It’s been a while since a post. Hopefully it doesn’t get this bad in the future; it’s been quite busy lately, but doesn’t seem like it’ll let up much.

Hope you enjoy the post!

The son of the old emperor turned toward the door, just opened, as a messenger stepped inside and prostrated himself.

“What is it?” the prince demanded imperially. “Speak, messenger!”

“My lord, your father the emperor wishes to speak to you.”

“Good. Now go!”

The messenger bowed and dashed out of the room, closing the door as he left. The crown prince stood from his seat and took the steel crown resting on the desk before him, placing it upon his head. He then strode out of the room and into the dark, torchlit corridor; each torch was an iron rung holding a skull – one of the thousands the emperor and his armies had slain over his long rule.

The prince proceeded with hardly a thought about the way, so used to the path as he was. It took only a few moments to reach the large, ornate doors to the emperor’s private chamber. The two guards on either side bowed and opened the doors as the prince approached.

Within, across the floor covered with bearskin rugs, upon the richly carved bed, beneath the sheets made of wolf skins, lay the emperor. He looked as though he were already dead, with his eyes shut and his great white beard barely moving in response to his shallow breath. Courtiers and servants stood around the bed, probably here to see if they could gain some last bit of favor before the emperor died.

The prince walked to the edge of the bed, gazing down at the old man.

“You summoned me, my lord?”

The emperor opened his eyes. Once, they had been dark and furious; but now they had softened with age, and looked unfocused as they stared in the prince’s general direction.

“Yes, my son,” the emperor rasped. “I am near death. As you have been the son of mine most after my own heart, I deem you the only one worthy to succeed me as emperor.”

The words surprised the prince. Not in that he had been named successor – he had been expecting that – but that the emperor should be so fatalistic about his death.

“But surely, my lord, you will recover this, just as you have recovered dozens of other illnesses.”

“No. If I have learned one thing over my years of conquest, it is that man is mortal. And my greatest enemies were those who accepted death with grace, so I will not be proved lesser than them by groveling and pleading until that moment. One day, you may understand.”

“Yes, my lord.” Inside, however, he figured his father’s old age was addling his mind. But no matter. Soon he would be emperor, and he wouldn’t have to worry about anything his father had said. He bowed and departed the chamber.

As he walked through the corridor outside the emperor’s chambers, he became aware of someone pursuing him. He stopped, and an old peasant came up behind him.

“My lord,” said the man, inclining his head and not looking at the prince in the eye. “I represent several villages from the center of the empire, on the matter of tribute and forced labor. My lord, while we grieve the emperor’s sorry state, and we will grieve his death, he has been a hard master. Could you find it in your heart to relax the burden on the people? They would love you for it.”

The prince laughed. “Why would I want the people’s love? I ought to execute you for your words. But no matter. Tell your villages this: my father beat you with whips, but I shall beat you with scorpions!”

“Yes, my lord. Thank you my lord,” said the old messenger nervously. He bowed several times before hurrying away.

The prince smiled, pleased with himself. Now he would return to his own chambers, where he would pour over the maps of the empire. His father had conquered many lands during his long rule. He would conquer more though, until his own greatness exceeded that of the dying emperor. And then his subjects would think the dying emperor benevolent in comparison to the new one.