As I was writing last post, I found myself considering the villain — specifically, the idea of the villain. The villain of “Just Another Statistic” likely has a long life ahead of him, and I wanted to examine that idea.
“How is he?” the apothecary asked, standing nervously in the Red Palace of King Cindunos. The place was fitted with every luxury imaginable, and also with some that the apothecary had not known were possible. The door to the King’s room was made of a black wood that must have come from some land far beyond any the apothecary had ever heard of.
“Not well,” replied the servant who had guided him through the maze-like corridors of the Palace. “Most of the staff is convinced he’ll be dead within a week.”
“We’ll see about that,” replied the apothecary. “Shall I enter?”
The servant held up his hand cautiously and then rapped on the doors. A moment later they swung outward at the push of a pair of servants within. So the apothecary and his guide entered the room.
It was an immense chamber, filled with gold and other valuables – paintings, sculptures, and other ornaments – that all orbited a massive bed, sheeted with red silk. A number of servants stood around the room, while a pair of richly-dressed men stood by the bed, facing the center of the bed.
There, between two young, naked girls who appeared to be doing their best not to look embarrassed or frightened, was an old man. One might not have guessed his age from looking at him, though – his hair was dyed jet black, and his wrinkles were covered by makeup. It was only the disease ravaging this man’s body that foiled these attempts. Here was the apothecary’s patient, King Cindunos.
“…postpone the execution of Alder and his family from tomorrow until you’ve gotten better,” one of the advisors was saying.
Cindunos frowned at him. “I see what you think,” he murmured. The apothecary could hear power in that voice, but it was only the power of command and rhetoric; the physical quality of the voice was weak a feeble.
“You think I’m old, and frail,” the King continued. “And that this disease has weakened me. Just you remember!” He raised a shaking hand from the bed, pointing it accusingly at the advisor. “I am strong! I am the one who slew the twelve kings, who defeated the Champion of the Silver Sword! I will not die today, or any day for years to come!” Then he turned toward one of the servants standing dutifully on the other side.
“Take this man to the gallows,” Cindunos ordered. “And tell the captain there to execute him for treason against the king! I have spoken!”
The servant nodded, and proceeded to drag the advisor out of the room, inevitably dragging him as the man screamed and pleaded for his life. The apothecary shuddered.
“What is it?” asked Cindunos. “Is that the apothecary?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the guide, bowing low.
“Good. Bring him here.”
The apothecary approached the king. The king beckoned him to lean in over him, and he obeyed.
“If I die, you will die,” Cindunos warned. “Now, do your trade.”
With wide and frightened eyes, the apothecary nodded.
So he began his work, first checking the king’s fever, his cough, and the other symptoms of the king’s disease. After this, he saw what the guide had said about the king’s prospects. It did not look good. But the apothecary would try anyway, if only for his life. He knew the king would follow through on his threat.
As he worked, Cindunos continued to act as if nothing was wrong, speaking still with his advisors and other officers about things from raising the taxes to suppressing yet another rebellion that had gathered in some region of the kingdom. He also had the girls in bed with him exchanged at least five times, criticizing each harshly before and as they got under the sheets with him. He compared them to the hundreds of girls he had ever been with, and sent more than half of them away before they even touched his bed.
The apothecary stayed by the king’s bedside the entire time, administering what herbs and medicines he could, but seeing each make as little impact as the last. Cindunos voiced his displeasure at this each time, reminding the apothecary that he had to be up for a public execution the next day, and threatening to execute the apothecary on the same gallows, with the same ax, if he wasn’t well by then.
Fortunately, for the apothecary at least, Cindunos slowly became quieter and quieter, saying less and less in a smaller and smaller voice, until at last, sometime around mid afternoon, he spoke his last word.
Sometime in the early morning, while he still slept, he took his last breath.
The apothecary was the first to discover this the next morning, having slept in the king’s room in order to continue to provide medicines for him. Hearing no breathing, he checked the king’s pulse. Nothing.
“So this is how the tyrant ends,” he muttered.