by D.M. Jewelle
The abode of this prince was hardly what Key had in mind.
He’d imagined marble steps, polished till you could see your reflection upon it; banisters carved from the finest wood, curving down in thick smooth curls, tempting many to slide down in child’s play; crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, twinkling and sparkling like stars, reflected on the floors and walls; halls as large as a small house where nobility would party and dance the nights away with fountains of wine and large windows with elaborate frames.
Instead he was wrapped in a large white towel hugging his knees on a wooden floor facing a fireplace in a wooden hut somewhere in the middle of the forest.
The fire crackled and popped, sending a stray ember at his toes. He felt no need to move, and idly watched the glowing red dot fade into a lifeless grey, sinking into the grooves of the wooden floorboard.
Loud clomping boots approached Key’s back, followed by the clink of plates placed beside him.
“It’s not much, but it’ll fill your tummy,” the young man shrugged, turning to the edge of the wooden bed. Key looked at the plate of meat and potatoes – not exactly gourmet cuisine, but it would do. He gingerly picked up the spoon with his thumb and forefinger and licked the gravy off it with the tip of his tongue. A little too much salt for his liking, but he continued to scoop a piece of potato into his mouth.
“How’s it?” The man leaned forward. Key nodded and grunted favourably in reply, preoccupied with chewing meat and potatoes.
“I’d get something better for you, being a prince and all, but this was really in short notice.”
Key put down his spoon, “That’s what I want to ask you about.”
“Hmm?” The man waited attentively.
“What’s your name?”
Key’s host was slightly taken aback. “Oh, how rude of me, I’m Heiderich, pleased to meet your acquaintance,” he said, bowing lightly.
“And you’re a what?”
“A prince of what?”
Hernich blinked. “I’m not sure I understand that question.”
Key turned to face Hernich. “Princes rule over things, right?”
“No, that would be a king…”
“Princes take over from kings, right?”
“Then that would make them kings in turn,” Heiderich pointed out.
“So what the hell are you the prince of?” Key asked, frustrated at Heiderich’s topic skirting.
Heiderich’s face turned dead serious.
This time, the popping and crackling of burning wood filled the uncomfortable silence. Key made a face, one eye twitching and overall regarding the man in front of him with a “what are you, nuts?” sort of expression he would soon use more often than he thought.
“…What the hell is a Denmark?” Key asked.
“It is a country; a kingdom, more like.”
Key blinked, doubting Heiderich’s sanity by the minute. “Um….Denmark doesn’t exist.”
“Yes it does,” he insisted, “That’s where my brother is!”
“Yep, his name’s Hamlet.”
“So your brother…is he as much the prince of fools as you?” Key mumbled, looking away from the other man.
Key faced Heiderich once more. “I mean, your brother is a prince of this Denmark?”
“Oh yes. He was supposed to be king too.”
“Supposed? What happened?”
“He didn’t become king, of course.”
“No duh,” replied Key, one eyebrow permanently raised. Heiderich’s inability to leave out the small details was getting bothersome.
“Our father died, but then our uncle became king and married our mother,” Heiderich flatly explained, puzzling Key further – surely a person who had lost a family member, a chance on the throne, and currently sitting in a wooden shed in the middle of the forest would be more emotional.
“You don’t seem too bothered about it,” Key noticed.
“Oh, I’ve an emotional dysfunction – I can’t give a damn about anything since I’ve been born.”
Key nodded slowly, cringing inside. Oh my god he really is the prince of fools, he thought.
“Which is pretty much why I can’t be king; if I can’t look sympathetic to the plight of others, people will think I don’t care about them, and that’s never a good thing, is it?” A sheepish smile crept up the corner of Heiderich’s face, almost embarassed to admit it.
“So you let your brother be king then?”
“Not king, prince.”
“Well, we’re still both princes, just that I don’t care.”
“He’s the opposite, he gives too much a damn that he’s gone loony.”
“Oh, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t know-” Key stammered.
“Nah, it’s okay,” Heiderich waved casually. “I don’t care about it.”
“Oh yeah, you said something about an Ophelia earlier,” Key reminded.
“Yes you did.”
“Ehh whatever, I don’t care about it anymore,” Heiderich ran a hand through his short blonde hair.
“But I do; at least I should,” Key glared.
“Ophelia was my brother’s girlfriend, or so he said. I’ve never seen her myself. I asked him last week and he said she drowned herself in the river.”
“Ohh…I’m sorry…wait, you don’t care, do you?”
“Nope!” Heiderich cheerfully answered.
“So…why’d you think Ophelia exists?”
“What, you’re not Ophelia?”
Key’s eye twitched. “Isn’t it bloody obvious? I just asked you a ton of stuff that if I were Ophelia, I wouldn’t need to ask!”
“Ohh, was that what it was?”
“Yes!” Key raised his voice, annoyed. “Now why did you think Ophelia didn’t exist!?”
“Like I said earlier, my brother’s loony. I just assumed Ophelia was a figment of his imagination.” Heiderich blinked. “You wouldn’t happen to be Ophelia-”
Key cut the conversation short with several thumps of his head on the floor. Maybe he would get lucky and pass out from the concussion and away from the dead-end conversation that was making little sense…
Key scooted to his backpack and rummaged the contents, pulling out the picture once more.
“Have you seen this picture before?”
Heiderich squinted and blinked twice, then shook his head. “Could belong to anybody, that.”
“Seems an old woman was the last owner of this picture.”
“That makes it harder then – this forest has about nine old women last I checked.”
“One of them’s a trio though; singing and chanting at a cauldron, killing little animals and uprooting plants while finding some chap – I think his name’s what, Cawdor or Mac or somesuch. Horrible disregard for the forest, those three, someone should teach them a lesson or two,” Heiderich tsked, folding his arms and shaking his head in disdain.
Key’s eyes widened. “Hey, you’re caring about something!”
“You disapprove of the way they’re destroying the forest, that means you do care about this forest!”
Heiderich’s face twisted and twitched, half-smiling.
“So you’re not emotionally dysfunctional, you’re just as loony as your brother – assuming you had one!” Key pointed out, his excitement running his words faster.
The blonde man leapt from the bed and ran into the nearby wall, banging his head against it. Key recoiled from the random act. Skull against log wall produced loud thumping, rattling the now-empty plate on the floor as the headbanging reverberated against the house. He thought to interfere or at least ask what in blue blazes was his host doing, but something held him back.
Heiderich finally pulled away from the wall huffing and puffing, the front of his hair ruffled and swept into several different directions. He slapped his cheeks and bent over, taking a deep breath. Finally he patted some dust off his shirt and swept his hair back before reestablishing eye contact with Key.
“Naaah, I don’t care about the forest at all.”
Not a prince, he is the Lord of All Fools, Key let out a small sigh, burying his face into his knees.