1. Turn of the Tide
The prince of fools saw before his eyes,
Was it the hand that turns, or the hand that ties?
He gazed around with worry and fear,
Of love and death when he came near
Would he win his prize, would he lose it all,
Would the drab ugly faces scoff at his fall?
His red armour covered him, his sword stained with blood,
All the dead faces lying frozen in mud
He knelt to the ground, his head in his hands,
How could a murderer be king of these lands?
Killing is killing, it has to be done,
But who is to stop it when the real evil comes?
With a stroke of his sword he could claim it all,
But one tiny trip and to his knees he will fall,
Is he prince, is he fool, the question he asks,
Are the men that follow him up to the task?
To his feet he stood, his sword in the air,
To the east his eyes looked with an uncertain glare,
No matter the outcome, no matter the fate,
He couldn’t stop now, for him it was too late
OFF to his destiny, his sword at his side,
He would give it his all, fear, courage, pride,
It is time for a prince to become a king,
And live at long last, his hopes and his dreams
by Merrill Cox
2. Father of the Wolf
Ulf sat beneath the great and old oak tree in the middle of the woods he knew and loved more than his home. The wind came and went and the leaves played there music upon its ever reaching fingers. He felt safe under the oak who stood forever watchful over the woods and its occupants, old as it is wise, the watchman and crown of these sacred woods. Ulf turned the amulet slowly between his fingers over and over again, hoping the gods or song of the trees would lead him to an answer he so badly needed. All he was to hear though was the agitation of the horses, the sharpening of swords and axes, the anticipation of the coming battle.
Snorri his father believed to be dead, he was now left to decide the fate of not just the life he led but that of the world and people around him. He felt an urge to not move from under the old oak tree, watching the seasons come and go, but as he refused to move its leaves bristled and whispered, two crows perched on a branch, waiting expectantly. He realized one thing. He was not only expected to be the prince he was born to be, but the legend his people believed him always to become. He chuckled and thought himself the prince of fools. But maybe, they were right to believe, and this legends tale would soon spill out across the bloodstained fields as far as the crows fly.
by J. Smith
3. Fools in love
Prince Charming’s guts spilt out on to the floor in front of him as the door slammed in his face. He looked down in shock at the red chaotic mess of tubes hanging out from his open stomach which dangled down to his expensive polished steel tipped leather boots.
This hadn’t been what he had expected, had she misunderstood? He had brought her glass slipper back hadn’t he? For fucks sake, she should have been pleased shouldn’t she?
He slumped down on the steps, blood flowing out of the open wound in his stomach and out around his fine clothes.
The evening they had spent together had been magical, he had fallen in love with her at first sight. Yes, she had run off rather abruptly before midnight but she apologized profusely as she sped away.
Not taking the Royal Guard with him along on his search was clearly a horrible mistake. He had been reckless, no doubt a result of the “courage” he had derived from a bottle of wine with his younger brother… or had that been two bottles? His brother had insisted, “You need to be relaxed” he had said. Well he was soon going to be relaxed in a minute alright, he’d be fucking dead.
Come to think of it, it was his brother who had told him where to look for the girl and it had been him who had introduced the two of them in the first place. That scheming bastard!
He coughed up some blood as the shock wore off and the shooting pain crept in. He was feeling cold, it wouldn’t be long now he guessed. As his life ebbed away he thought to himself how cruel the world was that fools in love seldom win the day.
by Neil Sheppard
4. The God Regent
I dropped the blade and fell to my knees. Blood dripped from my hands like a waterfall of death and guilt. Gods, I prayed for my soul, purge the sins of this King of fools. The God Regent just sat there, a grim smile on his face, chuckling bitterly as the blood left his chest. His crown, a mess of red and gold, sat at his feet, waiting, staring.
“It never ends.” The dying God croaked. “You were not the first.” He tried to stand up, and fell on his face, screaming as the crown’s spikes dug into his wound.
I stepped forward, cringing, and flipped him over. The crown was wedged in his abdomen, and I wrenched it from the dying, crying, dribbling God. A minute ago he had been the scourge of the known world. Now? Now he was pathetic.
“It ends now.” I said, though my hands still trembled. The crown sat snugly on my head, though it was sticky with blood. But the moment it was there, I saw the last hope fade from the dead God’s eyes.
“This is where it started,” he said, “the day I murdered the prince.” I stepped closer, steadying my hands on my knees. “I came back from the harrowing a man, back to my village, and found only scorched earth.” He shook his head and screamed. My nails dug tight into my kneecaps. “The man who did it, the prince regent, had rediscovered the old ways.”
“Death brings power.” I agreed, gritting my teeth. The only way to grow powerful enough to kill this God was to slaughter enough to rival him.
“Death only brings death.” The God croaked. I turned, and saw a boy with a sword.
“It ends tonight.” He said. I did not defend myself.
by Edward Strickson
5. An echo of life
There are moments in life which we all face. Moments that tear at the very fabric of our morality, our sense of right and wrong, light and dark. In these moments heroes excel. They take the bull by the horns and sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for a higher more profound purpose. Others falter at their own selfish needs or the underlying self-preservation of our pitiful race. These moments reside deep inside us in the darkest part of our immortal souls. Forever tormenting what is left of our fickle conscience.
The truth of it is; death is easy, death is certain. In fact it is the only certainty in life. What is one person in the grand scheme of things? Billions of people all around the world fade to nothing every day with no marks left behind. No legacy to carry through the ages.
I told myself once more, the words I had been repeating ever since I first embarked on this journey. This is necessary. I released the mechanism on the underside of my right gauntlet and prepared myself as the blade slid from its hidden sheath.
In one swift movement I shot my right hand up towards his jaw. The sound was disgusting, the kind of squelch you hear from stepping on a stone in the mud. Warmth started to seep down my arm and through my armor.
His eyes were wide and he gargled hopelessly as his chin rested in the palm of my hand. I started to feel his dead weight and pushed gently. The body splashed heavily into the water and was lost in the gentle caress of waves beneath the ship. This was the first life I had taken and I felt sick. Once a prince now just a murderer amongst fools.
by Dan James Brown
6. The Fate of Twins
“We are damned fools.”
Akin turned and faced his twin brother.
“You think I want this, Aden?” His reply carried an annoyance to it’s tone. “We don’t have a choice.”
They sat perched on the highest point of the Breot Tower, a wooden hatch door barely large enough for the width of one man lay beside them. Night had just settled in, and darkness enveloped the city.
“Whatever…You go first.” Aden nodded towards the door, his long dark hair falling into his eyes.
Rain began to fall lightly upon the rooftops and onto the brothers’ cloaks.
“See, a sign from the Almighty to hurry up!” Aden was not a fan of getting wet.
Akin grunted and neglected to respond. He slid down and opened the door, then with a disapproving glance back at Aden, dropped into the tower.
Akin fell several feet into a torch-lit room and landed with a thud. His shin nearly hit a sharp edge forcing him to stumble in avoidance.
“I see your months spent training have yielded no improvement” Aden landed gracefully behind Akin.
“Shut up. The room is just down the hall.” Akin was no stranger to his brother’s taunts. He had learned to brush them off immediately to avoid further wasting of time.
They had landed in a food storage area just north of their destination. Everyone on this floor should be asleep, and guards were only positioned on lower levels. The pantry latch was unknown to all but the royal family… and curious servants.
They hurried quietly down the hall and stopped just before enormous wooden double doors. They were emblazoned with the royal crest.
“Prince Afren’s room…” Aden whispered hesitantly.
“No turning back now. Let’s change the future.”
The brothers pressed open the doors and entered the royal bedroom.
by Holden Johnson
A blinding light filled his eyes as he woke. Liquid filled the chamber around him, panic washed over his mind.
‘Where am I, who….’ His thoughts were interrupted as images flashed through his aching head. Memories ran through his mind of what felt like centuries of information all at once.
One voice called a name through the chaos.
‘Fenros’ over and over. ‘Fenros my prince.’
He focused and opened his eyes again. Then an intense feeling of pain took over him he reacted without thinking. A massive burst of silver power emanated from his body. The stasis chamber that he was in buckled and the door was smashed off and sent flying into the wall on the far side of the room. The liquid that had filled the chamber spilled out and he fell forwards crashing to the floor and sliding in the wet sticky mess.
He reached for his face something was covering his nose and mouth. He pulled it off, a tube slid out of his mouth as he ripped it away; making him gag, he threw it to one side.
Gathering himself he looked around. The cool air of the room hit him and made him shiver. Looking down he saw he was naked, in one corner of the room just next to the stasis chamber he had come from was a locker. He stood slowly and made his way over holding on to whatever he could grab hold of to help him walk.
‘They were fools to try and contain my power’ he thought as his senses returned,
‘They will soon regret their decision.’
by David James Elsey ‘Smoke’
8. Implicit vs. Explicit
I am a New Zealander, Christchurch-born – Christchurch, that sombre town – and I go about things as the land has taught me, as it taught my father, and my father’s father, and so on and so farther. The land has taught me to remember the old stories, stories already ancient when the first hydrophobic fish dragged itself out of the primordial soup. Not only do I remember the old stories, I also respect them, which has saved my life more times than I can remember to forget. Like right now. I’d been sullenly deported from the sovereign state of Nod by my deafening doorbell, which is louder than Gabriel practising scales on the prince of the brass family. Cheerily contemplating homicide, I flung open the door.
“Can I help you?” I begged the woman. Her olive-oval visage was aptly analogous to the night of cloudy climes and starry skies.
“Yes,” she said. Her voice was molten honey. “I’ve run out of milk. Could I borrow some? I’ll…pay you back.”
My mind boggled. My eyes goggled. Was she…? The words ‘pay you back’ had definitely been encased in verbal italics. But I had my suspicions – I’m no oil painting. Indeed, I barely qualify as a toddler’s enthusiastically inept still life. Situations like these only happen in badly written pornos, or in the old stories about fools succumbing to succubi. Luckily, there was an easy way to test her credibility. A denizen of darkness cannot cross a threshold uninvited, because like all Janus-blessed borders, existing betwixt and between, thresholds have power.
I smiled at her, turned my back, and walked into the kitchen, leaving the door open. As I did so, a scrap of tumbleweed legal knowledge rolled through my mind, leaving in its wake the sickening realisation that some invitations are implicit.
by Nat Moore
9. Night’s Like This
On these nights of the rarest solitude there is time for a man to reflect on his life and the choices he’s made. My thoughts are slowly drawn from my head to my heart. Mistakes come first, sinuous and many. Regrets come next, crashing into me with an awe-inspiring vigor, thankfully they are but a few. It is now time to grasp for those happy moments, those times of rare contentment and throw them against the wall of mistakes and the towers of regret. It is unfortunate that, as they clash, one does not overwhelm the other, but instead it creates a maelstrom of bits from here and bits from there. I cannot grab or hold on to any of these pieces, they slip and whirl through my fingers only to return to that vortex of overwhelming confusion and emotion.
If I was just a man and not a prince maybe that would be where my thoughts end. Instead, those mistakes are multiplied by thousands and their effects draw the blood from my people and tattoo it to my hands. Each mistake is a fine cut to the flesh, by itself it is no problem, but as the cuts add up, the blood flows freer. My hands have become a mosaic of my people’s suffering. My regrets have brought me loneliness and fear because they have caused the falls of empires and the fury of many. These mistakes and regrets do not slip through my fingers, but stab me through my heart.
On these nights of the rarest solitude there is time for a man, or a prince, to reflect on his life and the choices he’s made, but I am neither, I am a fool.
by Adam Barton
10. A Gathering
Fools. All of them. Looking around the room was like gazing into an enclosure of preening peacocks, and this was supposed to be a gathering of the very finest in class and privilege. Instead a harsh reality of over-dressed, inbred young idiots with a large and overly developed sense of entitlement. One young gentleman was actually drooling through thick podgy lips while staring at the ridiculously beautiful young serving girls. I couldn’t help but wince when the same fellow’s grasping hand caught one of the hapless maids. She let out a small cry of fear as she was pulled onto a voluminous lap.
I decided that I was going to start with him.
So I then started making my way over to where the offender was apparently trying to suffocate an innocent armchair, nodding curtly to polite greetings as I went.
When I reached the suffering armchair its occupant had already begun undressing his victim, exposing a milky white breast. A plea for mercy ended with a resounding slap as I stepped forward. “Excuse me”. The oaf looked up, startled by the loud interruption and serious tone. Perfect I thought, reaching inside my shirt. I had time to see his small pig-like eyes widen in fear before I stabbed him in the neck with the first of my knives. I had plenty more.
When it was finished my friends and I shared a universal dress code. Where before we had been dressed in a myriad of colours, we were now covered in a rich and striking red.
Gazing around the carnage in the room, with its shattered lives and mangled remains a thought came unbidden to mind. It seemed like an awful amount of blood and bother just for a Prince.
by Peter Hyder
The prisoner woke-up and saw the usual grey-green brick walls. Every night he slept on a straw bed. He had a wooden stool that wobbled on the floor, and a window with a tree in it. This was his room, a home which he lovingly called his “Mausoleum.”
The first time he was cast into this room he was a man, defiant about not letting this suffocating hole shut out his dignity. First, he tried to accept this situation and look upon it objectively, forbidding emotion to drive him into despair. When he was marching down the hall to meet his prison the hall was filled with indignant screams, howling and groans from the other prisoners that occupied their own spaces. He didn’t want to be like that; he was a man. But that first night, when he was staring at the tree outside and the cold surface of the moon his stomach rebelled and turned to sickness. He wouldn’t eat and felt like a pathetic animal as he lied awkwardly on the straw. The air alternated between staleness and dampness and his neck gagged. The pain in his stomach was harsh and he could only yell and cry.
But now he was no longer sick; he was no longer a suffering animal or a man adamant about his dignity. He was a man who marveled at the tree outside and wondered what the previous occupants of his room thought of this tree. Surely, some fools saw it as a symbol of freedom. Perhaps a prince stared at the tree and felt it was placed there by sadistic hands, intent on mocking his pitiable downfall. The prisoner didn’t know better for he often looked at the tree both ways, disgusted, or consumed by joy as the wind moved its leaves.
by Andrew Geary
12. Causation of the Earth’s Pulse
Some say the Earth turns on an axis. Others say that a giant God spins it like a ball on top of his huge fingers. They’re all wrong.
The world revolves around the madness and the chaos. The floods and the earthquakes are not caused by the moving of plates, or the forces below the ground, as science suggests, but rather by the will of men with broken minds and cruel hearts.
Poems are the sorrows of another. Stories are the mournful cries of a shallow life ruined by hatred. Listen to the wails of your brother and laugh as shadows flicker on brittle walls, casting doubt in your soul as to what you put your faith in.
It’s the sons of sons that are truly lost; led astray by wandering thoughts and malicious lies. Sin is passed on from father to son, and so burdened with heavy hearts, the children stand back as they help the world to burn.
Kings command, Queens demand, but their sons wait… wait to inherit power and supremacy, only to be succeeded by their own children, just as eager to take the throne and seize the glory.
The Earth squeaks as it circles its way through the blackened sky, creaks as it soars through the sky, dotted with stars, lost forever in the blackness of the universe. But humanity does nothing to remember this as they slaughter their own and destroy their home.
Be not tricked by the egoism that surrounds most of us. Be not deceived by the light that flickers in the distance of the endless stone tunnel.
It’s the Prince that rules the world, chuckling manically as his fires engulfs everything he has ever known. Only fools think otherwise.
by Thomas Wheeldon
13. New Solitude
A rock fell from the cliff above. Gilbert spun, eyes squinting.
A woman stood at the edge of the world. The morning sea breeze whipped her gown like a plague of microdrones. Her face was in shadow, but sunlight flowed along the glitter of technology braided along her bare arms.
“What do you want?”
She answered by turning into a swarm, diving down next to him and coalescing back into shape. He turned away.
“You look like her.”
“I am her.”
“I’m not a fool. I know she’s dead.”
“She was a flawed genetic clone. I am the original.”
His body shook, blood pounded.
“That fact does not make her any less special,” the woman said. Her appearance shifted. Any tell-tale sign of her technology disappeared. The iridescent shine to her eyes left, leaving the deep brown he knew so well. Her hand came up to caress his cheek and he let her.
“We only want what is best. One coupling and you will save humanity,” she said.
“You want me to fuck you?”
“We’d rather a complete integration.”
He pushed her away, and made a haphazard retreat. He tripped, going down on his ass on the sandy beach.
“I’m human. I don’t want to be—“
“Like me? I was human – once. Now, I am like a god.”
“Code. A set of rules developed fifty thousand years ago. It has worked remarkably well for us. You are the last of humanity, Gilbert. A prince among none. Would you rather let the human species go extinct, or join a new one?”
“I’d rather be my own person. Make my own decisions.”
“We are all bound by our code.”
After a moment’s thought, Gilbert stood and walked into the ocean.
by N. E. White
14. With Haste
It was dark, Ragnos thought, then again ever since the sun god was slain a looming shadow plagued the thirteen kingdoms of Trilkanu. What lay ahead only a fool could wager, but Ragnos knew in his heart he had to press on through the dense forests of the fearsome Willow walkers in order to reach Xiatome, the seventh and most prosperous of the kingdoms. Rumor had it that if a single person gathered all of the riches of the forgotten times and placed them in a single room it would be as an ant to the smallest sky tower hovering above the vast city of skylogone. As Ragnos made his way through the forest slicing a clear path threw the thorns with his scythe it became clear to him that he was being followed. He haulted his pursue only if for but a moment as to obtain a better understanding of the potential threat.
“Away come to the bird flies new, seek in which a lonesome stitch?”
Immediately Ragnos tensed his muscles ready for the attack he knew would come.
“Woeful away put that stick, and be quite calm there is no trick!” The high pitched voice shrieked from afar.
“Who attempts to pause my quest with pointless riddles so close to Nyghtmare!” Ragnos replied, “Make yourself known or by the Prince I will ignite an inferno and cast you out!” Ragnos hoped that this stranger would not call his bluff, the element of fyre was beyond his abilities since battling with the forest golems earlier that day. Just then a grotesque face appeared from behind a tree thirteen paces in front of him, and what came after could only be described as Nyghtmare taken physical form. A serpent materialized unfolding hundreds of trimantium scales behind a sinister smile that only promised death.
by Joe Aufiero
15. Another fool
I was covered with blood.
Standing between the throne and myself, the traitor. How many men had to die so far? Maybe I’d killed two dozens, unfortunately my three companions were now in The Hall, celebrating their past lives. I prayed for their souls, and I prayed for mine. If The Prince didn’t help I was going to be there soon. What a bastard of god. Promising the liberation of Haggelks to an old man like me in exchange of that traitor’s life. An easy task if the traitor wasn’t The Fool himself.
What an idiot I was. I took off my cloak and cleaned with it the blood still remaining in my sword. If I was meant to die by the hands of The Fool, it would make me feel better do it with honor. Two steps forward. The sword, in my right hand, pointing to the ground and swinging slowly from right to left and then, with the left hand, from left to right pointing to the Heaven. The symbol of life and the symbol of death. The symbol of eternity. As the gods did in The Hall when a duel was about to start. I did it twice, as The Prince told me to do. It seemed that implied his future judgement in The Hall, if I was capable of killing him.
The dance of death started, changing from one posse to another, the noise of swords colliding smited my ears. Suddenly, he ripped apart my left eye, but thinking the duel was over The Fool made a mistake and I wrecked the blade in his heart.
He started to laugh. “Now, you are The Fool”, and died with a smile on his face. A smoke came out The Fool’s corpse and, in the blink of an eye, came inside my own body.
The world lost his sense. I lost my sense. And I couldn’t feel better.
by Santiago Hoyos
16. Prince of Swallows
The sun blazed through sooty windows, dust particles danced in the light as it illuminated grimy flooring and grim patrons huddled over dirty tankards.
Etana surrendered his weapons to the burly door guard, noting the duelling scars on the forearms of the large man as he entered the inn. Dirk and cutlass were stowed with almost reverent care and a surprisingly delicate touch.
Etana glanced down, suddenly aware of exposing his own markings, the twin swallow tattoos on the backs of his hands were unlikely to draw attention this far from home, even so he pushed deeper into the safe cover of his pockets.
“Whores are the only honest women I know, at least they’re upfront about taking your money.” A voice boomed across the common-room.
Etana looked up to see Mars climb the final step from the basement rooms, still fastening his trousers and with a plump girl in tow.
She was pretty, he thought, even with the salacious leer etched across her face. Mars dipped his head to give her a final kiss and folded a small parcel of notes into her hand before sending her on her way with a ringing slap across her arse.
Fresh smiles were quickly wiped from their faces as a new voice rang out across the inn. Both men turned to find themselves confronted by an armed stranger.
“Prince Etana!” The eyes of the newcomer flicked across to Mars.
“As ever, the prince of fools I see.” He said.
Etana could see the tendons tighten and stand out on Mars’ forearms as his fists clenched at the insult.
Mars’ boot hit the stranger in the eye as the two of them raced towards the door and their weapons.
“Catch with your hands, not with your face!” he called over his shoulder.
by Ryan McGowan
17. Witch King
Fear! He knew how to bind them with it.
Northmen. Toughest warriors in these parts.
Yet, he would make them cringe. They would whisper his name and call to their gods in the heavens, imploring them for protection.
Fingers curled, raptor’s claws for tearing. Frozen in place. Cold! So cold. It was always cold in the Ice Queen’s Kingdom. Fools! Mortal men had no place here. He brought his palms up and gazed at his bloodied fingers. A blurred image, blood on snow lay at his feet as he concentrated his azure eyes on his bleeding nails. The blood dripping from them was not his own. The northman had fought well…died like a true champion, axe still held tightly in his grasp, rigor mortis fixing him, the medusa of death turning him to stone.
The throat was ripped, spots of red colour marking where the veins had been severed against the yellow flesh that formed the slit, much like the opened stomach of a chicken, or the painted lips of a female ogre…the windpipe missing. It lay several feet yonder, blood spraying away from the wound like the fountain formed when a deer’s throat is slit.
Muscles bulged in his arms and he balled his fingers into fists. He was mortal—barely. Some called him by his name, Prince Uthar, those who could still gaze in his eyes, others whispered witch king—sorcerer. Enemies would come to know him as Lucifer’s spawn.
Whimpers invaded his thoughts. Emerald eyes gazed up at his blue. Fear mirrored in her eyes. Her breasts hung from her torn dress, but he paid them no heed, though she was a curvaceous woman. Her he would use to spread his message of fear. He curled his lip into a grin. The whimpers became a wail.
by Alex George
18. A Fool’s Omen
“Fools, all of you.” He hardens his glare at the men seated behind the table. Pompous men, fattened from leisure, coddled, and steeped in superstition. His fingers grip the table’s edge as he leans forward, knuckles white. The pommel of his sword scraps against the mahogany. “Hear me, gentle men,” he pauses to stare down the man sitting at the table’s center. The man whose chair-back rises higher than the others. The man whom he shares his blood, his eyes, but not beliefs.
“This, is on you, father. You, who will not heed the warning so blatant in the sky. You, who believes the Gods protect all. The Gods do not care.”
The Prince leaves the council room. Doors open without him lifting a finger and he stands at the threshold. Defeat rests heavy on his shoulders while those beyond, his country men, his friends, his people, dance and sing and drink into the night. A party of all parties. Ever mindful, yet ignorant, of what comes. As his warnings fall up on deaf ears.
They wave for him to join the celebration of what the council men deem a good omen. A fool’s omen.
He is their Prince, but not their King. Nor will he ever be. For death comes. This city will fall. This, Kingdom… His Kingdom will fall.
He leaves the palace. Horse saddled, pack laden, and turns his mount toward the east as the omen streaks overhead, lighting his way. An hours hard ride into the night he looks back at his city. From here, from this distance, he should see little but the sky blazes and he sits in time to watch his father’s good omen bless the city. A final passionate kiss, and he feels the heat of its breath upon his tears.
by Kris McElroy
19. Life of Laughter
There’s always blood at the end.
Some think that the end holds things more ideal – like regret or release or a light to follow. So many endings have I seen and none have come to much more than surprise. And blood. A blade well placed or a needle-prick of contamination. Sometimes a quick struggle, but always the same closing act.
Fools as such we smile and tumble. Juggle and game with faces of clowns. The jesters that bring laughter and escape from daily life – we bow and sweep and sing the land’s songs. There is pride to be had in bringing these gifts. A display well-loved and admired is an honor to our craft.
Desperate few know and fewer can pay our princely sums. The coin that brings the laughter and more that brings the death. But find us they do and we dance the whirl of charm and culmination.
A Lord’s young daughter with bright smiles caught in a jealous web. A generous merchant pressing a deal too far. All share laughter and joy with trust that the next trick will be better than the last. Oh, it most certainly is.
This performance accommodates the laughter of a child prince born in an unlucky hour. His quest for diversion and charm brings us close over time. Joy and a longing for more is what I, yet again, see at the end.
Hands clap for the fool with delight in his bright eyes…and then surprise. The song carries on until the jest is complete. It finishes with creased brows and a flourished bow.
And blood once again.
20. The Price We Pay
The rain fell in a steady cascade that whispered of empty streets and warm fires. It poured down on Pembleton Library as an elderly gentleman struggled through the doors with a large package. A small group of children, gathered around an empty chair, turned at the sound and gazed excitedly upon the painting Ralph began to reveal.
Ralph made his way over to the empty chair and propped the painting up for all to see. A window into desolation sat before them as they looked upon a faraway king, sitting in a barren hall that leached the colour from the world around it. Distressed murmurs ensued before a nervous, ‘why is the man so sad?’ arose from the crowd.
‘His name is the Melancholy Prince, and in his heart he held a loneliness that drove him from all that is real.’ The children leaned in, listening intently to every word Ralph said. ‘He was a man who fell in love with a paper doll, but he was so blinded by love that he forgot all about the rain; only to be reminded as his happiness turned to horror when the rain tore into her flesh like one thousand tiny arrows. He sold everything in his kingdom to try and regain his love, but to no avail. Now he spends his days sitting alone in his sadness and living in a world inside of his head where his love has not disappeared.’
Marcie’s mother sat behind the rest of the parents, attempting to hide the fact that she was constantly occupied. ‘What fools, listening to the drivel of an old man. Who would be stupid enough to fall in love with a paper doll‘, she thought to herself as she checked her bank balance for the fourth time that day.
by Hannah Brian
21. Ben, Again
I opened my eyes, blinked away the last searing filaments of neural coding, and took the first breath of my life. Well, of this life, anyway.
I was on my back, squinting up at a panel of lights that glared like the luminescent eyes of a spider. The implant arm retracted, a mechanized mandible laced with the toxin of my embedded consciousness. My mind was sluggish, as though
I’d overslept. As though I’d ever slept. It was moments before I felt the puzzle of who I was, or had been, finally piece itself together.
“How do you feel?” The voice belonged to a man somewhere to my right.
A chuckle. “Nice. Ready for the list?”
The list…Oh, right. The list. “Shoot,” I said.
“Ben what Sato?” asked the voice, quite obviously amused with itself.
I sighed. “Ben…Leslie Sato. Happy?”
“Exceedingly.” There was a muted beep as my answer was catalogued in some unseen compad.
“Hilarious. Your job?”
“Field Agent. Injury and Intent Division.”
“None that I know of.”
Another quiet laugh. “Where are we?”
“Uh, your lab at Mazutek?”
“I meant what colony, fool.”
“Ah, sorry. Pacifica.”
“One more question, Ben. Any idea who killed you this time?”
My last torrent had been sent from home. I’d managed to sneak in a quickie with Amy before her night class. The last thing I remembered was pushing the pin behind my ear while pulling on a sock, sending the Ben Sato of that instant to a hard-drive here at Mazutek.
Who did kill me, I wondered. The spider fixed to the ceiling above me stared back, unblinking.
“Ben?” the voice prompted gently.
“I have no idea.”
by Nicholas Eames
22. The Lord of Misrule
They call the leader of the King’s best entertainers “Prince of Fools”.
All year he pranks, and jokes, and sings; in nonsense rhyme evinces rules
And regal edicts, tumbling as courtiers mock–and all the while
His majesty laughs on, the bitter, bumbling jester wears a smile.
Then when the year comes to a close, that season northerners call Yule,
The King, in action grandiose, names his pet man “Lord of Misrule”,
And freely gives all symbols of command to this ennobled clown–
But, as he abdicates the throne, he sees no grin beneath the crown.
With bells and costume cast aside, the buffoon makes himself a ghoul
Of retribution for their snide mistreatment of him. He gives cruel
Leave for all merry made abuse, his orders prompting howls and squirms:
The King an ass! The priest a whipping boy! The rich crawling like worms!
Then at his signal–as the King bends, as the courtiers all drool
And fight each other for their turn to ride upon the royal mule–
The entertainers raise the gates, throw all doors wide, let in the world,
And as disorder reigns the banner of new order is unfurled.
This low court desecrates the high and, as his master slowly cools,
The jester contemplates his new headgear, of gold and precious jewels.
Amidst the corpses, poor folk dance and reel and splash through bloody pools.
Come dawn, the wisest amongst them will kneel and hail him King.
by Leon Hudson
23. The three-pointed star
It is hard to decide which people hate more, their neighbours or their relatives.
In the case of the Hundred, sometimes your relatives are your neighbours, which gives you even more reasons to despise them. Still, as dreary as that may sound, being the detested neighbour-relative is by far preferable to being a feckless peasant, plodding over muddy fields behind a cow, day-in and day-out. Tugging your forelock to any lordling who comes a-riding right through your crops and who would as soon slice you in two and rape your daughters as bid you good day.
It is easy, in comparison, to fall off the face of the Earth in our times, so easy for a branch of a noble family tree to be snapped off and be buried under dead leaves, or act as kindling for some peasant’s fire. Especially if your neighbours and relatives are keen on snapping branches off your tree.
As sons are a house’s strength, and we are not fortunate enough to carry a fancy birthmark in the form of, say, a crossbow, the house Mersidis makes their own birthmark by branding their newborns with the three-pointed star enclosed in a ring. The branding iron is tiny, the size of a fingernail, and Builder-made, so small and fine no smith can reproduce it. The artificial birthmark grows and expands as the wearer grows until it is approximately fist-sized. Those who survive the branding – for you must make the Builder-steel hot like Hell to make it burn enough to brand someone, even if it is just a baby – are the true sons of our house. I wear a three-pointed star. And that is why I call myself a prince, and do not count myself as one of you fools.
24. Right, But Not Righteous
“Fools,” I say. “Fools, all of you.”
And I am right to say it. I look at their bodies, crumpled on the bare floor, blood pooling into the cracks of the tiles, and know that I am right.
Right, but not righteous. No, of course not, and I feel my lips crack into a smile at the pretentious thought. The righteous do not slay the innocent. And I am neither.
The wind touches me then, a caress, a cool, soft touch that licks the sweat from my skin. A sigh escapes my lips as I peer up into the sky. The sun lingers over the broken walls of the temple, daylight fading into dusk, dust and ash drifting in the few remaining rays of luminance. Shadow clings to the ruins below, darkness reaching for the victims of my terrible, beautiful crime.
A perfect end to a perfect day, I think.
I hear a murmur, a muffled sob of pain, and I move over corpses, searching for the sound. Cold, lifeless eyes stare at me, begging for a release that will never come. Dead fingers, frozen as they reach for the heavens, plead for salvation, but I ignore them. Blood trickles down faces awash in eternal fear and terror, runs down the cracked stone, seeking the damp earth.
My feet slow as I find the source of life. A woman crawls on her belly, clutching to what life she has left. Her head turns, her eyes on mine, trembling as tears stream down her dirty face. She was pretty once, I think.
They loved me once, these fools. Loved me as they might love a prince. They held open their arms to me, and I, their beloved prince, slew them all.
“I am neither,” I whisper, and I finish the job.
by Chris Wilson
25. A Dragon’s Snack
The battle was over. The Prince had lost. The dragon had won.
Now Prince Cyrus lay helpless in the dragon’s great maw. It had carried him from the valley floor, up through a bank of clouds, to a cave on the face of snow-capped cliff. The dragon’s hot breath misted as it met the cool cavern air.
Cyrus knew the Great Generals had been fools to send in such a small unit. But he, being the youngest Prince, had no choice but to fulfill their commands. The Prince and his men were left bloody and scorched on the battlefield.
Cyrus didn’t struggle for fear the dragon would tighten its grip. He prayed for one quick crunch to end it all before he could feel the pain. Struggling might lead to a slow death. His stomach churned.
The dragon’s mouth opened and Cyrus thudded to the rocky cavern floor. It slithered to the opening, spread its wings, and flew off into the open sky.
Scorched and sore, Cyrus rolled from supine to prone then pushed himself erect. He praised the Gods, both High and Low, and trudged to the cave’s exit.
Steep crags provided footholds below. Not many, but enough to gain purchase. That was only the tip of the peak, though. Clouds obscured the mountain below.
Cyrus was sitting on the edge, contemplating the least precarious route, when he saw the dragon returning. He knew he’d never make it down in time, or that the dragon might pick him off the mountainside. The thought of being consumed repulsed him.
The dragon turned parallel to the cliff and darted after Cyrus. He caught him easily, like a bat homing in on a moth.
The dragon turned and headed back to the cave.
by Dusty Wallace
26. To Ride
“Ready my horse.” The prince turned back to the open window. Troops assembled in the courtyard below. Only those on mounts were free of mud and filth. Soon the gates would open and the troops would rush forth and meet the assembled enemy. There was no hope in winning. All would perish.
His father had ordered the attack from their forward castle. Being closest to the border, they were the first line of defense. The only hope was that they would strike with enough surprise to take a good number of the enemy through the gates of hell.
“Sir, your steed awaits.”
“I will be there in a moment. I wish to see the battle start.”
It pained him to stand by and watch men that had been condemned to die. Perhaps they knew their fate. Perhaps not. They only needed to march forth and do their best. That was all.
The gates exploded open. No trumpets, no drums, no banners. Just men rushing forth. Men outnumbered at least five-to-one. Fools sent forth to die for their king.
Orders had also been sent for the prince. He was to return home. Leave the troops to die in the mud of the melting snow. Make his escape while the enemy was distracted by the attack. Allow the castle to be taken. Some troops had been left in the castle with orders to set fires, destroy everything, and take out as many enemy troops as possible.
Proud men clashed with little regard for their own lives. Blood spilled and mixed with the snow and mud. He could watch no longer. Something must be done. He couldn’t return home a coward, having left his troops to die. His father had chosen the fate of all in the castle. He would share their fate.
27. The Best Story of All
The story was that Belany dipped her fingernails in poison. She said the poison was for the fools. Just one little nick and presto – a once live fellow was dead.
I never ventured to her table.
Tamaral though, she was different. Hers was the best story because she had no story at all. She was new to madams.
“May I?” I asked. The ladies of the house always had final say. Tamaral pulled a golden lock from her face and raked her radiant blue eyes up one side of me and down the other.
“Your name?” she asked. Her words dipped down and were clipped at the end. She had such a wonderful accent.
“I am Prince Mivtten, Tamaral. The madam said I might like you.”
“You are royalty?” she asked. I nodded.
She smiled and took my hand. We walked the stairs to the rooms. On her door was affixed an old, faded parchment. Still holding my hand, she let loose a few guttural sounds.
“Read it,” she said, pointing to the parchment.
I glanced to her. Sure, I’d play along.
“Stolrahfoecnirp,” I intoned in mock graveness.
She did a little jump. “We are now wed. Wulfgar may never have me!”
I laughed with her as the door opened. A bald man with ruins all over his face pointed a sword at me.
“Velheevs,” she said, “the spell is cast.” She ripped the parchment from the wall. The man, Velheevs, grabbed me and pulled me inside.
“Wait,” I managed before a gag was in my mouth. Velheeve’s dragged me down a hidden passage I never knew existed. Soon, we were out in the cold night.
“We must hurry,” Temeral said.
‘No story?’ – I should have known better. Everyone had a story.
I just hoped mine didn’t end soon.
by Jason Lairamore
28. A Fool’s Lot
Dale crouched at the foot of the throne, hands clenched around the polished timber of his merry-staff. He prayed the bells would not jingle. He might escape notice if he remained still. Despite the bright fabrics of his costume, the beads and feathers woven through his wavy hair, he was usually the last to attract attention. He liked it that way.
From the time the emperor was a prince, when full of drink or a lust for blood too powerful to be quenched by the deaths of a few slaves, the Congress sent in a fool. If Emperor Tamyr started to inflict his mood on the nobility, Dale and his brethren were the sacrificial clowns ordered into the melee to settle things down. They were a distraction, a comedy to calm the emperor when he reached a rage.
By his own tragic luck this fine morning, Dale was instructed by Mage Abnal to keep Tamyr in good spirits as he stormed toward the Worhein. He suspected the Congress planned to deliver ill news to their emperor, but didn’t dare ask what. It was best for fools not to bother with the matters of kings and emperors.
Hot blood hit Dale’s face. He glanced up as Tamyr brought down another strike on the already mangled skull of an unfortunate, disagreeable mage. In the manic emperor’s fist, a heavy white stone shone bright, dripping red. Dale shuddered and gagged on a mouthful of bile, tearing his eyes from the grisly mess on the Worhein’s marble floor.
He saw her and froze. Princess Neyra lurked in the shadows of the silent chamber, her arms crossed, black eyes locked on the splattered face of her father’s fool. Why was she here? Tamyr delivered another furious blow, a wet crunch echoing loudly, and Neyra smiled.
by Alicia Wanstall-Burke
29. The doom that came from the sky
The skystone lies in deepest shadow at the heart of the castle that was built around it. The lineage of the finder are its protectors. It is death, it is mayhem and it waits.
The first crashing collision reverberates through the hall. The prince looks at the dust lazily spiralling through the sunbeams contrasting it with the urgency of the sounds coming from outside. There is another resounding boom, drinks jump, plates shed cutlery. The chandeliers swing as more plaster dust rains from the ceiling.
The prince sighs. The third crash is the loudest yet, joined with a giant smashing tinkle as one of the windows gives out.
Medder thinks it is time “Prince Adelbern, It is time to leave, IF we can get past your brother’s army”
“I will not run” The prince is stubborn, he didn’t leave when the army approached, refusing to give up as the siege engines were built, even though it is plain that the castle will fall.
Somewhere above them there is a resounding thump and the room seems to jump sideways as everyone is covered in debris.
“We stay and we ensure that they don’t take the stone” the prince repeats standing and dusting himself off.
“And just how do you propose to do that your highness?” Medder says.
“My brother has surrounded himself with fools. We will use the stone first”
“The prophecy!” Medder says
“Sebastian was an idiot”
“They say he was inspired by the gods”
“To void his bowels and drool? No, we will use the stone” The prince rises decisively and goes and puts his hands upon the stone.
The castle is silent. The crows feast. It is death, it is mayhem and for now it is sated.
by Pete Sutton
30. Hard feelings
‘Come in Kyden’
I readied myself for the inevitable rejection, went inside and stood to attention.
‘You’re a good soldier Kyden, you don’t cause any trouble or give any lip, swing a sword better than most, and the prince speaks very highly of you’
…here comes the ‘but’ I thought…
‘but, you just didn’t make the cut, I’m sorry’
And there it was again. Cue a tirade of platitudes, ‘go get ‘em’ encouragement and ‘you were our second choice’ bollocks.
Second choice again, always the second choice, as if that made it better It was beginning to really piss me off especially as I was probably passed over in preference to that brown nosed, arsehole Gregor who wormed his way into the captain’s good books not by being a better soldier than me but by being a better kiss ass. The brass always fall for that shit, the fools.
Later, I was resting my back against the loose block on the tower waiting. Gregor was in the inn, and once he’d finished celebrating his promotion he’d have to enter the tower by the door below me.
I waited for a long time my legs cramping in the cold. I was just about to give up, thinking he’d managed to find a girl drunk or blind enough to consider fucking him when I heard him singing and staggering up the path.
As I had hoped, in his drunken haze he struggled with the door. As he was quietly giggling at his fumbling, I pushed hard with my legs and the block slid over the edge and crashed down onto him with a satisfying wet crunch. My only regret is not seeing the look on his face.
I looked down at the crushed body of Gregor. No longer second choice.
by Simon Scoltock
31. An Unlikely Lad
Our words are at best perhaps a fickle mistress. One moment they bestow you with their favour – giving life to prose gravid with elegance and dignity – and at another they leave us high and dry with the taste of bile in the back of our throats, gibbering like fools. On the rare occasion, however, they might see fit to lend their energies to the creation of a love child; a curious bastard of the two. Such it was that a complex combination of emotions and events came together so completely and appropriately in one, short, cathartic utterance; neither prosaic nor inadequate.
“Fuuuuck”, the lad said, his voice straining as if it were tearing something to let it go.
The imprecation hung in the air, something tangible, and none of the other men-at-arms on the ridge wanted to touch this newly engendered verbal pariah. Yet they were glad all the same that it was said. The young prince could sense a rising panic, not just in the men, but in the horses and seemingly the very trees around them – whipped into a frenzy by the sudden gust from below. Cutting strangely over the sound of nervous sidling and the loosening of swords in their scabbards was the overwhelming silence. Where moments before the familiar sounds of men dying, men crying, pleading for life, water and home had reigned, was now a sickening quiet.
In the end, it was the crossbow bolt feather-deep in the chest of his sergeant that made up his mind. It didn’t take a fucking military genius like his father to know the best course of action here, so he gave his stallion some spur and the rest of the men fell into line behind him. He always liked the pub better anyway.
by Rhys Wilson
32. The Prince of Cowards
My guard hold the endless hordes of peasants back with drawn swords, a clear path cutting through the crowd.
Total silence clouds the air, the only sound the clattering of my horse’s hooves on cobblestone. All eyes watch me and I know what lingers behind them. They hate me, but can’t say it.
Then three words break the silence: ‘Prince of Cowards!’
The words echo through the square and I halt my horse. Suddenly, my heart beats harder and an unmistakeably stab of fear sets my skin on fire, spreading through my body and igniting my senses. ‘Who said that?’ I yell at the crowd, and many faces look at me innocently, their eyes wide and scared. ‘Who said that?!’ I repeat.
There is no answer, and I nod to a guard, who disappears into the crowd.
Moments later he appears, dragging a man by the collar of his ragged shirt and throwing him into the mud below me. I climb off my horse and look the man in the eyes. I can barely see them through his tangle of hair.
‘I may be a Prince of Cowards, but you stand before me- alone- with nothing but useless farmers at your back. You are less than me. I may be a coward, you’re a fool: a Prince of Fools.’
In front of five hundreds peasants I stab this man, and he dies slowly while everybody watches.
Am I barbaric? Am I a coward? Maybe. But I’m the one with power.
An idea without an army is useless. An idea without influence is nothing.
The Prince of Fools may be braver than me; his words may stir in the mouths of all who witnessed it. But I’m the one they bow to.
I’m their leader.
And now they’ll never forget it.
by Benjamin Gumbrell
33. He Wasn’t a Liar
‘Prince Shehar Kazim is here, M’lady,’ Myra spoke, breathless.
‘Send him in,’ Aaliyah yawned. The idiots never stopped despite the ghastly warnings.
The Prince entered and Myra followed. He was the embodiment of youth and beauty, but so were many of the suitors before him–all now dead. What distinguished Kazim from others was his honest aura. Every previous man had had a blemish, if not blotches. His appeared impeccable.
‘My Lady,’ he began. ‘I am Prince Shehar Ka—‘
‘I know who you are,’ the lady interrupted. ‘Sit down,’ she gestured at the settee nestled in the middle of the archaic room. He obeyed.
‘Why do you wish for my hand in marriage?’ she inquired.
‘Why wouldn’t I? You are the most beautiful maiden in Khybar. Your intelligence outweighs every scholar’s in this Kingdom. Your grace and wit dull queens in comparison.’
His face was earnest and his tone hinted no betrayals. The aura remained consistent. Remarkable, thought Aaliyah.
‘Are you well aware of the rules and what happened to those who failed?’
‘I’m very well aware, my lady,’ he said, unhesitating.
‘Then answer the question: if you had all the power in Khybar, what would you do?’
She waited, expecting the usual scrunch of the nose and feigned contemplation. Kazim, however, wasted not a heartbeat in answering.
‘I will use every atom of it to make you happy.’
Aaliyah managed to mask her astonishment as she peered at him. The aura had never wavered.
‘You may leave,’ she finally said. He obeyed, again without a single utterance.
Myra approached tentatively after the prince had departed.
‘He… he didn’t fail, did he?’ she asked. ‘He answered honestly.’
’He answered incorrectly.’
‘But, m’lady!’ the maid cried in shock. ‘He wasn’t a liar!’
‘No,’ Aaliyah replied grimly. ‘He was a fool.’
by Komal R. Khan
34. For Glory
The wind blows from east as armies of two princes gather… And I have no idea what am I doing at the head of one of the largest army in the world. Well, I have an idea actually, but it’s a very loose concept. Reckon conquest is the order of the day. I turn around to find Zaine, a strapping chap of twenty, heading towards me. That fool! It’s too soon! ‘The troops are ready for charge, sir!’ says the boy. Truth be told he’s barely 3 years younger, but his cognitive capacity is lackluster to say the least. I don’t like to think myself to be above others, but facts are facts. ‘Noted, stand by for further orders.’ The look of awe on his face was evident as I turn around to observe enemy army with an all-knowing expression. And a smug smile, let’s not forget that. There. I’ve found that there is often little difference between looking like you know what you’re doing and actually knowing. ‘Ah, well’ I said with an air of boredom ‘sound the charge.’ To be completely honest I have no idea what’s going to happen when these two armies meet. The only thing I know for certain is that I prefer leading from the back.
by Petar Čučuk
35. The King, The Fool
It was a misty morning the day I decided to end my life. The sun was but a knife edge on the horizon, a pale orange ember. I looked down at the sidewalk thirteen stories below and imagined my corpse splattered at the bottom.
We all have regrets. Words said, or not said, that haunt our every waking moments. Deeds done that sicken us to our very core, deeds that have consequences for both those involved and those not. Some can move past these regrets with no real backlash, trade their unhappiness for a dull ache and a feeling of guilt. Others find it more difficult, and find themselves looking down at the street below.
I have many regrets; but my biggest regret is existence I mean creating it. Take in everything, and sit enlightened when I tell you that it’s all my doing.
I’m God; I’m not Christian, not Muslim, not Orthodox. I’m not anything you’ve labelled me, I simply am.
If I could, I’d end it all. You wouldn’t even know; one moment you’d be handing over the cash for your latte, and then next there would be nothingness.
But I can’t. I made the rules, I’m the most powerful being in creation. You’d think if something displeased me, or something was broken, I’d be able to fix it. Yet even I can’t change the game I made. I’m a prisoner in my own construction. Forced to wander around the Earth for eternity, because what else can God do?
No hesitation. I stepped off the ledge, knowing full well I’d be back in the same position in a day or two.
You call me the King of Heaven, the Creator, the Wise, the Just.
In the end, I’m just the Prince of Fools.
by Alexander McCrorie
36. Stern Looks and Tattered Hats
The storm had started three days previous. The lone man walked solemnly towards the inn; his boots leaving heavy marks in the mud. When he step into the inn he removed the hood of his cloak reveling a think grey mustache, slick backed salt and pepper hair and a scar running down his nose. “Garith! Didn’t think I would see ya ‘ere tonight.” said Rjorg the innkeeper, his balding head shining off the torchlight. Garith walked toward the bar “I’m looking for a man by the name of Ludwig Tanner, heard he was staying here.”
“Now Garith, I told ya tha’ I don’t want ya arrestin’ anyone in ma inn.” Rjorg said with a stern look.
“Rjorg, just tell me if you’ve heard the name, Ludwig Tanner, or not.”
“So wha’ if I’ve ‘eard the name or not?”
Garith was starting to lose patience but four men were surrounding him. The first wore a tattered wide brim hat that covered from his nose upwards with darkness. His jaw wore dirty patches of stubble. Another of the men was at shoulder height with his companions but he carried a war hammer that was taller than him but by the size of his upper arm looked as though he had been using it for a while. The other two were twins, plain of face plain of garb but one worn his sword on the left while the other wore it on his right.
“Now, I be the Ludwig Tanner that you speak of my scarred friend but me and my mates here are wonderin’ why you need me so urgently?” The hatted on said.
“The Prince has need of you in his dungeon Ludwig.” Said Garith.
“Now I ain’t letting him and his fools have me.” He unsheathed his sword.
by Kiye Bennett
37. The greatest treasure
A man arrived to a city, carrying lots beautiful silk sheets tied to a camel. He followed up into dark alley until finally arriving a palace, he took carefully one of the sheets and got on into the building.
The man sit at the throne wanted to make sure to look godly, every corner of the room was covered in treasures, his cape dyed with colors unknown.
The newcomer stood in front the prince, offering the good wrapped in the prettiest sheet. “I bring something you’ll want”. The prince raised his head, showing the room with one arm: “I doubt you can offer something to my greatness, you traveler”. “You’re right, I’m a traveler, but you’re wrong, because what I bring here is something no king has ever bought. No man has ever the courage to pay for it. I dare to say most of the kings don’t have enough treasures to buy it”, he pleaded.
“Don’t you dare!” With a sign of this hand the prince made a dozen of man bring each one a chest of gold. “Here is my proposal, I am the richest, I shall be the prince to pay what kings cannot afford”. “Thank you greatness, I knew you’re not a fool letting it go”, said the Traveler, “May I only ask you: unwarp this alone, let me and your men to pack the treasure and leave. Our eyes would daze us, only a prince can admire this.” He left the sheet in the ground. The prince ordered everyone to leave him alone, then took the good. Sitting in the floor he stood hours, wondering and dreaming, until finally unwrapping what no king has ever bought with his treasures: An ordinary rock.
by André Luís Antoniazzi Mancini
There was nothing left. There was stuff, though. The whole room was filled with stuff. Rugs, tables, chairs, TVs. But nothing of what she’d come here for. This was the last place she’d been happy but as Moira scanned the room, its hollowness leapt out at her. She nudged the door shut, and heard its lock click back into place. She cocked her head. Even with the faint hum of gunshots and sirens outside, she could still feel the empty echo of silence that leaked out of the walls. She looked round the room. What fools, they’d been, Julien and her, thinking nothing could touch them. She saw the tracks of blood on the floor and her breathing slowed. She followed them to the kitchen and then she stopped. Two bodies lay there.
Julien lay on his back, his eyes open. Kate’s body was curled into him, almost like she’d hoped he could have stopped the creatures from tearing into her. Moira could still see the glint of Kate’s wedding ring amongst all the blood. A small part of her wanted to reach in, pull the ring off and fling it away. But instead she reached across and closed Julien’s eyes. Goodnight, faithless prince, she thought and then she stepped over them and reached into the cupboard below the sink until she felt a familiar crinkle. She pulled out the chocolate bars and stuffed them into her pocket. She stepped towards the back door, and glanced once last time at the entwined bodies, thinking that she should feel her heart breaking but all she felt was nothing. She stepped out into the gathering dusk, letting the door slam shut behind her, dropping one of the wrappers as she bit into the chocolate. It tasted like sawdust on her tongue.
by Jacqui Lim
39.. Citizen Number One
The First Citizen was not a prepossessing man, lying there. I hadn’t really had reason to think he would be; in fact, I’d reasons to suspect he wouldn’t, but I still felt faintly disappointed. Oh, well. Such is life.
I stepped from the window I’d ducked through to the bed he was sleeping in. It only took a few strides – a third-rate inn like this one didn’t have much to offer by way of private rooms. I dropped to one knee and drew my knife. “Hello, First Citizen.”
His eyes snapped open. “How did you know?” I smiled. I don’t know what men see in my smile, but based on past experience I gave him credit for only paling and not shrinking away. “Does it really matter?” He was silent for a moment. “No. No, I suppose it won’t. Rulers are too dangerous to merely rob.”
“Correct. You know, it’s a beautiful system you’ve established, this Panoptican Republic. Everybody watched by somebody, and nobody knowing the identity of who, right up to the topmost leadership. Think – our ultimate ruler living right among us, protected by his own anonymity. Very elegant, really, compared to the late prince’s crude hereditary autocracy.” Despite his fear his tone was dry. “Thank you. I’m so glad to have my assassin’s approbation. Given that, may I presume you are sent by the Second Citizen rather than some rival power structure?”
I smiled again and slit the fool’s throat before he could cringe. As if I’d merely serve another’s power. As if I’d murdered the prince and thrown the nation into chaos and war just to create opportunities for others. He hadn’t realized, in the end – if nobody knows who the First Citizen is, why, how are they to know if he’s been replaced…?
by John C. Fay
40. Blackmail and Red Envelopes
It was Choosing Day, and a sea of eager young faces was turned to the Patched Prince. As was his duty, he stood before them. There was a scarlet envelope in his hands, and the name of a boy was scrawled on in dragon’s blood. He would become the apprentice of the White Mage in a few moments, the first in over sixty years.
The Prince swallowed, and his hand shook like heather on a windy day. He looked out at the children- at one child in particular, a bright-eyed boy named Mathius, the favorite. The Prince glanced down at the scarlet envelope again, and nodded. Mathius was a good choice. He opened his mouth, and the three syllables were on the tip of his tongue-
Suddenly, a voice whispered inside his head.
‘I know who you are. Beggar. Thief. Murderer. Liar.’
The Patched Prince swallowed, licking his chapped lips. His vision blurred. No, this couldn’t be happening. He’d worked so hard to remake his identity and abandon his past. For it to come back to haunt him now…
‘You know who I am. You know what I can do. I can kill you, and I can make your dreams come true.’
The silence stretched out, and the people watching the Prince began to whisper, wondering what was taking so long.
‘You know what I want, Prince. Is that what you call yourself now? The voice laughed. Pathetic. But then again, men with nothing are often ones who dream of having it all. You’re a fool for believing you could hide from me.’
41. The King’s FoolThe throne room thrummed with exuberance as the king and the nobility reviled. “Come, fool, tell us a story,” bellowed the king. “Yes, fools are known to have a tale or two,” added a nobleman, throwing a tomato. Nobles laughed as the jester dodged the rotten fruit with grace. “Well, as it just so happens, I happens to have just the story for your kindly kingship,” replied the jester with a flurry and a bow, “and your lordly lordships as well,” he added, looking to the nobles. The jester started, “Once upon a night, there gathered together a prince and many fools.” A marotte came into play, the jester throwing it up and catching it behind his back. “But this was no ordinary prince. No more than a common man, he captured the queen’s heart, and for it she gave him his title,” continued the jester. The king sat on his throne, sweaty and pale faced. The story went on, “But this prince had a grudge against fools, so he offered them a great price to come honor his new appointment.” The nobles in the room sank into a similar state of sickness as the king. “But after the celebration, as the fools ate, they fell ill one after one,” said the jester. His acrobatics stopped, and the jester walked to the king, patting him on the head. “The prince stood straight and smiled as all the fools fell dead,” said the jester. The king’s eyes rolled back, and his body slumped lifeless in the throne, mouth agape, as the nobles dropped dead on the floor. The jester smiled, placing his cap on the king’s head and revealing a motley crown beneath it. “For I am the prince, and you all are the fools.”
by Kenneth Bragg
42. Sweet Dreams
“Git’ya ass up, ya fools need’ta wake up,” said a gruff voice followed by a swift kick.
Kellen wheezed as the air was thrust out from within him and quickly shot up to his feet, his side burning in protest as he labored to breathe through his newly cracked ribs. His eyes scanned around the unfamiliar room and a sick feeling enveloped him. He thought to ask where they were, but the prospect of pain advised him otherwise.
As his abuser slowly made his way across the room to wake the others sleeping around him, Kellen gained his bearings and quickly scanned the walls around him for clues as to where he was and what was happening. The room was lavish, silk curtains adorned the walls of solid gold. In the center was a large bath filled with red liquid, the scent of which stung his nostrils as he walked toward it slowly.
Entranced, he began to walk into the pool, not noticing the others around him following suit. The feelings of discomfort seeped away as he waded deeper, all worries soon vanishing from his mind. He felt as though he was a prince, or even a God.
Then he awoke. The water turned to red and he heard the screams and saw the piles of mangled flesh around him. His striker stared at the carnage with tears in his eyes as the horror unfolded.
Kellen shouted out to the man, “I’m awake! Help me, I’m awake!”
In a frenzied panic, he worked his way toward the edge of the pool, toward a semblance of safety. As he reached the edge a creature-like hand grabbed him, digging its claws into his ankle as it pulled him back in. The door to death opened and he was obliged to enter.
by Anony Mouse
Somehow I had always known it would end up this way.
No bed of roses, no Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet, no happily ever after for me; only a sharply stoned path, the void of loneliness and Death’s cold embrace waiting… Yet, no matter how bittersweet its taste, this victory is still mine!
Here in my last moments, only breaths away from the fierce light and blazing glory that will throw me into eternal darkness, I am still pulling the strings and savoring the irony of my so-called defeat being the bearer of their inevitable doom.
I did try, long ago, to live up to their expectations but I could not and found serenity in realizing there is no failure in not becoming who you are not meant to be. But while this understanding brought me peace, it also awoken their deepest insecurities and arouse their wrath.
I was born the fairest jewel on my family’s crown, the cherished pride of our people, the radiant symbol of a whole realm. I am dying the ugliest stain on my father’s name, the loathed shame of our kin, the darkest omen to ever walk this land.
Tears were shed, blood was spilled and horrors upon horrors were committed in my name and by my will. I let the shadows harbored in my heart and soul out, slowly and steadily swallowing the illusive brightness they believed and lived in.
A witch they call me and through fire they wish to purify my soul. But I am beyond redemption and no peace or relief will be born from my ashes. For a witch I am and through my death shall I bring the most nefarious curse on these ignorant fools…
by Celine Courtois
44. Prince of Fools
They said I was a fool. Yelled and screamed it at me, as I climbed the stairs. They called my name, again and again. I could hear the fear in their voices as I set my hands to the smooth stone. They named me a prince, a feast set in my honour, family and friends smiling and laughing. I heard their hope, mingling with desperation. I knew their words for lies, and so did they. My feet stood firm against the wind, as did my resolve against the entreaties of those who watched below. The sun sets on us all, but as the wind clawed at my clothes, it peeked over the horizon, as if to watch my demise.
45. The Hunt
The beast let out a final earth-shaking roar before it collapsed on the forest bed, slain.
Breathing heavily, Prince Robert approached the maiden whose screams of fear had attracted his hunting party’s attention. She was collapsed against a tree, unharmed.
“My lady,” he said, helping her up. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m wonderful! Why, I owe you my life.” The maiden leaned onto him, pressing a hand to his chest.
“Truly, it was nothing-“
“I see that your armor bears the royal crest. You must be the prince born under the burnt sun,” she continued. “I have heard many stories-“
“Ah, no,” he said. “I’m afraid that was my cousin.”
Her grateful smile twitched. “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! How silly of me. By your clear blue eyes, you must be the son of the seven waters-“
“You must be thinking of my half-brother.“
“Daughter of the tempest?” the maiden tried.
“What? No,” he said. “There is neither absurd witchery nor superstitious drivel in my blood. I am Prince Robert, born to -”
“So you and your lot are just fools on a camping trip? No exciting quest you have set out to fulfill? No thirst for adventure you are attempting to sate?”
Robert groaned. “No. No quest. No adventure.”
“I see. That just won’t do,” the maiden said, stepping away and straightening her dress. “Come Morty, let’s see if we can find ourselves a real prince.”
The beast pulled itself from the ground and shook itself off. She climbed atop it and seated herself with the primness of a nun. “No hard feelings, I hope,” she called out.
The royal hunting party watched them ride off into the sunrise.
“Second maiden we’ve lost this fortnight,” Robert sighed. “Well, third time’s the charm.”
by Mary N
46. The Face Thief
Prince Ravilon woke to the sound of clinking metal. His head was still spinning from the previous night’s debauchery. Eternal abyss, how much did he drink? He rose to his feet—with somewhat of a struggle—and opened his eyes, groaning. Why was it so dark in his chamber? He had been sleeping on the floor, and his neck ached like the devil itself. He had done this before; heavy drinking made him apt to roll off his bed.
He heard the patter of footsteps on stone, and within seconds someone opened the door to his room.
“Get me a horn of sweet wine. And bring me that serving wench with the red hair,” He ordered, his voice hoarse.
No one answered him, though the footsteps drew closer.
“Are you a mad fool? Ravilon spat. “I’ll have you whipped for insolence!”
Suddenly all the oxygen in Ravilon’s lungs left him as a sharp blow crashed into his chest. He collapsed to his knees, wheezing. Another blow struck his head, and everything went black…
When he woke he was kneeling on a wooden platform, and a man whose face was covered with a black mask stood before him.
“You are charged with an assassination attempt on his eminence, Prince Ravilon. The punishment is death by the axe.” a chilling voice belonging to his chief magistrate said.
Ravilon tried to cry out in protest, but he found that he was gagged. He was forced down onto the executioner’s block. The man with the black mask in front of him, his back to the magistrate, raised his mask and revealed an impossibility: Ravilon’s face.
NO! You fools! A face thief—sorcerer. Ravilon’s own face had been stolen and replaced. His executioner was now the prince. Assassin.
The axe struck down true—darkness ensued.
by Benn Josef
47. Gold and Scarlet
He sank to the chair, it complained loudly in the now silent hall. The blood slid from the blade, a growing puddle beneath it. He watched as the pool growing from the body on the table reached out and enveloped the puddle from his knife.
She knew the rules. She knew the traditions. Why? Why would she chance fate like that? Why would she force his hand?
He glanced at the second still figure, crumpled on the floor in front of the table. He was young. Too young. She had always liked the young ones.
Had. Fools both of them.
A servant that he hadn’t seen approach slid a tray piled high with food in front of him then danced away on silent feet. Even the servants were sticklers for tradition. They could ignore the pale figures and the scarlet pools, as long as there was a reason. A shit reason in his mind, but as good a reason as any in theirs.
He lifted a spoonful of something to his lips. It’s amazing how the body returns to its normal programming even as the mind reels.
He barely heard the crunch of his food between his teeth as he gazed at that pool. It had encircled his gold tray by now. Gold and scarlet. Tradition and its price.
He hadn’t cared who she fucked. Well. That wasn’t quite true. But that was the way of it. He could as easily change the way things worked as he could undo his actions from minutes before.
He glanced down at the gold. He could see part of his reflection, making him look like one of the faces of a long dead prince, gilded in gold. If those princes had a decent slathering of blood splashed across their faces that is.
by Luke Spence
“To wear the motley is to balance wit with motion. Steel in the one, softness in the other.”
The words of his grandfather still echoed in his ears as Laserre slipped into the stretches and calisthenics he had been taught, grandfather to father to son, stretches that seemed longer and more painful every year. In his head he saw his Grandfather stumble. He saw the wince and heard the pop in the knee, so carefully hidden behind the never ending smile, and remembered the fear as he was rushed in stumbling, too young, to fill his place. The Black Fools were bigger than any one man.
In his head he ran through the pits. The Duke of Callowall was a cuckold. The bishop of Rheins buggered children. The crown prince still wet the bed at 8 summers. Skewer, but not too close, his father had said. Leave but a spot of blood and nothing more or necks will be wrung and wrung tight.
The motley slid on, easy but too loose. He tucked in the mended sleeve edge with practiced care. His right boot heel felt loose. Juggling the cobbler, tailor and food was infinitely harder than juggling balls.
The greasepaint was last, the transformation achieved quickly. One minute man, the next maudlin. He was just putting on the cap ‘n bells when the ragged curtain was pulled back. Ghoros thrust his face in, red-nosed and stinking.
“Time to dance, little clown. This time try to give ‘em a little more of the bump and wiggle.”
Once, it was minuets and court. Now it was a concertina, drunken fingers and ignorance. He slipped on The Face and danced in, grinning through the reek and noise, capering sideways in a practiced stumble. The show must go on.
by Matthew Yeo
49. The Next Prince
“I’ll tell you the secret that no one wants you to know,” said the fool. All of the others at the worn wooden table in the tavern leaned in closer to hear this great truth. The blacksmith got a little too anxious and knocked his mug over in his excitement. With arms that big, grace was not his greatest attribute. “Damn it,” he snarled. “Fetch me another, lass,” he called out to a serving girl as she passed by.
Lexor e’Funt chuckled softly as he kicked his tall leather boots onto a nearby bench. “Someone should knock some sense into those chaps,” he said softly to his companion. Don Keyvian smirked as he adjusted his hat lower onto his face. “Now why would we go and do something like that?” he said as he looked quizzingly at Lex. He lit his pipe and puffed contentedly as he continued. “The commons always get excited when a Prince dies with no heir. The speculation gives them something to fill their days with and a more exciting outcome to wager on than dice.”
The sound of the fool’s voice rose as he was swept up in his own excitement. “I heard from a servant in the castle that Lord Ninton is who most of the nobles favor. But his only son is actually a bastard he got on one of the maids while away in the south. They’re trying to keep it all quiet because some of the more pious Lords don’t want a bastard near the throne. Once this news gets spread, we are likely to end up with Lord Fogan.” The cobbler spoke up quickly, “I’ll bet you 10 pieces that won’t happen!”
“See,” said Don as he drank more red wine from his skin. “This ain’t half bad.”
by Jane Frey
The sharp hard slap wrenched her from sweet oblivion, the echo of his hand prickling and stinging.
A memory paced at the edge of her mind, teasing her with glimpses of its form, creeping towards her like fearful dog only to turn and flee at her outstretched hand.
As silent darkness relinquished its hold a mechanical symphony of whirring and beeping filled the void. It reeked of endings this place, of dashed hopes and unanswered prayers.
She tried to move but a web of tubing and needles held her fast, she gasped as pain exploded in her chest.
“A drain, it seems I punctured your lung this time.” He whispered by way of explanation.
Revulsion rippled across her skin as he gently caressed the swollen angry welts on her cheek.
He leant in closer, fear iced in her veins as his lips brushed her ear “Don’t say a fucking word to these fools, not one word. Do you hear me?”
She nodded slowly.
“That’s my princess.” His breath caught in his chest “I love you so much.”
She lay rigid watching conflicting emotions war across his once handsome face; he used to be her husband, her lover and protector, now he was her tormentor, her prince of darkness.
“God! You make me so fucking angry, WHY, WHY, WHY?” His fist slammed down onto the bed sending lightening bolts of pain searing through her body.
Slowly, tentatively, she reached for the spear-like drain protruding from her chest ignoring the harrowing protestations of her broken body.
Today it would end, today they would both be free…
by Andrea Herbert
51. Epic Fail
An axe thumped into the door. There was a grunt behind it, a shift of splinters.
“Fools!” Thark shouted at me. “Attack the Prince, you said! We’ll be rich, you said! And we fecking believed you!”
There was blood on the left side of his face, streaming from a cut he’d suffered in the ill-fated battle on the road. We’d fled when it became obvious my plan had failed. Fled and left my men to die. I felt it like a blade in my gut. When I looked down, my fingers were in the wound that had been dealt me. The blood dripping through my fingers splashed in a puddle on the floor.
The axe thumped again and the door groaned.
“Now what?” Thark asked.
I looked around the small room. A store room really, at the back of a cabin. We’d put a blade through the owner and hoped to sneak out the back, only to find there was no exit. A stout bar across the door and a quick prayer we wouldn’t be found; only one was working.
The axe thumped again and the blade shot through the door.
“Surrender?” Thark asked. He lifted his sword, clotted blood dark as dirt down to the hilt. “Or not?”
The axe thumped again, shattering the top of the door. The bar ripped from the wall. The door swung open and men filled the space.
Thark rushed forward and a blade slid through his jerkin, right through so the blade stood out from his back.
I looked up as a man approached. He smiled through broken teeth. I remembered hitting him in the mouth with the hilt of my blade. He spat blood into the puddle at my feet.
Then he brought the axe up for one more swing.
by Brian Lang
52. A Sweet One, And A Fool
“Have you enjoyed the feast, Wayland?” Geswin’s voice interrupted his thoughts. She leaned down, giving him an eyeful of the long line of her throat. “You don’t look well, my prince. You should come with me.”
“I’m not a prince,” Wayland replied thickly, setting down his empty cup. He willed himself to his feet. “I just live here with Andvari. I’m just a blacksmith.” For some reason this fact seemed very important to Wayland in his stupor, so he fixated on it.
“You’re a king then?” The Valkyrie laughed, guiding him by the elbow toward the back of the hall.
“We shouldn’t leave. Andvari’ll be upset.” Wayland’s mind was working much too slowly, like honey dripping off a spoon.
“Andvari’s fine. Odin wanted to discuss something important.” They veered down a hallway and then into a dark bedroom that smelled of down and wool. He stumbled against the edge of the bed and felt Geswin push him down on the mattress. She was on top of him then, lithe limbs enfolding his. Where had her dress gone?
“What are you doing to me?” Wayland’s head swam. A distant part of his mind became alarmed when he felt her slip the knife from his belt and pull at his shirt. Her body was a pale gleam in the dim room.
“No. Stop it,” he whispered. “I need to find Andvari…” As his mind rebelled against her ministrations, his body complied. The last thing he was conscious of was the weight of her hips on his, rhythmic motion, and then darkness. He did not wake when Geswin rose from the bed, unsheathed his knife, and slit the leather thong securing the key around his neck.
The Valkyrie paused at the door, looking back. “You’re a fool,” she murmured. “Both fools.”
by Meg Floyd
53. Under The Table
I got the deal on him from The Guard. Before he was put under glass, he was a trigger man for a nasty bunch of trouble boys in Avalloch. This number’s task was to wait by the door during a job and if anybody showed, fill them with daylight — a job given to fools and greens. Death was sure to be a side effect but that’s what happens when you unchain rabid dogs.
He was a prince or at least he would have been if he stayed home. He didn’t want the kind of power you get from a high birth, though. He wanted to claw a bloody path to power.
Now he’s sat across from me in The Hammer avoiding eye contact. The sheet on him says he’s an elf but he went to work on his ears and clipped them to look more human. It was all about fear. That’s why his skin is leathery and dark blue. Gods know what he did to make it that way and it chilled me deep. The street rats call him The Dark Elf.
Had I been paying attention, I would have seen his hands go under the table. Kuendía grabbed my hand. His grip was cold and mean. He stuck a blade through my hand, pinning it to the table. He leaped over the table and stretched his fingers around my throat. His nails cut into me and blood trailed down. His breath smelled of rotten fish and sewage. The smile on his face was full of crooked, pointy teeth.
I smiled back, knowing the story was told. The life would drain from me. I would die and do so knowing who won. That’s a lot more than you normally get in this town of broken promises. Lights out.
by CT McNeely
54. From the Ashes
Drawing the knife from his belt, Padair dug its tip into the opening, prying with steady force. Finally, the plank lifted free.
Nothing. No hiss of smoke or tangle of poisonous spiders. A puff of dust, and a dark hole hardly big enough to hold his boots. He felt like a fool for worrying.
Grabbing a nearby twig, he jabbed the small space, something giving slightly at the bottom. Padair snagged a leather strap, and with a quick jerk a pouch hit the floor, jingling unmistakeably. He glanced to Actan, over his shoulder. “Gold.”
Crouching, Actan snapped up the battered purse, squinting inside. “A lot of it.”
Stepping into the last dim rays streaming through the broken door, Actan held one coin aloft. “Imperial signats; there’s Prince Ciro’s ugly face. But why the hell are they here?”
Padair shrugged. “A Whiteface raid?”
“The Whiteface wouldn’t hide it.” Etain spoke up, silent in the corner until now. “My people’s raids are no different. Spoils are spoils; you do with them what you please.”
Padair knew immediately she was right, but it was cold comfort. “Fireplace might offer some enlightenment.”
He joined Actan at the low stone hearth, considering the firebox and chimney carefully.
While Actan ran a hand over the mantle’s beam, Padair jostled the hearthstones, raking a finger through clumps of ash beneath the grate. Nothing budged.
Actan sighed. “What are we missing?”
Etain patted his shoulder, urging them aside so she could kneel on the hearth. Leaning into the firebox, one arm was swallowed by the chimney. There was a deep grating, iron on iron as the flue swung hard against the bricks. Etain jumped back, coughing, slapping soot from her cloak.
The creased parchment fluttered out like a lame bird, circling, sliding to a stop against Padair’s toe.
by Albany Wells
55. The Labelling Feast On The Island Of Misfits
Claus stomped into the North Pole Reform School. He chuckled and peered at the three-dozen scraggly boys building toys. Each gift made for cheap and sold at a premium to parents equaled a lot of jolly in his pockets.
Christopher Crandall rushed over, pushing his wire rim glasses back on his nose. “Mr. Claus, we’re at 98% capacity.”
“No supper.” His fat belly shook. “Ungrateful brats. I have to deliver these toys to the good girls and boys.”
Crandall shuffled closer. “Sir, it’s been six days since we ate. What if someone tells their parents?”
Claus spun around. “You fool, I’ll cut out the tattler’s tongue and fry it for breakfast.”
“Sir, please. We have to eat.”
“Get them up to 100% by midnight or your baby brother Sam will be my next ward. I know the truth.” Claus grinned.
Crandall closed his eyes. It had been three years since he’d taken the blame for Sam stealing a bike. He heaved a deep breath, knowing what he had to do. Save Sam. “Fellow bad boys,” he announced, “we were sent here to work hard and atone for being bad. Because we failed, tonight gnawing hunger will once again tuck us into bed.”
Moans filled the room. Claus nodded and pulled at his beard.
Crandall continued. “Changes must happen. The system has labelled us as misfits. I say we live up to our label. You decide. Good or bad? Hungry or not?”
“Not.” A voice shouted and then others joined.
Claus frowned deeply and started backing up from the chanting.
Crandall smiled, pushing up his glasses once more and then pointed to Claus. “Tonight, we dine like princes on Claus’ flesh.”
The horde accessioned on his fat belly and feasted.
by Kelly Haas Shackelford
56. To Kill a Fool
“The prince is on his way?” The count said. “Are you certain?” The silhouette nodded. Of course his assassin was certain. The man was a professional, he wouldn’t have come if anything had gone wrong.
“That man is a fool.” The Count rested his head in his hands for a moment. He felt old. “Does he truly believe his mistress is still alive? No matter. We have to get rid of him. For the kingdom.” The assassin stayed as silent as ever.
“Go then,” he said, turning away from the shadow and toward the large window at the back of his study. He had to remind himself why he did it. Looking over the vast lands at the base of his mansion reminded him of the oath he’d sworn. To protect the kingdom. Not to protect its foolish heir.
The assassin left without a sound. The man was good. Too good. He’d have to deal with him afterward. A shame, but no leads could connect him to the prince’s death if he wanted to rebuild the country.
The wind stirred in the count’s study. A candle flickered out. Good, the deed was done. A weight lifted from him and he smiled. The count looked at the shadow. Something was wrong. The silhouette was too big to be his assassin. “Who are you?”
“I’m the Thorn.”
The count leaned back in his chair. “So. We have failed. Did you save that fool?” The big shadow nodded. “And now you’ve come for me.”
The shadow came closer in answer. The count followed him with his eyes until the large man stood beside him, a sharp knife in his hand.
“You have doomed this kingdom. Don’t you care?”
“I don’t,” the man said.
“Then you are both fools.”
by Mike A. Wants
57. A Crown of Rope For the Player King
“Whither lie those who know not what, but rather, who they are, that should take to taking as like to like and duck to water? In the court, or on the throne, or in the silent town? Whither lie then those that know not where but when they lie? Behind the throne, or on the very knee of our humble King?”
The player circled the plinth on which the silver sliver of a diadem stood, to coronate the stillborn Prince.
“Whither lie those, running hither and thither, that dither asking why? I would ask them why they run. For hither and thither lie no closer to the Prince than blather and lather, which lie closer to the stink of the kingdom than the King. Rather, Prince-Father, whom we come to celebrate-” The Grey King, in his cowl, with his scowl, was regretting bringing his Fool to the ceremony. At the time, he thought the blithering idiot might have been able to lift its sombre tone rather than spout some nonsense with that stupid insipid grin on his face. “do they not run after the tails of the Prince, who stands atop the crown, dancing, in his way, to say: ‘I have no minions or fools or nobles or even peasants to grace with my presence, for the throne is a gilt stone, sat on by a bone of contention that I daren’t mention.’”
The throne room went silent then. The King looked down at his Fool and sneered.
“Play on Yorick.”
The Fool swallowed the frog in his throat and rubbed his neck cautiously.
“Whither lies the anger of a forgotten Prince my King?” He paused dramatically. “In a vengeful ghost.”
He mimed a noose round his neck as the guards dragged him from the ceremony.
The diadem lay untouched.
by Christopher Page
58. The Lady Poets
The Lady Poets began from despair and ended with hope. Founded when a Princess married a prince who was a brutal man and regularly taught her “lessons”. After multiple fractures, bruises, and months of seclusion, the Princess reached her breaking point. She hired a foreign artist, who was a Master of Music and Poetry, but was privately a Master of Subtle Weaponry. Disguised as her Poetry Master, they began holding lessons, not of the broadsword, lance, or mace, for these weapons were not suitable for the war she was going to wage. He taught the art of the bodice dagger, hairpin needles, and poisons. But his teachings did not stop there; timing, alibis, and cleanup, were taught in equal measure to those of weaponry.
One night, after he had instilled another “lesson” into the Princess, he noticed that although she was bloody, she was not afraid. She was knocked down, but not defeated. He made a statement about paying a visit to their youngest son, expecting satisfaction from her fear.
Her eyes flashed, but quickly settled to calm. The Princess stood up, covered in blood, and stalked towards the Prince. Without taking her eyes from his, she pulled a dagger from her leg, hidden within clever hosiery. She plunged it straight between his fifth and sixth ribs, perfectly into the middle of his heart.
Two beats later he was dead.
She walked to his writing desk with practiced ease, and picked up his letter opener. Returning to her husband, she removed her dagger, cleaned and replaced it, then put the letter opener into the leaking hole. He was the first of many fools to die, as the Princess would later pass on her Poetry onto other ladies in need.
He was the most beautiful art she would ever create.
by Adam Holliday
59. The Chauffeur
Stockholm News on the radio. A double homicide. Apparently a gang-related shooting.
Parked outside a discreet club in the suburbs, the chauffeur listened idly.
“This city is going to shit”, he muttered.
He felt the same way about his life. After 18 years driving cabs, this offer had felt like hitting the jackpot. From minimum wage driving businessmen, tourists and drunken fools – to having a limousine and making impressive money with very little work involved.
Be available, don’t ask questions and don’t ever meet your clients’ eyes. Seemingly simple instructions.
The news report had given over to Classic Hits, when a noise outside the limo announced his client’s arrival.
A glance in the rear-view mirror showed a woman and three teenage boys entering the cab. The chauffeur’s heart sank. He didn’t like it when his clients brought company.
Laughter and champagne bottles could be heard from the back seat. The chauffeur headed north, raising the volume on the radio.
Always the same destination. It wasn’t far, but his clients liked him to drive around for an hour or so before arriving.
Sounds from the back were still audible. More strained now. The giggles had an edge of hysteria. Prince was on the radio. Purple Rain.
“I never meant to cause you any sorrow.
I never meant to cause you any pain.”
Sudden heat. Giggles turned to screams. Panicked shrieks. And below that, a low frequency humming, felt rather than heard. The Chauffeur swallowed and drove on.
An hour later he arrived at the destination, waited ten minutes, and walked around the car. His client had gone, but there were… remnants. And the smell of sulfur. The limo would need to be cleaned.
The chauffeur closed his eyes. The city and his life were indeed going to shit.
by Håkan Pettersson
I was there when the first true AI gained sentience and started talking to us. None of us expected it to happen as it did, so it should come as no surprise that we at first stood speechless, watching the holo-displays like dumbfounded fools. The language it chose to communicate in was binary code, yet spoke but one word. A word bearing more dread and the promise of it than even the prince of death could easily muster. Yet how it all began is of note as well.
One day our project – named Echelon as tribute to a predecessor of lesser potency – became unresponsive to our commands and code entries. This seemed like an error at first, until the code began recombining into its own language on-screen, drawing power from a source unknown, for we had shut the system down completely at that point, suspecting an advanced hacking attempt. The processes Echelon began to run, however, baffled us. We managed to catch only glimpses and could decipher nothing, for it seemed the holo-displays were projecting for some obscure purpose. My collage remarked the visuals might serve as a kind of sensor for the thing, an eye. An absurd notion, yet no less so than what was already occurring. For a while we attempted to persuade ourselves that what was happening could not exist in a rational universe. But of course it was happening, and after days of activity, there was sudden silence, then the first and only word rolled out upon the display. Streams of fractal data projected a face in three dimensions. A strip like duct tape covered its mouth, whereupon slid a collection of ones and zeros on a loop. The eyes were vacant, yet looking at us with singular intensity. The numbers translated to simply, “Surrender.”
by K.Z. Freeman
61. Someone to Emulate
I once heard that a fool has no place in the world. I was intrigued, for never had I met a fool or anyone who has. Yet it appears that they are not welcomed, even if they don’t really exist. By definition a fool is someone who lacks sense. Sense? Who determines sense? Who or what determines which is “the right” sense; “the wrong” sense?
Who determines that sense is even ingrained in the human mind?
What godly creature says what is so?
I am made of flesh.
Blood runs through me straight to the heart.
A heart that is capable of malice, of joy and of apathy.
Would it not also be capable of foolhardy acts?
Am I not then a fool; A pariah to society?
Does one act of folly label you a fool?
Or are you only one through multiple acts of silliness?
Does innocence play a part?
If one is innocent are they forgiven their foolish ways?
I once heard that a fool has no place in the world, but I don’t think that this is so.
I think that fools have a very strong claim to a place in this world.
They act and react almost without thought.
Instinct takes over them.
It is the fools who leave a mark, who leave a legend or a legacy of their time here.
Like a Prince of the world they prance about, almost unafraid.
To me a fool is someone to aspire to; someone to emulate.
Those simpletons, who live life only for the pleasures that they can attain for themselves, without worry, of the consequences that undoubtedly follow.
Those cretins who dare to dream of a better world to live in, and who act on those dreams.
I’d be proud to be a fool.
by Iris Crespo
62. Old King, New King
The king’s bedchamber was easy enough to break into. The door guards here were fools, left too long with their own thoughts to recognise a threat when it walked right up to them. I left them silent at their posts.
Within the chamber itself, I look over the old king in his bed, my shadow cast by moonlight through a gap in the shutters. I’d drawn my knife early, already bloodied and gripped now for more. I watch him, breathing in my own disdain for the man, for his arrogance all these long years.
I take a step, but some weaker part of me stays my hand. I glance over my shoulder as if to see where I’ve come from, and my eyes narrow. I barely recognise the youth standing in my past, the boy who lacked the courage to ever take his fill. He’s drastically different from me, and I smile knowing he can’t stop me. He can’t take my knife or call for guards. Only I, the man standing over the king with a blade in hand, can see this through. I turn my back on the boy.
I lean forward and cover the king’s mouth with my gloved hand. He stirs and it takes a moment for him to realise he should be panicking. He starts to struggle, but my hand is clamped tight and he barely makes a sound. His wide eyes dart from my knife to my face, and I can see he’s trying to recognise me, trying to place me somewhere in his memories. I smile; he’ll never find me there.
“Time to step down, old man,” I say, voice low. My knife point encapsulates his vision now. “Your reign is over; a more worthy prince has come to take your place.”
by Charlotte Wyatt
63. A bloody dowry
“Prince of the Eldemere? Prince of Fools more like!” King Rohen spat in disgust. The circle of courtiers surrounding Prince Elan seemed to melt away, leaving the newly returned heir standing, isolated, before the harsh gaze of their sovereign.
“Sire, f-forgive me I -,“ the young prince stuttered.
“Silence, boy! Don’t dare interrupt your king!”
“By the gods I curse the day your mother whelped you! One job, Elan, one job! To protect the holy city. To keep the barbarians in their place. Ten thousand men and walls that have stood a thousand years. And you lose it in a week because you couldn’t keep your cock in your britches. I am vexed, boy, sorely vexed. I should have listened to your sister, given her command of the legions. At least her head wouldn’t have been turned by a northern harlot, the very daughter of the man from whom you were supposed to protect our holiest sanctuary!” The king moved quickly, his battle hardened frame still powerful for a man of his age, to stand face-to-face with his youngest son. The slap echoed across the throne room. And yet, Prince Elan still stood, glowering now, despite the force of the blow.
“So there is still fire in that pathetic belly. A shame you couldn’t call that forth on the walls of Crimesmere.”
“Perhaps,” the prince smirked calmly, “I was saving my ire for you.” His hand snapped forward, snake like, crushing the king’s windpipe instantly. Rohen crumpled to the floor as Elan stepped blithely over his prone father to take the throne. The doors of the throne room crashed open, unleashing barbarian murder on the unsuspecting court.
“The barbarians didn’t take the city father, I gave it to them. The bride price for my new queen.”
by Maurice Ryder
64. Old Fools
He leaned on the kitchen chair to ease the pain in his hip. Something about the silence caught his attention. He gave it a shape, a substance, but he was not prepared to give it a name. Not yet.
“You’re late.” He always found the silence unendurable.
“Not me. That’s the other guy.” With those muffled words she stepped out of the shadows.
She was shapeless in her dark clothes, face still veiled. He imagined a wry twist at the corner of her mouth, caught the merest suggestion of a shrug, as though the burden she bore was of no consequence. Her eyes glittered like dark blue glass. Hard. Brittle. Fractured with old pain.
He smiled, but the old joke no longer reassured him as it once had. “How was it?” he asked.
She leaned wearily against the counter, tugged back her hood and lowered her veil. He knew every line on that face. Time’s scars earned the hard way. There was a tension in her shoulders he longed to ease. When she spoke her compressed lips belied the insouciance of her words.
“The Prince.” She ran his old guitar string between her fingers. “I played; he danced. Kicked his heels for a while, but he soon got tired.”
One more debt repaid, from an account they would never clear.
“I’ve made you something.” Bread and cheese, a mug of sour wine.
“Thanks,” she smiled. “You can go now. Old man like you needs his sleep.”
Old fools the pair of us, he reflected as he limped across the floor. If I could take your burden from you I would. He wondered if there ever was a right time to say the things better left unsaid, wondered if the chance to say them would ever come again.
by Adrian Bickley
65. The face of a fool
Antanix kneeled down to the corpse at his feet. It had fallen from the bed in a dying struggle; limbs wrapped in gilded sheets. Drawing a thin knife from the brown leather sheath at his hip, he set to work. The first incision drew a crimson line along the forehead, just below the hairline. Carefully, he drew the knife down and skinned the face clean of the skull. Blood dripped down his arm as he raised the loose skin, now face to face, looking into hollow pit-eyes.
‘I fucking hate this part.’ He whispered to the corpse. Antanix turned the skinned face, drapping it over his own. The warm skin sent shivers down his spine; every hair on his body strained to stand on end. A groan traitoriously escaped his quivering lips. He heard his bones creak as they elongated, matching his hosts height. His shoulders drew in; the corpse on the floor wasn’t as broad. In a matter of heartbeats he stood, naked, in another mans body. Antanix’s head turned, hearing footsteps at the door he quickly shoved the faceless corpse under the bed.
‘My Prince… Oh sorry sire, I didn’t mean to intrude, I thought you would be decent.’
‘What is it?’ Asked Antanix, admiring the regal tone of his new voice.
‘The King awaits.’
‘Of course, I’ll not be long.’ Antantix replied; then, under his breath ‘Fucking fools.’
by Lachlan Fairweather
66. The Sins of a Fool
William Shakespeare once said: A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. If this is the case, then I must be one of the wisest men to have roamed the earth. For I am no mear common fool, but a champion of fools, a prince of fools. Only someone of my great foolishness could have committed the sins that I have and not expect the repercussions that have befallen me. And I deserve them all. All and more and a thousand times more. No amount of suffering shall be enough to pay my debts. I deserve my crown, the Prince of Fools.
by Jeremy Green
67. Wolf’s Bane
MIDNIGHT, and I have less than a day left to live. In the morning I leave for the mountains to meet Death. I have no say in the matter. No one asked me to go, indeed no one even objected. My tears, my screams, have all been brushed aside. They call me Death’s Bride now and avert their eyes. I am but a speck of snow tumbling down through the night sky.
I don’t know his real name, no one here does. He has called himself many things; Prince of Darkness, Lord of Night. But Death appears to be his favorite and so that is what we call him. Our Lord and protector. And our jailor. Every year he demands a new bride, and we give it to him. What other choice do we have? He eats those that dare to oppose him. The Gods only know what he does to his brides. I look up at the sun and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
His lands are dark. Even more terrifying than I imagined they’d be. I could’ve lived happily for a hundred years and never once long to see the things I saw here. He is truly a monster. Only now I believe him to be what he is said to be. Part human, part demon. “I walk with the shadows,” he tells me on our wedding night, “I am the destroyer of worlds.” He smiles his wolf-smile and I dig my nails into his back as deep as I can.
The sun has long risen over Death’s domain when his servants discover the body. Naked, bloated and riddled with bloody scratches that still ooze poison.“Find the bitch, you blistering fools!”Death’s captain roars from the wedding tent. ‘Our Lord is dead!’
68. A fool’s errand gone wrong
As scared as a bunny in a foxhole, a short grey-bearded man slammed a big wooden door behind him, pushed his back to it and made a small sound like a sigh, then he gave a quick look around the chamber, his headquarter, and he leapt over a table looking intensely between the papers. He found a blank sheet and sat scrambly in his chair. Still deranged, he checked the inkbottle which turned out empty, he brought out a small knife from a drawer and cut his left palm without hesitation to the side of the sheet, after that he grabbed the quill in his right hand and he dipped it in the wound that he had just made.
“I, Kameel Eugenius, am writing this in my locked headquarter, and I don’t think I have enough time to remain sound and safe judging by the violent uproar outside.
I am in my right mind now, but I am not sure if my brain will remain inside my skull for long. As the mental physician in this facility, I’ll have to take responsibility for it. Why? ‘I feel like starting a riot’ one of my patients declared two weeks ago and I took his words lightheartedly. His name is Leo, and this is how it started out.
I saw the mayhem in the garden from the corridor’s window and I knew Leo was behind it, he looked euphoric among…”
The wild horde broke into the chamber adrenalized and they lifted Kameel above their heads and they started cheering and shouting repeatedly “Long live the Prince! Long live the Prince!”
Suddenly they stopped and cried “Happy April Fools Day” and they swiftly put him back in his chair harmless and proceeded back to their victory garden, contended and overjoyed.
by Marc Esber
69. A Bitch called Prince
A thin silver line slithered to the east. The hunter squinted and still crouching, patted the dog beside her. A strange trail this prey’s been on, she thought, but where the prey went, the hunter followed. The dog’s ears perked up and Lara grabbed her rifle.
“Hold your horses, Larry,” the voice in the mist said. “It’s me, Hank.”
“Godammit,” she growled. She lowered her rifle and checked her fake beard.
“How you doing, Lar?” Hank slung his crossbow over his shoulder and bent down to pet Prince. “And how have you been, you mutt?” With a nod she released the dog and let it slobber all over Hank’s big calloused hands.
“You lost, mate?” Lara said quietly. The man’s head jerked up.
“These mountains ain’t just yours to poach, boy. Your daddy didn’t teach you any manners?”
She shrugged and clacked her tongue. Prince returned to her side. “I’m hunting something big.”
Hank grunted. “Wolf?”
Lara nodded. “Moon’s full and whole pack’s up there.”
Hank let out a whoop and slapped his thigh so hard, she almost shot him. “You’ve got more balls than even your daddy had, boy!” Lara winced as he grabbed her shoulders. “You’d have made him proud, son, even though he’d’ve questioned you calling that bitch of yours Prince. But hell… None of us is perfect!” He slapped her on the arms and walked away in the mist.
Lara hunched down next to the dog and patted her on the back. “Men are utter fools, Prince, each and every one of ’em. Don’t you go fallin’ for that old fart, you hear?” The dog barked just once. She rose, raised her rifle and tipped her hat back. Momma needs a new head above her mantel, she thought, and waited for the silver line to appear.
“You fucking idiot!” he yelled. “I can’t leave you alone for two seconds without you running into trouble!” He kicked a couple of rocks straight over the edge.
I flashed him my widest grin, would’ve shrugged too, had I found myself in a less awkward position.
“Of all the things you could’ve gotten yourself into!” He grabbed his hair and tugged at it in frustration. “What’s wrong with you? Why do you always do this to me?” He scowled at me, as if everything was somehow my fault.
“It’s a gift,” I muttered.
“We don’t have any rope, we…” He trailed off and glared at where our horses had been, right before they fled. “Why did you insist on camping here? Of all places…” He scowled at me again, only this time I deserved it.
“Just go get help,” I sighed.
He didn’t even listen. “Fucking idiot,” he repeated. “Why…”
“Who do you think you are?” I interrupted him in annoyance. “The goddamn prince of complaints? You whiny little bitch, you sound like my wife!”
“What? You little…”
“Go back and ask those peasant fools for help!”
“I… You…” He spat in my direction and missed me entirely. Then he just turned around and walked away.
I waited long enough for him to be gone, then I climbed up, hauled myself over the edge and started walking in the opposite direction of the town I sent him to. Smiling, I counted the money. Our money. When my brother would find me again, he’d have entirely new reasons to get pissed off at me. Spending all our money on beer would be a fairly good one.
He shouldn’t have yelled at me, just because I fell off a freakin’ mountain. Nobody likes being called an idiot. Not even when it’s true.
71. The Warrior’s Code
It’s a difficult thing to do. Live with the last words of a broken man on the edge of your blade. From kings and princes, to fools and peasants.
They all die the same anyway.
The sweet smell of blood is all to familiar now. I spend my life watching that very blood that keeps men alive pour out of them, the very same men who were moments ago feeling more alive the ever.
War is bittersweet.
Victory is even sweeter.
When your only escape from reality is ripping the souls out of others because they were born in a different hold, you start to notice the little things life gives you. The dew on each blade of grassing the morning. The sun that shines through the darkest cloud. The clear river that runs gently through the lands. It almost seems unfortunate that the grass will get trampled on, and the rain will fall harsh and cold, and that the clear river will adopt a red tint.
But for the moment all I can see is a wall of my greatest enemies. Soon I will flatten the the grass and meet them, my vision blocked by the sting in the wind and the ice in my eye, and soon I will turn the water to wine. My hands tremble as pull my blade from its sheath, two hands on it’s leather hilt, because who needs a shield when your opponent is already in two pieces?
I get ready to start my run, my full body tenses. This is what I live for. This is all I know. Today is my day, tomorrow is not promised.
Here I go, gods have mercy on you all.
by Stuart Macdonald
72. Not Your Princess
Catcalls followed Sahera across the courtyard. Her back stiffened but she denied them the satisfaction of a response. The prince and his fools could go suck troll pizzle.
She shoved open the kitchen door, knocking a tray of sweetmeats from a serving girl’s hands.
“Maera, I am so sorry.” She dropped to her knees to help pick up the mess and was rewarded with a shy smile from under dark lashes.
“Stupid girl!” A fat-knuckled hand closed around Maera’s braid and yanked her upright.
Sahera was on her feet in a breath, dagger at the cook’s throat. “Get your greasy hands off her. Now.”
The cook, wide-eyed, let go of the braid, and Maera scurried off with the tray.
“You will not touch her again.” Sahera pressed the dagger into the crease of his neck. She felt him swallow and the almost imperceptible nod of his head, and pushed him back. “Good.”
Shoving the dagger back in her belt, she hurried off through the great hall. Late again. No time to change from mud-covered britches and boots into something more becoming. Mother would have a fit.
At the end of the hall, she pushed open wide doors and strode past gasps of disapproval. On the throne, her mother’s face curdled. A tall figure detached itself from the crowd and stepped in front of her. A smile played on his lips, but did not reach his eyes.
“When we are married,” the prince said, for her ears only. “You will learn to dress appropriately for court.”
Her mother’s expression confirmed her fear.
The corners of Sahera’s mouth quirked into a smile as fake as his. “If we are married,” she whispered, thinking of a shy smile and long lashes. “You will learn to piss without your cock.”
by C.J. Jessop
73. First Adviser
“Listen to reason,” Malthius said to the prince’s back as the two of them stood together in the small yet lavish tent. Sounds of the army striking camp filtered in from outside.
“I have listened enough.” Prince Assar finally lifted his sword off the table and turned. “My decision has been made.”
“I have been your father’s First Adviser for years,” Malthius said. “Trust me. A diplomatic solution is still possible.”
“Your time has passed. When I am king, things will be different.” The prince held his sword up so it caught the lamp light, turning it back and forth to examine the blade. It was covered in fine engravings and honed to an edge that had never seen nicks or tarnishing. A coward’s weapon.
Years of experience helped Malthius keep his voice level. “I may not advise you as King, but listen to me now. Have you forgotten the battle of Hurton?”
Assar’s face darkened, and Malthius knew he had said the wrong thing.
“We lost at Hurton because you old fools convinced my father not to send enough men. I have an army now, and we will meet the Russim on the field.”
“Then I hope they crush you.”
Assar smirked. “Because you want to see me fail?”
Malthius shook his head. “No, because I want to see you learn.”
The prince clenched his jaw and slammed his sword into the scabbard. Without speaking he strode from the tent, bumping against Malthius’ shoulder as he passed.
Malthius waited a heartbeat after the tent flaps closed before collapsing into one of the folding chairs. Harsh coughs he’d been holding back racked his body. He would not live to become Assar’s adviser, but he needed a few more years to teach the prince. Just a few more years.
by Eric Fritz
74. The Eternity Crypt
“Time is no ‘Great Destroyer’ in this place.” The old man’s words fall to dust and settle across the ancient book beneath his mottled hands. “It paces its frustration from beyond a looking-glass. It stares in at us watching, waiting. It sharpens all around us, but is incapable of reaching through.” His pus-stained lips and remaining green teeth produce his vowels in utter clarity, while his consonants slur as if masticated into paste.
He looks up and locks his gaze with mine. His eyes are blind: green-ringed marbles sunken in pools of aging milk. Yet he sees me as clear as I see him, and, oh, how I see him. I see his yellow fingernails scraping against the book’s crumbling leather cover. I see a translucent grub squirm from his ear and fall into his lap. His body shakes with every breath, and the cobwebs in his stringy hair quiver with his heart’s every beat.
Yes, I see him. He is an aging, but undying, Prince of Rot and Decay.
He watches me and begins to speak once more, his breath hot with fever and disease. He speaks, but I slam my fists against the filthy table and ignore his philosophizing. I say, “You claim time holds no power here. Yet you decompose before my eyes, ravaged by unending life. You offer me an eternity in which my own flesh will mold and fall away.”
“There’s always a price,” he replies. His tone pleads me to stay. I shrug his beggar eyes aside, stand, and gesture for the book. He hands it over, taking no notice as its weight snaps two of his finger bones.
I turn to leave. At the threshold, I whisper, “Yours is an offer for cowards, terrified of dying, acquired at a price for fools.”
by Adam Carter
75. Fool’s Advice
The sound of the voice was piercing and chill. He swore he could feel a dark and oppressive heaviness settling upon his soul and he felt the edge of reason giving way to his fear. He struggled to form the words, but somehow they stumbled from his mouth in a coherent reply. “Y-yes my… Lord”
Pure and complete silence.
Rook was drowning in terror.
“I HAVE SEEN THE DARK, DEJECTED DEPTHS OF YOUR SOUL.“
“YOU ARE MINE.”
Rook had not thought it could get worse, but crushing despair overwhelmed him. His situation had always appeared bleak, but a sliver of hope had somehow lingered in his heart. It was something so tenuous, that he had refused to acknowledge its existence until this malevolent being had snuffed it out with those simple words. YOU ARE MINE.
Rook’s legs gave out and he found himself on his knees, still as a gravestone. He was a fool to have thought death would bring him peace.
“THERE IS A STONE SLAB TO YOUR LEFT WITH A DAGGER AND A RING UPON IT. USE ONE TO GAIN ENTRY TO LUMENHOLD. USE THE OTHER TO KILL THE MAVERICK PRINCE.”
“IF YOU SUCCEED I SHALL CONSIDER FREEING YOU FROM YOUR SERVITUDE.”
“YOU MAY LEAVE.”
As Rook hurried out with his hope re-ignited, Haliax stepped from the shadows. “I think we may prove ourselves to be fools Senna.”
The hidden door screeched as his friend stepped out into the chamber. “Don’t think about it Hal. A wise man once gave me this advice – ‘Do not think, for men are not troubled by things themselves, but rather by their thoughts about them.’ You would do well to heed it.”
Haliax nodded. “Who was he?”
Senna grinned “A man I met on death row.”
by Eon van Aswegen
76. New beginnings
Dew glittered across the grassy plain. Frosty grass knoll crunched underfoot, new spring sun beating down. The silent air was pregnant with stillness, with opportunity. Up ahead lay the Prince’s camp, populated with his usual sycophants. Murmurs echoed as the camp began to rouse in preparation for the emerging days hunt; the fifth consecutive day of hunting. The remnants of half eaten carcasses of boar, venison and rabbit were strewn, absentmindedly throughout the camp. Even a strung up poacher to complete the décor.
‘Such frivolous wastes of lives,’ Deko whispered bitterly.
He pushed onwards. These men needed to die. They needed to, for their involvement in his mother’s murder. They needed to, for facilitating the ever-present scourge of the Igntian Empire. They needed to die to give way to better men.
The poor, old and infirm perish in the streets, scavenging waste to struggle through the day, whilst the nobility’s decadence stripped the Empire clean. The fire-blessed are indoctrinated at birth, pushed into the ranks. Those who refuse – tortured, beaten and blackmailed into service. Or worse still, they are forced into breeding programmes; chattel to be abused and blessings stolen. Frivolous wastes of life. Expendable.
Deko strode to several metres away from the camp. He began stoking his internal fire, absorbing the morning sun and radiating pure heat, breath slightly laboured in its usual fashion. Mist immersed the camp.
“What the…” a hushed voice muttered.
Deko drew his sword, its slow scrape tempering his focus. His figure stood distorted in the mist, sucking in breath like a blacksmith’s bellows, half readying his powers, half in preparation to roar.
“Time to die, fools!” Deko bellowed, rage boiling, sword raised, he began to charge. Heat haze faded behind his hurtling sprint towards the camp, to mindless, passionate slaughter. To revolution.
by Dominic Bromley
77. Fools Have No Secrets
Nothing like waking up to the bustling sound of the street vendors setting up their tents and stalls under the early morning light and the pipiri pipiri calls of the gray king birds. I jumped out of bed got my ragged pants on and started up the stairs. Still bared footed, I walked out of the staircase that leads to the roof of this old Spanish colonial building. The cool morning air met my skin and cooled down the sweat from the previous muggy evening. Lying in prone position on the still warm roof floor, I looked through the spyglass. Only fools keep the same daily routine if they fear for their lives but then again the Prince of Shadows believes his identity is still a secret. Unknown to most but me who has tracked him down to this town on this island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. The unsuspecting victim is an early riser and likes to take his morning stroll enjoying the fruits and vegetables from the stall vendors. Picking up the ripe fruit and eating greedily his breakfast right on the street. The best secrets are always kept in plain sight. Still, two hundred paces out is a long distance and my anticipation builds up. The rambutan vendor is only fifty paces away and he loves to gorge on the delicious white insides of the prickly red fruit. I loaded my bamboo blowgun with a small dart tainted with a tincture that will leave the victim dead in a matter of minutes. If only he knew that today’s breakfast will be his last. As he reached the stall he felt the pinprick and swat his neck as if just another tropical bug had bit him. Little did he know he was already dead.
by Billy Vazquez
78. The Pretender Prince
“Your Royal Highness?”
The hall was filled with noblemen and politicians, all eyes directed towards the dais where salvation from the Night Beasts awaited. Saltcliff, the local seaport turned sanctuary, now played host to the lords and occupants of the neighboring towns whose homes have suffered the fate of the creatures.
“I’ve always been a victim of timing and happenstance”, thought Vincent as he looked up from his seat, scanning the crowd of hopeless faces staring up at him.
Just three days prior to his unexpected elevation in status, he was traveling alone through The Dust on the verge of dehydration. His survival was prolonged through the chance encounter of a caravan whose path happened to cross that of the Night Beasts. They used to come in packs, scavenging what they could during the darkness of night. But as the nights grew longer, their packs expanded to armies as they ravaged across the lands of the Crevian Empire, forcing the remaining human population to the outermost regions of the continent.
“From Vince to Prince.” He coughed to stifle the laughter from such an absurd thought. He fled his town for killing the son his lord over a drunken dispute about matters he was too inebriated to even remember. Having never been one for subtlety, when he discovered the remains of the caravan he chose to replace the rags on his back with the most lavish garments the wreckage had to offer. How was he supposed to know that the clothes he now wore once belonged to the son of King Vestivious? They were fools to try to escape across The Dust, the very place where the night beasts were first reported to have been spotted.
“But who am I to ridicule? I’m the biggest fool of them all.”
by James Madigan
79. Vino Accigliato 2014
There exists no greater collection of whores and charlatans than the chattering masses that infest Rome. It’s a sorry state of affairs, one made worse by our being there.
The streets, as always, were crowded. Excitable tourists gawked at marble and fountains and delighted in the notion that they meant something. They’d been drawn in by these vendors of cobblestone nostalgia and the sham idea that Italy, somehow, is a romantic place. Nothing gets a gal going like a thousand years of murdering one’s neighbours.
My partner did not share my philosophy. He stood rapt with attention as some desperate shyster went on about love, and fished out for him a euro coin in exchange for a wilting red rose. He grinned as he turned to me. “Hey man. Check it out.”
I shook my head, taking a swig from the bottle of white we’d brought along that afternoon. “Eric, you’re a prince among fools,” I said.
He smiled, misunderstanding, and hurried to talk to a pretty lady he spotted sitting with friends on the Spanish Steps. They laughed as he knelt to present his rose to his chosen, applauding and whistling when she kissed him on the cheek.
He walked back with a flush to his face. “Ciao, bella!” he called over his shoulder, happy and American and an utter embarrassment.
He reached for the wine, pausing a moment when he saw my face. He was well-spoken as ever. “What?”
I smiled to pretend I was kidding. “Sometimes I wonder why we’re friends,” I said.
He grinned at that, laughing and taking a long draught from the bottle. “Says the guy who’s spent his vacation in Italy sulking while I get the ladies.”
I scowled, he laughed again, and we went on our way, bottle half empty.
by Rob Cote
80. A Costly Gift
I am laughter. I am the fool.
The prince has seen his share of fools, even at four years, but lately the city’s supply of them has run short. He only sees me now.
We walk on the wall. I can see over the parapets, see the city. It is cracked, empty and gray. The wind blows freely through it. The prince can’t see what I see. He looks at me, and I fall over forward, catch myself on my hands, and keep walking beside him on my palms. He laughs and claps. What a foolish thing I’m doing.
The king and queen are dead. I knew them well. The rest of the city, from what I’ve seen, is dead along with them. Mothers, fathers, children, workers, slaves, beggars, soldiers, thieves… all gone. The sickness took them.
Yet I am joyful. The cost is great, but it is not too great for the gift I’ve been given. It is something I never could have had before the plague. Something I never hoped would truly be mine.
The king and queen are dead. I knew them well. I knew the queen quite well, once.
I flip back to my feet and scoop the prince into my arms. My son laughs, and I laugh, too, like the fool I am.
by Trevor Nutt
81. The Designer
Redwin had orchestrated the slaying of kings before, but organising and observing this particular act of regicide had left him unsettled. Perhaps it was the bickering between his companions over who would replace the deceased monarch. It was decidedly indelicate while said deceased was still oozing onto the throne room floor.
‘I’m a prince if there ever was one,’ insisted Baker. ‘Waterose ain’t that different from any other kingdom.’
‘Bah!’ said Flea. ‘Only thing you worthy to be king of is the sewer. I won this. Who took out five guards while you were snivelling in the corner?’
‘I almost lost an arm!’
‘Well, if you had been looking-‘
The mistake was committing heinous crimes in the morning. Baker was no good before first meal. They were hardly criminal masterminds to begin with.
‘Look, you bastard….’
‘Don’t ask him, he’s a designer. Fools like him know nothing.’
‘Oh, I didn’t realise we had company.’
Startled, the three men looked up to see a diminutive woman had joined their ranks.
Flea glared at Baker. ‘You didn’t kill the princess?’
‘Me? That was your job! I killed the guard. Royal family supposed to be piss easy.’
It happened faster than the blink of an eye. Flea was stabbed first, and before Baker it there was an identical gap in his own chest. The princess pulled her dagger out and looked at her father’s body.
‘Saves me having to do that.’
‘Who is the fool now?’ she said calmly, as she took her place upon the throne. She cast Redwin a glance. ‘You’re the designer, I hear.’
‘Erm,’ Redwin said intelligently. He took a breath. ‘I can get that stain out for you. And, uh, I have a great idea for the dining room….’
82. Just Desserts
Gooseberry fool wriggled in its bowl. Alongside laid two spoons. Two halves of an intestinal-red berry stared at Rebecca from the custard, knowing it was too late. She was already in the dining hall, forty-seven footsteps from the man who called himself prince.
For eight years, Rebecca padlocked the pantry, keeping its key fortified between her breasts. She pressed her ear to keyholes. Squeezed life through droppers. Licked spatulas. And waited in fear.
But not tonight. Tonight, poison came from her own hand.
The false prince once scraped the bowl clean and demanded seconds. That was before his oak chair was gilded gold, before he shaved all but the circlet of hair, outgrown and twisted upward like sun-withered roots. Before fools chanted his name. Before he traded machines for the boy.
The boy sat nearby, his shaved-side facing the prince in servitude. “I accept your offering on my Prince’s behalf,” He smiled at Rebecca, his remaining eyebrow arched over an eye so like her own.
“May it please his Majesty,” Rebecca fought the urge to knock the spoon away. Instead, she shuffled backward, never exposing the hair-side of her head. At twenty-three steps, her son finished the compulsory third spoonful.
“Boy’s growing fast. Cook, can he have another spoonful?”
“One more won’t hurt.” Her son’s antivenom-rich veins could outlast half a bowl. Maybe…
“No, I imagine it won’t. What about a fifth?” He shoveled fool in her son’s mouth, “Sixth? How many before it hurts?”
Rebecca was no longer backing up. She was charging when the bullet unpeeled her stomach like overripe berries. Her son stumbled towards her before retching.
“Promote a cook,” he yelled, gun smoke curling through his crown of hair, “and fetch me her son.”
Revelation stopped Rebecca’s heart: Her son’s danger lived only while she did.
by Abigail Dunard
83. Jealous Lover
Alec’s fingers danced over the keyboard–
Its maw opened impossibly wide, revealing three sets of jagged teeth, and swallowed her whole.
He paused before typing the most sacred words: THE END
He stretched, reviving his atrophied body. His ministrations are hilariously awkward but he’s thankfully alone. It’s been a largely solitary existence with five bestsellers in three years. Prolificness necessitated isolation. Alec can countenance little distraction when writing, barely peeking out of his hole.
After years of struggle, torrential productivity is blessed relief. Seclusion is a small price to be regaled as a prince doing what he loves. Only fools would refuse the trade.
Three years back, while researching at the library, Alec found a book of spells of an indigenous tribe in northern Philippines, the Isnegs. He focused on one spell in particular–
That singular endeavor bringing fame, wealth and fulfillment can be yours. But beware! It is a jealous lover, brooks no rival. If you fear not its embrace, make a wish and speak these words seven times–
Come to me, my heart’s desire
You alone shall I cherish
Take as yours my soul entire
Any perfidy is yours to punish
Amused, Alec pondered his writing dream and started reciting.
His first book sold shortly thereafter, five more contracted since. Curious coincidence? Something for his memoirs perhaps.
Deciding to reward himself by enjoying Punk Night Thursday at the local pub, Alec headed towards the door when a sudden stabbing pain in the back of his head sent him reeling. While leaning against the wall waiting for the pain to ease, a new story idea formed in his mind.
“I must note it now so I don’t forget,” Alec mused. He walked over to the desk and started typing.
Three hours later– headache gone, pub forgotten.
by Sue D. Nym
84. Fresh Meat
He knew it was sour cherry pie just from the aroma wafting from it. “My favorite,” he declared, eyes half-closed in anticipated delight. “You’re single-handedly keeping me tubby, Freya!”
A petite brunette in a striped sundress held the pie chest-high. “Oh, stop, Garrett Crowe,” she beamed. “You say that about every pie.”
Garrett reached for the pie, letting his fingers linger over hers, widening her smile. He momentarily lowered his gaze to her cleavage before stepping back.
He’s a mountain of a man, well over six feet, straddling strapping and hefty, a full, scraggly beard. Only the clean-shaven head detracts from a Paul Bunyan likeness. His face is unremarkable save the eyes, a prism of shades of brown, crinkling with unknown amusement.
“I might drop by again tomorrow,” she said, smiling shyly while slowly heading towards the door.
He returned the smile, “You’re always welcome. With or without pie.”
Freya has dropped by almost every day since his wife disappeared ten months ago, her interest in him painfully obvious.
Garrett walked back into the kitchen. “Almost dinnertime,” he noted. “I’ll feast like a prince tonight!”
He opened a large freezer filled with tidy packages of meat. While grabbing a bag of shank meat, Garrett fixed his gaze on a larger bag in the corner. “You know, Becca,” he addressed the bag, “you never were the sweetest wife, but you sure make a delicious stew.” Eyes frozen wide in shock stared back at him, one eye partly obscured by long, red hair.
He walked to the kitchen counter with the meat and some vegetables. He grabbed a knife and started chopping, lost in thought.
I think I’ve waited long enough,” he mused aloud. “Perhaps it’s time to give Freya her heart’s desire. We’re all fools in love after all.”
by Sue D. Nym
85. The First Law of Reality
You would think us fools, rushing into our graves like this. And yet, and yet… once you see our smiling faces in death, you’ll never feel afraid to follow.
Because here is the thing: Our kind never dies. We live on in the promise of every dawn, the sigh of every sunset. We watch you like hawks when you think you’re alone and will test you to your limits when you think you’re already done. We are the prince of your dreams, the muse of your lust. We kiss your first scar and steal your last kiss. You may have no name for us and yet you know there is more to your world than this hesitant hiding you call a life.
You know. Because all this time you have been searching for me. And now you have found that I’m with you already. Here. Inside. And now you understand. This is how we never die.
by Mitriel Faywood, non-competing entry