A TOUCH OF HONEY
by Leslie Fish
Prince Hampshumaturas and his hunting-party tramped into the greenery surrounding the oasis to find that somebody was there ahead of them: a prosperous merchant by the look of him, with a small but elegant tent, three sturdy-looking servants and several camels. The prince might have ordered the fellow to pack up and depart at once if the cargo on the nearest camel hadn't been several large skins of wine. The merchant himself - a gangling tall fellow, thin as a rail - approached the prince eagerly, with many salaams and much flattery, and the prince was intrigued enough to allow the fellow into his royal presence.
"Enough, enough," Hampshumaturas cut short the fellow's elaborate flatteries. "Tell me: is that wine in those skins on your camel's pack?"
"Oh yes, yes, indeed it is," the merchant prattled glibly. "It is Methosian, an excellent vintage from the northeastern shore of the Euxine Sea, wondrously sweet and potent. Fit for a king's table, indeed, your highness."
"Excellent." The prince clapped his pudgy hands together, which brought three servants running. "Go help those servants unload two - no, three - wineskins, and bring them hence," he ordered, grinning at the merchant's hopeful look. No doubt the fellow really expected a prince of Babylon to engage in anything as sordid as common trade - and actually pay for the wine. Well, he'd be in for a surprise soon enough.
"Ah, I do hope you'll enjoy my delightful vintage." The merchant was actually batting his eyes. "Perhaps you'll mention it to your exalted father? Perhaps the king's house of Babylon would be so generous as to contract for a regular supply?"
Hampshumaturas allowed himself a good laugh. Oh, the merchant's hopes were so obvious, so blatant! The fellow's big-eyed expression was as innocent as a lamb's. It would be amusing to see his face when the prince's hunting party moved on in the morning - leaving the empty wineskins and no more than a promise to speak to the king, as if the son of a third-ranked concubine could expect to speak to the king whenever he wished, let alone expect to be listened to.
Ah, here came the steward, holding the golden cup filled with the first wine from the first skin. What a fine deep red color the liquid was. Oh, and see how intently the dithering merchant watched as the prince lifted the cup and drank. Poor fool. A silly-looking fellow anyway, in that light multi-colored robe that flapped about him like the wings of a songbird. Hampshumaturas took a first cautious sip.
The wine was indeed excellent: wonderfully sweet, yes, and strong-flavored. "Superb," the prince pronounced, waving a negligent hand, which allowed everyone else to indulge likewise. "Yes, good merchant, I think we'll enjoy your splendid wine tonight."
The merchant looked as ecstatic as a puppy that had just had its cute little head patted. No doubt he was already imagining a royal commission. Well, let him dream. Meanwhile, Hampshumaturas and his party would drain those skins dry. In an expansive mood, thinking of his little joke, Hampshumaturas invited the merchant to come join him for the supper that the servants were already arranging. With any luck, the stranger wouldn't notice that the food contained no fresh game-meat. Ah well, if the gods had granted the prince no luck in the chase, they'd at least placed this silly merchant in his way. The wine was a fine compensation for the poor hunting. As the merchant chattered and flattered with every bite, Hampshumaturas drained his cup and held it out to be refilled.
Halfway through the cold meat and olives, the prince found himself yawning. No doubt it was from the fruitless exertions of the day's hunting - or perhaps from the interminable hopeful chirping of the merchant. Hampshumaturas caught himself nodding, and glanced at his tent to be certain it was set up for the night.
He noted that several of his personal servants were already asleep, curled up around their unfinished food. Had it been such a strenuous day for them, also? All they'd had to do was follow the wagon, not actually chase game. How odd...
Hampshumaturas felt another prodigious yawn stretch his jaws, followed by a strong urge to lie down and sleep. Yes, it had been a strenuous day for himself, at any rate. In fact, there was no reason that he couldn't stretch out on the dining-cushions and sleep right there, if he wanted. Son of a third-ranked concubine he might be, but he was still son of the king at Babylon, and could sleep wherever he pleased on his own hunt. He settled himself on the cushions and drained the cup once more.
A clatter nearby snagged his fading attention, and he noticed one of his guards sitting down abruptly - and likewise yawning. That was odd. Hampshumaturas didn't recall giving the guards permission to sit down in his presence. He must have the man whipped tomorrow. Right now he was simply too tired. The cushions were so soft...
The supposed merchant stopped his rambling discourse and looked around the prince's camp: guards, servants, huntsmen and the well-padded prince himself - all sprawled on the ground, snoring industriously. It hadn't taken long to bring down all of them. Yes, he really must get more of that marvelous drugged honey to sweeten wine, and other things. This trick was too good not to use again.
Meanwhile, to business. He stood up, peeled off his pretentious robe and drew the sword that had been concealed beneath it. All it took was a smile to his three brothers to summon them to the slaughter. They too stripped off their silly robes and pulled out their swords, and axe.
"Remember," Methos snapped as Kronos, Caspian and Silas lumbered toward their work. "Pull off the clothes before you cut their throats. Remember how hard it is to get blood out of cloth."
"You worry too much," Caspian snarled as he lopped off the first head.
"Too easy, really," Silas pronounced, dutifully pulling the cloak off a servant even as he hefted his axe. "Damn, Methos, there was no fighting at all."
"But they're just as dead, and we'll have all their goods," Methos explained. "If you want sport, pick out a few to spare and we'll wait until they wake up."
"A good haul," Kronos shrugged, examining the fat prince's golden cup. "And there was, in fact, some sport to it."
"What sport?" Methos puzzled, wondering whether to pull the rings off the prince's fat fingers or just chop the fingers off.
"Why, you, my excellent actor," Kronos smiled. "Do you have any idea how cute you looked in that flimsy robe, fawning on that fool? A priceless performance."
Methos only smiled in return, tugged at the first ring, found it unmovable, shrugged, and began chopping.