I’ve been away for a while, for any number of reasons not worth outlining here, so I apologize. Nevertheless, here is a new short story called Edwin’s Dilemma. Or rather, it is the first segment of a marginally larger story. This Christmas I approached my younger brother with a proposition. He comes up with the plotting and outline of a story that I can update every 3-5 weeks (estimated to last a year, we’ll see) and I will bring that story to life. This is the consequence of that team-up. Not my usual cup of tea, but I like it and think it has potential. Enjoy.
P.S. Recently powered off two books that I recommend: “Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson and “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. Check them out, especially if you have a ‘nerd’ lean. One is about superpowers the other is about videogames. Can’t beat that.
Edwin’s Dilemma – Part 1 (1,797 words)
For once, traversing Kastern was comfortable. The streets, while in need of maintenance, were mostly clear. It might have been cold, but Edwin considered that a grace this time of the year. Things had been so humid and warm that it was nearly boiling, which resulted in fresh worries as to whether his new fortune could melt or not. Could rubies melt? Could diamonds?
Edwin swung back his wineskin and filled his throat with something distinctly fruity, “Bismark, what is this one?”
“Red. You ask like I know anything about fine wines.” Bismark studied the rings on his hand. They could hardly fit around the callous, “Wearing these makes me nervous.”
Waving it off, Edwin plugged the wineskin again, “Nervous for what? You could out-arm anyone in the city.”
“Not in these clothes,” the man grimaced, “I feel like a nobleman’s fool.”
“A nobleman’s confidant. Carry yourself like one Bismark. It will be important when we make audience with the king.” Edwin grinned. He still liked the sound of those words.
Bismark shook his head. Kastern was kind to the right people: the wealthy and the acclaimed. There was even some mirth in the street urchin and thief culture, some level of status and reverence that grew out of their underhanded accomplishments. Kastern was not so kind when the latter breached their territory and aimed for greater riches. The caste system was there for a reason.
Then again, maybe their transformation was something else. Or maybe they were just stupid.
“I feel cheap,” Bismark said, “Like I’m only pretending to know what I’m doing. And how could anybody possibly walk in such restricting trousers?” He moved his legs up and down like a marionette, “God forbid. You can hardly even bend at the knee.”
Edwin shrugged, caught off guard by the tightness of his nobleman’s doublet, “That’s what servants are for, my uneducated sir. To bend for you.”
Frowning, Bismark set himself to a dull and uncomfortable stride, “Would you stop talking like that? I’m losing more faith in this enterprise with each passing minute. How can we possibly expect to look the part of wealth when we are tripping over ourselves? Both linguistically and literally.”
“You say all of that,” Edwin said, “Yet you use words like ‘enterprise’ and ‘linguistically’. Trust me, we’ll do fi–” Edwin cut his words short, a sharp tip prodding the small of his back. “Bismark.”
A grungy voice spoke, “Don’t move!”
Holding up his new confidence on thin leg, Edwin spoke slowly. “What is it you want?” A half-expected, but inevitable swing of events. Kastern thieves always aimed for the less protected of the noblemen.
He could almost hear the thug smile, “You made it out. You made it rich, young urchin. I want out too, and I want out big.”
“Can’t say I blame you. It’s pretty great on the other side.” Edwin felt the sweat on his forehead growing thick. Bismark stood only a few heads away, but wouldn’t dare make any snap motion that could get his lord killed.
The smile faded, “Brat. You’re still too new to this. Have you already forgotten? Noblemen should never walk the streets on their lonesome.”
Edwin shrugged, “I do have my confidant.”
“What?” The thug snorted, glancing at Bismark, “That wilt?”
“Yes,” Edwin nodded slowly and snapped his fingers once toward the sky. On cue, a long-shaft arrow struck away the thief’s knife. Bismark spun with practiced motion and, in three swift movements, ripped their offender to the ground, resting a knee on his throat. Edwin chuckled, “I also have eight guards tailing us, should someone try exactly what you have done. Even without them, Bismark is one of the greatest underground fighters in Kastern. No luck, bud.”
Edwin looked out over the rooftops, where silhouettes matched the bitter night. “Bismark, let the man go,” Edwin said, “If he follows us one more step, our friends will introduce him to iron.”
Bismark nodded and released, returning to Edwin’s side like a passive sentinel.
“Now leave,” Edwin said. And like that, the thug hurried off, a dog threatened by another kick.
“That was actually rather pleasant. Well handled, my lord,” Bismark said.
Edwin continued his trek towards the king’s palace, “It’s easier when you’ve been in their shoes.”
Nobles and royalty everywhere. Edwin sniffed, taking in every scent of their richly clad feast. The king’s palace was to the brim with lords and ladies, come together for a night of gratitude and celebration. Edwin wasn’t sure why. He was too busy scanning over every figure in the room. They wore their wealth in a way he didn’t yet understand. Something about how they moved and held their heads. Their riches didn’t show just on the outside, but innately, within their souls. It was their confidence and morality. These were people who understood the world in a brighter way, through a lens that Edwin could never afford. They were fools. And now he was one of them.
“I don’t even recognize some of these odors,” Bismark said, catching the fragrances against the air, “Is that roasted beast? It smells like the Kingdom of Kings.”
“Bismark, focus,” Edwin said, “Our priority for the evening is to meet the king. Do you see him?”
Edwin had never seen the king, but it became obvious very quickly. Crowns usually made men distinct that way. Their sire was of an older cut, but not so old that he was expected to roll into his grave anytime soon. His back was firm and his gaze forward, looking toward the future and over his peers. Even from his past as an urchin, Edwin had to admit this man was a good king. Better than many he’d heard of in historical texts, and he owned his authority with honor.
“We seem to be in luck,” Bismark said, “It looks like he’s making friendly banter. The question is do we make the cut?”
Edwin didn’t hesitate. He wore his chest out and chin up, stretching a mild, but practiced smile. Bismark followed behind, reluctant.
Waiting politely for the King to finish an exchange with one guest, Edwin stepped in, “My liege,” he bowed to what he thought was the perfect level, “It is an honor, truly.”
The king smiled, “I do not believe I’ve had the chance to meet you,” he glanced over at a person who seemed to be his advisor.
The young advisor perked up and shuffled through a couple sheets of lambskin parchment, “Um, oh, this is Lord Edwin of Lower Kastern.”
Brows lifting, the king grinned, “Ah, that’s it, then. The one who recently inherited his fortune. Welcome, son.”
Edwin bowed again, “I wasn’t expecting my reputation to precede me,” he held out a hand, “Again, I’m honored.”
The king took his hand in a worthy grip, “Lord Edwin, it’s my –”
Just then, the king of the realm sneezed forth like a maelstrom. A million fragments of moisture poured from his nostrils and lips, all across their interlocked hands. It was beautiful in the eyes of none.
Edwin clinched, not wanting to be rude, but feeling effectively disgusted. Somehow in his many reveries, he hadn’t expected high royalty to sneeze. Thankfully the king withdrew from their contact and his advisor offered a cloth to clean Edwin’s hand. This must have been a recurring theme for the night.
All in all, their conversation carried on in a smooth and prompt fashion. Not wanting to rob their high King of too much precious time, Edwin and Bismark left the man to his lordly business. The rest of the night was simple and short. Together they traversed the labyrinth of socials, making connections that only a year ago Edwin would have never expected to build. The anatomy of the royal circles was elaborate, filled with more politics and gossip than his interest cared to handle.
By the time they left the king’s palace, Edwin felt a unique sort of exhaustion. Upon their departure, his shoulders slumped and his face fell. Keeping up impressions was hard work. When they returned to the manor Edwin purchased in his new wealth, he and Bismark split off to their own separate quarters.
That night was filled with good dreams and nightmares alike.
Heat spun through Edwin’s skull, and walking straight was a step short of brutal. The morning had not been kind. He was sick, sicker than he’d ever felt. Worse even than the time he’d accidentally swallowed Lacrydine. The sicknesses were not similar, but regardless, what he now experienced was worse. That was impressive in its own, horrible way.
“My lord! You look dead!” Bismark said, in spite of himself.
“Thank you for your flattery,” Edwin sniffed, “I’m sick. The apothecary can’t identify it.”
Bismark sized up Edwin with concern, “Your skin is so pale. Go lay back down, immediat–” Bismark caught himself and cleared his throat, “Rather, I suggest you lay back down and get some rest. It can’t be good for your health to be up and about.”
Edwin shook his head, “I tried, but I’m too restless. I cannot figure out how I could have come down with any disease. This is the first time in years. My immunity is usually much more reliable than this.”
“What do you think the cause might have been?”
For a long moment, Edwin was stuck in a mental silence, half-conscious. He was startled awake with force, like a beam of steel through his chest. The King. The king had sneezed on Edwin’s hand, spreading some sort of rich man’s disease.
“That monster,” Edwin said, “I cannot forgive him.”
Bismark’s forehead crumpled, “M’lord?”
“The King. I am stricken with an illness from the King.”
Clarity, confusion and horror broke through Bismark all at once, “Surely you don’t mean– My lord, please do not be taken with haste.”
“My new life. At the epicenter of my transformation,” Edwin said, “He has ruined it! The king has destroyed all of my plans. My ambitions! A disease that even the doctors cannot cure? Something worse than drinking raw Lacrydine? Certainly there must be compensation.”
Trying to maintain an air of control, Bismark seemed to let Edwin fume while he gathered his thoughts, “You are making rash conclusions. Please, I beg that you return to your bedchambers.”
“No,” Edwin stumbled to the window and peered out into the new day, “I can’t do that, Bismark. I need to get revenge before it’s too late. I must hold retribution for what he has taken from me.”
“You mustn’t! Think this through, Edwin!” Bismark pleaded.
“Yes, it is so. I wish there were an alternative, but there is not. For his crimes, I must kill the king.”
End of Part I