The Bully King
Once upon a time in a land far away, a gnat fairy does alight upon a bruise-knuckled fist. Weak and weary, she seeks refuge for the evening.
A looming face closes in on the tiny sprite. Greasy hair falls across a field of acne and the bearer’s breath rivals that of week old entrails. “What pissant bug dares to land on me?” the laddie king demands. Bowed fingers prepare to flick.
“Wait!” the fairy squeaks. Her voice carries despite her size.
“Giving me orders? I oughtta squash you.”
“You ought not, for I am but a wee fairy and you are a big brute. What kind of fight would that be? Who would it impress for the great bully king to assassinate the likes of me?”
Not to be undone by a talking flea, the king asks, “Who would it impress to letcha’ go without a fight?” He shakes his hand violently, and the pixie flies off—only to land on the tip of his crooked nose, still rimmed with flaking blood from his earlier battles. “Hey!” he cries, instinctively smacking at the fairy and subsequently his own face. A titter runs through the chambers as the ruler snaps, “I meant to do that!”. His fist lashes out and connects squarely with the shoulder of the guard to his left. “And I meant to do that, too.”
Met with silence, the cruel leader emits a laugh. The court joins him and soon the room is lively with forced merriment. He claps calloused hands and the cacophony is silenced.
Uninjured, the fairy begs, “Please sire, my name is Opahlia. I am feeble from many days’ journey. Could you spare a crumb of food, a droplet of water, and a bit of cloth for me to cushion my head?”
Eyes crossing to focus on the tiny-winged creature as she perches atop his dorsal hump, the king pauses. He, too, is tired from many days of travel, having recently come back from the outer lands where he fought, and won, of course. “Why should I show mercy and provide amenities?”
“In return, I shall grant thee a wish.”
“A wish!” The king bucks with genuine laughter. “What would I possibly wish for?” He spits the word ‘wish’ like it is a tooth in his stew. “I fight for what I want. Wishing is for the weak.”
“Indeed, sire,” the fairy says. “I can see that.” She casts a glance through an uncovered castle window to the surrounding grounds. The turf rutted and clumpy, the fence buckling and broken. The rumble of the fairy’s empty stomach is ridiculously loud, she presses hands to her belly and asks pathetically, “Surely there is something you would wish?”
The king ponders. “It ain’t a wish,” he snarls, “but I would like you to get offa my nose.”
“Of course, sire.” Delicate wings lower her to the splintered arm of his royal throne.
“Hmm,” the brute murmurs pensively, rubbing a rough hand over his sparse beard. “It would be nice to accelerate the conquering process. Reach more villages, convert more rustics. Yes, that’s it. I want to be bigger, stronger, faster! Just think of all the towns I could rule then.” He crosses thick arms over his broad chest and eyes the fairy. “Grant me my wish.”
The fairy bows, “Of course your kingship. But first, might I have a crumb, a drop, and a place to lay my weary body?”
“Mismary!” the king snaps and before the final syllable is out of his mouth, a matronly woman appears at his feet.
“Yes, sire?” Her head bows, but sharp eyes meet his gaze directly.
“Drop to your knees, woman, and find me a crumb from a distant dinner.”
Mismary does as she is commanded. Her fingertips discover a dried bit of umber pie crust among the dirt and debris of an unclean floor. She presents it to the king.
“Drop it in there,” he indicates a used mug, tacky with weeks’ old mead residue. He sneers. “Now spit in it.”
“Everly!” the woman says and a snicker runs through the court.
“No!” The bulky young man sits forward, hands slamming onto the arms of his throne, nearly smashing the fairy. “Do not call me that! I am E-Dawg, grrrr.” The room erupts in a series of three sharp barks.
“Your highness,” Mismary corrects, kneeling, “please—”
“Spit. If you don’t, I will.” With gross exaggeration, the king sucks his sinuses clear and rumbles his throat in anticipation of a royal loogie.
“No, no,” the servant coos. With as much dignity as she can muster, the woman spits into the cup.
“Add the magic bug.”
Mismary extends the mug to the gnat fairy who hops inside.
“Toss a bit of cloth in there for her to rest her widdy-biddy head. I think the hem of your apron will suffice. Then cover the mug. Tomorrow morning, if I am bigger, stronger, and faster, you can release the insect. If not…” He slams his palms together and grinds them viciously.
Mismary rips the frayed and filthy hem from her apron, folds it into many halves and gently places it in the bottom of the cup. She carries Opahlia through the kitchen to her quarters, a small private space, sparse but neat.
“I apologize for the king’s behavior. I’m sorry I can’t offer better food or drink. And I will have to cover you. He has never laid a hand on me personally, but he humiliates others to punish me.”
“I understand,” the fairy says. “This morsel will fortify my body. And your saliva is as sweet as your words. I look forward to a full night’s rest. Thank you. But before you cover me, may I ask about the king?”
“What’s to tell?” Mismary says woefully. “A miserable boy who grew into a mean man. Barely,” she adds, “’tis merely a man-child.”
Sensing the servant could share more, Opahlia prompts, “And…”
Mismary releases a deep sigh. “And I’ve known him most of his life. I was a teacher when he began this tirade in his youth. Everly was orphaned as a baby, often-abused, rarely loved. As he grew, he took it upon himself to demand respect with his barbs and his fists.”
“He seems to admire you.”
“I believe he associates me with the one good memory he retains. And despite his persona, I think he wants to hold on to it.” The servant’s demeanor lifts. “It was a beautiful late spring day with glorious sunshine and blue skies. The students were playing outside–running, jumping, and rolling in the fresh mown yard. Everly was laughing that infectious belly laugh that only the innocent seem capable of.” Mismary’s face brightens beneath the grime. “Genuine mirth is the most melodious of sounds.” She pauses and her pallor returns. “The housemother at the orphanage beat him soundly for the grass stains. Made him wear the same clothes day after day after day.” Mismary shoots a look to the fairy, “You might notice he repeats that behavior to this day, spiting himself to spite her.” With a click of her tongue, she continues, “The children teased, the adults taunted.” Her eyes are shiny when she looks up. “It broke him. He became perpetually angry. First came the reactionary name calling, tripping, and pushing, then the aggressive punching and kicking. He bullied them all, cut them to the quick. Every last parent, teacher, and student. Broken and fearful, most left. Those who remain became his lackeys.”
Mismary nods. “I did.”
The next morning, the King buzzes into the kitchen where Mismary and her staff are preparing his royal breakfast. He appears to have bathed and wears fresh attire. “Double those quantities!” he shouts. “I’ll need twice the food to power this new body. Look,” he flexes biceps that split his tunic, then lifts the fifty pound flour sack with a pinky finger. “I’m bigger and stronger—” there is but a momentary pause as he laps the castle and returns to the kitchen, “—and faster!”
The staff all applaud appreciatively though some wonder what this will mean for the king’s surly disposition.
“Release the fairy, Mismary. Then prepare the troops. Today I conquer the masses.”
The royal army marches forth, some on foot, some mounted. The king rocks impatiently on his steed, eager to try out his new abilities. Upon entering the village square, the leader hops off his horse and shouts, “Who among ye might challenge me? Come on, now,” he gloats. “Just me, my army will stand by and watch.”
A young townsman steps forward. “We do not—erk!”
In a flash of movement, the boy’s knickers are suddenly over his head. He drops to his knees clutching his nether region and groaning in agony.
“A-ha,” the king cries from the spot beside his mare. “Next?”
The bully king stands and surveys his new lands. The grounds before him are littered with the broken forms of his latest converts. The castle that surrounds him is in shambles. Every wall dented and damaged from fighting. Turrets burned and tables tossed. His men huddle unutilized to the side, in awe of their leader’s abilities.
The king dusts off his hands and turns to address his idle troops. “Well, that was easy,” he says. A frown drags the corners of his mouth. “Almost…too easy.”
Four new towns fall to the king in as many days. He sits upon his throne and ponders his state of being. Bored. He is bored. The fight has become effortless. He has always enjoyed the battle. The look on their faces when he insults and threatens, the emotion once he acts on his promises. He misses the physical contact of an elbow to a ribcage or foot to a shin. His reputation has exploded to the point that townsfolk don’t even defend their land, they just cower and let him take it.
“It’s no fun. I should have never made that wish.” He thrusts grimy fingers through his greasy hair. “Find me that fairy!”
Mismary uses a bit of kitchen magic and the strip of fabric the fairy slept on to summon her.
“You called?” Opahlia asks, landing on the rim of the summoning bowl.
“Indeed. The king desires further council.”
“Desires council?” The wee fay smirks. “Kind words cover true intentions,” she says, zipping to the great room and settling at the king’s side. “Are you not happy with your wish?”
The king grunts. “Hardly,” he states. “I wanted to be bigger, stronger, and faster, but now I miss all the fun parts. The blood! The breaking! I arrive and those who don’t surrender are wrecked before I can even relish the feel of their slack jaws beneath my clenched fist.” He opens and closes his hands for emphasis. “Undo the magic.”
“Oh, sire, it does not work that way.”
The king reaches a quick hand for the fairy but she is faster. And can fly.
From about three feet above him, just out of arm’s reach, she says, “I cannot undo the wish, but I can grant another.”
“Then do it.” He growls and a few of his followers bark once, twice, but the sneer on their lead dog’s face silences them. “I want to go back to a time before I was the king.” He rubs his palms together and smiles, looking forward to earning his stature once again, insult by insult, trip by trip, punch by punch. He releases raucous laughter and his minions warily join him.
“The same trade applies. A crumb, a drop, a cloth,” the gnat fairy says.
“Done!” he shouts. “Mismary, to ensure I get the wish results I require, please provide a bit of our richest cake, a vial of my best wine, and the softest cloth for Opahlia’s night of rest in my most valuable gold-lined treasure box.” He explodes with eager anticipation. “Tomorrow I shall be restored to my previous self!”
The next morning, the staff nervously awaits the king’s kitchen interruption. When hours have passed without his presence, Mismary checks his chambers. What she finds brings tears of joy to her eyes. A chubby cheeked toddler rests atop the king’s grand bed. The bright-eyed child giggles when he sees her, reaching out his arms to be held.
The citizens celebrate the independence of their villages under a united leadership. Together they rebuild their grounds, sharing in the freedom from fear, insults, and physical punishment.
Mismary raises the boy as her own, with love, kindness, and respect.
And they all live happy Everly after.