Living on Spilt Blood
A Short Story by Seth Sage
“The practice yard seems to lack knights, sire. Have their heads swollen, or are their tails between their legs now?” Rodrik reported to his father as he took a seat at the long table. He placed the provided serviette on his lap and waited for a reply. Looking at his father’s eyes, he saw weakness and senescence.
“I’ve picked out some men to aid us in the royal hunt this noon,” King Darius finally replied after chewing a morsel of his breakfast — blood sausages, eggs benedict, and mashed potatoes. “Will you be joining us?”
“I’d rather not. I have errands to attend to today,” Rodrik said, cutting a sausage into portions. “Wouldn’t it be fit for you to rest? I mean Duncan could do the hunt on his own.”
“Rodrik, the royal hunt is customary to the coronation. I must be there to oversee it.”
The kingdom of Parxes had held to this tradition for centuries. The king-in-waiting must hunt for game, which will be served on the day of coronation, under the supervision of the king. It is a sign of respect and service to the reigning king and a proof that the new king can provide for the kingdom. Rodrik found this absurd because, for him, it is not the king’s duty to feed the kingdom; it was the hunters’.
“Surely, Sir Henry will be there. Let him relay to you the events, sire.”
“Can’t an old man have a good ol’ hunt like before? Don’t worry, Rodrik. I’ll be fine. At least I’ll see my son crowned before my deathbed,” the king assured Rodrik.
For a few months now, King Darius showed signs of old age. He couldn’t hold court as long as before. He also needed support to traverse rooms in the castle. He even couldn’t remember the names of his courtiers. This pushed him to crown a new king to the kingdom.
When the king finished eating, he wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Very well! We’ll be returning at dusk. Have a check on the preparations for the coronation. We wouldn’t want any trouble happening at the event.”
Rodrik gave a nod. From his seat, he searched for his brother, Duncan, in the corridors. There was no sign of him except for his unfinished breakfast. He might have been excited for the hunt later. Nonetheless, he’s to outrun their sire along the way.
Footsteps shuffled on the marble floor as Rodrik adjourned the council meeting. They came across villagers’ complaints, new establishments, and the preparations for the coronation. Fortunately, there were no arguments between the council members.
Left in the hall, Rodrik strode to a tall window overlooking the practice yard. The yard was still devoid of knights like earlier. ‘Maybe I can come down and have a few swings,’ Rodrik thought.
“Master,” a man called out, emerging from the hall’s dark corner. Rodrik remained in place, waiting for the speaker to continue. “Everything is set.”
“Good. Make sure that no evidence is left. Kill the others if you must.”
“What if — ,” the man stammered. “How about the king?”
“Keep him safe,” Rodrik turned around to face the man. “But… If you must, kill him.”
A hand reached deep into the pond to get the ring that just fell. Waving frantically, the hand groped through the rocks, soil, and flora. The disturbance then awakened a frog hiding under the rocks.
“I got this! On with the preparations! I’ll return with the ring.”
The words caught the frog’s attention even though some of it were garbled by the splish-splashing of the water. It swam out of its burrow and searched. Inches away from the hand, a ring displayed a golden band, an intricate setting, and a ruby gem. Seeing this, the frog forcefully swung its arms backward, propelling itself toward the jewelry. With the lower shank of the ring in its mouth, it swam up to the surface and took its place on a lily pad farther away from the turbulence.
“Hey! Give that back, reptile,” a man growled with his right hand out of the water. His sleeve was folded up until his shoulder to avoid getting it wet.
The frog dropped the ring on the pad to allow itself to talk. “Excuse me, sir. I am a frog, and frogs are amphibians.”
The man was shocked by the frog’s ability to speak (and how it embarrassed him). However, this did not falter his indignation, “I do not care! Just give me back the ring.” The man extended his hands toward the frog.
“How rude! Did your mother teach you manners, young lad?” The man scowled at the creature’s remark. Before letting the man speak, the frog continued, “Anyway, this is a lovely ring. Is this yours?”
“It will be mine!”
“Oh,” the frog studied the man. He had a chiseled face with steel grey eyes, wavy black hair, and a trimmed full beard. He wore royal clothing with an emblem embroidered on its left breast. He was a prince. “What is your name?”
“Rodrik. Prince Rodrik of Parxes. Now could you give me back that ring?”
Prince. The word sparked hope in the frog’s heart. It had been searching for so long for a prince — a true heir of a kingdom. It has now found someone who can free itself of the spell. There’s just one last thing to do.
“Before I do, may I ask you a favor?”
“Are you sure this is where you’ve last seen your family?” Rodrik asked. They were wandering aimlessly in the Emerald Forest for two hours. They haven’t had a glimpse of any frogs around, so they stopped by an open field in the forest. For some time, he had been asking himself why he had not taken back the ring at numerous opportunities.
“Yes,” the frog answered. It was searching for something. It wasn’t its family, though. It was finding the right spot for a summons. After hopping around the open field, the frog found a tree stump kept hidden by wild grass. It then gave the stump three stomps and chanted. As if in response, a purple cloth sprouted out from the earth, forming a pavilion tent. Dolls, oils, skulls, candles, and a cauldron took shape from thin air. Then there came a hideous-looking, old woman standing at the tent’s entrance.
“Who calls me forth?” The witch scanned the room and saw the frog atop one of her boxes. “Oh, it has been quite a long time, Jared. What do you need of me?”
“I’ve brought the last item on your list.”
“Oh, let me see! I was really amazed by how you got a scrape of a water nymph’s scale.”
The frog turned to look at Rodrik. He was standing at a corner, stunned by everything that occurred. With a dagger in one hand, he exclaimed, “What do you want from me?!”
“A prince! You surprise me, Jared. An ordinary man would lose hope finding everything on the list,” the witch commended the frog.
In an instant, the witch appeared next to Rodrik. With her long nails, she gripped the prince’s armed hand. Rodrik flinched and dropped his dagger. The witch smiled wickedly as she produced a bizarre knife with her free hand.Then she gave a swift cut at his wrist. Rodrik yelped in pain. Blood trickled from the laceration, which she collected in a vial. Rodrik winced, taking huge breaths as his blood dripped into the tube.
“Hope you’ve learned your lesson, Jared. You’ll be a prince once again.”
Sniff. Sniff. Barely moving from her position, the witch began to grimace. “You fool! This is just a prince. I need a true heir of a kingdom! All he is ever gonna get is land.”
“But he is the prince! He was promised the ring of his sire.”
“Then this prince of yours has fooled you! Your time is running out, Jared. The tenth new moon is imminent. You will never be human again!”
An uncomfortable silence took over the scene. Rodrik felt pity for Jared. For whatever reason, his life was taken away from him to live long as a frog. Suddenly, Rodrik remembered something. “Will my blood signify a change of title?”
“Yes. Yes, I suppose.”
“Then my part here is done.” The prince pressed on the cut with his other hand. “Give me back the ring now, Jared. You’ve got what you wanted.”