Κυριακή, 29 Απριλίου 2012

EIMAI ΓΡΑΙΚΟΣ


Χαίρετε.

Με λένε Κώστα και είμαι Έλληνας.

Σε αντίθεση με την κυρία Μουτσάτσου ξέρω κάμποσους Γιάννηδες, Δημήτρηδες και Γιώργους. Μερικοί από αυτούς είναι αρχίδια.

Πίνω ούζο και μπύρα γιατί είναι ωραία ποτά και δεν το παίζω δήθεν.

Θέλω να σπάσω τον δικομματισμό, αλλά δεν τολμάω από φόβο μη χάσω τη θέση μου στο Δημόσιο.

Θέλω να πολεμήσω τη διαφθορά, αλλά όχι με τρόπο που να βλάπτει την άρχουσα τάξη της οποίας θέλω να γίνω και μέλος.

Θέλω να δώσω στον πρωτογενή παραγωγικό τομέα την ευκαιρία που χρειάζεται για να σώσει τη χώρα, αλλά δεν θα γίνω εγώ βοσκός!

Θέλω να λέω ότι έχω δικαίωμα ελευθερίας επιλογής, για αυτό ψηφίζω τα φαντάσματα του Στάλιν και τις ψευδό-αριστερές παρατάξεις στις εκλογές της σχολής μου, αλλά όχι στις κοινοβουλευτικές εκλογές!

Θέλω να επικαλούμαι την πλούσια πολιτισμική κληρονομιά που άφησαν οι πρόγονοί μου, αλλά δε σκοπεύω να σκιστώ ώστε να προσφέρω κάτι καινούριο!

Θέλω να κοκορεύομαι για τα νησιά μου (από τα οποία χιλιάδες δεν είναι κατοικήσιμα), αλλά δε θα κάνω ΑΠΟΛΥΤΩΣ τίποτα για να αντιμετωπίσω τα ζητήματα προσβολής της εθνικής μου κυριαρχίας στη Μακεδονία και στη Θράκη!

Ονομάζω εαυτόν Έλληνα, αλλά με λένε Γραικό, επειδή φέρομαι σαν να είμαι ακόμη υπό Οθωμανική κατοχή!

Ε λοιπόν ναι!

Μου αρέσει να μείνουν τα πράγματα όπως είναι!

Μου αρέσει να ξύνομαι και αφήνω τα πάντα να πάνε στο διάολο, αρκεί να μη χάσω τη βολή μου!

Μου αρέσει να γκρινιάζω για τις οικονομικές μου δυσκολίες, ενώ επιτρέπω σε μαγαζάτορες και αγορές να ανεβάζουν την αξία των αγαθών!

ΜΕ ΛΕΝΕ ΚΩΣΤΑ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΜΑΙ ΓΡΑΙΚΟΣ!




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Πέμπτη, 26 Απριλίου 2012

The King's March (Whiskey Bar)

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

Went the soles of his shoes as he kept walking, always walking.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
He’d crossed a whole continent, shore to shore, his heels clicking on dirt, worked stone, and later on, asphalt.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
He’d worn his first pair of shoes down to just leather strips, when he first considered stopping. He’d come across a little village, where the people spoke a language and held a faith that were like no other. They told him they thought that there was one God, like they’d heard the white shamans preach. But that God was, based on their beliefs, evil. That he had made a world that was full of suffering and toil only because the first world that he had made, a veritable paradise, bored him. They told him that their sole purpose was to hide from God, to avoid attracting attention to themselves at all costs. Only then would they truly be safe.
He heard them closely and admired their faith. He spoke to the men, who were hardy but intelligent. 

He flirted with the women, who were radiant and resourceful. He thought he should stay; become one of them, enjoy this life far from the malevolent God’s grasp. 
But then the cobbler handed him his shoes and he knew he had to go, as he always had.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
In a nearby town, he ran across a missionary caravan. There, he spoke with the priests and told them of this village and of their faith. Fascinated but also horrified by this, the priests took it upon themselves to teach the true word of God to that village.
 Tap, tap, tap, tap…
Six months later, the village was attacked by slavers. Its men were killed, its women enslaved. Its shaman was burned alive, with his own holy scripture used as kindling.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
The second time his shoes had worn out, he was trapped in the middle of a snowstorm. He was pinned and helpless and if there was any sort of justice in the world, he would freeze and remain there forever. Then again, the universe has not been known for its kindness.
He was found by a group of hunters who were returning to their town, their sleighs packed with freshly-caught seals. Their dogs bayed and snarled at him, but the men paid them no mind. Man frequently fails to heed a wiser species’ warning.
He was taken to the village and nursed there. He was shown into their great lodge and spoke to the people of the tribe. The villagers took care of him and traded stories with him. They told him of Crow, the trickster who stole the sun from the gods. They told him the tale of the war between the seasons, how Old Man Winter ousted Summer and Spring to the edges of the world and made Fall his wife by force.
All the while, the man listened closely. His lips moved in synch with those of the story teller. He took in every word, he noted every detail, mimicked every gesture. By the time the storm had died down and the Sun rose up again from the rim of the world, he had learned every story by heart. He thanked the people of the village and bought from them a pair of sealskin boots, then left.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
The next winter, the villagers gathered in the lodge and waited for the story teller to speak, to help them weather Old Man Winter’s reign. To his horror, the story teller suddenly realized that the words would not come. Terrified, he tried to summon up the images and verses taught to him from the day of his birth, but could not, for the life of him, recall them. He merely stood in the middle of the crowd, mubbling and murmuring like a fool, the history of his tribe forgotten. 
 Tap, tap, tap, tap…
He was halfway through crossing the great rice paddies, when his shoes failed him for the fourth time. As if some great veil had been lifted, the scent and sights of war suddenly struck him. As he pricked his ears, he heard the great roar of a hundred men dying. On his skin, he felt the gentle caress of a summer breeze, a touch of blood mixed with flowery scents.
There was a woman hidden in the paddies. She wore tattered robes, and her face was haggard and withered. A silent exchange took place between them, as they stared at each other, huddled inside a dark hole in the middle of the war. He reached out his hand and she took it. She smelled like flowers blossoming on the battlefield. He smelled like old laudanum. 
They stayed there, hidden in the rice paddy until the sounds of war died away. When the victors were done burning the dead, the woman led him out of their hiding place and to her house. It was a small cottage on a nearby hill. No plants grew around it and no trees cast a shadow over it. He felt right at home there.
For days, they stayed in her house and shared the same bed. When she was hungry, he’d go to the woods and call some small animal, a rabbit or a badger and kill it, bringing it for her to eat. When she was done eating, they would talk and trade their stories.
She was a witch; like her mother before her, had learned the secret language of unclean things and used them as her servitors. In the eyes of Buddhist monks, she was unclean. In the scriptures of Shinto, she was named anathema. But to the lords and rulers of this land, she was a valuable tool. She had placed hexes and killed from a distance many times in their name. But now, she had grown tired of the slaughter. She vowed never to marry, or bear a child. She vowed never to pass her dark secrets on to another being. Her art would die with her.
When she was done talking, he simply leaned in and kissed her deeply. She asked him his name, for the first time since they met. He said:
“They called me Mara, who wove misery into the pattern of history.”
 As they were making love, with her laying on her back, she saw the flicker of a forked tongue, the sign of a spirit beast. She gasped and tried to push him off, feeling suddenly very much afraid. He said: 
“They said that I was the one that drugged Brahma before he was done shaping the universe; that I was the one who lulled him to sleep before he could eliminate suffering.”
As he held onto her, the fear suddenly gave way to a wholly different feeling. She felt some sort of strange heat rising up from inside her belly, rushing down her loins. As she writhed in pleasure on the floorboards, he said:
“They say that I was the one who spat my black bile into the first man’s heart. And from my bile, there sprang out jealousy and pettiness and envy.”
She was swept with wave after wave of pleasure, unaware of him placing his seed inside her, when he said:
 “They say I was the one who invented lies and whispered them in his ear. And the lies were so sweet, so enticing, that he ended up always preferring them to the truth.” 
She was panting on the floor, spent and suddenly very, very tired. From somewhere far away, she heard him say:
“I only reap the seeds that man sows. And when I am done, I salt the ground where wickedness has taken root.”
From the corner of her eyes, she saw the glint of silvery scales. She noticed his features suddenly distorted, as if his face had grown longer, his nostrils growing long like slits. She saw the flash of green eyes and the outline of inhumanly long teeth. And as if she were in some fever dream, she saw a long, rubbery tail, whipping at the air behind him.
He had not given her his name, so she opted to give him one herself. From her chest of wonders she took a silver belt buckle, which had been given to her as payment from a neighboring lord’s cheating wife. In the next few days, when he was out hunting, she would take her hammer and chisel and carefully, with painstaking attention, etch its surface. Once she was done, she presented it to him. His badge of office. His name and sign for evermore. He accepted this gift with a smile and wore it before her. They slept together that night for the last time. She felt him get up and go out, in the middle of the night, but didn’t bother to say goodbye. She knew his name now. She could summon him to her side anytime she wished.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
Four months later, she was heavy with child. Desperate and alone, she summoned him, but he did not appear. Afraid, she tried to swallow herbs and potions that would make her miscarry and free her from the burden of the child, but none worked. 
So she asked a favor of a passing lord and begged him for help. Intrigued by the prospect of having a witch in his debt, he took care of her and saw that her child was delivered by his finest midwife. It was a success. The witch survived the labor and the child was brought into the world.
But the child was a monstrous thing, covered in silvery scales with a long, whipping tail and a forked tongue that flicked in and out of its mouth. The witch would not stop screaming at the sight of it, until the lord took it from her sight and killed it with his own hands.
Tap, tap, crunch, crunch…
He walked a long time, across the face of the earth. He walked through gleaming cities, down great boulevards and climbed his way on the face of great buildings that defied heaven.
He crossed deserts and saw them slowly turn to green and verdant fields.
He walked among the multitudes of man and where he stopped, he would inflict some terrible disaster, but it was not enough to break them. Instead, they adapted. They changed into something he was increasingly less effective against. He saw their numbers dwindle, then rise again. He saw them change before his very eyes and he saw them become less and less like the frail, gullible things he had preyed on.
He watched them build great sky-ships. He watched them board them en masse and leave their homeworld behind, seeking their fortune among the great orbiting rocks that swam in the night sky. He imagined their gleaming, wondrous mass orbit the distant stars, their home forgotten and spent.
His shoes failed for the final time as he climbed up a great pile of refuse, left behind during their exodus. Feeling the weight of millennia weighing down on him for the first time in his long life, he decided he needed to rest. So he sat on top of the pile, the sole lord and master of filth and looked down on the expanses of the dead planet.
He pondered on its dark, lifeless seas and marveled at its mountains of garbage. He gazed longingly at the great fires that burned across the world, where the sun had ignited the products of their civilization. He was done walking. He lay down and closed his eyes, letting his tongue flick out of his mouth for one last time, tasting the myriad flavors of disaster around him.



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Πέμπτη, 19 Απριλίου 2012

Death and Sickness

Death and Sickness sat on a beach watching the sea, as it lapped hungrily at the sand. Sickness stared at the moon, her eyes tracing every outline, every crater and feature on its surface. Her fingers drew great imaginary lines on its face. In her mind’s eye, she imagined great canyons appearing on the surface, the ground cracking open for kilometers across, weaving a complex mesh. 
Death swiveled his head toward her and watched her all the while, his joints creaking as his sockets followed every motion she made with her hand, trying to decipher them, to find some meaning.
Say what you will about Sickness, but she is a romantic. 
Call Death any way you like, but he is a cynic at heart.
After a while, Death gave up on trying to make sense out of Sickness’s little game. He got up and walked toward the water. The tide rose up and lapped at his feet, but Death paid it no mind.
Sickness looked at him, as he stood by the edge of the water, grimly staring at the refuse that was being swept up to him. She saw the tattered remains of children’s toys, of beer cans and plastic containers, as they swayed back and forth between his legs. He looked like some discarded anatomy class aid, set on the beach as part of a prank, held up by invisible wires. She knew he’d be there for a long while, thinking big thoughts, all grim and brooding. He’d try to make sense out of the refuse, to look for some greater meaning but he’d find none.
He never did.
Sickness got up and moved toward Death, tiptoeing slowly. He hadn’t even realized she was there. When she was but a step away, she pushed at his bony body and shoved him into the water. Death stumbled, tried to steady himself and then fell into the water, face first. Sickness started laughing, her withered lungs hissing, as she saw him struggle to get up, water gushing out of his sockets.
Behind her, something blew up in the great city. A wall of flame swept through its streets, illuminating her sunken face, casting great shadows over her ever-hungry eyes. Windows shattered and its gleaming towers creaked once, and then collapsed. 
“There go the last ones. We’ll be done here, pretty soon.” 
“That’s strange. Frost told me the same thing, a long time ago.”
“Frost was a ham-handed fool, no better than Filth. He couldn’t have pulled it off in the first place. But this, this is for real. There’s no way they’ll shrug this off.”
Death shrugged his bony shoulders. Sickness could have sworn she saw the faint outline of a smile, briefly obscuring his perpetual grin. She crossed her arms and grunted. The old bony bastard always found a way to push her buttons.
The city belched fire once more. Another tower collapsed, raising a cloud of cement dust. Sickness could feel her grip on the city waning, as the last people she had claimed died in the flames or crushed under the toppling giants. 
“I have to go. Care to join me?”
“Not yet. Go on without me.”
Sickness took one last look at Death and was almost certain she saw a flash of longing in his bare bone face. Suddenly feeling mad at him, she snapped her fingers and disappeared, leaving only a pair of footprints in the sand. As if the sea knew she was gone, the tide swept in, eliminating her last traces.
Death walked across the beach and sat cross-legged at its edge, his back to the sea. He waited for a long time, his sockets fixed straight ahead. He waited till the moon dived beneath the fringes of the world, seeking refuge from the sun. He waited until the sun shed his golden scales and stood naked and raw before him.
By the time the sun faded from his sight once more, the flames had died down. Now there was nothing but rubble and the faint outline of buildings left behind. He got up and started walking across its boulevards, its avenues, its roads. He crossed its alleys, crawled in its underpasses and trekked across its tunnels. And everywhere he went, he encountered the dead. They looked at him with their spectral faces full of horror, their eyes and mouths grotesque O’s, their half-real hands grasping at his figure. To each, he spoke words of consolation. To each, he promised relief.
His work would have been over then and there, had it not been for the child. He heard it somewhere on the surface, its voice faint as it called out for someone. Death could not see it as it was trapped beneath the rubble, but he could tell it was there. Looking around to make sure none of his brethren was around, he started clawing though the rubble, until the child was revealed.
It was hurt and bloodied, its small frame a smattering on bruises on coffee-colored skin. Its mouth, a featureless red wound, spouted incomprehensible sounds. Who was it calling to? Death wondered. He leaned in closer and tried to make out the words, but he could not. There was no reasoning behind the child’s cries, only a constant pleading for release and the constant summoning for a familiar, comforting touch.
Death raised his bony arm and touched it on his bare grin. He blew through his teeth, feebly trying to imitate a human’s hushing motion, but the sound that came from him sounded like wind blowing ashes across a dead planet. The child was terrified, but it was finally quiet.
He looked around once more. He was alone. Then he started singing an old song he had picked up during his service here. It was a pleading song, a comforting thing that crawled up on your skin with its long spindly arms and nestled by your ear, whispering sweet little nothings. It was a song that kissed at open wounds and made them hurt less. A song that took your mind off your lost limb, your ruined eye. It was a song that turned the roar of bonfires into sweet purrs and made the cold just a bit more bearable each winter.
When he was done, there was a great hush. The child was silent now, its eyes tearing. Without missing a beat, Death reached out and plucked it from its body, before the respite from its suffering was done. With the child in his hand, content and beaming, Death turned to the multitude of the dead and waved them off, bidding them farewell. And they flew high in the air, poking holes in the night sky the color of tarnished silver.
When the last one was gone, Death took his scythe in hand and started walking. His gait was slow and uneven. It would probably take him a long while before he reached his next destination. His brethren would be mad at him for his delay. Unlike him, they were creatures that were affected by time, their existence and power intimately tied to human history. They had every reason to be in a hurry. When mankind was gone, they would be free from their work, banished back to sweet oblivion, released from their duties. 
Death of course, had never had that option. He was tied to time and history. He’d still be there even when the last man was gone, unlike his brothers and sisters. And if extinction was done, then time and history would be done too. He’d be pinned here, alone, trapped in endless now. He just couldn’t let that happen.
Death panicked and started running. All around him, time started slowing down, as the mass of humanity diminished. He felt a great weight rest on his shoulders, his motions getting all the more sluggish. For a moment, he felt as if his torment might start any minute now, but something happened.
The weight was gone. The terror faded. Death moved unhindered once again. He smiled. Time was moving forward. There were still some people left unnoticed by his brethren. Relieved, he once again started dragging his feet.

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Πέμπτη, 12 Απριλίου 2012

Τα καλύτερα Χριστούγεννα

Κρακ, κρακ, κρακ, κρακ... κάνει το χιόνι, καθώς οι μπότες θρυμματίζουν τον πάγω από κάτω του. Προχωρά μόνος του, κουβαλώντας τον βαρύ του σάκο πάνω από τον ωμο του, ο μακρύς του σκούφος πέφτει πάνω στο πρόσωπό του και το καλύπτει. Η παχιά κοιλιά του τρέμει, καθώς γελά, προχορώντας κόντρα στο αέρα, με το χαλάζι να τον χτυπά με μύριες μικρές γροθιές.

Όμως αυτός συνεχίζει, ο σάκος παραμένει στην πλάτη του, διασχίζοντας το λευκό σκοτάδι. Που και που, η γλώσσα του γλύφει μια νιφάδα που πιάνεται στη γενιάδα του και νιώθει τη γεύση της στάχτης, καθώς διαλύεται στο στόμα του. Όταν το πόδι του παγιδεύεται σε κάποια τρύπα, βγάζει ένα νέο ακριβώς μπροστά, ολόϊδιο με το προηγούμενο, αφομοιώνοντας το προηγούμενο. Η γενειάδα του ψαχουλεέυι στον αέρα, ξεχωρίζοντας τις οσμές, ψάχνοντας για θυράματα. Οι οσμές καταχωρούνται και αναλύονται στις βοηθητικές 'μύτες' κάτω από τη γενιάδα του και τα μάτια του, που ξεπροβάλουν εναλλάξ από τη χοντρή κοιλιά του και τον όγκο που χρησιμεύει για σάκος του, αναλύουν το τοπίο. Πού και πού, το πλοκάμι που έχει για σκούφο κινείται τεμπέλικα, με το μικρό του ράμφος να δαγκώνει το έδαφος, αρπάζοντας ένα μικρό ζωύφιο.

Στο βάθος, βλέπει ένα φως. Είναι μικρό, κρύο και σχεδόν αμελητέο, αλλά είναι κάτι. Φιλτράρει τα δεδομένα μέσα από τα όργανά του και ανιχνεύει τρεις μορφές, μία σταδιακά κρυώνει. Θα πρέπει να καταναλώσει όσο είναι ακιρός, ώστε να μην παγώσει στη μέση του πυρηνικού χειμώνα.

Πλησιάζει, μισο-τρέχοντας, μισο-ρέοντας στο χιόνι, προς το μικρό κτίσμα και σκρφαλώνει αθόρυβα πάνω στην μικρή τρώγλη, αναζητώντας ένα μικρό άνοιγμα, κάποιον εξαεριστήρα ή μια απειροελάχιστα μεγαλύτερη τρύπα στο φίλτρο του αέρα. Τη βρίσκει και αμέσως, ρέει μέσα της, κυλώντας στους σωλήνες της θέρμανσης.

Ένα από τα μικρά σήματα τον αντιλαμβάνεται πρώτο, βλέποντας την υγροποιημένη, κόκκινη μάζα του να κιλά από μία τρύπα των σωμάτων του συστήματος θέρμανσης, και αμέσως επιταχύνει την έξοδό του, σταδιακά στερεοποιούμενο σε ένα ευχάριστο για αυτό σχήμα.

Το παιδί φωνάζει κάτι με χαρά και αυτός μιμείται το χαρούμενο ύφος του, καθώς το σιχαμένο, μικρό πλάσμα γυρνά την πλάτη του σε αυτόν. Το ράμφος του κροταλίζει σε αναμονή και τα στόματά του στάζουν, αναμένοντας το γεύμα...

Ήταν τα καλύτερα χριστούγεννα που είχε ποτέ.

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Τετάρτη, 4 Απριλίου 2012

Old Man Kuss

 
Illustration by Maria Kolaki



His name is Kuss. Once, he was known as Kuss the Destroyer, Kuss the Warmonger, Kuss the Undefeated and Kuss, the Scourge of Kings. He had single-handedly raised an army and had overthrown the Tyrant of Kallipolis, taking his kingdom for his own, and then subjugating every nearby province.

“Know, oh King…” said the old man, the wrinkles of his face contorting with each spoken word, his eyes fixed on his lord, sitting on his golden throne. Kuss had taken the throne he now sat upon from the Dragon Lord’s hoard, and had made his very crown from gold stolen from the Demon Prince’s vaults.

 “…that the Zukkara province has denied to give up their tenth of the annual harvest. Which, of course, will undoubtedly wreak havoc to our yearly revenue, especially considering the tremendous financial cost attributed to our Gurmoosh campaign.”

 Heh. Zukkara. A nation of merchants, potters and river sailors. None of them could ever fight. Even now, with the majority of his army fighting the rebels in far-away Gurmoosh, he could still invade, kill a tenth of its population and hang the hetman by his own genitals, with just a handful of men by his side. 

“No matter” said the Minister of the Golden Threshold, “Zukkara is a relatively small province and the tax we levied from them is insignificant. We can afford to let them get away with this one.”
He was about to protest, to speak up and call his Minister a putty-faced degenerate, when his Queen put her hand on his thigh and gently squeeze. His anger faded then and he lost his momentum. She spoke and his heart skipped a beat.

“Other regions will follow Zukkara’s example, however. If we let this go unpunished, then other nations will follow their example and where will we be then, Minister? No, what we need to do is-”
‘Burn their capital to the ground, kill every living thing, then salt the earth, so that nothing will ever grown again’ he thought, looking at his Queen with wide-eyed wonder. Had she changed back to her old ways? Had she given up the subtle, underhanded ways of civilization? Was she once again the warrior goddess he had fallen in love with, all those years ago?

“-oust their delegation from the capital, confiscate the wares of all Zukkaran merchants that are currently within the city walls. We will hold on to our policy, until they pressure their lords into giving up their taxes.”

“Capital idea, mother”, said the young man at the opposite end of the table, jotting down the minutes of the council. Kuss let out an expesperated sigh. The boy that had just spoken was his son. A pale, pudgy weakling of a scribe, who fainted at the very sight of blood. He would have fed him to the lions already, had he not been his only child.

His gaze fell to the map, laid out across the ancient mahogany table. He looked across the distant expanses that comprised his kingdom, at the mighty Jorrspine, that was the natural border to the mysterious kingdoms of the Orient, at the mighty river Horr, whose guardian spirit he had once beaten into submission, at the Horse Plains, where the Bronze Hordes dwelt, who had been the vanguard of his first army. In his mind’s eye, every single one of these regions was flooded with blood, the air ringing with the sound of clashing steel and the screams of men and kings alike, fallen by the hundreds from his blade.

“Not a wise course of action, my lady” said the Minister, waking Kuss from his reverie. He was old now, once again trapped in his throne, doomed to suffer the luxuries that weaker men desired for the rest of his life. “The Zukkaran Merchant Princes do, after all, control a large part of our exports in the Orient. Should we anger them, we could be facing a drawn-out embargo, which will in turn-”

He imagined drawing his sword from his sheath, climbing across the table and cutting off the Minister’s damn fool head, for wasting his time. He felt like screaming at the top of his lungs, with the fierceness of a lion at his council: ‘Cowards! Degenerates! Petty fools the lot of you! Enough with the talking, enough with the planning! Let us wipe Zukkara from the face of the map! Let us enslave their women and children and drown their men in quicksand! Lets us bury their leaders alive in the mortar of our temples! Let us do anything but talk!’

He said none of this, of course. He dared not. His Queen still had her hand on his thigh and he could feel the very weight of his kingdom pressing down on him, snuffing out the fire that once raged in his heart. He thought back to his father’s words, a lifetime ago:

‘A body fails, my son. It is a faulty thing that breaks and bends and twists and gets sick. You cannot rely on the body. But the body is commanded by the heart. And as long as the heart is young and there is fire in your chest, the body will keep going.’ 

“-cause a far greater…”

“The Merchant Princes won’t dare risk losing our favor, Minister! Should they anger us, they know that we will withdraw our troops that escort their caravans across their regions, thereby forcing them to spend-” his son butted in.

‘Never let your heart grow old, son.’ 

Kuss looked up, the bickering of his council a distant drone to his ears. He looked around the room, at the hanging banners of conquered kingdoms. He saw the torn banner of King Qurus of the Innurvel, the lion cleft in twain. He saw the banner of Lord Dumorn, Master of the Rivers, stained with Dumorn’s own blood, the stain surrounding the jagged hole through which he had stabbed at the poor bastard, as he begged for his life. He looked at each and every one of them, each a kingdom broken and forced under his rule. His eyes looked at his own banner then, where he could now clearly see his own motto, laid out before him, stitched in gold thread:

Fortune Favors the Brave.

“What say you, my liege?”

He looked at his council, who now stared at him, waiting for a response. He could hardly feel his Queens fingers now, as they dug into his thigh.

 “You’re the tie-breaker, father. Should we pressure the Zukkarans or not?” muttered the boy, his arm raised high, smiling his big-toothed grin.

Kuss cleared his throat and spat, then. His council gasped at the sight. Stretching his mighty arms, flexing his muscles, the King grabbed his sword and strapped it on his back. Carefully, he took the crown off his brow and placed it before him, on the map. The gold now ringed his capital.

“What is the matter, my love?” said his Queen, her words bearing a command, which Kuss ignored.
He undid the brooch that held his regal cloak and got up on the table. Tossing the garment aside with one hand, he ripped his shirt with the other. His chest was pale and the skin was wrinkled in places, but his scars were still there, unfaded. His council took a step back then. The head of his royal guard stared in amazement.

“Father-”

“My lord-”

“What seems to be the matter, oh King?”

“Kuss! Get down from there, this instant!” said his queen, the old lioness, and her voice made the windows around her rattle.

Kuss looked at her, then. He saw her wrinkled face, her mane of red hair raised up in a tight bunch, her painted lips and eyelids. He looked at her for a long while, but there was no sign of the woman he had fallen in love with. His Lioness had died long ago, swallowed up by the Queen.

No matter, he thought. Plenty more where she came from.

He ran, then, right before her hands grabbed him. This was his one and only chance and he had taken it and by the gods, no-one would stop him! No one would dare!

He jumped as he reached the end of the table, curling his body into a tight ball, bursting through the glass window, raining shards of glass and bronze down into the courtyard. Reaching his hand out, he grasped at the flag that waved in the autumn breeze and used it to swing himself onto the huge oak tree in front of his balcony. In a single, elegant motion, he grabbed a low branch, rode it till he was close enough to the ground, then jumped down, ran across the courtyard, punched a guard for no good reason and scaled the walls.

He was galloping fiercely on a stolen horse out of the capital by sunset. Behind him, the Zukkaran embassy burned. Before him, the world and its wonders beckoned. He spurred his horse on, like a madman, yelling at the top of his lungs, riding into the sunset.

Kuss the Undefeated had no more time to lose.

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