The official poison-tester had been dining with royalty for three generations. He attributed his longevity to luck and a sturdy metabolism.
The old king had feasted on a regular basis. He ate rich foods in great quantities, hardly any fruits or vegetables, and substituted wine or mead in lieu of water. (The old king had had recurrent bouts of gout.) Back then, the poison-tester had been a young man. Rather than take a bite of this or a nibble of that, he’d consumed entire meals, and still his pants had fit him, season after season. The old king had been popular — there had been no attempted poisonings during his reign. He’d died peacefully, in his sleep.
His son, the young king, had been more reserved. More often than not, he and the poison-tester had dined alone. By now, the poison-tester was an adult in his own right — no longer did he wantonly eat or drink, or treat his job less than professionally. The young king had preferred his food bland, and the poison-tester hadn’t even seasoned his meals with salt, so determined was he to mirror the royal constitution. When the young king had died in battle, the victim of an opportunistic archer, the poison-tester had eaten a single, dry piece of bread in memoriam.
At the age of nine, the boy king had assumed the throne. He was a sickly child; it was unfair to have the mantel of leadership thrust upon him. He had no playmates. He very rarely went outside. The poison-tester wasn’t require to taste the boy’s various medicines, but he often grimaced in sympathy at the bitter taste and brought a warm glass of milk, which he also sipped, to sooth the boy’s stomach. When the boy went to sleep one night and didn’t wake the following morning, the poison-tester waited with his breakfast until it grew cold. At the royal funeral, no one cried louder than he.
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