mission to help others, our destruction would surely mean certain death for many helpless citizens across your Empire. As a hunted coven, we are forced to live in exile as a nomadic people. We do not stay in one place for long out of fear of persecution by the Silverbloods. We beg of your Majesty to respond posthaste to help us prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring. We can be reached at the Felbian Farm along the outskirts of the Madrian Capital City in Lillistad two weeks from this letter’s postdate.
Your ever-loyal servants,
The Elemaeti Coven”
Bitches. Lying bitches! Even as the never-ending stream of foul words and curses formed on my lips, I found myself clutching the letter with nervous shaking palms to flip it over. Gods be with me.
Eleven days. The letter had been sent eleven days ago. I let loose a primal, ear-splitting roar of victory. Prying ears be damned. I wanted everyone to hear my triumph, to feel my triumph, somewhere deep within their bones as I felt it now.
Surely enough both sets of golden doors in the room flung open, followed by panicked streams of red-faced servants all rushing towards me like a tidal wave of silky blue waistcoats. Sneaky bastards. They had been here all along. I brushed off the flurry of worried hands and questioning mouths, commanding I be dressed right away. I had a war council meeting to attend to.
Apparently though, being King still didn’t mean you got everything you wanted. At least, not right away. After two hours of arguing and deliberating and wasting precious time I could’ve spent removing the heads of Elemaeti witches, my councilmen finally agreed to side with me on the matter. It was a good thing too because I was never going to back down on the issue, no matter how long it took.
The attack would be launched immediately. I was assured that four hundred of my best commanders and soldiers would be conducting the mission, though, I still wanted to be there to participate in the bloodshed myself. However, I’d also learned King Sephiron, apparently, didn’t have much of a taste for carnage. He had never ridden out with his men to battle before. Not even once.
Many on the council had insisted it would be too dangerous for a King. “A King’s place is in his castle”, or some nonsense like that. Obviously, I then had to reference the many paintings of my ancestors depicted on killing fields hanging proudly in my chamber and produced a heartfelt speech about how I needed to be a King of my people, a strong fierce King that stood alongside his army. The hateful little men on my war council, lesser-royals that were in line for the throne, had been oh-so inspired by my theatrically impassioned appeal and overturned the decision that I was not permitted to go. Just as I’d predicted the self-serving bastards would.
I was dressed in the finest fighting leathers I’d ever seen within the hour, armed to the teeth, and astride the kingdom’s most prized stallion. He was an enormous beast of silky midnight with rippling muscles and cunning eyes called Maelstrom. I could only hope he lived up to his name. I was practically salivating for a taste of that red Elemaeti blood on my tongue by the time we neared the dead and barren-looking fields of the rundown Felbian Farm. So much for the Elemaeti’s “crop growth” magick.
The council and I had agreed that a meeting with the coven at night would seem suspicious. Though, since the coven had written to me and told me of their whereabouts, it wouldn’t seem too unlikely that the King himself might drop in for a little afternoon visit, especially when discussing a matter as delicate as this.
A messenger had been sent ahead, notifying them of the imminent rendezvous, along with the promise of four hundred of my best men to help aid them in their cause. And with the King by their side, who never went to war, they would never be suspecting of an attack. Genius, really. I’d even had the brief thought that perhaps mortal men weren’t as daft as I once believed.
Like clockwork, the royal trumpeters flanking me announced our arrival on the putrid little rat-hole they’d decided to call home this week, and the whole Elemaeti coven flooded out of their decrepit, rotting barn to greet us, shouting cheers of victory, arms all piled high with gifts for their King and his men.
A plump, elderly woman dressed in a tattered red cape with a cruel face and long black hair pulled into braid announced herself as the Elemaeti’s High Priestess and gave us her fervent thanks. I’d already made sure to tell my men to save her for me. I'd been waiting far too long not to have the pleasure of feeling her insignificant life slip away from her weak human body.
Her coven was vastly outnumbered, but I continued the charade, smiling the soft benevolent smile of a beloved gentle King as I watched them all weave between our ranks, approaching my soldiers with their pathetic little offerings. As I approached the High Priestess, heart thudding wildly, nearly about to burst from my chest with excitement, I finally let every single one of my nine-hundred years leech into my still-smiling face like ink through water.
Her sharp weathered face dropped about ten feet as she suddenly realized who I was, or I suppose, who I wasn’t. All too late, though. Before she could even form the words to warn her people, I swiftly thrust two fingers up into the air, signaling my men, then slashed my wickedly sharp blade down hard in a fierce arc, too fast for the old human to have ever seen coming. All of my men dutifully followed suit. The dull roar of bodies thudding to the earth simultaneously rippled across the field. Stragglers who, somehow, still lived, threw out terrified and uncontrolled bursts of green Elemaeti magick. Amateurs. It did more harm to them than it did us, in the end. The horses began bucking and thrashing wildly, trampling the last of their surviving coven into the mucky blood-soaked dirt.
The battle was surprisingly quick and deathly silent. I would’ve preferred a bit more resistance, maybe some screams of terror, and definitely a lot more carnage myself, but… I was relieved my people could finally be free of these lascivious, thieving humans who had ever dared to call themselves witches in the first place.
As I rode home, completely drenched from head-to-toe in that sweet dried-up Elemaeti blood, I couldn’t help reaching down to pat the still-silently screaming severed head of The High Priestess I’d tucked into my freshly red-stained satchel. A smile of pure, unabashed satisfaction seemed to be permanently plastered across my face even as the sprawling palace finally came into view over the rolling autumn-kissed hills of my Empire. I could already feel the comforting familiar burn of magick returning in my veins, coming back to me. I would be in my own body by the morning, but…
Man, it feels good to be King.