In the Kingdom of the Bronze Spider I marched among the king’s retinue and waited my chance. As a visiting dignitary from a neighbouring land it was a simple matter to get so close as that, but no closer. The cordon around his majesty bristled with the tips of ornamental spears. Yet it was imperative I got closer. I had a message to deliver.
Following the traditional route of the age-old procession, sanctioned by the footsteps of generations, we jostled together along the winding thoroughfares, wilting from the heat and claustrophobia. Despite the forced proximity, I tried keeping my distance from the local politicians and commanders. Although protocol made it seemly I should be invited to attend the festival I wasn’t an entirely welcome guest. The political situation was seldom less than tense between our nations, even while diplomatic niceties were mostly still observed. So, my invitation was doubtless sent reluctantly and I attended grudgingly.
Occasionally, as if by accident, the black standard with the glowing spider was left to dangle in my face. And I overheard odd mutterings about “Waspers” and that “poisonous, stripy country where they can’t really talk, only buzz at each other.” But I wore the insignia of the Colliding Swarms on my chest, with venomous dedication, as always. The safety and prosperity of the land of my birth depended on the success with which my message was delivered, I was informed. That consideration alone swayed me. It motivated all that followed. And I manoeuvred myself accordingly.
It was rumoured that the ruler of the Bronze Spider lands had become half a cripple now, that his powers waned and he stumbled to mouth the right words when discussing policy at court. It was argued by his political enemies that this alteration only made him more of a threat, since the weakness that racked his limbs made him over-compensate through random bouts of savagery and hubris. It was argued by his political allies that any alteration only made him more of a force, since the longevity that shook his limbs made him wise enough to apply surgical remedies and reprisals when needed.
I observed all the nuances of this as they played out around me in the huddled cliques and backbiting of the retinue. I weighed options. I guessed at the risks involved. I bided my time. The sun blistered down on us as the procession dragged on. Sweaty condensation dripped from inside the bronze helmets of the guards and sprinkled down their backs. I gagged on the stink of those people, whose unctuous foods gave off cloying odours that seeped from their pores.
Close by, I occasionally glimpsed that land’s queen, matching our progress amidst her own decorous retinue. However, the traditional routes laid out for king and queen never crossed, so she remained a mysterious, shimmering mirage across the plain in that oppressive heat. I forgot about her and resumed my focus on how best to deliver the message I was entrusted with. I sought the proper platform, that slender opportunity which would offer me what I craved: a few seconds of direct access to the king, uninterrupted and brutally candid.
Finally, having weaved our way to the highest cliff top that overlooked the hallowed canyons, the heat and lack of shelter was too much even for the reeking locals. So, a royal pavilion had been built there for the king to rest in its shade a while. With only a few guards and the most notable dignitaries from abroad, I among them, the king retired inside. Once the pavilion was sealed from prying eyes my fingers made discrete adjustments to the insignia I wore, unsealing the disguised locket. Instantly, the narrow chamber filled with toxins: airborne agents that caused paralysis within seconds, to which I was immune. I stepped across the prostrate bodies to where the king slumped on a makeshift throne, limbs twitching at ragdoll-ridiculous angles. I pressed my face close to his and breathed in the royal fear.
“Listen closely, your majesty. I have a message and an apology. I apologise for how unseemly this is, but you must be made aware that certain interests within your court seek to overthrow you. They seek to ally my government to their cause. They believe that I am here as an executioner, but I am not; my government’s interests are not served by such upheaval in your kingdom. So, heed me when I say…”
Abruptly, my speech ended. The pavilion doors slid open and the queen marched in, unattended and undaunted, gliding by the spasming guards and politicians who littered the floor. “Your majesty,” I made a brief bow in her direction, “I assure you that this scene is not how it appears, I am…” Swiftly reaching her husband, she cradled his head in her hands and then sliced open his throat with a blade I hadn’t noticed. A glut of blood vomited into his lap. I staggered back, appalled and stupid.
Quicker than my numb mind could work, the queen sprang to close the distance between us; jamming the knife to its hilt between my ribs, she spat in my face, “It was I who hired you, fool. There was no petty political intrigue. This was a divorce. We wives of this realm have a history of devouring our husbands. Did you not believe the legends? Ah I suppose you reasoned that all the guards with spears were for the benefit of you outlanders? No, fool, they were organised in deference to the threat that springs from the marital bed. Only within the confines of that bed was the ex-king truly safe, by virtue of commandments that sanctify the need to breed. Otherwise he was forever ringed about by protectors in my presence. Protectors you disabled. See how sincerely the new ruler of this realm thanks you, in person, with no vestige of royal protocol setting barriers between us.” The knife twisted deeper between my ribs as her kiss twisted on my mouth.
This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Wordle Challenge #27 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the wordle at the top of this post. The rules are that at least 10 of the given words are to be used. I missed out “Argyle” and “Upholstery”; I also adjusted “Locker” into “Locket”, which is hopefully ok.