The Master will be celebrated at nine. An hour later, the King will be dead.
The cause will be natural. An attack of the heart. Tragic thing. Although kings do die young. It’s a known fact. The stress of it all ages them prematurely. The hair grays. The lips chap. They find themselves urinating far too frequently despite not drinking enough water. The King will take to his bed with something of a headache. He will be found the next morning. By then, the Master will be retired to his country house where he plans to spend the remainder of his days. He will do some reading. He will tend to hens. He will never write a confession. There are secrets in this world that shall stay secrets.
That is all in the times to come. For now, there is a party. A costume party. It is all in honor of the Master. A great counselor to so many kings. Twelve, in fact. The Master, with the birth name of Simon, has overseen more reigns than any Chief Counselor in the history of the land. That sort of legacy deserves an occasion when it reaches its culmination, does it not?
And so, a party.
The King has always been good to Master Simon, but that matters not. A man does as he is destined to do. When Simon was just a boy, his father sat him down near the stumbling patch by their cottage and explained to him their function in life. They were the Keepers of the Dark Lung. The Proprietors of the Clutched Breast. Simon’s father was the Master of the Drops and he was ready to pass the title to Simon after ingesting a bit of his own concoction. Simon did not show any sadness as he watched his father die. Rather, he did as he was instructed, and began to study. Enough food had been kept in the pantry to sustain him until he was ready to march into the castle and declare himself an orphan. He would be seized and put to work. That was the plan. That was always the plan.
His father knew the paths to chaos were well-paved.
Simon became the youngest counselor in history after those above him began falling ill. Plagues were rampant at the time. It was only lucky the sickness had not touched the royal family. At the bright age of seventeen, he was already advising his first King. This was not a kind monarch. Simon only waited a year before disposing of him. Two drops in his wine at his wedding to a Danish princess. His father had told him that a year was the shortest amount of time he was to wait, but never to wait longer than five years. Simon could not envision himself ever waiting the full five years now that he was basking in his own power. He could topple a king–and who would think to suspect him?
Bad kings came to bad ends, did they not?
His father’s potions were infallible. They left no trace and nothing to suspect. Why was this a chosen life for a man? And why would that man pass it on to his son? Who was to say? His father and his father’s father and beyond that had all decided that building was not in their blood. They were the ones who saw cracks in a facade and chiseled away at them while nobody was watching. They were the crumblers. The collapsars. There would be no apologizing for their actions. When one is skilled at something, one does it. Why does a seamstress sew or a haberdasher make hats? Time will melt as you ponder such things. Simon had the ability to take a man imbued with God’s favor and bring him to the Lord’s door instead.
Here you are, Father, I have delivered him unto you.
In this way, Simon was something of a god himself, was he not?
People made their way over to him at the party. Well wishes and fond memories poured forth into his cup along with splashes of wine. Simon looked across the room at the King and made a note to pour his drop with a kind word. This King had always treated him well. It was too bad that tonight was their fifth anniversary. Otherwise, Simon could have let him live. He had no children of his own, and so while he respected the gift his father had bequeathed to him, there was nobody else to pass it along to. Such was the nature of everything–Beginnings do end. Inheritances dwindle. Simon was not concerned with who would poison kings once he was gone. His father had never poisoned a king. Oh no, he only poisoned bishops. He set Simon on kings, because he knew his boy could achieve a previously unimaginable greatness. Why, Simon’s grandfather poisoned only farmers. Do you believe that? Farmers! And here was his grandson, snuffing out monarchs as though it were nothing and never getting–
The King was summoning him over. Most likely to clap him on the back and remind him of the time they were nearly invaded by the Visigoths. Perhaps Simon would drop the toxin and be done with it. At his age, the slyness did not come as adroitly as it once did. His hand shook. He required the tools of distraction to complete his task. With so many people around, he would need to be especially clever. This King was not as facile as his predecessors. That was one of the things Simon admired about him. It would be a shame to see him meet his end.
Simon made his way through the throng of guests to the King’s side. He was met with a warm embrace and a fresh glass of what he knew would be the finest port. It was nearing nine, and that would be when a toast was raised to Simon’s years as the Wisest of the Realm. Cheers would ring out far and wide. Simon would blush as he had taught himself to do. Inside, he felt nothing. He had not for most of his life. Not since his father took his last breath and his isolated tutelage began with nothing more than a book of writings handed down from the men in his family. He had burned the book before the party along with all his drops.
All but the ones he carried in a vial in his pocket. The one he–
“Simon, come close.”
The King was drunk. Oh, he would die drunk. How sad. How ill-befitting. Simon would truly regret this action. His last activity before retirement would be a–
“I’m afraid it’s you this time, old friend.”
The wine. It had tasted peculiar. Simon had thought so, but then–
“You are not the only one with an interest in chemistry.”
The King was in and out of focus. The room shifted left and right. A servant was called to bring the old man to his room. He was celebrated at nine. An hour later, he had stopped breathing. They found him in the morning. The Master, himself–dead from what he must have seen coming down the road at him. A life without purpose. Without usefulness. No more counseling the King. No more doling out sage advice.
As Simon had always known, this King was clever. He took an interest in what his counselors were up to. He studied history. He watched people. He liked their hands. He noticed where they wanted you to look and he learned to split his focus. He had his own tutelage. He remembered the way his father’s breath smelled when he was found dead in the courtyard. Like something sour. Something unnatural. He began to watch Simon. By his estimation, he had five years. He estimated correctly. He could not have planned it better if he was Simon’s own son. In many respects, he fancied himself the heir to the old man.
So much so, in fact, that he wondered who could be next. Who else could find themselves retiring to bed only to never wake up?
A bishop, perhaps?
Yes, thought the King, as he listened to the homily at Simon’s funeral mass a few days following his demise, there are far too many bishops.
Don’t you think?
Kevin Broccoli is a writer and playwright from Rhode Island. His work has appeared in Molecule, Apricity, Onyx, New Plains Review, Havik, and Ponder Review. He is the winner of the George Lila Award for Short Fiction, and the author of “Service” and “Combustion.”