The termite king wasn’t like the rest of the underling insects that bowed before him. His followers were glassy eyed unreasoning bugs, but he possessed intellect. The king wasn’t particularly fit for a termite. In his younger years he was a fighter and cut down several warriors with tougher exoskeletons than his own. His claws were broken and one of his six legs was absent at the mid-joint. Rucksack couldn’t tell if he was a congenial ruler or a ruthless scavenger.
The termite lord was exceptionally heavy with a rotund belly whitewashed with age. His face was deep red and his transparent wings were crusted and cracked so they wouldn’t flex for flight. It was difficult for his servants to carry him. Rucksack waited for the bug to speak. Nuptial nervously sucked its lower lip, “Slup, slish, pupsh.”
“Welcome to Alder Castle and the termite colonies extending beyond the twelve provinces of the Zarkin Desert,” greeted the king. “We haven’t had a human in our presence since the last one provided us with this medallion.” The king rolled many folds of its neck together so the lanyard was clearly visible. Its inscription read Sic Semper Tyrannis. “It was given to me by a man named Abraham Lincoln. Oh, and I almost forgot, the hat came with it.” Rucksack couldn’t believe he missed the enormous top hat sitting on its head.
“Who did you say gave you that hat?”
The termite lord offered a reproachful look when asked to repeat itself. “Honest Abe. Would you like a tour of the castle?”
“That would be accommodating, but we really need to get back to the surface.”
The king situated itself on the sedan as his tired servants struggled to lift him once again. He continued his discussion with Rucksack while pointing out the architecture of the twelfth vestibule of the middle courts and making statements like, “This section of the lower hall is reinforced by timber. It’s taken almost five million termites to make repairs.”
Sensing danger, but unable to inhibit his curiosity, Rucksack asked the king about Honest Abe. “Sire, would you tell me more about the last man who set foot in Alder Castle?”
“Certainly, but you must not judge my instincts when I relate the story.” Rucksack listened with interest. “Abraham came to us in an orb of blue light and materialized out of thin air in the middle of the Zarkin Desert. When we found him, he didn’t know who he was. He kept muttering ‘this isn’t my hat, he took my top hat, let me give it back, it isn’t mine.’ I could only assume he meant the hat presiding on his presidential head. At the time, I was an average sized termite with a few battle scars. I was the acting king. My father was dying, you see. Abe was taken into the ground in the delirious state of mind we found him in. We fashioned his bed out of freshly chewed wood and I watched over him day and night while he attempted to regain his strength.”
“But how did you grow to such an enormous size in comparison to the subjects beneath you,” asked Rucksack? Nuptial grunted with frustration because it wasn’t too keen to hear the king’s answer. The unicorn didn’t want to know how termites could grow bigger. It just wanted to get out of there, but Rucksack’s interest hadn’t broken.
The king continued with his story. “Abe taught me to always be truthful and honest. He instructed me to never trust a Confederate, which is a person that holds slaves and rebels against their native colony. He was a president in his own time until something strange happened. He was at Ford’s Theater when an individual dressed and looking like him walked straight to his face and professed to be the President of the United States. ‘This couldn’t be’, Abe thought, but the man had a similar top hat, which looked identical to his own except for one detail. The rim was stitched with white hair. The confederate wearing the hat pulled a wand from his left coat pocket and uttered the inscription on the medallion, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’. Abraham tackled the confederate like a wrestler. His hat fell off and by coincidence the imposter’s hat was knocked onto the rapidly vanishing president. Abraham grabbed for the magician’s neck, grasping the medallion instead.”
“But how did you get bigger and become so articulate?” flattered Rucksack. “You seem to be an insect unto yourself. None of your colony resembles the humanlike characteristics you possess.”
The great bug looked down at Rucksack with an indecipherable expression on its face. The king knew his powers should be kept secret, but he was a self-confirmed braggart. “It’s interesting that you should mention how articulate I am. Abe spoke wisdom into me. He told me not to be vain because we are all dry bones waiting to be scorched by the sun. However, I have an exoskeleton and Abe’s bones are on display over there.”
Rucksack glanced at the wall where the bug pointed with one of its talons. There stood a skeleton braced against the barrier in cemented slime. An inscription under the bones read,
Here reclines Honest Abe, A man who imparted wisdom to our king.
Even more disturbing than the mortal display was many of the bones appeared to be chewed. They were cracked, bitten, and scraped. Nuptial felt ill at ease that these bugs had gained so much wisdom from a man and later decided to eat him.
The king began to speak again in an even more eloquent manner. “You wanted to know how I became so great.”
Rucksack realized his curiosity was going to get him eaten, but it was probably too late. He needed to stall the king by continuing to feign interest and admiration for its intelligence. It wasn’t every day the bug had an articulate human praising him. Rucksack nodded and swallowed a breath of air he thought could be his last.
The king continued, “When I was caring for Abe he signaled me that his time was drawing near. He told me to burn his hat and medallion as soon as he died, but I didn’t have any knowledge of fire. The president was about to tell me when he closed his eyes and never opened them again. He rolled over and his hat fell off his head and onto my own. Immediately, I began to grow. First I was three inches growing into six. Then I was a foot growing into three feet. When I became the size of a man, I had the wisdom not to let a delicacy go to waste. That’s when I became overweight. I don’t think termites were meant to eat anything but wood. However, despite my body’s inability to properly digest human flesh, it was an honor and delicious treat to eat a president.”
Rucksack stood gapping at the bug that hopped off its perch with amazing alacrity. Moving like an athlete, its mouth watered and both eyes were the size of saucers. Its talons spread, opening its mouth, showing a hundred saw blades. Its teeth could quickly chew through human flesh after years of eating solid wood. Rucksack backed against the wall next to the bones of Abraham Lincoln. Then he had an idea, a last desperate thought that came from the dark recesses of his mind.