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Tarts and Targets: A Short Fantasy Story

Updated: Apr 5

a tart for the mad king

Tarts and Targets: a Short Fantasy Story

I am standing in the wrong room and I am wearing the wrong clothes. Please, don’t misunderstand me. I had meant to break into the Old King’s Castle. I had even intended to get close to him. Only, I figured I would find him late at night as he slept. Yet, through a series of nuanced mishaps, I encounter myself dressed as one of his soldiers. From the helmet to the boots, black all the way down. Moreover, I am joined to a legion of others dressed in similar garbs. We march into the red lord’s great hall, his throne room, his grand chamber. 

“Stand for your king!” He shouts at us, pacing back and forth in front of his throne. We are already standing.

We pour in through the room’s double doors, three at a time, separating into two distinct units in the great hall. It feels somewhat pomp and circumstance, in that we are all wearing black, the trumpeters play the same fifteen second melody over and over again, and that the air of the room screams “none of us will ever be the same.” I’m even three rows back, which is fitting for a group this size since my last name starts with the letter K.

After the king’s musicians have thoroughly beat their tunes into our heads, and the last trio of troops marches in, the room falls strangely silent. An ant traverses past the king, and he stomps it to death several times over. Then he is quiet again for a moment.

“Who did it?” Our lord addresses us. His eyes bulge wide. He has put his pacing to death and instead stands noble and astute before us. No one answers. “Who did it?” He yells. “Answer me!” His voice crackles like a wood burning candle, as he lets out one long last note of anger. “I will gut every last one of you,” he tells us, “if that’s what it takes.” Again, there is quiet.

“My lord,” a soldier decorated with a crimson plume atop his uniform speaks up. “What is the matter? What crime do you speak of?” The king looks at him as if he has just been assaulted. Even from three rows back, I can see the veins exploding in the red king’s eyes. He holds his hands behind his back and presses the train of his cape against him. His majesty descends the steps pouring out from his throne slowly. He reaches the tiled ground we array ourselves on and canters towards his feather headed subject.

“Who,” he whispers. “Stole my tarts!” He spits as he screams, almost as if on purpose. I gaze as the confronted soldier leans back as much as he can manage without moving his feet. I’m glad my helmet covers my face, poor chap. 

The king passes on from him, strutting patiently before the front row of troops. He stares into their eyes, looking for their souls, and revealing his own. 

One young man makes the mistake of sneezing, and the whole room turns their gaze on him.

“Take him away!” the king demands, “beat him, kill his parents, and if he doesn’t have any, find him some.”

This is not how I saw my day going.

The military man beside me begins shaking, a low rattling cymbal playing in a solemn bookshop. Despite his working for the mad lord, I can’t help but feel sorry for him.

“Hey,” I whisper to the gentleman. His head gear turns slightly in my direction.

“A woman?” he whispers back. I do not answer him.

“You’re going to be okay. Just stay calm,” I instruct. He turns his head fully forward. His shaking quiets. 

“Thank you.” he wisps through his breath.

My attention returns to the room. Another soldier is being hauled off, this time by the two soldiers next to him. He begs, drags his feet, and reaches for our hands. It does him no good. In a moment he is gone.

“My king!” a man bursts into the room as if he is ready to stop a wedding. “New tarts have been made!”

The mad one straightens up from the staring contest he has been in with some fatherly looking figure. He rubs his hand through his beard, reflecting on the news. Purple streaks make their way down the silver-tinted auburn bristles on his chin and cheeks. Purple, as in raspberry.

“Oh,” he peers down at his palm. “Would you look at that?” He turns his hand to the soldier he’s been dead gazing at. His face carries a wild smile. “I ate the tarts. Silly me.” He gives two gentle slaps to the soldier's face and begins his ascent back to his throne. “Must have forgotten. I’m a very busy person after all.” He settles on his throne. “Okay here’s the plan. Someone has to take the fall for this, and it’s not going to be me.”

Again the room is quiet. Even the messenger of good news seems to be sweating, making nearly invisible scooches back to the door he came in through.

I had come to the mad king’s home to save my people. I had come to set us free; but now that I’m here, I can see how deep the slavery runs. Nobody is here for their good pleasure. Even the knights are hostages.

“Well?” Our dark leader demands. “Who will it be?”

It dawns on me, that perhaps, my mission isn’t to win the war. Maybe I came here today to win the battle. Maybe I can’t save Atheriya. But right now, I can save these men. I step forward.

“I did it,” I announce to the room. I take my helmet off, and as I do, I understand what a tart feels like. I’m crusted with plates externally. But inside, everything has turned to jelly. Now I’m the one shaking. “I stole the King’s tart.”

“I knew it!” He cries out in a scratchy falsetto. His finger points so sharply at me that I can feel its sting. “Never trust a woman, isn’t that right lads?” he asks the room. To my disappointment there are a few approving nods back to him. “Take her away!”

A pair of guards move to grab me. They are stopped by the mad king. “No, I want my red guards to deal with her.” A door behind his throne opens and out of its darkness three knights covered in ruby rimmed armor step towards me.

I can’t help but breathe like a dog. I can’t bother myself to have some dignity. I beg them not to touch me. I cry for them to not take me away. Of course, they do not listen.

They put a bag over my head and push me off my feet.

For a moment, all I can do is feel. I feel the gauntlets holding me by my arms. I feel my heels slide behind me. They fish tail each time we turn. Then I feel us go down stairs. I’m stripped of my armor. Buckets upon buckets of water are splashed over me, some of which make me feel like I’m drowning. Then I’m being redressed. No telling by who. I only know that they are softer, more gentle hands than those of the red knights. 

Then again, I’m grabbed by old hands; big, strong, metal ones, and I’m carried up a spire. A door opens and I’m thrown on a bed. It is plush, evidently with several covers.  The bag is pulled off my head.

Before me stands two men of the red guard.  They look down at me. I can feel their judgment from behind their helmets. One of them leans down.

“Finish the mission,” he tells me. I stare at him. Who knows what he means. He pulls a red dagger from his belt and sets it on my lap. Then he rises. The pair begins making their way to the door.

“Aren’t you supposed to kill me?” I ask them. It’s not something I want to remind them of, but I can’t bear to stay here without knowing. 

The soldier who knelt over me turns around. He stares at me. “Finish The Mission,” he states again. He pivots and exits behind his comrade. I am left alone. Who knows who’s bedroom this is. Unless, maybe the red guard knew of my plan. It’s not clear, but I can’t help feeling that I am standing in the wrong room and I am wearing the wrong clothes.

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