They say knowledge is power, but they forget to tell you that power is the greatest burden you’ll ever carry. A slave in ******* with no knowledge of freedom may serve for many happy years, never thinking there is anything better to escape to. But give a slave a taste of freedom, give a bird a taste of flight, and they will never be content with anything less. We cannot pretend to be other than what we are. Our identities betray us. Such was the predicament of the young boy. Now, having passed eleven years in the service of faeries, he knew what he could be – what he should be – and it made his insides clench in anger. The sheer crushing enormity of the unfairness smothered all other thoughts.
Alone, he paced his cell. He had contained himself there for three days now. The faeries had stopped bringing him food once he turned against them in the hope that he would starve to death. They had meant to leave him without water too, but he had learned to conjure that himself, much to the faeries’ chagrin. But he hadn’t managed to conjure food for himself, so he still had to leave his room for necessary sustenance.
The lamp had been burning red for hours. All lamps he touched turned red. It threw eerie, warped shadows onto the wall behind him. His shadow flickered and writhed. He brushed his hair out of his eyes several times, but it always fell back into his field of vision. He would have to cut it again soon. He put a hand to the wall and whispered a word. A deep indention appeared in the wall. It contained only a thin knife with an alabaster hilt. The dark blade contrasted starkly with the creamy hilt. It was made of obsidian or onyx or some other dark stone. The boy had found it in the purse of a faerie he had incapacitated. He found many treasures that way, many treasures that surely did not find their origin in Faerie. This puzzled the boy, but he did not think much on it.
His thoughts were mostly preoccupied with the fact that the worst he could do was incapacitate a faerie and it only lasted a minute or two. He wanted something more permanent, something that rid him of them forever. Death would work nicely. He fingered his knife. In his dreams he sometimes imagined himself running a blade through his faerie captor like the brute of a man had done to his father. A grim smile touched his lips when he thought of it. The brutal irony of it appealed to him. A deeper part of him, however, told him such a straightforward plan would never work. If he was going to kill a creature as powerful as a faerie, he was going to need something stronger and more creative.
He walked over to the basin of water. Using his reflection he held his hair taut away from his head and ran the knife through it. His hands shook violently, but with a masterful effort he managed to cut it one lock at a time. It seemed to take ages, but the finished product was always worth it. He never cut it too short. He liked it shaggy. It looked like black feathers. Satisfied, he replaced the knife into the recess in the wall. He placed a hand to the wall and spoke another word, closing the indention and hiding the knife once more. He ruffled his hair to dislodge any hair that hadn’t fallen to the ground. Then he scraped the locks of hair out of the water and rung them out. He looked around for a moment, and then came to a decision. He opened another hole in the wall and put the useless hair in it. He closed it again and turned back to the room.
His stomach gave a painful rumble. He clutched it. His knees were beginning to feel weak and it was getting harder to stand. He growled and clenched his teeth. Leaving the room would mean giving in to what the faeries’ wanted. Staying, however, would mean starvation, another and more prominent of the faerie’s wishes. Angrily, he grunted a word and threw the door open.
The hallway was quiet and abandoned. The sharp, salty smell of blood filled his nostrils. He coughed and nearly vomited. He pressed a hand to his mouth and nose to stifle the smell and looked around for the cause. The hallway was clean and no different than it had been three days prior, save only the violent stench. He put a hand against the wall to steady his shaking legs and walked on.
The world spun as he walked. He paused every few steps and leaned against the wall, panting. He wanted to throw up, but he knew there was nothing in his stomach. The blue gems in the walls swam before his eyes. He blinked and shook his head. Shaking his head was a mistake. He moaned and clutched his head between his hands, hoping to stop it spinning. He fell to his knees and leaned bodily against the wall.
Shrill laughing mocked him overhead.
“Starling, Starling. I leave for a couple of short weeks and look what happens to you.” He laughed more benevolently. “You really can’t get on without me.”
Hot anger surged through the boy’s limbs. His head pounded with his heartbeat and he looked into the faerie’s eyes. They were cold, like marble, and the color of pale auburn. Never had the boy felt so much hatred. He flung an arm out at the faerie and shouted a short word. The faerie’s face drained of what little color it had as he was pushed back by invisible forces. The boy ran to him and put a foot on his chest before he could stand again. The faerie was awake, but barely.
“What-what are you doing, what are you- doing, Starling?” The faerie’s stutter was caused by his weakened state, not his fear.
The boy raised his hand as he had to the other faerie. With all his fury-given power he called to the earth and commanded it to give him what he sought: a spell to end a faerie’s life. But the earth was silent.
Enraged, the boy shouted every destructive spell he could think of at the faerie. He brought his hand down as hard as he could, forcing every spell at once into the faerie’s body.
The faerie convulsed and cried out in pain as curse after curse hit him. The halls echoed with his screams. The boy lost all sense and hit him again, and again, and again until he could give his spells no more power. Then he was reduced to physical blows. He lost himself in a flurry of blows and scratches. His mind went blank to everything but the searing rage. He could no longer tell the difference between flesh and earth. He didn’t feel his fists crack and fracture with the force of the blows. He didn’t hear the footsteps of the faeries coming to stop him. He didn’t realize he was hitting nothing but air when two faeries caught his arm and lifted him off the bloodied, gray faerie.
The boy continued to scream and flail in blind rage until they threw him down at the foot of the throne. The pain of hitting the cold, hard stone finally awoke him. He gave a strained cry and fell silent. His breath came in desperate gasps.
“What is this about?” The boy heard a dark, silky voice speak from above.
“We found the boy, your majesty.” One of the faeries restraining him stated in a triumphant tone, though the boy could tell from the sound that his head was bent toward the ground.
“He was trying to kill his master.” The other said in a lower voice.
“Was he indeed?” The king’s voice bent closer to the boy.
The boy tried to calm his breathing by taking breaths through his nose instead. Then it hit him again: the smell of blood. This time it was stronger. He gagged and tried to vomit, but nothing came from his mouth. He coughed and tears came to his eyes.
“Yes, my king.” The first faerie confirmed.
“Why bring him to me?” The king’s voice lilted dangerously.
“Well,” the first faerie began, his voice less confident. “You had promised that you would dispose of him if we could not.”
There was a long, expectant pause. The boy looked up to see the source of the suffocating smell. As soon as his eyes rose his breath caught in his chest. Human bodies lay piled on the other side of the room. Blood was standing in fresh pools on the floor. If the smell was suffocating, the sight was even worse. The boy felt as if his very blood stood still in his veins.
The king took a deep breath and sighed. “Very well.”
“No.” the boy said. “No.” his eyes rose higher. “No.” His voice gained volume and confidence with every word. “No!” He stood and looked the king in the eyes. For a moment, the boy’s onyx eyes and the king’s violet eyes met with equal ferocity.
The earth whispered a single word.
The boy raised a hand and screamed the word the earth finally revealed to him. His hand clenched into a fist. A blinding flash of heat and light filled the throne room. Time and sound stood still.
The boy fell to his knees. His breath came in more haggard gasps. The stench of blood nearly knocked him out.
The king, however, lay in a heap of ashes at the foot of his own throne. His crown fell from his head and rolled nearly to the boy’s feet. No blood pooled under him as it did the human bodies, but there was no doubt he was as dead. The two living faeries stepped back. They looked as if they wanted to run, but they stayed unmoving.
The boy clutched his stomach. “Food.” He moaned.
The second faerie bowed. “Yes, my king.”
If he had been in full possession of his senses, the boy may have picked up on the faerie’s new allegiance, but it took all his strength just to stay awake. The two faeries soon bent down to him and gently handed him a loaf of sweet bread. Gratefully, he took it and ate it. Nothing had tasted so good in his life. Not purely because of his hunger, but he truly had never tasted anything so wonderful in his life. The faeries had never fed him anything other than moldy bread and stale berries.
“Is there anything else you require, my king?”
The latent shock sent the boy into a coughing fit and he nearly choked on the bread in his mouth. “K-king?”
“Yes.” The first faerie established. “You are the king.”
The boy swallowed hard. “How?”
“The king is dead. The crown has fallen. You conquered the king, so you are the new king.”
The second faerie raised his voice and declared. “The old king is dead! Long live the king!” The first faerie joined him. “The old king is dead! Long live the king!”
The boy took another bite of bread and stood, turning around to see the faerie’s enter in a steady stream. The halls were soon ringing with the faeries’ voices. “The old king is dead! Long live the king!”
Faeries began to pour into the chamber. The boy took a step back and nearly stepped in the ashes of old king’s body. He trembled slightly. The faeries stood in a throng around him. His mind raced to come up with a plan to escape them. His plan was unneeded, though. Instead of attacking him, they all fell to one knee and bowed their heads.
The faeries bowed at his feet and began to sing. The song told of distant battles, fallings and risings to power. It painted pictures in the mind of vultures descending on bloodstained fields, smoke curling and billowing into the air from burning villages. Screams rent the air, and no one looked to see the injured. Children wept, and no one comforted them. Bodies lay dead, and no one buried them. All was the color of blood and fire and ash.
In the faeries this caused an elated sense of delight and wonder, but deep down in the core of boy’s very human soul, these things burned a hole. A very real stench rose from behind him. He supposed it was this that woke him from his trance. The bodies of the dead cried out for burial, and they would not be ignored, no matter how still the faeries remained.
“Stop it.” The boy mumbled. “Stop it… stop it… the smell… stop singing… the dead.” He paused. “The dead are singing.” And indeed so it seemed to him. There was a reason the dead were buried in the earth. The earth remembered what creatures forgot. The metals and minerals and precious gems told a story. They told of hard things that the living forgot. Faint, the boy fell back into the throne for support.
The faerie’s stopped their song short. They all looked up. Their eyes asked a silent question: what will this boy become? With their lips they asked a different a question: “What would you have us do, our king?”
The boy rose his scratchy voice so they could hear. The effort it took him nearly knocked him out, but he made his second command: “Bury the dead. For goodness sake, put them to rest!”
The crowd dispersed to obey his orders. In the confusion, the boy caught a glimpse of familiar white sheets of hair and a flash of violet eyes. He shook it off as nothing more than an illusion, however.
Bury your own dead, little king.
The boy straightened. He looked around for the source of the voice, but found none. My dead cannot be buried. He thought. They burned to ashes. Nothing is left of them to bury but the dust that was their bones.
In a blur of constant movement, the faeries buried the human bodies far under the earth. As they waited to be buried, the dead continued to sing in dark, watery voices. They sang of their lives and deaths. Every song differed in nearly every aspect, but they combined into a complex harmony impossible to compose, impossible to record, yet equally impossible to forget. Only once the bodies were laid to rest did the singing stop.
The faeries didn’t seem to notice the singing, or it didn’t affect them the way it did the boy.
The grave was filled, the song ended. Silence enveloped the court. In the silence, the room began to change. The gray adularia walls changed to black obsidian. The yellow lanterns darkened to red. The floor that had been multicolored became a deep purple. The throne remained unchanged, large and ornate.