Marcus awoke and stood perfectly still, taking in his surroundings as the body possessions became routine. He was alone and in a richly decorated chamber with ornate trimmings lining the walls, glass murals over the windows and the softest of rugs laid haphazardly across the floor. Next he examined his body, which was large and slightly flabby, but powerfully built. He wore a cloak of something so soft he could only describe it as silk, even tho he had never worn such finery before. Also, his face felt bruised.
No, he thought to himself. It couldn't be.
He looked at the rings on his fingers, the portraits on the walls, the view outside the window of the village below, and finally the mirror that stood next to his four posted bed covered in layers of plush quilts.
He was in the body of the Lord Power himself.
'What am I supposed to do now, kill myself?' he said aloud, cringing at the sound of the Lord Powers arrogant voice coming from his mouth.
He looked around and spotted a jewel handled letter opener on the dresser beside his bed. He dashed for it, grabbed it in a reverse grip and poised it above his own heart.
Then he stopped.
Suicide is a mortal sin. If he did this, would his soul ride with the Lord Powers down onto that infernal plateau?
It was a question he had no way of answering and so the knife fell from his fingers and struck point first into the soft timber floor. He couldn't risk it, not if it meant never seeing his family again.
Thinking quickly he rushed for the door and as expected there were two guards stationed right outside. Marcus would never know it, but all the recent attempts on the Lord Powers life had made him crazed with paranoia. Guards were stationed everywhere with the sole purpose of insuring that no harm would ever come his way.
'Guards!' Marcus yelled, bursting through the door.
Both guards snapped to attention, fearful that they had been caught chatting comfortably against the walls. One of them almost squealed at the Lords sudden outburst.
'Yes sir! My lord, how may we serve?' they said in unison.
'Kill me', Marcus said.
The guards paled, 'I'm begging your pardon, my Lord?'
'Kill me', he repeated. 'Kill me now!'
The guards stammered and looked to each other hoping the other would know how to respond. In their time as the Lord's bodyguards, they've seen his mood swing like a pendulum. But suicidal, that was something new.
However, one of them seemed slightly braver than the other and spoke contritely.
'I'm sorry, my Lord. But we can't do that. We pledged our lives to making sure no harm would ever come to you. Pledged on the lives of our families and loved ones. I'm sorry, but we cannot do as you request'.
Marcus stepped forward and slapped one guard on the cheek and kicked the other in the crotch.
'You're monstrous, disgusting, pitiful excuses for human beings. And I'm at least ten times worse. Now do as I command and KILL ME!'
'I'm...I'm sorry, my Lord', said the red faced guard who wasn't clutching his cod piece. 'But I swore an oath. No one will ever hurt you. Not even me and not even yourself'.
Exasperated, Marcus cursed at them once more before storming back into his chambers and slamming the door. He stood in the middle of the room, unsure about what to do.
Why put me in the body of my own victim? he thought. It just doesn't make sense.
His eyes fell on the letter opener protruding up from the floor, but try as he might he just couldn't bring himself to pick it up. Instead he turned to the window and looked through stained glass to the valley below. For all its decoration, the window was just another set of iron bars, and the world beyond it just another stone wall.
He sighed, resigned to his fate. 'This may take a while'.
The years passed, as they do, and the ultimate destroyer took its toll on Marcus with dying grace.
It had been sixty years since he took over the body of the Lord Power and finally he was ready to get his freedom. During that time Marcus faced many hardships and no victory was easily won, especially in the beginning. But after time the valley began to prosper like never before. At first many wondered what had happened to the tyrannical ways of the Lord Power, and when did he learn embrace such benevolence. But such concerns were shortly overlooked, for they finally had a ruler they could be proud of.
Marcus spent the life he was condemned to with enduring patience, wisdom and simply trying the best he could to make everyone happy. His first act was to rebuild the markets and the second to dismiss all unnecessary taxes upon the merchants. He then reigned in the overbearing shadow of the guards and restricted them with proper laws and jurisdiction, enforcing a moralistic approach toward their fellow man. Then he reunited all ties with the Empire and reopened trade routes that many thought would never see business again. With this he gained the financial support he needed to rebuild all the churches that the Lord Power had destroyed. When the Brotherhood came to investigate they were utterly amazed to find the Lord Power hosting a celebratory feast, welcoming them back to High Court. But they were not as shocked as Darius who almost had a heart attack when he was released from prison only to find the Lord Power waiting for him at the gate and embracing him like old family. However some things could not be so easily forgiven and it took many years of visits and acts of kindness before what remained of Cornelius' family to welcome him into their home. When at last they spoke, Marcus asked them to arrange a meeting with the leaders of the remaining rebel groups. During that meeting Marcus combined the suave salesmanship of his former trade with the financial backing of his newly inherited kingdom to settle all quarrels with the rebels, abolishing all land restrictions and ending all involuntary military service.
Years ago, nobody could have ever dreamed that the Lord Power would be seen by his people as a hero.
As it turned out, it seemed Marcus was good at something else besides dying after all.
But still each day his heart ached and suffered, and each night he would return to his chambers and stare at the letter opener that never faltered from its stake in the floor. The temptation to end his misery was always present, if only he could be certain his soul would remain clean.
However, no matter how long he prayed, and there were nights that saw the sun rise before he said "Amen", he received no message from on high as to what course to take.
There were some times when the urge to make the choice became more than he could bear. Once he heard a groundkeeper's daughter singing a song that was a favourite of his darling Monique. That day his world turned grey and he locked himself in his own dungeon for days until the girls voice stopped echoing in his ears.
But he survived those times and now it seems that Father Time wields the letter opener for him.
Surrounded by guards, medical physicians, house staff and some very dear friends he made along the way, Marcus took one final breath and saw the faces of death surround him.
He awoke and was relieved to find himself in his original form, something he feared he would one day forget. He was no longer the aging beloved ruler, but the simple farmer who stupidly dived on a spear so very long ago.
He looked up and saw Death waiting for him, an invisible smile across his skeletal face. They shook hands and embraced like old friends. Then together they ascended the mountain trail.
Blind Justice, still perfectly poised upon her boulder bid them welcome.
'The Lord Power is dead', Marcus proclaimed, a great weight lifted off his shoulders as the words came out.
'Justice… has been done', Blind Justice nodded.
With weightless grace she descended from her perch and took the hilt of her sword in hand. With a flash of light she moved and slashed the boulder in two, revealing the mountain trail behind. She stepped aside and bowed as Marcus walked up beside her.
'Thank you' he said to Blind Justice.
'It was my duty and my honour, dear Marcus' she replied.
He then turned to Death who offered him a congratulatory thumbs-up.
He smiled at the grim spectre and said, 'You know, you're not really that scary'.
In a surprisingly innocent tone he replied, 'I never tried to be anything I'm not'.
With that they laughed, but before Marcus could dare to take another step he had one last question to ask.
'Would I have still been here if I had taken my life with the Lords?'
Justice pondered that for a moment before looking up the path toward the light coming down from the mountain. 'It's possible, but that is not for me to judge. Does it really matter now?'
Marcus followed her eyes up at the mountain trail and saw a thick fog descending from upon high. He closed his eyes and could just make out the sounds of happy voices, all so very familiar and so very close.
'No, I suppose it doesn't'.
With nothing to be said he walked up the mountain, the voices getting louder and his smile growing wider with each step. Blind Justice and Death watched as he disappeared into the fog that rose up among the Heavens and listened to his laughter as it blended in with that of his family. The thick white clouds above soon parted and revealed a beautifully rich night sky, were the stars above glowed bright in the twilight sky. Where one star in particular, surrounded by four other stars, shone brighter than all the rest.