BREACHSPACE: Fiendish Profiles, “A Day in Servitude of the Cuckoo King” by E.J. Tett

Jodina held the serving tray in one hand, a goblet of fine wine perfectly balanced in the middle, and stared at the wall opposite. A tapestry woven in gold thread hung on the wall, the picture depicting a mighty king riding his horse. She studied his face, deciding that he was far handsomer than the current king was and, as the sound of a beak clacking in satisfaction echoed down the hallway, she decided to count the stars on his crown.

Talons tapped the marble floor and she chanced a look towards the sound. The Cuckoo King had finished his meal and all that lay behind him were clean white bones.

He was a criminal, Jodina thought of the skeleton. A rapist. My king has dealt his justice.

She could cope with the Cuckoo King consuming the city criminals. In fact, she thought it was a very good idea. It kept him happy and the people safe. She just wished he wouldn’t eat them alive. Or insist she wait with his wine for afterwards.

The Cuckoo King’s plush velvet cape swept the floor behind him, leaving a smear of blood in its wake. As he drew nearer, he reached a clawed hand for the goblet and Jodina tried to ignore the gore hanging from his bone-like beak. He knocked the wine back in one gulp and then his thin, pink tongue licked a tendril of something red back into his mouth. He swallowed again and blinked his eyes at her.

“Where is my queen?” he asked.

“In her chambers, sire,” she replied.

“Fetch her for me.” He waved her away and she bobbed a curtsey before disappearing down the hallway. When she looked back, she saw the king return to his throne and two unfortunate squires drag the skeleton away.

The queen, once the wife of the previous human king, kept her chambers separate from the Cuckoo King, though they were not far from his. The main bedchamber was spacious and warm, with thick rugs on the floor, and luxurious drapes on the walls and windows. Her door was open and Jodina could see the queen sitting at her dresser, a handmaiden brushing her long, blonde hair. The woman chose to stay with the Cuckoo King and Jodina could only presume she did it for her people. If she were queen, she would have left long ago.

“Your Majesty?” The queen turned and Jodina dipped her head in obeisance. “The king asks for you.”

The queen got to her feet and smoothed down her green dress. She smiled – a look that brightened her whole face. “He has finished?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Wonderful.” The woman swept past her and Jodina exchanged a glance with the handmaiden before following after her.

In the throne room, the king looked bored, impatiently tapping his talons on the arm of his seat as he listened to the counsel of his Cuckoo flock – those strange, physical manifestations of his mind. He jumped up as the queen entered the room, his flock vanishing, and greeted her with a rather elaborate bow, his wings outstretched behind him. Jodina once more placed herself with her back against the wall, should either the king or queen require her services, and zoned out of the conversation. As she gazed at the tapestry once more, the threads shimmered and moved, snaking over and across one another as the picture altered. This time it showed the old king sitting alone in his chamber, a lost look on his face.

Later, much later, as Jodina returned to the servants’ quarters, she heard shouts of alarm from outside and the great screech of a bird. She hurried to the end of the corridor and looked out of the stained-glass window to the streets below.

The king’s hunters had returned, their fiery torches setting the gold-paved street aglow as they held them aloft. In their midst, buried under heavy chains, was a vulferusi. The creature, half-man, half-bird like her own king, seemed dazed and confused and Jodina knew the hunters would only have been able to capture such a beast using tricks and spells.

The Cuckoo King was obsessed with other vulferusies – his hatred of them so intense that Jodina was sure he would hunt them to extinction if he had the chance. People of the city said… no, they whispered it, that the king was crazy. That he’d been cursed to hate his own kind. Jodina knew it must be true and she hoped fervently that the curse would never break.

She watched, heart pounding, as the king strode out to greet his hunters. Hurriedly, she pushed the window open, shivering a little at the cold air which rushed in around her and in anticipation of what was about to happen.

The men released their hold on the chains and backed off, leaving the captured vulferusi to shake itself free and hiss at the Cuckoo King. The two vulferusies faced one another, wings outstretched as each tried to look bigger than the other did.

Jodina heard footsteps behind her, and excited chatter, and soon other servants had joined her at the window, their warm bodies pressed against her as they leaned out of the window, cheering on their king.

The vulferusies attacked, the Cuckoo King striking first. His claws ripped and tore at his opponent, pulling feathers and flesh. Shouts from the men as they quickly got out of the way of the fighting beasts, and then both creatures were in the air, wings beating, talons clawing.

The Cuckoo King had wisely left his cape behind, knowing perhaps that it would weigh him down or hinder his fight, but his crown still sat proudly on his head, though with one swipe of its wings, the enemy vulferusi had knocked it to the ground. That was enough to enrage the king further and he roared out his anger and unleashed a cloud of spores from his body, covering the vulferusi and some of the men in the street below.

The spores grew into twisted green vines, wrapping around the vulferusi, tightening and sending it crashing to the ground. Men unfortunate enough to also have been hit, were stunned and fallen and had to be dragged aside by their comrades. The Cuckoo King took no notice of them, instead launching himself on his enemy again, plucking out one of its eyes with all the delicacy of a bird pinching a grub from a log.

Jodina winced. Her companions cheered. The injured vulferusi screamed and lashed back at the king, stabbing its beak into his foot. In desperation, it conjured four mirror-images of itself, hoping to confuse the Cuckoo King, and these doppelgangers danced and pranced around the king while their body-original lay trapped beneath him.

The Cuckoo King seemed oblivious. He stamped on the vulferusi’s head, screamed his victory, and then plunged his beak into his opponent’s throat, ripping out its oesophagus. The mirror-images vanished and, as the vulferusi lay dying, the Cuckoo King started to feast.

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BREACHSPACE: Fiendish Profiles, “A Day in Servitude of the Cuckoo King”, written by E.J. Tett, published by XEI is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.