How Artabanos Met His End?
Key figures (please note, family politics are not an overt part of the Inimician government):
‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘Oh, you know me, Estelle. I’m sneaking out again.’
‘The exit’s not that way.’
Stupid woman. Richard had been a regular visitor in the Imperial Palace for over a year, ever since he and Emperor Artabanos had started their secret romance, but still this housekeeper woman moaned about everywhere he went. He was Artabanos’s most trusted friend; His closest advisor; His nearest accomplice. At least, that is what he had been for months. It seemed to have disappeared more or less completely. That is why he had to act, and that is why he was so incredibly angry with the Emperor. Richard knew he had dragged the Inimician monarch from the depths of depression and social collapse to the high standard at which He now reigned, but when had he ever been credited with this? Never. Their relationship could not even be made public. At least, according to Artabanos Himself. What would other leaders think, that’s what He would say. Screw other leaders, Richard had said time after time, but Artabanos would not listen. He had never listened. He had always gone His own way – which had made Him immensely rich and even more powerful, but this inflexibility also made living with Him almost an impossibility.
‘Mind your own business, will you?’, Richard commanded housekeeper Estelle.
‘My business is the security of the Palace and the safety of His Imperial Majesty’, Estelle replied formally. Richard rolled his eyes and continued. But he was not heading for the exit. Oh no, he was not. Someone was, but he was most definitely not. He headed down the cold marble steps into the massive underground complex beneath the Imperial Palace, where the secrets of three years of Artabanos’s reign lay buried. Cold secrets. Bloody secrets. Extremely well hidden secrets. Passing various corridors, he reached the Emperor’s private medical ward, the final quarters accessible to regular Palace visitors – in as much as those entering the Palace were to be considered regular – and headed straight for the drugs cabinet.
Under the cover of near-total darkness, except for his own phone flashlight, Richard prepared what would become the mixture that would end Artabanos’s tyranny forever. Perhaps Richard himself might be imprisoned (i.e. covertly executed) for high treason after this, but he was not bothered. His utilitarian self realised he would do many more people so much good by what he was conspiring to do. Finally ridding the world of the vice of Artabanos’s reign would not only bring benefit to Inimicus, but also to the region. But ultimately, Richard had just started to hate Him. He hadn’t given him any recognition; no love for weeks, months; and above all, He just seemed cold, pale. Artabanos was no longer the kind man Richard had got to love in June 2015. But was it worth murdering an Emperor over personal love affairs? Meh. Probably not. But who cared? Richard had an opportunity, and he was going to take it.
Suddenly, a flash of light. The white lighting tubes on the ward ceiling suddenly brightening. A most familiar voice: ‘Well well... What do we have here?’
Maximillian was standing on the doorstep. He knew exactly what Richard was up to – he had a quality for knowing almost everything about everyone inside the Palace, and outside. Richard was a nuisance: Maximillian himself had always argued there was no place for extramarital affairs, or really love affairs at all, in the office of the Emperor, but Artabanos had been blinded by love. Not anymore. But perhaps Richard would prove useful in this particular instance. There had to be more covert opportunities for Max to build his own power base. He was, after all, the main proponent and central figure of the cryptocracy – he had to keep his position secure. The Strathclyde family could not be allowed to take up any further of the offices of state, and the Cocx brothers were already far too powerful. No, it was the Barringtons, old and established as they were, who would have to be trusted with the reigns. The other two Inimician families could never have been let anywhere near the helm, let alone touch it and give it occasional course diversions like they were doing now. Richard would be a most useful tool in bringing about the demise of the other two families.
‘Oh, it’s you, Barrington.’
‘It’s me. Planning the Emperor’s ultimate demise, I see.’
‘You know nothing.’
‘I know everything.’
‘What will you do?’
‘Not much. We might be able to work together on this.’
‘You would never kill Artabanos.’
‘Quite right; I wouldn’t and couldn’t. But you would and could. And I would and could take His place.’
And so, using a verbal trap, the physical trap was set. Blood would flow – or, well, poison. Max helped his unknowing counterpart pick the correct substances (the same ones Artabanos had used more than a year earlier to dispose of His Consort, Charlotte, which Max knew He was now regretting immensely) and discussed what they were going to do. The earliest opportunity would be best – planning was not of the essence; no one would know who could’ve committed to such a barbarous act anyway. There were so many suspects it would take the Imperial Office years to line them all up. And even if someone would somehow come to suspect something, Max was not just anyone. He was Maximillian, Marquis de Barrington, Imperial Consul, Chairman of the Imperial Executive. But maybe, after tomorrow, he could add some more titles – formal or informal ones – to that role.
"The Strathclydes, hmm, Max?"
"Yes, the Strathclydes, Artie. Again."
"At dinner, today?"
"Today, at dinner."
It was always something, wasn't it? Back in 2014 it was the Cabinet conspiring to oust Him, with Prime Minister Simon Lane as main anti-Emperor proponent, drawing up plan after plan and even enforcing an Imperial Re-election with a different voting system (which ultimately didn't help their cause, quite the contrary); and the Rimrothian terrorists, capturing Artabanos for several days until Inimician Special Forces could liberate Him. In 2015, the Inimician People's Front, a very useful tool in consolidating Imperial Power, had been egg pelted and literally shot in completely arranged incidents. Adolf Danube, the then IPF leader, was the only regrettable loss among the three dozen or so People's Front deaths those weeks. But the unanimous passing of Imperial Prerogative expansions that followed ensured his death had not been in vain. A passing that had been truly regrettable was that of Charlotte, Artabanos's dear Imperial Consort, who He had murdered personally. The image of neurotoxin flowing through the IV tube was one He could and would never forget; it was the only action during His reign that He truly regretted. But the children, Eric and Elizabeth, were healthy, at the very least. The disbandment of Parliament had followed in June, after completely fabricated corruption reports and consequent intimidation tactics to force MPs to vote for the disollution of their House. And, inevitably, someone had noticed how suspicious it all was, so Artabanos had been sued in the European Court of Justice. But, well, it was the European Court of Justice. The case never saw the light.
And then He had met Richard. The twat who was now plotting to murder him, used as a tool by the Strathclydes - or at least, that is the intelligence Consul Max de Barrington had just given Him. Between all the plots by Imperial Councillors to oust Him, the near-fatal and, it was to be admitted, unexpected and clever attempt by Nicholas Benfield and Proimperator Hugh Doyle to get rid of Artabanos and His allies, despite the treachery by Imperial Wardens in April and the consequent tripartite split of Inimicus, Richard had been there for Him. During the first few months of their secret relationships, He had given him all the attention he deserved, having dragged Him from the depths of emotional instability to the peak of Imperial Power. But the last few months, not so much. He knew Richard wasn't pleased. But He couldn't do it anymore, He just couldn't. He couldn't be in a secret relationship with the truly pushy, annoying, disinterested, and arrogant person Richard seemed to have become. Artabanos had started to hate Him, and this would only amplify the situation.
"I'll deal with it, Barrington. Thank you for telling me."
"Anytime. Just make sure those Strathclydes feel the consequences."
"Oh... I intend to make everyone involved feel what they deserve to feel. Every single one."
Artabanos saw Maximillian swallow and excuse himself, confirming for Him what He had suspected in the first place.
"We're not the most talkative company today, are we?"
"I think we've all had a rather long day, Your Majesty."
"Surely, Richard's presence at the table isn't bothering you, is it, Marquis?"
"Quite the contrary, Your Majesty."
And silence. Richard knew what the silence was all about. De Barrington had, of course, not been the only one to catch him preparing what he was about to do - or rather, what he had already done. Christopher Strathclyde, that smelling, dirty, greasy, but strangely knowledgeable and intellectual individual, had, flanked by his somewhat more sophisticated brother, walked up to Richard this afternoon, asking him to place the blame on the Barrington family. He couldn't care less. Then, Wilfred Cocx, always in a perfectly ironed suit and extremely colourful cufflinks - sometimes crossing the lines of fashion - had approached Richard as well, demanding the other two families would take the blame for his actions. Again, Richard couldn't find a grain of care anywhere in his mind. These political games, this blatant treason, these disgusting individuals, was what had driven him to this in the first place. He didn't care for their blame politics; he didn't care who would get the axe - probably literally - because of his actions. He didn't care he was probably never going to survive this himself; he wouldn't want to live like he had lived for the last months.
It was the drink. The most cliche way of poisoning ever imagined. But, as Artabanos had the tendency to finish His entire meal befor even taking a sip, this dinner had already been the most nerve-wrecking Richard had ever had. Every bite of green beans, every sip of wine, every chunk of steak in his mouth, had gone down to his stomach like a lead ball. His belly filled with metal foodstuffs, he excused himself and took a swift loo break. He vomited. He vomited, coughed, wiped his face, and returned. Artabanos didn't even ask if he was okay. All He was concerned with was His lamb. Rare, as always. Something was about to become immensely well-done, however.
"Hmm", the Emperor muffled, "Lovely. How's the wine?"
"Excellent, Artie", Richard invitingly replied.
He raised His hand. Reached for the glass. Held back. Wiped His palms on a napkin. Reached again. Small droplets of perspiration were dripping down Richard's rather massive forehead - often famed for being almost as big as former Emperor Hugh's. Artabanos's thin yet undoubtedly powerful fingers grasped the glass and lifted it from the satin tablecloth. The most decisive glass of wine in the history of Inimicus was making its way towards the mouth of one of the most powerful autocrats in the region at a painstakingly slow pace. The translucent material was set to the Emperor's lips, when He suddenly reversed.
"No", Artabanos said and gave both His tableguests a quick look, "I should think not."
'You wanted me to give You everything I had, and I did. You wanted me to be able to serve as a distraction when matters of state weighed too heavily on Your shoulders, and I did. You wanted me to support You in Your daily duties, and I did. Why have I never received any recognition, not one sign I was doing what You wanted me to do? I would have slaughtered the entire world, Artabanos, if you would only love me."
Artabanos grabbed a packet of tissues from the dark oak dressing table inside His bedroom and violently threw it into Richard's teared-up face, whose red cheeks and wet blue eyes no longer even seemed remotely attractive to the Emperor. He was feeling like one of the Inimician Kings of old, who were assassinated, plotted against, by their own lovers and closest advisors. Their plots were sometimes foiled, sometimes successful, but had, whatever their outcome, been the inspiration for many modern-day television dramas. Would there, in five hundred years' time, be a television drama about this? No, there would not be, Artabanos was sure, as this would never reach the outsides of the Palace walls. No one would know. Well, no one except the Barringtons, the Strathclydes, the Cocxes, and all their affiliates. No one except Estelle the housekeeper, who had been most useful and a capital investment by Artabanos two years ago. But they could all be kept quiet, at the right price.
"So rather than approaching Me and telling Me about all this, you just scurry away in silence, and then plot - nay, actively attempt - to assassinate Me?"
"You left me no choice."
Artabanos had to end this. In a way, He felt sorry for Richard, whose crying was now becoming unbearable. The Imperial Wardens - not the treacherous bunch this time - who had dragged him to Artabanos's room hadn't been very kind, but if Richard had wanted to be treated kindly, he shouldn't have attempted to assassinate the Emperor of Inimicus. The same went for that disgusting figure, Marquis Maximillian de Barrington, who had received an incredibly well-deserved Imperial fist to the Marquesal nose. The other families would receive the same, albeit figuratively. But Richard, well, something very different was waiting for him. Artabanos knelt in front of His former lover, who was sitting, still wailing, on the side of Artabanos's feather bed. "Richard", He began, both genuinely in affection and ironically to seem more in touch, "I won't deny I've been at fault. If only we could understand each other a bit more, and take each other's situations into account. I cannot give you what you want, and you cannot give me fulfilment. We can start improving on this, but only by increased consideration of one another's roles. Will you forgive me?"
The Emperor stretched out His arms, and embraced the man He had gone out to see covertly during most nights in June 2015. But Richard would not escape from this hug. Artabanos clutched him in His hands, and did not let go until He heard the snap.