He needed to have faith in order to save his people. The king’s faith had been tested, but he had remained firm. He knew that he was being tested by Enlil and that he would have to listen to the Prophet in order to live up to the legacy that his father King Soren had left behind. He knew he would never be a better king than his father. The kingdom of Ura-Kish had undergone far too much damage for people to remember his rule without the context of the deadly plague that had taken so many lives. Maybe, if his actions led to the curse being lifted and the disease eradicated, he would at least be remembered for his efforts on behalf of the people.
Now, as the king sat on the throne, he looked down at the sorcerer who had brought this curse upon the citizens of Ura-Kish. His hands and feet had been bound as he knelt in the middle of the throne room, dirty and unkempt with dried blood on his shirt. King Soren II observed the conjurer with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. Quite a few spectators stood on both sides of the throne room. They had come to see the prisoner’s sentence be carried out. The condemned man raised his head and looked directly at the king. King Soren II felt an eerie feeling in the pit of his stomach. What made it even worse was that this practitioner was smiling. Then he started to speak.
“You derive power from your pleasure over people. Over life and death. Over fate. And I pity you. You will never know pure love.”
The spectators gasped and murmured, which made it difficult for the king to hear everything the villain said. By the time the crowd had quieted down, the prisoner had stopped talking, but he still smiled. The Prophet, a figure wearing a golden mask, bedecked in finery, stood at the king’s side. He bent down and whispered in the king’s ear.
“It is him,” whispered the Prophet.
“It is I,” said the dark wizard, loud enough for King Soren II to hear. The king’s eyes widened as the monster admitted his crime, having exhibited his supernatural power through his response to the Prophet’s soft whispers. There was no time to waste. King Soren II turned to the executioner and nodded his head. The executioner unsheathed his sword and walked over to the prisoner. He rested his blade against the back of his neck. Even then, the demonic murderer smiled and stared at the king. The eerie feeling the king felt had nearly reached a state of panic. Even though the sorcerer smiled and stared, it appeared to the king as if the man’s eyes had started to tear up. Then the executioner raised his sword and brought it down. It was a clean execution, but that odd smile was stuck in the king’s head even after the man’s body was carried away.
King Soren II had a couple of reasons to be happy. The sickness that had plagued Ura-Kish was gone ever since the culprit had been beheaded. His faith reaffirmed, he felt even more devoted in his worship of Enlil along with sincere gratitude for Enlil’s representative, the Prophet. On top of that, today had been his wedding day and King Soren II smiled as he entered the castle bedroom with his new queen.
“So, Abilene, how would you like to spend your honeymoon?”
“However you desire, Your Majesty,” said the new queen softly.
“Please… call me Soren,” said the king as he attempted to be suave and romantic. “No need for formality between a husband and wife deeply in love with one another.”
Queen Abilene slightly grimaced, but then quickly regained her composure. “Okay, Soren.”
“So, I don’t know that much about you,” said Soren. “However, I do know you are the most beautiful woman I could find in the whole kingdom. So, Abilene, tell me something about yourself.”
“I am the daughter of a healer,” said Abilene flatly. “A commoner.”
“Not anymore,” replied the king. “Now, my bride, tell me something else about yourself.”
Soren furrowed his brow. “That’s it?”
Abilene responded with a simple nod.
Soren sighed. “Well, then, I think it’s time for us to consummate our marriage.”
They started to undress themselves, removing their garments in a perfunctory manner.
The king and queen laid side by side and looked up at the ceiling. Both appeared underwhelmed, the king especially looking disappointed. Finally, he couldn’t hold it in any longer. “You didn’t even pretend like you enjoyed it.”
“I was following your lead. I was more focused on your enjoyment.”
Soren was clearly dissatisfied. “Well, at least you could act like this is pleasurable to you, instead of lying still with your legs spread.”
“My apologies,” replied the queen. “But did you not enjoy it?”
Soren paused. “I mean, even bad s*x is s*x,” he acknowledged. He turned to face his queen. “But I would enjoy it more if I knew you did too.”
“I will endeavor to appear more enthused during subsequent i*********e,” replied Abilene dispassionately.
That eerie feeling crept up into Soren’s stomach again and he pictured the smiling face of the sorcerer he had ordered to be executed. He thought back to the evil man’s words, at least the ones that he had heard. He stood up, put on his robe, and made one final statement before he left his wife in the bedroom alone. “Maybe the sorcerer who cursed the kingdom used his last words to get in one final curse. I’ll probably never know pure love.”
Since the dramatic events involving the plague and the death of the sorcerer, a year had passed. Queen Abilene was with child.
Inside the temple, the Prophet, who still wore his golden mask even in solitude, looked into the mirror. He had been standing there for a few minutes before he heard a knock at the door. “Who is it?”
It was one of King Soren II’s knights. “Queen Abilene has gone into labor. King Soren humbly requests your presence, Your Holiness,” he said from outside the chamber doors.
“Tell him I will be there shortly.”
“Yes, Your Holiness.” As the knight left to relay the message, the Prophet continued looking into the mirror as if fixated. Then he left the temple chambers and headed toward the castle.
Queen Abilene was still in labor when the Prophet arrived. King Soren II looked at his wife with a mixture of concern and excitement. Nursemaids surrounded her and put wet cloths as she cried out from labor pains. When the king noticed the Prophet, he looked relieved.
“I’m glad you’re here. The baby must have Enlil’s blessing.”
“Indeed it must.”
Abilene gave one final push and then the baby was born. The midwife cut the umbilical cord and turned to the king with the baby in her arms. “It’s a boy.”
“An heir to the throne,” said King Soren II softly as he looked at his newborn child.
The midwife quickly handed the baby over to the Prophet, who seemed a bit taken aback.
“Please bless this child. Protect him from harm,” Soren implored.
The Prophet looked down at the little baby boy, all eyes on the seer as his voice echoed through the room. “May the force of Enlil, creator of all, flow through me so that this child may be blessed. May he be shielded from harm. May his parents precede him into Navrani. May his soul rest in the bosom of Enlil for all eternity.”
Immediately after the Prophet blessed the child, the room turned dark, all of the candles having been snuffed out in an instant. There were gasps heard around the room and then a bright light appeared, emanating from the infant in the Prophet’s hands. Everyone had an expression of pure awe on their face. Then the light disappeared.
“The gods have looked favorably upon this child,” intoned the Prophet. “He is henceforth blessed.”
The boy’s mother held out her arms. “Let me hold him,” said Queen Abilene, as the nursemaids started relighting the candles. The Prophet gently handed the child over to the queen and she looked down at her child with tender affection and love.
“Prince Soren III,” said Soren II with pride. He turned to the Prophet. “Thank you, your Holiness.”
“Thank Enlil. Thank the gods,” replied the Prophet. “I am merely a vessel.”
“Regardless you have my thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Soren.”
The king walked over to his wife and child. He kissed both of them on the forehead. For the first time since they were married, they had a genuine and natural affection for one another as they looked down at their precious child.
The Prophet, having performed the ceremony, entered his temple chambers. He walked over to his table with drawers, reached into his robe, and pulled out a miniature air blower along with a flashlight. He turned the knob on the drawer and an electronic panel emerged. He bent down and put his eye up to the panel.
His identity confirmed, some numbers then appeared on the panel. He pressed a few of them and the drawer opened automatically. The Prophet placed the air blower and flashlight in the drawer next to a screwdriver, a first aid kit, bullets, and a handgun. Then he simply closed the drawer and sighed, his expression impossible to see underneath the golden mask.
A week later, screams echoed through the castle halls. Abilene had been breastfeeding Soren III when he abruptly stopped ingesting his mother’s milk. When Abilene looked down, she watched the blood drip from his mouth as his eyes swole up and he started to choke. Her screams had alerted Soren II and he had run toward the mournful sound, accompanied by some knights. When the king entered the room and looked at Abilene’s bloodshot eyes as she sobbed, he looked down at the child in her arms and his worst fears were realized. The plague was back… and it had taken the life of Prince Soren III.
When Soren II kicked down the door to the temple chambers, the Prophet, who had been sitting in a chair near the table, was surprised, to say the least. The Prophet looked at the sword in the king’s hand and the enraged grief-stricken expression on his face.
“The baby is dead! My son, my heir, is dead! You blessed him and he’s dead!” yelled the king. “And not only is he dead, but he died from the same sickness that you said the warlock’s sacrifice would atone for!”
The Prophet remained seated. “I’m sorry for your loss.” The Prophet’s apparent indifference angered Soren even more.
“Are you really a messenger from the gods? Or a demon in disguise? What’s behind that mask? You wowed us with your supernatural abilities when you first showed up. But now that I think about it, people weren’t getting sick until shortly after you appeared. You have cursed us! You are no child of Enlil. You are of the Annunaki! An evil spirit and a false prophet!”
The Prophet stood up and faced the king.
“There is no Enlil. No Annunaki. Just the ignorant and the wise.”
Soren’s mouth widened in shock. “Blasphemy! Behind that mask, I fear I will see the face of Marduk himself! I’m going to send you back to the place of your birth! Back to hell!”
Soren charged forward with the sword when he heard what sounded like two loud explosions. As Soren looked down, he watched the blood drip from the bullet wounds in his chest. As Soren started to gasp in pain and shock, the Prophet revealed his handgun.
“No gods. No demons. I reiterate, there are just the ignorant and the wise. The ignorant live in their own world, oblivious to the bigger picture, always falling short, always the victim, never smart enough,” said the Prophet as the dying Soren leaned against the wall “The wise will always conquer the ignorant.”
Finally, the king collapsed as the Prophet walked over to an innocuous cylindrical tube in the corner of his chambers. He placed his palm against the cylinder and an electronic panel appeared. He repeated the process he had used on the table and drawers earlier.
Once he completed entering the number code, the cylinder opened to reveal a spacious area inside with various levers and panels inside. The Prophet looked at the machine and, even though his face was covered when he said, “How ironic,” to himself, it was as if you could have seen the smirk on his face.
The Prophet took a step inside the cylinder and then shouted in pain as he realized he had been impaled, the wounded but determined king having thrust the sword through his back.
The Prophet let out a yell as he turned and aimed his handgun at the wounded Soren. The king grabbed it and they struggled over it as best they could, considering the extent of their injuries. The Prophet regained his grip on the gun as Soren kicked him before falling backward himself into the machine. From outside the strange invention, the Prophet aimed his gun at Soren and fired, his aim off. The Prophet aimed at Soren again, both of them having gone from an adrenaline-fueled struggle to barely being able to move. The Prophet never fired the second shot as his arm went limp, sword jutting from his chest as he took his last labored breaths. Soren feared it was a pyrrhic victory as he started to fade in and out of consciousness. The entrance to the machine closed with a hiss. He was trapped, but he didn’t have the strength to leave even if he wasn’t. Soren struggled to keep breathing before he resigned himself to his fate. His vision blurred and then everything went dark.
TO BE CONTINUED