Sir John paced up and down the stone floors of his castle. It was so large that it had to be warmed by 37 fireplaces. But it was no use. A cold wind whistled through the windows. He longed for the day when mankind would invent glass.
He heard a horse galloping in the distance, a woman's scream, a man's laugh.
Max kept himself busy, Sir John acknowledged. He envied his son. "At the end of the day," Sir John muttered to himself, "I've nothing to do."
A man needed purpose. A man needed to rule. A man at least needed to hear the response from the proclamations that his ravens had delivered on Sunday throughout the entire Hermit Kingdom.
Sir John smiled a thin smile, thinking of the proclamations, with their stinging rebukes and ingenious solutions to the pandemic. The people were hungry for any word that dropped from his lips. "They cry out," he cried out, "for their true King!"
He stood in front of one of the roaring fireplaces. He knew the magic of fire; he was blessed with the gift of visions appearing in flames. He stared hard and looked for a picture of himself once more upon the Iron Throne. He had ruled as King for nine glorious years, and now, in his dotage, bored to tears, he fancied another shot.
At first, all he saw was smoke, disappearing up the chimney. But then a face began to emerge in the flames. He leaned in closer. Who was it?
"No!", he cried out.
Queen Jacinda sat upon the Iron Throne and met with her small council. "It used to be smaller," she said, thinking with affection of her former ally, Sir Winston, known throughout the Hermit Kingdom as Half Man.
Maester Bloomfield smoothed out a parchment on the table. It was covered with numbers and hieroglyphics, the result of his latest study on the pandemic that drove the people mad.
"Well," said the Queen, "is there a plague on all our houses?"
"Only the ones in Auckland."
She studied the parchment. None of it made a lick of sense. "Tell me honestly," she said. "Has the elimination strategy failed?"
He looked at his wrist as though expecting to find a watch that mankind had yet to invent. "Must dash," he said.
Lady Judith tore at her hair, ran all through the village, and screamed blue murder.
Her band of squires and village idiots looked on. "Here we go again," they said.
She screeched, "The night is dark, and full of terrors!"
"The days aren't that great either," they said.
She shrieked, "The Iron Throne is mine!"
"Yeah, whatever," they said.
The Half Man strode into the inn. There were scenes of riotous debauchery. No one paid him any attention as he sat at a table in a corner, and waited for a serving wench to take his order. It was a long wait. The ignominy! He had once served as the all-powerful Hand to the Queen, made it possible for her to sit on the Iron Throne…He noticed a little boy staring at him. "Stop that," he said. "I'll have you flogged! Don't you know who I am?"
The boy said, "No."
Sir John had stared into the flames of all of his 37 fireplaces during the week but only ever saw the face of the Queen. "At the end of the day," he sighed, "it is what it is."
He unscrewed his head. It floated into the fireplace, then disappeared up the chimney.