This story is written in response to a post on r/WritingPrompts.
“It’s a magnificent color, don’t you think?” asked the king, as he thrust the blood-stained handkerchief towards me.
I quickly rubbed the sleep from my eyes and took the bloody cloth from him. “It is an undoubtedly unique hue,” I agreed. After ten years working for the king I had become used to these night-time summons. The clockwork antelopes had been tough to build, but doable. Then there had been the chandelier he had wanted made out of hard light. But I could already see that what he was about to ask of me would be impossible.
“Can you reproduce it?” asked the king.
I placed the cloth on the table, not wanting to touch it any longer than I had to. “Not exactly,” I said, “human blood is unique. Better alchemists than me have tried and failed to replicate it. The only way to get this color is to use actual blood.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound too hard,” said the king.
It took a conscious effort to stop my jaw from dropping to the floor. “You. You can’t be serious.”
“Of course I’m serious!” exclaimed the king, “I wouldn’t have called you here if I wasn’t. I need a new wardrobe made in this color for my gala next month. Get it done.”
“Y-yes sir,” I answer. The king got up from his chair and shambled back towards the bed, signaling that our meeting was done. I took my leave before he could think of any other tasks to ask of me. The one I had just been given was more than enough to keep me occupied.
The king rarely sees what it took to carry out his wishes. Worries like that are for people like me. The king only cares about results. These thoughts, and just how I would obtain the quantity of blood needed to craft the king a new wardrobe, occupied my mind as I walked to my quarters.
For a moment I considered going to the butcher, but I would have no way of guaranteeing the blood’s purity. Plus the king would probably notice the difference if he compared its color to that of the handkerchief. Human blood is just too unique. I cursed myself for not remembering to take the cloth with me. A doctor on the other hand probably couldn’t deliver the amounts I needed in time. I then considered the prisoners in the dungeon, but questions would be asked if someone began showing up to draw blood from them. I realized that I had only one option.
Upon returning to my quarters I ignored the tantalizing pull that the bed exerted on my tired body and instead grabbed a tattered brown cloak from the closet. It was one that I kept for tasks such as these. As I said before, the king only cares about results. My job is to deliver those results, and ensure that no inconvenient questions get asked about them.
The Black Horse Tavern was lit only by the dying embers of its hearth, and its patrons liked it that way. I walked up to the bar and bought two drinks before looking around for my contact.
I found him half-asleep in the back of the tavern. A quick kick to the legs of the table got him awake. I handed him one of the drinks and sat down at the table.
“You again?” he asked before emptying the tankard.
“Yes,” I sighed, “me again.” I had never asked for his name and he had never asked for mine. It was better for both of us that way.
“What can I get for you this time? Another lindworm tooth, or maybe some dragon scales?”
“I need blood,” I answered, “preferably enough to fill a tub.”
The man gave me a confused look. “What are you coming to me for? The butcher will be open in an hour. Ask him.”
“Human blood,” I said.
Before he could object I tossed a purse loaded with gold coins onto the table. “You’ll get more when the job is done,” I said.
My contact counted the coins and sighed. “I’ll say this. Of all my customers you come to me with the strangest requests.”
“Can you do it?” I asked. I was getting impatient. The Black Horse wasn’t my idea of a fun place to be, and every minute I spent there was another minute someone might recognize me from the palace.
“Yeah,” he said, “Yeah I can do it. Meet me here in three days. I’ll get you your blood.”
I couldn’t help but breath a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” I whispered.
The man shrugged. “Don’t thank me. Thank the poor bastards it’s going to come out of.”
I pushed that thought out of my mind as I got up to leave. In my job I can’t afford to have a conscience. Besides, I had fabric to order.