King Nothing

Edgar’s sword never dulls. Never shall. The god of tricks, of jests, has ensured his vengeance. With the trickster’s succor, with his own desire, Edgar has reached King Nikt’s throne room; blood and dirt, a day of slaughter, begrime Edgar’s garments. Still he pushes on, extracts his blade from the guard’s neck and blocks another sword.

The kingdom crumbles outside. The throne room shakes as towers raze, as the village of peasants and the homes of wealthy blaze. From a cloudless sky, the sun encourages the fires; Edgar has drawn the thunderstorm and squalls within himself to unleash a tempest upon his enemies.

He kicks out the knee of his attacker, felling the man. His sword arcs behind him, then in front, and two more attackers collapse. Between the slashes and hacks and shouts, Edgar glares at King Nikt, the arrogant brute ensconced in his throne. Each glance at Nikt’s gluttonous face and stout stature, Nikt’s plum and gold and white garb, sharpens Edgar’s resolve.

Had Nikt listened to Edgar, the kingdom’s former executioner, and removed bodies from the stocks, controlled his megrims of bidding Edgar to murder the innocent, had the villagers championed their rights, there would be no bloodletting this day. But Nikt had to prove his dominion over the ignoble weak.

A servant rushes Edgar and stabs a dagger into his arm. Edgar drops his sword, tears out the knife—and the servant crumples, the hilt of the blade protruding from his skull. Before Edgar gathers his sword, two men charge him and swing high. He dodges low, removes a knife from his belt and buries the blade into a man’s calf. The attacker’s helmet clangs against the stairs as he slams on the floor. The other man boots Edgar in the ribs. Edgar rolls over his sword, and then crouches, knife in his left hand, sword in his right. Bloodied hair obscures his vision, but he can hear the man’s labored breaths. He pitches the knife at the panting man, runs at him, and swings as the man swats away the knife.

A spire knocks against a castle wall, trembling it. Edgar imagines this as the god’s warning. His protection from fatal scathe is finite, unless he defeats Nikt. Once the trickster has razed the village and kingdom, for he grows weary of mortals quickly, he will abandon Edgar. That was the pact they agreed upon, following the unholy massacre three evenings ago.

After Edgar refused to lop off the head of a boy, a beggar who had regarded Nikt’s daughter too long, Nikt said Edgar would never disobey him again. Edgar proved him wrong.

Nikt imprisoned villagers inside a house, and ordered Edgar to remove their hearts. What had they done? Edgar asked and was met with a biting response: either he murdered the peasants or he was murdered with them. The street was lined with villagers who knew these people deserved a trial. Edgar faced the onlookers, demanded them to stand against the king, to overthrow him. No one moved, no one but Nikt’s guards ordered to carry Edgar inside.

When they seized him, Nikt changed his mind. He had two villagers choose between the death of their families or slaughtering those inside the house. Nikt told Edgar to study the obedience of his subjects, as the men quivered with swords in their grasps and stalked through the doorway. Shrieks were loud, but the onlookers’ silence and stares quelled them. Edgar worked an arm free and elbowed a guard in the throat, grounded another. He sprinted into the woodlands, cursing the king, the villagers he had tried protecting, the kingdom. If he ruled these lands, he would slay everyone. Condign punishment for their incessantly contemptible ways.

Nikt and a knight remain. The hollers of those throughout the kingdom, of those pocked with bursting sores and widening lesions, have quieted. The god made good on his promise, now Edgar will fulfill his.

Nikt leans forward in his chair, elbows on the armrests and hands folded at his mouth. The guard steps in front of the throne, sword gripped in both hands. Edgar approaches him as if arriving to pay his respects. In a way, this is true. He will show how much he esteems Nikt.

The guard says, “Grim and fruitless, your effort, your death.”

Because Edgar is tired, because he wants to risk everything to see if the god still watches, if there is, perhaps, a touch of divine providence, he doesn’t defend himself. The guard’s arms draw back over his head, and then the sword clangs at his heels. He kneels to retrieve his weapon and crumples; Edgar withdraws his sword from the man’s spine.

King Nikt sits back. Edgar unfastens a torch from the wall and ascends the stairs.

King Nikt pleads: “Consider my children. My dearest. Would you commit such atrocities?” King Nikt offers riches: “Gold in my chambers. Cattle and harvests from my lands. You shall command my armies.” The old King Nikt screams, bellows and rages as he burns in his royal garb at the foot of the throne. The stench is disturbing.

Edgar slouches in the chair, rests in the shadows. The crumbled kingdom has fallen silent. Clouds block the daylight from casting into the room. Edgar envisions the darkness shrouding the reddened streets, the waste, the corpses. Then he believes he can hear something, and the sound swells.

It is the god. It is laughter.

The crown on his lap, Edgar remains seated.

The trickster agreed to assist him for a laugh. A jest this comical was unheard of. A king without a kingdom. A king of ruins. Hysterical, the god remarked. Of course he would aid the man who sought to reign as King Nothing.


Matt Athanasiou

Matt Athanasiou usually writes in Chicago. His writing has appeared in print and online publications such as Horror Bound MagazineThe Blotter Magazine, Danse Macabre and others. The South Million Writers Award recently listed his short story “And the Earth Opened Wide” as a notable story of 2010.

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