The cool breeze that wafted over the low hill carried the scents of a lazy summer day. It washed away the too warm sunshine and tickled through the thinning hair of King Graven Pious Rex. He stirred in his hammock and glanced out at the serene mirror of lake that lay at the base of the hill. Part of him knew that he had been resting for too long. There were duties he had to perform. Failing minions that he had to correct.
The thought should have kindled a fierce rage in his heart. Thinking about the failings of others always inspired hatred in Graven. Hatred that served him, hatred that he used as a motivational burr to drive himself forward. The thought of the fools underneath him should have roused Graven, but for once it didn’t.
He stirred more in the hammock, but the anger that had burned inside him when he thought about those who would take his power or mishandle it had gone cold. He could remember the blazing emotion, but the memories of it seemed silly. He knew that he’d been reasonable in his hate. As King he couldn’t abide by those who failed to live up to what was required of them. Try as he might though, he couldn’t fathom why even simple irritations would illicit the towering thunder that filled his memories.
“Am I bewitched?” Graven asked himself. The wind carried his words away but bore no answers back.
Getting out of the hammock, he made his way down the green hill. The low grasses squished comfortably under his bare feet and the soil was pleasantly chill from the blowing winds. At the shore of the lake, the grasses gave way to clean white sand. After the cool grasses, the warm sand was as relaxing as the hammock had been. Graven hadn’t had a destination in mind when he set off towards the lake but as he walked on the sands he saw a buffet had been setup at the water’s edge. A parasol provided shade for the plates of food that crowded the center of the small table that bore both the delicacies and a single set of plates and cutlery.
Graven approached the table with the same caution he used in approaching a wounded boar. His heart pounded but it was driven by excitement at the smells of the food. It was only reason that told him he should be wary. As a King he had no reason to fear taking that which he desired, but he knew, in some way that he couldn’t put into words, that he was no longer in his own kingdom.
“Who lays claim to this table? Show yourself!” Graven Pious Rex demanded. Again the wind carried away his words and again there was no answer.
Graven looked at the food, and felt his mouth begin to water. Roast with a fine covering of herbs and cooked to the perfect shade of pink throughout. Soups whose rich broth he could smell from a half dozen paces away. Candied fruits and creams and fresh breads that steamed as though they had just come out of the oven.
“It is a trap.” Graven concluded. He had lived a life bounded by treachery on all sides. Serenity was a lie, peace a poison. Those were tools used to convince lesser men to lower their guard so that they could be exploited without reprisal.
Graven began to walk away from the luscious banquet, but the smell of the bread halted him in his tracks. He couldn’t recall the memories that left him yearning for it, but they were there. Old memories, buried in the depths of time, part of a Graven who was not yet Pious Rex. One who had been long forgotten.
“If I am trapped, then I shall suffer regardless of what I do.” Graven reasoned with himself and turned back to the meal that was spread before him.
He cast a glance around the green hills, looking for some secret ambush but found none. There was no one to be seen anywhere . Not upon the hill, or along the shore or even lurking under the crystal surface of the lake.
He seated himself and reached out for one of the warm rolls. His hands did not tremble, but only because he willed them not to. He didn’t care that an attack might come. He would never show weakness, never permit himself to be less than the master of all he surveyed.
The roll was as warm and soft to the touch as he’d hoped it might be. With a knife that had been placed beside the breads he split it open and spread a rich helping of honeyed butter on it. It melted in his mouth like the food of angels. Warm and sweet and soft, like the best memories of food he’d ever tasted.
He ate without further reservation. If the food was poisoned, he would die, but there was little he could do to prevent that he reasoned. Whoever had abducted him had possessed sufficient power to have killed him many times over. Why they hadn’t was a mystery to Graven. He knew the kind of man he was. He knew the things he had done. The necessary things that others condemned him for. Their righteous did not shield them from his power though and in their deaths they’d proven him correct in grabbing dominion over others by any and every means.
Without the backstabbing and betrayal, without the ruthlessness and the cruelty, Graven knew he never would have had the power to overcome the foes who had stood before him. His world was on the brink of destruction, in part due to his actions, but if it hadn’t been his hand grabbing power it would have been someone else’s. Someone weaker, someone who wouldn’t be able to lead the world out of the darkness that it had sunk into.
Graven Pious Rex had taken pride in being the strongest of the Last Lords. He’d believed himself to be the most powerful man in the world. Sitting under a parasol, on the side of a beautiful lake, he began, at last, to understand that he had been wrong.