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King Ransom

After the Tornado 2

By Barbara Steinhauser Published 3 years ago 7 min read

My bride flows toward me like jenny gold, her silk dress a shimmering infatuation of silk and electrified wire. I fully expect the child to burst into song at seeing me, the impervious King dressed in full military regalia. I am, after all, raising her in an instant from lowly miller’s daughter to Queen of Hevn, my high mountain valley.

Platinum are her locks, wandering like money past virgin breasts, angelic as a feminine Midas. The maid does weave gold from straw. I salivate at the floss of 14 karats; a metallic urge clenches my teeth. She does not gaze at me, my coerced companion, but rather at the spacious womb birthing our union: the renovated barn, a condition of her consent to marry.

“Spin straw into gold as your father claims, and I shall take you to be my wife,” I said, before locking her into the dilapidated outbuilding where goats, sheep, and cows breathed out foul air. I suspect three nights fulfilling this obligation turned her sentimental toward the barn’s four wooden walls, the rotten, broken, splintered monstrosity where I proposed.

As if I were not enough, she demanded, “Transform my space of imprisonment into a party barn according to my specifications and I shall marry you within its walls, before the entire Kingdom.” I obliged, taken as I was by the acute taste of metallic lust for this, my brightest of futures.

I spared no cost, knowing the consummation of this marriage would fling me into the heights of wealth, earning hearty welcome to billionaire abodes. Her talent might catapult me onto Richest Man in the World notoriety. I might grace the cover of Castle Quarterly.

Therefore, at my command, contractors poured a concrete foundation over the former prison’s dirt floor, raised the sides and laid down black walnut flooring. I never paid over minimum wage. “A fool and his money are soon parted,” my mother, the dowager Queen used to say.

The frame was warped and when structural engineers were engaged to ascertain cause and repair, I shuddered to consider what might have happened had the structure caved over spirals of gold my fiancé spun those three nights of wonder and bliss.

The roof leaked and was remedied. Plumbers installed plumbing. Electricians let there be light. The climate was controlled. A massive bar with brass fittings and a custom wine cellar 10’ by 12’ foot containing racks of interlocking mahogany were well-stocked. Two plush restrooms decorated in white for innocence; gold for well, gold; with violet and blue toilet paper representing royalty and godliness were gilded “Monarch” and “Muse”. Ladies knew which was which and men hardly cared.

Insulation was required, interior walls raised with ceilings to establish elaborate kitchens and pantries, elaborate decorative tiles were inlaid, hardwood cabinets shaped by finest craftsmen, Italian marble countertops ordered and reordered when the first shipment contained a flaw.

My Betrothed’s list of reparations, as she called them, was relentless. Had I not threatened violence against her puffed up Papa, I might not be standing here even now, contemplating my indulgences as she draws near. She clings to the arm of the simpleton who fertilized her; a parent gazing with adoration into a daughter’s eyes, his brown as mud and bane. She may have considered herself unworthy of elegant men such as I, imagining life with a similar dullard, a plump, blathering idiot like this wrinkled, grey person.

Happily, fortune smiled upon her and I upon it. I will train her up. She will twinkle bright as Sirius the Dog Star, coming when I call. Pride she will instill in her Master as she poses, well-heeled, by my side. Her purse will bulge and my coffers will overflow with her goodness.

But what is this? Does the brackish coot mean to cling to her hand and not transfer it into mine, smooth and manicured as it is? Does he consider himself a patentee with rights? His eyes glare through me with the dullness befitting his brand.

And she, yet evading my gaze, makes no move to slip from his limpidity. This is wrong. I have done all that was asked of me. I am King. I shall not suffer humiliation before my court, my pews packed with the common. I place my foot upon his scuffed, though polished black boot and slide my elbow into his flabby chest, claiming My Prize. He falls back, oppressed. Has he no better quality suit in his hovel called home?

Sudden movement in the back of the splendid structure distracts me from menial contemplation. A strange man bearing a fiddle climbs upon and settles atop a beer barrel placed at the edge of low-class seating. The fiddle strings are eight in number, not four and highly decorated with mother of pearl inlays on the fingerboard. As he begins to tune, an underlying, disconcerting drone fills the quiet. Will someone make him stop? His rainbow jacket weakens my resolve.

“What woman do you take in marriage this day?” The Minister addresses the Bible in his grizzled hands, as if finding his place to begin the ritual. His neck is jowled; he growls with the ferocity of a troll. Was this the quality pastor available for this momentous occasion?

The fiddler has ceased tuning and begins to play, his ambiance familiar and unwelcome. A startling spirit tightens my throat and alarms my concentration so that I cannot remember the name of my Betrothed.

“I take Thee,” I tell the Minister. I point. “I take Her to be my wife.”

He clears his throat as in disbelief. “But, what is her name?” His eyes are beady as an eagle and wide with amusement.

The fiddler plays a lively, frenzy of an unrecognizable tune. How is he here? His rising passion, like violence, attacks those in attendance who react like waves in a cyclone, swarming around stocks of beer and wine, smashing bottles across recrystallized carbonate countertops, swaying as if struck insane.

“Her name?” The Minister screams above the commotion.

Her eyes are not brown like her Papa’s eyes, they are hazel. Her eyebrow twists into a dagger. She regards me with unmistakable disdain. “My name is Cash Cow.” Such intelligence discomfits me.

Suddenly, I am accosted by an accountant, waving what he claims to be unpaid bills. “There shall be no further ceremony until contractors are paid,” he yells above the fray. The man wears a pinstriped brown suit; a man garbled in such fashion cannot wield power. He hasn’t the position to disrupt my will and testament.

“Take it from the Treasury!” Even to me, my voice sounds shrill. Control yourself, I think. This is all a misunderstanding. Funds haven yet to be transferred from this woman’s account to mine. “My bride’s dowry saturates the coffer. Take what is required.”

“I need her name,” the accountant says. “Your coffers are depleted.”

These words like a hammer drum my heart. What rant does this fiddler bow with ferocity? I raise my hands to cover my ears: very unkinglike.

The audience taunts me, drunk on my alcohol. They chant, “What is her name,” raising crystal glasses to shatter a eulogy. Sirens surround the building. Fist fights ensue.

Soaring above chaos, the fiddler’s Aire thermals like colliding molecules, sobbing like a prophecy that runs up and down scales in search of a victim.

I do not tap the tune, but fumble beneath my splendid, well-pressed, brocaded purple military cloak seeking my leather sheath, feeling for the ivory handled knife ever present. I raise this weapon, unconscious who stands beside me, before me, behind me. I raise it wishing to enforce silence, to quell this devilish mob, to regain control.

“I am the KING,” I throttle, gearing up.

My fiancé cowers beside me. What is her name?

Her Papa flings his body upon her: a warrior’s shield. The accountant wields his brown jacket like a matador. The minister’s hands fold in prayers. And the devil tune raises the roof with its insanity.

“She will spin more gold!”

I scream, lash out with my knife. Its plunge into meat brings to mind dinner steak, brings to mind numbness, brings to the cavity that is my mouth a bitter greenish brown bile.

My hand returns to me, knife dripping blood.


About the Creator

Barbara Steinhauser

Thank you for taking time to read my stuff. I love writing almost as much as I love my people. I went back to college and earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and often run on that storytelling track. Enjoy!

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