It was a joke that carried him onto the throne. Damocles the courtier sat down and did not move. The rest of the court was no longer smiling, and watched with morbid interest.
The former King Dionysus knelt before Damocles. He removed his crown, handing it over with a gentle smile on his face. “You shall be king for as long as you sit on this throne,” he said, laughing. “When you depart it, another may sit and become king!”
There was one catch: a sword, hung by a single hair of horse’s tail above the king’s head. It represented the constant threat to the king. But King Damocles was not to be swayed. For he knew the power of the king; he controlled his own fate. “Servant!” he bellowed. “Remove the sword above my head!”
The servant bowed magnificently. “Of course, my lord. But first, would you have wine?”
King Damocles frowned. “Did you not hear me?” he said. “I said remove the sword!”
“I shall bring your wine,” the servant said, and turned away.
King Damocles scowled, planning to put his servant to death. He then turned to the court jester. “Fool!” he roared, pointing above. “Remove this sword!”
“Post haste, your majesty. But first, would you like to hear a song?” Without waiting for an answer, he leapt from his station and picked up a lute, dancing around.
Great King Damocles
Sits here upon his throne
He’ll never get off of his ass
Until he’s dust and bone
The court burst out laughing; King Damocles laughed along with them. “Wonderful!” he said. “Now, remove this sword.”
“Encore!” someone cried, and the jester launched into a second verse. King Damocles nearly jumped out of his seat in fury, but remembered the king’s conditions and sat still. He looked, bewildered, around his court.
The song went on, and the court was laughing, but their eyes were not on the jester. They gazed hungrily to the horsehair string upholding the sword. The gleaming blade pointed down, accusing the king with its terrible, inevitable fall. The courtiers surrounded him, closed him in. The king pleaded each one with his gaze, until he saw the one man looking back, and King Damocles surged with rage.
“Dionysus!” he screamed. “As king, I order you to die!”
Dionysus smiled. “No, King Damocles,” he said. “Ask for something else.”
King Damocles sank back in his seat, heart weak. His eyes had taken on deathly distance. “I would like some wine,” he whispered, as the horsetail broke above him, and the sword plunged down and pinned him to the throne.
The court fell silent. Dionysus stepped in and removed the sword. The corpse on the throne slumped forward and fell to the ground. Dionysus wiped the blood from his blade and smiled. “Now, who’s next?”
And so the next king claimed his moment on the bloodmarked throne, and the next, and the next. Each one sat down, wishes flying from his lips, to never rise again.