EVEN FOR A FIFTEEN-year-old, Wesley Foxhill made a bad king.
To the etiquette-master’s annoyance, he ate with the wrong fork and put his elbows on the table during dinner.
To his chamberlain’s embarrassment, he treated his servants as if they were schoolboy friends.
To his statesmens’ disappointment, he laughed at the gaily-dressed lords that came to pay him tribute and taunted their anger.
To the disdain of the master-of-arms, he stumbled over the ornate Gnessian carpet in the hall on the way to court and jammed his finger.
To the grand vizier’s chagrin, he picked his nose when he thought no one was looking. And to the kennel boys’ dismay, he played with the hunting dogs in the royal kennel.
If he’d been fully aware that he’d been the ruler of the land of Essam for the last two hundred and fifty years—that he’d stumbled over the carpet in the main hall ninety thousand, seven hundred and twenty-six times during his reign as monarch—he might have had some practice at the day-to-day affairs of running a kingdom.
But like the other children, the Longhaul Sleep System managing his induced hibernation cycled him through the same day over and over again, like that old movie Groundhog Day, wiping the day’s memory each night. This happened nightly for Wesley, but in real life, thanks to the accelerated properties of REM sleep, this memory-flush occurred eight times a night.
As he dreamed and dreamed, the space vessel Mithrandir carried him and the other several hundred men, women, and children deep into the cosmos toward the distant star system Gliese 581, and humanity's next home.
Wesley woke up the next day with a powerful hunger, and as he slipped out of his royal bed and into his warm slippers, he salivated over the syrupy pancakes and juicy blueberries he’d been served for breakfast the day before. It was also the first time he’d ever had coffee, real bittersweet Berben coffee with cane sugar and cream, made with fresh beans from the Scarbury Isles, and he was looking forward to another helping.
“Good morning,” Wesley told the assistant chamberlain Roane as he came in carrying a tray with a covered dish, a ceramic teapot, a little sugar dish, a tiny carafe of cream, and a small mug.
“Good morning, your Highness,” Roane said with a smile, setting the tray on a table by the balcony.
“Things always look different after a good night’s rest,” said Wesley, as the older man selected a handsome outfit from the assortment of garments in his armoires. Four of them lined the west wall, scrollworked cedar cupboards filled with clothes in all manner of color and fabric.
“That they do, that they do.”
“Yesterday was a bit of a cock-up,” admitted Wesley, “but today I think I’m going to get things started off on the right foot.”
Roane gave him an odd look.
“Yes, well,” said the assistant, “if you don’t mind me saying so, your Highness, I think you handled your ascension as well as anyone could under the circumstances. Your father would be quite proud of you.”
Wesley hesitated. His ascension was two days ago. What was this man talking about? Oh well. It’s been a turbulent week. One can forgive a slip of the mind. “You flatter me, good chamberlain. I only hope that I can live up to his legacy.”
His outfit was to be a tailored slip and leggings of the whitest pearl-silk; a tunic of such a rich blue velvet that unless he turned toward the window a certain way, it was almost black; a belt and boots made of the finest black kid-leather; a light cape that was the same blue on the outside and black on the inside, studded with tiny diamonds so that when he held it wide it seemed he had the night sky at his back.
“A remarkable transformation indeed, sire,” said the assistant. “You make quite the handsome king.”
Wesley blushed. Roane tucked a lock of the King’s lank black hair behind his ear and placed the royal diadem on Wesley’s head, a simple circlet of gold with a pair of branching prongs that resembled the antlers of deer. Three rubies had been set into the brow, the largest in the center.
He had an odd feeling that he’d been here before, seen himself in this outfit before.
“Déjà vu,” he murmured.
“Ah, yes, what?” asked Roane, visibly troubled.
“Oh, nothing.” Wesley rubbed his hands together, unable to contain a stirring of delight. “What’s for breakfast, man? More of the same as yesterday, I hope.”
Roane squinted in confusion. Shaking it off, he went to the table and lifted the cover from the dish.
“Pancakes,” said Wesley.
“And fresh blueberries, and maple syrup, and of course sweetcream. They were your father’s favorite, as you well know.”
“Yes.” There was a queer deadening in Wesley’s hands.
Call us superstitious, perhaps--
“Call us superstitious, perhaps,” said Roane, pinching a couple of sugar-lumps into the mug and pouring coffee into it, “but we thought that it might be most auspicious to begin your reign with the same odd lot of things that he preferred for his morning meal.” The chamberlain’s assistant looked up with a gracious grin.
Wesley licked his teeth in thought. “Yes… yes, I agree.”
He sat down to breakfast.
The rest of the day progressed as usual. By ‘as usual’, it is meant that everything carried with it an unsettling feeling of clairvoyance. Every moment seemed pregnant with meaning and memory. Used was the word that sprang to mind, as if he were living a secondhand life.
Coming back to court from a mid-day meal in his chambers, Wesley tripped over the carpet in the north antechamber hallway again. He was accompanied by William Linau, a dandy baron from one of the coastal territories and manager of one of the kingdom’s chief ports. He’d come too late for the morning supplication, and Wesley had elected to take lunch with him to avoid making the man wait.
The Baron will laugh, he thought, as he stumbled over the lump in the carpet.
Wesley gave him a sharp look and the lord’s pale face fell, mouth hidden behind the perfumed handkerchief he always carried around.
“Baron Linau,” said Wesley.
“Do you know anything of magic?”
“Yeah.” The King rolled one shoulder, uncomfortable. “Seeing the future, ahh, raising the dead, making somebody fall in love with you. That kind of stuff.”
“Oh good heavens, no,” said Linau. “Why? Do you have your royal eye on some lucky lady?”
Wesley grunted. They pressed on.