Dead Emperor

Castle Gate

This is the transcript from the Twilight Histories podcast. Or, if you’d rather listen, here’s the link: https://wordpress.com/view/joshhutchins.blog Enjoy.

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Dead Emperor

*******

I tell myself I’m ready for this. The Twilight Histories agent walks in the room and looks me up and down. I feel like a fool, standing here in a room of clean white panels, while I wear chain mail and a wool cloak. The room smells sterile, and the walls throb with the reverberating background hum of hidden electronics.

“Are you ready?”

I swallow. “Well, I thought I was…until just now.”

I wipe my brow, but there isn’t any sweat. It’s a reflex more than anything.

“It’s ok to be nervous on your first journey. Your friend has done this many times.” She says softly, evaluating me over the top of her thick-rimmed glasses. She swipes a finger across the data tablet she carries.

“Just…tell me this is for real…not some holo-simulator or…mere signals input into my brain. I mean…it’s real, right? I’m really going to…well, because, if it’s not, I could just go to a holo-suite and lose myself for a few hours, and it would be much cheaper than this. If you’re—“

“I assure you, it’s real. What did your friend tell you?”

I blow out a large breath. “He said it’s legit.”

I look at the floor, then at my shaking hands, clenching them and rubbing them together.

“Let’s begin your orientation. It will help calm your nerves.” She gives an awkward smile.

I nod, then bounce my head from side to side…trying to stretch the tension out of my neck.

“You’re going back to medieval England, only, it isn’t called England in this timeline. The kings of Wessex, after Alfred, failed to retake their island back from the Danes…causing them to shake off Christianity and revert to Paganism. When William of Normandy came to the island in 1066, he battled the Danes, not the Saxons. Though his army was victorious at Hastings, his campaign turned into a slog…both sides unable to defeat the other. When Harold Godwinson assumed the throne of Wessex, he launched a campaign that pushed both the Normans and the Danes into the sea. Several Welsh kingdoms swore their allegiance to him…adding longbowmen to his formidable arsenal. A series of brilliant Saxon kings delivered victory after victory, as huge swaths of land fell under the dominion of Wessex.”

She pauses and looks at me.

“King Harold VI, or, Emperor Harold, as he is sometimes called, has ruled for many years, but his health is failing. He rules all the British Isles, as well as Norway, Denmark, the lowlands, Brittany, Normandy, even the islands of Sicily and Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. Recently, armies of Wessex smashed the Franks and captured Calais. The Christians living there were massacred. Harold’s armies now encircle the great Christian city of Paris, and have placed it under a tight siege. The entire Christian world, led by the Byzantines, seems to have united against Wessex. The Popes never called for crusades into the Holy Land during this timeline. The real threat is from the Pagans of the West.”

“Are…you…sure this is a good place to send me? I mean, I want an adventure in the Middle Ages, sure. But…is this—“

“Our agent has assured us this world is safe for you. We’re placing you in the house of a nobleman named Lord Wulfrod. One of his men, a warrior named Thrall, will keep an eye on you as much as he can. He’s smart, and perceptive, good with a sword and shield. Just stick close to him and you’ll be fine. This will be an experience you’ll never forget.”

Her smile doesn’t make me feel better.

“Now, step onto the platform and we’ll get you on your way. Remember, these are a Pagan warrior people. Whatever social conventions you may have learned from our history, well…that may not apply to this world we’re sending you to.”

She looks at me and her eyes seem to bore into my skull. Then she leans in close and whispers into my ear. “Enjoy.”

***********

The sky’s so dark, I can’t tell what time of day it is…or if it’s daytime at all. The frequent gusts of wind buffet my dark red cloak, and the chain mail armor beneath it is cold to the touch. I’ve been riding a slow horse for hours through a winter forest.

“How much further…Lord Wulfrod?” I shiver out the words.

The rider in front of me turns aside and looks at me with eyes that seem to glow in the dim light. His iron helmet gives him an otherworldly look.

“Not long.”

He waves me to ride alongside him.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you. What has it been, three months since you stumbled out of the woods and nearly drowned in my  moat?”

I smile.

“Heh…yes lord.”

“Well, we’re almost there now, and I probably won’t have time to discuss it, but I want you to join my household.”

I pause and slowly turn to look at him. He senses my apprehension.

“–not as a knight or warrior or anything like that. More like a…well…we’ll talk about it later.” He smacks me on the shoulder. “Haha! ”

I unleash a beaming smile.

“Lord, you haven’t told us what we’re doing…not me at least.”

“You’ll see soon enough. Just stick close to Thrall. He’s the best swordsman I’ve ever known…lightning reflexes. I fought with him on islands in the central sea, and again in Britanny…probably saved my life there. He’s been my envoy to the king for well over a year now. He doesn’t know his letters though.”

He seems to frown as he looks into the darkness of the woods around us.

“I’ve only just met him, lord. He’s been gone nearly the entire time I’ve been a guest at your household.”

“He lost all his family somewhere near Jerusalem, and journeyed West to get away. When we met on Sicily, he stuck with me. It’s just –”

His horse whinnies and he turns back to the front, as we, and dozens of others, begin ascending a gentle, sparsely-wooded ridge on horse.

“Enough about that for now.” He says, waving his hand.

When we finally reach the top, he holds up a gloved fist and all the horses form a line abreast of him. From here, I can see the lights of a town in the deep blue distance…hundreds of torches, some on houses, and many more on the castle at the center.

“We’re here.” Lord Wulfrod announces in a husky voice.

I shudder and pull the cloak tight around my neck. When Lord Wulfrod’s horse moves again, mine follows without prompting. It takes another hour, and as we approach, I hear muffled voices coming from the homes outside the town…laughing, arguing, but mostly, crying.

“Sounds like da folks in Winchester’s up late.”

A man wearing a cloak as dark as antimatter rides up alongside me. He has a slightly cone-shaped helmet that glints in the firelight. His long mustache accents a mischievous smile, and his odd asymmetric sword bounces on his thigh as he bumps along on his mount. He is accompanied by a strong smell of ale and horse sweat.

“What do you mean?”

I look from him to the town.

“I mean…day’d normally be sleeping now. It’s da middle of da night. Musta been some…bad news since we left Exeter.”

“The Emperor? Do you think there will be trouble?”

“Heh. Let Lord Wulfrod worry about dat. You jez keep yer eyes on anyone with a sword or an ax. Don’t matter if they’s Saxon or not.”

Lord Wulfrod hails the guards atop the stone walls as our string of horsemen near the town. The walls seem impossibly tall…probably a hundred feet of polished gray stone, as smooth as glass. The guards on the ramparts wear iron-studded, leather armor, with high collars. Then, the oaken gate slowly strains open on screeching iron hinges. My horse follows Lord Wulfrod’s, with its head down.

The streets are lined with people, thousands of them, all red-faced, with wild and terrified looks in their eyes. The stone houses are more like apartment buildings, each of them at least five stories tall. The wide-open space we’d enjoyed on the trip vanishes as the buildings close in and bear down on us. There is an oppressive odor of smoke and herbs, which seems to be an attempt to mask the stench of feces.

When, we reach the castle at the center of town, it makes the city walls look like a picket fence. Its top pushes through the clouds, like 24th century skyscrapers of titanium and carbon fiber. The outer walls bristle with armed men, some of them have swords, others, longbows. When they look at us, they seem to stare right through our bodies. Nobody makes a sound. All I hear is the crackling of torches, horse hoofs on the cobblestone, and the dulled clinking of body armor.

Lord Wulfrod turns to look at us as he dismounts his horse. Behind, in the distance, I see another group of mounted men entering the city. The screeching of the gate echoes like an angry witch’s scream.

“Jez stay close, and keep yer eyes op’n.” Thrall whispers to me.

Our party is escorted inside the castle to the large hall at the entrance. It is walled with timber, and at the far end, there is a large golden chair…a throne. It seems to glow in the torchlight. The room is nearly full of people, all wearing armor and cloaks. Lord Wulfrod walks slowly towards the throne. I start to follow him, but Thrall grabs me and pulls me to the side with all the others.

“Only da Witan has a part in dis cerem’ny.”

“Ceremony? What is— “

“Shh.” Someone nearby says to me, with a glare.

I watch Lord Wulfrod, as he approaches the throne. Now that my eyes have adjusted, I can see there’s a person seated in it. He’s  dressed in a white tunic with a jeweled crown on his  head, and he seems to be slumped to the side. Lord Wulfrod draws a small dagger from his belt and points it towards the seated figure. He steps up onto the throne’s raised platform and thrusts the dagger forward.  I can hear the knife thump into the man’s chest, even from this far away.

My body jolts and I catch my breath. Thrall gives me a sidelong grin.

Lord Wulfrod turns to face the assembled congregation and announces to the room, “Harold, son of Harold, King and Emperor of Wessex, is dead…so say I, Lord Wulfrod, Thegn of Exeter.”

He turns and pulls his dagger out of the king’s chest, then wipes the blade on a cloth he keeps beneath the folds of his cloak. He steps to the side and joins the growing throng of nobles who line the walls of the great hall.

I stand there, nearly motionless, in silence. The only sound is the death confirmation of each noble as he arrives throughout the night and repeats Lord Wulfrod’s actions. There are nobles and dignitaries from all over the empire, along with Franks, Arabs, Italians, and even Byzantine Romans, observing the event.

Pale streaks of light shine through the few small windows in the hall. After a younger Scottish noble completes the death verification ceremony, one of the king’s heralds walks to the center of the large room. All eyes are on him, and I can feel the tension and exhaustion in the thick air. Many begin to whisper.

He raises a hand and a hush descends on the room. “We are all now in accord, King Harold is dead. In the year of the Christian lord, 1189, may his soul go to be with the Gods.” He pauses and looks around the room. “However, as our lord has now passed without an heir, the Witan will meet at nightfall on the morrow to decide the next emperor of Wessex. I pray the Gods will guide us in our task.”

Some people whisper, “Amen”, and the assembled crowd begins to disperse.

“C’mon.” Thrall says to me as he slaps me on the shoulder. “All da good ale will be gone if we don’t find a place to stay soon.”

*************

Thrall ties the reins of both our horses to a stunted tree outside a grayish tan building. As we walk inside, I place my hand on the walls.

“Hmmph, concrete.” I remark, under my breath.

Thrall looks at me with curious eyes as we both sit at a long wooden table. Warm flames crackle in a fireplace across the room and a short man in a brown tunic places two plates of steaming food in front of us.

“Thank you.” I say to the man.

He bows without speaking, then slithers out of sight.

“Thrall, should I feel nervous about all this?”

He squints at me and takes a bite of his bread.

“Didn’t nobody tell you?”

I stare at him blankly.

He furrows his brow. “Lord Wulfrod’s most likely da next King of Wessex.”

I recoil, my eyes wide open…suddenly aware of my own breathing.

“So, are we supposed to be guarding him, or something?”

“Yes…da Romans are da ones we hafta watch most.” He says, with a mouth full of bread.

“What?”

Thrall gives me an annoyed look.

“Romans…most ‘specially, Alexios. He’s here for da crown.”

“How? He isn’t even Saxon.”

Thrall furrows his brow again and looks around the room, as if he’s checking if others heard me.

“Alexios is the emissary from da Roman Emperor hisself, and he’s backed by da Pope. Between them and da Franks, they may have enough money to buy off every thegn in da Witan. They’ll use gold to gets da crown. I don’t think it’ll work though. They’ll need to do…more.”

Thrall stares at the table for a moment.

“Why don’t they just go to war with us then?”

“Ha! Romans got a taste of da longbow and da huskarl several years ‘go, on Sicily. I was dere. You can bet theys don’t want to try dat again.” He takes another drink. “Saxons are mostly pagan. Rest of da world isn’t…not da Romans or da Pope, anyway. I think they’re afraid we’ll take all of Frankia. They’ve been helping them, you know…helping da Franks against us. Most people don’t knows that.”

The small man returns with a pitcher and two earth ware cups. As he begins to pour ale into a cup, it slips from his fingers. Thrall snatches it before it can hit the ground.

“Oh, I am so sorry. Thank you.” The man says, as Thrall hands him the cup.

A small chain with a crucifix dangles around Thrall’s neck. It must have slipped out when he bent down. He follows my stare and quickly forces the cross back behind his cloak. His eyes look angry and terrified. He drains the cup at once and pushes his plate away.

“Get some rest.” He leaves two copper coins on the  table and goes up a staircase at the back of the room.

I take a few minutes to finish my meal, and as I start to get up, Lord Wulfrod enters. He pulls his hood off his head, revealing a mass of bushy gray hair. He holds up a hand.

“Don’t mind me. If you want to go, to get some sleep, it’s fine.” He sits where Thrall had been a minute before. “I’m just hungry.”

The small man shuffles to the table. “Lord, I am sorry, but it will take me a few minutes to warm some food for you. I— “

Lord Wulfrod reaches out and places a hand on his shoulder.

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Varek…lord.”

“Varek. Well, Varek, do you have a family?”

“Yes, lord.” Varek looks at the floor.

“I’m sure you’d rather be with them, than feeding a grumpy old thegn. Just bring out what you have…hot or cold. I’ll eat it. Bring some ale too, if you have any.”

Lord Wulfrod takes Varek by the wrist and places five silver pieces in his palm, then pushes his fingers closed around them.

“May God, or the gods, be with you.” Lord Wulfrod says.

Varek looks at his hand like it’s magical. He stands there, stupefied.

“But…I would like to eat tonight, Varek.” Lord Wulfrod says, with a wide smile.

“Oh! Yes, my lord. I’ll be right out.” He nearly sprints to the back of the inn.

“That was a lot of money.” I say.

He shrugs. “I’ve been blessed in my life.”

A moment later, Varek returns.

“Thank you, Varek. This will do just fine. Have a good night.”

Varek bows deeply, and walks away. Lord Wulfrod pours a glass of ale and pushes it towards me, before pouring one for himself. Then, he holds up his glass.

“To King Harold, may he go in peace. And, to the next king of Wessex, may he rule with wisdom and strength.”

I raise my glass to his and he locks eyes with me for what seems like an eternity.

“Drink hail.” I reply, and we both take a large swig.

“Lord, if I may, what was the purpose of stabbing the king last night? I mean…he was already dead.”

He nods with his lips pursed, as if considering my words. “Because the nobles, especially members of the Witan, have to be certain. They want to see it for themselves. If the king isn’t dead after being stabbed in the chest …well, then we’d have another problem, wouldn’t we?”

He smiles and tears off a piece of bread with his teeth.

“Yes…we would.” I reply.

“I thought you were staying close to Thrall while we were here in Winchester.” He says.

“Oh, yes lord. He went upstairs just before you got here. To bed…I think.”

He sighs, studying his ale for some time. “I miss home, and my little ones. I don’t like any of this.”

“Any of what, lord?”

He gives me a sideways look. “People offering me money from the shadows. Rumors of…never mind.”

He shakes his head and takes another drink.

“When are we leaving?”

“Tomorrow, I pray. I want to get back to Exeter as soon as possible. There may be a baby when we get back.” He raises an eyebrow and smiles.

“Are you hoping for a son, lord?”

He beams. “I don’t care. Daughters may not be heirs, but they are a joy all the same.”

He puts down his cup.

“You know, I’m a good judge of character and there’s something about you I like. There’s a spark in you. A wit. I want you to stick with me in Exeter. I could use someone with some brains to go along with their muscles. We never got to finish our talk earlier. I will treat you well, and pay you fairly. What do you say?”

“I…I’d be happy to, my lord.”

“Excellent! I’ve never seen you swing a sword, but there are more important things. Can you read or write?”

“Yes, lord. I can do both, quite well. I used to type ninety words per minute!” I beam, stupidly.

He squints. “I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like you know your letters. What did you do before this?”

“I…I reprogra…I fixed things…machines. I was a…mechanic, of sorts.”

“A me-ka-nic?”

“Yes, lord. It’s like building things, only…not buildings, but tools.”

“Like a smith? A blacksmith?” He asks, seemingly delighted.

Oh crap! What corner was I painting myself into now?

“Maybe I could help find ways to make people more efficient…make them able to do more work.”

He shrugs. “Like how?”

“I could build a machine that harvests wheat without so much hard labor, or mills it into flower. Maybe a device that would heat iron ore faster…using water power or something.” My eyes dazzle.

He grins and taps his head. “Ah, you see? I was right about you! Well, you have my attention, young man.” He leans back against his chair. “Tell me more.”

I lean back too, satisfied with myself. He and I talk for quite some time as he quizzes me about my ideas…and when the wine flows more freely, we tell  stories and jokes. We discuss our families and our childhoods, and eventually, he lays several more silver coins on the table.

“Make sure to pay Varek for staying here.”

He motions me with his head, to leave. “It’s been a long night, and now, a long morning. Go get some sleep.”

**************

I wake at dusk. The bedroll on the floor wasn’t much for comfort, but it was warm.

I groan, rubbing my temples. “I miss my hangover meds.”

I force myself out of bed and out if the room.

“Good morning.” Varek says to me as I walk down the stairs and strap my sword and belt under my cloak.

I say nothing at first, but then turn to him, “Have you seen Thrall, my friend, this morning?”

He seems to cower and look away when he answers, “No, lord. I have not. I did…”

He hesitates, and looks at me. I furrow my brow.

“I did see him leave just after you went to bed, lord…but not since then.”

“Thank you.”

I deposit several silver pieces into his hand, and he bows low to the ground and shuffles away…a glowing and delighted look on his face.

I walk down the streets of Winchester, towards the castle. It was impressive at night, but during the day…it’s simply unbelievable. Shimmering white towers reach up hundreds of feet into the sky. I wonder how they built those without modern materials. After all this right of succession nonsense, I plan to inspect those towers.

The city walls give the impression that we’re in a giant soup bowl. There are so many people here. Thousands and thousands. A horse-drawn wagon goes by with a load of bricks, and it wafts the rank miasma of sewage into my face. It brings me focus, and I avoid looking at the dizzying tall buildings and towers for the rest of my walk.

As I pass a market full of meats and breads, I spot Thrall, standing near the rear of a booth. We make eye contact and he turns away. He has that same skittish look again, just like last night. It seems like he’s talking to someone behind the booth, but I can’t see who it is. I feel as though I’m intruding, so I go on my way.

As I cross over a narrow alleyway, a man in a red and yellow tunic comes from behind the market booths and runs right into me.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t—“

“Watch what you’re doing!” He snaps.

He clutches a scroll of paper in one hand, and quickly pushes a necklace back into his tunic. I watch his hand intently.

“Maybe, you’d better watch what you’re doing.” I say, with a sly smile.

He shoves me to the ground. His face is pocked with scars and twisted in anger.

Looking down at me, he says, “I’ll kill you, heathen scum!”People are stopping to watch, hoping for a fight. The man glares at me, then turns and disappears into the crowd.

I push myself up on my elbows. The point of a curved sword pokes my chest.

“What did you see?” Thrall’s eyes beam into me like a particle accelerator, then he looks from side to side and over his shoulder.

“I…don’t know what you mean.”

“In da alley, when I’s talking to that man…WHAT did y’see?”

His posture is wild, and his jaw muscles bulge, as he breathes heavily…like an angry bull.

“I only saw you…talking to someone. I didn’t even know it was that guy, until you told me just now. I’m sorry if I intruded on your pr—“

“You saw nothing, do you understand? Nothing!”

He adjusts his cloak and belt, and I’m suddenly aware of the cold, and the stench of urine.

“Everyone’s on edge right now.” He leans forward and bears down on his sword. “Jez be careful of what yer doing.”

“I get that, but, yesterday you told me to keep my eyes open.”

“NOT on me. Gots it?” He softens his stance. “C’mon, let’s get to da castle. Lord Wulfrod will be looking for us soon.” Thrall says, forcing a smile.

**************

The castle is bustling with activity, guards and servants walking everywhere with hurried steps, and there is constant talking among separate groups of people all around the hall. Thrall and I stand inside the entrance and survey the scene. The King’s body has been removed from the golden throne.

“I don’t see Lord Wulfrod.” I say.

Thrall gestures towards a door along the outside wall, then walks away, joining a group of Welshmen. I squint at him as he adjusts his belt. Not wanting to stand there awkwardly, I amble around the room…checking out the antechambers and apses as I go. Without thinking, I lift the latch on the door Thrall indicated, and walk inside.

“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s ok, I was just…finishing my prayers.” Says a strangely accented voice.

He is kneeling, but soon crosses himself and stands. The room is bare, save for two bulky candle stands, a wooden device to kneel on, and a large crucifix at the back wall…glowing in the flickering candlelight.

He catches my wide eyes lingering on the cross and levels his gaze at me.

“Do you know what that is?” He nods his head to the rear, and I nod in reply. “Then you now know that I am not a pagan…like you Saxons.”

I say nothing, only stare. The smoke from the candles makes my eyes water.

“Who…who are you?”

“My name is Alexios. I have traveled from Constantinople. I represent our emperor, also named Alexios, ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire.” He gives a flourish with his hand. “And…I am a Christian. There are others here in Wessex…they just have to be quiet about it.”

“Quiet? Like…they have to pray in secret or something?”

Alexios says nothing.

“But, this room. It’s—“

“Yes, King Harold was a Christian…at least in private.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

He takes a step towards the wall and places his hand on a large leather-bound book, sitting on a wooden shelf that I didn’t notice earlier.

“Because I think I can trust you. Thrall tells me I can. Can I? Trust…you?” He gives me a strangely sinister look.

“Thrall? I don’t even know you. I mean…we just met. Do I call you lord, or Alexios, or—“

“That does not matter right now.”

He looks at the back of his hands for a moment, then gives a nod to a man who’d been hiding in the shadows behind me. The door latch clicks, and the man steps into the light…his scarred face is illuminated clearly. Next, I hear metal scrape along his scabbard, as he slowly draws his iron sword. My heart beats in my ears.

“I guess you CAN trust me.” I back away from him and instinctively raise my hands.

“Well, none of us has a choice now…do we?” He pushes his cloak behind his hip, revealing the jeweled hilt of his own sword.

“What do you want?” My voice trembles.

He takes his hand off the book and moves back towards the center of the room. “You are one of Lord Wulfrod’s men. I want to know about him. Is he a pagan or a Christian?”

“I don’t know if he’s pagan or not, but he IS a good man.”

“I see. Well, what do you know about your friend…Thrall?”

“He’s…I saw him…I mean, I think he’s a Christian. Maybe.”

Alexios flashes a glare at the other man. “He KNOWS!”

My hands jerk upward, towards the back of my skull, in a reflex, then the room goes suddenly dark.

***********

My forehead throbs when I come to. I blink my eyes and try to get up. There is a pool of blood, and another puddle of drool on the floor beneath my face.

“Hewo?” I try to force out the word, but a gag muffles the sound of my voice.

My hands are bound behind my back, and my shoulders ache. What were they talking about? I must see Lord Wulfrod. He NEEDS to know about this.

I can hear faint voices coming from the other side of the door. The Witan has convened. I struggle against the ropes, until my wrists burn as the skin is rubbed away. The lights flicker on the stone walls, making it feel like a dungeon from the movies. I inch my way to the nearest candle stand like a worm, then I kick it with my bound feet. It falls to the floor with a clatter. Surely someone heard that. I roll over and start to fumble with the still-burning candle behind my back. It’s a miracle it didn’t go out when it fell. I just need to burn the ropes a little.

A hissing sound accompanies the sharp pain in my forearm, causing me to drop the candle. It goes out, and splashes hot wax on the backs of my hands. Must get out of here. I roll over to the wall and place my face on the lowest stone. Using nearly every muscle in my body, and my face to gain purchase on the wall, I stand up. Then, I hop to the other candle stand and raise my wrists up to it as high as my aching shoulders will allow.

The flame burns me again and again, until the ropes finally snap. I remove the gag and nearly cry out, but I think better of it. I quickly unbind my feet, and reach for the dagger in its sheath on my belt, beneath my cloak, but it’s missing…along with my sword. I need a weapon, something, so I pick up one of the candle stands and hold it like a spear, but it’s just too heavy and bulky.

I shake my head and rush to the door, and I open it with caution. There are men standing there, with their backs to me. The great hall is filled with people, looking towards the golden throne. I try to politely join the congregation, to see what’s really happening.

I gasp. Lord Wulfrod is walking towards the throne, where a small group of people await him. One holds a wooden box, with the lid opened.  Opposite him is Thrall, standing stiffly. At the center, is a man with a tall, odd-shaped hat, with a red robe, encrusted with jewels.  A semi-circle of powerful Saxon nobles and foreign dignitaries stand behind them. Every torch in the kingdom must be here, and the smell of smoke is so thick, I can almost taste it.

One of the foreigners looks at me…directly at ME. It’s Alexios. He looks to the other side of the room, and there I see the Roman guard, looking at him. I quickly step behind a pillar. I put my back against it and breath. Should I leave…run?

I let out an audible sigh. “Lord Wulfrod is a good man.” I whisper to myself.

When I move back into the crowd, I see Lord Wulfrod kneeling in front of the man with the big hat, but the Roman is gone. A moment later, I spot him. He’s moving towards the focus of the ceremony. I can see Alexios looking at him, while trying to appear calm. It’s obvious to me, even at this distance.

The man in the tall hat takes a silver crown out of the wooden box and holds it high in the air. A beam of lights seems to touch it, causing it to glow. He utters an incantation…or something, then slowly lowers the crown onto Lord Wulfrod’s head.

The Roman moves closer. I step back out of the crowd and go behind, making my way towards him. Closer. Closer.

“All hail, King Wulfrod.” The man in the big hat announces, and the hall echoes with the reply, “ALL HAIL, KING WULFROD!”

The Roman leaps forward and draws a dagger from beneath his cloak. He rushes toward Wulfrod. I snap a glance at Alexios in the back of the room. His eyes are wide, with his mouth gaping open. Instinct seems to take hold of me, and I rush to the king from the other side.

Thrall draws his sword in a flash. He raises it high as the Roman approaches. When he brings it down, the Roman dodges to the side, and Thrall splits the wooden box in two. His blow continues, until his sword nearly buries itself into the stone with a reverberating “clang”. The Roman shoves him aside, raises the dagger and shouts, “DEATH TO PAGANS!”

He brings it down like an avalanche of hatred. It makes a thud, and sinks several inches into the thick leather-bound book I hold in my outstretched arms, over the king’s head.

The crowd gasps, as I shout, “NO!”

The Roman tries to withdraw the dagger, but it’s stuck, and I won’t let go of the book. He then slaps me with the back of his gloved hand.

“Protect the king!” Someone blasts.

Nobles and guards race toward the Roman. Moments later, the would-be assassin’s  head is slumped to his chest as he is dragged away in silence.

Thrall looks at me with wild eyes, just like earlier.

Alexios joins the others as they form a wall around King Wulfrod. His face fights against making an expression, but he looks at me with disgust. The new king picks up the book I used to stop the dagger and looks at me. He gives me a nod. I try to nod in reply, but I start falling…falling through the floor. I mouth the words, “Lord, you are in danger”, but no sound escapes my lips. The last thing I see is Alexios’ face…twisting into a smile. Everything disappears.

************

I collapse onto the cold white floor. The dull hum of electronics. The sterile air. I force myself up on shaky arms, when I see the Twilight Histories tech approaching.

“No, no, no! Lord Wulfrod…the KING…He’s in danger! He…he…I just…”

My breathing slows, and I slump back to the floor. Instantly, I know I’m addicted…I have to go back.

The End

 

Image c/o Houston H

#saxon #england #wessex #winchester #medieval #empire

 

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