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Kingdom Liam Hogan

I’ve been counting the days, and yet when the light of the rising sun spills through the narrow cleft in the steep escarpment as it does every year at this time, my stomach still twists itself into knots. I take one last look over my Kingdom – the single valley, bounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by a small lake that empties out into a deep ravine – before hurriedly descending to the Great Hall to conduct the morning’s census and allocate the days’ tasks. I count twenty three men, twelve women and two – no, three children. There used to be more; more men, more women, and more children. My wife - the Queen – is not present. Some days she clings to my side, never more than a pace away from me. Today is not one of those days. Today, she is in bed, wracked with fear. She too has been marking the passage of time, and though it grieves me to see her this way, I must leave her to battle her own demons, for I have much to do and little time to do it. I must prepare for our visitor. The woodchopper’s assistant was also not at the census. I check on him after lighting the fires in the kitchen. He’s feverish, and in his delirium he cries out in a guttural, foreign tongue. I dress his wound but there is little else I can do for him,

and the stench of decay foretells his doom. I wonder if there will be another brave enough to take his place? It is at least a worry for another day - there is wood enough for the feast, and I have given the woodchopper other duties. Around noon the bell by the lake rings, a short, impatient peal and I carefully hand the sharp knife to one of the three cooks. King Ulfred, our neighbour in every direction and for many leagues beyond, is early. I hurriedly wash my hands and throw the fur-trimmed robe around my shoulders. By the time I swing open the heavy oak doors he is already there, bounding up the steps, lustily pulling on a rope. “Nathaniel!” He cries, “Greetings, old friend! I bring you new subjects.” I mumble my thanks as he hands me the tether, and the three men attached fall to their knees, cringing and forlorn. I rub the scarred tissue above my eye-patch distractedly. Two of them will not, I think, last to the next spring. The third, though his head is bowed, holds his shoulders erect despite the heavy pack he is carrying. The board around his neck proclaims him to be a counterfeiter; very well – let us hope he is good with his hands. King Ulfred claps me on the shoulder. He’s

Stimulus Respond - Captive  

The Captive issue of Stmulus Respond, spring 2012. Cover by Hien Le,

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