The king awoke to the sounds of sizzling ham and eggs on the stove. He stirred and stretched until his nest was spread out quite messily around him on the floor.
“By the name of Father Time himself! You were quite tired, man.” Vick stood over the breakfast, adding another egg to the pan. “The sun will be at full height within the hour, and you might have been quite content to sleep until then, had I not bribed your nose with warm aromas. There’s a pail of fresh water just out the back door to wash yourself before the food is ready, and I’m sure I’ll not need to call you to come in and eat.”
The king stumbled out the indicated door, for the first time noticing how sore a long walk and tree-root pillows can make a man. Behind the cottage lay a patch of grass and a small garden, ripe with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, potatoes, and a splendid variety of other vegetables just waiting to be reaped. A short distance beyond the garden stood more woods, dark and unhappy even in the light of full day.
The sound of dishes being set on the table turned the king gladly back into the hut, relieved to be away from the trees and their secrets.
“There should be plenty of food for you to keep you busy until our friend comes back,” Vick brought out a final plate of warm bread and a tray of butter. “He’s gone to call another of our friends, one who you might be very interested to meet.”
The king hadn’t even noticed that the merchant had gone, but the thought of food clouded all things as if they were mere bothers to an otherwise happy existence.
First went the eggs, then the ham, then bread and butter and water and tea until the table stood defeated and its conqueror sat proud and content.
The ferryman had been kept so busy filling cups and frying eggs that when the last crumb sat alone, he as well sank down into a chair and pulled out a pipe to relax.
“So the food has gone, but our friend has not yet come,” the king propped his bare feet up onto a nearby stool.
“I suppose he’s found some other friend along the way and will likely-as-not be returning with three or four needy souls. That’s usually what ends up of his travels- well look at you for example! ‘Off to sell some odds and ends’, he says. ‘I’ll be back in a week with seeds and tools,’ he tells me.
“Well, you can see what manner of seeds and tools he’s brought! The king from the West he’s brought instead! I must say that he’s never brought a king before. Usually they’re beggars or thieves or orphans and the such- saved from some awful life of punishment and suffering.”
The king sat up straight at the mention of beggars and thieves, and had clumsily tipped his footstool in the process.
“Thieves and beggars?” was all he managed to ask, setting his stool back to its place.
“Well mostly, but there’s the occasional wounded traveler or aimless drunk. It’s not long though before he’s got them off on strange adventures and I never see them again.”
The king was ready to respond, and had just upset his footstool once again, when the front door swung open and in stepped the merchant, who- looking very serious- spoke directly to the ferryman:
“The western kingdom has fallen. I had expected at least another month, but The Great White Wizard has risen from his frozen throne and his forces have swept quickly through the land, followed by all kinds of evil creatures and foul things.”
He turned to the king and simply stated: “Your brother and council are dead.”