Prompt: When his daughter was born the oracle told the evil ruler that his grandson would one day kill him. But instead of trying to prevent the prophecy the ruler decides to be the best parent and grandparent, giving his grandson no motivation to fulfill the prophecy.
“Your daughter, born after the city’s slaughter, will give birth to a son, by whom you will be undone.”
I laughed and was a little surprised when the oracle didn’t flinch.
“You’re kidding, right?” I said. “That rhyme is terrible.” I looked over at Raquel, my queen, who sat in the throne beside me.
She looked ravishing in her red dress. It was hard to believe she’d given birth just a few weeks ago. The jewels in her crown, won by the conquest of the city of Larrakesh, sparkled as she turned her head toward me. She gestured toward the oracle, who stood beside the greatest jewel from that campaign – our daughter, Adira, conceived as we celebrated the victory over the barbarians who lived across the sea.
“He’s never been wrong before.” She said with a shrug.
I stared at the oracle. “You truly foretell the future?” I eventually asked.
“Having eyes, you cannot see; you plan for futures that cannot be.” the man said. He lifted his bowed head, showing me his empty eye-sockets. . “Though I am blind, my visions bind; your future I do not make, but these sights I do not fake.”
“Okay,” I said. I waved my hand to the royal guard. “I think we’ve heard enough. Take him away.” I stood and walked over to the banquet table. I grabbed a goblet and began to drink. I turned to comment to the queen and saw the guards still standing there with the oracle. I raised my eyebrows. “Well?”
One of the guards cleared his throat. “Your majesty, where would you like us to take him to?”
“The dungeon, the chopping block. I don’t care! Just out of my sight. Forever! I never want to hear a bad rhyme again!”
“Yes, sir,” the guard said, bowing. He and his companion grabbed the oracle’s arms and began walking toward the door.
“Wait!” The queen’s voice stopped the guards in their tracks. “Oracle, what does it mean that your lord will be undone by his grandson?”
The oracle turned his sightless gaze toward me, rather than her. “For his duty to fulfill, the realm’s ruler he must kill.”
I narrowed my eyes. The queen went a little more pale. “And is there any way to avoid this prophecy?”
Continuing to look at me, the oracle said, “I can only state what is handed out by fate. Always in the past have my visions held on fast. I have never been shown a path to avoid God’s terrible wrath.”
“God’s wrath? Do you think I fear that?” I set down the goblet and looked around the room. The courtiers were whispering and giving each other nervous looks. I walked toward the oracle and pulled out my sword. “I will have you know, oracle, that my daughter will love me.”
As I approached, I swung my arm back, then plunged the sword into the man’s guts. “I will be the doting father. And her children will only have reason to revere me.”
I twisted the sword and the man cried out in pain. I pulled out my sword and turned my back on him, wiping my sword with the cloth that a servant brought to me.
“Though my body you…may…kill, see me again…you will.” The man breathed out, just loud enough for me to hear. I continued to walk toward my throne.
“Clean up that mess.” I ordered.
“Garosh! What have you done?” Raquel stood and cried out.
“He was a terrible poet. And if I ever do see him again, he will eat his words. My grandson will love me more than life itself.”
Adira and I sat at the table, playing an intriguing game of chess. After I took her bishop I chuckled.
“Why do you laugh, father?”
“Because you do not see the mistake you just made,” I replied.
She frowned, considering the pieces. Then she moved her rook, threatening both my queen and checking the king. I was able to take the rook and would sacrifice the queen, but a couple moves later it would be checkmate.
“You sacrifice so many pieces, father. Does it ever make you sad?” she asked. Her sweet 16-year-old face looked contemplative. She moved her piece, placing me in check again.
“Sad? Why? They are tools to achieve victory. When they are sacrificed, they are fulfilling their purpose – to serve their king.” I took the piece, but sacrificed my rook this time.
“Yes, but what is a king without any subjects left?” She moved another piece, threatening me with checkmate in the next move, but also falling into my trap. I made the final move and placed her in checkmate.
“What is a king without a crown? If he does not maintain power – with force when necessary – then the kingdom will collapse into anarchy. If the people have no king to serve, then what joy is there for any of us?”
She looked at me. “Is that why you allowed King Zhollan to rebel? To show your strength and ability to checkmate everyone else?”
I nodded slowly. “Very perceptive. Yes, I probably could have done something to stop his rebellion. I could have given a little in his trade negotiations. But in allowingn the rebellion to occur – and now crushing it without prejudice – I am showing the realm what happens to traitors.”
“Even traitors who simply wish to have enough to feed their families?”
“King Zhollan is wealthy enough.”
“But what of his people?”
“Ah, Adira, it’s your birthday! Let’s turn out minds to more celebratory matters!
“No, father, this is what I want to discuss.”
“Not the surprise I brought you from the front?”
“The gift I want is peace for those soldiers. I want those farmers to be able to work the fields so that Zhollan’s people don’t starve in the coming winter.”
“Do not speak to me like that, young lady!” I said, standing up. I didn’t raise my voice. That was part of the commitment I’d made to myself all those years ago.
“I hate you!” my daughter, Adira, yelled and stalked from the throne room. She practically knocked over my chancellor as she stormed through the door.
I took several deep breaths and had to focus on unclenching my fist one finger at a time. It had been all I could do to keep my hand from going straight to my sword.
My chancellor approached, one eyebrow raised. “Sire, perhaps this is a bad time?”
“No, no,” I said, waving my fully unclenched hand to beckon him forward. “How is our army doing?”
“That’s an interesting question, sire.” He came to the throne and knelt. I waved him up and he walked to the table beside the throne to roll out a map.
“Lord Faulkner has been holding back the rebel king’s army quite effectively. But my spies say that he is questioning – more openly than usual – why you are not on the battlefield with him.”
I looked at the map as he pointed to the marks indicating our forces and those of the rebellious King Zhollan. They had them bottled up against the mountains. I thought of how I could crush them. But it was my duaghter’s 16th birthday. I needed to be here. It was important that I be present for the big events in her life. She needed to know that I loved her.
I’d even brought her an Eastern tiger. Her mother wasn’t happy with that. Said it was dangerous. I thought it was the perfet gift for my fierce daughter. And she loved it. She cared for it like any pet, as a proper emperor’s daughter would do.
“Lord Faulkner will do fine. Crush the king’s forces. Make him pay and regret that he ever stood up to the empire. Force them to surrender, then crucify the survivors.”
“All of them?”
I thought of Adira and her wish. I sighed. “No, just the leaders. Send the soldiers back out to the fields to grow food for the families.”
My chancellor looked up and watched my face for a time. “You wish to…show mercy?” he asked.
If I kill all of them, then what will be left of the empire? I thought to myself. But I just looked at Valorian and said, “Be sure the leaders are crucified near the highways. I want those people to remember the price of rebellion.”
“Yes, sire, I’ll send the messages out tonight.” He gathered his notes and departed.
I sat on my throne and leaned back. What was fatherhood doing to me?
“Sire, the food riots in the West Country-“
“Send them food from our stores.”
Valorian raised an eyebrow, “Just give it to them?”
“No, sell it to them, but for at a reduced rate. After paying for the distribution, use the remaining money to support the farmers whose crops have failed.”
Valorian thought for a moment. “As you say, my Lord.”
Gershon walked into the room as the chancellor left, Valorian bowing slightly as he passed my grandson. My grandson nodded back.
“What did you learn from eavesdropping?” I asked, my hands behind my back.
Gershon walked to the fire and said, “That what the people say is not true. You are not a monster. You are reaching out to save those people, even if it means we will have to ration our food.”
I nodded, “And?”
“The people will not become dependent on your planning. You are helping them to stay afloat in a crisis, but are not permanently propping them up.”
I nodded again.
“Yes, Gershon?” I watched the flickering light cast changing shadows across his face.
“I…” He clenched and unclenched his hand, then looked down at it. I waited, hands behind my back, watching his face.
He blew out his breath, then spoke in a rush, “There is a prophecy that I will kill you. They say that you are an evil ruler, who committed atrocities. That I am destined to free the kings from the scourge of your rule. But…I don’t see it, grandfather. You are not evil.”
He paused and shook his head, then he turned to me, “At least, not now. But what about in the past, before my mother was born?”
It was my turn to stare into the fire. “I was a different man, then. I believed that to rule, I must rule with an iron fist. The only way the people would be shaped into a useful tool was through fire and hammer blows.”
“Do you not believe that anymore?”
I looked into his face and said, “No. Your mother taught me to care for her. You taught me that people are more than tools. I learned something as your grandparent that no campaign or trial ever did – what it means to have a heart.”
I placed my hands on his shoulders, “Gershon, I love you. I love you and your mother. I have striven to be the best father and grandfather I could possibly be. At first, it was about proving the oracle wrong. But over time…I learned what love truly is.” I pulled Gershon in for a hug. He wrapped his arms around me and then I felt a sharp pain in my back.
“And that is your weakness, grandfather. You have become soft and the empire is crumbling as a result. You simply let King Faulkner go when he declared independence. With the precedent, another half dozen kings and lords are plotting to leave the empire.” He pulled his arm from my back, then I felt another sharp pain.
“Your soft heart will result in the collapse of the most powerful realm ever known. We must maintain the empire.” I pushed away and pulled out my sword, but it was too late. I could feel the blood pouring out, my limbs weakening. I lifted the sword up, but could only hold it for a moment. I soon dropped to my knees and looked at my grandson.
“By you, my grandson, I have truly been undone.”