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Counting Hatched Chickens

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"A baby chick," Azurite repeated slowly, staring.

The baby chick tweeted and pecked at his finger as he extended it warily.

"Well, I didn't know where to get one of those big, scary birds you - " always had with you for years, until it drank the poison that took your sight from you " - liked," Setia said.

Azurite scowled. "Woman, what makes you think I have any use for such a pathetic animal? I'm the king! Why would I want to walk around being followed by a chicken?"

"Chickens are very useful animals, you know. You certainly don't seem to mind eating their eggs."

Azurite shook his head. "You will turn the royal palace into a farm! Isn't it bad enough that you have them bring in cattle every morning to eat the hay we sleep on?"

"It would be a waste to just throw it away," Setia said.

"It's hay! We can afford to buy more!"

"So what? That's like throwing away your dinner because there's more food in the kitchen!"

The baby chick tweeted as Azurite stroke its tiny head. "People will say that I've grown weak. Soft. They'll take up arms against me - and you, too. You're my wife now, Setia. Whoever kills me will seek to kill you as well, just in case you bear my child. Don't you realize?"

"Ugh. Is that why you have me drinking that disgusting potion every morning?"

"You need to build up a tolerance against the most commonly used poisons," Azurite said reasonably. "I notice you're not objecting to the weapons practice. That's good. I want you to be able to defend yourself against other people."

Setia sighed. I want to be able to defend you against other people. Next time someone tries to take your life, I don't just want to stand there. I don't want to wait for someone else to do something.

"You'll learn how to kill people, my black cage princess. It's not all that hard," Azurite said. "You might even discover you enjoy it."

How did we get from talking about chickens to talking about killing people?

"I won't." Setia shook her head. "I'm not like you."

"True, my parents weren't murdered right in front of me," Azurite said. "When I took the throne, killing all who would stand in my way, it wasn't out of vengeance. But if I told you the name of the village from which the men came who attacked your family, wouldn't you want to take revenge? They must be horrible people, surely."

Setia swallowed. I never wanted revenge. I never thought about it at all. "You already killed the men who attacked my family. Because they broke your laws."

"You never thanked me for that."

"No thanks are necessary," Setia said. "Or deserved. Why should I thank you for enforcing your own laws? Aren't you king? Isn't it a king's duty to see to it that his people are safe and protected?"

"Perhaps," Azurite acknowledged. "But is it a king's duty to take care of a baby chick? I think not."

Setia scowled. It was a gift! I wanted to make you smile! She'd smiled at him when he'd given her the magnificent horse, even though it scared her. She'd smiled at him when he'd given her jewels to wear to the feast in honor of the foreign ambassadors, come to sign treaties of peace.

He hadn't seen her smile, of course. He couldn't see the way people cowered in fear when he entered a room, or sneered at Setia as she read aloud their petitions.

"If you can't take care of a single baby chick, how do you expect to take care of your people?"

"Simple." Azurite grinned. "Delegation. You already are my eyes, aren't you? You write my letters, you sign my laws for me. Soon enough, I'll have you speaking in my voice."

"I - " I was never trained to rule. To be a queen. I only ever wanted to make my family happy, to live a good life. To work hard and be surrounded by people I loved.

It seemed a modest enough wish.

"Overwhelmed by the great honor? You should be."

Setia sputtered. "I'm never going to be talking in anyone's voice but my own! If you want someone to just repeat whatever you tell them to say, you'd better look somewhere else, mister!"

"Well, I suppose I could try and let you just say whatever it is you want to say," Azurite said, looking thoughtful. "Did you have anything specific in mind? Perhaps you'd like to start growing vegetables in the royal gardens? Keep cows in the royal stables? I won't object so long as you do something nice for me in exchange. Although it had better be something really, really nice." He smirked.

Setia felt her face grow hot. She told herself it was with anger. As it should be. He deserves me to be angry with him. After I went through all this trouble to find him a baby chick.

"What would be so wrong with learning to stand closer to your people? What's the value in just staying in your palace, hoarding treasures, coming out only to fight? Maybe if you spent more time around other people, you'd learn something. Maybe if you were more pleasant, people wouldn't be so quick to rebel."

"It gives me great pleasure to burn down the villages of fools who think they can stand against me," Azurite said. "Should I deny myself that pleasure by forcing myself to be more pleasant? Madness."

"You probably wouldn't even know how to begin."

"I am the king," Azurite said loftily. "Nothing is impossible for me."

"Prove it," Setia challenged. Prove to me that you can change. Prove to me that you can bring peace and happiness, rather than just war and bloodshed.

Prove to me that I was not wrong, when I gave my heart in your keeping.

"You want to play a game, my black cage princess? I accept your challenge. I will show you that I am perfectly capable of taking this baby chick and raising it to be a chicken that will provide eggs for the royal kitchen. But. Once I have done so, you must obey me. For a full day and a full night, you must heed my every command, fulfill my every whim, without protest or objection. Do we have a deal?"

Setia raised her chin. "We do."

"I look forwards to collecting my winnings, then," Azurite said.

While I look forwards to you finding out this chick will never provide eggs for the royal kitchen, by virtue of being a cock, rather than a hen. It's your own fault for not asking, though.