Now that Father’s had his head lopped off, I should probably figure out whether or not I’d like to keep this crown. It seems to be a magnet for swords; or, more precisely, it seems to encourage swords to aim about twelve to eighteen inches below it, right in the center of the neck of the wearer. I don’t like that idea much, to be perfectly honest.

I’m sitting here with the definitive History of the Kingdom (it’s the eighth volume, and this book’s about halfway through; the ink’s not entirely dry from my father’s writeup. Which is surprisingly juicy; the Court Historian has a thing for intrigue, romance, and terrible penmanship.

The book’s not much help, except possibly adding a bit of pessimism onto my existing pessimism. Very few of our rulers died natural deaths; had my Father’s terrifyingly headless body not, in some last spasm of incredible and disturbing strength, put his ever-present waraxe through the body of the Pretender to the Throne…

…had the assassin not been killed, I imagine I’d have been cut down and replaced, myself. And I fear I’d not have been able to do nearly so much in my defense as my father. That’s part of the problem; I’m not enough of a warrior to defend myself, and I’m too much an academic not to consider consequences.

Heavy is the head which bears the crown; particularly if there’s a history of removing the former to grab the latter. And I’m asking myself: Do I really want to sit on the Pyrite Throne?

I doubt that the question ever crossed Father’s mind. And I’ll never know, as he wasn’t much given to discourse, and I wasn’t exactly his favorite confidante.

I mean, Father treated me as best one might hope,  under the circumstances, but it’s a classic problem: if you achieve greatness without any sort of book-learning, you might hold academe in a certain semi-mystical awe, and you might hope your children know things you do not. I think that’s a worthy and admirable goal. I suspect that it often turns out that you hope to create a better-educated version of yourself; you instead create a being which is still related to you, but whose thoughts are fundamentally unlike your own.

He was a pragmatic man. Had he been (for example) better-educated, he might have wondered if, say, a scholar sired by a barbarian can truly carry on the barbarian legacy. Or, more simply, he might have figured that he’d accidentally produced a runt, once who could barely lift a sword, and treated me with contempt. In that regard, I’m fortunate. Since he was sure that he was, indeed, my progenitor (he and my mother were inseparable, and the idea that either would cheat the other was quite beyond the realm of possibility)—since he knew I was his son, he treated me that way. He might not have understood the strange, distant academic I became, over the course of my schooling, but I was his strange, distant academic.

Pack mentality is essential to surviving primitive conditions, and it’s quite plausible to think that this idea only falls apart in “sophisticated” societies. We have the joy of being suffused with those who have the leisure to pursue power and, and the luxury of free time to hone the skills needed to acquire that power, without necessarily going through the bothersome step of earning all that bothersome leadership.

This is part of why barbarian kingdoms sometimes prosper. Both of these systems have the potential for tremendous amounts of incompetence, but one of those systems is dedicated to maintaining personal power through intrigue, while the other just assumes it will take threats to its power and hit them with a large and heavy weapon.

I’ve read through the Histories from start to finish. Despite my father, this is the latter kind of kingdom. They’ll kill you for doing poorly, and if you do well, they’ll try to steal your throne and take the credit.

As I see it, if I take the Crown and fail, the future is bleak. On the other hand, if I take the Crown and succeed, the future is bleak.

Dividing it up into logical pieces, I’d place the ‘success’ outcomes into three strategies:

Try to rule well. This is a challenge if one’s a scholar surrounded by dangerous courtiers and slightly crazed barbarians, the combined strangeness of the original Court, plus my father’s tribal chiefs. The barbarians of this world wear that word with tremendous pride. They have just as much contempt for soft civilization and fancy manners as any stereotype you might imagine. I believe Father literally conquered the Kingdom because it had a superabundance of shiny things which drew his attention, and a culture he found decadent and ripe for plucking.

I’ll admit that it’s difficult to disabuse someone of these notions, particularly if the strategies have been quite successful.

If I attempt to rule well, I’ll apply my learning to the problem. This means I’ll have all the well-meaning naiveté of an academic and little of the brawn of the warrior; and, more importantly, I’ll lack the quick, linear thinking and problem-solving which made Father relatively successful, even when he’d no idea what he was doing. He didn’t try to slay every problem, but he did look for simple, direct solutions. Those aren’t always pretty, but they’re often effective.

In short, all the histories I’ve read suggest that this approach is a good way to experience any number of exotic poisons placed in my food.

If I attempt to rule poorly, but to use the power for my own pleasure, I run into a number of problems. I mean, if I really wanted to enjoy the pleasure of multiple husbands and concubines, enormous meals, vast circus entertainments…if I wanted all that, the hedonic opportunities would probably make for a really enjoyable life. It would also be a very brief one; those who safeguard the Kingdom’s treasuries really hate it when they see your entire economy being diverted straight to the King’s boudoir and table.

And my problem’s worse. I am as shy and bookish as anyone might imagine. I’m perfectly fine with that. I could muck off and spend my days happily in the libraries and such while others enjoy the opportunity to wield the real power in the kingdom.

Except: I would not be popular with the people, I would not be popular with the Court, and in such circumstances, there will be some ambitious people who see no point in supporting a figurehead. That one’s a roll of the dice; I’d argue that someone really wise might understand the benefits of letting someone else have the theoretical weight of responsibility of the Crown, while being able to enact policy to their heart’s content. But the Crown’s a funny thing; it attracts heads, even heads which ought to be wise enough to recognize the benefits of avoiding the damn thing.

All the histories I’ve read suggest that this approach is a good way to experience any number of variations on daggers, dirks, and pocketknives through vital parts of my anatomy.

If I simply give up the crown: ….then I’d be giving up wine, women, men, and song. I mean, not all of those things come from being King; if I go back to being a student, I can sing my fool head off, but is that really enough?

Thinking it through: I might not be a bad ruler, but I’ve no real reason to believe I’d be any better than, say, the Grand Vizier. She was the power behind the throne my father’s whole life.

She’s also the one who’d be likely to make sure that, if the legitimate heir abdicated, he didn’t live to, say, have second thoughts, raise an army, and come back. I think I’d get perhaps half a mile up the road before being perforated by crossbow bolts.


[Time passes. Wine jugs empty. There is the sound of scribbling.]

* * *

The Official History Of The Kingdom, Volume 8, has a brief but historically-important footnote about the very brief reign of The Changeling King:

“Very shortly after the supposed “Prince” assumed the throne, the Grand Vizier found incontrovertible evidence that The Changeling King was not, in fact, the true heir, but rather, her own babe, which had been switched with the Child Royal as both were playing in the Palace’s nursery. The Changeling King fled, leaving the Grand Vizier no choice but to put her foster-son on the Throne, which I am sure he will rule very wisely. And even upon learning that the Changeling had raided the treasury, escaping with a large but but not unreasonable sum of money, enough for a scholar to live on in comfort for the rest of his days, the Grand Vizier, in her wisdom, ordered that none be sent after him, and no action be taken against him. After all, he was her child, and she’d look just terrible having him quietly murdered. Plus, he almost certainly had mailed certain sensitive information to some trusted friends at the University before escaping, and given the University’s traditional independence, dealing with that would be a very large and dangerous hassle. So the Grand Vizier damn well contented herself to have her son on the throne and be rid of the ersatz princeling, because she was a smart woman and understood that the eyes of history are watching. Watching very closely.”

* * *

In a little village, not far from the Kingdom of the Pyrite Throne, there lived a scholar who, every day, read and wrote from afternoon to well after nightfall, then danced and caroused in the Tavern (he had rented their second-best room in perpetuity) and, when it closed, he slept until the afternoon, and then he awoke and did it again.

All scholars are eccentric; this one, in particular, had a strange affectation. Every once in a while, he would reach up and feel at his head, as if looking for a cap or hat of some kind (although he most adamantly refused to wear head coverings of any kind, except in the very coldest of weather, and even then, he did so as briefly as possible.) He’d then smile a certain smile, and say, “Still not there!” Shortly thereafter, more often than not, he’d buy the house a round or two and drink to the health of all those around him, himself included.

No-one ever figured out why he did this, but he wrote many amusing tales, and so they forgave him being a little weird. It seems, they figured, to come with the territory.

~Jeff Mach


My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.

I write books. You should read them!

I put on a convention for Villains every February.

I created a Figmental Circus. It’s happening this June. You should go!


Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN"—or, indeed, his increasingly large selection of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.