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The Finest in the Empire

A Retelling of "The Emperor's New Clothes"

By Brynne NelsonPublished 7 months ago 5 min read
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Power is not always bestowed on the able or the wise. Instead, it is often the armament of those least qualified to wield it. I was once unacquainted with these truths.

I was wedded to Otobia’s Emperor Gadek VIII. I was his captured cat, claws contained. His rule was an excruciating affliction, a bitterness in the well, a noxious stinging nettle.

Under Gadek VII, Otobia had been strong—stable, safe. My husband betrayed that legacy, basking in opulence. Meanwhile, starving masses drowned in his debts, bore his barbarism. I watched, waiting within a golden cage.

Given his mind and education, Gadek could have governed wisely. Instead, he spewed vitriol. Egotism, indolence, and gluttony were his favored idols, and he was always at worship.

The day Gadek outright refused aid to our people, victims of a violent disaster they did nothing to invite, I determined to incite change. I chased whispers, hunting someone to help me; at last, Agaev appeared.

“An ‘undred thousand cit’zens, crushed dead by tha’ earthquake. Ought someone ta do sumthin,” the man growled, savage and self-satisfied. “Th’ emperor won’t.”

“All true,” I admitted. “But—begging pardon—”

“Wha can us mudborn fellas do ta upturn an ‘ole ‘mpire?”

“Bluntly, yes.”

His squint was unflattering, his stench unbearable.

“You’re quality,” he declared. “Solid workm’nship, not holla’ness, pretendin’.

“I won’t tell ya all, not now. But plottin’ change’s easy ‘nuff.”

My eyebrow rose.

“‘Ere. Lemee show my meanin’.”

He inhaled. Then he straightened, stretching taller by a handspan. A flask appeared; he sipped, swilled, and spat. The flask vanished. He tossed his threadbare cloak to his right, donning a cap from his left. His squint rounded, eyes becoming discerning. And—where was that malodor?

I gawked despite practiced composure. Preening in Agaev’s shoes was a stylish artisan.

“You’ll find our influences sufficient, Highness. All’s required of you, today, is hiring us.”

I balked, uncomprehending.

Hiring you? As—revolutionaries?”

Agaev roared with laughter.

“As tailors.”

***

“Fetch more drink,” Gadek drawled, swatting my rear. I poured and served, stiff with irritation. The emperor immediately slopped half the wine.

“Have you eyes, woman? More!”

I rose, restraining my retort.

“The clothiers!” a pageboy proclaimed.

Agaev led two assistants. They pulled a cart bearing threads, shears, and empty wooden bolts.

“Where are my clothes?” Gadek demanded.

“The fabric is prepared, Sire. Now we measure your figure—and your perception,” Agaev explained, his tone oily, obsequious.

“My… perception?”

“Yes, Magnificence. This silk is the finest in the empire. ‘Tis fairy gossamer; commoners cannot perceive it. Only the deserving will discern your robes. But I promise: they’ll be your due.”

I hesitated; the story seemed transparent. Gadek isn’t foolish enough—

“I am not common. Proceed.”

Apparently he is.

Agaev performed flawlessly, heaving a bolt, unrolling air with delicacy.

“Is… this… truly the best?” Gadek questioned, reaching toward the nothing on display. He stopped, snapped impatient fingers. “Wife?”

I had prepared; this lie had to carry our fantasy. If I failed, Agaev’s execution would be my shame.

“It is exquisite, Majesty. This can only accentuate your glory.”

Gadek considered.

A strangling panic struck: might he offer to share? Dodge our snare by serendipity?

No. Gadek rivaled Midas; he would waste no wealth on me.

“It…will suffice,” he declared.

I breathed.

Agaev’s men measured and mimed; Gadek’s expression wavered—pleased, puzzled. I observed.

Agaev exuded malevolent cheer.

***

Gadek paraded on horseback, blithe, naked as a newborn. I rode behind, appropriately reverential. We passed multitudes; horrified eyes found mine. My people.

Anticipation prickled.

“The emperor is nekked!” Agaev’s signal: a womanly screech. “He’s hangin’ out bare buttocks ‘n’ all!”

“We must witness this impiety?” Agaev’s comrade complained, dressed as a deacon.

“For this wastefulness, we bleed taxes? He tears the very bread from children!” An unfamiliar voice.

“He embarrasses the Empire!”

“He embarrasses hisself—ain’t nothin’ impressive there! His shriveled fig ain’t ‘ardly some kingly scepter!”

I chortled.

Then darkening reality descended anew.

The crowd verged on riot, even children stirring. Gadek spared them one disgusted glare.

“Ingrates! Idiots!” He spat. “Those worthy—”

A tomato, lobbed high, splattered upon the emperor.

Impressive aim, I thought. Will he hear their malcontent now?

Gadek’s growling promised murder.

“Who dares—?”

“You’re just some naked idjit!” The crowds were riled beyond mollification. “Why should you rule?”

Embers became flames; the masses seethed, entreating Heaven’s retribution.

One final, frayed thread of trepidation restrained them. Then—

“Adine! No!”

A giggling toddler chased Gadek.

“Save that child!” I yelped.

The emperor wiped up tomato goo, then flicked it at the boy. Gadek spat his final, poisonous words.

“Stay, whelp!”

The thread snapped.

Adine was snatched away. Shouts echoed; masses surged.

I sat spellbound astride my horse. The bloodthirsty horde advanced, inexorable.

“Death to tyrants!”

“Tear down the fiend!”

“Wash the street in ‘is blood!”

“Get the ‘ole court!”

Agaev jarred me from stupefaction.

“Time we git you out, Highness. There’s more plans, and you’re not t’be squashed.”

We dodged through the frenzy, Agaev leading, authoritative. Behind us, Gadek shrieked. Then, thumph, he fell, prostrating before the people.

The mob screamed, triumphant.

***

Before the Great Reform, I begged God for purpose. Agaev was surely His reply, for I would never have seized rulership alone. True, I abhorred Agaev’s brutal methods. Yet, I concede: he was right. He faithfully fulfilled the people’s desperate dreams. He devised deliverance in torturous times, forced the reforging of Otobia—then humbly departed, a hero.

I study his example, determined to lead with a moderate hand.

Eventually, he vanished, leaving behind his salvaged trophy: Gadek’s dented crown. Now, as I rule under that glimmering, grisly memento, I remember my responsibility. I serve the living source of my power, the beating hearts that define Otobia. I consider how to give the future my fiercest strength.

I refuse to allow Gadek’s failures to be forgotten. If he had recognized the capacity and might in the people, he might have lived—and lived better.

I bear that crown as I would a directive from Heaven: as Empress, I must be better, must represent the finest in the empire.

And I will.

Short StoryFantasy
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About the Creator

Brynne Nelson

I'm a writer. I'm a wife and a mom. I'm a human.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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