The king leaned back in his great wooden chair and read the scroll. A shadow darkened his face and he scowled more and more with every line he read.
At length he threw the letter down onto the table, upsetting a few of his pristinely arranged quills and perfectly stacked papers.
“Insolence!” he muttered angrily. “Unable to comply! We’ll see about that.”
He plucked up a quill pen from his desk and smoothed out a sheet of vellum. He dipped his pen hastily into an inkwell and began to scribble swiftly in long spidery letters across the page.
Before he had written even a paragraph however, there was a loud rap at the door. The king put down his quill and straightened up.
“Come in,” he called, but once again he failed to turn to face the door.
The door swung open for the second time and in entered a large, muscular man who’s head nearly brushed the top of the doorway, setting him at a height that must have been over six and a half feet tall. His face was long and sallow-skinned and he had shortcut reddish hair with an unpleasantly matching goatee.
“My Lord,” he said sinking down onto one knee as soon as he reached the front of the desk.
“Oh, hang the formalities and fetch yourself a chair,” said the king impatiently, waving toward the numerous other seats that dotted the room.
The red-haired man did as he was told and pushed a very uncomfortable-looking chair to the front of the desk.
“Your Majesty called?” he said taking his seat.
“Yes. I have received a reply.”
There was a pause.
“And?” prompted the red-haired man.
“And Lord Spiron has refused my request. Again,” said the king. “Commander Drake, do you recall the last time Tashíb sent us its monthly taxes?”
The red-haired man thought for a moment.
“Well, it’s been some time now, my Lord,” he said. “Over three moths by my reckoning anyway.”
The king stroked his beard.
“Yes, I thought so too,” he said. “It seems as though they are getting rather big-headed. As if they think they could get along better without us.”
The king twirled a quill pen between two bejeweled fingers thoughtfully.
“But they are a colony. And colonies live because of, and to serve the kingdom that founded them. For their own good they must be kept in line.”
The king stood up leaving his pen carefully behind on his desk. He swept past Commander Drake and strode to the window that was still open a crack and on whose sill still perched the dove, preening its feathers diligently.
He gazed out the window for a moment then turned back to face the commander.
“You know, in the days of my fathers we were once a very feared nation. Something like this would never have gone unpunished. The impudent scum would have been crushed.”
A dangerous glint was shining in the king’s eye. A glint his servants knew and feared.
“You know, what with our kingdom expanding and this long period of peace we’ve been enjoying for the past twenty years or so, I think some of our subjects have been losing some of their respect for us,” continued the king. “They are showing signs of resentment. And resentment turns quickly to defiance, and from there it is only a short step to rebellion. Do you see what I am saying, Commander? Do you see what is happening? We could have a rebellion on our hands. It must be stopped.”
The king twisted the silver circlet which rested on his brow around his head once, staring at Commander Drake all the while.
“How stands our military these days, Commander?” he asked at length.
“As well as always, my Lord — which is to say, very well indeed.”
“Good,” mused the king. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts as though on the edge of making a very important decision. “Tashíb must be put down. We will make it an example to our other subjects. I will continue the work of my fathers. There must be order and I will have it, for without order, people get ideas, and ideas lead to revolt. No, we will conquer Tashíb and restore order.”
Commander Drake had risen to his feet as well and was listening carefully to every word the king said.
“I have made up my mind,” said the king with great finality and determination. I will tolerate this insolence no more. Please prepare our army for war. I will send word to Ashbar to lend us some of their own troops. In two months time I expect to be marching upon Tashíb. Are there any questions, Commander?”
“No, my Lord — only, do you intend to send word to Tashíb that we will attack?”
“Yes, I will send word. I will tell them to prepare and that it is too late — they have defied me for the last time. Long have we sat complacent at peace, but now we must strike. Once again fear must be felt at the mention of the name Stonewall and of King Damocles. Once again there must be order.”
There was a long silence in which Commander Drake shifted uncomfortably as though unsure whether he ought to leave or not. Finally the king spoke.
“You are dismissed, Commander. You have much work to be done in two months time as I’m sure you know.”
The commander nodded then sank into a deep bow and headed for the door.
“Oh, and Commander,” said the king just before he got there. “One more thing. I’d just like to know your opinion. You do agree with me, don’t you? About all we have just discussed?”
There was the merest hint of hesitation in Drake’s face before he replied.
“Yes of course, your Majesty,” he said.
The king smiled.
“Good. Because agreeing with me gets a person far. You may go now.”
The commander hurried quickly out closing the door quietly behind him. The king turned back to face the window. He looked down over the city. His city. The sun was creeping toward its zenith shining warmly on the high stone walls that crisscrossed through the city like strands in a spider’s web. He watched as guards patrolled the walls like so many ants far below.
“I will have order,” he said again softly to himself with a smug smile on his face.
He suddenly realized that the dove was still sitting demurely on the sill, eying him with its head cocked to the side.
“Be off with you!” said the king and sending the dove flapping from its perch. “Go and tell your worthless Tashens what they get for defying Damocles II.”
The dove swooped out of the window and up into the skies once more, heading back east toward Tashíb.