This story is by Dave Lerner and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It will soon be too cold to sit out here, thought Prince Chou. To sit out on this balcony. And that is a pity. He loved looking at the West Heaven Forest this time of year. He could sit and stare at those colors for hours. Of course, the leaves will soon be gone; they’ve already started to fall. Soon the trees will all be bare. The metaphor for the kingdom was a little too apt. He chuckled quietly.
But not quietly enough. “I know that laugh, brother,” chided King Syfu III.. “That is the laugh of a man who believes he has absolutely no reason to smile.”
“You know me well, my king,” said Prince Chou. “There is little indeed to make one smile these days.”
“Oh, no? I have one thought that always makes me smile. Now drink your tea. That might warm even your frozen heart.”
The King and the Prince, though not identical, looked much alike. The same piercing dark eyes, the same long straight nose, the same pointed chin. Both men were tall and slim. Both men wore their elegant robes with the comfort that comes from years of familiarity. The chief difference between the two was that Prince Chou had more wrinkles and a few grey streaks in his long black hair. He looked the elder, even though he was actually two years the younger.
They sat on the West Balcony, the highest in the Red Jade Palace, in simple yet comfortable chairs just high enough to see over the low railing. A teapot rested on a small table between them.
“Do you recognize this tea, my king?”
“Naturally. It is Say Yon. You know I love this tea. It is a rare treat.”
Prince Chou nodded. “Say Yon tea has become even more rare. The province has been captured by-”
“Not this again!”
“Captured by the Uendlinese. We show weakness and our many enemies-”
“Can’t we just capture it back?”
Prince Chou took a deep breath. He knew he was about to enter into battle. But this battle was necessary. “Yes. We can. If we can pull the troops from Kwoong Island.”
“No!” shouted King Syfu III. He threw his cup against the balcony floor, spilling the tea. Surprisingly, the cup didn’t break. It bounced, just missed a balcony railing post, rolled off the edge. It fell the hundreds of feet to the ground below. Prince Chou doubted it had survived.
“No,” repeated the king. “Those troops must press on. They must capture the Kwoong palace.”
“We do not need the Kwoong palace. We do not need this war with Kwoong. It costs us too much for too little gain. Kwoong Island is distant, with numerous islands hostile to us along the way. And Kwoong is no threat to us. They have their own problems. If we leave them be, we can concen-”
The king interrupted. “You are my brother. And you have given me excellent advice in the past. So I frequently grant you latitude. But remember that I am king. My will is law.”
“You are king. And you must do what is best for the kingdom we both love.”
King Syfu III spoke on as if he hadn’t heard. “I will capture the Kwoong palace. I will capture the beautiful Queen Shom’s heart.”
“Even if you must destroy two kingdoms to do it?”
“Yes! Because that is what true love is. That is what true love does. True love does not care what it must do, what obstacles stand in its way. If you had ever known love you would understand.”
“And the thousands of troops, the men who will die? On both sides? Not one of them has a love like yours? Not one has a wife or a girlfriend he loves?”
“Not the way I love Queen Shom. Watch your tongue, dear brother. You are dancing on the edge of impertinence. Take care you do not fall into the chasm of subversiveness.” He smiled at his metaphor, though Chou thought it artless.
“You do know that she does not love you back.”
“She will. I will make her. Once I’ve captured her I will make her love me.”
“And your descent into madness is complete, my king. And thus would an ancient empire fall.”
“My… what did you say?!” But before he could say anything more the balcony door slid open.
The servant who walked onto the balcony was more than a head taller than the brothers, and incredibly ugly. His face looked as though he used it routinely to break rocks. His humble robe did not hide his highly developed musculature.
King Syfu III turned toward him. “How dare you come out here unsummoned!”
“I summoned him,” said the prince. “This morning I told him when he was to come out to the balcony.” He looked up at the giant servant. “Tau, you are punctual, as usual. Unfortunately, we must proceed as planned.”
“Unfortunate indeed,” said Tau. He grabbed King Syfu III and lifted him overhead.
“Put me down, fool!”
Tau threw the king over the railing, off the balcony.
Prince Chou heard the king’s scream fade off in the distance and end abruptly.
“Your majesty,” said Tau. “Will this have been an accident?”
“No. No one would believe that anyway. No, he was assassinated. The kingdom still has enemies, they will be found and punished.” Prince Chou, now King Chou, took a deep breath of the chill autumn air. He had much to do, no time to mourn. And he truly wished to mourn. He had loved his brother.
But he loved his kingdom more.
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