The Poet-Kings and the Word Plague
by Alex Shvartsman
The poet-kings of Sharabarai had reigned for millennia; a succession of benevolent rulers, each filling the vellum pages of sacred books with wisdom and beauty. It is said that Caium the Second labored for three straight days with no sleep, sustained only by sips of cardamom tea, as he feverishly wrote a hundred-page saga of creation and the early gods so potent that reality itself had altered to oblige his vision. Uthar the Clement spent thirty years composing the perfect haiku. Kira the Compassionate wrote powerful odes which made other poets weep knowing they could never match the elegance of her words.
By royal decree all children were schooled in the art of poetry, and all officeholders were expected to contribute compositions to the best of their ability. As the library shelves across Sharabarai grew more voluminous so did the prosperity and contentment of its citizens. The golden age lasted until the advent of the word plague.
The early warnings came from the small libraries in the villages on the outskirts of the kingdom. Reports of words gone missing from the otherwise perfectly metered verses and misplaced caesurae cropping up in copies of classic sagas were dismissed as hysterical presumptions of under-qualified scholars. But the word plague continued to spread, affecting tomes across the kingdom, corrupting entire poems, turning them into muddled messes of haphazard words.
The royal librarians ordered the doors shut, armed guard posted over the sacred volumes. Their efforts were for naught: the word plague ravaged the writings of kings and paupers alike. The venerated lines withered like leaves in October, the gilded tomes bleeding wisdom and ink.