Interludes – King of the Beggars
Illustration by Mark Hansen
Mithrabella’s hands slid down her face, over her spectacles covering her her white and terrified eyes, to cover her gaping, gasping mouth. Her shoulders heaved as she struggled for breath. Her hips and legs were frozen in place, melded into the stone of the old chapel floor. In the same moment they felt weak and failing, they also couldn’t find the flexibility to let her fall. Her skin prickled with anxiety. Her mind flashed with images and memories of the flaming bloody horrors of the previous summer.
“Are you OK, dear?” the lady to her left asked her. “Here, let me get you more stew–”
Mithrabella pointed a shaking finger at Tonklyn. “You,” she shouted, “you miserable wretched flaming wreck of a pig!”
Tonklyn stood and backed away, his hands defensive.
The cold shivers of fear in Mithrabella’s heart suddenly faded, replaced by wave after wave of searing fury. She stepped forward, her face flush with rage. “Destroyer take you, you.. burning, flaming… earth and stone shaking… MONSTER!” She lunged at him, her hands like the claws of a rabid bear. She almost reached his frightened face before Tonklyn lurched back, stumbling over his stone seat and tumbling onto his back. Two men leaped to their feet and grabbed Mithrabella at the waist and shoulders, pulling her aside. Tonklyn scrambled away like a frightened crab.
Mithrabella struggled against her captors, screaming and slashing the air in front of her. “Let me go! Let me kill him!” Mithrabella wheezed, her hair whipped in front of her face. “Let me go! He deserves to die!” Finally, she stood, gasping heavy breaths, her teeth clenched, the two men struggling to contain her rage.
She blinked the tears and sweat from her eyes. Everyone around the circle stared at her, horrified, uncertain. Everyone except Kiffra, who just stared at the fire, and Tonklyn, who was trying to stand up. Why are they all looking at me like that? He’s the criminal! He’s the danger!
She swallowed hard and set her feet in a more stable place underneath her. Her breathing slowed, but was still heavy and raspy, blowing out frozen mist as if it were dragon’s flame.
As she stood more still, the men loosened their grip. Another who had stepped in front of her, hands outstretched, lowered his arms and hesitantly backed away. She shook her shoulders and righted her spectacles. As Tonklyn regained his feet, her eyes found his face again. Her memory burned with every hated detail; his puffy cheeks, with the unkempt and ragged beard; his slightly bulbous nose and narrow eyes. He ran his hands through his hair, longer now than she remembered, and much less coiffed.
“Be calm, dear,” the quiet matron’s voice beside her murmured, “breathe deep and ease yourself. You’re safe here.” A hand was gently stroking her arm in a soothing way. “No one will hurt you, and we won’t let you hurt anyone else, either. You’ll be fine. Sit back down.”
Mithrabella felt her heartbeat slowing and her face suddenly felt the chill of the breeze again. She pulled her gaze away from the man she hated most and glanced toward the voice, to the soothing face of the elderly lady who had given her the stew. The men relaxed beside her and let go of her arms.
Mithrabella shook herself off. Her eyes narrowed and flashed back to Tonklyn, who stood awkwardly glancing left to right at those around him.
A younger beggar across the fire asked, “Hey, lady, why you hate his majesty so much?”
“His Majesty?” Mithrabella’s jaw dropped. “His MAJESTY?”
Everyone went quiet. The fire popped twice. Eyes wide, the man spoke again, “That’s… that’s what he told us, but we didn’t really believe him…”
“This man,” Mithrabella pointed at Tonklyn, but directed her sharpened words at the poor beggar who had dared to ask, “is the reason the city is in ruin. This man is the reason our king is dead. This man brought the dragons that filled the skies with flames and death. THIS MAN is the reason there’s blood on our streets!”
A short young woman wearing a blanket jumped to her feet and gestured to Mithrabella. “I know you!” Mithrabella snapped to focus on her. She went on, “I know you! You brought us the dagger! That night in the rain, you brought us the dragon dagger and helped into the palace!”
Tonklyn’s head spun to the woman. “The dagger? You had the dagger?” His eyes shot back at Mithrabella. “You took it! It was mine! You stole it from me! It was the only way to keep the dragons at bay, and you stole it from me!”
Mithrabella’s rage surged again, and she spat the words like flames at Tonklyn. “No! It was you who stole the crown! You sold out your land, your own people, to the scaly beasts, just for your own glory and power…”
“I was the king! I could have controlled them! You betrayed me!”
“You tried to rape me! You tried to drug me and rape me!” She gestured at her heart, sobbing, “Just like you raped the kingdom.” The old lady supported her as she eased down to one of the stone stools. Silence settled for a moment again. Tonklyn’s eyes darted around the circle, like a cornered badger.
The young woman across the fire pit broke the quiet. “You?” she asked, in a hushed, but menacing tone, “You commanded the dragons?”
Tonklyn glanced past his shoulder at her. “I was… I was the king…”
“You brought the dragons to the kingdom? Did you command them to kill?”
Tonklyn raised his arms protectively, “I was the… If I’d had the dagger, I’d…”
“You brought the dragons that killed him. My only. My life. He was killed by a dragon. He was crushed and burned and…” Her voice cracked, and her breathing became ragged. “You did it!”
Tonklyn backed away, into the shadows. “I… I…”
Mithrabella watched the girl stand, her fists clenched, her knees quaking. The girl stepped forward with one foot and stopped. Her head was high and her back straight with defiance. Her arms and fists began shaking, and a scream tore out of her throat. It was a deep throaty cry of anguish and hurt. Tonklyn shrieked in fear and ran, clamoring over the rubble in the dim. The young lady stood for a moment with her eyes clenched, streaming tears, then opened them, shaking her head and looking at her quivering hands. Her shoulders slumped and shook. She buried her face in her palms, then spun and stumbled away into the dark, her sobs fading into the storm.
A hush deeper than the blanket of snow settled in the awestruck beggars around the fire. It burned, coughed, and popped, sending an array of sparks spiraling upward into the breeze.
Kiffra stood and stepped over to Mithrabella, rubbing his elbow vigorously. He glanced at her feet. “OK. Let’s go tend to your parents.”
She stared up at him with tearstreaked eyes, unsure what had just happened to her. The woman helped her up and adjusted her cloak. “I’ll go along with you, dear. Can you find the way to your home?” Mithrabella nodded numbly. The woman gestured to another man, who quickly stood and joined them.
As she walked out from under the ruin of the chapel, into the cascading snow, a voice from the circle asked, “So…, was he the king for real, then?”
Author’s Note: Beggars and Kings
This scene was a lot of fun to write. This is where things start to get really complex for Tonklyn. He has to face Mithrabella, and that makes Shylai’a upset as well. Meanwhile the beggars are left confused. Was he really the king all along?
The king of what? The king of the beggars? What is he the king of now? All that’s around him and the beggars is ruin, and now he’s having to face that he caused that ruin.
What will he tell the beggars?
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