The Cost of Living
This is a piece of Flash Fiction I wrote for a creative writing course a while ago, and I just thought I’d share it. I hope you enjoy it.
‘You have to do it, your majesty.’ The Kings Aide sat on the rotting wooden bench of the castle dungeon, his head heavy with exhaustion.
The King got on his haunches and put a hand on the other man’s shoulder.
‘I cannot and will not do it, Aurin. Not only are you my aide but also my friend; my only friend I feel of late since so many in the kingdom have turned against me to save their own lives, not that I blame them for that of course.’ He stood up again and moved to the door.
Aurin stood too and followed him. ‘You mean to tell me that the Great King of Varlo will not save his people and stop them from having to decide between the life of their beloved ruler their own?’
The King gripped the bars of the door to their cage, squeezing the steel in frustration.
‘Were there another option, Aurin I would surely take it, but as it stands, there is just you and me here, locked in this dark, dirty and insect-infested cell, and why? Because I am of the Mother religion? Have I really had my kingdom invaded, my home ransacked and my people slaughtered by Southern Ice Folk, all because I believe in the gift of magic bestowed on some of us by the Great Mother and they do not?’ He looked at Aurin who clung to the bars for support. If they did not find a way out soon, then they would both be dead. ‘Can’t this surely be a nightmare from which I will wake presently, to find that I am in my own warm bed and that the Southern Ice Folk have not crossed over from their territory to ours?’
‘They would believe, my King, if only you would show them definitively what the rest of us know to be true. That the Great Mother has indeed blessed you.’
‘To do that would mean draining the life essence from another living soul and since you are the only soul here with me, you’ll understand my hesitation!’ He looked at Aurin, his face red. ‘If you were to give up your life I would be alone.’
Aurin smiled reassuringly. ‘No, Sire you would not be alone, for the rest of the kingdom would be saved and would hold you in higher regard than they ever have before. They will be loyal to you forever more.’
‘Dear Devine Mother, why must you imbue me with only half of what I need to defeat my enemies? Why must I use pure life essence as a catalyst? Why must it be this way?’ He knew that the Mother was not at fault for the bigotry of the Southern Ice Folk, but it felt good to direct his anger somewhere, to blame someone.
He stood for a moment looking at the dirt floor, shaking with anger and frustration at the impossible situation they were in.
‘We shall wait for an enemy guard to enter the dungeon, and I shall extract what I need from him.’
‘Sire, how many of our people will die while we wait? Besides, we have been down here for little over a day with no food nor water, what makes you think anybody will return.’
The King thought about that for a moment. It had not occurred to him that their captors had abandoned them, leaving them to die.
‘Would they actually be so hateful and angered by our belief system that they would torture us to death with starvation? Could they be so cruel?’
‘My King, very little is known about the Southern Ice Folk that it would be hard for me to surmise anything about their ethics or barbarity.’ Aurin moved back to the wooden bench. He was hungry and thirsty and tiring quickly.
‘You must do it, Sire. I am willing to give up my life so that your life and the lives of the others may continue.’
The King knew that he was acting selfishly. They had been able to hear the tortured screams and cries from those in the kingdom who had not betrayed him, and he knew deep down that soon, there would be nobody left alive in Varlo.
‘I can’t do it,’ said the King. ‘I have never taken a life before; I do not think I could bear it.’
‘You must do it, your majesty and you must bear it.’
Anxiously, the King sat on the bench next to his friend. He looked at him for a long moment. How could such a loyal person, who had shown nothing but kindness and friendship since the day they had met, be destined for such an ending?
‘It’s not fair,’ he said flatly.
‘Life, as they say, is not fair, sir, however, it does occur to me that In giving up my life I shall be saving the lives of a whole kingdom. How many of us can lay claim to such a feat?’ He looked at the king. ‘All I ask that I be remembered. That a feast may be held in my honour once a cycle and that all in the kingdom be welcomed.’
The king’s eyes had begun to fill with tears, and he could only nod his agreement as he stifled a sob as they began to spill down his cheeks.
‘You have my word, Aurin,’ the King replied after taking a brief moment to gather himself.
He lifted his hand and moved it over Aurin’s heart.
‘I’m ready, Sire,’ Said Aurin and he closed his eyes.
The King, forcing any thoughts of hesitation out of his mind, pushed his palm down hard into his friend’s chest. In an instant white energy began to travel from his hand and up his arm to his own heart as Aurin’s life essence drained into him. It felt cold and electric as his body absorbed the gift that Aurin had given to him.
The entire process took but a few seconds, though it seemed a lot longer than that to the King. When it was over, he stood over his dead friend. He would grieve for him deeply, but not right now. First, he had a job to do. He had to be the ruler that the kingdom needed.
He moved to the door of the cell and placed a hand on it. White energy shot from his palm and the door blew outward with a rattling clank.
He looked briefly back at Aurin and then looked upwards, toward the sounds of death and torture. Then with his mission clear, he was gone.
Thanks ever so much for reading all the way down to here if you, I really appreciate it.