(This is the result of a storytelling held on the newsgroup ucam.societies.cusfs in late 1998. In the end four of us contributed to it; the final cobbling together and some very light editing was done by Richard Kettlewell.)
From: Richard Kettlewell <email@example.com> Date: 09 Nov 1998 17:30:53 +0000
``The Red Prince is coming! The Red Prince is coming!''
The boy ran through the streets, shouting out the news. It had been so many years since the Red Prince had been exiled, charged never to return to Avartak again. But now, if the street-urchin was to be believed, he was coming back. Was he alone, or did he have an army? Where had he been and what had he done, all these years that he'd been gone?
The merchants were unsure what it would mean. If he was here for a fight, it'd be bad for business. But perhaps he'd bring new trade, or take power and cut taxes, so maybe he'd be a good thing.
The city watch were afraid. They didn't think he came in peace at all, and they'd have to fight him, for Avartak had no army other than them, and they were not well trained or armed. They could beat up a pickpocket, or extort protection money from an innkeeper, but fighting an invasion force sounded far more dangerous than their normal lives.
The poor, who in Avartak were many, didn't think the Red Prince could make their lot any worse, but few among them were optimistic enough to think he'd make things better. But he'd be a change, and many thought they'd fight for him simply because it would be better than rotting in poverty, and there was always a chance of glory...
King Relwyn worried. He'd exiled the Prince - his cousin, and a man with at least as good a claim to the throne as his own - as a way to cement his own power: no-one else offered as good a figurehead for resistance. Even if his intent was benign, simply by being here he represented a terrible danger.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Sheppard) Date: 09 Nov 1998 21:28:24 +0000 (GMT)
The Red Prince had walked the road from Berendon to Avartak many times before. The prosperous port of Avartak is to be found at the tip of a thin peninsula, every campaign of conquest first requires a march on Berendon at the end of the Northern Road. In his younger years the prince had walked the fifty miles without break, carrying all his own gear, the torrential rain which blighted the road washing the caked mud out of his hair. Ten times had he endured that trial, eight successful campaigns, and two admirable attempts, he had become a national hero.
This time he had to stop half way. He was tired. He stopped by the road side and let his tired eyes roll him into unconsciousness. The prince was growing old. He had felt this way before, he was no more exhausted now than he was when returning from his campaigns, even after the first campaign - though fired by his unpredicted success in the northern wastes - he had stumbled along the road only half conscious. He had felt the same exhaustion then, but now, two dozen years later, he hated himself less.
He was a far less cruel task master as he was back then. Then he had been knotted with fear and hatred through incomprehension at what seemed like a cruel and vicious world. As he sat on the milestone and looked through the rain at the passing coaches, his gear relaxing in his leather sack by his side, he knew the world was not vicious or cruel, but uncaring and cold, clinical in its precision, and in its imposition of dirt.
Water makes little fuss in a storm. As each drop bounced off the dirt road, found compatriots and made its way into a bigger stream in the rut of the coach wheels, and as that stream decided its course around stones towards the makeshift drain, the prince amazed himself at the quiet organisation of it all, the silent acceptance of gravity's tyranny. More time passes, the lower down you become. If only campaigns were so simple to organise. If only a million men were as simple to organise as a million drops of rain. If only when a defence was breached the men wouldn't pillage and rape, but stand in the fields, as slow and old as a floodplain. If only.
They would be expecting revolt, the townspeople, they would want him to lead. But the time comes in everyone's life to squat from the rain in a makeshift shelter and to tell stories of the death of kings to whoever will listen and share the refuge.
The prince realised that the people of the town would have heard of his coming; as he gave himself the gift of sleep, and let the mud of the ditch consume his back, and the falling rain wash clean his front, he dreamt of Avartak. Avartak his home, the only place he should be, where he would return to find life or endless sweet nothing.
From: ELB <email@example.com> Date: Sat, 14 Nov 1998 09:42:17 +0000
The news had spread through the town in minutes, and even though there had not been a call to arms, all those who might be expected to fight had begun to search out suitable weapons. Old daggers and swords had been taken from their resting places and were being wielded in readiness. The makeshift army was gathering in small groups about the town, waiting for the approach of the City Watch to find out whether they would be expected to fight.
But still no further news had come of the Prince. It was still unknown whether he travelled with an army, and whether or not his intent was hostile. King Relwyn had called a council, and riders had been sent out to report on the progress of the advancing exile.
Within the castle an expectant silence had fallen. The council had begun hours before, and yet no decision had been reached. The city watch had already laid out their presentation uniforms in hope that they would be a welcoming party only, but as the minutes passed they became more and more certain that they would be called to fight for their city. And each expected any minute to hear shouts from the streets warning of the a approach of a hostile army.
At long last the crowds gathered outside the castle gates saw signs of movement. The city watch in their finest uniforms were riding slowly toward the gatehouses, two abreast. As they approached the crowd parted and those wearing swords, or carrying other weapons began to make signs of drawing them. The guard captain shook his head as they passed, and led the guard on towards the Berendon road. The word spread that a welcoming party, not an army was to greet the prince. The people gathered onto the streets to watch for the return of the exile, and although the general atmosphere was one of calm interest, but few, if any that stood and talked of the arrival of the prince and his intentions put down the weaponry they had looked out in earnest.
From: Richard Kettlewell <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: 16 Nov 1998 14:15:32 +0000
Murrigan the potter was near the front of the crowd. Nothing seemed to be happening. When the welcoming party had first appeared it had been briefly sunny, but now the rain had returned and they were soaked through.
``Tell me, friend, what's happening here?'' Murrigan looked behind him to said an old man wearing a mud-spattered cloak and a questioning expression.
``The Red Prince is coming. This is the welcoming party ... or his assassins, more likely.'' The merchant was cynical at the best of times and the rain did not improve his mood.
The old man's eyebrows flew up. ``They say that careless words cost lives ... you must be a brave man indeed to speak against the King.'' But Murrigan knew better: Relwyn's bullies weren't imaginative enough to police the thoughts of the town, only to suppress the most direct confrontation.
``I can look after myself ... how is it that you don't know what's happening? Surely the whole town has known for a day now...''
``Maybe I'm new in town. Tell me, who is this Prince? He must be a popular man, to warrant such a crowd, and a dangerous one, for you to suspect foul play.''
This was an ill-informed stranger indeed. ``He's the King's cousin. When he was younger, he was a great conqueror, or a murderous robber baron, depending which side you were on. Anyway when Relwyn came to the throne he exiled him - obviously thought he was too dangerous to have around. He's probably wishing he'd had him killed, but you can't really do that when even exiling him means half the army follows...''
There was movement in the crowd. The welcoming party - or assassins, whatever - had give up waiting and left. ``There'll be no Red Prince today,'' said the stranger, and turned back into the crowd.
``Hey - who are you?'' called Murrigan, but the crowd moved suddenly around him and when he'd regained his balance, he was gone.
From: email@example.com (Dan Sheppard) Date: 16 Nov 1998 15:23:55 +0000 (GMT)
King Relwyn looked up from his papers and saw the crowd through the window of his cell. He had a small room, more befitting an ostentatious abbot, rather than the King of that rich city state. The King had almost disappeared completely from public view, most of his duties of office were carried out by Chadless, his vizier. Chadless was a reliable fellow, brutal and unimaginative, Relwyn could trust him to undertake the tedious adjudications over squabbling landowners and to write the turgid speeches he delivered to the great and good and irrelevant. Relwyn really cared very little for the hum-drum lives of his subjects, Chadless seemed to keep them in order well enough.
The King's cell backed on to the wall of the great altar. Part of a massive palace, over half of which was given over to the largest Benedictine monastery in Christendom, he was once a pious man, and was a man of great learning. He wanted the palace to have the most enviable library in the world. Half given to holy works, and half to the emerging sciences from the east, few would doubt that he had achieved his aim.
But now as he walked along the great halls of the reading room, watching young monks stooped over the works of Augustine and Thomas, as he opened vast doors concealing shelf upon shelf of relics, as he wandered the apothecary's garden, he longed to crusade.
``When I was young'', the king thought to himself, as he absent-mindedly tickled the end of his nose with the feather of his quill, ``I should have tried the world more. I should have campaigned, I should have let myself enter battle at the head of my army, I should have been foolhardy. As I sit here now, these words have lost their meaning, they are just glyphs, just marks on the page. I have seen so few things, have been forced to think so little, that I cannot ground any of these things in the world. I can write works based on them, I can talk about them to the abbot, but my words mean so little, they are the products of a mere word game, crossword puzzle.''
The king longed for the prince to come, to hammer down the gates of the town, and to cause havoc in his Kingdom. He wanted to feel the world, to approach another wielding his weapon in anger and fear, and to feel the lightning strike and warm saline rain of his arm slashed by an adversary. He wanted to gauge the resistance as he plunged a pike into flesh. He wished that every particle of dust in his cavernous palace would trickle from its resting place over the meaningless tombs, as the blood and sweat of battle do. He wanted to trample his knowledge underfoot so he could understand them better and feel the dulce et decorum est himself.
And just to make sure, the King had created a little trouble, he had written a few letters. He called Chadless to his cell and asked him to deliver all three at top speed.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peter Ellis) Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 22:45:42 -0000
The Red Prince shrank into the shadows as the clumsy figure climbed back down the drainpipe. ``No! Not this!'', he wanted to cry, but the envious love in his heart choked it off unsaid. If they shot Relwyn in his name, who was he to gainsay the act? Death would ennoble his cousin's life as it never could his own - why should he stir to prevent it?
How like his bookish cousin to be sitting alone, and fully lit. With his back to the window, for Eos' sake! But Relwyn had always been the dreamer, never the one to take the aggressor's role in their endless childhood games. Never the evil prince, or the barbarian cavalryman, or the dragon. He'd never lost to Relwyn.
Until that day, when he'd fallen for the honey in the trap; he'd dropped his guard, and been dragged naked from her bed and chained while she stood mocking him. That day when he'd stood before his cousin, seen that sinewy neck held taut beneath the unaccustomed weight of the crown, seen with piercing clarity those calloused hands, fit rather for a scribe than a warrior, transformed by the royal signet ring. The day he'd heard the decree.
Banishment. For `Crimes against the State'.
And he'd briefly wondered why. Relwyn had a kingdom already, one of the mind, of art, of letters, of numbers and thoughts. Why did he need another kingdom? Relwyn had never cared for the succession before.
Then he'd looked into Relwyn's eyes, normally filmy and abstracted, and seen there the simple unsophisticated cunning of the man who imagines himself the spider in the centre of the web, with all the strings at his command, never realising that a string can be pulled either way. The same look that poor dupe of a quartermaster had had, amassing his petty fortune in hoarded stores, while all the time Chadless was bleeding the coffers dry, and the soldiers went unpaid.
And Chadless had stood there in the vizier's robes flattering his new pet, praising his foresight in averting the threat to his rule.
And the Red Prince had been scourged, branded, stripped of his royal birthright and thrust out of the city, with a paid claque to mock him on his way and a hundred crossbowmen on the walls to see him off. With a fire in his heart and a burning knowledge that one day he'd return and sheath his sword in Chadless......
The Red Prince shivered in the night air and drew back into the doorway. No. He would lead no uprising. The desire for war, for blood, for revenge even, was past now, burnt away in the fire of that prophet's eyes. He knew now, as he'd known all those years ago but never dared acknowledge, the futility.
All those people he'd killed, the towns he'd burned. The whores he'd paid, the other women he'd simply forced - children too, he reminded himself with an empty heart. All useless. For the wisdom he'd sought was not in the pleasure of destruction, the triumph of victory, the paroxysms of orgasm. Relwyn had come close to it for a time, and the Prince now knew that it was envy of Relwyn's closeness to the Truth that had spurred him on in all the endless campaigns. But then Relwyn had lost it in the crystal labyrinth of abstraction, and now he was nothing but an old, failed king who sat with his back to his enemies.
A watchman came past, pasty face animal-bright and alive with fear.
``Halt! Who goes there!''
The Red Prince held out his bowl, his symbol of penance, made from the skull of the last person he'd killed, the only person he'd ever loved.
``Alms for the poor?''
From: email@example.com (Dan Sheppard) Date: 18 Nov 1998 19:07:43 +0000 (GMT)
The rage of a wild bull welled in the Red Princes belly and made itself heard as it had so many times before. He had not wanted war, he had not not wanted war, he had merely wanted to meet Relwyn on equal terms. No mischief, no intrigue, no army, no rabble, no welcoming party. He had not come for reconciliation. He had returned to Avartak because a part of him had never left. He would never be happy away from the town, so he had nothing to lose risking his life in returning.
The prince had no goal in mind, he would happily remain the beggar, but it must be known that he once had been prince. There was to be no pretence. The tragedy of Kings, particularly the ruthless, is they are the only ones who truly know they are human. You can search for glory in campaigns or in books, but however wonderful your achievement you will never achieve or learn any more than a single man can, nor be able to lift any more than one. Your power is from a swish of ermine and the inertia of thousands.
``Relwyn must have learnt this by now'', the prince thought as he sat huddled in the door way. ``He must know that he is no Prospero, perhaps in the minds of those he has fooled, but surely not his own. He surely cannot be still be duped by his cobwebs and moonshine and his transubstantiated placebo.'' The prince determined that they must meet as men without the vestments of office, he must wear both on his body and in his mind, something which is entirely himself, and the king too.
But how could he contact the King, who he knew must have learnt what he had, without the rabble interfering. The bull of his liver snorted, he vowed would see Murrigan on a turning on a spit even if it meant dying with him.
As he turned the corner of the street, the scene which revealed itself, with the splendour and shock of stage curtain parting on an unknown play, horrified the prince like nothing he had seen in his blood thirsty campaigns.
Murrigan had stapled himself to a post of the town wall with his own bolt. His widow knelt weeping by his body. The Prince stopped and stared.
``Move on, beggar.'' the woman shouted angrily at the prince over the tears.
``But, but I knew him.'' the Prince insisted.
``Then you were no friend of his.'' she replied, a spitting snake,
``He had no friends. Not when his hands started shaking so much that he couldn't hold his wheel. Not when he couldn't make the pots which made him useful to his neighbours. As soon as they saw no use for him they dumped him. I was the only person who stood by him. And it was NOT easy. Oh no. Sometimes he couldn't eat or hold a cup near the end. He hid his shaking by keeping his hands in his pockets when he was out. And when he got back he was a bastard to me. Despite the hours I spent tending to him, he would kick me and beat me like he did from the start. But I stayed with him, like I had done the previous twenty years. He was nothing without his trade, he felt like nothing at all, so he hit me. The bastard. I should have left him years before. It was no excuse for him to take it out on me. So good riddance to him, the swine. It's what we all wanted. It's saved me a hell of a lot of torment I tell you, I've been released from my bruising prison, and it's what he wanted, the once-something man, and nobody else could give a damn. Best all around he nails himself to a tree.
``I blame that bloody red prince, he was always dreamed of his return. Wanted a bit of the prince's glory, after the shakes had taken him, all he wanted a little reflected light. All dreams. Everything was dreams with him at the end, after his pots. The red Prince killed Murrigan.
``So walk on, beggar.''
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Sheppard) Date: 26 Nov 1998 15:56:20 +0000 (GMT)
The prince wandered, dazed and unbelieving, around the town until nightfall. He had intended to put his blood stained past behind him, but he was being held responsible - by the victim's advocate - for a poor man's death, a man who had fought on his side.
Once the night had fallen, and the guards dozed, the prince slipped into the palace. The monks would often suffer the beggars of the city so his movements within the palace went for the most part unnoticed. Eventually he found himself at the door to the King's cell. Once there he became confused as to his intent. Inside, surely, the king lied sleeping, but what was he to do? Was he to confront him? Was he to kill him in his sleep? Was he to greet him as an old friend?
Confused, the Prince sat on the dusty floor, and lent against a cold stone pillar. He stared for what seemed like an hour at the flickering torch opposite him as it took him back to the nights of the campaigns of his youth. Then his thoughts turned to his spiritual successor. To Kelar and his rag-bag army. Since that time the prince had superimposed all kinds of political motivations on top of what was, he now realised, mere unfocused rage. The King, in his youth, had not been one for pointless campaigns where the young could enjoy taking blood, but the need remained. After the prince had been exiled, and his army with him, Kelar had risen in his place.
The prince grabbed the torch, and carried it as he did when he was young. He made his way to the armoury, and finding it open, wandered around the weapons and his memories. The king ran a lax ship still, leaving the armoury unguarded, if he could make his way into it undetected, so could Kelar and his men. The prince stared at his fist as he held the torch, clenched as it had been so many times in the past, clenched in anger. He contemplated his fist. Then, resigned, he slowly loosened his grip and let the torch drop to the floor. Instantly the sawdust caught light and soon the whole armoury was in flames. The prince ran out of the place, and back to the King's bedroom. He skidded to a halt as he approached the door, but the momentum of his charge caused his body to bang into it in a vertical belly-flop. What was he to do now? Tell the king of the Fire? Surely he should be escaping himself.
The King rose, either awoken by the sound of the door, or by the growing tumult of guards and the rest, fleeing the palace. He opened the door to see the prince.
``You!'' Relwyn cried as he opened the door and saw the prince. ``I should have guessed that it was you. Burn down my palace would you? Become king of the ashes?''
Then, distracted by a sudden thought, the King cried to air ``My books!''
He ran to the burning library and stood, with his hand over his mouth, as burning paper fell around him.
``Everything'', he giggled through his hand. ``All gone. Every last page. All those dead people finally put to rest.''
His giggle turned into a snort, then a chuckle, and then a belly laugh. The king began to dance amongst the flames.
``Death and Destruction. Death and Destruction.'' he chanted like a schoolchild's rhyme as he danced around the engulfed library.
The Prince had followed the King to the place. He stood in the doorway and watched the King in his madness. The prince tried to rescue some of the burning manuscripts. He threw the ones nearest him out of the doorway into the safe stone spiral stairwell. But as fast as he rescued those, the king was lighting others at the far end of the library, where the holy books were, and the precious books, as he continued in his maniacal dance. The prince decided to arrest the King's destruction.
He moved through the flames to Relwyn, and wrestled him to the ground with a strength he thought had died long ago in a far away land. The king fell with his back to the ground. The Prince squatted over the King, his legs pressing the King's lower arms to the ground. The King squirmed and writhed in his insanity, but his upper body held firm to the floor, he could move nowhere.
The prince wondered what he should do now, but his thoughts were in vain. In his struggle, the King caught a flame with part of his robe, and in a few seconds they were both engulfed. The prince decided at that moment, for a reason he would not discover, to stay where he was. As the king and the prince died together, the prince's charred body fell backwards onto the King's.
The armoury and the library burnt to the ground.
Kelar walked the remains of the library.
Kelar walked the remains of the armoury.
For Kelar remained.
Copyright © 1998, 2000 by the authors.
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