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Foretold II

              The very moment that Prince Ernesto was born, the Royal Seer, in an entirely different wing of the castle, fell to the ground in a trance and began to prophesy while his assistant transcribed his words. King Dylon and Queen Stacey didn’t see the prophecy until the following morning. When King Dylon read the prophecy aloud, Queen Stacey said, “Huh? What?” She pulled Prince Ernesto tight against her breast and looked down at his scrunched, sleeping face. “Why would he prophesy that? If that’s what you’re gonna prophesy, how about just not prophesying at all?”

                King Dylon shifted in his chair next to his wife’s bed and frowned down at the parchment delivered to his hand by the Royal Seer’s assistant. The assistant, a simple-seeming man named Armond, stood near the Royal Maternity Chamber door, head down, awaiting the king’s instructions. King Dylon read over the prophecy again, mouthing each word. “Armond?”

                The assistant looked up and straightened his posture. “Yes, Your Highness?”

                “Are you certain you wrote this down correctly?”

                “Yes, Your Highness,” said Armond. “I’m certain. The entirety of my training is devoted to ensuring that I write down the Royal Seer’s prophecies correctly.”

                “So this is what the Royal Seer prophesied, then?” asked King Dylon. “He prophesied that Prince Ernesto will not be the one to deliver our kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants?”

                “Yes,” said Armond. “That is what the Royal Seer prophesied while in his trance. I wrote it down exactly as it came from his lips.”

                “Well, what’s the point of that?” asked Queen Stacey. “Why specifically prophesy that the new prince won’t do something that’s extremely unlikely anyway?”

                “It isn’t my place to interpret, Your Majesty,” said Armond. “I just write the prophecies down and deliver them.”

                “Go get the Royal Seer,” said King Dylon. “Tell him we need to speak to him.”

                “Yes, Your Highness,” said Armond. He scurried out the door.

                An uncomfortable silence filled the Royal Maternity Chamber. King Dylon wished Prince Ernesto would wake up and start crying to give him and Queen Stacey something on which to focus their attention. The Royal Seer was a slow walker and his chambers were on the opposite end of the castle because his prophetic trances could sometimes be noisy and disruptive.

                “I’ll get to the bottom of this,” said King Dylon.

                “No, you won’t,” said Queen Stacey. “Miles is a fool.”

                “But a good seer,” said King Dylon. “His prophecies have never been wrong.”

                “I hate him,” said Queen Stacey. “Queen Tansy’s seer makes such beautiful prophecies. Even when the predictions are negative, he phrases them in such lovely ways.”

                “Well, I’ll get to the bottom of this,” said King Dylon. He didn’t think it was a good idea to again point out their Royal Seer’s perfect accuracy.

                “No, you won’t,” said Queen Stacey.

                Prince Ernesto slept on in unburdened peace.


                But there was nothing to get to the bottom of. Miles, The Royal Seer, had nothing insightful to say about his prophecy. He didn’t know why the prophecy had been given to him. He didn’t know what purpose the prophecy was meant to serve. He didn’t know how the Royal Family should apply the knowledge gained from the prophecy. He did not remember delivering the prophecy. Trance-style prophecy, which was the only kind that Miles practiced, did not lend itself to post-prophecy guidance. This was the main reason trance-style prophecy had gone out of fashion. Most kings and queens did not find what the trance-style seers possessed in accuracy to be worth what they lacked in wisdom.

King Dylon’s great-great-great-grandfather, King Mikas, had made a series of military decisions based on the guidance of a seer named Grottley who practiced lucid-style prophecy. These military decisions proved disastrous, and King Mikas was soundly defeated by King Korsis, the great-great-grandfather of King Kurtiz. King Korsis then subjugated King Mikas’s kingdom, stripping it of its army, taking all of its best treasures and artifacts for himself, and levying brutal taxes against it. King Mikas was allowed to retain his title, but he was really more of a combination governor and prisoner, a figurehead kept in place by King Korsis solely as a means of delivering bad news to his former subjects. King Mikas blamed this calamity on Grottley, who was burned at the stake while screaming about the “well-known limits of lucid-style prophecy” and how prophecy should be “merely one of many factors considered by a monarch when making important decisions.” Granted, the seer delivered much of this speech while the executioners were struggling to light the pyre atop which he was bound. Once the fire got going, the seer was mostly inarticulate.

Since King Korsis allowed King Mikas all the trappings of actual kinghood without any of the actual power, King Mikas hired a new seer. Given his recent and abrupt decrease in available wealth, King Mikas was forced to settle for a bottom-of-the-barrel seer, a practitioner of the unpopular trance-style prophecy. But King Mikas told everyone that he preferred trance-style prophecy after the debacle with his previous seer, so he was able to claim philosophical motivation for hiring the cheapest available option. In a further effort to convince people that he had hired a seer who practiced trance-style prophecy because he was taking a principled stand, King Mikas decreed that his descendants would forevermore hire only seers who practiced trance-style prophecy. After King Korsis approved this decree – a humiliating necessity for all of King Mikas’s decrees under the new arrangement – the decree became law. Why wouldn’t King Korsis approve his subjugated rival’s decree that his family settle for cheap, unpopular seers forevermore? And that was how, generations later, King Dylon and Queen Stacey got stuck with Miles, a seer who could in no way illuminate his prophecy that Prince Ernesto would not grow up to deliver the kingdom from the tyranny begun by King Korsis, and now embodied by  King Kurtiz.


Prince Ernesto was an only child. King Dylon and Queen Stacey tried for more, but they did not succeed. There were no stillbirths, no miscarriages, just a consistent lack of pregnancy. Queen Stacey thought this meant that Prince Ernesto was a miracle baby. King Dylon, having inherited gloomy fatalism from his forefathers, wondered if the miracle went the other way, if it was actually a bad miracle. If Prince Ernesto’s conception, gestation, and birth had gone so smoothly, why couldn’t it be accomplished again with another child? It seemed fishy.

Without guidance from their seer, King Dylon and Queen Stacey came to their own conclusions about the prophecy that Prince Ernesto would not deliver the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants. King Dylon was disappointed. He wanted to believe that his son at least might be the one to end King Kurtiz’s tyranny, no matter how unlikely. It would have been fun to think about, to imagine Prince Ernesto, grown and strapping, striding into King Kurtiz’s throne room, yanking him off of the throne, and spanking him with the flat of his sword, perhaps shouting, “This is for my father!” The prophecy took all the fun out of these kinds of fantasies, reducing them from improbabilities to impossibilities. King Dylon could not bring himself to indulge in them. He wished he could, but he couldn’t, all thanks to the prophecy.

“Maybe the prophecy means that Ernesto won’t be the one to overthrow King Kurtiz because you’re going to do it first,” said Queen Stacey.

“Give me a break,” said King Dylon. “We both know that’s not what it means.”

                “That’s not true,” said Queen Stacey.

“Do you really think I might be the one who ends King Kurtiz’s tyranny over us?” asked King Dylon. “Be honest.”

                “Well, there’s never been a prophecy against you doing it,” said Queen Stacey.

                “But what do you think?” asked King Dylon.

                “Maybe you’ll do it by accident,” said Queen Stacey.

                “So you think I might overthrow King Kurtiz by accident?” asked King Dylon.

                “No,” said Queen Stacey.

                This exchange hurt King Dylon’s feelings even though he had goaded his wife into it and fully agreed with her conclusion.

                Queen Stacey took a different approach to the Royal Seer’s prophecy about Prince Ernesto. At first, she was offended that anyone would limit her son’s future, reduce his options, place constraints on what he could accomplish. But after thinking about it for a while, she decided that, no, what would actually limit Ernesto’s future would be living under constant pressure to release the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants.

Queen Stacey had seen first-hand how that pressure had made a ruin of her husband’s life. King Dylon’s father, King Manfred, had been a schemer, constantly tinkering with elaborate plots to free his kingdom and return it to its former glory, concealing himself in dramatic cloaks and sneaking out into the city under the cover of darkness to meet with an assortment of assassins, magicians, poisoners, rabble-rousers, and agents of foreign powers. None of these plots had amounted to anything, but no one could deny that King Manfred had tried. Or maybe the plots had never amounted to anything because King Manfred had merely created an illusion of trying. Who could say?

Whether King Manfred’s defiance was sincere or artificial, his son did not inherit it. King Dylon did not like King Kurtiz, and would certainly have preferred to be a real king like many of his friends, but he could not muster the energy to buck against his oppressor. It was hard for him to see acts of rebellion as anything but wastes of time that would only make things harder for him, his family, and the whole kingdom. Maybe if he could think of a really good idea that would really work, then yeah, of course King Dylon would attempt something like that. He liked to think so, anyway. But he hadn’t thought of any really good ideas like that, and had become certain that he never would. King Manfred had been a failure, but he had been a more noble kind of failure. King Dylon was a different, worse kind of failure because there was nothing noble about his inaction, which he worried other people attributed to fear, self-preservation, and laziness. He also worried they were right. When Prince Ernesto was born, King Dylon was only 32, yet it somehow seemed that he had already failed, as if the window of opportunity to strike at the tyranny of King Kurtiz was just as closed for him as it was for his dead father. It should come as no surprise, then, that he was miserable.

This was not a fate that Queen Stacey wanted for Prince Ernesto. She did not want him to feel as if his life meant nothing unless he overthrew King Kurtiz or one of his descendants. She did not want him to waste a single second of his life moping about his inadequacies as a revolutionary leader. Neither did she want him to dedicate his life to doomed, fruitless plotting like his grandfather. Neither did she want him to be executed as a traitor by King Kurtiz or one of his descendants. She wanted Prince Ernesto to have a nice, peaceful life, and the Royal Seer’s prophecy, which had initially disappointed her, now gave her hope that such a life was possible for him. If Prince Ernesto knew he could never free the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants, then he wouldn’t try, and if he didn’t try, then his life would be nicer and more peaceful than all of his forebears stretching back to old King Mikas himself.

“You want to tell him?” asked King Dylon. He lay on a deck chair on the roof of the palace absorbing autumn sunlight into his face and hands, the only regions of exposed skin on his body. The afternoon was chilly, not ideal for sunbathing, but King Dylon felt the approach of winter and regretted how little he had used his rooftop deck chair over the summer.

“Ernesto will understand,” said Queen Stacey. “He’s seven years old and very smart.” She sat sideways on a deck chair next to King Dylon’s deck chair, leaning toward him with her elbows on her knees.

“I know he’ll understand,” said King Dylon. “That’s what concerns me.”

“Why?” asked Queen Stacey. “Why does that concern you?”

“Because I don’t want him to grow up thinking he can’t be the one to free our kingdom,” said King Dylon.

“But he can’t be the one to free our kingdom,” said Queen Stacey. “Do you really want him to waste his life trying to accomplish something impossible?”

“Lots of people do that,” said King Dylon. “I’m not convinced it makes their lives any worse than the rest of us.”

“But he’ll find out,” said Queen Stacey. “He’ll find out about the prophecy. And how will that make him feel about us keeping it from him and allowing him to spend his life obsessing over liberating the kingdom when we knew he couldn’t? He’ll hate us, and with good reason!”

“He won’t find out,” said King Dylon. “You, me, Miles, and Armond are the only ones who know, and neither one of them would be dumb enough to share the prophecy with anyone else.”

“But what about when Ernesto becomes king?” asked Queen Stacey.

                “Miles and Armond will be dead by then,” said King Dylon, waving both hands in a manner that consigned both men to the grave, one hand for the Royal Seer and one for his assistant.

                “You don’t know that,” said Queen Stacey. “You could die tomorrow. You could die five minutes from now. Then Miles will have to tell Ernesto the prophecy, and how do you think he’ll remember his father then?”

                “Who cares?” said King Dylon. “I’ll be gone.”

                “You don’t mean that,” said Queen Stacey.

                “Yes, I do,” said King Dylon. “But even if I didn’t, well, I think in the unlikely scenario you’re proposing, Ernesto would appreciate that I didn’t let a single unclear prophecy get in the way of his ambitions.”

                “There’s nothing unclear about the prophecy,” said Queen Stacey. “When Ernesto was born, you went on and on about how accurate Miles’s prophecies are, about how he’s never been wrong.”

                King Dylon grunted. “Look, Stacey, I’m not a real king because my ancestor put too much stock into a seer’s prophecies. That’s the lesson that’s been passed down to me: never completely trust a seer’s prophecies.”

                “I thought the lesson was that you should never completely trust lucid-style prophecies,” said Queen Stacey.

                “No,” said King Dylon. “But you should definitely trust lucid-style prophecy even less than trance-style prophecy. That’s a sort of sub-lesson of the main lesson.”

                “So you defend Miles when I criticize him and then you suddenly start questioning him when I say we should listen to him,” said Queen Stacey. “I think I’m beginning to see the pattern.” She stood up, rubbing her reddened hands together.

                “There’s nothing inconsistent about my position,” said King Dylon. “Saying we shouldn’t entirely base a crucial decision on Miles’s prophecy is not the same as saying it’s his fault. He does his job as well or better than anyone else. But we have to make sure we don’t overvalue the service he provides.”

                “Don’t you wish there had been a prophecy that you wouldn’t overthrow King Kurtiz?” asked Queen Stacey. “Don’t you think your life would be better right now? Don’t you wish you had that excuse?”

                Internally, King Dylon screamed, YES YES YES, but it was so deep inside of him that even his own conscious mind was hardly aware of it, wondered if perhaps it had imagined it or been mistaken.

                Queen Stacey pulled her cloak tightly around her narrow shoulders and strode across the roof to the stairwell leading back into the palace. King Dylon recognized it as her stride of continued disagreement, a clear sign that he had not convinced her. He suppressed a sigh and rose from his deck chair, wincing at the tightness in his back, which finally reminded him of why he hadn’t used the deck chair much over the summer.


                Queen Stacey waited a few days, stewing over her argument with King Dylon, and then she pulled Prince Ernesto out of his mathematics lesson in the middle of the day to tell him the prophecy.

                “Do you understand what I’m telling you?” asked Queen Stacey, kneeling in front of her young son, caressing his cheek with her hand.

                Prince Ernesto nodded. “I can’t free our kingdom from King Kurtiz or his kids or his grandkids.”

                “You don’t have to,” said Queen Stacey.

                “Because I can’t,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “You can do anything,” said Queen Stacey.

                “Anything except overthrow King Kurtiz or his descendants,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “Yes,” said Queen Stacey. “But that leaves a lot of other things that you can do!”

                “Like what?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “You could travel the world,” said Queen Stacey. “You could master an instrument. You could become the greatest huntsman of all time. You could invent devices to improve the lives of people everywhere.”

                “But won’t all that stuff feel empty if my family’s kingdom is still dominated by King Kurtiz or one of his descendants?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “It’ll feel less empty than trying to overthrow King Kurtiz when you know you can’t succeed,” said Queen Stacey. “Maybe you’ll be surprised at how empty this whole generations-long struggle with King Kurtiz’s kingdom feels when you’re floating down an exotic river on a barge thousands of miles from here.”

                “But Miles might be wrong,” said Prince Ernesto. “Maybe his prophecy is wrong.”

                “Maybe,” said Queen Stacey. “But his prophecies have never been wrong before. Do you really want to gamble your whole future on the chance that the prophecy about you is the first time he’s ever been wrong?”

                “Well, I’m still gonna try to free our kingdom,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “But why?” asked Queen Stacey. “It’ll be a total waste of the one life you have!”

                “Unless Miles’s prophecy is wrong,” said Prince Ernesto. “Then it’ll be even cooler when I succeed.”

                “No,” said Queen Stacey. “No, no. Don’t you see how many people would love to have the foreknowledge that you have? How even if you can’t know what you should do with your life, how nice it would be to know one thing that you shouldn’t do?”

                “But that just makes me want to do that one thing even more,” said Prince Ernesto.

                Queen Stacey had always been proud of Ernesto’s ability to articulate his thoughts, even from a very early age, but at the moment, she would have preferred a more passive form of rebellion from him. For example, a petulant silence would have been nice.

                “I need to get back to my mathematics lessons,” said Prince Ernesto. “Mathematics will probably come in handy when I’m trying to free our kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants.”

                Now Prince Ernesto was trying to upset her. “I know you don’t agree with me now,” said Queen Stacey. “But think about what I said. Your mind will change when you get older. And please don’t tell your dad that I told you about the prophecy.”

                “I’m going to tell him,” said Prince Ernesto. “Sorry.”

                “Fine,” said Queen Stacey. “You’re on his side anyway. He wants you to squander your life on something that he’s always been too afraid to even try.” She turned and stalked down the hall, her son watching her go. This fight was not over. He was seven years old. She had plenty of time to change his mind.


                But Prince Ernesto did not change his mind. And not only did he tell King Dylon that he knew about the prophecy, he told everyone about the prophecy. He mentioned it so often in even casual conversation that before he was eight years old, King Kurtiz heard about the prophecy all the way in his home kingdom and sent someone to interrogate King Dylon’s Royal Seer to make sure the rumor wasn’t a trick designed to get King Kurtiz to lower his guard around Prince Ernesto. The interrogator left satisfied that Miles had actually prophesied that Prince Ernesto would not free his family’s kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants. What King Kurtiz did with that information was not


                Prince Ernesto did a slightly better job of keeping secret his intention to one day dethrone King Kurtiz in direct contradiction of the prophecy. Nevertheless, people close to him knew that liberating his family’s kingdom from King Kurtiz’s control was Prince Ernesto’s biggest dream, the primary ambition of his young life. Through his own ingenuity, he managed to sneak some loyal engineers into his chambers where they helped him build a secret room without any of King Kurtiz’s spies catching on. Prince Ernesto filled this room with his plans, some of them carefully written out on long scrolls, some of them hastily scribbled onto torn bits of parchment. He figured that for there to be any chance of him rising above the future that Miles had predicted for him, the plan he chose to execute needed to be special. It needed to be unique. It needed to be weird, even. It needed to be something that would fool not only King Kurtiz and his many layers of security, but something that would fool fate as well. It had to be something that fate could not have seen coming.

But as Prince Ernesto entered his late teens, he realized the plan he settled on also needed to be something he could execute soon. Because maybe the Royal Seer’s prophecy meant that he would die before he even got a chance to try to overthrow King Kurtiz, and the longer he took choosing a plan, the more opportunity there was for disease or accident or something else to take him. If death was going to be the thing that prevented him from freeing his family’s kingdom from King Kurtiz or one of his descendants, then Prince Ernesto wanted to die right in the midst of  attempting to overthrow King Kurtiz or one of his descendants, not before he ever got a good plan off of the ground.

                Queen Stacey still opposed Prince Ernesto’s goal for his life, but she hadn’t landed on any new points that seemed to have an effect on him. Whenever she approached him about the topic, they had a variation of the same argument they’d had when Prince Ernesto was seven. It was a stalemate. Neither could be swayed by the other.

King Dylon was ostensibly in favor of Prince Ernesto’s insistence on devoting his life to overthrowing King Kurtiz in spite of the prophecy, but that favor never manifested as assistance or encouragement. The subject made him uncomfortable. If his son was willing to commit to rebellion against King Kurtiz even though a prophecy from a reliable source said it would be fruitless, why couldn’t King Dylon commit? What was his excuse? He may have been just as doomed to fail as his son, maybe even more doomed, but his gut feeling didn’t hold much weight compared to Miles’s trance-style prophecy. And King Dylon couldn’t shake the idea that there may have been real value in what Prince Ernesto was doing; his defiance in the face of inevitable failure could mean something to people. Maybe Prince Ernesto’s doomed striving would inspire someone else who came after him to act in the face of overwhelming odds that would nevertheless seem less overwhelming in comparison to the odds Prince Ernesto faced, and then that person would succeed, or maybe that person would inspire the next person to try, and then that person would succeed, and it would all be because of Prince Ernesto’s example, and it would have nothing to do with King Dylon’s pitiful, defeatist example. So King Dylon didn’t like to talk about Prince Ernesto’s ambitions with Queen Stacey, he definitely didn’t like talking about them with Prince Ernesto, and he didn’t like talking about them with anyone else. He didn’t like feeling inadequate, especially in comparison with his teenaged son. And who would? King Dylon had thought he would feel proud of his son for choosing to act, but he mostly felt more ashamed of himself.

The person who knew about Prince Ernesto’s planning who was most against it was Miles, the Royal Seer.

“Can I come in?” Miles asked through the door.

Prince Ernesto, who was just about to trigger the mechanism that opened the hidden door to his secret planning room, hesitated. He felt good about a few bizarre, potentially fate-confounding ideas he’d gotten while drunk on wine the night before, and he wanted to get them on paper as soon as possible. He did not want to be interrupted by the Royal Seer. However, a visit from Miles was rare, and perhaps it meant something important.

“Sure,” called Prince Ernesto, crossing the room so he wouldn’t be seen standing near the hidden door, well-hidden though it was. “Come on in.”

Miles wore flesh-colored clothing. Every bit of it that Prince Ernesto could see was flesh-colored: his shoes, his stockings, his robes, his cloak, his hat. Even his rings and necklace were flesh-colored, set with flesh-colored gems. His flesh, however, was not flesh-colored.

“We need to chat about something very serious,” said Miles, closing the door behind him and leaning back against it to make sure it clicked shut.

“All right,” said Prince Ernesto, noting that “chat” was an odd word choice if the subject was so very serious.

“You must stop planning to overthrow King Kurtiz or one of his descendants,” said Miles.

“Did my mom send you to tell me this?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “The Queen had nothing to do with my decision to visit you today,” said Miles. “I come on behalf of only myself.”

                “So why do you want me to lie down and accept subjugation like a trained dog?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “That’s not what I want,” said Miles. “I just hate to see you wasting the prime of your life on something we both know you can’t achieve.”

                “I’m 19,” said Prince Ernesto. “I thought the prime of life was older.”

                “No,” said Miles. “The prime of life is the 18th year, 19th year, and the first eight months of the 20th year.”

                “You’re afraid I’ll prove you wrong,” said Prince Ernesto. “You’re afraid that if I do succeed in freeing our kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants, then your prophecy will have been proven untrustworthy and you’ll get fired. Or not listened to as much, at least.”

                “I want what’s best for the kingdom,” said Miles. “Which means I want what’s best for you.”

                “And what’s best for you,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “I’m the Royal Seer,” said Miles. “So, yes, often what’s good for me is also good for the kingdom. Consider: if my prophecies are correct 99 percent of the time, wouldn’t you say people would be wise to heed them? If you prove my prophecy about you wrong, I will still have been correct with 99 percent of my prophecies. But people won’t see it that way. They won’t say, ‘Oh, Miles is usually right, we should still listen to him.’ They’ll say, ‘Wow, Miles was wrong about that Prince Ernesto prophecy, he might be wrong about the next one too, he might be wrong about every prophecy from here on, we should probably get rid of him.’”

                “Freeing this kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz is a lot more important for the good of this kingdom than making sure you keep your job,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “Is it?” asked Miles.

                “Yes,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “But why does your role in this rebellion have to be so central?” asked Miles. “What if you took a more indirect role? Then you might succeed, but people would let me off the hook on a technicality. Like, you could come up with the plan but have other people execute it. Then, if it succeeds, well, you were obviously instrumental to its success, but I’d be able to spin it as still being consistent with the prophecy since you wouldn’t actually be the one who carried it out. I’m a trance-style prophet, people expect quirks in how the prophesied events play out compared to popular interpretation. The kingdom would still get freed from tyranny, you’d still get recognition for your crucial role, and I’d be able to keep my position. It’s win-win-win.”

                “No,” said Prince Ernesto. “I hate that idea. I need to tackle the prophecy head-on.”

                “Now who’s being selfish?” asked Miles. “If my prophecy is correct, which it probably is, then you’re deliberately choosing a less-likely strategy because you feel affronted. Now who’s putting himself before the good of the kingdom?”

                “You are,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “OK, fine,” said Miles. “We both are. At least admit to me that we’re both putting ourselves before the good of the kingdom.”

                “I’ll admit no such thing,” said Prince Ernesto. “Please leave my chambers at once.”

                Miles was about to respond when his eyelids fluttered, his pupils dilated, and his limbs went rigid. He fell to the floor, worked his mouth open, and in a croaking voice said, “Grain yields will decrease by 6 percent this year.” Then his eyes snapped closed and he went limp on the carpet. Prince Ernesto stood over the collapsed seer and waited for more, and hopefully better, prophecy, but none came. After a few minutes, Miles opened his eyes and sat up. He fanned his face with his hands, flesh-colored bracelets clinking on his wrists. “Help me up,” he said to Prince Ernesto.

                Prince Ernesto offered his hand and hoisted the old man back to his feet, surprised at how slight he was, how rough his fingers and palm felt.

                “What did I prophesy?” asked Miles. “Did you write it down?”

                “No,” said Prince Ernesto. “But I remember it all.”

                “Was it a long one?” asked Miles.

                 “Nice and short,” said Prince Ernesto. “You said I actually will be the one who frees our kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or one of his descendants.”

                “I don’t believe you,” said Miles.

                “There was no one else here,” said Prince Ernesto. “I’m the only one who heard it.”

                “You’re not trustworthy,” said Miles. “Not on this matter. My prophecies are usually about crops. Was this one about crops?”

                “No, I already told you what it was,” said Prince Ernesto. “I’m gonna be the one who frees the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants. The prophecy you had when I was born was probably a trick of fate to throw King Kurtiz off of my trail.”

                “This isn’t how prophecy works!” said Miles. “Fate doesn’t try to trick people by giving me contradictory prophecies nineteen years apart! Why would people heed my prophecies if they think I might deliver a contradictory prophecy at some point in the future?”

                Prince Ernesto shrugged. “Maybe they shouldn’t heed your prophecies.”

                “I knew I should have brought my assistant with me,” said Miles. “He would have written down the real prophecy. But no, I had a big lunch and I pretty much never go into a trance on a full stomach, so I figured I’d be safe to come talk to you on my own, and then what happens? I go into a trance with only you in the room. It’s so typical. Do you know some seers don’t prophesy at all? They just give advice. They’re seers because kings and queens respect their opinions. But that will never be me. I was born with this gift for prophecy.” He spat the word “gift” like it was a fly that had flown into his mouth while he was yawning.

                “No offense,” said Prince Ernesto. “But without your gift, you’d probably be a trash soaker.”

                “What’s a trash soaker?” asked Miles.

                “Someone who keeps a pile of trash wet so it stays compact and doesn’t blow around,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “That’s not a real job,” said Miles.

                “Then how does the trash stay wet?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “It doesn’t,” said Miles.

                With that, the conversation wheezed its last breath, Miles departed the prince’s chambers, and Prince Ernesto slipped through the hidden door and into his secret room where he tried to think of a weird way to overthrow King Kurtiz late into the night.


                Was Prince Ernesto just a repeat of his grandfather, performatively planning for years to give the impression of dedication to his cause, even if the main person he was trying to convince was himself? Was he a repeat of his father, waiting for a perfect plan that he knew would never come, casting his hesitation as prudence? Prince Ernesto did not think so. He did not know the hearts of those men – his father and grandfather – but he felt as if he knew his own heart. The prophecy was the complicating factor. It hung over everything like a pocked, dour moon that did not even have the decency to fade during daylight, refusing to allow the sun its preferred personal space.

Prince Ernesto wondered where his life would have taken him if there had been no prophecy about him at all. Or, what if the prophecy had said he would be the one to free the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or one of his descendants? Would he have felt the urge to defy that prophecy too? Was it the specifics of the prophecy that he hated, or was it prophecy in general? Was it the fact that now, no matter what he did, his life would be evaluated in terms of the prophecy? Had his life confirmed or contradicted the prophecy? Had his life validated or invalidated Miles as a prophet, trance-style prophecy, or prophecy as a whole? That’s what people would wonder. That’s what they would discuss. Whether he fought against it or succumbed to it, Prince Ernesto had been constrained by the prophecy since the moment of his birth. What was the correct response based on analysis of all available information? What was the healthy response? If he was doomed to fail, did it matter if he failed for selfish or noble reasons? If he wasn’t doomed to fail, did selfishness or nobility have any bearing on his likelihood of success? Was it worth the time and effort to police his own motives when he could instead be nailing down the specific details of a specific plan to overthrow King Kurtiz or one of his descendants? Prince Ernesto didn’t know. He didn’t know.


                Two weeks after the Royal Seer pleaded with Prince Ernesto to abandon his plotting, King Dylon and Queen Stacey left on a short visit to King Kurtiz’s kingdom so King Kurtiz could scold King Dylon in person for a series of administrative errors. Usually while his dad was out of the kingdom, Prince Ernesto was expected to take a more active role around the palace, but no one came around his chambers with an itinerary so Prince Ernesto decided to take advantage of the unexpected free time to throw himself into planning to free the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or one of his descendants. He spent three straight days in his secret room, immersed in plans, formulating new ones, reevaluating old ones, mixing and matching, emerging only to sleep or to collect and eat cold the meals that someone was leaving outside his chamber doors.

On the third night of his uninterrupted planning extravaganza, Prince Ernesto awoke in the early morning hours from a dream in which he had thought of the perfect plan for overthrowing King Kurtiz or one of his descendants, and doing so in such a way that fate would not have been able to see it coming back when Miles made the prophecy. But as soon as he sat up in bed, the plan Prince Ernesto had dreamt began to fade. What had it been? Something about disguising himself as himself, although he couldn’t remember why. Prince Ernesto got out of bed, lit a few candles, and crossed his chambers to his wardrobe. He thought that if he began to work on the disguise for himself, then the rest of the plan might come back to him. In the dream, his disguise had consisted of his princeliest breaches, his princeliest boots, and his princeliest doublet. In addition, makeup had been applied to his face to change its appearance in several subtle ways in order to make Prince Ernesto look almost like himself, but not quite. He didn’t know how to apply makeup in order to achieve the effect from the dream and he didn’t know who to consult about doing so, but Prince Ernesto could at least take care of the clothes. Who needed a seer? Fate or God or something had sent Prince Ernesto a direct message, no middleman required.

                But the clothes were not in Prince Ernesto’s wardrobe. His princeliest breaches, his princeliest boots, his princeliest doublet: they were all missing. When was the last time Prince Ernesto had seen them? He didn’t know. A week, at least. Maybe more. He frowned. This was irritating. He finally had a plan – or a piece of a plan – and now he couldn’t execute that piece of the plan because something had happened to his princeliest clothes. Someone had taken them. Was this it? Was this the reason he would not be the one to free the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or one of his descendants? Because the clothes he was going to use to disguise himself as himself were gone? What a cheap way for the prophecy to be proven true. What a rip-off.

                Someone knocked on the door to Prince Erenesto’s chambers. No one had come looking for him since his parents left for King Kurtiz’s kingdom. It made sense that someone would feel the need to speak to him eventually. But 3 in the morning seemed like an odd time for someone to finally feel that need. “Who is it?” called Prince Ernesto.

                “It’s Armond, Your Highness. The Royal Seer’s assistant. I have a message for you. It’s an emergency.”

                “What kind of emergency?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “I’d rather tell you face to face,” said Armond.

                “I’m in my pajamas,” said Prince Ernesto. “Tell me through the door.”

                “A message has just arrived from King Kurtiz’s kingdom,” said Armond. “King Kurtiz is dead, his descendants are squabbling, civil war has broken out, and no one knows where your parents are.”

                Prince Ernesto said nothing. He stood by his open wardrobe. A draft from somewhere wafted the hem of his vertically-striped nightshirt around his shins.

                “Who killed King Kurtiz?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “The reports all say that you did,” said Armond. He paused. “An error that you may find appealing.”

                “Tell Miles I need to speak to him immediately,” said Prince Ernesto.

                “He’s asleep, Your Highness.”

                “No, he isn’t,” said Prince Ernesto. “You know what? I’ll go to him.” He strode across the room, threw open the door to his chambers, and elbowed Armond out of his way as he swept past him into the hall, nightshirt flapping like a battle flag.


                Miles was not asleep. He was wide awake and sitting at his desk wearing an outfit comprised of the mismatched furs of many slain animals. He looked up without surprise when Prince Ernesto burst into his room.

                “That was supposed to be me,” said Prince Ernesto. “I was supposed to be disguised as myself.”

                “That makes little sense,” said Miles. “Very little sense.”

                “Exactly!” said Prince Ernesto.

                “Your kingdom is free,” said Miles. “King Kurtiz’s kingdom is in ruins. You should subjugate that kingdom, Your Highness. If you want to. It’s ripe for subjugation.”

                “What happened to my parents?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “I don’t know,” said Miles. “We can surmise that they have died.” He seemed genuine in his sadness. “But they were willing to accept the risks in order to do what was best for their son and for the kingdom.”

                “Who was he?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “A young man who sort of looked like you,” said Miles. “The makeup helped.”

                “Why did he do it?” asked Prince Ernesto.

                “He wanted to save the life of his prince,” said Miles. “He wanted to spare his king and queen the grief of losing a son. He wanted to kill his oppressor. He wanted to liberate his kingdom. He wanted his family to receive the handsome reward which had been promised to them if he completed his task.”

                “It should have been me,” said Prince Ernesto. “I had a dream about it.” He didn’t want to sound pouty, but here he was, sounding pouty.

                Miles rose from his chair and shuffled across the room to pat Prince Ernesto on the shoulder. “You’re the king now, Your Highness. Your kingdom is free of the tyranny it has suffered under for generations. Your enemies are vanquished. You are alive. Your father played an instrumental role in the execution of this plan, passing off the assassin as you, the one person from this kingdom around whom King Kurtiz might be less cautious. It worked. King Dylon died a hero in his own heart, and in the eyes of your mother, who died knowing their efforts would spare you not only from the fate that befell the assassin, but also from the ambitions from which she long sought to release you. But you’re the one known as the hero, the one who slew King Kurtiz and freed your kingdom. You’ll say that rumors of your death were wrong, misinformation spread by your embarrassed foes. You’ll say that you killed King Kurtiz and made a daring escape while your parents sacrificed themselves to buy you precious time so that your father’s line could continue. You’ll say that my prophecy was wrong, that you were right to defy it. But of course, you know my prophecy was correct. We both know it, Armond knows it, and your parents knew it when they died.”

                “That’s why you did this,” said Prince – no, King – Ernesto. “You wanted your prophecy to be correct so badly that you orchestrated all of this. That’s cheating.”

                “No, it isn’t,” said Miles. “In the seer community, orchestrating events so that your prophecies come true is not considered cheating. And now, I will die with a perfect record. Most of the world won’t know that, unless you admit it wasn’t you who killed King Kurtiz, but I’ll know it, you’ll know it, Armond will know it, and your parents knew it. That’s good enough for me.”

                “What if your next prophecy is wrong?” asked King Ernesto.

                “There won’t be a next prophecy,” said Miles. “I’m going to die before sunrise. A mule is going to kick me in the head. I prophesied it six months ago.” He gave King Ernesto one final pat of the shoulder, then stepped past him into the hall. Armond followed him.

                “Where are you going?” asked King Ernesto.

                Miles looked at him like it was a stupid question. “Down to the mule stables.”


                A few weeks later, King Ernesto sat struggling to stay awake at a meeting of the Royal Council. Around him, Royal Councilmen alternated between delivering long, boring reports on their areas of expertise and bickering with each other over the minutiae of running a free kingdom, which King Ernesto gathered was much more difficult than just being a figurehead for King Kurtiz and his ancestors.

                Three hours into the meeting, King Ernesto was thinking nostalgically of the long hours he’d spent in his secret room plotting the demise of King Kurtiz or one of his ancestors, when Lord Lamness said, “And, uh, it appears that grain yields were up four percent this year, so that’s good news, especially since King Kurtiz isn’t gonna be taking a cut anymore, so, yeah, that’s good news.”

                “Wait, wait,” said King Ernesto. It was the first thing he’d said since the meeting began. The Royal Councilmen all looked at him. “Don’t you mean that grain yields decreased by six percent?”

                “No, Your Highness,” said Lord Lamness, frowning at the parchment in his hands. “That would be bad news. This is good news. Grain yields have increased by four percent. That’s what it says right here.”

                “But Miles prophesied they would decrease by six percent,” said King Ernesto.

                The Royal Councilmen exchanged looks.

                “I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” said Lord Permen. “We kept a log of all of the Royal Seer’s prophecies to help guide our decision making. There were no prophecies about grain yields decreasing. There were no prophecies about grain yields at all, which was rare for him.”

                “That’s because I was the only one who heard it,” said King Ernesto. “I was the one who heard him prophesy that grain yields would decrease by six percent.”

                “Huh,” said Lord Permen.

                “OK, but do you guys see what this means?” asked King Ernesto. “It means Miles’s prophecy was wrong. He prophesied that grain yields would decrease by six percent, but they increased by four percent! He was wrong!”

                “Yes, Your Highness,” said Lady Frangelline. “His prophecies were not trustworthy, as you yourself so dramatically proved. In fact, I’ve heard that other kingdoms have started following your example and are doing away with the seer position outright as well.”

                “Ah, yes,” said King Ernesto. “Yes. So he was wrong twice. Once about me not being the one who would free the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his ancestors, and once about this year’s grain yields.”

                The Royal Councilmen nodded. “Mmhmm,” they muttered. “Yes, Your Highness. Yep. You’re right.” King Ernesto saw them exchange a few more glances.

                “Continue this meeting without me,” said King Ernesto. “I have an important matter I must tend to immediately.” He stalked out of the Royal Council Room without waiting for a response.

                Down in the kitchen, Armond knelt over a basin on the floor and scrubbed at the stains on the front of a grimy apron. “Your Highness,” he said when he noticed King Ernesto standing over him. He struggled to his feet. “What are you doing down here?”

                “Miles was wrong about something,” whispered King Ernesto. “That night he came down to my chambers to talk to me by himself, he fell into a trance. I was the only one there. And I was the only one who heard him prophesy that grain yields would decrease by six percent. But guess what? Guess what, Armond? Grain yields didn’t decrease by six percent. Grain yields increased by four percent. So Miles didn’t die with a perfect record. He was wrong.

                Armond studied King Ernesto’s face for a long moment. Then he said, “On my second day as the Royal Seer’s assistant, Miles fell into a trance, writhed around on the ground for a while, and then prophesied that your father would write a poem so good that when he finished it, the palace itself would cry one million gallons of tears out of its windows.”

                “Out of its windows?” asked King Ernesto.

                “Yeah,” said Armond. “Like the windows were like eyes.”

                “And?” asked King Ernesto.

                “Do you remember that ever happening while your father was alive?” asked Armond. “Or do you remember hearing about that happening before you were born?”

                “No,” said King Ernesto.

                “Because it never happened,” said Armond. “And I knew it could never happen. So I didn’t even write it down. When he came out of the trance, I just told him that he’d prophesied that Queen Stacey would have an up-and-down week. Which she did.”

                “You made up his prophecies?” asked King Ernesto.

                “Not all of them,” said Armond. “Just when he prophesied something really stupid. Or when his prophecy was too mumbly for me to understand. Or if I spaced out and missed part of the prophecy.”

                “So you made up the prophecy that I wouldn’t be the one to free the kingdom from the tyranny of King Kurtiz or his descendants?” asked King Ernesto.

                “No, no,” said Armond. “That one was all him.”

                “So it was real?” asked King Ernesto.

                Armond shrugged. “Who knows, Your Highness?”

                King Ernesto stared at the Royal-Seer’s-assistant-turned-apron-launderer. “There are so many ways to waste a life,” he said.

                “You’ve got that right,” said Armond. He did not end this declaration by saying “Your Highness” and did not appear to notice that he’d neglected this courtesy. He again knelt by the basin and returned to scrubbing the apron. King Ernesto knew the stains would never come out of the apron no matter how much Armond scrubbed, and he did not need a seer to tell him so.

Discussion Questions

  • List one hundred more ways to waste your life.

  • What’s one thing you wish a seer had prophesied you would never accomplish so you could stop trying to accomplish it?

  • What color do you imagine Miles’s flesh WAS?

  • Do you think you would prefer a seer who practices lucid-style prophecy or a seer who practices trance-style prophecy? Or would you want one of those seers who doesn’t prophesy at all, but just offers advice? Explain your answer so we can all understand you better.

  • List one more way to waste your life.

  • List two ways to waste your life.