This Week’s Prompt: 69. Man with unnatural face—oddity of speaking—found to be a mask—Revelation.
The Prior Research:It’s a Masquerade!
The King Hyperion sat on his golden throne, a glimmering pyramid of radiance. His fingers drummed on the heads of carved lions of marble. The crowd was silent, the air a nice cold breeze wafting on the summer day. His nose twitched at the thick smell of wine in the air, as he settled his gaze upon the man with the strange eyes.
“Your royal majesty, I present the apprehended felon.” The captain of the guard said, yanking the chain of the hunched over fool. “Loratian, disturber of the peace and decency.”
Loratian was hunched over, the many chains that hung from his back and limbs. He had a vulture neck and a mane of white hair. His brow had growths, small hills of flesh poking between his hair. Between two of these bulges, was the most striking feature of the prisoner. A crimson eye, with a blue pupil and purple iris, gazed out unwavering onto the king.
“Do you know what cause has brought you into our royal presence?”
“You have men with spears and chains, and they made a compelling case that my attendance was required.” Loratian said, grinning with broken and yellowed teeth.
“Yes, we suppose that is one reason. Our men were sent to bring you to our presence, for crimes against our person that you commit incessantly and daily.” Hyperion said, his fingers no longer drumming.
“Good king, had I committed crimes against your person, I do not believe it would be necessary for you to bring me here.” Loratian said, straining at his bonds.
“Do you deny your crimes then? We hear no end of your proclamations against our crown, and against our house, and calls for all manner of ignoble behavior.” King Hyperion said, his voice rising slighty. “You gathered riotous masses to assault our winery, our granary, and our stores of food. You struck down a man of the temple and spat in the face of a holy oracle.”
“To much applause, if I recall.” Loratian said, nodding.
“So you confess then, to these actions and worse—the murder of bulls on our streets, the declarations of kingship against our person, and the demands for royal revenues and tithes?” King Hyperion said, leaning forward.
“I cannot confess them.”
“And why is that?”
“For they are not crimes. And to confess them would be to confess to breathe, or to confess that I too am under the sun’s rays. A god among men, I have done no wrong.”
“…We take that as confession then. Your crimes cannot be passed without judgment—without punishment. As you show no interest in appeal or supplication, then you will be rendered unto God for judgment.” Hyperion said, waving his hand. “And cast into the wilds to suffer as beasts do in the wastelands without our grace.”
Grinning Loratian was taken back in bonds, to be held for the night. The crowd called out and clamored, some cheering, some begging for mercy and appeals to the heavens for mercy and forgiveness. Hyperion continued his business for the day, the face of the madman haunting him as lions fought for his amusement, gifts from distant provinces were offered, and entreaties to judgment maid.
At last, he retired to his counsel, seeking his trusted wife and adviser. The two had guided his hand faithfully for years before, through war and plague and famine. Surely they would know the source of this trouble in his vision.
“It it some enchantment he has.” The Queen Hellia said. “He is, no doubt, some sorcerer or occultist, who has dealt with spirits of the hills. Throw him when he came, and he will regroup there and plauge us anew.”
“Enchantment mayhaps, but there are arts to memory that are less harrowing then these.” The Vizier Corinth said, after a pause of thought. “Still, he has grown to mighty to merely be tossed aside. No, if he is sent to the wastes, he may stir bandits and treasonous farmers to heights of violence. We ought do more then put him to the wrath of God. We should instead escort him directly, with as much circumstance as he warrants.”
“Hm…Yes, there is a festival coming. If he is brought to the sword then, there will be no doubt of his fate. And we shall have not to fear of rallies—a martyr he may become, but martyrs can fade, and the mob is less organized without its head.”
The execution was announced, by crier. In a weeks time, Loratian would be beheaded—the King Hyperion intended first to let him hang, but the thought of more words escaping Loratian’s lips removed that idea. No, the royal mind was set to see first his face sliced off, the wretched eye removed, and then the head cut from its stalk. With such thoughts in mind, he opened his court again to grievances the day after the announcement. What came in first did not surprise him.
They were a ragged crowd, murmuring as they approached his throne. From their midst came a woman, in dregs died purple and red with wine and sacrificial offerings, her hair wild and matted. In one of her hands was a staff tipped with brass pomegranate. As she took another step forward, a snake uncurled from her hair and around her neck.
“Lord Hyperion, I’ve heard that you plan to execute our leader for his deeds.” The woman said, standing tall.
“We have.” Lord Hyperion. “He has shown no wish to repent his deeds, and confessed to us all his actions.”
“Then we, his flock, ask he be released to us. We will take him far from a land that does not want his words and deeds, and will trouble you no more.” The woman said, gesturing with her spear.
“Our judgment is passed, and his fate we have ordained.” Hyperion said, waving his hand aside. “We send him as his sovereign on earth to the sovereign hereafter, our brother beyond the mists. That is our mercy—for our wrath, we may do worse while he still lives.”
“We insist, as his flock, he be returned to us—as it is, you delay his judgment for no purpose greater than your own sadism and fear. Release him, and we and him shall take our delights elsewhere.”
“His judgment is passed, his doom we will see carried out. If he wished to live, he would not have behaved in such an outrageous way.” The King Hyperion replied. “His blasphemy alone condemns him.”
“You are right on one account.” The woman said, frowning. “His judgment is passed—and now it is sealed. Doom comes for you soon, king of men, who has chained a god.”
“We have made our judgment. Leave, and thank the Lord that we have mercy in not speaking it against you.” Lord Hyperion said, rising in his throne, the lions at his side taking on a more fearsome aspect.
The guards saw the crowd driven from his throne room, and a new messenger brought in. An old man in the red of the country squires, he bowed lowly to the King. Hyperion sighed with relief at some decorum returning to his court after so many interruptions of squalid and unkempt agitators.
“Lord Hyperion, Sun upon your brow,gracious in victory, your squire comes with news from the hills and dales of your hold.” The Squire said.
“Let us here then, our good squire, what has become of our more distant lands. Are they prosperous and obedient yet?” The King said.
“Prosperous perhaps, but obedient I cannot say. A frenzy of signs emerged not long past—a great black goat was seen, with seven limbs and three eyes; purple and red lights were seen in the woods and in fog between the hills; and laughter took hold of half the people for seven days.” the Squire said, rising to a knee.
“Such oddities are not unknown in nature—strange beasts and lights are the work of many things. What of these?” The King said slowly.
“ Wise in your many ways, King Hyperion, you see that these are not but coincidences of the seasons and tides.” The squire said, bowing again. “However, the people, in their superstitious ignorance, have taken these as omens and now proclaim that a new god comes—they roam the country in costumes of straw and fur, and many have taken to celebration and debauchery. One of your wise and well appointed governors tried to approach the crowd—and among them, he saw his own wife and daughter, their silk in tatters and their crowns abandoned. He tried to lay hands on them, but the crowd assaulted and screamed at him, leaving him sickly and frail.”
“This is not…pleasent news.” the King said slowly, his knuckles white in rage. “Send forth for my general Balivar, and let him lead a host against these rebels. The gods have assembled long ago, and their hersey has become riotous.”
“Are you certain, my lord? Might not letting the loose–”
“Has our crown slipped from our brow? Are the lions no longer beneath my hands? I have given the command—Call Balivar to our side, and send him with sword and spear and shield to crush those who stay yet in defiance.” The King said, standing slowly. “Do so at once, or our wrath will turn upon you next.”
The Squire made haste to leave, scampering bent over and shamed. The King breathed deep and sat upon his throne, imprints of his grip visible on the gold lions mane. Breathing deep, he calmed himself. He considered breifly the calm that would follow this storm—the end of these chaotic rumblings and sorcery in one strong stroke of the blade. Resuming his poise, he awaited a final guest.
She stood tall as she entered, dressed in finery of white and silver and gold, her headdress of scarlet feathers sweeping just beneath the top of the entrance. A masked servant held her dress as she stepped before the throne, bending her head ever so slightly. The Lady Nodens did not yeild easily, and even in royal presence, deference was hard won.
“Hail His Majesty, Thrice Blessed by the Morning Sun.” The good Lady said as she bowed. “Have we heard true that you will be bringing novel entertainment to our festival?”
“Novel? There is nothing new to it, save the victim.” Hyperion said, breathing calmly. “Nothing novel at all to the death of a man at my hands. This one may ramble and agitate more, but to cleave his head from it’s trunk is as old as the throne on which I sit.”
“Might it not be? For he has the novel face—that loathsome eye we hear of often. Bright red like a ruby against his twisted forehead.” Lady Nodens said, raising her finger to her own brow. “We covet it—a memento of your good will perhaps.”
“My good will? Tis a strange wart and nothing more. Still, in these trying times, it is a request I grant, that it shall be done.” The King Hyperion said, nodding. The Lady bowed and curtsied, taking her leave with her message done.
The King was restless the day on, even into night. When he lay beside his wife, he murmured in slumber. At last, his loving wife woke him.
“What troubles you now? Is some nightmare haunting you, riding you as a steed in battle?”
“Perhaps.” The King murmured, sitting in his bed. “When I sleep, I see him. That foul sorcerer in the dungeon. I see his toothy grin and wretched eye. I fear he has some hold on my mind now, by some enchantment—as he does on my distant provinces and the poorest of my citizens.”
“Do you think you have judged wrong?” His wife asked, resting on his arm.
“What if I have? Nothing can be done of it now. Thrice I have condemned him. Should I free his chains, what then will be my strength? No, no the crown does not err, even in mistep. To release him now would be as to bow before his power—and that I will not do.”
The palace courtyard was alight with music, on the day the sorcerer saw light again. He was dragged between crowds of masked faces, grinning cloth and feathers and furs. Hyperion, his adversary, sat on a wooden throne—the pauper king, overseeing the execution of his rival for the throne. Hyperion watched as the four men in furs, with wooden wildmen faces, dragged Loratian in chains to the chopping block.
As they made their way closer, there was a rumbling in the earth. The King paid it little head. The decadence and depravity of those rebel provinces—many now depopulated and extinguished in their time—had caused the gods to cry out. The shaking was not uncommon, when the earth sighed at her feast.
They took to the stone steps, to the platform that had been prepared. The King Hyperion rose, with his crown of oak. Loratian was laid next to his disciple—a woman who’s face the King had chosen to forget, her hands and teeth bloody with her kin. Loratian took the steps himself, his old sword at his side.
“In the name of the Heavens and Earth, speak now before condemnation.” the King said from his black hood and well cut rags. “Let the gods here your pleas, that they might part the heavens for your soul.”
“Strike me first, fellow. I must lead the way and unlock the gates of my house.” Loratian said, turning and smiling at the King with that forever frozen grin.
The King strode forward to grant the wish, over the cries of Loratian’s disciple. The crowd stared, as the earth shook again. There was a shout from the courtyard gates—glancing, the King saw a great light shining into the sky, a ray of red and purple glowing smoke. More tricks, he murmured. More false signs and omens. There could be no doubt for the crown.
The King raised his blade, and brought it down on the head of Loratian. As it swung, the air screeching around it, the king felt a tug in his chest. None the less, the blade struck. None the less, it did not strike true.
“Come fellow.” Loratian said, his head bleeding and dripping where it had been broken by the sword. “You must have conviction. Where is the iron will of the crown now, in your time of need?”
The King stared, transfixed. The blood grew as roots down Loratian’s face, his hair now like leaves, his face like stained wood. There were murmurs from the crowd at the sorcerer’s bravado. Sounds, not far off, of some great hunting horn. So the King, now in fury pulled the sword up again. And brought it’s flat against the usurper’s neck.
There was a crack like thunder as the blade struck the neck—and was broken.
“Ah, no use no use. That was long anon hardened in the forges of the sun. Your doubt knew better. To slay me, remove my mask, fellow. And then you shall be rid of my gifts and boons.”
Hyperion drew back his blade again, and this time he brought it clattering down on the face of gibbering prophet, slashing down to carve his brow to his chin clean off. And hear, his blade went with ease—it slid as if through water, the face falling off onto the platform cleanly.
The King did not see what lay behind that mask, only heard the outcry of the crowd. Turning he saw Lady Nodens faint in terror, and the guards scatter. The gates of iron bent as the strange smoke drew close—within Hyperion saw a horde of beggars bedecked with claws and spears and roars. Looking down, he saw the blade splattered with blood. He tried to lift it, but the blood had rooted in the ground and to his hand, growing beneath his skin.
The Prophet stood, holding his broken face. From the hole where his mask once was, now grew branches and vines of a great tree, reaching anon unto heaven.
I wish I had more time with this story. As it stands, I think it is acceptable. It follows the Bacchae, but not to the letter–and is in fact missing the central climax, although the character beat of ‘woman of noble birth joins the madness’ is still present. I didn’t get enough or as much editing time as I hoped for, and the result is in my opinion less than it could have been. I think a first draft would have been twice as long before first edits and so on. I do like the ending, and the middle section is my favorite structurally, with three different portions.
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