THE EXCITING CONCLUSION TO A STORY STARTED HERE
Moravier 6, 332
Hambohn knocked upon the First Consort’s apartment door. He dressed in his official robe as required by this evening’s invitation, but there was no reason it had to be the rag he received at his appointment ceremony. The black market scarlet linen and contraband dwarf-spun gold thread that his tailor had acquired made him look more presentable for the sake of the empire--a worthy cause. As long as Hambohn looked good, the First Satrap didn’t care where his tailor procured his materials.
A servant answered the door; her long green hair brushed the floor as she bowed.
Hambohn stopped in the doorframe. What was a Verdant Elf doing in the First Consort’s chambers?
“Lord Hambohn, is there a problem?” The First Consort stepped from the shadows, her lissome figure complemented by a simple white gown, which clung to her curves like moonlight on the water.
“Your Grace.” Hambohn bowed his head. “I--uh--I’m allergic to the hair of the Verdant Elves. Perhaps if your servant were to shave her head…”
The First Consort’s brows twitched and then her lovely face relaxed. “Fanti, be on your way. I have no more need of you tonight. The eunuchs will suffice for the rest of the evening.”
To Hambohn’s delight, the elf trembled as she scurried away.
“Follow me, please.” The First Consort glided towards double doors that swung open without a touch. The Emperor reclined at the head of a long table in resplendent robes of midnight blue. As she neared him, the Consort’s dress darkened to the exact shade of the Emperor’s. Constellations materialized and twinkled across the couple’s garments, matching the layout of the eastern sky.
Hambohn was almost embarrassed of his fine robes in the presence of these masterpieces. Almost.
“Please sit down, Hambone din Hammedatha.” The Emperor studied the goblet of wine in his hand. “We are pleased you could join us.”
“The honor is mine.” And it’s Hambohn, you imperial oaf. Hambohn executed his most courtly bow before reclining at the table. “To be invited by the First Consort, a woman of surpassing beauty, the star of the Emperor’s eye, is more than I deserve.”
The First Consort’s expression remained undecipherable. She was pleasant to gaze upon, as lovely as everyone said even if her complexion was a bit olive, but her mouth did not smile and her eyes did not sparkle when she glanced at him. Her every movement reflected the finer noble families of their land, although she was new to the capital. The Emperor had chosen her to replace his last consort near the time Hambohn had risen to Second in command of all Serpia. Rumors contended that she became First Consort when the Emperor selected her from the fairest of hundreds of exquisite women.
“Where did you come from before you married our Emperor, Blessed Lady?” Hambohn, who prided himself a gourmand, slipped a morsel of roast python between his lips while waiting for her answer.
“I’m from here in the city, Satrap.” The First Consort dipped a piece of cheese into a bowl of licorice sauce. “But, please, call me Threse. Titles are a mouthful; let’s save our mouths for the wonderful dishes my kitchen has prepared, if the Emperor agrees.”
Emperor Nightenshade smiled at his young wife and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. “If that is what you wish for tonight, my darling, then you shall have it.”
Each dish Hambohn sampled proved more succulent than the last until his stomach protested against the tightness of his robes and his thoughts muddied from the free-flowing wine. He regaled his monarchs with story after story--political intrigues, gossip, even a few ribald tales, although nothing too risqué in the First Consort’s--Threse’s--presence.
“Alright, my dove, why did you invite us to this fine banquet? What can we do for you?” Emperor Nightenshade’s expression was tender. “I will give it to you, even if it is half my empire.”
Hambohn choked on a swallow of wine. Half the kingdom?
The First Consort’s laugh trilled through the room like wind against hanging chimes. “Can’t the First Consort invite the Emperor and his First Satrap to a nice dinner without being accused of wanting something?” She smiled mysteriously as the candlelight shimmered off her ebony tresses, creating a faint greenish aura around her. “How about this? My deepest wish is for you and our esteemed guest to come to another banquet I will prepare tomorrow evening.”
The Emperor chuckled in response. His gaze never left his wife’s face as he said, “Good night, Hambone. We will see you tomorrow evening.”
Hambohn struggled to his feet. He tried to bow, but the room kept tilting around him. Not that the royal couple noticed.
He didn’t remember walking through the palace. Big, fat raindrops fell on his uncovered head in the courtyard, bringing him back to his senses.
Cimadore, the dreadful elf, stood sentry at the palace gate. By now, the olive-faced beggar would have heard about the proclamation. Hambohn smiled in anticipation. The mold-headed nuisance was sure to not only bow at his approach, but tremble as well. The perfect ending to a superb evening.
But Cimadore did not bow. His stoic countenance showed minimal regard, as always. The elf looked unconcerned as Hambohn passed, even… disinterested.
Hambohn stumbled, but side-stepped before he fell. Cimadore was at his mercy and still did not show a modicum of deference. Was the elf was too stupid to recognize the power that Hambohn held? He reached for his short sword, but it was not on his sash where it belonged. Drat. He’d left it at Threse’s apartment. And the Emperor looked as if he didn’t want to be disturbed. He would have to wait until tomorrow night to retrieve it.
Perhaps it was just as well. He could strike the elf down and no one would care, but no one would see either. Cimadore had defied him in public, so Hambohn needed a public way to punish this gangrenous elf. Something long and drawn out that he could enjoy as much as he’d enjoyed tonight’s banquet.
He hurried to his palanquin as the rain began in earnest.
Moravier 7, 332
“To the Agate of the Royal Crown, Overseer of Serpia, personal dinner guest of First Consort and Emperor Nightenshade the Conqueror.” Hambohn raised his ornate crystal wine glass toward the ceiling. “In other words, to me!”
His wife and friends laughed and raised their glasses in return. “To Hambohn the Exalted.”
Hambohn surveyed the guests gathered in his formal entertaining room. Their eyes followed his every move. Their ears couldn’t drink enough of his words. Who was he to deny them? “Threse, the First Consort, enjoyed my company so much that she has invited me to another private banquet with the Emperor tonight.”
Cheering and clapping greeted his announcement. He had so many friends these days. It had been no trouble for Sherez, his plump cherub of a wife, to gather them together for this impromptu mid-day feast. He smiled fondly. She’d proven a good choice in companions--luscious and adoring with just enough ambition to push him to greatness--a useful wife.
“So your life is complete then, eh, Hambohn?” A voice from the throng rang out.
“It will be once the elf Cimadore no longer has a head.” He grumbled. “Oh no! Did I say that out loud?”
“Beheading’s too good for that one. You should let him hang and leave him out a good long time so everyone can see what happens when people disrespect you.” A man in bright blue robes nudged Hambohn. What was his name--Morass? Morwin?
“No one’s afraid of hanging these days,” said a man in red and gold that Hambohn didn’t recognize.
“You should burn him alive. Let him serenade you with the music of his torment.”
“But no one would recognize him afterward,” said another fellow wearing dark green. “Why not impale him on the biggest spike you can find? No, the biggest spike in history. He’d die slowly and still be recognizable.”
Hambohn motioned for a servant to refill the wineglass of his friend in dark green. He liked that idea. A lot.
Sherez’s warm hand brushed his forearm. “I hate to see you upset, husband. You have found favor with the Emperor. Why not go now and ask permission to impale Cimadore instead of waiting for the edict to take effect? Surely he will grant your request.”
Hambohn nodded. “A good idea, my pet. Make arrangements for me to be conducted to the palace.” He raised his cup for more wine to drink while he waited. Better and better.
“Hambone, it is fortunate you are here.” Emperor Nightenshade rose and stretched when The First Satrap was announced. “You’re just the man to help me with something I want to do.”
Excellent. “How can I be of service, Your Majesty?”
“What should I do to honor someone who truly pleases me? Someone who has gone out of his way to show service to this office?” The Emperor crossed his arms and waited.
This could only mean one thing. The emperor realized his worth, his ambition, his single-mindedness and wished to honor him at last. With glee, Hambohn considered his options for rewards. “If it were me, Majesty, I would be most honored if you would allow me to dress in some of your own royal robes, and then have one of your most noble officials lead me through the city on your finest mount shouting, ‘This is what Emperor Nightenshade does for someone he wishes to honor.’”
“A most excellent suggestion.” Nightenshade nodded, smiling broadly. He returned to his desk and sat down. “Please make the arrangements to honor Cimadore the elf. You can find him at the gate of the palace. Leave nothing out.”
“Cimadore?” Hambohn swallowed and focused on keeping his mid-day feast in his stomach where it belonged. “If I might be so bold as to inquire, what wonderful thing has he done to receive such honor?”
“He discovered and prevented an assassination attempt upon my life.” The king’s visage darkened like thunderheads brewing on the horizon. “A worthy deed, don’t you think?”
“Yes, of course, Your Excellency.” Hambohn bowed low before Nightenshade. “Your loss sire would be the parent of all tragedy. I will see to it at once.”
“Make sure you see to every detail personally.” The Emperor resumed his work taking no notice as Hambohn bowed his way out of the room.
The skies opened and rain poured down on Hambohn as he led Cimadore through the city. The friends that had attended his gathering just hours before jeered from under protective awnings as he led the cursed elf around the square on the emperor’s best stallion, royal crest and all. The emperor’s armor bearers held a rain tarp above the elf to keep him from getting wet but Hambohn, at the front of the retinue, was drenched by the time he returned to the palace. Were he able to make use of it, the fire in his soul could have dried his robes in seconds.
Hambohn slumped into his villa in dripping robes with his throat sore from yelling. Sherez did not stand or bow as usual when he entered the sitting room. Reclined on pillows, she watched as the work crew shaved an enormous tree into the largest impaling spike in the Serpian Chronicles. The sun shone down on the workers’ glistening backs. It had stopped raining once Cimadore’s parade had finished and they were back in the castle. Too late to do Hambohn any good.
“I heard you spent the day parading some elf around on the Emperor’s stallion.” His wife’s voice slippery sweet even as her words dripped condescension.
“Not just any elf. Cimadore.” Hambohn threw himself upon his couch with a groan.
“I don’t understand. You went to the palace so you could kill him. Did the Emperor not take kindly to your request?”
“I never got a chance to make the request.” He explained the events leading to his humiliation. He expected sympathy--wasn’t that the role of a wife? But Sherez turned her attention to the windows. “You’ve embarrassed me in front of all our friends with your witless suggestion.”
“My suggestion?” Hambohn’s words were loud in his own ears. “It was you who prodded me to go to the emperor and ask for Cimadore’s head. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have even been in the palace.”
Banging erupted from the villa door. A servant led an Imperial eunuch flanked by five guards into the room. “You’re late for the First Consort’s banquet. The Emperor has sent us to bring you immediately.”
Hambohn jumped to his feet. “Let me change into something appropriate--“
The eunuch shook his bald head. “There’s no time. The First Consort and Emperor are waiting on you.”
“It will give even greater offense to them if I show up in this attire.” Hambohn gestured to his damp, mud-fringed robes.
The eunuch pursed his lips. After a moment, he addressed one of the guards. “Hurry to the palace and arrange for a spare set of ceremonial robes to be delivered to Fanti.” Turning his attention back to Hambohn, he frowned. “You can change at the palace.”
Hambohn walked behind the eunuch as the guards trailed behind them on the long march to the palace. He could only hope that the First Consort and Emperor were not overly upset at his delay. Surely Nightenshade remembered that his day had been spent following his orders regarding the elf. How quickly events had changed for him. Last night, everything had been perfect, at least until he’d seen Cimadore at the gate.
Hambohn squared his shoulders. If things could deteriorate within a day, they could turn around in a day. He’d simply have to be more charming, more helpful, more…Hambohn.
At least it wasn’t raining. And there was no Cimadore at the palace gates. Things were already looking better.
The banquet was as fine as the previous evening, possibly finer, but Hambohn could not enjoy it. Events of the day distracted him like the stench of spoiled eggs in a poorly ventilated room. He could never be rid of Cimadore now, not after today’s demonstration.
The Emperor and First Consort didn’t mention his lateness. If anything, the Emperor seemed surprised at his entrance, as if forgetting that Hambohn was expected. Hambohn briefly praised the goddess for the charms of the lovely Threse.
Bellies full, they lounged at the table after the last dish had been removed. Like the previous evening, the Emperor asked, “What do you desire, my darling? Up to half my empire, all you have to do is ask.” He flicked a strand of the First Consort’s hair off her shoulders in a playful fashion. “Unless you care to invite us to another banquet tomorrow night?”
Threse met the Emperor’s eyes, her expression solemn. “If I have found favor with the Emperor, and if it pleases him to grant my request,” she said, kneeling formally in front of him, “I ask for my life and the lives of my people to be spared. We have been given to those who would slaughter and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold into slavery I would remain quiet, for that would be too trivial of a matter to disturb you.”
Righteous indignation filled Hambohn. Here was his chance to make amends for his lateness. To tip the scales of fortune back into his favor.
Hambohn sat up straight. “Who would do such a thing? I will make sure they die a most horrible death.”
“Yes, who would do such a thing?” The Emperor frowned. “Who would be so presumptuous as to touch you?”
Threse speared Hambohn with her eyes. “This wicked man is our adversary and enemy.”
“What? No, I’m not! I would never do anything to harm you.” What could she mean? Someone was filling her head with lies about him. Maybe even that horrible Cimadore.
The First Consort leaned into the light of the waning moon. Her hair’s faint green tinge blossomed into verdant tresses in the moonlight. “Do you deny that it was you who wrote the edict to exterminate my people?”
Comprehension struck Hambohn in the face. Too late, he realized his blunder. The First Consort was a verdant elf. The Emperor must not have known or he would never have agreed to the edict. “I did, but--“
“Guards!” Nightenshade yelled.
Hambohn’s face dug into the thick pile carpet as strong hands propelled him forward. His own hands were lashed behind his back. He struggled but could not rise with the weight--one of the guard’s feet?--in the middle of his back.
Nightenshade paced the floor, his jeweled sandals passing in and out of Hambohn’s field of vision. The pacing stopped, followed by a large sigh. “I cannot revoke the edict to kill the Verdant Elves. It has been made into law which is immutable, even for me.”
“There is one thing that could mitigate it, if it pleases you to do so.” Threse’s words were tentative.
“Tell me,” Nightenshade commanded, all softness gone from his tone.
“If I have found favor with you, let there be a new decree that allows the elves to defend themselves and entitles them to the property of their enemies if attacked.”
“Summon Cimadore,” the Emperor commanded. “He’ll be at the palace gate. He has served the Serpian Empire well. Have him take Hambohn’s position in my empire and do as the First Consort has requested.”
“Yes, Excellency.” A set of footsteps receded from the chamber.
Hambohn’s thoughts spun. This was a dream. A dreadful, awful, ridiculous dream. He would wake up and none of this would be real.
The guard holding Hambohn cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, Hambohn has set up a sharpened pole in his own courtyard that stands taller than the palace. Rumor has it that he intended to use it to impale Cimadore the elf.”
Someone gasped. Hambohn wasn’t sure, but he suspected that it was Threse.
“I see.” Nightenshade’s voice dropped to a low rumble, reminding Hambohn of the calm in the eye of a hurricane. “Impale Hambone on it instead, and give all his possessions to Cimadore.”
The guard jerked Hambohn to his feet.
“Please, First Consort, I didn’t know you were a Verdant Elf. I would never have made the proclamation if I’d known. Please have pity on me.”
Her gaze became dispassionate, the same stoic indifference he’d seen on Cimadore’s face every time the elf refused to bow. How had the similarity escaped him?
Revealing every ounce of her regal bearing and unbendable will, she locked eyes on Hambohn. “Cimadore is my uncle.”
Verdant Elf Defense Day Proclamation
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves play a vital role in Serpian society, influencing the culture and ecology in a positive and productive manner; and
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves have been instrumental in safeguarding the empire from treasonous attacks; and
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves are indispensable to the Imperial Crown.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Martindale Horatio Nightenshade, serving as Imperial Emperor of all Serpia, do hereby proclaim Luvainer 15th, 332, as Verdant Elf Defense Day.
Serpian citizens are urged to protect Verdant Elves from anyone who wishes them harm. The possessions and material wealth of anyone who attacks a Verdant Elf will be forfeit and given as recompense to said elf.
~Signed this 8 day of Moravier, 332 with the Imperial Signet~
I wrote this short story with friend and critique partner T.J. Akers. He recently released two new books. Both are fun and worth reading if you like fantasy with a twist of fairy tale. Click on the link below to find out more about TJ and where to purchase his books.
<<FIND OUT MORE ABOUT TJ AND HIS BOOKS>>