Chapter 1: The Rubber Throne

Sebastian White chewed his lip anxiously as his eyes panned over the horizon.

His mind was preoccupied with the unwelcome surprise he had recently found sitting on his rubber throne—rubber because he argued it was safer than a throne of iron that he might walk into and wound his toe upon.

King White had a good view of the kingdom of Aurem and the forests beyond it from his throne, ever since he’d had the walls changed from stone to glass.

He said he wanted to see his enemies coming before they came. But no enemies ever came.

While the King was not especially liked, there was seldom anything that dared to threaten his reign; not because he was a King to be feared but because he was a King who lived in fear.

His fortress— his pride and joy and mind’s greatest comfort— was known beyond his realm for being impossible to breach. It was an impressive feat of security, or a paranoid ruler’s needless splurging of his kingdom’s wealth, depending on who you asked.

There was a kilometre-wide moat that ran around the looming structure that was protected by a mountain at its back. And had any would-be invaders dared to swim across, the several crocodiles that King White had raised in the surrounding waters would give them something else to contend with.

If by some miracle they managed to get past their snapping jaws, then there were spikes that lined the outer walls to render them unscalable.

Even if the assailants somehow grew wings and attempted to infiltrate from above, they would only meet with an automatic turret mounted on the castle’s roof: thousands in taxpayer’s gold spent on a weapon that only shot down the unwary birds that flew too close to it.

The King of Aurem’s paranoia was a running joke among his people and throughout the neighbouring kingdoms. In fact it was all they knew of him. He had an aversion to blind spots that kept him glancing over his shoulder routinely, and an obsessive distaste for being in open areas. He was known to even refuse a seat in his own castle if it did not allow his back to hug a wall. His servants, of course, begrudgingly accommodated the King’s strange tastes even though they stemmed from the most irrational place.

For such an extravagant palace that towered kilometres high, his throne room was rather smallish. He had the size reduced by half when he took to the throne 20 years ago after his father’s death. His reason was that it was easier to secure and fortify a smaller room in the event of one of the many “worst case scenarios” he often played out in his head.

Few people would have known this, however, since few were allowed to enter the throne room unless accompanied by armed escorts. Shaw, his attendant at present, was one of the few. He had served White for 10 years now.

“Does his majesty find everything to be in order?” Shaw asked.

“No, Shaw! I’m at the end of my rope.” King White wrung his hands as he tended to do when he was uneasy, which he often was.

His large blue eyes were fixed on some empty space in front of him as his mind sifted through the possibilities and probabilities surrounding his current situation.

“I could die at any moment now. How will it happen? Will they run a dagger through my back while I have my supper, or will they suffocate me in my sleep against my own pillow? I don’t know who or how many or how they would—”

“Sire, I assure you, this castle’s walls are impenetrable. You saw to that yourself. The guards have checked three times over today. The moat, the bulletproof glass, the turret; even a fool would think carefully before making an attempt on your life. Besides they wouldn’t even know who to target. Your own people hardly know what you look like.” Shaw reminded him.

“Explain this then.” the King produced a single note of paper that he had read and reread over 100 times as if in the hopes of discovering some second, less austere meaning from its contents.

There were red letters scrawled on the note:

“These walls will become your tomb.”

The simple threat would have been a mere passing bother for the King, had he not sat on it by accident as he planted himself on his own throne an hour ago.

“Perhaps it is a prank? Forgive me my King, but I’m sure you are aware of the curses muttered after your name beyond these walls,” Shaw reminded him, “and sometimes inside them”. The King had recently slashed his servants’ pay to fund the massive automatic turret that now sat at the tallest tower of the fortress.

“No! None of them are supposed to have access to this room. Could it be— could someone have really found a hole in my security? I’ve scanned the floor plans personally. Thirty-seven times. They are flawless. Impossible. Impossible, this note should not be here.”

White held it carefully in his hands as if the scrap of paper itself was out to give him a lethal papercut.

“Perhaps it was someone on the inside. Have you judged your staff carefully?” Shaw offered after some thought. The King had not considered this. It fed his paranoia further.

“You might be right.” King White pulled at his silver goatee, as he pondered this. His silky red robe draped itself over the sides of his throne as he sat down after pacing back and forth for some time.

“Maybe you should consider rebuilding your staff.” Shaw recommended.

“That is too extreme, much too extreme. I may have denied them a few things for Aurem’s safety, and my own. Also, I cannot imagine any man being so ungrateful as to bite the hand that feeds him.”

“But my King, hidden away behind these walls, seldom stepping under the sky, surely you must have forgotten man somewhere down the line? A man will mangle the hand that feeds him if another offers him more.” A smile crept onto Shaw’s face.

The long barrel of a gun protruded from the curtains behind the King’s throne, sending a sharp shiver up his spine at the feel of the cold steel against the back of his exposed head. The King’s pale face spoke true of his name. Sebastian White found himself trapped in a prison of his own design.

He stared forward at the horizon he had scanned daily for encroaching enemies, accepting the reality of the round metal pressed against the back of his skull. His crown—the pointy tips filed down to prevent accidental injury to himself—now teetered over the side of his head as Shaw took a few steps forward to close the space between them.

This was not the Shaw that Sebastian knew to be quiet and well-mannered: the servant who waited upon his every word. This Shaw smiled at his own disobedience. The King had ordered all of his servants to stand no closer than 10 feet from him unless they had his explicit permission.

The King was in no position to argue, however, as Shaw stepped even closer, into the light that invaded the room through the walls of glass, before he spoke again: “In the interest of your safety, I advise that you reconsider those you surround yourself with inside these walls. You never know who you can trust in the days of change to come”.

To be continued...

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