Nachhaltigkeit by D.I. Jolly
The king stalked through the halls of his castle wearing a look of annoyed frustration. Not for the man he was looking for, but for the fact that he had to look for him. It was the frustration of being treated like everyone else, when you’re used to being treated as special.
Standing at the top of the east tower was the man the king was looking for, a short squat creature that was 4 foot high, and broad. His skin was a midnight blue and changed subtly depending on his mood and the light. His dark pinprick eyes were like that of a chameleon, allowing him to see in almost every direction. Most people knew him by the name Corpse Eater, since when he was first discovered in the tombs under the castle, he was in the process of eating a corpse. The prince had led an expedition down there to find and slay the monster, but when confronted, Corpse Eater stood with dignity and said plainly, although with a strange and deep accent.
“I do not wish to fight you, I do not wish to fight anybody. But I will not simply allow myself to be murdered. I would, however, prefer to talk.”
The prince was struck by the idea that the creature considered his own death as murder, and so instead of fighting, they spoke and ultimately the prince brought Corpse Eater to the king, where a strange alliance and friendship was born. The king alone pronounced the creatures real name, but only even in private, or when very drunk.
“There you are.’
Said the king.
‘What on earth are you doing up here?”
Corpse Eater turned one eye, but left the other to stare out of the window at the falling snow.
“I needed some time and space to think.”
The king let out a long breath and walked up to stand next to his friend.
“This world we live in, and how very different it is from the one I came from.”
“Homesick? You know I can instruct the wizard guild to restart their investigation and…”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
“Is it the cold? I know winter tends to affect you strongly?”
Corpse Eater smiled, revealing his sharp needle-like teeth.
“No… well, maybe a little. But really, I was thinking about how in this world wage wars in the name of peace, how merchants and kings stockpile vital goods, for the good of people who do not get them. In my world, when every other option has been exhausted, when there is no peaceful solution to a problem, we shake hands and go our separate ways. Traditions and ancient contracts are abandoned for the good of the world, not upheld for the sake of a few important people.”
The king looked down and considered the words.
“Well, since I am one of those few important people, and you live here with me, what do you propose we do?”
Corpse Eater turned himself so that he could show the king he was looking at him with both eyes, something he’d learned to do to show full engagement when dealing with humans.
“Cancel your wars, open your stores, give the land back to …”
“But if I did that there would be anarchy. Humans… humans need order, they, we need a structure to function in otherwise there will be chaos.”
“Do you know that because you’ve seen it, or because that’s what you’ve always been told?”
The king stared down at Corpse Eater and sighed.
“How long have you lived here now? In my realm?”
“This will be my sixth winter.”
“And what have you seen of humans, what do you think?”
The king’s words were hard and forceful, but not angry. He deliberately tried to hold off sounding like it was a threat, because it wasn’t.
“I think they deserve a chance.”
“So that’s it? You want me to give up my kingdom, give up everything my family has fought, traded, bargained and died for, for over 7 generations? You want me to just… what? Open all the doors and walk away?”
“Na-deer, be reasonable…”
Corpse Eater hissed and turned to take a few frustrated steps away.
“Where is the reason in a kingdom, and a king? What makes you better than them down there? That you’ve never had to fight, you’ve never had to struggle, farm, fish or freeze. You’ve never chopped your own wood or make your own bread. What gives you the right to govern them? When you have no idea what their lives are like? But you stand here, in this tower and try to tell me that you know what’s best for humans? Why? How do you know this?”
“You don’t understand…”
“You’re right, I don’t, I really don’t. When I left my realm, it was to give up the land I was born on, because my brother and I could not stand to be together. I was the stronger and most likely to survive, to build a new home. So I left, not one punch thrown by two people who hate the very air the other breathed. I gave up my house for his family, because I hated and pitied him. Now you want me to understand that there is a reason why a soft handed boy of privilege should rule the world?”
The king’s face flushed red with anger but he held back the words, ‘how dare you’ and ‘no one speaks to me like that.’
For an instant, the image of calling guards and getting Corpse Eater locked up for treason flashed through his mind. But when he looked into the face of the creature before him, he didn’t see hostility or anger, he saw pity. Corpse Eater pitied the king for the life he had led and the way that he saw the world.
Corpse Eater continued.
‘Why do you fight your wars?”
The king knew that the standard answer to that question wasn’t going to cut it. He wasn’t going to get away with, nor did he want to say ‘to spread peace and prosperity through the land, to fight off evil and free the people from tyranny.’ So instead, after a long pause, the king said.
“To settle arguments.”
Corpse Eater seemed to grow older in that moment and the blue of his face turned so dark it was almost black.
“You are not so much smarter than them, you are just more educated. If they all had a fraction of what you have, everything would be better. Now, my friend, I think it is time for me to leave this castle and this land. I do not think we will ever come to a conclusion and I cannot stand by it any longer. But will I not fight you over this… And I will miss you.”
The king was desperate to argue, but every thought that came to mind was instantly pushed aside by the counter-argument he knew would come. So the two of them simply stood and stared out the window at the falling snow, until Corpse Eater put out his hand for the king to shake, and then left.
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