People Can Become Monsters When You’re Not Paying Attention
“So,” Sam asked, as Henry helped him dress after his bath. “Have you killed anyone I liked today?”
Henry grunted. “Is there anyone besides me you like?”
“Not really,” Sam admitted.
“Then no. Do you know who any of the guards I’ve killed were?”
“No.” And Sam didn’t care. “Still, you’re going to have to stop murdering my guards before I run out.” Henry had killed at least one castle guard every day this week. Some of the bodies were still sitting only half-eaten in the centipede pit because the centipedes weren’t even hungry.
Sam was impressed, honestly.
“We can get more,” Henry said, wrapping his arms around Sam to do up the laces at the top of Sam’s tunic.
“We can,” Sam agreed, hoping Henry didn’t notice how his heartbeat picked up with the proximity. “But still. Makes me think you’re trying to pull off a coup.”
Henry snorted. “Why would I need to do that?” He finished with the laces, and then stepped back. “Tell you what, I promise not to kill any more guards for a while, okay. Except the ones you’ve already told me I can kill.”
Sam frowned, turning around, putting a hand on Henry’s chest. “I haven’t told you that you could kill any of them.”
Sam perked up. “Oh?” Now he got it. Henry had been practicing on the others. “Finally worked up the nerve?”
“Something like that. Some time in the next day or so I’ll do it.”
“Why wait?” Sam asked. “Do it now.”
Sam felt a twinge of something at that. “You’re up to something,” he accused.
Henry leaned into Sam’s air, and though Sam tensed, Henry just kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Well, now I’m…” Face burning, Sam stopped at a hesitant knock on his door. “What?”
The door opened, admitting someone with a heavy bootstep. “Your Majesty!” It was a young man’s voice, a guard. He sounded very afraid, which Sam liked. “I’m to tell you that…”
He hesitated, and Sam sighed. “That what?” he prompted.
“Yes, sir!” The guard sounded terrified now. “Your Majesty. Guard Captain Lowell is dead, sir.”
Sam hadn’t been expecting that. “Excuse me?”
“How did he die?” Henry asked, calm. He didn’t sound surprised, not at all.
“He was…stabbed to death, sir.”
Sam snorted. “Cole got to him.”
“No, sir. Um. I’m sorry, your Majesty. He was stabbed by the two, um. Children that he had in his room, sir.”
Sam felt a little unbalanced, but he laughed at that. “Excellent. Oh, that’s wonderful. Henry, we’ll have to make sure we tell Todd about that one.”
“Yeah,” Henry said, hand on Sam’s arm. To the guard, he said. “Thank you. Take his body to the centipede pit and throw it in. And find Sergeant Cole and tell him to meet us down there for his promotion.”
Now that, that reeked of a plan to Sam, so he let it slide.
“Yes, sir.” The guard hesitated. Sam was going to cut his ears off if he didn’t learn to just spit out what he wanted to say. “And the children, sir?”
“I want to talk to them,” Sam said, before Henry could say whatever he’d planned to say. “I bet they have an interesting story to tell.”
Considering that Lowell had been keeping them for his pleasure since Sam had taken over, he was honestly surprised they’d had the vigour in them to do the deed. Lowell must have been gentler than he’d thought.
“Take them to the dining room,” Henry said. “Give them something to eat. The king and I will see them after we’re done with Cole.”
“Yes, sir. Your Majesty.” And the guard fled the room before they could tell him anything else, pulling the door shut behind him.
Sam turned to Henry. “Guess your plan got moved up a little bit, hm?”
“I guess it did,” Henry said, slipping his hand down to take Sam’s. “Let’s go to the pit.”
“Please tell me he’s going to be alive when you push him in.”
Henry squeezed Sam’s hand. “Of course. I tried to think about what would be worse than burning to death. Being eaten alive by centipedes seemed like a good option.”
“Agreed,” Sam said, giggling a little. “I bet it’s awful. But you’re willing to do it to him.”
“Yeah, well.” Henry let out a sigh. “What’s the point of trying to be good anymore?”
Sam leaned in to Henry a little. “Have you been keeping up with Todd’s punishments?” Sam had made it clear that Todd’s indiscretion wasn’t easily punishable in one moment, and that by taking responsibility for him that night, Todd had become Henry’s problem.
“Yeah,” Henry muttered.
“Details, Henry.” Honestly, it was like he completely didn’t get the point.
Another sigh. “I smacked him around a bit, bent him over the chair and fucked him.” He sounded tense. “Tore the back of his pants so he’d have to walk back like that.”
Sam smirked. That last part was unnecessarily mean. Sam liked it. “Good. Did he cry?”
“He always cries.”
“He’s such a baby,” Sam sighed. “Is he still raping Derek?”
“I think so.”
“Good for him. You should give Derek a fuck too.” Sam was a little disappointed that Derek hadn’t turned the tables, especially since Todd had a broken arm. But whatever. He was a stupid coward too. “If only because it will piss Todd off.”
“You really do delight in other people’s suffering, don’t you?”
“I mostly just find it fascinating, the way little people act when they want power.” Sam made a content noise. “It’s hilarious.”
“Little people like me?”
“No, you’re different,” Sam assured Henry, and he meant that. Henry wasn’t like Todd, or the others. “So do you need help with Cole, or do you plan to nobly fight him? He’s a good fighter.”
“I’ll be fine. Stay out of it,” Henry said, a tone of warning in his voice.
“Okay. What should we do with the kids?”
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”
Sam had some ideas, and he thought on them as they walked to the pit. Once there, Sam wrinkled his nose. “Smells more like rot than usual. Which is your fault.”
“Yeah.” Henry said, sounding a little pleased with himself. “I already told you I’d stop after today.”
That tone again, the one that made Sam realize he was planning something. “What are you up to?”
“I’m going to kill Cole, obviously.”
Sam didn’t get a chance to demand more as the doors were opened and two guards shuffled in, he assumed with Lowell’s body. “In the pit,” he said, not interested. “You know, the centipedes aren’t going to want to eat him with all the food you’ve given them.”
“I know,” Henry said, a little smug. “Hey there, Sergeant.”
Oh, so Cole was with them.
“I think it’s Captain, now,” Cole said, laughing a little as he followed the guards in. Sam heard a thump as Lowell’s body was tossed in the pit, and skittering as the centipedes came out to look.
“Yeah, I guess it is.” Henry shuffled a little. “Congratulations.”
“Yeah, like I believe you really mean that, Arkhewer,” Cole teased. Sam heard him move, and his voice got closer as he turned to face Sam. “Your Majesty. I think I’ll be making some changes to…fuck!”
“Oops,” Henry’s voice said quietly, over Cole’s scream, his fall. “You had your back turned. I assumed you wanted a knife in your knee.”
“Fuck you, you little…ah!”
“Don’t worry, that one’s high enough on the shoulder that it won’t bleed that much. Stand up.”
Cole let out a string of curses as Henry pulled him to his feet, dragging him, presumably to the centipede pit. Sam followed, interested. “You little piece of shit! Should have killed you before!”
“Yeah,” Henry said. “You should have. Bye, Cole.”
“King’s not going to let you do this. He needs me. He needs…”
Sam barked a laugh. “I don’t need you, you idiot. I kept you because you were funny. And your joke’s gotten stale.”
“You…” Betrayal crept into Cole’s voice. “You can’t! You need me. You need someone like me. You’ll never get anything done without me, you funny-eyed little son of a bitch! You think your puppy here can do what needs to be done! You think…”
“Shut up,” Henry said, and Cole screamed again, voice getting distant, and then there was a thud. “That was easy.”
“Don’t! Please! Don’t, let me out! Please, I’ll do whatever you want!” Cole pleaded, as centipedes skittered.
“He changed his tune quickly,” Sam commented, leaning on the rail.
“Do you blame him?” Henry’s voice got muffled as he turned his head. “Kill his dogs,” he said to the two guards who’d brought Lowell in. “One at a time, maybe one every hour. Toss the bodies in here with him. They don’t listen to anyone but him anyway, they’re a liability now.”
“Yes, sir.” That was the same guard from before, sounding sick now.
“You fucking coward!” Cole screamed. “You fucking piece of shit! You…I sure did love the way your sister screamed as we cut her to pieces! She deserved it! She wasn’t even a good fucking lay, and I would know, the entire unit tried her out, just to be sure!”
“See,” Henry said down to Cole, fake casual. “The thing is, I’ve been feeding the centipedes a lot over the last little while. So there’s no reason to panic, Cole. It could be several days before they get around to eating you.”
Oh. Sam felt a strange feeling move through him at that. That’s what Henry had been planning. All the guards he’d murdered, just for this. Impressive.
“Fuck you!” Cole sobbed, obviously crying.
“I was wrong,” Sam said. “You are still funny.”
“Have a good afternoon, Cole,” Henry said, moving away, hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Maybe I’ll come visit you later, see how you’re doing.”
And he guided Sam out of the room, sending those two guards off, and shut the door on Cole’s hollering, his pleading.
When they were in the hallway, Sam laughed out loud, hands on Henry’s arms. “That was…everything about that was cruel and unnecessary, Henry.”
“The only thing worse than being eaten alive,” Henry muttered, sighing. He sounded tired. “Is having to sit there and wait for it to happen.”
“Yeah. I never even would have thought of that. I’m proud of you.”
“Yeah.” Henry started walking.
“Too bad we can’t stay while it happens.”
“We can come back later.”
Sam intended to. Just for fun. “Who’s the new guard captain, then?” he asked, as they walked. “Is it Barry? I don’t like him. I’m picking Art instead.”
“Hm, yeah.” Henry said. “About that. Barry and Art are dead.”
Sam stopped walking. “What?”
“Yeah. So are Pollock and Uri and Dean. Actually,” Henry said, pausing as if considering. “Someone’s killed everyone in your guard who was in any sort of command position over the last week. They’re going to need to be completely restructured.”
Sam felt the blood drain out of his face. “You…”
“Don’t worry,” Henry said, kissing Sam’s cheek. “It’s okay, I’ll deal with it. Not important enough for you to worry about.”
“You…what have you done to my guard, Henry?”
“I think they might be my guard now, Sam.” Henry’s voice was dangerous.
“You’ve been planning this,” Sam said, as the pieces clicked into place. He felt like he was falling. “You were killing the guards on purpose, for this. You waited on Cole. You…you gave those children the knives, didn’t you?”
“You know, you’ve never asked me what I was up to when you left me alone?” Henry asked. “Don’t sound so scared. I did it all for you. You need a functioning guard that’s not run by monsters who get off on hurting people.”
“Isn’t that what you are?” Sam whispered, struck by the enormity of this. He hadn’t, he couldn’t have expected this. Even after Henry’s display in the room last week.
“Maybe, but at least I’ve got your best interests at heart. It’s okay. Do you want to go back to the room?”
Sam wanted to…he didn’t know. Lay down. Kiss Henry. Cry. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling. His head swirled, and he tried to clear it. “No,” he finally said, shaking his head. “No. The children. I want to talk to them. I want to…”
He wanted to use them against Henry, to remind Henry that he wasn’t in charge here.
“I was thinking that we could take care of them,” Sam said, getting a hold of himself. Yes, that was what he’d do. “Maybe teach them. They’ve already killed someone, we could train them to do it again, and better. Have our own little assassins.”
“Not a bad idea,” Henry mused.
“Plus they’re nice and broken in,” Sam continued, swallowing and wishing his mouth wasn’t so dry. He wanted some water. “It’s useful. We can…give them to someone, use their bodies as currency or…”
“Stress relief, for people we want to reward?”
“Yeah.” Sam didn’t buy it, he didn’t buy that Henry was going along with this. He was going to object eventually. “Or even target practice. I mean, it’s not like we need them. The world is full of idiot children.”
“It is,” Henry agreed. “Whatever you want. I got what I wanted today. I won’t stop you from taking what you want too.”
“I don’t believe you,” Sam whispered, but Henry just squeezed his hand and walked with him to the dining room.
There, the guard at the door opened it for them, and Sam and Henry walked in. “Hello,” Sam said to the kids. “You’re Herbert’s children, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes, your Majesty,” one of them whispered. Sam knew there was a boy and a girl, but he wasn’t sure which was which.
“Don’t be afraid,” Sam said, smiling at them. “You aren’t in trouble. I’m glad you both got away from that terrible man. Did you have anything to eat?”
“Not yet,” the same child said, voice a little steadier. Sam thought it was the girl. “We weren’t sure it was…okay…”
“Here,” Henry said, stepping forward. “There’s some food here for you. And some water. Drink.” Sam heard him pouring water.
“Some for me too, Henry.”
“Sure,” Henry said, two cups hitting the table in succession. Then there was a crash as the pitcher hit the floor. “Shit, sorry. Adrenaline’s fading. I’ll go over there and grab the other one, just hold on a second.”
“Whatever,” Sam muttered, waving a hand. He heard slurping as the children drank their water, and he took a chair at the table. “So,” he said, in a voice he thought was a voice used when speaking to children. “You guys must be happy that you’re away from Lowell, right?”
“Yes, your Majesty,” the girl said, swallowing audibly. “He…hurt us. A lot. He…” She sounded dull, and couldn’t finish he sentence.
“It’s okay,” Sam said, kindly. “You don’t need to say it, I know. I want you to know I’m very proud of you for what you both did. In my kingdom, we reward people who stand up for themselves. I was thinking…”
Sam was cut off by a thud, and a shout from the girl. “Hank? Hank!” And then a choking sound, and then…nothing. Another thud.
The pouring of water, and a cup was put in front of Sam. “There you go,” Henry said, pouring another for himself and drinking audibly.
“What the fuck,” Sam whispered. “You…when you poured their water.”
“And you dumped the pitcher on the floor on purpose so I wouldn’t drink.”
“Yeah. Got the vial off Todd that night. Kept it just in case. There’s none left now, just so you know. He got it from one of the cooks. Figured I’d let you kill her.”
Sam was shaking in his chair. “You planned all of this. All of it, right down to…they were little children.”
“Yeah. I didn’t expect you to have a moral objection.” Henry sounded surprised.
“I…” Sam shook himself, dispelling the stupidity of that suggestion. “I didn’t think you’d go that far.”
“The girl,” Henry said, taking a seat beside Sam. “Haley. She was getting too old for Lowell. He was talking about passing her off to one of the others. She was going to take all the blame if you were mad. She wanted to protect her little brother.”
“You killed them,” Sam repeated, feeling like an idiot.
“It was the only way,” Henry told him. “To protect them both.”
Sam snorted a laugh. “To protect them from me?” he asked, that laugh followed, more coming up. It wasn’t funny. But he was laughing. “You killed them to protect them from me?”
“From both of us,” Henry said quietly.
Tears streaming down his face, Sam pushed away from the table, stood up, staggered back a step. His power crawled, skittered all over his body, urging him to fight, to protect himself. To protect himself from the threat it perceived to him. To protect himself from Henry. “How…” Sam’s mouth was so dry. “How do I know? How do I know you didn’t keep the poison? How do I know there’s not more, waiting for me?”
Henry’s chair scraped. “You don’t. You just have to trust me.”
Trust him. Trust Henry? Sam just had to…
He started laughing again, the concept rocking him so much that he couldn’t help it. He clutched his stomach, laughter escaping him as he stood there and cried. All he had to do was trust Henry.
With his life.
“Shh…” Henry said, and his arms were around Sam now. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Sam shook his head. No. He wasn’t okay. And yet. And yet he put his arms around Henry too, fighting back his power, fighting back the urge to attack. And he hugged Henry, letting Henry hold him. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
And he stood there, and listened to Henry, over and over again. “It’s okay, it’s okay.” And it wasn’t okay. And he never once believed it was. But, Sam realized as he stood there, he wanted to. He wanted to believe it.
“It’s okay, Sam. It’s okay.”