Of course, abdicating made me think I would finally be by myself. I wistfully imagined myself walking up and down my hall alone, with my little dogs trailing me. About not having to be quiet, considerate, accommodate the other people in my walled compound. All without those accommodations ever happening for me!
I catered, I bent, I changed, I revised, I allowed. All these people racing up and down my corridors, attached to the castle, on the payroll in some way. Doing some unspecified task that I couldn’t see the results of. I called for my meal and none came, so I waved my hand over my table and did it myself. Cereal for dinner again, while the nine ovens in the kitchen remained cold. I looked in on my harem and they were all napping. I poked one of the concubines in the pile and he turned over, snoring. I started finding dicks and pussies in the hallway, wrinkled and dried out, or taut and bloated like fresh wee corpses. Genitals were shed like autumn leaves, and, I learned, never to grow back.
Also, if you’ve ever had the experience of stepping on a dick in the middle of the night on the way to the WC and having it burst like a dead toad? Well. It kind of puts you off sex for a minute or a thousand. Eventually I went to the rumpus room and built a gollum that was just for doing sex. (The secret is that the heartscroll has to be written in that dumb font that looks like people sixty-nining.)
Often, my retinue made the compound worse somehow. I am certain there used to be crenulation on the parapets, before I accidentally went into a meditative sleep for two weeks. (And can I say that when I woke up, I could barely open my eyes because my face was covered in black flies. My pants were so full of crap I had to literally roll out of bed. Thanks, guys!) We used to refer to this place as a castle. Now, it’s smooth up there like I imagine the brains of my attendants. No one remembered that this is a castle except me.
“Oh,” they said, when I rose. “We thought you were out of town. We cleaned the parapets!”
I was unattended, yet I felt suffocated. I ran my own part of the kingdom for seventy years like a lonely god. Everything was my way because the other way was inertia leading to destruction. Then I started to tilt towards destruction myself; every reign must end. I knocked on doors in the village for aid, screaming at the top of my lungs. I left a trail of blood and shit and black vomit that I could turn around and actually see, so I knew I was real, it was really happening. I was in a real goddam pickle. The villagers knelt in their huts, hands over their ears, shaking their heads, and waited for me to go away so they could go back to clipping coupons and betting on fantasy football leagues.
“I can see you in there!” I shouted through their greasy curtains. I projectile vomited on the wall of the carpenter’s house. GOOD, I thought. Throw your wood chips on that.
I crawled back to the castle, unnoticed, unaided. I slept for another two weeks. While I slept, I saw a huge flood coming through the village, destroying all the houses and carrying away the people, the animals, the volleyball court, everything.
I was so upset I ran through the town square wearing only a cape, trying to get their attention by beating on a pot with a stick and they said, “Did you hear something? Something like the sound of saggy tits flapping around?”
They did not recognize I sent the elk running through their woods each fall so they could fell them. They didn’t know I sent the bent old man into their square every spring with his cart full of seeds, needles, bolts of cloth. I knew what they were missing and I whispered it into his ear. They did not know I set the holidays on their calendars. I was a benevolent god. Someday, I prayed, they would not need me at all.
We still observed the old rituals. There was one day a year that I took an audience and I kept that appointment even if I was half-dead from flu. One year I was in the middle of laboring with my first child and I still walked down the path through the woods to the village slowly, arriving late as I was stopping for contractions.
“She is looking super fat,” I heard the town midwife whisper, too loudly. I hear everything.
One year I came to the meeting as a man. (Long story, but don’t drink a bunch of crabapple wine and then scry your ex, especially if they’re a lich.) That year they said, “She is wearing really unflattering pants.”
The last year I went, I was unencumbered with child but still walked slowly, appreciating how the trees, in full vibrant leaf, rustled with birds popcorning around inside them. The air smelled warm and flowery. A thought came into my head, surprising and unbidden: “I hope this is the last time I take this walk.” I suddenly stopped and thought. What did I want? Oblivion? Death? An heir? To be a villager myself? This village always had a wizard, but now I wanted to be something else. I wanted to do something entirely different.
I stood before them, my villagers, my creations. Without me they would be eating their own poop in lean-tos, and fashioning clothes out of grocery bags, probably.
I knew I had the attention of some of them, but others looked off in odd directions, whittled, or worked on their fishing nets while they listened. They looked put upon and annoyed as they usually did on this day. I gave my short speech about how I felt the previous year had gone and they said nothing back, which was also usual. I told them I was happy to serve the Kingdom of Ecrovid and its subjects. I felt a little guilty about this part since, as you know, I was secretly considering a career change.
“Finally,” I said, hoping to wrap up early, “I’d like one of you to report how the dam is coming. As you recall, this project is so important we even named the year after it: Damteen.”
A murmur rippled through the clump of villagers, but no one came forward. I heard the gravedigger say to the woman who ran the inn, “…thought she was just naming the year a dirty word again.”
The villagers looked at the clear blue sky, which gave no hint that in about two weeks there would be an unseasonable amount of rain. They looked at the ground. The murmuring died out. I was losing my patience. I turned towards a man who wore the same dumb floppy hat all the villagers favored, except his had silver stars on it.
“Mr. Mayor! Can you report on the dam’s progress?”
The Mayor hemmed and hawed and tugged on his beard but it finally came out. The village did not think I was serious about the dam building, even though I had supplied blueprints, detailed instructions for regrading the ground by the river, tools, and a building schedule.
“I think we just kind of forgot?” he concluded.
“So you did nothing?” I asked. Unbelievable!
The gravedigger chimed in: “You didn’t tell us how to do it!”
This riled up the villagers, who were getting angier and more defensive. I heard some people say they didn’t remember me telling them to do this at all. Some people had forgotten what the big pile of materials were even for.
I held my staff up for silence. This was especially effectual because it was smoking a little, something I cannot control when I get good and pissed off. I heard it whispering to me, the ten thousand souls I’d captured and mercilessly stuffed into it: “Smite them, smite them all. It’ll feel like taking a shit and sneezing at the same time.”
I took a deep breath and shook my head to clear it. I reminded my audience that I had fully supplied them with everything they’d need to accomplish the dam project, and plenty of time to do it in.
“Did you think you couldn’t do it?” I asked. No, they said. They said they’d built plenty of dams and were probably the regional expert village in all of Ecrovid when it came to dam building. I had never seen evidence of this and decided to ignore this claim.
The stone mason stepped forward. “Why didn’t YOU do it, with all your wizardy power? You never do anything! You just sit up there all day, in your compound–”
“Castle!” I shouted, banging the end of my staff on the ground. Sparks and small lightning bolts spat out of the ground where it made contact. They stepped back a little then. “Do you know what I’ve been doing for the past two months? Making sure the rivers run with fish. Look at it,” I said, pointing down the hill to where the river would soon swell, rising halfway up the path to the castle. “It’s practically more fish than water at this point. You could just open your mouth and one would swim in and down your throat!”
“Oh, about that…” the Mayor said. “I know you haven’t opened the floor for questions officially yet, but we wanted to say that last Thursday there weren’t any fish at all.”
“And?” I said.
“What’s up with that?”
This was the end. It broke me. I turned around, just fast enough so my robe would twirl out behind me dramatically, but slowly enough so it wouldn’t whip and tangle around my legs again. That takes practice.
The villagers didn’t stop me from leaving. They didn’t ask me what to do. They didn’t apologize.
I leaned heavily on the staff as I walked back up the hill. I knew this would be my last walk down this path, because this path would be wiped away, erased by the floodwaters.
When I returned to the castle, I gathered all my attendants. This was easy to do, since they were all in the courtyard playing a fierce game of ga-ga ball. I lined up the idle kitchen staff, the cleaners in their spotless outfits, which they patted down with soft clean hands. I called out the snoozing concubines, some of whom still clutched their pillows and yawned.
“It’s a holiday,” I announced.
Yaaaaay, they said.
“Go down to the village and be with your friends and families. I’m going to tell you to have a fish feast, and later you will think it was your idea.”
Yaaaaay, they said.
I told them to leave now, and I would send word about when they should come back. They filed out, chattering noisily and arguing about who would have won that ga-ga match had I not interrupted them.
I waited until they were out of sight down the path and their voices were faint. I took hold of the large crank that operated the portcullis and turned it with my own hands, my staff resting against the inner walls. I threw the bolts on the door and stepped back, satisfied, breath heavy. Now I could be really alone, instead of pretending to myself that I wasn’t all along. Now the real work would begin.