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  • Writer's pictureJabe Stafford

??? _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Eyes. Two of them. Brown like night soil. Above a blond beard and robes richer than the bastards who used me. I hadn’t moved from this crusty mead hall corner since they built it. The army’s men and women tested their stomachs as wineskins at the far end of the hall. Voices and clatterings vibrated through me, but this man’s gripes struck me as though I had ears.

“A brick,” the robed princeling said, addressing me directly. “Only capable of support. So solid. My allies turned robe and backstabbed us. Family consumes and gluts themselves using riches that could build instead of being shat out. But you don’t have a mouth. You can’t whine or grow bulbous.”

“I can speak, addlecock,” I snipped. “Don’t need a mouth to do that.”

The Prince of Robes fell on his rump. One of the vibrations grew loud enough for me to hear the words, “—Sheridas, king for a day. They’ll sing that he talked to walls—“

“Do you plan to remain down there and take the verbal defecation they’re slinging?”

Prince Sheridas climbed back to his feet and forgot to re-wrap his grass-green robe about him. “I’d been meaning to rave somewhere in peace before Gol’s vanguard routs us. Now a brick understands me near as well as my own kin.”

“When nothing matters and you’re cocked whatever the plan is, I can empathize. Your grandfather was supposed to place me in the oracle’s quarters. Drunk, was he? Like this lot?”

He spat red on the floor that might have been blood, or wine backwash. “It is good Hedoran didn’t use you to build an outhouse. You’d drive men mad.”

“Stop exposing yourself to humiliation and bad comedy,” I scolded. “King for a day, they say? What happened to your sister?”

“Dead in the field. Saboteurs. The men in charge of building our trebuchets weakened them somehow.”

That explained the remark about turn-robe allies. “You focus on the negative just like the whiners you faff on about. I’m here. You’re here. You’re royal blood, and your men aren’t too schnockered. Yet.”

“Men and women,” Sheridas corrected, the steel in his eye biting him.

Sharpening him.

I’d’ve smiled if the oracles had seen fit to give me a mouth.

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