The King

I'd wanted to write this for a while before I finally did. The idea came when a friend told me of his plan to make a late-night fantasy phone-in show. This suggested to me a lonely, blind king on a train calling in. The project was never made but a while later I needed to write a story for a fundraising event so I pilfered the previous plan.
My friends who make the podcast Story Etc. asked me if I had anything for their Myth episode and I suggested The King which they kindly put in the episode. Odinn Orn Hilmarsson once again provided the music. You can subscribe to Story Etc. through iTunes or whatever podcatcher you prefer. And I suggest you do. It's great.
Here is that recording, taken from the podcast episode.
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There was a train. Moving. The windows were large and cloudy. In the corners were notices in many languages. There were clever ashtrays. The train shot along a long bridge. Stone. A dark stone. Grey and black and midnight. Occasional rain and, indeed, railings. 
Inside, the upholstery had been blue. It was now faded to silver. On each cabin: a reluctant door. The train had travelled across the bridge for years. To the right, a grey and yellow sky. To the left, the sea shone with stars.
The cabins were empty. Shadows flitted over brass and dust. The dining carriage was set for supper; the lights were dark. The cabins were empty except for one. Cabin five, carriage E. 
Skinny legs dangled in the air. White hairs above the ankles. The man was naked. He held the remnants of a sheet about his waist. The man was naked except for the sheet. No, the man was naked except for the sheet and a thin circlet which he wore on his head. It was made of gold.
(Once upon a time there was a king and he was wise and he was just and he was brave and his subjects wished that he may live a thousand thousand lifetimes. 
And so he did.)
The train followed the curve of the world. One side was always night. The other side the grey and yellow sky, or sometimes pink or sometimes red. On occasion green. On occasion all at once, the colours waltzing gracefully.  
(Once upon a time there was a king who outlived his subjects who travelled the world to find philosophy.
And so he did.)
The king had come to find his eyes were broke. 
He still saw shapes and on occasion hues 
but precious little detail. 
He spent the years in thought: his wife, whose eyes 
had seemed akin to perfect almond skies. 
His sons and daughters played about his mind: 
their laugh and cries, attention seekers all. 
Their schooling sums, their swords and sciences; 
grazed knees and holidays up mountain paths 
and fights at night to get them in the bath.
Something woke him from his reverie, back in the cabin.
It seemed that the form of the light on the wall across from him, the opposite bunk, had changed. There could be a new curve, perhaps, flicking in and out of the dark, a bunched pile that suggested... a head. A man hunched over. Ridiculous.
No.
Yes.
No.
“...,” The king tried to speak but only a little air escaped his chest.
“...,” he tried again.
A shift, flicker. The light on the wall was paying more attention. The head flicked up. Maybe. But still, he had no voice.
Hello,” thought the king.
The form kept his gaze. His confidence grew.
Hello,” he thought again, louder.
A rumble, rhythmic, from the wheels. And in them a voice.
Your majesty, replied the form.
Yes. Yes. Something familiar in its tone. Yes.
Lord Edvard,” he thought, “is that you?” 
Again, the rumble. Familiar. Your majesty. Your majesty. Your majesty. And now that he looked closer he could see the man better in the half-light. Edvard. A giant, a full head taller than the rest of his court, who laughed like a volcano.
And now further down, on the chairs, he saw another shape. And as he knew what to look for. It was easier. The light revealed slender fingers and a sulking face. 
Outside, a whale followed the train then turned away.
Puck!” His fool, his favourite fool had joined the journey, down there on the chair. Oh joy! “My boy! A song, son. A joke, son! Whatever you will,” he thought.
And as he looked with better understanding, the court formed in the carriage with light for flesh and shadows for skin. Here was Swithin, the leader of the guard. And here was Wulfric and in the bunk below, why, those were the ambassadors from other nations all sat together. How funny they looked.
This cabin was far from empty!
In that central chair below, the fool's head was angled up at his old master. His eyes flickered. The shadow from the door frame changed his expression. Now happy. Now sad. Now angry. Now wretched. And in the next flicker of light the fool had reached up an arm. The shadow again and now it seemed that the arm was closer. The king could almost reach it if he tried. It shimmered in the twitching sunset.
The sheet around his waist was cold. For the first time in who knew how long, he let it drop. He looked for the fool's hand. His fingers searched ahead but all he grasped was  dust floating in the light.
He reached a little further, he wanted to take his fool's wrist, hall him up. Below, the eyes watched, earnest. He reached a little further. And further. And further still. He was perched on the very edge of the bunk. The train shook, shook again and shook him loose. His wrist caught on a ledge as he fell, scraping the flesh. A bright wound, shaped like a seven. He landed on his shoulder on the floor but the train rolled him onto his front.
When it had first been made, the floor was a thick sheepskin carpet. Today, the leather was scrappy with black floorboards poking up beneath. The king shuddered and felt his temple. The gold circlet had fallen off, left above. His forehead pressed against the wall and through a knothole he felt a breeze from below. It smelled of salt. 
Something moved, a rustle. He turned and looked up.
From his old throne, the sour faced fool glared down. His eyes glinted yellow and grey. Lord Edvard laughed a deep woody rumble. The ambassadors whispered and pointed, delight on their cheeks. Swithin started a chant and the guardsmen picked it up:
Impotent man. Impotent man.
The dethroned king tried again to speak but could not. His lips shaped a silent wail.
“...”
Impotent man. Impotent man.
Quiet. The fool. The rest of the court fell silent. The old man looked up with red eyes and saw a twinkle in the air. The boy wore his circlet! So, this was his ambition? The boy he'd treated as a son, raised as one of his own, would depose him? He was to spend his life rotting in his own gaol?
Get off the floor. The fool. The usurper.
He reached for the windowsill and pulled. At first nothing. Then aspic muscles began to shift and the man pushed and pulled until he rested against the window.
What do you want?” he thought.
A song, man, the fool's voice was level. A joke, man. Whatever you will.
I have no voice,” thought the king.
A dance, man.
He stayed where he was.
A dance, man.
Still he stuck to the window watching his breath. The others picked up the chant.
A dance, man. A dance, man. A dance, man. A dance, man.
The old king reached a foot into the centre of the cabin. And the other. The train juddered and he steadied himself. He moved with tiny steps through the aisle. A one-man waltz. Around and around he went and the chant continued.
A dance, man. A dance, man. A dance, man. A dance, man.
(Once upon a time there was a king and he was wise and just and brave. And strong as a bear with a fearsome rage who was feared by all who challenged him.
And as he danced he thought of the dances he'd known. Colours everywhere. Gold and silver plaits. In his belly, a coal dropped. Ignited. A fire stoked and as he circled the cabin, it grew.
The court clapped their mock applause. He could hear the fool cackling and drinking. A feast. He could smell meat and smoke. Wine splashed his wrist.
A dance, man. A dance, man.
A second coal fell into his belly. And a third. The fire grew and as it did so did his steps. He moved with more confidence. The king was a good dancer. He let the rhythm take over, ignored the catcalls. He picked up the pace, in his waltz.
Step two three. Step two three. Step two three grab. He caught a sword in his fist. It was light as wind. Step two three swipe. He whirled around and slashed open the stomachs of the laughing ambassadors. The laughter turned to cries of fear as he hacked and thrust the blade around the cabin. And in their cries he found his own voice. With an almighty bellow he threw the sword at his fool who collapsed back into the shadows. The bodies melted away. The smell of dust and salt.
The naked King screamed at the shadows. And the train carried on.
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