King Coluim stood at the top of his castle wall and watched the sunrise mark his 32nd birthday. All that I see is mine. The fruit of every tree, the meat of every animal, the hills and even the water. I want for nothing. And yet. And yet.
Coluim's court mage Eadwulf stood at his side, motionless. The old man had been with the royal family for three kings, but remained as impenetrable to Coluim as he did to Coluim's grandfather Aelred. Coluim knew Eadwulf could be thinking of his waiting breakfast, the mysteries of the afterlife, or nothing at all.
As the sun rose higher beyond the eastern hills, Coluim looked over the fields surrounding his castle. The Bloody Plain. How many years of peace until that name fades? Not a sword has been raised against an enemy since I rode out as a child king, leading my father's army against the savages from across the sea. There have been drunken brawls, of course; secret knives of jealous lovers too. But no soldier has had to kill in the now 16 years I have reigned. Since that bloody battle. Since the heinous act that made me a king, an orphan, and a man. And how vile a deed it was, to make that name last for most of my life. Images of blood, wings, the sound of a man screaming. Coluim swept them from his mind out of habit, like flies.
Eadwulf broke his silence. "Anglia has now been your domain for the majority of your life. Happy birthday, sire."
"Tell me, Eadwulf, have you added the reading of minds to your secret knowledge? If so, I may demand your presence at court more often."
Eadwulf chuckled, a rasping cough. "No, my lord, just the reading of faces and bodies. A rare benefit of living this long. And yours tell a story as plainly as a traveling bard."
"Are you happy, Eadwulf?"
"Of course, sire. Your majesty has provided more than enough to help an old man ease into the sunset."
"You needn't be so formal, old friend. The guards are well out of earshot."
"Yes, Coluim. Yes, I am happy. And you are not. What puts you ill at ease?"
"Would that I could say. I have a kingdom. A queen. An heir. I will be remembered, at least longer than most."
It was Coluim's turn to chuckle. "You do little to dissuade me that you cannot read minds. Yes. And yet. And yet I do want. What, I do not know. I just...want. If the ruler of a peaceful kingdom cannot be satisfied, how does the common man ever rest?"
"The common man has more pressing concerns, sire." Coluim gave him a sharp glance. "Yes, you spend your day settling disputes, treating with neighboring and foreign rulers, and accounting for your kingdom's wealth. Matters that would make most men shrivel. But you do these things knowing there will be a meal on your table, your son's table, and his son's table. Being freed from such concerns, your mind can become restless. You can lose perspective."
"And how do I gain perspective? Spend a day as a commoner? Have you any perspective spells? Perhaps you could show me the world through their eyes."
"Perhaps. I do have an idea. Has your majesty leave to visit my quarters today?"
"My majesty has leave to do as I wish. But yes, my only royal duty today is the requisite feasting and drinking after sunset."
"Excellent. Please make your way to the dungeons after breakfast, then." Eadwulf gave a brief bow, then turned and walked along the wall. His long white hair seemed to scatter the morning sunlight in all directions.
To Be Continued.