art by Melissa Mead
A Great Destiny
by Eric James Stone
You tend to remember the face of a man you've sworn to kill.
As Groshen hoisted a rundlet of wine into the wagon, he spotted the crimson-robed prophet strolling along the village's main road. Groshen had only met the prophet twice, but he recognized those copper-colored eyes divided by that bulging nose.
Despite his sudden rage, Groshen carefully lowered the cask into the wagon. He must catch the prophet alone, where no one could interfere.
"Excuse me," Groshen said to Marya, "but there's someone I must have a word with." She was the head cook, and the only person on Squire Korpet's farm who didn't look away from the burn scars covering Groshen's face.
"Have a drink with, you mean?" The corners of Marya's eyes crinkled as she smiled. "Go on. I'll cover for you with the master, and I'll save you a good cut of roast."
"Thanks." Though he liked her, Groshen wished Marya would focus her romantic attentions elsewhere. He did not want pity.
The village streets were uncrowded. The Emperor Dal's slavers had come through five months ago, choosing a third of the able-bodied men by lottery to work on building the new capital city. Most of the men's families had followed.
Groshen's number had been pulled out of the lottery box, but the slavers had rejected him due to his injuries.
After a few minutes, the prophet wandered into an alley. Groshen picked up his pace--with luck, the alley would be abandoned.
Rounding the corner, he found the prophet had stopped.
"Hello, Your Majesty," said the prophet.
Groshen halted. "I'm not a king anymore."
"Just because the Emperor Dal has taken away your throne doesn't mean you're not a king."
Pointing at the prophet with one of the three remaining fingers of his right hand, Groshen said, "I'm tired of your lies." With his left hand, he drew his knife.
"I never lied to you."
In three quick strides, Groshen reached the prophet and grabbed the front of his crimson silk robe. "Never?" Groshen lifted his knife to the prophet's throat. "Have you forgotten what you prophesied the first time you came to me?"
Stretching his arms wide, the prophet lifted his coppery eyes toward the overcast sky. "'A great destiny lies ahead of you, Your Majesty,' I said. You asked what destiny, and I replied, 'The destiny of the man who will overthrow the Emperor Dal and claim his throne.'"
Groshen threw the prophet into the dirt. "I was mad to trust you."
"Not mad." The prophet crossed his legs and sat up. "Ambitious, perhaps."
"I ruled my corner of the Empire with little interference from Dal. I had no ambition until your secret prophecy. It's your fault I led my army to be slaughtered by Dal's wizardry."