The Well of Despair

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm


James' situation worsens...

Chapter 14 (v.1) - The Burden

Submitted: June 12, 2019

Reads: 10

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Submitted: June 12, 2019

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James, standing from his chair with shaking legs, had the sudden urge run away. “What do you mean, gone, Witten!”

Witten, trembling just as much, patted his neck with his folded kerchief, leaning against the king’s chamber door. “Just that very thing!” Witten replied. “The last person who saw him was Harris, who said he withdrew more than a fifty gold stones from the treasury!”

James pulled his own hair as he paced.

Tricked! The empire stands on the brink of civil war, and Laymin abandons us with a childish trick!

“What about Dundle?” Quinn asked, to which Witten shook his head. “Bicker would be the next choice, but he’s got the shakes.” Before offering another suggestion, Witten cut in, “And Gilman can’t do a single task even if he’s been trained for it.” He gestured to the corpse. “Look at that hack job! He only got through medical university by seducing half the faculty!”

James dropped his hands from his face, and stood, convicted. “Alright,” he said, and his trembling slowly subsided. “Fine! I will do it! I-I’m not an artist, but perhaps with enough practice, I can pull it off.”

Witten’s eyes softened. “I think that is best, James. Besides, you must remember that everyone is expecting the king to die any day now. Even a slight mismatch of his handwriting will be attributed to dementia, and completely overlooked.”

James took comfort in that, especially since it was completely rational and likely true. “I hope you are right, Witten.” James was glad to have at least one person sharing this burden. “Witten, please get a stack of the king’s most recently signed papers. I’ll start immediately. Laymin is taking leave to Salt Mote City for his health, if anyone asks, do you understand?” Witten gravely nodded. “Thank you.”

An hour later, and James was in the silent company of only a murdered homeless man, who, if scrutinized, would tell the world of treason and conspiracy. With a stack of papers on the desk, James leafed through each article, studying the crippled king’s signatures. His declining health had made the script childish, but consistent in a way that made James incredibly uncomfortable, doubting he could replicate the almost purposeful, squiggly letters that repeated over and over without fail.

“Might as well have Dundle do this,” James muttered.

By the chime of the evening clock, and the floor littered with failures, James successfully reproduced a haggard “K” at the bottom of a blank will. With each remaining letter in, “KING HOWL” awaiting its slow pen stroke, James suddenly felt like this wasn’t going to work.

He lifted his head, neck stiff, looking around the dim corridor, utterly alone, and missing Madilyn. No manufactured feelings about it.

Sighing, he gathered the papers off the ground, and torched them in the fireplace. The unfinished will he placed in the midst of the signature stack, and locked them in the desk drawer. After gazing once more into the dreary room, James shut and locked the door behind him.

He went home without his usual speed, as though the burden that rested on his shoulders siphoned all the energy he had. The entire world could fall into chaos if he failed, if a single step in his plan, most of which had yet to be invented, faltered even a stroke. He could be put to death if anyone found out, no legality required. A general’s sword, or a Councilor’s candlestick could end him if the rule of law broke down. Each person, thinking themselves worthy to rule the Unified Kingdoms, would surely produce a myriad of casualties. Good luck even getting a grave.

 When he entered his house, his sluggish arms were barely able to hang his coat. He answered Madilyn’s question from across the room with quiet, yes dear, and dragged his feet to the tub where he sat without even scrubbing.

He lay on the edge of his bed, staring into the corner of the room when Madilyn came in, her erotic presence no longer urging blood through his veins.

“James?” she asked. He couldn’t recall the last time her tone didn’t bring with it notes of either seduction or chastisement as it lacked now. Regardless, he continued to stare into the black corner as she gently sat on the opposite side of the mattress.

After a few clicks of her picking at her nails, she asked, “Did you eat the lunch I made for you?”

“I forgot about it,” he mumbled into the wall.

“Oh. Well, that’s fine.” After a moment, “Are you hungry?”

“No.”

“James. Did something happen?”

The pile of scorching, failed wills was bright to his mind. “No.”

Madilyn took a quick breath. “I know you said you were up for a promotion,” she began. “That Gilman is probably the one who offered it to you since he got you your job in the first place.” She paused. “But if he ever…asked you to do anything that you weren’t comfortable with in order to get it, well, it would be just fine with me if you said, no.”

James had too much on his mind already, and his wife’s insinuation felt so out of place, that he scooted just a little further away when he felt her hand rest on his back. She retracted, sat for a silent moment, then went out of the room, turning the lantern down to a flicker.


© Copyright 2019 C. S. Spence. All rights reserved.

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