Chapter 5: The Sun King

The mob pressed upon the golden gates of the palace. The faces of the villagers were red from cold and twisted in anger. They spit the king’s name into the frost and thrust their fists, farming tools, and torches high into the air.

Majesté!” they screamed at the palace. “Majesté!

The people were hungry, and winter was setting in. The guards were on edge. They understood the people’s anger, but they were fearful for their own lives. The king was an unforgiving man.

He hadn’t started out that way. In fact, some of the older guards could still remember a time when their king had been a champion of the people—when he fought the rich nobles and the heavy taxes they imposed upon the villages. With a generous heart, the king had relieved the villagers of their debt, granted them land rights, and spread peace throughout the land. Warmed by the light of hope for a better future, the people named him their Sun King.

But those times were long gone. When the marquis arrived the wars began, and the king transformed into a cruel man. He imprisoned his most trusted advisors for daring to question his right to reinstate the land tax in order to help pay for the wars. He ordered his soldiers to raid the homes of the villagers for evidence of planned uprisings. He even starved his own soldiers for a week when he heard rumors that one in his ranks had turned spy for the enemy crown.

The king trusted no one, except the marquis, and everyone in his kingdom suffered as a result.    

Outside the palace, it began to snow. The villagers shouted and pressed harder on the gate. The guards exchanged worried looks and spoke in hushed tones.

Inside the palace, a servant made his way down a gilded hall of mirrors carrying a silver plate of soft cheeses, candied pears, and fresh baked bread. As he reached the entrance to the salon, he was joined by another footman from an adjoining hall who carried a crystal decanter filled with shimmering gold wine. The two servants nodded to one another and pushed open the massive doors.


They bowed before crossing the threshold. The king gave the signal, and the servants made their way across the enormous room to where the king and the marquis sat warming themselves beside a roaring fire. Hundreds of candles suspended by crystal chandeliers flickered against the darkness creeping into the room.

The king nodded and the servants set down their dishes. 

“Forgive me, Majesté,” the marquis said in his silky voice. “But don’t those people—” He pushed the words from his mouth as if they tasted foul. “—have a duty to obey their king?”

The king cleared his throat, and the two servants bowed again before leaving the salon and closing the heavy doors behind them.

“Marquis Richelieu,” the king sighed. “What would you have me do? Throw them all into the dungeons? Send the whole village to the guillotines?” 

“Why not,” asked the marquis, helping himself to a generous pour from the decanter. “They refuse to pay their taxes, and they no longer support the war.”

The marquis offered a glass to the king, but he was in no mood to eat or drink. He dropped his head to one side and began to rub his forehead. There was a familiar warm prickliness behind his eyes. He had lived with the condition for years, but lately, the spells seemed to be coming on stronger and more frequently.

The marquis approached the king and placed the goblet in his free hand. The king looked up into the marquis’ hard, black eyes. The tingling in his head grew stronger. He closed his hand tighter around the glass, drew it to his mouth, and took a long drink, his eyes never leaving the marquis.     

“They are pressing down upon your palace as we speak, Majesté. Wrapping their filthy hands around your golden gates, daring to summon you—their king—to the yard to listen to their pitiful stories—they are cold, they are starving, they have no more fit men to send to the wars—FILTHY LIES!”

The marquis’ furious cry sent a shock wave through the room. The portraits of royals in their gilded frames rattled against the wall, and the chandeliers swayed dangerously. The king didn’t flinch; his stare remained locked on the eyes of the marquis. The marquis drew his face within inches of the king’s.

“It is almost time, Majesté.”

“It is almost time,” the king repeated dumbly.

The marquis’ lips curled into a sneer as he broke eye contact with the king. The king shook his head and rubbed his eyes. The prickling sensation began to subside, but he had a new feeling rising in the pit of his stomach. Anger.

“What right have these peasants?!” the king bellowed, rising from his chair and flinging his goblet into the fire. The crystal shattered and the flame burst into blue light.

The marquis’ eyes flashed with wolfish delight.

“I am their KING!” he roared, “Their leader! Their SUN!”

The king knocked over the table of food and turned to the marquis. He was breathing heavily. His face was pale but full of fury.

“You are their king,” the marquis agreed softly. “And they must obey.”

He raised an eyebrow at a rat that was creeping near the spilled cheese. The rat froze. With an impossibly quick movement, the marquis grabbed the rat by the tail. The terrified animal squealed and squirmed from side to side trying desperately to free itself. The marquis smiled dangerously and walked over to the fire.

“Invasive, filthy vermin,” he spat. “No better than this rat.”

The king nodded and gathered himself, resuming his dignified stance.

“They must be punished,” the marquis said dangling the rat over the fire. The rat climbed its tail trying to dodge the flames. The marquis’ evil grin broadened. He locked eyes with the king, lowered his hand into the dancing flame, and suddenly tossed the rat across the room. The poor smoking creature scurried back into its hole under the armoire.

“It is almost time,” the marquis said, turning his attention back to the king. “The Royal Council will soon arrive.”

The king frowned as if trying to remember something important. The marquis knew he must be patient with the king. His mind had been stretched so thin over the years he had been controlling it.  

“Counts and countesses, dukes and duchesses, Europe’s most powerful dignitaries—you will soon receive them, Majesté.”

The marquis drained his glass and, like the king, threw the goblet into the fire. The room exploded in blue light, and the king felt a powerful jolt course through his veins.

“They will gather in your royal hall,” the marquis continued. “In the finest palace the world has ever known—and dare to offer their counsel.” His nostrils flared with disgust. “Will you let them tell you which fork to use at dinner too?”

The king was incensed. “Treacherous villains!” he bellowed. “No better than the village rats! All must be destroyed!”

Flames shot up toward the frescoed ceiling, which began to drip with red, black, and gold paint. The fierce faces of the war heroes melted into their weapons.

“Yes,” the marquis hissed. “They will be destroyed.” His tongue ran over plump red lips that looked bloated with blood.

“But first—” He pointed his crooked finger toward the ceiling. A drop of red paint fell from a fresco, staining his long fingernail. “We shall have some fun.”

Outside the villagers’ shouts had turned to shivers. Still, they were determined to speak with their king. Majesté had taken care of them once. Why wouldn’t he come to them now? There could be just one answer. The marquis. 

As they watched the blue flames burst against the northernmost window of the palace, they knew the marquis was working his magic. The villagers hated magic as much as they hated the marquis. Magic had turned their king into a slave. The wars waged on, and the villagers suffered, but under the marquis’ spell, the king could not hear their cries.

That was why they had left their village and come to the palace. The villagers knew the gates would be heavily guarded, but they also knew the king’s army was growing weary of war. Many of the soldiers had grown up in the village. They knew how the people suffered. Even now they whispered amongst themselves and shot uneasy glances in the direction of the north wing.  

The pointed turrets of the palace stood silhouetted against the dark, snowy sky. Another flame flashed against the window and shot like lightning down the length of the chateau. Then, very slowly, a shadow began to take shape in the yard.

The soldiers stirred nervously. The villagers held their breath. A storm cloud passed over the crescent moon, blocking out all the light. When it lifted, the marquis was standing before them. 

“Witchcraft!” cried the villagers, “Stand back!”

The people called desperately for their king. “Majesté! Oh, please hear us! Come to us!”

The marquis’ mouth curled into a cruel smile.

“Good people,” he called out, raising a jeweled hand. The crowd fell silent.

“The king has agreed to an audience. You are most welcome to enter the palace.”

The marquis waved his hand, and the heavy locks fell from the gates. Both the villagers and the soldiers started back. The marquis laughed.

“Come now—you have been calling for your king all day. Surely you want to come out of the cold.”

Just then, a great gust of wind blew in from the north, knocking several of the soldiers to the ground.

“You see,” the marquis said. “The storm is here.” His tone turned threatening. “The night is dark and dangerous. You had better take shelter with your Sun.”

The marquis turned away from the crowd and began walking back to the palace, his red cloak whipping behind him in the wind.

The guards who had been knocked to the ground picked themselves up and looked to the other soldiers. The soldiers looked to the people. The people looked to the guards and then to the marquis as he disappeared into the palace. They all knew what they had to do. 

The marquis was standing at the end of the long mirrored hall when the mob of villagers and soldiers came rushing in. Their cries echoed off the palace walls as they charged forward with torches and weapons raised high. The marquis stood quietly with his hands behind his back.

Sorcier!” they cried out as they bore down on their enemy. “Give us our king!”

Suddenly, the doors to the salon burst open. Standing to the side of the marquis was the king.

The mob stopped dead in their tracks. Their king was greatly changed. His face was ghostly white and full of unnatural rage. His once bright eyes were darkened with hate, and his black hair had turned the color of ash.

“Your king is here!” the marquis called to the mob. “And he bids you a royal welcome to the Chateau du Soleil. Now that you are here, however, he cannot suffer you to leave.”

The doors to the palace slammed shut, and a gust of wind blew out the firelight from the chandeliers and torches. The snowy palace yard was still visible through the windows, but the mirrors that hung opposite no longer reflected the world outside. Instead, a ghastly scene had appeared. The skeletal remains of dozens of prisoners lay scattered about the dank stone floors of a dungeon. 

The people cried out in fear, but they had nowhere to go.

Majesté!” they pleaded. “Help us!”

The king stepped forward into the wind the marquis had whipped up. His grey mane twisted about his head, but his eyes locked on the people in a loathing stare.

“Treacherous fools!” he roared. “You dare to challenge the SUN!? Go then—down to the DARKNESS!”

Another icy gust of wind blew down the hall and lifted the mob off their feet. They hung suspended in midair for a moment, their faces filled with terror, before being flung with great force into the mirrors and swallowed up by the dungeon. A blinding flash illuminated the hall. Then all fell dark, and the only sounds to be heard were the ragged breathing of the king and the low laugh of the marquis.

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