By Chris Kok
Imagine getting everything you could ever want. Multiply by infinity. Imagine doing every possible thing there is to do. Inventing new things to do, and doing those. Then, imagine waking up on your sixtieth birthday, realizing you are so wealthy, so well-looked after by your army of dieticians, doctors, and personal trainers that chances are, you’ll be living for at least another three or four decades.
Imagine all that, and you’ll have a faint idea of just how utterly bored the Empress was.
Her full name was Ballulah Jane Strabolgi, but only her husband Eric called her that, and only when she was being a nuisance. Everyone else called her Majesty. Eric, everyone called Eric. He didn’t seem to mind.
“Ballulah Jane Strabolgi. If all you’re going to do all day is pace back and forth, you may as well go get a paper route.”
“I did, darling, don’t you remember? It was the same summer I planted that forest and wrote that book of poetry.”
“Ah, yes. The poetry.”
They were in one of the palace’s opulent halls, all marble and gold and the smell of incense. In a corner, the world’s greatest harpist did his best not to play anything too intrusive.
“Well, why don’t you go read a book?”
“Read them all.”
“Play a game?”
“Played them all.”
“Go learn something new.”
“I know everything.”
“Darling, surely you don’t know everything.”
Just then, a breeze came through the window and blew some papers off Eric’s desk. (He was working on his own book of poems, but he’d be damned if he would ever let his wife read them, preferring to maintain the illusion that they were any good.)
“Alright,” said Eric, picking up papers as they swirled around the room, “where does the wind come from?”
“That’s easy, it—well, it comes from—hm.”
She deflated onto an ornate fainting couch, looking so white she might have been in danger of using it for its intended purpose.
“What’s happening?” asked Eric. He often found himself asking this question, which is probably why his wife was Empress and he was, well, Eric.
“I don’t know,” said the Empress, her expression changing from shocked to elated, “I have no clue.”
“And this makes you happy?”
“I shall go out at once to find the source of the wind.”
She stood up, rang a bell. A servant entered the room.
“I’m going on a journey. Pack my things. Eric, thank you for this wonderful birthday gift.” She planted a big kiss on her husband’s lips. “I won’t return without an answer.”
“You know, the children are coming tonight. To celebrate your birthday.”
“They won’t be happy.”
“They never are.”
“What will I do while you’re gone?”
“You’ll be in charge of the Empire.”
“You’ll be fine, darling. Just listen to Mummani’s advice. He is our advisor, after all.”
Over the next three decades, the Empress traveled around the globe, chasing the source of the wind. Whenever she thought she found it, a breeze would blow in from elsewhere. Wherever she spent the night, she would ask for the draftiest room and sleep naked, on top of the sheets. She studied maps and weather patterns with expert climatologists and meteorologists. She chased tornadoes on horseback, sailed ships across the sea, and tilted at windmills. One particularly fruitless yet humorous year was spent with a woman who had trained herself to expel the most interesting farts. After a three bean salad she could perform the Empire’s anthem using only her sphincter, but she, like all the others, could not teach her what she longed to learn.
The Empress searched for so long and grew so much older in the process, that eventually, she forgot what she was looking for. Still, she kept searching, even as her caravan of servants and possessions became smaller and smaller.
Meanwhile, under the rule of Eric, the Empire collapsed. Mummani died soon after the Empress left. Eric, unaware of the presence of peanuts in a particular piece of chocolate, accidentally killed the severely allergic advisor. Without his guidance, Eric did his best, but he was about as good a ruler as he was a poet.
Every day, he wrote to his beloved, asking if she had any idea when she might be done with her quest, and whether she could possibly pick up some milk on her way home. The Empress would always reply that she loved him, she missed him, she had almost found it, she would come home soon.
One by one, the Empire’s territories claimed independence. Eric didn’t have the heart to make a fuss. As the Empire shrank, Eric grew older. Then, he grew ill. The Empress received word and interrupted her search—momentarily of course—to be at his side.
By the time she arrived, the Empire had wasted away, now no more than a palace and its grounds. The people had left Eric that much. He was a nice guy, after all.
Also wasting away was Eric. The Empress found him in bed, on the brink.
“Darling,” he said, when she entered his chambers, “I’m sorry I ruined your Empire.”
“I’m sorry I left you to rule it alone.”
She sat down beside him and took his hands in hers. They were as thin and white as paper.
“So, did you find it?” he asked.
“The source of the wind, of course.”
The Empress, reminded of her goal, realized the futility of her search, and what she’d sacrificed. And she wept.
“What’s happening?” Eric asked, for the final time, and breathed out his last breath.
The Empress felt it brush her hand. That’ll do, she thought. That’s as good an answer as any.
A brilliant piece of fiction. Crass in parts with an undefinable logic that was consistent with the whimsy in the story. Looking forward to reading more Chris.
Thanks so much, Keith!
As a writer who’s just starting out, it’s great to get this kind of feedback on my first published story 🙂
I am fond of tales about royalty, and enjoyed this one very much. Congratulations on your first publication! Maybe you could consider additional stories about the Empress and Eric (set earlier in their relationship, of course)
Thanks for reading, Nancy, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Maybe I’ll write a story about their courtship. Should prove interesting… Do let me know if you have any ideas!
A sort of contemporary Addams Family, with astronomy for a twist.
Thanks, Paul! *clicks fingers twice*
Wonderful story! Interesting, and whimsical, while also illustrating the foolishness of people with too much time, closely-held riches and not enough empathy. Luv it!
I’m happy to see you got so much out of this!
Thanks for reading : )
Friends and courtiers rarely tell the poet king the truth I find. They leave the poor bugger floundering about on the palace floor. Good luck, Chris.
They’re probably afraid he’ll call it Fake News and chop off their heads!
Thanks for reading, friend.
Loved it! Kind of whimsical , allegorical. Love the narrator’s voice, gentle irony.
Well done, this could be a series….
Thanks so much, Margo!
Any ideas for prequel stories? : )
Brilliant story, really enjoyed reading this. Kind of felt like a contemporary fable/folklore tale with a humourous touch. If you do write any more stories with these characters, about their courtship or anything else, please make ‘What’s happening?’ Eric’s catchphrase 🙂
Thanks so much, Andrew! A catchphrase it is!