“Power” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Allison Lin, Syosset High School, USA.
Celia Schneider, a delicate woman in her early thirties, steped out of her mother-in-law’s parlor dressed appropriately: modest blackdress and elbow-length gloves with a large-rimmed gray hat covering the majority of her face, so that only her crimson lips could be seen. She did not notice the Messenger crouched between the forsythia bushes.
The afternoon sun was relentless, at once beautiful and punishing. Celia lifted her head to the source of discomfort and the light shines on her face.
The Messenger smiled, having been waiting for an opportunity to observe her bare face, to make certain she was the correct respondent for the message he was ordered to deliver. He looked at her closely, eyes widening the longer he gazed upon her. She was like the sun itself; no wonder its glare seems to bother her so much; their beauty are both fiercely blinding, the 18-year-old Messenger thought poetically. Celia had radiant white skin, a quaint button nose, rich poppy-red lips, and deep swirling brown eyes, framed with lashes of the darkest black. Her cheekbones were set high in her face and chestnut waves gently brush her shoulders with the erratic directions of the autumn breeze. The young boy stares wistfully at the exquisite lady, his admiring scrutiny hidden by the bright yellow forsythia flowers.
Celia walked forward to the exit gate, her dainty feet clothed in dark grey slippers. As she approached, the Messenger snapped out of his silent reverie and stood up briskly. Celia yelped. When she spotted the Messenger, she glared.
“Why, you! Child, you ought to be more aware of the people around you! You scared me enough to run screaming to where my late husband now is.”
The Messenger bowed stiffly. “My apologies, Ma’am. The King has sent an urgent notice for you.”
“Did he, now?” Celia smiled, the gentle curvature of her lips captivating the Messenger. He blinked his eyes but averts his glance when she continues.“Why, I haven’t seen His Majesty in years! How is he doing nowadays?”
“Just fine, Ma’am. This way, please.”
The Messenger directed the petite woman to a waiting black carriage with the royal emblem printed on both side doors. He cordially holds one door open for the lady to climb in the seats himself at the front of the carriage. With a flick of the reins, the juvenile horseman drives Celia, who sits quietly in the dark with her hands poised daintily on her lap. They entered through a small gate after the Messenger’s with the gate guard.
“I’ll leave you here, Miss.” The Messenger nodded once and darts away in the opposite direction, cheeks curiously red. Celia was directed up two flights of stairs until she reached the throne room. She knocked.
“Enter,” boomed a voice from within. She entered, keeping her head respectfully bowed. How should she react to this King she had not seen in years?
“Ah, Celia Schneider. Welcome.” The 20-something year old King stared piercingly at Celia. He pursed his lips, noticing Celia’s somber black attire immediately. Why is this woman wearing such a bland color? She used to be so fiery. What a shame.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Celia curtsied and sat in a small chair, when the King gave her a warning glare. She lowered her eyes shamefully and stood up again.
“Your husband recently died, if I am correct.” The King spoke with an affable smile, but Celia catches sight of the condescending smirk. She remembered him as a kind young prince, but the flamboyant robes and flashy jewelry nudges her towards a sense of definitive change.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“And he owned quite a bit of land, if I recall.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. A hundred acres.”
“That’s the matter I’ve sent for you to speak about. We must settle this matter, before the issue troubles me any further.” The King sat up a little taller on his throne.
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
“You see, before he died, your husband Schneider was quite the troublesome man. He swindled a great number of citizens to make all his money.”
“Well, yes,” Celia stammers. “But they were all our close relatives. And we paid them back fully, so they were only loans.”
“My memory is impeccable, dear Celia. That is not what I remember from the numerous complaints I received. As you might guess, this misfortune has made those people very unhappy. And when my people are unhappy, especially so many of them, I am unhappy. And when I am unhappy, what happens to you, my dear Celia?”
Silence greeted his question. Celia blushed and looked down at her ruffled black mourning skirt.
“That’s right. You are unhappy. So because of the complaints I have received from those people your late husband swindled, I deduct 50 acres of land. I really should deduct more, but you are in mourning, yes?”
Celia nodded, a contrite expression evident in her teary eyes and trembling lower lip.
The King continued, “Right. So I shall be kind. That leaves you with 50 acres. Now, if I recall, you contacted me many times right before your husband died. My Messenger ran back and forth between your house and the palace. It was all quite annoying. I’m terribly displeased.”
“Your Majesty, forgive me. I was merely inquiring, in my desperation, if you would be so kind as to send your Royal Physician down to aid my husband’s waning health. Forgive me, Sire.” Celia bowed her head low.
“Hmph. I don’t believe that is so. When you contacted my Messenger, you did not give a reason. I remember this clearly, as it bothered me very much. I hope you shall refrain from such disrespectful behavior in the future.”
Celia nodded again, eyes remained downcast.
“Nonetheless, the matter remains in my mind. Thus I will deduct another 25 acres from your land. Not to mention, the color you wore today is horribly unpleasant. I find the black rather jarring and distasteful.I never understood why you people insist on dressing this way when somebody dies. What an unfortunate practice. Deduct 5 acres. That leaves you with 20.”
Celia snapped her head up with a gasp. “Your Majesty, black is the accepted color of mourning!” She protested, crystalline tears perched precariously on the edge of her eyelid.
The King raised his eyebrows. “My dear, you seem to have forgotten your place. I am Your King, Your Sovereign. You should watch your tone. I believe I will subtract 15 acres for that immodest protest. Now you still have 5 acres.”
Celia bites her quivering bottom lip. She opened her mouth, presumably in an attempt to reason with the irrational king, but held her tongue. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
The young King clucks his tongue. “But, my dear, you are a woman. What in the name of the heavens are you to do with this land? You have no use for it at all, I daresay!”
Fearing he would deduct more, Celia quickly responded. “I planned for a children’s school to be built, Your Majesty. It was my husband and I- it was our dream. We wanted to better the education of young minds nationwide.” Her eyes turned upward briefly as she described her dream.
The King waved a dismissive hand. “Sentimental rubbish. What use is education? I never got one, and look how I turned out! I’m the king of this entire place!”
Celia moved a gloved hand to cover the faint smile pulling at the edges of her mouth. “Of course, Your Majesty.”
“No matter. You can keep your land. 5 acres is plenty for a woman. Off you go now,” The King rested his head against the back of the throne and closes his eyes. He pointed with jewel-encrusted fingers towards the door of the throne room. Celia creeps silently away her position far away from the throne.
With reddened eyes and a hoarse voice, the tear-stricken Celia mumbles, “Thank you, Your Majesty.” She left the room with a respectful bow. The heavy wooden door makes only a slight plink as it closes, in contrast to its usual slam.
The King opened his eyes immediately after Celia’s departure and flexes his fingers in awe. How much power he had held! How very easy it was for the strong to deal with the weak! The King revels in his glory, bathes in the utter fascination at having dealt so harshly with his mourning subject.
A few months passed, so the King made one of his annual rounds of his kingdom to ensure civilian prosperity and happiness. Out of all the brick and mortar houses in the suburban area of the city, he singlesout one to the Messenger walking alongside him.
“A moment alone, Messenger. I need to speak with the inhabitant of this particular household.” The King orders affirmatively.
The Messenger straightened his back and threw his gaze up high, proudly standing tall to show adequate respect to his King’s command. The King stood straight at the door for about two seconds, sweeps back his robes in one smooth motion, and proceeded to enter the home with a confident twist of the knob.
A small yellow ball, dislodged from the King’s pocket when he swept his robes behind him, nudges the Messenger’s foot and prompts him to look down. The Messenger notes the toy as a mundane object that the peasant children would play with when they were particularly nervous about a subject. He turned the brightly colored ball in his hand. On the other side, an embossed inscription stares up at him. Royal Now and Forevermore, the Erikson family. The Messenger stood motionless, confused by the obvious ownership of the trinket; nonetheless, he picked up the little item, and rushes to follow his King through the doorway. The boy stopped his forward advance awkwardly when he saw his King make himself comfortable on the beige leather sedan, spreading his faux peasant robes neatly around his body, despite the lady of the house’s gaping mouth. The Messenger looked at the pretty lady closely; after a few uncomfortably long moments, recognition lit up his sharp young features.
“Ma’am! How nice it is to see you again!”
The quick exclamation from the boy jostles Celia Schneider from her stunned silence enough to remember her manners and give a respectably deep curtsy to the seated King, her rich purple skirts skimming the wooden floor. “What brings you to my humble home, Your Majesty?”
“I want to remind you of the encounter we had several months ago. I easily deprived you of your rightfully inherited land. It was so terribly simple. How could you let yourself be such a ninny? It simply isn’t right, I must say.” The King shaked his head derisively. He motioned with his left hand at the Messenger, who is still standing near the open door, watching Celia’s every move. The boy blinked his eyes hard and bows to the King, then retreats to the very back of the small room.
“Yes, Your Majesty. I apologize.” Celia pulled her hands together in front of her and clutches her skirts anxiously. Last time we met, he took away 80 acres of my inheritance.
“Incredibly unbefitting your station. I am almost ashamed of you. As the beloved daughter of my late father’s Head Advisor, you are bringing shame on the Royal Family’s reputation.”
Celia nodded shyly and clutches her skirts again, the satin ruffles crumpling under her relentless anxiety.
“I can’t have stories being told that I, the Great King, cheated someone of land and money. Especially if that someone is a person who has been employed by royalty before, like you.” The King sighed. “Oh, there is nothing left to do then!”
Celia remained respectably silent, when she spotted the Messenger making a forward advance. She jolted her head up quickly and glared at him, forcing the boy to recognize his mistake and stepped back into the shadows. Meanwhile, the King thinks over his recent predicament.
“All right. I shall return your land. Yes, now you have the 100 acres you claimed before. It is yours. Do with it what you will. My work here is done.” The King stood up abruptly and dusted off his hands awkwardly. He then faced Celia, wrinkling his nose. “You ought to clean this place up, my dear. I will be leaving now.” As he turns, Celia catches sight of the curiously fiery embarrassment burning in the King’s cheeks, as well as the creeping grin that uncontrollably slips from his royal poker face. He stepped over the threshold and left the door ajar for the Messenger to follow.
Instead, the Messenger walked meekly over to Celia, who has not relaxed her stiff posture and remained standing uncomfortably. “He was planning on giving you back the land all along,” he whispered benignly. “I could hear him practicing in the Throne Room.” Without waiting for an answer, the boy offered Celia a wide toothy grin and follows his King out the open doorway.
Alone in the house, Celia grabbed a wooden chair from the dining table and falls into it. She stared at the spot the King had just departed from. It is a long shocked silence before she smiles. 100 acres. 100 whole acres. Celia lets out a wholehearted laugh.
Later that night, Celia dreams of her dead husband. Unlike the usual grief-stricken plots, this dream features the pair standing at the edge of their land. The dream Celia grabs her late husband’s spectral hands and squeezes. “It was almost taken from us, my love. Our dream together of the little School Upon A Hill. But today, that all changed. Today, he gave it back. I promise you, I will build the dream we had. I will do it for this country, and I will do it for us.”