Story for the Day: Reading Damson's Distress -- Part 2
Ciran and Paudrig continue their reading of the Marridon classic: Damson's Distress
He should gain little in the alliance beyond what affection from his subjects that their thinking him a romantic might convey, and as he wanted affection from neither subject nor wife, all the pride in the marriage should be on her side. She would gain everything, crown and kingdom, by the union, would receive all the proper education, of course, being indelicate and inferior, would have ladies to attend her and dresses made—he knew that women raved of such things—would have her hair combed with sandalwood and her skin garnished with paints, would even have her very own knight to champion for her in the arena. Upon further recollection, it seemed a shame to throw away so much exertion merely to begin a career of conquering Balletrim. He had thought that inciting conflict would have been easier with the Lord of Balletrim’s apoplectic fits, for he was sent in a positive rage every time he received one of the king’s letters, but being the leader of an substandard land, one deserted and devoid of any delights, Lord Balletrim had no resources for war and therefore took the advice of his chancellors and did not give way to his indignation. A Marridonian Lady, however, a queen, murdered on the king’s birthday by one of Lord Balletrim’s spies would rouse Marridon’s anger and compel the Chambers to vote for to war for to avenge their late queen. There could be no doubt that Marridon should win the altercation, and thus the King of Marridon would vanquish their northern neighbours to be King of Marridon and Balletrim. It should then only be a short velitation to being King of Sesterna too, and with all three neighbouring lands under his reign, the King of Marridon should be rather satisfied with his lot as leader of an empire. As it was, in his own pittance of a seat at the head of the Northern Continent’s most advanced nation, he could only make appearances, give speeches, and veto certain laws—this was hardly office for a man of his talents and ambitions. His powers were being squandered in the Chambers, his magnificence suffocated by everyone in his conversancy. A celebration of himself and of Marridon enture on his birthday and marriage to the lady would obviate all injustice on his side: he would show her civility and kindness and act in a manner that should betray nothing, his countenance and character recommending him as a perfect gentleman, and then after a fine dinner, he should enjoy a post-prandial uxoricide.
“What’s tha’ mean?” asked Paudrig, grimacing at the difficult words.
“Means he’s gonnae kill her after dinner,” Ciran explained.
“Oh.” Paudrig thought a moment, and then said, “Is there a hard word for death by spearin’?”
“Ah thenk it’s just called impalement, lad, but we can look it up in the Marridonian Dictionary of Modern Common later, if ye liek.”
Paudrig nodded and pressed Ciran to read further.
How to do it, however, how to kill his wife and blame her death on Balletrim without his being suspected was the question. He was always being flanked by someone or other, always being talked to by the Adjudicator, or being harassed by the apothecary about his indifference toward his health, or being bowed to by passing guards or saluted by the knights. He was only alone in his own room, save the royal guard forever just beyond the door. Throttling his wife in her sleep or smothering her with a pillow might do the job credibly; bleeding was far too untidy, and he wanted the struggle to be short and silent, and he had a horror of blood besides. He liked his sheets too well to tarnish them, and deciding on no bleeding at the first should be a great distress over.
“Aw, no spearin’ or guttin’ an’ o’,” Paudrig mourned.
“Might be speared yet, lad.”
He could allow for his own blood in his bed, for by stabbing himself after he kill his wife should make him appear the hero too wounded to act, to injured to come to the rescue of the fair maiden who was killed at the hands of a Balletrim spy. “But how shall I contrive a spy?” said the king pensively. “The window to my bedchamber is far too high for a climb. Perhaps I can obtain a guard’s uniform and hire anyone that can be got willing to do the business. Then all I need do is stab myself in the spleen, for I don’t think I shall need that in old age, and pretend to be very sorry and very sad.” He thought a moment. “Hrm…but stabbing myself shall hurt a great deal, and I do not like pain. Perhaps I will merely hire someone to kill my wife and do without the stabbing entirely. Yes, yes. I think that is an excellent plan. I need not harm myself, and I certainly should not be under any specious pretense to hurt my clothes. Where was I? Oh, yes—killing my wife. But would garroting or smothering be better? Which is quickest? I suppose there is only one way to discover the answer. I must try them myself.” He held his breath for some minutes, promising not to succumb to unconsciousness, and began to crimson over and go murrey before coughing and gasping for breath “That was rather unpleasant,” he rasped. “My poor face was beginning to prinkle. And the cough I made was very loud. That shall not do at all, I’m afraid. Smothering might be much best, but if I try and smother myself with my pillow, I shall only fall asleep and wake up again. I will never be able to know how quiet the practice is or effective if I have not someone else in the room with me to witness it.I know what I must do,” he cired, a sudden ingenious suspicion wracking his brain, “I must go and ask Damson. Damson is a clever fellow, albeit a rather large one, and he has chopped off a limb or two in his day. I daresay he should know the answer as to which practice is quietest and most effective. I say, Damson?” addressing him, when he had got to the arena where tilting were in session, “I say, do you know which practice is quieter and more effective: garroting or smothering?”
Damson looked with some distress at the king. “Might I inquire, Your Majesty,” he said with difficulty, “the origin of this question?”
“Oh, nothing serious, I assure you. Only for my information. In my way, I have found that garroting causes one to cough, which will not do. Do you know if smothering is quieter?”Damson hardly knew what to answer. He would have asked how His Majesty knew that garroting causes coughing, considering that when throttling be done right it causes no sound at all beyond that of the victim’s violent struggles, but His Majesty was blinking eagerly at him, and he was obliged to give answer to this strange question.