Vega & Altair
My fiery body remembers him better than my mind could ever recall. And on the seventh day of the seventh month my fingertips still reach for him. The sparks flying across the sky. Tiny balls of burning light shooting across our galaxy from the ends of my hands. Flaming prayers, begging the blazing river to carry me to him. Yet Vega remains separated from Altair.
He was always a star. And I, a princess. My father, the king of fire water, took charge over the stars. Altair was a guide. A lantern for the lost. Day in and day out he saved those who ventured off-course. Day in and day out I wove ribbons of flaming water into coats of celestial matter so that Altair might shine even brighter. My father’s most trusted page, Deneb, would deliver these luminous knits to the usher of the sky. One day Deneb did not show. I decided to play courier. When I made it across the sky, I realized I could never look away. He was enchanting. I returned to him over and over. Wrapping us in blankets of burning, aqueous light. And my hunger for him was insatiable. My mouth ached for him when I was away. And so I returned. Again and again. Day in and day out. Knitting beams of liquid fire to cover us in. Until on the seventh day of the seventh month my father, hearing rumor of my escapades, came to raise the river in the sky. And as the river turned vast and full as ocean he realized that I was tangled with Altair on the other side. He realized too late. And he could not control the tide. And I saw his face from across a vehement and boiling torrent.
My father, suddenly king of floods, pulsing with rage, unleashed a tidal wave of fury. Altair struggled in the undertow. And as his chin tipped back, mouth sucking in deep gulps of space, I did the only thing I knew to do. I scooped the ocean up and ran. But not even I could contain it. I was running with water. Dashing as far from Altair as I could. Carrying the ocean. Running with water. My arms filled to the brim, until they spilled over. Flooding the sky. Turning to sparkling, bursting fire. Sparks dancing across my skin, burning freckles across every inch until I turned to fire myself. And all the time the water spilling over. Dripping across the sky. Tiny droplets of light scattered about a boundless desert. Water turned to river of fire. No longer a cataclysmic current burying my love. Yet still a fierce and infinite blockade. A dusting of smoldering light. Separating Vega and Altair.
“Sometimes, you have to be kind to be cruel.”—Anonymous
The palace is falling to pieces. The gardens are overgrown and wild. The servants are long gone. No one goes near the palace and no one knows why. No one alive today remembers a time before the palace walls began to crumble. Before the vines began to creep. Before the palace was abandoned by everyone who lived there. Everyone, that is, except the King himself. The King has always been there and will always be there. That was the Gift Of The Sorceress. The Gift that imprisoned the King and set his people free.
Once upon a different time, the palace was resplendent. It was a thing of beauty, the pride of the kingdom. The King was a great ruler then. His is gardens were another Eden and was maintained day and night by the finest gardeners in the world. The King never had to lift a finger for himself, for his servants were loyal, obedient, even proud to serve so fine a King. Back then, people came to the King’s palace every day, seeking his counsel, which was given freely and gladly. The King loved his people and they loved him.
It was the visit from the Countess that set things in motion. Gorgeous beyond words and ardently admired by every young man in the kingdom. She spent a week in the King’s home and he was never the same again. At the time, many blamed the Countess for the change in the King, but that’s unjust. We all make our own decisions, and we are accountable for the consequences to which they lead us.
The King desired her, of course. All men desired her—as did many women—for her beauty was unmatched in all the world. But there is more to true beauty than just looking a certain way. And the Countess’ beauty was truly only skin deep if anyone’s was. She treated others as the dirt beneath her feet. Her own servants, the King’s servants, the peasantry who visited the King’s gardens and came to ask advice of the King, even the King himself was beneath the Countess.
“Why do you let these common people walk all over you?” she demanded of her host. “Look at them. Those filthy common people defiling your gardens, muddying up your home and addressing you as if you were their equal.”
“Well,” said the King, “it’s true I have wealth and power, but we’re all human, aren’t we? We are all God’s children.”
The Countess laughed. “You memorized that pathetic platitude at your mother’s knee and you recite it like a parrot to justify your own cowardice.”
“If you were any kind of a man--any kind of a monarch--you would show these people who you are. You are a King! With a wave of your hand, you can send an army to destroy their village and take every scrap they own. It is high time your people remembered that.”
“But why would I want to send an army to destroy their village? Why would I want to take every scrap they own? They have so little and I have so much.”
“That is not the point! These people should be cowering in fear of you, not coming to you with their petty problems.”
The King wasn’t sure he could follow the Countess’ advice. After all, there had been peace in his domain for many years. Things seemed to be going well. Was it wise to make so bold a change?
That night, as the King slept uneasily, his mind troubled by the words of the Countess, she came to his bedchamber. She entered silently until she desired the King to awaken, then she allowed herself to be heard. Before his startled and awestruck eyes, she disrobed and straddled him without a word.
“I need a real man,” she said as she rose and fell over his strong, eager body. “One who knows his own strength. One who puts those beneath him in their place. One who isn’t afraid to use the power he wields. Are you that man?”
“Yes!” the King moaned, almost growled, the word.
“Swear to me!”
It began in little ways. The following morning, the King informed his staff that he would no longer be hearing petitions from the villagers and that they were no longer permitted to enter his gardens without paying a fee. Furthermore, anyone who appeared before the King for any reason would have to bring a gift. The servants were confused, and more than a little alarmed, but they obeyed.
Gradually, he stopped saying “please” or “thank you” to his servants when he ordered them around. He began barking at them, demeaning them, insulting them as he worked them harder than they had ever worked before. They were not permitted to touch him, or to look directly at him.
The Countess was long gone, but her wickedness had remained. It was as if the Countess had put him under a spell. But it was no spell. In a moment of weakness he had agreed to dominate, developed a taste for it, and had let it get out of hand. You can hand a man a drink of wine and he might drink it and stop right there, or he might drink another and another. It is not the fault of the person who offered the man a drink if the man chose to become a drunkard.
And drunk is exactly what the King had become. He was drunk on his newly discovered power. The peace of his domain was shattered and he gave himself over entirely to pleasure. His own ease and comfort were the only things he cared about. His people, who had once been as welcome as glad tidings in his home, grew weak and hungry as the King raised their taxes and increased their quotas. And he didn’t care.
The people of the village were desperate. They had no one to come to their aid. The King had once been their friend, and now he was a cruel and wicked tyrant. What could they do? If they angered him, he would raise his army and destroy them at a stroke.
In the end, it was the courage of one small boy that led to their salvation. Seeing the dreadful state of his home and the suffering of his friends and family, this boy set out one night to find someone to help his people. He wandered through the night until he came to a broken down shack in the middle of the forest. A place that no one came to unless they had nowhere else to go. The home of the Sorceress.
The Sorceress took pity on the boy and the plight of his village and she made a sacred vow to use all her skills of magic and mysticism to end the suffering of his people.
Two days later, a visitor from another land came to see the King. She had, of course, been warned about the custom of bringing a gift in exchange for the honor of being seen by the King, and she was certain her gift would not disappoint.
“What do you want?” grumbled the King at the woman who stood before him. She was older than he by twenty years or more, but fancily dressed and clearly a woman of wealth and importance.
“I want nothing,” said the Sorceress. “I heard of the greatness of the King who lived in this palace, and I wanted only to come and pay my respects. And to give you a gift, of course.”
“I see no gift,” said the King. And, indeed, it looked to all the world as though the Sorceress had come empty-handed.
“Many people cannot see that which is right in front of them.” So saying, the Sorceress drew up the hem of her cloak and swept it around herself. In an instant, she was gone, and in her place…stood the clock.
The most magnificent clock ever made. It was enormous, bigger than the King himself and every piece of it hand-carved from the sturdiest, finest wood in the land. It was wound so tightly and constructed so elegantly that it would never run down, and kept perfect time down to the smallest fraction of a second. And every hour on the hour, there would be a display. A seemingly infinite variation of wooden figures acted out scenes from classic stories, tales from scripture and epic poems. The performances were spell-binding and accompanied by impossibly beautiful music and the action was—naturally—in perfect synchronization with the ticking of the clock. Each hour brought a different display which was seen once and then never repeated.
Seated in his throne, the King stared, transfixed, at the clock. Even when the wooden figures were not doing their hourly pantomime, there was something to look at. All along the sides of the clock were shapes and figures ticking in perfect harmony, moving, spinning, or simply rocking back and forth. It never stopped moving, no matter what the time of day.
Forgotten were the daily duties of running his estate, forgotten were his demands on his soldiers, servants and subjects. From then on, all the King wanted to do was watch his magnificent clock. He dared not look away, for fear of missing something which he might never see again.
Days turned into weeks. Weeks into months. Months into years. Decades. And all the King did was to sit in his chair and watch the clock. His beard and hair grew long and unruly. His palace fell into disrepair. His servants abandoned him. He didn’t care. He didn’t even notice. All he saw, all he knew, was the clock. It was his entire world.
Nobody goes to the palace anymore. No one remembers why that is. But if anyone did go inside the palace, assuming they got past the thorny brambles from the overgrown garden and avoided being hit on the head by a falling rock from the toppling towers, they would see nothing but empty halls, long since overrun by spiders, rats and decay.
And in the throne room they would find a man. An impossibly old man. His hair and beard overgrown, wrapping around the throne, binding him to it permanently, staring as if hypontized at a clock. The most magnificent clock ever made. A clock which will never run down, never stop, never set the old man free.
To think, this pathetic old man was once the greatest king who ever lived.
I warned you, darling,
begged you, really:
“Never let me rule.”
But fate is cruel
and so, sweet fool,
you sought to elevate me.
I sit arrayed upon the throne
with you knelt at my feet.
This is what you’ve made
All these people ought to flee
and not take chances
with a Queen
in mercy—who on a whim,
will shift between
a PARDON and the g u i l l o t i n e .
... Yes, when heads roll,
I feel no guilt,
only e m p t y .
It’s as I feared;
it’s true, you see.
Power corrupts absolutely.
When he was twelve, he broke the crown.
If it had been an heirloom vase, the Queen might have forgiven him. An ornate dinner plate, perhaps, or even one of the stained glass windows in the stunning cathedral. All could be replaced, and in their large kingdom--founded on the art of glass blowing--there was plenty of glass to spare. Craftsmen would have lined up from the lower town to the palace just for the honor of replacing any item the young prince destroyed.
But the crown... It was a gorgeous piece, lending true awe and crafted over a span of twenty years by some of the kingdom’s most skilled fingers. A royal symbol of power, it had been blown and shaped from delicate glass into tall, twisted spires. The crown’s eight points had long been held as the finest craftmenship the world had ever seen. People traveled far and wide to behold it.
In the sprawling hills of Stolvay, the crown stood at the very heart of the kingdom’s identity. A sewn image of it flew on every banner of every tower. Tapestries proudly depicted its laborious creation. Every knight proudly bore its likeness on his chest. As he grew, Prince Florian watched his father wear it, but only during important addresses. When the crown wasn’t on the king’s head, it sat safely inside a beautiful glass case within the throne room--set between the King and Queen’s complementary glass thrones. When it did sit on the king’s head, five specially-trained attendants trailed him at all times, ensuring it did not fall off and shatter.
In his prime, King Dorian was a beloved ruler. An artist himself, he understood the people and the guild market his land flourished by. Early on in life, he studied with the very best guildsmen, and by the time he was crowned king, one of the windows in the largest cathedral displayed his own glass craftsmenship. When he married Princess Evana of Tolvia, he made sure she learned the basics of glass making; that way, she could understand the culture she was soon to help dictate.
Evana took to the task with more love and skill than Dorian could have ever dared hope for. She was a natural artist, and before long, the cathedral sported her work as well. Queen Evana became as beloved as the king, and when she bore a child, the kingdom rejoiced for weeks after the prince’s birth.
Prince Florian didn’t remember much about his mother, but he believed if she had lived, she would have forgiven him. Maybe his father would have, too, but not Queen Odile, his father’s second wife.
Odile was not a nasty woman. She didn’t love Dorian, but she did her civic duty. She learned the craft of glass making to the level Dorian asked of her, and she accepted the role of replacing Evana not only as a queen, but as a mother. It was a lot of pressure for a twenty-five year old, but she did her best, and the kingdom recognized her for it.
However, the new queen was not born to lead. When Dorian died, Odile was thrust into a fourth role she didn’t ask for--the role of a sole monarch. The responsibility was simply too much. She could not be a queen, a sole ruler, an artist, and a mother all at once. Poor Florian fell to the wayside, and to her dismay, he also became more and more problematic.
She was told everything. Florian’s instructors reported to her daily. They described to her how Florian was a disaster at glass making and how he broke nearly everything he touched. They told her how he couldn’t seem to stay focused on anything, and how he got distracted every time something glinted in the sun. “But most everything is made of glass in Stolvay,” Odile argued, frowning. “Surely many things catch the sun, and often.”
“Yes,” agreed Florian’s instructor, sighing. Exhaustion ghosted every line that creased his face. “His Highness turns his head so very much. One day soon he may become an owl.”
The instructor shook his head in defeat, and Odile’s frown deepened.
That deep frown became her constant expression in the years to come. True to the queen’s wishes, Florian’s instructors never spread the news of the prince’s lack of skill. If the people of Stolvay learned of his incompetence in the craft, they might not accept him as their king when he came of age, and that simply wouldn’t do. Odile wanted nothing more than to hand the crown off to him. She simply needed to hold on until he turned thirteen. Hopefully by then Florian would be skilled enough to rule in the style of his father--an artist who governed artists.
Odile did pray about it. She did try her best. She provided Florian with the very greatest instructors, both in glass artistry and in focus training, but no one could stop the prince’s brain from wandering, nor his hands from shattering instead of creating.
She supposed she should have seen the day coming. At twelve years old, Florian was so close to coming of age, but when a battle is almost won, monarchs often grow cocky and self-assured. Odile had survived five years without disaster. She could handle one more.
Intrepid little Prince Florian, though--despite his lack of attention and skill--did want to be like his father and mother. He did want to be good at glass making. He did dream of making something as beautiful as the Stolvay crown. I can do it, he thought to himself with his little twelve-year-old mind, filled with the type of bold determination almost-teenagers have. I just need to look at the crown. I just need to see how they did it.
In the end, Odile should have seen it coming. She should have been ready, but Florian and his fate was simply a final topper on her failures. He may not have been her flesh and blood, but they were so very alike--Florian broke everything he touched and Odile couldn’t mend the holes she was given.
The destruction of the Stolvay crown was not something she could ignore. A call needed to be made. The current queen did not hold the love of the people--not as Dorian or Evana had. Florian was not fit to take the throne, and now there was no crown to even crown him with.
She wrote up the decree herself. She hoped the sadness in her voice reached him as she banished him. There was nothing else to be done. If he could come back bearing a replacement of the Stolvay crown--a piece just as exquisitely done as the one he’d destroyed, and one done by his own hand--then he could take his rightful place as king. If not, Odile would retain her hold on the kingdom and planned to remarry, starting her own royal line.
Again, Queen Odile was not a nasty woman. She was just a tired girl who really tried her best. She never wanted to be queen.
Prince Florian was also not a spoiled brat. He was just a distracted little boy who wanted to be like his father. At thirteen, he did not take his banishment as a sentence. He accepted his fate head on. He set out to make a new crown, and people still say that as he left--so very determined to succeed--he looked just like his father.
To this day, ten years later, the craftsmen and women of Stolvay still look out to the crest of the hill the prince disappeared over, waiting to see if he’ll return one morning with a crown of breathtaking beauty glittering in his hands.
Queen Odile does, too. Maybe then, she prays, she could die peacefully, having mended at least one hole.
Feed Me Power
My shadow scares
off the ones who bow before.
A silk red cape
drags behind my leisured walk
down the widened staircase
of my kingdom.
Black and blue
rolls off my tongue
and shatters your kneecaps;
collapsing you before my empowered stance.
The trivial level of love
that drains from my heart
stems around these walls
and keeps the windows shut.
These vines protect me
from the outside shine
that melts my skin
into Royal Sewage.
from your twin-sized mattress
for the safety
of my cherry-wood framed
King of Caves
but I was king
falling through time
in bloody cave
through nine lives
leaving fur traces
wherever I padded
a gift to mankind –
the prince of dawn
bowing my head
before my beauty
wild ancestry lurking
in my bones
dividing and multiplying
feral and proud
dwelling in enigmas
of the unknown
howling with winds
stretching to suckle
moon’s ivory milk
as I pounce
in sheltered lairs
brave new world
worshipping bleached moons
and star crazed nights
black cat king
and emerald eyes
dark side thoughts
songs of endings.
In the Land of the Blind
“How long you been on the job?”
The experienced detective looked up from the scene. It had been a while since the sight of blood had bothered him, but the smell still took him back to his time wading though rice paddies.
He stood, knees creaking, and looked into the eyes of his trainee. Reaching for a Marlboro, he sighed. The Zippo flared, and smoke carried away the scent of gore unfolding three steps away.
“Long enough, kid.”
“I’ve been with the department for seven years. Not a kid.” The new detective squatted down, staring at rusted pools of what should never meet dawn’s early light. “I saw worse in Kandahar, but sometimes surviving is just an accident.”
Inhale. Exhale and a “Yep.”
“We shouldn’t see shit like this here. I used to think I’d made it home for a purpose. To do something special. To help.”
“Nope. We’re just lucky, not gifted. One-eyed men with a kingdom.” Another inhale, deeper than the last.
Smoke plumes, and minutes pass. A cough punctuates an otherwise quiet exhale.
“Ever thought about quitting?”
He has. “If I quit, I’ll die. Retired is just another word for useless.”
“I’m talking about the smokes.”
The younger man looks up at the older one quizzically.
“The smell, kid. The smokes help keep the smell out of my nostrils.” He pauses, puffs, flicks ashes. “And dreams.”
Silence settles, and both veterans contemplate the dead.
Finally, the junior of the pair shrugs. “Any ideas, bossman?”
“Sure. Be careful on ML King Boulevard after dark.” As he walks away, he flicks the spent cowboy killer in the gutter, and it hisses in coppery mud.
Everyday, the same
Sprinting from street vendors, screaming and hurling threats
Dashing back to the slums,
A clump of old, crusty bread in one hand
Two pieces if luck happens to be shining down
Shoveling the stale food in,
Barely making a dent in a growling stomach
Settling down for the night,
Best as one can,
With the stench of filth around them
Curling up with a stiff, paper thin blanket
Quivering, because the worn fabric is never enough
After tossing and turning, finally drifting into an equally restless sleep
Dreaming of the day
The cruel king is ripped from his pure gold throne,
Built on the suffering of others
Dreaming of the day
The kingdom is saved
I lay waste to all who displease me.
I make haste of all who would appease me.
I gladly taste the spray from your decapitation.
I bask in your feeble attempt at retaliation.
Be it child, woman, or man -
All shall perish by my hand.
With the scorching singe of my burning brand.
Nothing will remain but bloodied land.
Far and wide my blade will roam,
I pity you not, as you rot and foam.
For wrathful vengeance has been unleashed;
No one escapes destruction from the Beast.