The King’s Curse

King Horace Goodman thought he was going to die.

Bound in his own chariot with an enemy pointing a rifle at him – was this how it was going to end?

The book he had snuck with him dug into his tailbone, making him yelp. He shuffled in his hard seat.
“No funny business,” said the enemy with the gun. With wide eyes, King Horace nodded slowly. He bit into the hard cloth around his mouth when the enemy looked away and the stinging taste of rust filled his mouth. The carriage jostled and guns fired as if they were in the middle of a war – judging from the men’s appearance, they probably were.

Unaware of the condition outside, King Horace whimpered. His arms were tied and he had no room to move, let alone try to escape. His head felt heavy and his neck was still. His clammy fingers clenched and unclenched. The little container he was sharing with the two men was making him claustrophobic – he needed to get out.

“You’ve caused us a lot of trouble,” said the other man, the one with a rifle. Wrinkles formed around the enemy’s eyes and his sinister grin widened. Staring at him was like staring at the devil. “What do you say” – he directed the gun at King Horace. “Should we just kill him here?”

“We both will have to do a lot of paperwork,” said the other with downcast eyes “I don’t think either of us would want the extra hours.”

It made the rifleman lower his weapon and mutter vile indecencies. King Horace’s forehead creased; such language should not be uttered in front of a king. These men looked fearless of the consequences of abducting a royal and it made King Horace shiver. Who did they work for? What did he do to get kidnapped like this? King Horace was a good man – his people loved him; then why was this happening?

His thoughts went to his wife – his Queen – whose forehead he had kissed as she slept; and his two princes, whom he had tucked into their favorite red blanket just before he left. What would happen to them if he were to die? His kingdom would crumble. His sons were too young and his wife was too naïve – she’d be thrown over the moment his rivals saw a chance. His people would be oppressed and his land would be in ruins. King Horace shook his head. No, this wouldn’t do. He had to get out. King Horace swayed with every turbulence. More shooting outside. He had to get off – he had to.

Sweat trickled down his forehead and smoke filled his lungs. Exhales from his nose dampened the inside of his mask. It was warm around his mouth and his hands were constrained with a jacket. He had never seen this kind of material before. Was this some kind of sorcery?

King Horace’s impression of the involvement of dark magic grew firmer when he saw the man in front of him produce fire from a tiny metal box. With a flick of the man’s wrist, the fire disappeared; then it started again. The fire-man repeated the practice. King Horace’s eyes widened and the hair on his neck stood up. He wanted to scream, to call for help, but the material around his mouth was too tight. His face flushed and the edges of the mask dug into his cheekbones. It was as if it was shrinking the more he tried to move. This was too much – he was a king; kings shouldn’t be treated like this. Yet, here he was, strapped like a madman in his own vehicle.

The hard corners of the book poked deeper when he shifted in his seat. His eyes closed in pain but the enemies didn’t seem to notice. He tried to wiggle his way out of the white jacket. A gun pointed at his head.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the enemy with the magic cube. He made the rifle-man lower his gun. “It’ll only make him angry.”

King Horace exhaled sharply. His hair fell into his eyes as he nodded. His head throbbed and his eyes stung with tears. He just wanted to go back to his family. His wife and his children were probably waiting for him. What would become of them when the news of his death broke? His wife – he loved her so much – she’d break down. His children – they’d have to grow up without a father.

There was a loud screech and the smell of burning rubber in the air. The carriage came to a sudden stop. King Horace fell forward, into the man who made fire and was thrown back immediately.

“Get away from him!” the rifle-man yelled.

“Relax,” fire-man said, fixing his shirt.

“I’m telling you,” said the other. “let’s just get done with him.”

The fire-man glared at the other before turning. He shoved aside a metal plate. “What was that, Tony?”

“Old van. Engine’s busted,” the charioteer said.

“Great.” The man with the rifle slammed the metal door. “Now what?”

“The hospital is ten minutes away on foot,” said the man on the other side of the barred window.

“You want us to take this guy out for a walk?” the rifle-man said, pointing a thumb at King Horace.

“You got a better idea?” the charioteer challenged. “Either that or you wait here cooped up in this car until the services come and tow this hunk of garbage away.”

King Horace furrowed his brows. He had no clue about the terminology these men were using – sorcerers’ jargon, he was sure. The fire-man sighed and rubbed the area between his eyes. From his pocket, he took out a pair of glasses. From under him, he took out a plain brown folder.

“Let’s go,” he said, reaching for the locks. King Horace felt a spark of hope. The book drilled into his bone but he didn’t care – this was his chance to be free.

“Doc,” the rifle-man said, incredulously. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, I am.” The fire-man put on his glasses. “It’s just ten minutes.”

King Horace let out a long sigh when he saw the metal doors open. They were surrounded by trees. The road they were on was empty… not a bird chirped or a leaf moved. The sun blinded King Horace when he looked at the sky. His fingers pressed together beneath the sleeves. The rifle-man mumbled something but King Horace was too busy trying to come up with escape plans to notice. The thin soles of King Horace’s shoes molded with the painful contours of pebbles once he jumped down from the chariot. The rifle-man, with his steel grip, held King Horace in place. He moaned as the rifle-man dragged him down the rough road.

The fire-man held the leather-bound folder close to his chest. “Don’t be too hard on him.”

The rifle-man spat on the side. “Are you kidding me?”

“He’s still human,” the fire-man reasoned.

Rifle man’s mouth gaped. “Humans don’t shoot their wife and kids while they sleep.”

King Horace ignored them. He looked toward the road. He could feel the novel tucked inside his pants. If only he could distract them, he’d be able to run away.

“Humans have done worse. He’s getting lobotomized already,” the fire-man said, frowning. “At least let his last few moments be gentle.”

“He’s a murderer.”

“Schizophrenia is a curse,” the fire-man said. “You don’t know how hard it is for him.”

“You’re defending him?”

King Horace felt rifle man’s grip on his arm loosen. This was his chance.

“All I know is that he killed his innocent family,” said the rifle-man. King Horace shoved him.

Rifle-man tumbled to the ground, his weapon falling off his shoulder and landing away from him.

King Horace then shoved the fire-man with equal ferocity and ran. He heard shouting from behind him. Running away while bound in the complex piece of clothing was difficult. His face felt cold with the sudden breeze and his feet ached with every step, but he didn’t stop. He had to get back to his family – to his kingdom. He couldn’t do that if he took a break. Adrenaline coursed through his system and he wanted to laugh.

He was finally free.

He felt the book fall out as he ran. The King’s Grey Mare – his favorite book, but he’d have to let it go. There was a sound of something clicking into place.

“No!” the fire-man yelled.

That was the last thing King Horace Goodman heard.

by Eman Shaikh

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