Originally published January 14, 2018.
Contains: long-term weight gain.
This story was loosely inspired by Ask Chubbydorf, a roleplay blog set in a Legend of Zelda alternate universe where, as far as I can tell, Ganondorf seems to be king, and is also extremely fat and quite enamored of his size. The blog also features an original character named Vladimir, Zelda’s brother (not Ganondorf’s son), who is also quite hefty and getting even bigger thanks to Ganondorf’s influence, though he’s much less thrilled about his size than Ganondorf is.
Reading through the blog, I liked the idea of a massive king who is proud of is size, and a hefty noble who is not quite so fat and not nearly as confident, but gets fatter due to the king’s influence. Then I thought, what if he gets more confident too? That’s when the idea for this story popped into my head,
The final result is my longest story yet. The funny thing is, this was something I started on a whim while having trouble starting a different story. I didn’t intend to write a long story when I started this story; it just ended up that length because I had that much to write. And though I may be biased, I think it earns its length. It took over a month of writing to get here, and I’m really proud of the end result.
Synopsis: Victor is a member of King Rian’s inner circle, though he isn’t sure why. While the other members of the inner circle have obvious talents and skills, Victor feels like the only thing he brings to the table is finishing all the leftover food at the end of the circle’s private feasts. So he’s especially confused when Rian asks him to represent the kingdom of Hallea by taking a diplomatic trip to the prosperous land of Gevult, to meet their ruler, King Gordon, so Rian can learn how to help Hallea prosper similarly. When Victor meets the surprisingly plump King, he finds out that the king has ordered his cooks to increase or decrease the size of his meals based on how well the kingdom is doing as a whole. After Victor and the king enjoy a massive lunch together, where Victor eats until he passes out, he starts to get an idea of why Rian might have chosen him for the trip. Now it’s up to Victor to make a good impression on King Gordon, while also trying to become less insecure about his rapidly expanding waistline.
“I still don’t understand why I of all people was chosen to represent the Hallean kingdom to King Gordon,” Victor lamented. “Anyone else in King Rian’s inner circle would have been a better choice. Shellia has far better negotiation skills. Londo understands the intricacies of trade and exchange much better than I do. Brunda is our best scholar, and would be far better suited if exchanging knowledge is what we want. And Amall, he’s not my type, but he’s so charismatic he could charm the pants off of me if he wanted to.”
“Not those tight leggings you wore in here,” the royal tailor mumbled under his breath. Victor wanted to mumble spiteful something back, but he knew the tailor wasn’t wrong. He always felt like the odd one out in Rian’s inner circle, the advisors Rian trusted most and met with most often. While the other four all brought something obvious to the table, Victor felt like his only talent was finishing all the leftover food after the King’s private feasts with the five of them.
Perhaps if he felt like he contributed something, he wouldn’t have been so insecure about his hefty frame. Sure, it wasn’t uncommon for nobility like him to carry some extra weight as a symbol of their status, especially under the reign of the previous king. But Victor felt like he didn’t even deserve to be nobility, let alone part of Rian’s inner circle. He felt like a fraud, like his extra heft was mere horses hay stuffed under his clothing to try to sneak his way into better social circles. If it weren’t for his extra chubby cheeks, along with the dangling ring of flab that hung from his chin, he would have felt like a true imposter. Not that his cheeks helped much, though; he always felt they made him look more like a child than a King’s advisor.
“You don’t know much about King Gordon, do you?” the tailor asked.
“No. The King has been keeping me in the dark about what I’m getting myself in for,” Victor sneered, his nostrils flaring at the realization that the royal tailor knew more about his mission than he himself did. Was Rian trying to make a fool of him?
“Well, I don’t think you have to worry too much about that. Gordon is a lot like his highness: he just wants what’s best for his people. I can assure you, his highness isn’t sending you to meet a king who will call for your execution because you didn’t bow correctly.”
“Like the King’s father?” Victor asked. Those days, few people referred to King Jandon by name, preferring to let his memory fade along with his rule. His needlessly stern rules within the royal quarters, along with policies that favored the wealthy and royalty at the expense of everyone else, made for a reign that everyone, save for the most self-centered of nobility, agreed was a shadow over the kingdom’s history.
“Yes,” the tailor sighed, as if it were an ordeal for him to remember the man. The problem was that the aftermath of his rule could not be erased by something so simple as not speaking his name. That was why Victor was visiting Gevult: to open up diplomatic relations so Hallea could learn from King Gordon how he’d built the Gevultian kingdom into a place where all could prosper, from the farmers to royal court and everyone in between.
“Well, that’s good to hear. But I still don’t understand why Rian is keeping me so in the dark about what I’m getting myself into. You’ve already told me more than the king has by telling me King Gordon has much in common with him.”
“I see,” the tailor remarked as he ran his measuring tape around the circumference of Victor’s ample midsection. “Don’t suck it in,” he demanded, “or else the shirt won’t fit properly.”
Victor nearly asked how the tailor could tell he was sucking his stomach in, but he supposed it didn’t matter. With a long exhalation, he let his stomach muscles relax, taking on a pose he wasn’t used to letting his stomach hang in. Save for the few unwedded nobles whom he knew favored a man of some girth, whose chambers he was quite acquainted with, he tried to minimize its size at least a little around other people. One of those nobles had told him it was the centerpiece of his body, perfectly proportioned to compliment the rest of him, like the portrait in the center of a coat of arms. It was the most memorable of the compliments he’d received, but still not enough to lend him a constant confidence.
Victor briefly tried to imagine the tailor’s hands as akin to those of one of those frisky lasses and forward lads, gently running their fingers along his stomach before inviting him to join them in their bedquarters. But there was a wide gulf between the lustful touch of a desirous noble, and the calculated measuring of a tailor, a gulf wider than even Victor himself. He briefly pushed his stomach out to counteract the inward pull it had been conditioned to maintain, before letting it relax once again so the tailor could take his measurements.
“Much better. You’ll be happier with the end result this way, I promise. For a man of your size, a shirt that fits properly will always look better than one straining at the buttons.”
Victor briefly thought back to his wardrobe full of shirts that strained at the buttons, shirts that had fit him several feasts ago, and let out a muted sigh as he contemplated the prospect of needing to replace nearly his entire wardrobe yet again. Perhaps the tightness of most of his shirts was why those interested nobles seemed so eager to take him to their bedchambers, but never to keep him around when they were done. Either way, he figured the outfit the tailors were making for his diplomatic visit would last him until he could update his wardrobe when he got back.
A few days later, Victor arrived at the king’s private quarters, an area that only he, the other members of the inner circle, and a few trusted attendants had access to. On the table in the front of the room, he found his outfit ready for him. Folded on top of the table was a red and gold ensemble with white trim, exactly the kind of loud, bold outfit that didn’t fit Victor’s personality at all. He knew Rian had to have his reasons for making an outfit like that, but he couldn’t imagine what they would be.
“Ah, Victor,” the king greeted as he sat up from his desk. He was wearing a surprisingly casual pair of a button-down shirt and loose-fitting pants, the kind of outfit Victor expected he might sleep in, not greet guests in, even his inner circle. Only the addition of a royal blue vest with silver trim made his light purple garments seem at all formal. “Glad you could make it.”
“Of course. Is, uh, is there a reason you wanted to meet in your quarters like this instead of the throne room, or even the meeting room or dining hall?”
“Oh, those rooms are so vast,” the king lamented. “We don’t need that much space for a conversation between the two of us. Plus,” he continued, his enthusiasm growing as he walked toward the table. “In here, you can try on your ambassador’s outfit, and I’m itching to see how it came out.”
“Right, about that–”
“Yes, yes, it’s right here,” Rian enthused as he pointed to the table. “You can change behind the screen right there,” he said, pointing to what seemed to be the part of the room where the king himself got dressed.
Of course, that wasn’t where Victor was going with his statement. But he figured his questions about his qualifications as an ambassador could wait until he’d tried on the outfit.
Picking up the pile of folded clothes from the bottom, Victor was surprised to feel just how much they weighed. The cloth felt especially sturdy, almost more like a curtain than clothing, but when he stuck his hand into the shirt, he felt a velvety interior that assuaged any worries he had about discomfort. Once he was behind the king’s folding screen, he placed the outfit down on a bed-stand-like table behind the partition and started disrobing.
Once Victor was stripped down to his skivvies, he looked around and saw a full-length mirror on the wall behind the room divider. The mirror was a simple one with a dark wooden frame, clearly hung there for practical purposes and not to impress anyone. And indeed, Victor wasn’t very impressed by what he saw as he beheld his corpulent body. His stomach hung in front of him like a concave shield, jutting out over his belt line before it hung down just enough to make tucking in shirts a pain. Though it was hardly the size of those bellies grown by the most immoderate of nobles, that wasn’t exactly a big boost to his confidence. His arms reminded him of sausages and his legs reminded him of meatloaf, comparisons he wasn’t exactly happy about. On top of it all, his chest sagged down off of his torso like two small sacks of gold coins that he didn’t deserve. In an instant, he was reminded why the only mirror he had in his own house was a small one for shaving.
Looking away from the mirror, Victor picked up the shirt and started assembling his outfit, resolving to not look in the mirror again until he’d put on everything. Wearing such heavy outfits felt strange at first, but when he felt the way they gently wrapped around his body, fitting better than anything in his own wardrobe, he didn’t mind so much. The shirt and pants both made for comfortable outfit, making Victor wonder why there was a jacket too. It had no buttons, just sleeves hanging off the side of what looked like a cloak that hung down nearly to his knees.
Looking back in the mirror, Victor couldn’t help but feel that the coat looked just as superfluous as it felt. Both the shirt and the coat were decorated with similar patterns, as if they were both meant to be worn without the other. That made some sense for the shirt, although that would still be quite a minimal outfit for an ambassador. But it made no sense for the coat, with no buttons and nowhere near enough width to wrap all the way around Victor. Together, they simply looked excessive, not the kind of look that Victor thought would make a good first impression. After all, if King Gordon was concerned with everyone being able to prosper, how would it look for Victor to show up dressed so lavishly?
Victor kept all these questions in the back of his mind as he rounded the end of the changing screen. The King, however, seemed much more pleased with how the outfit came out, his eyes opening wide as his agape mouth curled into a smile. “Oh it’s perfect!” he exclaimed. “Exactly what I had in mind!”
“This design was your idea?” Victor asked disbelievingly.
“Wha–yes. Why do you ask like that?” the King asked, sounding genuinely caught off guard.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit… much?”
“Oh ho,” the King chuckled. “Victor, I think when you arrive, you’ll understand why this outfit was made the way it was.”
“Okay, so what can I expect when I get there?” Victor asked, posing the question he’d posed so many times before without ever getting an answer.
“You’ll see,” the King told him, as he had so many times before. “I keep telling you, it’s better if you go in not quite knowing what to expect. It’ll be more organic that way. You’ll make a better first impression.”
“You keep saying that. But how am I supposed to make a good first impression if I can’t even prepare for our first meeting?”
“Victor, trust me,” Rian assured him in a quieter, slower speaking voice. “I know you’re going to make a good first impression on King Gordon. More than anyone in the court, or even anyone else in the circle could, certainly,” he added, talking quietly like any of them might be around to hear him.
“But how? What do I bring to the table that they don’t?”
“Exactly the kind of thing that Gordon will value,” Rian answered, prompting Victor to let out a huff of frustration. “Look, I know I’m not telling you a lot about what you’re getting into.”
“You don’t say,” Victor interjected.
“You’re meeting King Gordon as a sort of handshake between our kingdoms. I’m not asking you to find out how he keeps the wealth shared fairly. I’d send Londo for that. I’m not asking you come back and teach us everything you’d learned with enough detail so we can do the same. I’d send Brunda for that. Your job is to show the King he should trust us enough to let us send more envoys.”
“And you really think I can do that? Better than even Amall?”
“Oh, Amall wouldn’t make any headway with King Gordon. Gordon can see right through a smooth talker like him. But you? I know you have what it takes to impress the King.”
“I think you’ll understand better than you know once you get there,” Rian answered, once again prompting Victor to have to suppress an eye roll. “I’ll tell you what; if I’m wrong, and you don’t get us a foot in the door, for the next month, my feasts with the inner circle will feature only your favorite foods. And I’ll instruct the cooks to make extra, so you can have as much as you like.”
The prospect of getting to dine on his favorite meals in such quantities was very appealing to Victor, but he couldn’t shake the feeling of how strange of a promise it was. “You’re telling me… you’ll reward me if I fail?”
“I’m telling you I have that much confidence that you will succeed. Just… don’t intentionally sabotage this to get those feasts.”
That goaded a laugh out of Victor for the first time since he’d entered the King’s chambers. “Alright, you’ve got yourself a deal,” he assured the King, before they shook hands. “And I promise, I’ll do my best.”
“I’m sure you will,” Rian said assuredly.
The two royal guards assigned to protect Victor didn’t make much conversation as their horse-drawn carriage took them out of the kingdom, starting the trip to Gevult. As they passed by the largely featureless country landscapes, Victor asked from the back of the wagon. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be wearing metal armor?”
“His majesty didn’t think that would be a wise move. Said it would look too confrontational, like we’re going in prepared for battle, not diplomacy.”
“These garbs provide more protection than they look like they would though,” the other assured Victor. “It may look like mere cloth, but it can stop the swipe of a sword in a pinch.”
“Besides, we’re really coming along just as a formality. It would be against royal law to send an ambassador without any sort of escort. It would also be insane for King Gordon to let any harm befall you in his kingdom.”
“Wait, you’re telling me that if it weren’t for that law,” Victor said, “Rian would have sent me alone?”
“Possibly,” one of the guards said, seemingly paying no mind to Victor’s exacerbated reaction. “The King seems to have a lot of confidence in you, though.”
“That makes one of us,” Victor muttered to himself.
“Hey,” the other guard interjected, turning around to look Victor in the eyes for the first time since they boarded the wagon. “His highness’s confidence isn’t earned easily. I know all of you inner circle folks think you don’t deserve to be in a position of such prestige, but take it from me, you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t deserve it.”
“Wait… all of us?” Victor balked.
“You didn’t know?” the first guard chuckled. “Londo thinks the kingdom’s inability to bounce back after the King’s father’s reign is personally his fault. Brunda once spent an entire carriage ride telling me dozens of scholars who she thinks could do her job better than she could. Amall is convinced everyone he’s ever successfully sweet talked just felt bad for him. Ditto for Shellia and anyone she’s negotiated with. You really didn’t know all that?”
After Victor shook his head side to side, the other guard said, “Hey, look at that. We’re teaching a member of the inner circle something new.”
“Guess we’re doing pretty well for ourselves,” the first guard chuckled.
“While you’re on a roll, maybe you could tell me more about King Gordon? Or what exactly I’m supposed to do when I meet him?”
At Victor’s inquiry, the guards’ laughter stopped, and they both looked back at him with nervous expressions. “His highness… didn’t tell you that?”
After the guards looked at each other with wide eyes, the second one looked back and said, “Our only instructions were to make sure no harm befalls you.”
“With the caveat that it was unlikely any would,” the first one added. “We thought you’d be taking the lead here.”
After sitting back in his seat with a sigh, Victor relented, “I guess one of us has to.”
“And there’s no sense in it being one of us,” the first guard added.
“Nope,” Victor reluctantly agreed.
“So… his highness didn’t tell you much about King Gordon either, huh?”
“Oh it’s better than that,” Victor snarked. “He admitted to withholding information from me intentionally.”
“That… would explain why he didn’t tell us much either,” the second soldier commented. “What does he mean to accomplish by keeping us in the dark like this?”
“That’s what I’ve been wondering!” Victor exclaimed.
“I’m sure he has his reasons,” the first guard said. “His Highness is not an unwise man.”
“How can you be so sure?” the second guard asked in a snarky tone.
“He wants to open up lines of communication with King Gordon to learn what Gordon is doing right and he’s doing wrong as a king. Admitting what you don’t know is something even a lot of smart people don’t know how to do.”
At that, Victor raised his eyebrows and tilted his head, a nonverbal “Good point,” before he gazed off into the distance yet again.
If anything stood out to Victor about the Gevult kingdom, it was the lack of stark contrast as his carriage was pulled through the streets. Even on the outskirts of the kingdom, the farmers and hunters all had houses that, while certainly modest, would still make any Hallean farmer jealous. Meanwhile, as they drew closer to the King’s residence, the houses of the nobility were about as big as the smaller mansions in Hallea, but much closer together. It seemed the nobility weren’t allowed to claim large plots of land for themselves to do nothing with. Or perhaps they could, but chose not to. And yet, everyone walking the streets in the well-to-do areas was still dressed in impressive clothing and carried themselves with an air of importance, just like Hallean nobility.
As they approached the castle, the carriage was stopped by guards who asked Victor’s guards to state their business. “We come escorting Victor Stroba, ambassador of King Rian of the Hallean kingdom.”
“Hi,” Victor called out with a modest wave as he leaned out from the back of the carriage.
“Could you step out, please?” the guard asked, stern but not hostile.
Victor did as instructed, along with the guards who stood at his sides, just in case. Gordon’s guards looked him up and down, while one referred back to a letter he had in hand. From the sunlight shining through it, Victor recognized Rian’s handwriting. After looking back and forth from the letter to Victor and back, the second guard took on a much more pleasant expression. “Of course. Please, Sir Stroba and company, come inside. His highness has been waiting for you. My partner here will make sure your cart and animals are taken care of.”
All at once, Victor felt once again like he was in over his head. Who was he to be escorted anywhere, let alone as Hallea’s first introduction to a monarch? But it was too late to convince anyone he was the wrong person for the job. Instead he swallowed his nerves and followed Gordon’s guard, with his own protection on either side of him.
“Please forgive the precautions,” the guard asked Victor. “History has shown that a kingdom as prosperous as Gevult makes for an attractive target for leaders with an eye for conquest.”
“Of course,” Victor replied with his best fake confidence, trying to sound official.
“The irony, of course,” the guard continued, “Is that King Gordon’s leadership is what has made this kingdom prosper. If someone were to try to conquer Gevult and replace him on the throne, the wealth they covet so dearly would disappear like sand through their fingertips.”
“That my understanding of it,” Victor continued. “King Rian is hoping to learn some of what Gordon knows so Hallea can prosper as Gevult has.”
“Is that so? Are you here to learn those lessons?”
“Oh no,” Victor chuckled, before fearing he’d broken his confident façade. “I’m here as a sort of handshake between the two kingdoms, to establish some trust so that exchange of knowledge can happen.”
“Hmm,” the guard murmured. “Sir Stroba, if I may–”
“Victor, please,” Victor finally relented. “I’m sure you’re instructed to use Sir this and Madam that and Esteemed Guest and all, but the title fits about as well as my baby clothes.”
“…Victor,” the guard corrected himself, sound like the word didn’t leap naturally from his tongue, but it was more comfortable to say once he finally formed it. “If I may… You seem like a man without the usual pretense of king’s ambassador.”
“You could say that,” Victor said slowly, not wanting to lose too much ground in the discussion.
“Then perhaps I can speak candidly with you?”
“Of course,” Victor answered, trying his best to pretend he wasn’t surprised by the guard’s question.
After a deep inhalation, the guard continued, “Many people doubt the genuine goodness of King Gordon, suspecting it must be something else that allows Gevult to flourish. But there is nothing underhanded about how the king leads his kingdom. He is not greedy, or power hungry, or proud. He is not drawn to power, and thus he can wield it responsibly. I don’t know what kind of character your King Rian has, and it is certainly not my place to speculate. But if he is not similarly selfless, I’m afraid you’ll stand to learn nothing here.”
The guard’s candor took Victor by surprise, but it also gave him some confidence that whatever he was doing, he was doing it right. “I know Rian on a personal level. He wants nothing more than to right the wrongs caused by his father, who was everything that King Gordon is not. If there’s any king I trust to be selfless enough to follow the what we could learn from yours, its him.”
“I sure hope so,” the guard said quietly. “If your king could build Hallea up to that level, trade between our kingdoms would be most lucrative for both of us.”
“Uh… sir, if you don’t mind me asking… how do you know so much about… all this? The intricacies of King Gordon’s leadership. And trade.”
With a chuckle, the guard looked back toward Victor and said, “Schooling is not the exclusive right of the nobility in Gevult. That would be a good place for your King to start.”
“Perhaps,” Victor relented, though he had a hard time imagining a kingdom where children didn’t immediately go to work on the farm, or apprentice with a crafter, so they could start contributing to the kingdom as early as possible. Could a kingdom really afford to lose so many pairs of working hands for so many years? He supposed if it was possible, King Gordon could tell them how.
“We’ll be approaching the reception hall soon. His highness has agreed to meet you in person right inside the castle entrance. He is, uh, not really one for formalities.”
At that, Victor felt a bit relieved. Maybe meeting the King wouldn’t be so bad. He supposed Rian’s comments about wanting the encounter to go “organically” made more sense with the knowledge that Gordon wasn’t one for protocol for its own sake. As they neared the end of the path to the castle, Gordon’s guard motioned to the guards standing by the large wooden double doors to push them open. Victor’s own guard’s stood with their hands close to the hilts of their swords, just in case, but Victor had a good feeling about his upcoming meeting.
Once the doors opened, Victor beheld an entry hall smaller than what he expected, though he supposed it was proportional to the castle itself. Looking around, he saw several lanterns, but not intricate chandeliers like the ones decorating Rian’s castle. Instead, the hall was decorated with paintings and sculpture, with bookshelves all around, a testament to Gevultian culture rather than wealth.
In the middle stood the king himself, behind two more guards whom he seemed to be talking to intently. When he saw the door open, his head rose up to look over the shoulders of his two guards. “Victor Stroba, I presume!”, he called out enthusiastically, before stepping out from behind his guards. “What a delight to finally make your acquaintance!” And when he did step out from behind his guards, Victor was at a loss for words.
The king was dressed in an outfit not unlike Victor’s. He had a boldly-colored and intricately designed cloak draping over his shoulders, with sleeves attached that covered his arms. His pants were decorated in a similar style, both reflecting a black, white, and blue color scheme. All that was missing to make the similarity perfect was a shirt. After blinking several times, Victor realized that King Gordon wasn’t wearing a shirt at all.
And from between the sides of his free-flowing, unclosed coat stuck out a belly the girth of which Victor had never seen rivaled. It was like a boulder jutting out from the earth, and just as unyielding as the king walked toward him. Rather than swaying side-to-side with his walk or jiggling with bounce of each step, his massive midsection moved forward just as stately and steadily as the king himself. Which brought him within handshaking distance of Victor faster than Victor expected given how much weight he had to move.
Thankfully, Victor came to his senses just as Gordon extended his hand, returning the favor and giving the king a firm handshake. At least, as firm as he could. The king’s flabby hands proved difficult to wrap his own fingers around, and he lifted and brought his arm down with such force that Victor felt his own arm was merely being taken along for the ride. He supposed it took a lot of strength to move that much mass around, certainly more than he needed to commandeer Victor’s arm.
“And a pleasure to make yours, Your Highness.”
“Oh, please, call me Gordon. ‘King Gordon’, if you must,” he sighed, as his red eyelids shot up above partially closed eyes. They matched his fiery red beard, just long enough to resemble flames but .…÷.kept short enough that it still cling closely to his chin. Above it all, his remarkably well-tamed red hair wafted back over his head, barely long enough to disappear behind his shoulders, as little tufts of it resisted the direction of flow.
“A-as you wish, G-G-Gordon,” Victor sputtered, the words falling unnaturally from his lips like a pig emulating a chicken and trying to take flight.
“Oh come now,” the King beckoned warmed, placing his hand slowly on Victor’s shoulder. He moved with a casual deliberateness, just slowly enough so Victor’s guards would know he wasn’t a threat. As he turned to pat Victor’s shoulder, Victor got another look at that massive gut of his, jutting out from between his coat bigger than any cooking cauldron in King Rian’s castle. Perhaps the sheets all piled up before the royal bed was made would make for an accurate comparison. That close, Victor could also see the lobes of his chest, themselves the size of roasted birds, covered by a smattering of red hair. “You are a trusted advisor to and ambassador for a king, correct? Why, then we are practically equals.”
“I-I don’t know about that, your–ordon.”
“Heh, well, perhaps a nice lunch together can help change that. Your guards are, of course, welcome too.”
“It is about that time,” Victor relented, looking back to his guards who gave him a nod.
“Come, then,” Gordon beckoned warmly. “We can get you settled in and start our official business once we’d all had a good bite to eat.”
As the king lead the crowd of six through the halls, Victor walked ahead with him, still entranced by the sheer magnitude of his heft. Even in the most immoderate of noble houses, he’d never seen a man so rotund as king Gordon. With such a large belly to lug in front of him, he walked with his arms swinging enthusiastically, as if he needed the extra propulsion to stay mobile. Or perhaps that was just his personality, as his enthusiasm was hard to not get wrapped up in.
“I’ve arranged for a feast filled with plenty of platters for you to choose between so my chefs can get an idea of your food preferences and better serve you during your stay. I can’t wait for you to try all the best that cuisine that Gevultian cooking has to offer,” he beamed, clapping his hands before rubbing them together.
“Sounds delectable,” Victor enthused.
“I’m sure it will be! Now, unfortunately, my wife will not be here to join us, as she is on her own diplomatic mission. My children will be absent for lunch too, as they are currently at their lessons.”
“Could they not just come down? I’m sure the tutor will understand.
With a chuckle, Gordon turned to Victor and said, “They aren’t with a tutor. They’re at school.”
“At a school with… other children?”
“Of course! When our schools provide such a high quality education, why would I spend money to get them a tutor? I don’t want them growing up secluded by the castle walls. Granted, the children of nobility might not give them the best baseline for what our kingdom is like as a whole. But it’s better than nothing.”
“Mmm,” Victor murmured in agreement. It seemed there was much about how Gordon ruled his kingdom that differed from how Rian ruled his, making Victor wish he had a means to take notes. He supposed he’d be spending a lot of time writing letters to the king, so he wouldn’t have to worry about remembering the details of his visit at the end.
Soon the group arrived in what Victor would have assumed was the banquet hall, were it not for its size. Rian’s banquet hall housed enough table space to comfortable feed over a hundred people, but he always entertained guests there, regardless of how many or few he had. Gordon’s hall looked more like a dining room in a nobleman’s house, with a long table in the center that Victor counted only a dozen chairs around. “Is this the banquet hall?” Victor asked.
“Oh no,” Gordon chuckled. “We could never entertain a crowd in this room. For that, we would take you to the great hall, which can also serve as a banquet hall with a change of furniture. No, this is the dining room, where my family and I eat when it’s just us. Oftentimes, we’ll dine with guests in the great hall, but for these more intimate visits, I feel the dining room is more appropriate. Now come, shall we take our seats?”
Victor expected the king to take the seat at the head of the table, leaving him wondering whether he should take a side seat or the chair at the other end. But Gordon walked right past the end of the table, taking a seat in the middle of one of the long sides as his guards sat on either side of him. It seemed to Victor to be a strange place for a king to sit, but it at least made his decision easy. He sat opposite of the king in the center chair on the other side, with his guards on either side.
“Lunch should be ready soon. Please, don’t hesitate to let us know which dishes you like and don’t like, so we can make the meals more to your liking in the future.”
“As you wish,” Victor said, though he had a feeling he would enjoy the everything that was brought out.
“That goes for you two as well,” Gordon assured Victor’s guards, prompting them to look at each other wish raised eyebrows before they looked at Gordon and nodded.
“So,” Gordon started, leaning in toward Victor with his hands clasped together. “What do you think of Gevult so far?”
“Well,” Victor stalled, trying to figure out the best diplomatic reply. “Granted, I feel like we haven’t had a chance to really see your kingdom and get the full picture. If there’s one impression I got from the ride over, though, it’s clear just how prosperous your kingdom is. Farmers living better than some merchants in Hallea. It really seems like everyone’s doing well for themselves here.”
“That’s because they are,” the king said confidently. “It’s my duty to make sure all of the citizens of my land have what they need, and that the kingdom provides for all.”
“Well, is that not the duty of any sworn sovereign?”
“In theory. In practice, well…”. The king hanged and brought his clamped hands up to rest on his amps belly.
“King Rian tries,” Victor blurred out defensively
“I never meant to insinuate your king didn’t,” Gordon insisted. “I only meant I point out that many a monarch find themselves… distracted on the road to make a better kingdom for everyone, rather than those who can throw the most wealth and influence behind their decisions.”
“So how do you drown out their voices?”
“You don’t. You elevate the voice of the common folk to give everyone the same chance to be heard.
“So how do you do that?”
With a chuckle, Gordon told Victor, “That’s the question, isn’t it? I suspect you’ll want to have a few more scholars with you before I give you a lesson on that. I can tell you one method, though,” Gordon said with a smile.
Almost as if on cue, cooks from the kitchen came out with dishes and started placing them in the center of the table. Platters of birds and meats and vegetables and casseroles and hefty pastries and lots and lots of bread. It seemed like a lot of food, but it all looked delectable. And Victor figured that if the king was as big of an eater as he looked, they’d have no problem getting through it.
“You see, Victor, overindulgence in kings has a bad connotation, as a symbol of greed and disregard for the plight of the citizens. And for much of history, that has indeed been the case.”
In the middle of Gordon’s speech, several of the cooks returned from the kitchen, bearing even more dishes to add to the meal, all different varieties of dishes for them to try. They started placing the dishes close together, even though there was still space between the guards to put them down. Were they planning to bring out more?
“In fact, it’s the rare monarchy that could possibly put a positive spin on royal gluttony,” Gordon continued, chuckling as the final word left his mouth. “But, well, there’s plenty that makes Gevult unique.”
The dishes were still coming. They were filling up the table space between all six of them. Victor counted past 10, past 20, still trying to pay attention to what the king was saying, and losing count around 30. And still the cooks kept piling dishes on the table.
“You see, Victor, my cooks don’t simply take orders from me to make as much food as my stomach desires,” he said before giving his mammoth belly a few gentle but content pats. “My court scholars are told to keep an eye on how much the citizens of Gevult have to eat. If the people were struggling, my meals would be meager, leaving me wanting more.
Victor could feel his cheeks starting to turn red. It seemed Gordon had identified him as a big eater, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about being outed as such so early during the trip. He wasn’t sure he could live up to Gordon’s expectations, not with how much food was being placed upon the table.
“And if the people were starving, it wouldn’t be a feast at all, just a single plate for everyone. But when the people are prospering? When they don’t have to worry about food?”
The chefs were now stacking the plates on top of each other, leaving Victor wondering just how much Gordon could eat, and how much he expected Victor to eat. He supposed he’d have his answer soon.
“That is when we feast. That is when my chefs present me with a meal fit for ten kings! And I, being the loyal leader that I am, eat as much of it as I can. I’ve gotten a lot better at it in my time as king,” Gordon chuckled, giving his belly a few heartier thumps. “As such, the bigger my belly, the better our kingdom is doing, and the better our people are living. I am a living, walking, talking, eating symbol of our prosperity,” the king bragged, finding especially satisfaction in the “eating” element of his roll. With that proclamation, he smacked his belly with both of his hands in unison, and the sound of his palms coming down on his bare stomach reverberated around the room.
Eventually, the chefs stopped bringing more dishes out. By then, the feast looked big enough to serve a crowd too big to fit around the dining room table. And yet, the king seemed to expect their crowd of six to finish the whole spread.
“Well, dig in!”
Victor wasn’t sure what he was more astounded by: the king, who took hefty amounts from nearly a dozen entrees in his vicinity and piled his plate high with food, or his guards, who took more reasonable portions with more judicious selection and didn’t seem to regard the whole proceeding as at all bizarre. But when even his own guards started filling their plates, Victor supposed he was being rude by not partaking in the feast presented to him.
When Victor ate at Rian’s meals with his inner circle, he always went to town on the meal presented to them, filling his plate many times until his stomach was filled as well. In front of King Gordon, however, Victor’s concern with making a good first impression had him taking as much food as the guards took. His stomach usually hungered for more, but the butterflies within it seemed to be occupying some of that space.
And yet, Victor could barely eat even that much. Rather, he sat absentmindedly poking at his food with a fork as he watched in awe as the king wolfed down his meal. Even though Gordon had piled his plate with what looked like five times as much food as either of his guards, he seemed to be on track to finish his first round before they did.
“Did you run into any problems on the road?” one of Gordon’s guards asked Victor’s group.
“No, it was actually a remarkably peaceful ride,” one of Victor’s guards replied. “I mean, we know the roads to take out of Hallea to avoid bandits and robbers, but we weren’t certain we’d be so lucky in Gevult. But… we didn’t have a single problem. Just smooth travel the whole way.”
“Well that’s not that surprising,” Gordon’s guard chuckled before she took a bite of roasted vegetable.
“Why do you say that?” Victor’s other guard asked.
“Well think about it: in a kingdom where everyone’s needs are taken care of, why would anyone turn to crime?”
“Scoundrels will be scoundrels, that’s what I say,” Victor’s older guard asserted before taking a bite of his pheasant breast.
“Scoundrels are scoundrels for a reason,” Gordon’s other guard countered, before taking a bite of his roll. “No one turns to a life that risky without a reason. Take away the reason, and you take away the crime.”
Victor could barely pay attention to the banter between the guards, too amazed by Gordon’s eating to do more than listen. He was so enraptured that when Gordon had finished his first plate, Victor hadn’t even touched his.
“Victor,” Gordon interjected, breaking his silence and startling Victor back to reality. “Are you well? You’ve barely touched your meal.”
After looking down at his plate, Victor exclaimed, “Oh,” when he realized that he hadn’t eaten a single bite. “You’re right.” With a shrug, Victor cut and took a bite of the venison, trying to play it off like nothing had happened.
Thankfully, Victor was back to his old ways as soon as the tender meat touched his tongue. He’d had some fantastic feasts in Rian’s dining hall, but the way the meat was prepared managed to top even those. Soon he’d wolfed down all the meager portions he’d taken from the feast while nervous about making a good first impression. They were such small portions compared to what Victor usually ate that he mentally counted it as a prelude to the actual meal, rather than his first plate.
No, his first plate was his next one, which he filled to the edge with all the good foods the king’s cooks had laid out for them. It wasn’t quite as much as the King could stack on top of his plate, which he finished doing just as Victor started stacking his first real round of food. Of course, by the time Victor finished stacking his plate, Gordon had already started on his second course. He seemed too enraptured by the meal to notice how much Victor was eating now that he’d shaken his self-conscious reserve. But as Victor tore a roll in half and used one side to soak up the sauce oozing out of his lasagna, before eating the half-roll in one bite, he caught a glimpse of the King looking up at him and smiling, before he filled his mouth with a bite of roasted potato that was just as big.
The guards, meanwhile, seemed to be finishing their meals, which they followed by taking snack-sized portions of their favorite dishes to nibble on as the meal went on. They maintained the conversation as Gordon and Victor remained largely silent, other than the occasional murmur of agreement muffled by a mouth full of food. Only now, Victor wasn’t silent because of awe at how much Gordon could eat, but because he was enjoying the meal just as much.
The rest of the meal passed in a blur of delectable dishes that Victor lost count of. The bread was all soft and warm, the birds and meats were all tender and juicy, the vegetables had been cooked and seasoned to perfection, the combinations of flavors in the casseroles were inspired, and the pastries and sweets all hit the spot once Victor wanted a break from the savory flavors. By the time he finished his second plate, he was so enamored of the meal that the King’s chefs had created that he didn’t want it to end.
And then he looked down at the table to fill his plate yet again, and saw just how much of the feast remained. It looked like the six of them had barely put a dent in the food, with quite a few of the dishes remaining untouched. Even the most popular items were only half depleted, with plenty of them left for everyone to eat as well. Of course, with the guards all seemingly satisfied, “everyone” meant Victor and Gordon. As the two of them both started filling their plates, Victor realized the feast wouldn’t be ending any time soon. With a smile, he took a bite of pheasant and went right back to wolfing down his meal.
Plateful after plateful made its way from the serving dishes to Victor’s plate and into his stomach, as his second round of food was followed by a third, then a fourth, then a fifth… or was that his sixth? By the time he wasn’t sure if he was on his seventh, eighth, or ninth, he stopped counting.
King Rian had never put out nearly that much food during his feasts with his inner circle. While Victor often walked away from those feasts satisfyingly full, he never had the chance to eat beyond threshold, and find out just how much his seemingly bottomless stomach could hold. In the back of his mind, he supposed he’d find out during that lunch. But he didn’t seem to be getting much fuller. At the very least, his voracious enjoyment of the feast seemed to distract him from any sense of the size of the growing mound of food in his stomach.
Remarkably, even Victor’s shirt seemed to be unaware of the change. Around plate six–or was it seven?–he started to feel his shirt get tight, wrapping around his stomach like many of his own shirts did after he’d enjoyed himself at Rian’s feasts. But now, when he was on at least his twelfth plate, it didn’t feel any tighter. It seemed the tailor knew enough about what Victor would be getting himself into to make the shirt out of a material that could grow with him. And as Victor loaded up what was anywhere from his thirteenth to sixteenth plate, he was grateful for that.
By that point in the meal, both Victor and Gordon were asking their guards to pass them plates that lay on the table just outside of their reach. In Victor’s case, he found that the expanding mound of food in his belly prevented him from bending forward quite as easily as he could at the beginning of the meal, forcing his guards to act like arms for him. Considering that King Gordon seemed to refill his plate as often as Victor did, albeit with two or three times as much food, Victor thought it a reasonable conclusion that the king was having the same issue. Even though the king seemed quite accustomed to eating feasts that gargantuan, a mountainous mound of food was still a mountainous mound of food. It wouldn’t yield any more easily in his stomach than it would in Victor’s.
But the king and Victor both kept eating. Victor was enjoying the meal too much to stop, and the king didn’t seem any more inclined to cease his feasting. He devoured the food like a sworn duty, one he took pride in as the leader of his people. He ate with a diligent consistency befitting a monarch like him. Victor, meanwhile, ate voraciously, as if he hadn’t eaten in several days and each plate of the meal was his first. And yet, the king still out-ate him handily. Not that Victor saw it as a competition, especially when there was more than enough food to please both the king and him.
At least, it seemed that way at first. But as Victor filled his plate, have lost any sense of how many plates deep into the meal he was, he noticed something strange: the table seemed to be covered in fewer serving plates than it had been before. And all the remaining ones had noticeable dents in them, evidence of just how much he and King Gordon could eat. After Victor took the last slice of carrot cake from one of the platters, he watched one of Gordon’s chefs take the empty plate for the table and back into the kitchen. That, he reasoned, explained why there were now fewer plates on the table. The feast finally had enough space that the plates didn’t have to overlap one another.
But that didn’t explain where the food had gone. For that, Victor only had to look down: just a bit to look at Gordon’s swollen mound of a stomach, hanging out in all its stuffed glory from in between the sides of his cloak, and then farther to look at his own swollen paunch.
And then Victor finally felt it: the pile of courses that had been accumulating in his belly that could no longer be ignored. He was beyond full. Beyond stuffed. Beyond gorged and surfeited. All the kingdom’s most expressive poets, with all the vivid and evocative words at their disposal, wouldn’t have been able to conjure a single word to describe how he felt. Victor was confident enough to come to that conclusion even having never read a single word of Gevultian poetry or literature.
For Victor didn’t feel like he’d eaten too much food. He didn’t feel like he’s simply overdone it. He felt like a wizard from the fables had conjured a boulder within his stomach, stretching his belly to his limits while also weighing him down with a burden heavier than that felt by the head that weighs the crown. Or perhaps just as heavy, considering that Gordon must have eaten three times as much as Victor. Victor supposed it was obvious how he’d gotten that globular stomach of his.
And yet, it didn’t give Victor any relief to think about how much more Gordon had eaten. His stomach still felt like it had been packed with enough food to feed the entire kingdom for a year. Underneath the table, his hands ran over the bottom of the shirt the tailor had made for him, which had stretched remarkably well to accommodate his increase in size. He wished he could say the same about his stomach, which wasn’t taking to his new growth quite so effortlessly. Rather his belly was like a chorus of nobles airing grievances to King Rian because they didn’t know how to handle having too much of a good thing.
Victor tried to keep his hands hidden under the table, as rubbing his overfull belly wasn’t exactly good table manners, especially while trying to make a good first impression on the king. Remarkably, Gordon seemed to be handling his own fullness much more handily than Victor, if he felt full at all. But Victor couldn’t keep up the façade much longer, and his hands migrated north from under the table up to the top of his gut, where his full stomach felt like it was pushing out into new space as it tried to make room for all the food he’d eaten. As he tried to provide it some measure of relief, he found that any pressure he put on his stomach only made it lash back. It seemed his only choice was to sit there and let his massive meal digest.
“You done, Victor?” Gordon asked, breaking the silence before taking a sip of his drink.
“Is it obvious?” Victor asked sarcastically, letting one of his hands fall to his side so only one ran along the top of his gut. He’d decided that was a reasonable compromise between behavior appropriate for the royal court and the relief he needed after eating so much.
With a chuckle, Gordon looked down at his own nearly empty plate and admitted, “I think I’m reaching my limits too. Have to make sure I have room for dinner,” he chuckled, before giving his own overflowing belly a few pats.
Victor’s eyes shot wide open at the word “dinner”. This was just lunch, and he already felt like he’d eaten enough for the entire next week. What was he going to do?
“What about the extra food?” one of Victor’s guards asked. “It seems a shame for it to go to waste.”
“Oh it won’t,” Gordon assured them. “The castle staff will have their fill after us, ensuring none of this goes to waste. However, in the rare event that some is left over, the meat will go toward feeding our army’s dogs, while the rest of the leftovers will go toward feeding the animals that will become our next meal.”
“Your army utilizes dogs?” Victor’s other guard asked.
“Oh of course! They’re quicker to train than people, they won’t turn against you when the battle seems hopeless, and they’re wonderful for army moral! We breed them not only for strength, but also protectiveness, as that simultaneously ensures their friendliness to our soldiers and their aggression toward our enemies.”
“Um, if I may, your highness,” Victor’s first guard asked. “What enemies? To my knowledge, Gevult hasn’t been at war since your great-grandfather took the throne.”
“True. He established the policies that I carry out to this day to ensure Gevult prospers. Still, some amount of protection is required to keep any malefactors at bay, else we might become a sitting duck for those who envy the comfort our people live in. After all, you trusted me enough to eat dinner with me, and yet you still wore your armor. So did my guards.”
As Victor’s guards looked from their own armor to that of Gordon’s guards, one of the latter elaborated, “Having served in the army myself, I can tell you that Gevult’s continued peace is another reason why it’s great to have dogs in the army. When the gravest thread you deal with is wolf attacks, spending every day training for a battle that never comes is a recipe for boredom among the troops. Boredom leads to complacency, which leads to atrophy of a soldier’s skills. But give them dogs to take care of, and those soldiers will do their training with a smile on their face. We take our dogs out for runs, practice combat with them to keep their skills up as well, and both the dog and the human end up better for it.
Victor wanted to pay attention to the conversation happening around him. But as he lay back in his chair, leaning as far back as he politely could to give his belly room to expand out, all he could pay attention to was the dull pain in his stomach, which seemed to beg for the attention of both of his hands while rebuking the rubs he tried to give it. He’d long ago given up on breathing through his nose, his mouth taking shallow breaths as if his stomach had expanded into the space usually reserved for his lungs.
“Victor,” Gordon said, jolting Victor out of his fullness-induced stupor. “Would you like to take a nap before we continue this conversation?”
It didn’t seem befitting of an ambassador to sleep when he could have been establishing relations with the king. Granted, the guards seemed to have been getting to know each other and their respective kingdoms better than he or Gordon had during the meal. Victor supposed there would be plenty of time to make a good first impression before dinner. He knew for sure he wouldn’t be able to do it in as groggy of a state as he was in then.
“Sure,” Victor slurred, now knowing he was making a bad impression, but ready to figuratively lie in the bed that he’d made, and literally lie in the bed Gordon’s staff had made.
“Come, I’ll show you to your chambers,” Gordon said, before he rose from his seat in a slow, stately ascent. It was clear he was having some difficulty after all he’d eaten, but it was also clear he’d stood up with such a full stomach many times before. He was quite accustomed to remaining dignified even with a stomach full of a feast that gargantuan.
Victor was not. Thankfully, his guards were at the ready, and they got up from the table and slung his arms over their shoulders. Soon Victor felt himself hoisted up into a standing position against all of his stomach’s protestations and complaints. Though it hadn’t been a painless ascent, he was glad the guards had made it for him. If they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to get himself and his overly full stomach out of the chair before Gordon made his way over.
Of course, Victor wasn’t off the hook for finding his balance again. With the help of his guards, he stepped forward while keeping his arms slung over their shoulders, causing him to lean back before he let go. This both gave his packed stomach the room it needed to expand out with all the food he’d eaten, and set his newly moved center of gravity above his legs again. With so much weight in his belly now, Victor couldn’t slouch over like he often did after Rian’s feasts; doing so would be a guaranteed way for him to become well acquainted with King Gordon’s floors.
Thankfully, Victor managed to stay standing until Gordon came up to him. As tall as Gordon was, he was able to place his hand on Victor’s back, rather than weighing him down even more by laying it on his shoulders, and lead him forward. Victor had to be sure to keep up with Gordon’s pace, however, or else the king could very easily have knocked him over. “Come. You and your guards will be staying in the east wing. It’s not a long walk from here.”
Gordon and Victor both walked with something of a waddle in their gate. But Gordon was practiced enough to make it look natural, slow and deliberate, the way a king ought to walk. Victor, meanwhile, walked with his arms swinging wide at his sides, as if their exertion could help his legs move faster. But trying to balance so much extra mass was no small feat, and his legs had to move in small steps to keep him upright. WIth Victor pushing him, however, they were small, quick steps.
“So Victor, what were your favorite courses during lunch?”
It felt like a cruel trick, to expect Victor to answer a question that couldn’t give a simple “yes” or “no” to after all he’d eaten, especially when he’d eaten as much as he had because it was all so good. But he knew he had a duty to make a good impression on the king. So he replied, parading the unhurried pace of his speech as if it were thoughtfulness, “You know, everything was so delicious.” He knew panting as he tried to walk and talk at the same time wasn’t a good look, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
“Well, that’s wonderful to hear. However, my chefs don’t usually make so many dishes for one meal. They’ll usually make a dozen or so, possibly two for special events, set out in larger portions. I’m afraid it’s simply not sustainable for them to make such a varied feast for every meal. However, I can assure you,” he exclaimed enthusiastically, “That there will be just as much food for us all to enjoy.”
“Wonderful,” Victor replied, not even sure himself whether he meant it. “Well, King Gordon, if there’s anything I take away from that feasts, it’s that whatever your chefs make, I will certainly enjoy it. So feel free to tailor the meals to your preferences, or those of my guards if you’re so inclined–”
“Oh I am! I want to make sure all my guests enjoy their stay. Speaking of which, did you have enough?”
Victor nearly bit his tongue trying to keep himself from saying anything he might regret.
“I kid, I kid,” Victor chuckled. “You put in a good show back there. I was impressed.”
“Yeah?” Victor replied, half a confident rhetorical tone, half genuine surprise.
“I like you, Victor. You seem like you’re willing to enjoy life to the fullest, and to your fullest,” he chuckled. Victor braced for some unwelcome belly pats, but thankfully, his stomach felt no impact. It seemed Gordon understood how unpleasant it could be for a stomach as stuffed as Victor’s was to be met with even gentle pats. “I have a feeling we’re going to get along just fine.”
Those final words left a smile on Victor’s face as Gordon finished showing him to his bed chambers. While he and the guards made conversation about the particulars of their accommodations, Victor hobbled right to the bed, taking off his cloak as he did so and letting it fall on the floor. Once he reached the bed, he turned to face away from it and let himself fall on his side. With his swollen gut occupying the space in front of him, he breathed heavily, but more easily than he would if his gut and the mound of food therein were on top of him. The dull pain of his full stomach and the muffled conversation between Victor’s guards and King Gordon all coalesced into a wall of literal and figurative background noise, blurring into nothingness as he finally felt free to fall to his food coma.
“No way,” Victor frustratedly grunted as he tried and failed to button the shirt of his ambassador’s outfit. The tailor had certainly made it with an impressive amount of stretch, but it seemed he’s finally reached the shirt’s limit. “We’ve been here, what, ten days? How does anyone outgrow a shirt that fast?”
“Well, considering how you’ve been eating,” one of Victor’s guard’s started.
“In ten days?!” Victor blurted out.
“Maybe It shrunk,” the other guard suggested. “Let’s see you without the shirt on,” the other guard suggested.
With a sigh, Victor emerged from around the room partition in only his undergarments, a pair of tights and an undershirt whose stretchy material had miraculously expanded with with him. At least, to an extent: the bottom of his undershirt had gone from hanging low enough that he could tucking into his leggings to the bottom hem running in an arc over his belly button. The result created an eye-shaped opening through which his widening belly could be seen.
“Oh yeah, you’ve gotten fatter.”
“You don’t say, court investigator.”
At that, the three heard a knock on the door. Causing Victor to look at his guards mortified. “I can’t answer the door like this.”
“I’ll take care of it,” the younger guard volunteered.
“Thank you,” Victor whispered before rushing behind the room divider once again.
“Hi, is Mr. Stroba in right now?”
“He’s occupied, I’m afraid,” the guard stated with authority.
“Oh. Well I hope he’s not too occupied, as I’ve come to inform him and yourselves that breakfast will be served soon.”
“I see. We’ll uh, we’ll do our best to make it down.”
“I should hope so. Also, this letter arrived for him from a royal courier.”
“Must be from King Rian. Thank you.”
“…Hey! Uh, before you go.” At that, the guard started speaking more quietly, forcing Victor to lean in to try to hear the conversation better.
“I have a question about the King’s… signature outfit.”
“You mean the fact that he doesn’t wear a shirt? Well, it’s to display the bounty of–”
“Yes, he explained that our first day here. My question is… is it… exclusive to him?”
“Or could other nobles wear their outfits the same way while in his presence?”
“Oh! Well, it’s far from a common occurrence, but other men of significant girth have indeed dressed in tops that put the full extent of their heft on display for all to see in the presence of his highness. Usually at galas and such.”
“And he doesn’t have a problem with it?”
“Oh quite the contrary! He delights in seeing men as proud of their size as he is.”
“I see. Thank you. Please tell the king we’ll be down for breakfast soon.”
“Of course,” the messenger said, before the door was closed.
Stepping out from behind his privacy screen, Victor looked at his guard with raised eyebrows. “You’re not seriously suggesting…”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
Victor frowned at the guard before smacking the side of his fist against the wardrobe. “Fucking Rian. He knew what he was getting me into, and he still sent me without any bigger clothes.”
“I… I don’t know about that. I don’t think the king would be so short-sighted. Maybe the letter he sent will shed some light on his thinking.”
“There’s no time,” Victor grumbled. “Rian isn’t a man of succinct writings. His quills cover more distance when he writes than the feathers that make them did on the birds that once bore them.” After shaking his head side to side, he looked up with a mix of resignation and determination. “Alright.”
As Victor’s guards looked on in confusion, he stood up, took a deep breath, stuck his hands between the sides of where his shirt buttoned together, and pulled. With several simultaneous ripping sounds, the buttons came flying off of Victor’s shirt. Once it was ripped open, he stood in place, still breathing heavily with frustration. But as he looked on over his guards’ surprised faces, he smiled for the first time this morning.
“Are… are you sure that’s a good idea.”
“It’s not going to do me any good now,” Victor asserted, giving his newly bigger belly a few demonstrative pats as he let it hang out of his open shirt. With a nod of determination, he tossed his cloak on the bed, following it shortly with his defunct shirt. He then put his cloak back on, thankful to find the inside hand been lined with the same soft, comfortable material as his shirt. He smiled from the silky feeling, before his expression went flat. “Rian knew it would come it this.”
“How can you say that?”
“The inside of the cloak is made of the same material as the inside of my shirt. He knew I’d be wearing it on its own.” Victor looked over the sleeves, just as intricately decorated as his shirt, before pulling the back in front of him to behold the design. With a smile, he concluded, “At least he made it stylish too.” It was as Victor looked over his back that he saw the full-length mirror behind him. With another determined sigh, he swung himself around to survey what he looked like now.
Victor was far from the spitting image of the King. His clean-shaven face and hair that was just a bit too long to be considered short ensured that. More importantly, Victor’s newly swollen belly was still nowhere large enough to challenge the King’s in size. But it had grown enough for the difference in size to be quite noticeable, as he would have expected giving how thoroughly he’s outgrown his shirt.
From between the sides of his cloak, Victor’s belly jutted out a solid couple of inches to the sides and an nch below. Turning to look at himself from the side, he could see that his stomach seemed to be rounding out from being constantly stuffed full. Once like a sack of grain stuffed under his shirt, it now had more in common with the size and shape of a cooking cauldron. It jutted out more robustly over the beltline of his pants, starting to develop a presence of his own.
But it was a shape Victor didn’t mind. His once soft belly, draped around middle like an afterthought, now looked more like something he’d put on intentionally. It still felt like a phony source of confidence, but knowing he’d earned it made him feel slightly more legitimate. Now if only he had a shirt that was just as dignified.
But in that kingdom, in that castle, it would do. With a deep inhalation, Victor sighed and gave belly a few pats, before he turned to his guards and said, “Let’s get breakfast.”
Victor walked ahead of his guards, trying his best to adopt a somewhat confident demeanor as he did. Dressed like that, he knew he wouldn’t be able to pull off his outfit if he walked around sullen or shy. He had to own the fact that he was letting his newly grown belly hang out for everyone to see. So he arched his back, straightening his posture give his gut a proper frame to rest upon. He let his arms swing extra wide at his sides, exaggerating a natural consequence of his weight gain into something that looked intentional. Finally, he pushed his stomach out, to counteract the reflex to suck it in, allowing his belly to hang out at its true size.
And for his efforts, his belly thanked him by expanding out into the space in front of him, allowing it to jiggle even more than usual. With each footstep, he could feel his belly bounce as the downward motion of his body stopped, yet all that heft still wanted to travel down. His belly also had a more noticeable sideways sway, accentuating the way his torso turned as he walked. He supposed it was only reasonable that if everyone else was going to notice his gut more, so would he.
Once he reached the door, Victor took one last deep breath and opened it into the hallway outside. He was met by the sight of an empty corridor, a momentary relief before he started walking toward the dining room. He could hear some commotion down the hallway, so he knew it wouldn’t be just him and his guards for long.
Indeed, as Victor walked through the hallways that lead to the dining room, he passed by quite a few people. Some were Gordon’s guards, who didn’t pay him much mind. Some were part of the King’s staff, and they mostly gave Victor a respectful greeting before they went their own way. It made sense, Victor thought. They all had important jobs to do that meant they couldn’t stay and chat or pass judgement about his clothing choices. They also all seemed to know Victor was an esteemed guest, and knew better than to make him feel uncomfortable.
No, it was the other guests of the castle that reacted more obviously to Victor’s choice to let his new girth hang out. He got quite a few raised eyebrows, a handful of double takes, and a few blatant stares from people who didn’t seem to know better, until they caught him watching them stare and looked away. Victor was acutely aware of everyone’s reactions to his stomach, but also knew that only one person’s reaction really mattered: King Gordon.
Soon Victor and his guards had made their way to the dining room, where they saw the King sitting with his wife and eldest daughter beside him, and his two youngest in the seats on either side of them. His two guards were at either end of the table, leaving the other side for Victor and his guards to sit down.
Before they could, however, Gordon looked toward where Victor stood and his eyes grew wide. As he stood up faster than Victor had ever seen him move, he called out, “Victor, my boy!” With a chuckle, he continued, “Seems I’ve been rubbing off on you, eh?”
“In more ways than one, I suppose,” Victor answered.
“Ah, what a sight to see. Come! Breakfast will be served shortly, and there’s more than enough for all of us to enjoy!”
Of course Victor knew there would be more than enough for all to enjoy. Every meal since he’d arrived had ended with him and Gordon stuffed to the gills, all the other attendants pleasantly full, and food still left over. On one level, Victor felt guilty for leaving food on the table at the end of the meal. When his only role in King Rian’s inner circle seemed to be eating whatever food the rest of the circle couldn’t, leaving food on the table made him feel like he’d failed somehow. He tried to remind himself he was there on a diplomatic mission, not to eat to finish Gordon’s unfinished meals. Most of the time, it worked. But that moment after he put his utensils down for the last time always left him feeling a little unsatisfied, even as his stomach was beyond satisfied.
And it seemed that morning would be no exception. Gordon’s chefs brought out platter upon platter of pancakes, bread with butter, breakfast pastries, fruit bowls, potatoes prepared several different ways, bacon and sausages, and pitchers of milk and juice to help them wash it all down. It was an impressive spread, as always. Victor had to shoot down the idea that he might be able to help finish it all. His eyes could sometimes be bigger than his stomach, but he was sure even they weren’t big enough for this.
As usually, Gordon’s wife and children made conversation with the guards, asking Victor’s in particular about Hallea. The kids were curious to know more about their neighboring land, while his wife seemed keen to gain a diplomatic insight into the country before the real deal happened. Victor occasionally chimed in on topics where he felt a his guards’ answer was misleading or incomplete. But for the most part, he spent breakfast with his mouth full and his stomach filling up.
That morning, Victor started with a plate piled high with four pancakes, with bacon filling the empty space around them. He took his fork and knife and sliced the pancakes all the way through, to allow the syrup to soak through. He then took the syrup pitcher, which was the same size as the milk and juice pitchers, and soaked everything on his plate. With a gusto matched only by Gordon’s own eating, he dug his fork into his pile of flapjacks and took his first bite.
By then, Victor had become accustomed to eating his own massive portion of the gigantic meals Gordon’s chefs served. The meals they cooked up were so good that Victor didn’t want to stop eating once he’d gotten the first bite in his mouth. Of course, sheer love of food wasn’t going to carry him forever, especially once he’d eaten enough to lose count of how many plates he’d gone through. If he was going to force his stomach to expand and hold everything he wanted to eat, he had to find a way to silence its protestations once he’d passed his dozenth plate.
Thankfully, Victor found he could do exactly that by keeping his eyes, nose, mouth, and hands occupied with the meal, while his ears were attentively tuned to the conversation around him. Between the two tasks at hand, he could distract himself from the growing feeling of fullness in his stomach until the meal ended. While he was in Gordon’s castle, the meal ended when he’d eaten enough that he felt like he was about to explode.
But with only his first plate down, he was nowhere near that point yet. He took some sausages on one side of his plate, some toast spread heavily with butter on another, and filled the rest of the space with two croissants and several muffins, the latter of which he also slathered with butter as he ate. As he scarfed his food down, he tuned into the conversation around him more attentively than before, now that he had some food in his stomach.
“I trust King Rian isn’t maintaining the same unfriendly policy towards outsiders that his father did?” Gordon’s wife Naru asked as she snacked on her fruit salad, still working through her first plate.
“Oh, of course not,” one of Gordon’s guards answered. With a chuckle, he continued, “We wouldn’t be here if he were. No, his highness’s father was convinced of the Hallean people’s superiority and that we had nothing to learn from other kingdoms. He’s probably rolling in his grave knowing we’re here on a diplomatic mission with the end goal of learning more from your kingdom and its people.”
“Good,” Gordon’s eldest daughter chimed in, before she stuck her knife into her cinnamon roll to cut off a bite-sized piece.
“Varessa,” Naru whispered, her tone halfway between scolding and pleading.
“What? From everything we’ve heard about him from our guests, he was a selfish, egotistical king whose rule only benefited those who were already born with all the benefits they could ask for and more.”
Both Victor and his guards raised their eyebrows and tilted their heads to the side before looking down at their plates again, a silent chorus proclaiming, “She’s not wrong.”
After watching their guests confirm her daughter’s conclusion, Naru let her own head hang forward and continued, “That is certainly an… accurate observation, dear, and that astute observational prowess will serve you well when you take your father’s crown.”
“But the job of a monarch requires subtly as much as it does verity,” Gordon chimed in, having swallowed enough of the food in his mouth to speak up.
“Exactly. Thank you, dear,” Naru said more quietly.
“Of course,” Gordon returned just as tenderly, swallowing the rest of his food before giving his wife a kiss on the cheek.
“You can take the knowledge that you’re right to your grave, but without tact, you’ll alienate allies even if they agree with you.”
“I know, I know,” Varessa insisted. “But until I’m made the princess proper, why should I have to bear the responsibilities of the roll without any of the power?”
“Practice, dear,” Naru answered.
By then, Victor had cleared his own mouth of all the giant bites of buttered muffin he’d taken, allowing him to chime in, “Manner aside, your daughter makes an excellent point. Everything King Rian does is probably making his father roll in his grave. When the King ascended to the throne upon his father’s passing, he swore the way his father ruled would serve as his template for how not to rule his kingdom. Between you and me,” he said, leaning in toward the other side of the table, “I think that’s the source of much of his struggle. He has a perfect blueprint for how not to be a monarch, but no examples of how to be one. All he knows is that he doesn’t want to be like his father.”
“So he knows what not to do, and now he’s looking for examples of what to do.”
“In so many words yes.”
After a period of momentary silence, during which Victor took another bite of sausage, his older guard chimed in, “If I may change the subject for a moment: Did you say earlier that your eldest daughter is next in line to succeed the king?”
“That is correct,” Varessa chimed in.
“Is that… at all surprising?” Naru asked.
“Well… In Hallea–and in most kingdoms, to my knowledge–the king is succeeded by his eldest male heir.”
“That might be why they aren’t doing so well for themselves,” Naru replied.
“Quite,” Gordon chimed in, having seemingly found another between-bites moment to add his voice to the conversation. “Are there similar laws concerning inheritance and other matters involving children?”
“In most cases, yes.”
“And I take it Hallea doesn’t produce a disproportionately high amount of male firstborns?” Varessa asked, leaving the guards speechless.
“No,” Victor answered through a mouth full of sausage, picking up on the heir’s sarcasm seemingly faster than his guards could.
“So if we were in Hallea instead of Gevult… I would be the one to take on my father’s crown after he stepped off the throne?” his son Tylore asked, a tinge of nervousness coloring his voice.
“You wouldn’t relish that chance?” Victor’s older guard asked.
“Oh no,” he chuckled nervously. “No, Varessa is far better suited for leadership than me. My interests lie much more in the arts, specifically their preservation.”
“And a fine chancellor of the arts you will make,” Gordon assured him.
“Assuming I choose you to take on the roll once I’m on the throne,” Varessa added with a smirk.
“Aw, why wouldn’t you do that, Var?”
“Just keep your grades up and you won’t have anything to worry about.”
Gordon, Naru, and Victor all smiled at the exchange before continuing with their respective meals, while Victor’s guards looked more confused than before. Gordon was just glad he didn’t have to convince them of the wisdom of Gevult’s ways.
Neither Gordon nor Victor contributed much more of substance to the conversation after that, both focusing more on shoveling plate after plate of the delicious meal down their gullets while everyone else used their mouths for conversation. Though Victor couldn’t stack his plate as high with food as the King could, he was still able to keep up with Gordon’s voracious eating as the meal continued, with both men filling their plates with the same approximate frequency. He did take some amount of pride in the fact that he was now filling his plate consistently with half as much food as Gordon did, noticeably more than the third of their first meal together.
Victor and Gordon both seemed to slow their eating around the same time, acknowledging when they knew they only had a few more plates’ worth of space in them. But a curious thing happened by then: over half of the plates had been cleared off the table, their contents finished by everyone dining (mostly Victor and Gordon). For a moment, Victor was so astounded that he tuned out the conversation; could he and Gordon have been on their way to finishing an entire meal?
That momentary pause was a mistake. Between not focusing on his own food intake and ignoring the conversation around him, Victor became acutely aware of just how stuffed he was. It was an awareness that he usually managed to delay until after the meal, but now he could feel the size of the pile of food in his stomach, the pressure as it pushed out into his abdomen trying to make space for itself, and the fatigue signalling the inevitability of food coma.
And in a strange way, he found himself enjoying it. With each bite he swallowed, he felt the dull pain in his stomach swell a bit before it subsided, as his abdomen acclimated to the level of fullness it had reached. The bite settled into the sea of foods it had been added to, his stomach expanded just a bit bigger, and soon it stopped complaining, allowing him to take another bite.
Victor still ate slowly, unable match the ravenous pace he’d eaten with previously when each bite needed more time to settle in. But this new satisfaction he found in stuffing his belly beyond its limits helped him finished several more plates after he’d felt like he had no room left. Though he struggled to get each bite down, the satisfaction of fitting even more delicious food in his stomach–the thrill of it, even–made it more than worth it.
By then, Victor had managed to tune out the conversations happening around him, too focused on enjoying eating such delectable dishes in excess. With so much food inside of him, he found his back pushed against the chair behind him, as his rear end scooted ahead. The net result made him look like he was slouching over, but it also gave his bare, bulbous stomach the room it needed to expand outward. Though reaching over such a robust mound of flab was no small feat, Victor kept on eating, intent on finishing everything on his plate. While he knew his posture would make it difficult to take any more food to fill his plate yet again, he decided to worry about that after he’d finished his current plate. And eventually, he did, taking the last piece of sausage on his fork and biting it off, chewing it and forcing the last bit down his throat. With a quiet groan, he forced his eyes open wider and surveyed the table around him.
Victor’s eyes opened extra wide when he beheld the empty table in front of him, completely barren save for everyone’s individual place settings. He’d been vaguely aware of all Gordon’s chefs taking the serving plates off the table when they’d been emptied, but it seemed he’d been too focused on his eating to notice them stopping.
“Well, I’d say we did a great job clearing that feast,” Gordon asserted, giving his belly some satisfied pats. “Are you satisfied, Victor?”
“Huh?” Victor asked, looking up with eyes and mouth both half-open.
“I may choose to set the size of my feasts based on how well my kingdom is prospering, but given that you are a guest, we want to make sure you feel satisfied.”
“Oh, I’m… I’m very satisfied, thank you,” Victor murmured, doing his best to speak up and mostly failing. Thankfully for him, the king could hear him just fine from right across the table, and smiled and nodded.
“Wonderful. Well, we have some time to spend before our royal business can get started. Victor, I trust you will be in your quarters until then?”
“Yep,” Victor muttered. Every one of his gargantuan meals in the castle so far had ended with him retreating to his guest room to take a nap and let his food digest, before he was ready to conduct his business as an ambassador. In any other royal court, it might have been a bad look. But given how much Gordon seemed to admire Victor’s eating, he’d concluded it was worth it if it meant he could put in a good show during their meals. Even though those meals left him exhausted, bloated, and struggling to move.
But after so many indulgent meals, Victor had figured out how to get himself out of his chair when his belly wanted nothing more than for him to stay still. It took some wriggling, some scooching, some leaning his belly to one side. But that morning, in spite of how full he felt, he was able to push himself out of his chair in only three times the amount of time it took king Gordon to stand up, himself taking about two or three times the time his wife and kids took. But Victor could get himself upright even with a stomach beyond stuffed with Gevultian delicacies, and that was an accomplishment in his book.
Getting himself to his guest room would be another matter, but Victor had gotten more used to maneuvering his overstuffed body as well. Those days, he managed to walk to his bedroom with a gait slightly more dignified than a waddle, his legs making short steps forward with a wide span between his feet, while his arms swung extra wide to help propel him forward. All the while, he arched his back, avoiding any compression of his stomach and the pain it would cause him. His head arched back too, mouth agape to allow him to breath as much as he needed to move his heavy form. It was a far cry from the stately walk the king could do with such a full stomach, but it was an improvement nonetheless.
Once the king and Victor both met at the end of the table, the king patted Victor on the back, quietly telling him, “Good show today.”
“Your enthusiasm for Gevultian cooking rivals my own,” the King chuckled, patting his stuffed belly as the two walked toward Victor’s guest room, with the King’s hand on Victor’s back. Even though Gordon still decidedly dwarfed Victor, the two were still a sight to see as they walked slowly ahead with their massive guts hanging out from between the sides of their coats. “My chefs tell me they look forward to cooking for you, you know.”
“Really?” Victor asked.
“Oh yeah. So many of my guests are so self-conscious about eating too much, even in the presence of a big eater like myself,” he chuckled again, giving his belly a rub as he did, “That that the chefs barely notice they’re cooking for anyone they don’t usually cook for. But with you here, they’ve had the chance to make more varied meals, but they have to make significantly more food to fill us both up.”
“Heh, they certainly haven’t been skimping on that front.”
“No,” Gordon concurred proudly. “And the fact that you’re willing to eat seemingly anything they make pleases them as well.”
“Well, how could I not be? Everything is so delicious.”
Gordon had a smile on his face as he lead the overfed ambassador down the corridor to his bedroom, his guards following close behind. “To you, that might be simple truth. To them, it means much more. And if you can make my staff happy, well, that means a lot to me.”
With a modest smile now spreading across his face, Victor perked up, just in time for when they reached his room. “Well, in a while, you’ll be able to speak with some of the chancellors you wanted to talk to. In the meantime, feel free to rest for a moment.”
“Will do,” Victor promised Gordon, before he and his guards entered the room and closed the door behind him. Victor followed his newly grown and firmed belly sticking out in front of him, letting it lead him through the room. He walked past the night stand where he’d left the letter fro King Rian, sighed and leaned to the side to pick it up.
“What do you suppose he’s written you about?” one of the guards asked.
“My last letter was a summary of what I’ve learned in my first week here. I suppose he’ll be commenting on that, mabe posing some questions for me to ask King Gordon and his folks. Maybe I should wait until after I nap to read it.”
“You might not have time,” the younger guard told him. “Better open it now.”
With a groan, Victor hobbled over to his bed and tore open the top of the envelope. To his surprise, he only found a single page inside, with only a few sentences jotted down in Rian’s hasty handwriting.
Victor, All good news! It sounds like we have even more to learn from the Gevultians than I realized. And the better a relationship we establish, the more we can learn. I didn’t give you a specific frame for your visit because I wanted to keep it open, in case it exceeded our expectations like this. I want you to stay with King Gordon as long as he enjoys your company. As long as you’re making a good impression, more is better. Keep in touch. Your updates will make my wait for your return worth it. Sincerely, Rian
Victor stared at the letter a while longer, before lifting his arms to look at his swollen belly. Gordon didn’t seem to be getting tired of Victor’s company at all, and he knew the longer he stayed, the bigger his belly would get. He’d managed to get around having a shirt that fit, at least for then, but he wasn’t sure how much his pants would be able to handle such an extended visit. With a pensive look, he suck his thumb in his belt line and pulled. To his relief, it extended a fair distance away from his body, indicating a great potential for growth.
With a nod, Victor left the letter on his nightstand. Falling backwards onto the bed, he hit the sheet with a grunt, before letting his belly fall onto the bed so he could lie on his side. With a belly as full as his, it was the easiest way for him to fall asleep.
It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and Victor and Gordon were taking a leisurely walk along the roof of the castle. That long into Victor’s stay, the two had established enough of a rapport to be comfortable being escorted by only one guard apiece during their more personal conversations. As such, both men walked along the castle wall with only one guard in tow, trailing far enough behind to create an illusion of privacy between the two. Victor still wore his coat with his belly out on display, his shirt even more of a lost cause than it was on the day he’d first ditched it. Though they’d only first met a handful of weeks ago, the two looked like life-long friends who found each other’s company as comfortable as their wardrobes.
“How often do you come for walks up here, Gordon?”
“All the time. I tend to take my guests on walks through the gardens or the city instead, as they tend to find those more impressive. But when I need a moment to reflect or ponder, I come up here.”
Looking out over the landscape around them, Victor could see why. Though Gordon’s castle was quite modest in comparison to those of other kings, its position on top of a hill still allowed for some remarkable views of Gevult from the top. Victor had been privy to similar views from on top of Rian’s castle, and never thought much about the fact that it was easy to tell the wealthier parts of town from the poorer as he looked over the city.
But from the top Gordon’s castle, the distinction wasn’t so straightforward. It was easiest to distinguish different parts of the city not by wealth, but by function: the open space of the market distinguished it from the smoke rising up from the trade district, while bright colors and unique architecture marked the cultural center. If Victor hadn’t watched the houses get bigger on his cart ride into Gevult’s capital, he could have been convinced the houses on the outskirts of town only looked smaller than those in the center due to being farther away.
“Is it because of the view?”
“In a way. Coming up here lets me see the entire city, a microcosm of Gevult as a whole, and reminds me who I do this for. In the rush of the day-to-day duties of being a monarch, sometimes I can lose sight of why I do this, of what all my work is going toward. Then I come up here, and it becomes as clear as the sky today: I do this for them,” he concluded, waving his open hand toward the horizon before rotating it along the entire swatch of the city visible to them. “And if what I’m doing isn’t benefiting them, then I need to rethink it.”
There was a profound silence between the two, that even their guards dared not break. Only the sounds of their shoes on the stones beneath them broke that decorated quiet, tinted with birdsong and the occasional hubbub from below. So Victor was thankful when Gordon continued with, “Plus… it’s a great place to sun my belly,” before giving his gargantuan midsection some loving pats.
After chuckling at Gordon’s comment, Victor looked down at his own midsection, pale from decades of being hidden away from the sun. The most light it ever got was a few moments of lamplight before disappearing under the covers, either his own or those of the nobles whose bedchambers he knew as well as his own. And now that it had grown big enough to have its own presence, to turn a corner before Victor himself did, to seem like it was leading him forward rather than him leading it, it only called more attention to its own pasty hue. “I guess mine could use a bit more of that too.”
“You keep wearing your coat like that, it’ll get that sun in no time,” Gordon assured him with a warm smile.
“Heh, yeah, we’ll see whether I keep wearing this getup once I get back to Hallea.”
“Well, why wouldn’t you?” Gordon asked. Hearing his tone and looking at his expression, Victor realized he was genuinely confused. “If you want to sun your own belly, it seems a great way to do it.”
With a deep inhalation, Victor admitted, “If I had your confidence, I might be willing to do it.”
Another silence, this one much less profound, hung between the two. This time, Victor felt it was his responsibility to break it: “When did you start wearing your clothes with your stomach exposed?”
“When I had a stomach to show off,” Gordon answered, smirking while grabbing his ample midsection with one hand. His fingers dug into the flab before he lifted it up and down, causing the whole thing to bounce like a sack of grain in the back of a carriage on a poorly maintained road. Victor was amazed the King was strong enough to move the entire thing with just one arm.
“You mean you weren’t always this… grand?”
“Oh goodness no!” the king exclaimed. “Why, when I took the throne, I didn’t even have a belly to speak of.”
Looking down at the massive gut the king hauled around now, Victor found that mildly difficult to believe. “So how did you end up as large as you are now?”
After a brief contemplative silence, the king put his arms behind his back until he could hold one of his hands in the other. “I suppose the story really begins with my father. Bless his heart, he loved Gevult, and would have done anything to see our region prosper. But in his old age, his wits started to fail him, and there came to be a disconnect between his intentions and his actions. With age, the gulf only grew wider. Though Gevult never exactly floundered under him–it would take more than one bad leader to undo everything my great-grandfather built–it was clear to see that the kingdom wasn’t doing so well. All you had to do was look at him to see that.”
“Did he portion his meals based on the kingdom’s prosperity too?”
“No, but something along those lines. See, every monarch since my great-grandfather has chosen some means to make sure the quality of life of the kingdom is reflected in their own quality of life. My great-grandfather would relieve his closest staff of their duties while still paying them, thus requiring him to do more work around the castle, until the kingdom was doing better. When he was questioned about his choice, he would reply, ‘Why should I live in luxury as a reward for failing my people?’
“Every Gevultian monarch since then has tied some element of their quality of life to the wellbeing of the kingdom. My grandmother would move out of the castle and into a more modest home nearby when she felt she wasn’t keeping the legacy of her father’s accomplishments alive. And my father asked his tailors to sew his clothes with a level of opulence that reflected the wealth of the kingdom.
“After my grandmother’s reign, which she spent tweaking and improving the methods of leadership established by my grandfather, my father inherited a kingdom doing about as well for itself as it possibly could. And for most of his reign, he kept it there, and Gevult prospered for yet another generation. Until his old age, when his leadership deteriorated, and his intricate robes were replaced by clothes more befitting a trader. Not destitute, by any stretch, just like the kingdom, but certainly a far cry from his glory days. By the time he passed and I took the throne, I knew I had my work cut out for me.”
“And you were thinner back then?”
“Much thinner. I also hadn’t decided on how I would continue the tradition established by my great-grandfather. I briefly considered following in the footsteps of my grandmother, since the luxury of castle life seemed wholly inappropriate while my kingdom was going through one of its less splendid times. But that didn’t truly snap into focus until my first dinner as king. An entire feast was brought out, not as big as the ones you and I wolf down today, but still quite lavish. But as my family and personal guards ate, I barely touched the few scraps I took to fill my plate.
“Naru and I had already wed by then. She, of course, noticing me barely touching my food, but was wise enough to not bring it up until we were alone in our bed chambers. Between the two of us, I told her I didn’t feel comfortable with us eating so much when there were farmers in our kingdom, the very providers of food for all of us, who could barely put food on their own tables. She, of course, knew of the tradition my great-grandfather started, and knew I had yet to decide on how I would carry it on. So she pointed out, if I felt so strongly about us having so much to eat while my subjects had so little, then modifying the size of our meals based on the kingdom’s prosperity would be the perfect way for me to carry on my great-grandfather started.
“I was hesitant at first. Not because I worried about myself going without food, but because of her and the children, then just Varessa and baby Tylore. I didn’t mind going hungry if my kingdom didn’t have enough to eat, but what of them? But she assured me, the state of the kingdom was adequate enough that they wouldn’t go hungry, and she had faith in me to bring the kingdom back to a period of prosperity. Or at least, not let it fall far enough that we would starve.
“Thankfully, her confidence in me was well placed. Over the next eight or nine years, I was able to undo the damage my father had done and restore Gevult to its current state. As a result, our meals grew in size again, well past the point where they’d started. See, we’d told our chefs to keep in touch with the court scholars, and base the size of our meals on how well the kingdom was doing as a whole. But we never set an upper limit on how much food they should give us. So as the kingdom kept doing better, our feasts went from modest to impressive to lavish to outright ludicrous in size.
“But with the slow, gradual growth of our kingdom’s fortune came a slow, gradual growth in the size of our meals as well. My wife and kids never quite took to eating in excess the way I did, which I never understood,” Gordon said with furrowed brows. “Our chefs makes such delicious food that once I start, it’s hard to stop myself until the entire table is clear.”
“Heh, I sympathize,” Victor commented with a mildly embarrassed laugh. But when he saw Gordon’s warmer, confident grin, he felt less embarrassed about his own voracious appetite. “So, with them eating just as much food as they did in the beginning, it fell to me to finish the feasts. And with the kingdom growing slowly, the meals grew slowly too, which allowed me to acclimate to how much I was eating. Believe me, this didn’t happen overnight,” he chuckled before giving his gut a few thumps. “By the time our kingdom was doing well enough for itself to justify meals of such preposterous sizes, finishing such meals had become an everyday thing for me. And by then, well…” Gordon said with a quiet laugh, before letting his hand run over the curved top of his stomach. “I’d reached a pretty preposterous size myself.”
“I take it you don’t mean that as a bad thing?” Victor asked. That many weeks into the trip, he knew better than to think the king would talk negatively about his size.
“It’s a simple fact, Victor,” Gordon claimed, letting his arms fall on the side of his belly, as if he were trying to lift it up. Of course, his hands couldn’t reach the bottom of his belly, making it difficult to frame the entire thing. So he settled for merely holding as much of his gut as he could his grasp. “For a man to be as large as me is preposterous. But as long as everyone in the kingdom has enough food to eat, I don’t mind a little absurdity in my castle.”
“I’m not so sure ‘little’ is the word I’d used to describe the absurdity,” Victor joked.
“Heh, I suppose not,” Gorgon giggled, letting his hand wander over his bare belly absentmindedly. “What about you?”
“How did you end up as big as you were when you arrived at our doorstep? I mean, I know how you got as big as you are now,” the king stated, giving Victor’s rock of a belly a few pats with his left hand. There was something thrilling about a man as gargantuan as Gordon showing Victor’s belly some level of respect. Sure, Victor’s gut was maybe half a wide as Gordon’s. But that was already an impressive amount of growth for Victor, and Gordon seeed to respect that.
“Heh, yeah,” Victor replied to Gordon’s comment about his current size, giving his own belly a few tentative pats. “It’s, uh… it’s not nearly as compelling of a story as the story of your size. I was a fat kid growing up as the son of nobility, found myself in the right circles at the right time, and ended up in King Rian’s inner circle pretty early on. Rian likes to host feasts for his inner circle, and it’s basically my duty to finish all the leftover food once everyone else has had their fill.”
“Seems you and I have even more in common than I realized,” Gordon chuckled.
“Maybe. Anyways, that was when I really started to expand outward, until I reached the size I was when we first met,” Victor concluded, unable to summon the kind of confidence about his size that Victor made look easy.
“And now look at you,” Gordon said proudly, which was the last tone Victor would have expected anyone to use while talking about his size. He thought briefly that it had to be sarcastic, until he remembered who was talking. “So much more grand and vast than you were when you arrived, and carrying your weight so much more stately and proudly too.” Victor wasn’t sure where Gordon got the idea that he was proud of his size, but he also lacked the confidence to tell the King he was wrong. “Your belly is like a symbol of the burgeoning diplomatic relationship between Gevult and Hallea.”
“Burgeon–you mean you intend to open up relations with Hallea?”
“Of course! King Rian is clearly a wise man to send someone like you to make the first impression. I’d be happy to welcome anyone who has his vote of confidence as a visitor to the castle.”
A wide smile spread across Victor’s face, pushing up his chubby cheeks and causing his eyes to close just a little. Although he and Gordon seemed to have become fast friends, he’d still had his doubts about whether he would be successful in his primary mission: acting as an ambassador for Hallea. To hear such a promise of diplomacy, it gave him confidence that he was doing something right.
“Thank you, King Gordon,” Victor said, coaxing a smirk out of the King. The two were long past the point of honorifics, but Gordon seemed to understand that it was an appropriate time to pull one out, as he chuckled but still smiled at Victor’s thanks. “I’m sure King Rian will be happy to do the same.”
There was another moment of silence between the two, this one more comfortable than the previous. They both kept walking ahead, smiling confident smiles, both satisfied with the exchange of promises that just been made. Looking over the horizon and listening to the birds sing around them, Victor had a good feeling about what this meant for Hallea.
The two continued chatting genially until the sun was overhead, at which time they descended into the castle for lunch. The four of them rendezvoused with Victor’s other guard and Gordon’s other personal guard in the dining room, where the royal chefs were waiting to put out the meal. It was another intimate lunch, with the children at school and Naru out on another diplomatic trip.
Once all were seated, the table was filled with dishes that made up a pasta dinner: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, baked penne, bacon macaroni and cheese, chicken Alfredo, and other dishes that Victor didn’t always recognize, but they all looked delicious. On top of it all, the chefs had brought out breadsticks and garlic bread and bread with butter and some spare loaves for dipping in the sauce. It was a gargantuan meal, as always, but Victor was past being taken aback by such portions. Especially now that between his and Gordon’s appetites, they were finishing the meals more often than not.
That meal turned out just like all those others. In spite of the pastas’ rich and thick sauces, both men filled their plates with predictable consistency, sopping up the leftover sauce with bread before filling up their plates again. Victor was now filling his plate with about two thirds as much food as Gordon could stack his with, and keeping up with his royal host without issue. He didn’t give much thought to the fact that he was now eating twice as much as he could previously. All he cared about was that the meal was delicious, and he wanted to eat as much of it as possible.
The guards made conversation as usual to prevent an awkward silence punctuated only by the noises of Victor and Gordon voraciously eating. Victor was always thankful his guards were willing to play that role, as it freed him to keep up with Gordon’s eating. It was a practical matter on some level; with Gordon’s mouth constantly full, Victor didn’t think he’d make a good impression by trying to talk to the king when he couldn’t respond. But the fact was, Victor loved the food Gordon’s chefs cooked, and he loved eating it as much as Gordon did.
It was that love of food that pushed Victor to fill his now constantly-bare belly every time he dined with Gordon, pushing his hill-like abdomen to new heights while Gordon filled his mountainous gut. It didn’t take long before Victor could feel just how big the mound of bread and pasta and sauce and cheese and meat was in his stomach. It pushed out into any space it could find in his abdomen, growing bigger with every bite he ate, making Victor himself bigger too.
And he loved it. The thrill he felt in stuffing himself full of all that delicious food had only intensified since he’d first felt it all those months ago. Getting full enough to feel every bite of food and every sip of wine as it landed in his stomach now gave him a second wind, as the tinge of pain that shot out as his stomach stretched to accommodate more food only made him want to eat more. To stretch his swollen body and get his belly as big as he could bear to. The more it hurt, the better it felt, and the more he wanted to top himself off with more and more food. And seemingly for as long as he liked, the meal would provide, giving him plenty of food to stuff himself with, well past what he felt he should have been able to eat.
But as with all good things, the meal had to come to an end. By then, Victor’s eating had grown slow and lethargic, savoring every bite he ate as well as the sensation of all that food stretching out his stomach. When he saw the empty table in front of him, he felt a bit of disappointment that he couldn’t enjoy anymore of that delicious food. But as his massive meal settled into his swollen stomach and he faced the prospect of getting out of his chair while significantly more front-heavy than he was before, he supposed it was for the best.
Of course, by then, Victor had become much better at rising from his chair with a distended gut that wanted nothing more than to stay put. In a series of motions that wasn’t unlike those King Gordon used to stand up, merely performed at a slower pace due to his inexperience, Victor wrestled himself from the chair’s comfort and was back on his feet. He knew well enough to lean back to account for all the food in his gut pulling him forward, to let his arms hang out diagonally to help him balance and give his packed belly more room. His head leaning back, though involuntary, was a reflex he let happen, as pushing it forward into an upright position took exertion he didn’t have the energy for.
But those days, eating such massive meals didn’t sap quite as much of Victor’s energy as it did when he first arrived at the castle. Post-breakfast or -lunch naps had become an uncommon occurrence, more an indication of Victor having little to do that day than of how full he was. That particular day, both Victor and Gordon dismissed one guard each before Gordon asked, “Shall we go on another walk to help that digest?”
“Sure,” Victor panted, still breathing shallowly from how full he was. “But let’s take it… to the garden instead.”
“Not feeling up for taking the stairs?” Gordon asked, seemingly having better control of his breath than Victor did.
“Very perceptive,” Victor gasped, making Gordon laugh. Absent was the bounce of his belly, usually quite active when he laughed, now weighed down in place by Gordon’s portion of the pasta feast.
“Come, then,” Gordon beckoned, putting his hand on Victor’s back before leading him through the castle halls.
By then, Victor was good enough at walking with a crammed stomach to appreciate the slight push Gordon gave him, helping him move at a faster pace and get to their next destination in a reasonable amount of time. But eating that much food still made him feel lethargic, and as he waddled down those royal halls, his fatigue-induced lack of filter got the better of him. “Gods, how do you do it?”
“Do what?” Gordon asked, genuinely confused.
“Eat that much and then walk around like you only had a light salad.”
Gordon let out an even heartier chuckle, leaning forward as they walked, before wrapping his fingers around Victor’s shoulder and pulling him a bit closer. With so little space now between them, their bellies bumped as the two giants stumbled ahead like drunken revelers. With Gordon now keeping such a close hold on Victor, his own difficulties walking had become more pronounced. It seemed he’d mastered the art of walking with dignity and a stuffed gut when he could stand straight up, but leaning intimately against someone was new to him. “How long have you wanted to ask that?” Gordon asked in his usual disarming, genial tone.
“A long time,” Victor admitted, not sounding so composed as he fought against the threat of food coma.
With a chuckle, Gordon continued, “That’s about how long it took me to learn how to walk like this after eating a big meal. Oh sure, it helped somewhat that the meals increased in size gradually. But a feast is a feast, and by the time my meals reached their current size, I was struggling to walk after eating them too.”
“Oof, like now?” Victor asked after a particularly forceful collision between their bellies, causing both men to fall out of step and nearly fall over. But they held onto each other, and as they kept each other up, their hobbling steps turned into somewhat more regular waddles as they regained their balance and kept moving forward.
“Heh, this is nothing. You should have seen me stumbling around after dinner during the first few weeks after my meals reached their current size. I was way more of a mess than I am right now. Some days, I could have been outpaced by a particularly motivated snail. Some days, my path wavered side to side worse than a road built in a kingdom where they don’t bother to remove rocks before laying down their streets. Quite often, I’d stumble into the wall and have to stay there until I regained my balance. It was as if I’d enjoyed too much of the wine, but I still had the sense of embarrassment that such a drunken state would have liberated me from.”
Victor laughed as he and the overfed king made their way down the halls toward the back exit to the garden. Though he and the king must have been a strange, even pathetic sight to behold, the two guards standing by the entrance merely nodded at the king, diligently maintaining protocol in spite of the absurd situation they beheld. Or perhaps, Victor wondered, this wasn’t that unusual at all. If they were acclimated to a king walking around his palace with his massive midsection exposed, one had to wonder what would cause them to bat a lash.
Once the two and their guards were outside, Gordon released his grip on Victor’s shoulder, allowing himself to resume a more dignified walking style, while Victor still waddled ahead. With so much lunch in him, Victor had to walk with his arms swinging wide, as if they could help propel him forward. He needed all the help he could get; with his legs splayed out extra wide to help him balance all his newly added weight, they could only move forward in short steps. His belly was so precarious to move around, becoming sore if he merely swayed or bent the wrong way, that he felt like he was being lead by his belly rather than carrying it ahead. And with his gut pushing out ahead into all the space it could possibly take up, his chest was forced up in a way that arched his neck back, causes his head to lean back to. And to make all the accommodating motions, he had to breath through his open mouth
As Victor walked with Gordon, he noticed the king didn’t seem to bear any of those signs of fullness. Though the motion of his arms was somewhat obscured but his regal, baggy sleeves, he could tell they were moving back and forth about as much as they always did, less than Victor would have expected for a man of Gordo’s size even on an empty stomach. His legs moved in smooth, steady motions, not the motions of a man struggling to maintain his balance. Though his gut was gargantuan as always, it still swayed when he walked, a sign that Gordon seemed to be in control is belly, rather than the other way around. And he could walk with his head and neck up straight looking forward as they passed through the flowers.
“So how do you do it?” Victor panted, once they’d been walking in silence for some time.
“Well,” Gordon started with a deep inhalation, “you might notice I’m not walking any faster than you. I doubt I could if I wanted to, considering how much I ate,” he chuckled, giving his taut belly a few gentle pats. “I can turn a waddle into a dignified stroll, but if I had to move any faster than that, I’d be a sorry sight to see indeed.”
“So you walk slowly. Makes sense. But we’re both walking slowly, and I’m still a sorry sight to see,” Victor insisted, his overfed gut bouncing a bit with every step in spite of how carefully he moved. “How do you look so… regal as you do it?”
“Practice, I suppose,” Gordon chuckled. “A stately walk and a waddle aren’t that far off. You have to learn how the control your body in just the right way to makes the limitations on your movement look intentional.”
“So don’t fight the fullness.”
After a brief pause, Victor nodded and tried to take Gordon’s advice into account as he walked. With his arms already swinging widely, he mirrored the motion intentionally, causing them to swing a bit farther, but under his control. He embraced the short steps he was limited to, taking smaller ones and finding them easier than the waddles of before, the failed attempts to take longer strides. He arched his back to let his distended gut take as much room as it needed to expand in front of him, but he kept his head straight up, which made it easier to not breath through his mouth.
Though Victor was still very much new to this intentional way of walking, Gordon still seemed impressed. “See? That’s a good start!’
“If you say so,” Victor sighed, feeling like he must have looked even more foolish than he did when he was just waddling ahead. At least then he wasn’t trying to look dignified and failing.
“Keep it up for now and after your future meals, and soon it’ll become section nature. Now, let’s talk more about that trip I or Naru might take to Hallea one day…”
Victor, I can’t fault you for the length of your stay at King Gordon’s castle. I myself told you to stay as long as the king enjoys your company, and from my own correspondences with him, it’s clear that he does. So it’s only reasonable that you would continue staying as long as you have. However, three months is a tad excessive for even the most momentous of diplomatic visits. While I have no doubt that you’ll only continue to make us proud if you stay in Gevult, I must ask you to return to Hallea. Please understand, I am not cutting your visit short (as much as three months can be considered “short”) because of any disappointment with how you’ve represented us. Far from it: I knew you were the right choice early on, and you’ve only continued to prove me right. But I need you in Hallea more than I need you in Gevult right now. Future diplomatic trips can of course be arranged–I get the impression that King Gordon would very much enjoy seeing you again–but we shall talk about that once you’re back in Hallea. Sincerely, Rian
Victor frowned as he finished reading the letter. To receive such a request after he and Gordon had enjoyed a particularly chummy breakfast together, stuffing both of their bellies with ludicrous numbers of pancakes before enjoying a walk around the castle garden with spirited conversation, seemed like particularly cruel timing. Though he always knew on some level that his stay at Gordon’s castle was temporary, he’d come to enjoy the king’s hospitality so much that he didn’t want to admit that his stay would ever come to an end.
“Everything alright in there?” Gordon’s comforting voice asked, prompting Victor to look up toward the open door, where he saw the king standing with a concerned expression.
After looking down at the letter again, Victor folded it up and pocketed it. “What do you say to a walk on the roof?”
“Sure,” Gordon answered, voice still sounding wary.
As Victor left his room, one of his guards followed behind him, which Victor nearly objected to before remembering that was a requirement as long as he was staying there as a diplomat. He didn’t mind Gordon’s guard following behind them–he understood the necessity–but he didn’t want to have one of his own guards in listening distance during the upcoming conversation. Not that any of it would come as a surprise to King Rian if it got back to him, but he just wanted a moment between himself and Gordon, just for once.
Once they got to the roof, Victor turned around to his guard and asked, “Hey, do you think you could… you know… walk a bit farther away from us?”
“At least out of earshot. This is… personal.”
The guard too seemed unsure what to make of Victor’s demeanour, but he did as requested, falling farther back behind the two so he could still rush to Victor’s defense if needed.
“Clara, you as well,” King Gordon called out to his guard, who slowed her pace until she was as far back as Victor’s guard.
“Oh, you don’t have too–”
“It’s only fair.”
“I just don’t want my guard so close because, well, this involves his King, and… point is, you can keep your guard nearby.”
“Not if it might make you more hesitant to share. Now,” Gordon sustained the word for a moment. “What’s troubling you?”
After a deep breath, Victor looked up at Gordon and said in a hushed tone, “Rian called me back to Hallea. He wants me to cut this trip short and return home.”
Gordon nodded slowly as they continued strolling around the roof. “Well, I can’t say I’m all that surprised. Most diplomatic trips don’t last longer than a week unless there’s some sort of bitter struggle over a trade agreement or peace treaty. And having you here has been the very opposite of bitter,” Gordon told Victor with a smile.
“Yeah, Rian said the same things,” Victor replied. “I just…” He stalled, searched for the right words as they made their rounds over the castle roof, with their guards trailing well behind them. “He said I’m ‘needed’ back in Hallea. What could he possibly need me back there for?”
“Why, you’re part of his inner circle!” Gordon exclaimed quietly, sounding like he’d nearly shouted it before remembering that Victor didn’t want the guards privy to their discussion. “Clearly he values your presence highly.”
“You say that, but I have no idea what it is that he values about having he around. I mean, take the other four members of the circle. We have a politics expert whose mastery of negotiation knows no peers. We have an economist who could make himself the richest man in the land if he had a more selfish heart. We have a scholar who seems to command the respect of every researcher and bookkeeper in the kingdom. We have a professional sweet-talker who could convince a dragon to part with his horde of gold. And then there’s me.”
“Let me guess: you’re the ambassador? All those other folks don’t sound as likable than you… uh, no offense to them,” Gordon hastily added. “If King Rian was going to send any member of his inner circle as an ambassador, I’m glad it was you.”
“Well… no, I’m not the ambassador. Although I suppose that might become my roll after this trip. But no, this was my first time representing Hallea in a diplomatic way. Really my first time acting as an ambassador at all.”
“No sir,” the king gasped as he turned his head to face Victor, prompting a shrug out of his guest.
“Point is, I’m not sure why Rian kept me around before this trip, and I’m not sure why he wants back now.”
“Well, there must be something. No king invites someone into their inner circle out of pity.”
Victor shook his head side to side, disappointed that even Gordon couldn’t pinpoint anything about him that would make him worth keeping around to a king. Considering how much Gordon clearly liked him, if he couldn’t see what Victor brought to Rian’s inner circle, who could?
“You know,” Victor started with a self-deprecating chuckle, “I used to joke to myself that the only talent I bought to the table was finishing all of the food left over after Rian’s private feasts with the five of us. Then, as this trip was coming up, he kept me intentionally in the dark about what you were like or what I’d be doing here.” Looking down at Gordon’ exposed, mountainous belly, before looking down to behold his own, Victor continued, “I think I understand now.”
“Because you’re one of the most pleasant guests I’ve ever entertained at this castle?”
“Is that so?” Victor asked disbelievingly.
“And hey, I’d be lying if I said your appetite wasn’t part of the reason it’s been such a delight to have you around,” Gordon admitted before giving Victor’s hill-like belly a few pats. “But if that were all, I wouldn’t be taking these long walks with you on such a regular basis.”
“That’s a fair point,” Victor admitted, before looking down at the ground dejectedly. It was a reflexive action, though one that seemed silly as his rotund belly was there staring him in the face. “I’m going to miss these walks.”
“Can you not take walks in Hallea?”
“There’s no one to take them with.”
“Try asking around. You might be surprised. Besides, your king needs you.”
“I’m still not sure about that,” Victor mumbled.
There was a moment of silence between the two before Gordon took a deep inhalation. “If I may be so bold as to postulate,” he said, prompting Victor to look up at him with a curious expression. “I would guess that King Rian wants you back so badly because he misses his friend.”
The suggestion made Victor pause, stopping in place before he strode ahead again to catch up to Gordon just as he turned around to see if Victor was still keeping up. Rian had bestowed so many favors upon Victor, not even including his feasts, and Victor had never known what he’d done to deserve them. Could it really have been that simple?
“I mean, kings need friends too. It can get lonely at the top when it seems everyone who tries to be friendly with you just wants a favor.”
“I…” Victor sighed, and for once, it wasn’t from being out of breath. “I hadn’t thought of that. Rian’s always been good to me, better than I thought I deserved.”
“Because you didn’t see your place in his inner circle?”
“Do you have any people in your inner circle who are just there as friends?”
“Well… no,” Gordon admitted, causing Victor to look down at the ground in front of them. “However, I don’t talk about any of the members of my inner circle the way Rian talks about you in our letters.”
“Oh yeah? How does he talk about me?”
“That’s… confidential,” Gordon stammered, causing Victor to look away from him with something resembling an eye roll. “Monarch to monarch correspondence and all.”
“But hey,” Gordon started with a newfound enthusiasm. “Let’s not get all down in the dumps about it, eh? The carriage won’t be ready to take you back until tomorrow morning, meaning you still have the rest of the day to spend here if you want. Besides, I’ve had a little some special planned for your going away dinner for a while now.”
“Oh yeah?” Victor asked, his mood picking up as his voice piqued with intrigue.
“I suppose it’s more of a big something special. Huge, in fact. I had a feeling Rian would be calling you back soon, so I’ve made sure the kitchen has been prepared to cook it at a moment’s notice.”
“Well, what is it?” Victor pleaded, now unable to contain his excitement.
“Remember the first lunch we enjoyed together, where you were sampled a wide range of Gevultian cuisine?”
“Oh yes,” Victor enthused.
“And how the platters were all smaller in size than they were during subsequent meals, which were made up of fewer selections?”
“Uh huh,” he added with a grin.
“For your going away dinner, I’m going to see you off with the best of both worlds,” Gordon told Victor, causing his eyes and mouth to both open extra wide in an expression of amazement. “All of the foods you got to sample that day, in sizes big enough to satisfy both of us,” Gordon assured him, patting his own gargantuan belly with a grin on his face.
Victor had a grin of his own that was just as wide, until a thought struck him: “So what about lunch?”
“You underestimate my culinary staff,” Gordon chuckled. “You’ll have both, though I can’t promise lunch will be anywhere near as impressive as dinner.”
“Given what you have planned, I think if we had a meal of that size for lunch, I’d still be sleeping it off by the time dinner came,” Victor said with a self-deprecating chuckle.
“Aw, you don’t think you could eat two feasts like that in one day?” Gordon asked in a mock encouraging tone, giving Victor’s rounded belly a few rubs.
Once Gordon stopped, Victor found he’d enjoyed the sensation, and took to rubbing his belly himself. After all, he told himself, someone had to do it. “I know I couldn’t eat two feasts like that in one day. I’ll be amazed if I can help you finish one.”
With another chuckle, Gordon said, “I think you underestimate yourself.” Victor looked up with a modest smile of his own as he beheld Gordon’s warm grin. He couldn’t help but feel like Gordon wasn’t just talking about his stomach capacity. “But no matter. Let’s go back downstairs so I can let the kitchen know they have their work cut out for them.”
With such a massive feast planned for dinner, lunch turned out to be a simple affair of sandwiches, salads, and various sides for snacking. It was the closest a meal at the castle had come to resembling a reasonably-sized feast, forcing Gordon and Victor to both exercise a bit of restraint so they didn’t eat the whole thing before anyone else could get seconds. After all, it was a Sunday, and both Naru and all of Gordon’s children were joining them for lunch.
“So, Victor,” Naru said slowly as she held her half-sandwich in hand, delaying taking a bite as she pondered her next words. “I understand this is your last day with us?”
“Yep,” Victor sighed. “King Rian called me back. Says he had no doubt I’m doing good work here, but he needs me back at the castle.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” she lamented, sounding genuinely dejected. “It was such a delight to learn more about Hallea from you.”
“Oh,” Victor blurted out, not having expected Naru to be so sad to see him go. “Well, I’m, uh, I’m certain I won’t be the last Hallean to visit you. My trip was just meant to be a diplomatic handshake after all… come to think of it, three months does seem like a long time for that,” Victor concluded quietly to himself.
“Indeed, and it was such a successful one that I’ve extended an open invitation to King Rian and anyone he may send on his behalf to join us at the castle. Given how eager he is to learn more about Gevult, I’m quite sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity to learn more about Hallea, dear.”
“And hey,” Victor continued, “why not come visit and see it for yourself? I’m sure King Rian would be quite happy to host you.”
“Oh I’d love that,” Naru said in a wistful sort of way. “His father was quite strict about diplomatic visitors. Any time I requested to visit, he would either ignore the request or send it back with a rather… rude rejection. Usually claiming Hallea had nothing to learn from or share with outside people.”
“That… definitely sounds like something Rian’s father would say. I assure you, though, Rian knows better than that.”
“Oh I hope so. I really would love to visit Hallea, and not have to just hear about it from travelers. It sound like a fascinating place.”
Victor wasn’t sure how to feel about Naru’s verdict that his homeland was “fascinating”, but given what kind of state it had fallen into under Rian’s father, he supposed it was a compliment. “Well, I’m sure Rian would love to return to the favor, given how long you’ve let me stay here.”
“Oh, you’ve been a delight,” Naru insisted.
“Quite, quite. If King Rian weren’t so clearly in need of your presence, I’d have extended an invitation for you to join my court. But, as it stands, I think that would… put a damper, shall we say, on our burgeoning diplomatic relationship with Hallea.”
Victor wanted to say that he could move to Gevult of his own accord, which wouldn’t leave any obstacles in Gordon’s way to making him a part of his court. But he knew politics better than that. He knew how word got around those courts, how the rumor mill had been powerful enough to bring down some kings before. It would certainly be powerful enough to do the same to him. So he said nothing, waiting instead for Naru and all of Gordon’s children finished their courses.
Victor’s ears perked up when he heard Naru say, “I’m finished, dear.”
“Me too, dad,” Varessa concurred, as did his other two children and the guards.
“Wonderful, thank you all. Victor,” Gordon said with a grin on his face, “let’s dig in.”
Of course, the two men, with their voracious appetites, plowed through the remaining sandwiches and sides so quickly that everyone present seemed surprised at how suddenly they finished the remainder of the feast. By the time Gordon’s family and the guards had settled in to keep the conversation going as the two men’s mouths were filled with food, the food was already finished. It felt as if Victor had settled in for a carriage trip like the one to Gevult, only to find that as soon as he closed his eyes to take a nap, he’d arrived.
“Oh… I guess that’s all?” Tylore asked.
“Well, uh, I guess we can get an early start on the rest of our day,” Varessa said, prompting murmurs and nods of agreement from everyone else it the table.
It felt strange to Victor. This was the first time since his arrival that he’d left the dining room table without a stomach crammed full of food. When he pushed himself into a standing position, he found it so easy that he practically glided into his upright posture, even with his boulder of a belly having to bounce out in front of him in the process. When it was only full of a reasonably sized meal, it moved with surprising ease. Though, he supposed, if he was acclimated to it being crammed full of food all the time, moving it when it was barely full would definitely feel easier.
With the meal over, Victor spent the rest of the afternoon on the unpleasant task of preparing for his return trip to Hallea. After he’d become such a mainstay of Gordon’s castle, practically an honorary member of his court, there were a lot people he had to say goodbye to: scholars, traders, diplomats, chefs, attendants, and all the other experts that helped assure Gevult ran smoothly. He promised them all there would be more ambassadors from Hallea visiting the castle in the future, and he would likely be one of them. But it was still a bitter way to spend an afternoon, saying goodbye to so many people who’d come to enjoy his company. As he gave all those folks hugs goodbye, some of which became tearful, he occasionally wondered if maybe Rian did just want Victor back because he genuinely enjoyed Victor’s company.
With all the goodbyes taken care of, Victor spent what time he had left before dinner packing most of what he could from his guest room. Most of the clothes he’d brought with him, save for his ambassador’s outfit, were long past the point of fitting him. It seemed wasteful to throw them out, though it was tedious to pack them all.
“I guess I’ll just be wearing this ostentatious number until I can find a tailor to make me a whole new wardrobe. I doubt they sell clothes that fit someone my size.”
“It does look rather nice,” one of his guards tried to comfort him.
“You dunce,” the older guard chastised. “He’s clearly unhappy because he’ll have to walk around Hallea with his stomach hanging out in the open for everyone to see. That might be an acceptable practice here, but goodness knows how it will be received back home.” Turning to Victor, the guard continued, “You know, Victor, I’m sure Gordon knows somebody who could make a shirt for you and have it finished by the time we leave tomorrow. It wouldn’t be as ornate as your original shirt, sure, but it would at least make for a complete outfi–”
The guard paused at Victor’s reply, before stuttering as he tried to pick up the sentence again. “‘N’–‘No’? You… don’t want to have a shirt made that fits you before you return to Hallea?”
“That’s what I said,” Victor replied, his voice quiet in its certainty, not needing to raise his volume to be understood.
“B-but I don’t understand. You intend to just… walk around Hallea as you are now?”
“I like this style,” Victor replied nonchalantly, regarding the statement as just as unremarkable as as saying he preferred green over yellow.
“So you have no issue with everyone just… seeing your stomach hanging out like that? So much bigger than it was when you left?”
“Why should I?” Victor knew he could have continued from there: It’s a symbol of the growing diplomatic relationship between Hallea and Gevult. It’s a trophy from the first time he felt like he contributed something as a member of the inner circle. It’s a reminder, as Gordon had put it, to not underestimate himself. But Victor felt the question itself was enough of an answer.
It seemed his guard did too, as after a few moments of contorting his mouth as if he could conjure a reply if he just moved his lips, he turned his head to the side with a sigh and said nothing more.
With everything ready to be packed in the morning, Victor looked at the clock and saw that dinner time was soon upon them, so he and his guards made their way to the dining hall for their last dinner in Gevult. In dining room, Victor found Gordon and his guard already seated, with Gordon sporting a smile as wide and imposing as his gut. “Victor. So glad you could join us,” Gordon said in deep, surprisingly devious voice.
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the anything.”
“Good,” Gordon replied. “The food should be coming out shortly.
“Will Naru and the children be joining us?”
“They will not. I’ve impressed upon them that this is a dinner they’d rather sit out. They will be dining in the banquet hall tonight.”
“I see. Why, uh… why is this a dinner they’d rather sit out?”
As Victor finished asking his question, the chefs started bringing out the dishes. It started like any other dinner, minus any sort of cohesive theme unifying the selection. Platters of birds and meats and vegetables and casseroles and hefty pastries and pastas and lots and lots of bread were brought out, with any item Victor had eaten in the past three months being fair game to be brought out again. As the table started filling up, Gordon chuckled and leaned in, resting his elbow on top of his mountainous gut before stroking his chin. “Why, isn’t it obvious?
Victor merely shook his head from side to side. His unease felt oddly reminiscent of that first lunch he’d enjoyed with Gordon, except rather than unease at the amount of food being brought out, it was unease at his host.
“Well, Victor, if you’re anything like me–and these three months have taught me that we do have quite a bit in common–you’re going to want to gorge yourself on this feast when everything comes out. Just scarf it all down in the most unsightly manor, caring only for how much you can fit into your greedy stomach. Frankly, though my wife and children are used to seeing me in some very gluttonous states, I’d rather they not have to see us–or, at least, me–in a state that extreme.”
After Gordon’s explanation, the rest of the meal came to the table in relative silence, aside from Gordon giving his compliments to the chefs as they brought the food out. Victor remembered that during that first lunch, they had to make the plates overlap to fit everything in the middle of the table, where everything would be within someone’s reach. Now, it seemed the cooking crew had given up on even that standard, letting the whole table be covered by plates in the hopes of fitting everything.
But even that was of no use. When it seemed every space on the table had been covered in food, the chefs still stood by with platters in their hand. “Sir,” the head chef said. “I’m afraid we cannot fit any more plates on the table at once. You and your guests will have to start eating before we can bring out more.”
With a gleeful grin, Gordon stacked his plate high with seemingly every food item within easy reach. “You heard them, Victor. Dig in.”
Although Victor had felt unsettled by Gordon’s demeanour at the start of the meal, he knew exactly what to do when he heard those two words. Without a second thought, he loaded up his plate with as many of the dishes as he could reach. He didn’t care about organizing his plate or putting similar flavors together or anything that might have concerned him when he first arrived at Gordon’s castle. That deep into his trip, he knew everything he could possibly put on his plate was going to be delicious. And with all the space available to him, he stacked his plate high with Gevultian delicacies, until it seemed like stacking any more would cause a landslide off of his pile of food and onto the table.
When Victor looked up, he saw Gordon looking on with a smile, before he nodded at Victor. Looking down a bit, Victor saw that for the first time since he arrived at the castle, he and Gordon had stacked their plates with just as much food as each other. With a smile of his own, Victor picked up his fork and dug in as Gordon did the same.
The next dozen or so plates passed in a blur, with Victor quickly losing count as he scarfed down bite and bite, course after course of delicious food. Gordon seemed to be matching him plate for plate, with the two loading up for another course around the same times as the meal progressed. With what little awareness he had of how they were eating, Victor could tell that Gordon had been right to ask Naru and their children to eat in a separate room. Although perhaps, he pondered, the banquet hall would have been a better location for Victor and Gordon’s table-filling feast than for Naru and their children’s likely-more-moderate meal. Either way, Victor enjoyed his dinner with abandon until about a dozen plates’ worth of food had been crammed into his gut.
At that point, Victor was starting to feel the mound of the food that was building in his stomach, big enough that he couldn’t stay blissfully unaware of it any longer. Now that he was starting to feel full, he couldn’t quite match the gusto Gordon had for scarfing down the feast, resulting in him piling his plate with a bit less food with every course. However, he managed to keep up plate for plate with the king, and their combined wolfing down of the food still had their guards eating mostly in stunned silence.
All the while, now that Gordon and Victor had enjoyed enough of the feast to clear off some of the plates on the table, his chefs were starting to take some of the empty serving platters and replace them with plates that bore new dishes, ready for the two of them to scarf them down. Perhaps it was just a trick of his increasingly full stomach, but Victor couldn’t help but notice the new dishes looked bigger than the ones he and Gordon had finished. They also looked just as delicious as the previous dishes had, and Victor couldn’t wait to try them too. All he had to do was finish what was already on his plate.
About two dozen plates in, give or take four or six, Victor gave up on counting how many courses he’d eaten. He was still keeping up with Gordon, even though he was now filling his plate with about two thirds as much food as Gordon did. All the flavors of food he was eating, delicious as they were, blended together to make a blur of vaguely enjoyable tastes that he was experiencing. At that point in the meal, only one thing hadn’t faded into the blur of his experience, and that was just how full Victor felt.
With his right hand shoveling more and more food into his mouth, Victor took any moments he could when he left hand was unoccupied to try to provide some kind of relief to his increasingly distended gut. With his fleshy mound of flab already out in the open for all to see, and with Gordon himself having giving it quite a bit of attention, Victor’s self-consciousness about rubbing his belly had managed to vanish in time for his final feast.
And it wasn’t a moment too soon. Victor sat back in his chair so his giant belly had as much room to expand outward as it needed, and it needed quite a lot. With his right hand holding the fork that went from his plate to his mouth, his left hand rubbed over the gargantuan growth that all that food was settling into. Between his voracious, trance-like state of gluttony, and the oncoming food coma that would inevitably take him at the end of the night, he wasn’t sure just how much he’d grown. All he knew was that he couldn’t reach the far enough to rub the width of the entire thing, something that was a relatively new experience for him.
Most of Victor’s new weight had come in along his midsection, in the rotund ball of fat that now stuck out from his stomach. In comparison to the somewhat soft flab that had decorated his belly before, now he had a firm, globular ball of fat that only gave in to the pressure of his touch at the most superficial level. It seemed that all of Victor’s massive meals had stretched his muscles out as well, causing them to take on a rounded shape near permanently. In a lot ways, he was beginning to look more like Gordon.
But Gordon could keep eating more of the feast without having to rub his belly. His stomach, it seemed, could persevere through such a massive meal without needing any relief. Victor wasn’t that adept at eating so much food. But he seemed to be coming close, able to keep a consistent pace of filling his plate up with about two thirds as much food at Gordon did and refilling his plate as often as his host. At least, he thought he was. With the pull of his massively full stomach beckoning his eyelids to close, he could barely pay attention to anything other than the food that was moving from his plate to his mouth, and which part of his painfully tight stomach was begging to be rubbed.
In between courses, when Victor could spare a moment to look out over the table as he filled his plate yet again, he could make out the the number of serving dishes on the table did seem to be decreasing. What had once stretched across the entire table now took up an amount of space more comparable to that taken by that first lunch they’d enjoyed together. And with all of the dishes half eaten, it seemed like Victor and Gordon could really finish the meal together.
But Victor had to struggle to eat all the food he kept putting on his plate. It was so delicious that he didn’t want to stop, and that strange satisfaction he found in eating even after he was full only got stronger as he became more stuffed. But even his perverse pleasure couldn’t override the physical limitations of his stomach, and as the dull pain of his packed stomach became more and more pronounced, he wondered if he’d finally discover where that wall lay. As he slowly brought the last bite of food from his plate to his mouth, he chewed it with the haste of a snail until he could finally swallow it. By then, he wasn’t sure he could eat another bite.
“We did it.”
The king’s words were quiet, like he was just as tired as Victor. They were accompanied by panting and heavy breathing, like he was struggling against his own overly stuffed stomach to get the words out. And as Victor looked up and focused his vision one last time, that seemed to be exactly the case.
King Gordon was a massive man, but Victor had never seen his gut as big as it was that night. Before his meals, his belly defied comparison to singular objects: one could say it was a big as six bags of grain, or perhaps four of the largest turkeys one could cook. To describe his growth over the course of the meal in similar terms was beyond Victor. He could only tell that Gordon had grown because he was so accustomed to seeing his gut at its standard size that he could spot a deviation from that default.
And Gordon had definitely deviated from his old size. Victor guessed that his belly, at least the part of it visible above the dining room table, had expanded out in all directions at least the width of Gordon’s hand, if not two such widths. And to Victor’s surprised, Gordon seemed pained from the extent of his expansion. As he sat back in his chair, his head leaning back with his mouth agape, both of his hands wandered over the top of his belly, where his overfed stomach was suspended in all that fat. Gordon gut was so gargantuan that he couldn’t even rub over the entire top of it. Trying to reach his arms around the top, he couldn’t bring them together in front of his stomach. Trying to rub where it hurt resulted in at least two hand-lengths worth of space between his fingertips.
Victor was thankful he didn’t have that problem. As he rubbed over his pained gut, he let his eyes glaze over, thankful he could reach all the spots where it was sore. Sure, he couldn’t reach the bottom, but he didn’t consider that such an awful thing. He was able to keep rubbing his packed belly until he didn’t have the energy to keep even that up anymore. After that, the last thing he remembered was being carried by his arms into a chamber with a very comfortable bed, in which he finally let himself fall asleep.
Victor sat in his carriage watching the city shrink on the horizon behind them. At the steady pace their carriage rode, the city ceased to seem to shrink once they’d put some distance between themselves and the outskirts. But of course, as time passed the city did look smaller and smaller to Victor’s view. Even a city as big as the capital was still eventually reduced to tiny houses in the distance, with the farmers’ and the noble’s houses really not looking all that different.
“Hey, do you want to maybe watch the road ahead of us a bit?” the younger guard called out to the back of the carriage. “You’ve had your head craned like that for a while; you’ll make your neck sore.”
It took a long pause and a deep sigh before Victor took the guard’s suggestion and turned to look forward. By then, the city had largely faded over the horizon, making it difficult for Victor to even pinpoint the spot where it had been. That left him with his fullness from the breakfast buffet he’d enjoyed that morning, on top of a dinner that still hadn’t finished digesting, as the only reminder of his trip. Well, he supposed, that and the massive belly sitting in his lap that covered his thighs and seemed to have its sights set on his knees next. At least, it would, if he’d stayed in Gevult any longer.
“Boy, that dinner last night…” the old guard started, causing Victor to perk up. “I’ve never seen that much food in once place.”
“Some of King Rian’s banquets have had more food than that. Of course, those were served in the banquet hall to dozens if not hundreds of guests. Now, that much food in a dining room? I’ll agree, I’ve never seen that.”
“And I’ve never seen two people eat as much as you and King Gordon did,” the younger commented, bringing a smile to Victor’s face. Though the dinner might have ended with him needing to be carried to his bed, he still regarded it as one of the highlights of the trip. And the fact that he’d managed to nearly match Gordon plate-for-plate, when he previously couldn’t eat half as much as the rotund king, was something he took immense pride in. “I mean, you’ve both demonstrated your prowess for feasting these past three months, but that was something else. It was like watching a performance.”
“Thank you,” Victor boasted. The older guard looked at the younger as if scolding him for encouraging Victor’s behavior. However, after Victor had made him look like a fool for assuming Victor wanted a shirt to wear back, he seemed more inclined to hold his tongue and keep his opinions to himself.
“I bet you’ll miss those feasts when we get back to Hallea, huh?” the younger guard asked.
Sitting back in his seat, giving his vast belly room to spread out into the space in front of him, Victor chuckled before he answered, “Actually, if there’s anything I’m looking forward to about returning to Hallea, it’s having reasonably sized meals again.”
“Really?” both guards asked in unison, before looking at each other, then back to Victor.
“You know, they were nice as a novelty, a something to make the trip to Gevult special. And I wouldn’t for a second claim the food was anything but extraordinary. But it’ll be nice to not have to schedule my day around periods of intense fullness after every meal, making even walking more difficult than it has to be. And, well, I’d be lying if I said eating with Gordon didn’t start to feel like a performance after a while. It’ll be nice to back to eating to enjoy the food.”
“If that’s how you felt, couldn’t you have… eaten less?” the younger guard asked.
“Heh, maybe so. But you put delicious food in front of me, and I’m not going to stop eating it until I can’t eat anymore. And now, I have this prove it,” Victor said before giving his belly some hardy thumps. The younger guard chuckled and smiled, while the older one gave Victor some side-eye before looking away to watch the road.
“Do you think they’ll recognize you in Hallea?”
“Good question. My letters to King Rian have stuck mostly to what I’d learned about Gevult in my time there, and he’s the only one I’ve been in contact with. But, I’m still convinced he knew what he was getting me in for when he sent me. I think he’s expecting me to come back like this,” Victor concluded before rubbing his gut, kneading the side in an appreciative but still rough motion. “As for everyone else? Well, I look forward to seeing their faces once they do recognize me.”
“It’s going to be a change, you know,” the older guard finally spoke up. “You won’t have King Gordon to provide constant contrast, and to normalize that… style of yours.”
“I know. But if he could normalize it, why can’t I?”
Victor seemed to ask the question with just enough confidence that the guard didn’t answer, merely looking at the road ahead of them without a word. With a smirk, the younger guard looked from his partner to Victor, before looking down at his gut and nodding. To Victor, it felt like a vote of confidence.
The carriage dropped Victor off in front of his house, where his guards helped him take his few suitcases inside. Once the carriage was empty, they said their goodbyes, the old guards’ much more abbreviated than the younger’s, with Victor telling the younger he should come by to visit some time. Once the two were on their way, Victor waved goodbye with a sigh before entering his house.
Victor had never been entirely comfortable with the lavish trappings of noble living. Even having been born into money and grown up in spacious houses his whole life, it still felt wrong to him that he should have so much more space available to him than he needed. So when he moved out on his own, he picked the smallest house he could find in the nobel quarters, a “measly” two stories with two bedrooms. The rooms themselves were still huge, but Victor felt somewhat more comfortable by compromising on having fewer of them.
However, now that Victor had returned from his Gevult trip taking up much more space than he did before, he supposed the extra space provided by noble architecture might not be so superfluous. He was pleasantly surprised when he was able to walk through the front door without having to slide through at a weird angle to fit all his bulk in. From the foyer, he stepped into the living room and sat on one of the couches that circled around the fireplace. Though it creaked underneath his weight, something it hadn’t done before his Gevult trip, it felt as though it would hold up against his weight for at least a while. Still, he made a mental note to get the frame reinforced.
After relaxing a bit in the living room, Victor moved on to the dining room, where the bowl-like chairs accommodated his added girth remarkably well. Placing his hands on the arm-rests, he was happy to find he could still sit in his own house. Walking through the kitchen, he also had no problem making his way through. He smiled as looked around at all the open space that now seemed to have a purpose, before making a mental not to move as many of the cooking implements from knee-level cabinets to head-level cabinets as he could fit.
Where Victor feared he would find some trouble was on the stairs. All of the stairwells in Gordon’s castle were built on gentle slopes with at least four banisters to choose from. But to Victor’s relief, just like how Gordon’s stairs were built to accommodate a man of his heft, his stairs had been built so the noble residentx of the house wouldn’t have to work too hard to climb up them. For once, Victor was thankful for the coddling of the rich.
On the second floor, Victor stepped into the bathroom to make sure all of its functionality could accomodate his increased size, and was thankful to discover that it could. In his bedroom, he found that his wide bed still felt excessively spacious, but not as much so as he rolled his belly from one side to the other. He found he could roll on his back from his right side to his left and still had enough space on either side for a slender bedfollow to rest comfortably without feeling like they’d fall off the edge. Still more space than he needed, but he was thankful the mattress and frame seemed to have no issue holding up against his newly expanded weight. He supposed he’d have to wait and see if the same would be true when one of those of those frisky lasses or forward lads wanted to join him under the covers.
But Victor knew it couldn’t be all good news. Once he pushed himself up from his bed–which required him to roll on his side and scoot to the edge until he could swing his legs over it, allowing him to push himself into a sitting position, where he could slide off the bed and stand up again–he looked at his dressers and didn’t even want to open the drawers. He knew that before he left for Gevult, his clothes were already starting to ride a little too tightly on him. Even a miracle couldn’t have left him with any clothes that fit in his dressers.
But he looked anyway. And sure enough, when he opened the top drawer, all of the shirts looked like kids clothes compared to how big they would have to be to fit him now. As he closed the drawer, he let out a sigh and wondered if the charities that gave clothes to those who needed them would come pick them up from him, given how many he had to donate. Then realized they would probably do it simply because of his social stature, and he let out a sigh again.
Of course, all this meant that Victor needed to refill his entire wardrobe from scratch. He doubted whether any tailor’s store, be it one that caters to the nobility or one that caters to the commoners, might sell clothes that could fit him. No, he’d have to pay a tailor, possibly several, to make him new clothes. Of course, Victor had the money for it. It was the wait for his clothes, and the possibility of having to wear his ambassador’s outfit as an everyday ensemble, that he dreaded.
But he’d take care of that tomorrow, he promised himself. For now, he still had more settling in to do, starting with looking through his mail. He’d seen the stacks of letters awaiting his attention on the table in his living room, and was not looking forward to going through the whole thing. Rather, he decided to pick up the house key he’d leant his neighbor, who must have organized the mail he’d received into the neat little piles that adorned his living room table.
Rodra was a relatively new addition to the neighborhood, having inherited her house from her father after her mother had failed to produce male heirs. Though Victor’s neighborhood had quite a few unwed nobles living within it, unwed women like Rodra who lived in their own houses were rare. As Victor walked over to Rodra’s house that day, he wondered if similar neighborhoods in Gevult had a more even ratio of bachelors to bachelorettes living on their own. He supposed they must have been more pleasant places to live.
Thankfully, Rodra had skin more than thick enough to handle the comments she got as an unwed woman living on her own in a place like Hallea. It was that attitude that made Victor enjoy her friendship so much. Of all the people he looked forward to seeing again once he got back to Hallea, Rodra ranked almost as highly on the list as King Rian himself.
With a knock on her door, Victor was thankful to hear her footsteps approaching. “Who’s there?” she called out.
“It’s me, Victor,” he called back, hoping his voice hadn’t changed enough from his new heft so as to be rendered unrecognizable.
“Vic–oh shit, you’re finally back!” she called out, before he heard her footsteps speed up. With her voice getting louder as she approached the door, she continued, “Oh man, you’ll have to tell me all about your trip. Is it true that the farmers live like nobles in Gevult? Do they really have–” And then she opened the door. “…Victor?”
Knowing there was no sense in pretending it wasn’t starkly noticeable, Victor raised his arms to the side in a mock “ta da” sort of motion and said, “Yep.”
“By the gods… I see Gevult treated you well,” she commented with a smile.
“That it did, King Gordon especially,” he continued as he patted his belly. “He’s also the one I got the idea to dress like this from,” he continued as he grabbed at the side of his cloak and pulled it aside even farther.
“It’s… definitely a unique fashion choice. But you know what?” she stalled as she looked him up and down, pensive eyes matched with a hand for her chin to rest in. “It suits you. It wouldn’t have suited you before you left, but now,” she stopped before pointing to his belly, “Well, now you really have something to show off,” she chuckled.
“Quite,” Victor concurred with a smile. “Now, about that key I lent you.”
“Oh, right!” she called out before retreating back into her house and emerging again with the key. “So, I tried to organize your mail by how important it looked. There’s a letter from His Majesty himself all the way on the left that you should probably read as soon as you can. It arrived yesterday, and he seemed insistent that you read it soon.
“Hm, okay, will do,” Victor promised as he took the key. “We’ll make plans to catch up some time this week. I need a chance to relax after that trip.”
“Of course. Does this Thursday night work?”
“It’s a plan,” Victor promised, before he returned to his house.
After putting the spare key away, Victor returned to his living room to look for the letter from Rian. Indeed, on the left side of the table was an envelope with his signature red and gold color scheme, addressed to Victor on a mononymous fashion. If the colors didn’t give away the sending, the single “Victor” among a sea of “Victor Stroba”s, “Mr. Stroba”s, and “Sir Stroba”s would have.
Victor, I hope this letter finds you on the day of your return to Hallea. If it does, please join me and the rest of the inner circle for dinner in the castle tonight. We have some matters to discuss between the two of us afterward, but mostly I want to celebrate your first successful diplomatic mission. Sincerely, Rian
Victor sighed as he put the letter down on the table. “So much for a chance to relax,” he mumbled to himself. He supposed it was an excuse to put off reading through all the letters, but with a few hours to go until dinnertime, he knew he had to do something in that time. So he started with the stack of the most important letters and made his way through as many as he could. Victor managed to get down to only two stacks of letters of the least importance before his clock read 5:20. Normally he left at 5:30 to attend the King’s private dinners at 6:00, but with his extra weight, he thought it wise to give himself some wiggle room, in case he couldn’t walk at his previous place.
To Victor’s surprise, it wasn’t his speed that made the extra ten minutes necessary, but the sheer number of people who stopped him to talk along the way. Thankfully, he could get out of those conversations by mentioning that he had an appointment with the King that really couldn’t wait. But the sheer surprise people felt when they recognized him meant he needed to give them some time to let it all sink in before he could duck out of the conversation. With how many people he had to pass to get to the castle, Victor made good use of those extra ten minutes.
Thankfully, by the time Victor got to the entrance hall at King Rian’s castle, the wall clock read 5:58, giving Victor enough time to make his way to the dining room. Rian’s guards were not as overly gawky as the people Victor had walked past on his way to the castle, having that traditional stoneface that guards are expected to have. But Victor couldn’t help but notice most of them reacting to his new size as well. Some opened their eyelids extra wide or raised their eyebrows. Some did double takes with just the orientation of their eyeballs. A couple even coughed, seemingly to suppress more reactionary noises. Given the reaction of the other citizens of Hallea, Victor was thankful for such understated responses.
Once Victor reached the dining room, he could see Rian and the rest of the inner circle chatting, with all but Rian standing with their back to the door. Victor managed to catch one of them say, “I wonder if he’ll see the letter in time,” before he called out, “Hey everyone, sorry if I’m late. A lot of people wanted to stop me to chat and catch up.”
As Victor finished providing his explanation, he saw the other members turn around, followed by the slow realization that the man who was standing in front of them was indeed the same one they’d known three months and several layers of flab ago. Eyebrows went flying up around the room, under which sat looks of shock, intrigue, and concern.
All except from Rian, who walked toward Victor with half-closed eyes and a warm smile that was just happy to see him again. “Can you blame them? You’ve been gone for three months! Of course they want to know what you’ve been up to. But don’t worry, you’re not late at all, and I’m just glad to have you back.” While closing his eyes, Rian threw his arms around Victor’s shoulders, having to bend over considerably to reach over Victor’s newly rounded out stomach. However, given how tall Rian was, it was remarkably easy for him. “How you doing, Victor?” he asked softly.
It wasn’t the first time Rian had hugged Victor, far from it. But somehow, this felt like the first time, perhaps the first time when it really meant something to Victor. After wrapping his own burly arms around Rian, he answered, “I’m glad to be back.” And for once, he meant it.
“And I’m glad to have you back.” After pulling away from Victor, Rian said a little more loudly, “Come! There’s much to discuss.”
As Rian took his place in the circle again, with all the other eyes on Victor, he became hyper-aware of how his walk had changed since he’d left for Gevult. His arms swung extra wide at his side now, having to generate extra momentum to move more weight the same distance. His stride, however, had lengthened, emboldened by the newfound confidence his first diplomatic trip had imbued him with. So he took lengthier steps, bounding ahead as the symbol of Gevult and Hallea’s growing diplomatic ties bounced in front of him with every step. All the while, his cloak glided out behind him, lending an undeniable amount of dignity to how he moved. By the time he’d reached the group, Londo and Brunda had moved aside to make room for him, so the six could form a proper circle where everyone could see everyone else.
“Thank you, everyone, for joining us here tonight. I know this is not usually when have these dinners, but I think we can all make an exception to celebrate Victor’s return from Gevult,” Rian beamed, looking at Victor with so much pride that Victor felt his cheeks turning red. “Now, I’m sure Victor can tell us all about the things he learned on his trips, things you folks might expound up in trips you might take to Gevult yourself. However, I wanted to share one of those things that caught my attention particularly, if I may, Victor?” he asked, at which Victor nodded and raised his hand in a “go ahead” gesture.
“Wonderful,” Rian continued. “Now, of the many things that make King Gordon’s leadership style fascinating, one is that, since the reign of his great grandfather, every monarch that has sat on the Gevulian throne has based some aspect of their personal life on the prosperity of the kingdom as a whole, giving them a personal stake in the kingdom’s wellbeing. I believe one of his forebearers would make his outfit more or less opulent based on how well the kingdom was doing, while another moved out of the castle and into a more modest when his people weren’t prospering.”
“Her people,” Victor chimed in. “That was his grandmother.”
“My mistake,” Rian admitted. “Now, King Gordon, the current ruler of Gevult, has chosen to carry on this tradition in a way that hits very close to home indeed: his chefs keep in contact with scholars who monitor how well the kingdom is doing, and base the size of his meals on how well the people are doing as a whole. If the kingdom struggles, he gets scraps. If the kingdom prospers, he gets feasts. My understanding is that it was all feasts in the time you were there, Victor?”
“Correct,” Victor replied, patting the side of his belly unashamedly. At that, he observed on the faces of the other members of the inner circle that they seemed to have finally put the pieces of the puzzle together.
“But these are not examples of frivolous royal excess. King Gordon had to earn those feasts, and his continued receiving of feasts is contingent on the people in his land living well. I like that. I like the personal stake that puts in the state of our kingdom. So, I have decided that I shall implement a similar policy for my own meals, which my chefs have already been made aware of.”
At that announcement, Victor’s mouth went flat.
“Now, right now, most scholars will tell you Hallea is doing… adequately. Which I think corresponds to the size of the feasts we were having before. So for now, you won’t see any changes. However, as the prosperity of our kingdom grows–and with Gevult as our ally, I’m sure it will–the sizes of the feasts will grow as well,” Rian said excitedly, generating generally positive murmurs out of the other members of the inner circle. “Isn’t that great, Victor?”
Putting on his best fake smile, Victor let out a prolonged, “Yeaahhh,” trying to feign excitement. He tried to take comfort in knowing he still had the 20 meals a week whose sizes weren’t dictated by Rian’s chefs. He wondered, though, whether it would be worse to only have one gargantuan meal a week, rather than the 21 he was enjoying at Gordon’s castle. At least that forced him to acclimate to the size of the meals.
But Victor told himself he was worrying over nothing. The inner circle’s feast wouldn’t even be changing in size for a while. Rian still had to arrange proper diplomatic trips to Gevult for the members of his court who were qualified to carry that kind of information exchange, let alone establish trade contracts and other agreements. He remembered Gordon telling him it took nine years for him to get Gevult to its current state; surely, he told himself, it would take Rian at least a few years too. So Victor promised himself he’d cross that bridge when he got to it, and sat down to enjoy his first average-sized meal in three months.
Or at least, to try to enjoy it. As everyone at the table started filling their plates, Victor fell back into the habits he’d established at Gordon’s castle and stacked his plate high with all the entrées within his reach. The result was a mound of different food items packed so tightly onto his plate that there were few distinguishable boundaries between where one dish ended and another began.
Once Victor had finished filling his plate, he was nearly ready to dig in with the same abandon with which he’d enjoyed the meals at Gordon’s castle. However, a chance upward glance at everyone else’s plates, with their neatly arranged and compartmentalized layouts, made him pause. Looking farther up, he saw the other members of the circle giving him sidewards glances for how he’d filled his plate, leaving\ him feeling self-conscious about how much food he’d taken. He supposed it was a tad ridiculous that he could feel self-conscious about his plate when he was sitting at the table with his newly expanded belly hanging out for everyone to see. But he had been bracing for that reactions to that. The judgement on how he piled his plate was not a kind of judgement he was prepared for.
Though he supposed there was a silver lining to it. After all, Rian and the rest of the inner circle were expecting him to talk about Gevult, and he couldn’t do that if he ate like he did in Gordon’s dining room. So he took his fork in hand and took a modestly-sized bite off the top of his pile, chewing and swallowing it entirely before taking another.
“So, Victor,” Rian started. “I know plenty about your trip thanks to your letters, but I’m sure everyone else here is dying to know what you learned in your three months in Gevult.”
“Of course,” Brunda chimed in, “asking you to ‘tell us everything’ is probably too open-ended, so I think it’s best if we all ask you about specifics we’d like to know.”
Murmurs of agreement sounded out from around the table as Victor nodded, finishing up his bite of food so his mouth would be free to answer a question.
“Something I’d like to know,” Shellia chimed in, “since it could become relevant to all of us in the near future, is, how were the accommodations?”
“Oh, wonderful. Gordon had a guest bedroom for me and my guards set up with room dividers so we could sleep in the same room but still feel like we had our own privacy.”
“‘Gordon’, huh?” Amall asked. “You and his Highness are on a first-name basis?”
“Well, he prefers it that way. I addressed him as “Your Highness” when we first met, but he insisted that I call him Gordon. ‘’King Gordon,’ if you must,’ I remember he added, and it was clear from his tone that he preferred I didn’t use that title. But anyway, the accomodations. So the bedroom was plenty spacious, with a desk where I wrote all my letters to Rian. And then, for all three meals a day, I got to dine with the king himself, and often his family too.”
“I wonder if he’d treat us all to the same hospitality,” Londo said. “That seems like an awfully close proximity they let you have to the king.”
“I think he would,” Victor said. “He said anyone that Rian vouches for will be a welcome guest in his castle. And I’m sure you’d vouch for any of us,” he continued as he turned to Rian.
“Of course, of course, in a heartbeat,” Rian agreed through a mouth full of food. “King Gordon and I are still in talks about whom we’ll be sending to visit each other and when, but I’m sure you’ll all have a chance to stay in Gordon’s castle if you so choose.”
The positive hubbub around the table seemed to indicate universally positive opinions on being sent as an ambassador to Gevult. Although Amall was the first to quiet down, before he asked, “Now, Victor… I understand King Gordon enjoys some fairly… extravagant meals in his castle?”
“‘Gargantuan’ is the word I’d use. Let’s just say this didn’t happen by accident,” Victor said with a smile as he patted his bare belly.
At Victor’s display, Amall raised his eyebrows and nodded, seemingly unsure how to react. “Uh… yes. Is there an… expectation that guests will… indulge just as much as the king himself does?”
“Oh no,” Victor replied, much to Amall’s visible relief. “No, while I was there, our guards and Gordon’s family all ate a plate or two apiece each meal, with the second one usually just having a few of their favorite items from the first course. Gordon and I were the only ones who ate with abandon, but I’m sure he doesn’t expect all of his guests to do so. However,” Victor continued, “it did seem that my appetite was part of what warmed him up to me so quickly. Though I can promise you won’t have to eat as much as I did to earn your stay, I can’t promise you’ll get on his good side as quickly as I did.”
“I see,” Amall replied, sounding slightly concerned.
“Oh, don’t worry about it, Amall. I’m sure you’ll get on Gordon’s good side in your own way,” the king promised him, before conversation about the trip continued.
With how much of the talking Victor had to do, he wasn’t left with much time to eat. As such, when everyone else had cleared their plate, Victor still had most of his pile left. And now it was cold. Not exactly the kind of welcome back dinner that Victor was looking forward too. Normally, that was the part of the dinner where Victor started eating everything that was left on the serving dishes. It was also the part where he normally talked the least, which was not going to happen that night.
So with a sad pile of cold mush on his plate that he tried to ignore, Victor carried on the conversation, answering everyone’s questions as the night wore on. By the time 9:00 was approaching on the clock, King Rian stood up and put his hands behind his back. “Well everyone, this has been a wonderful night. And I’m sure we’ll all have more questions for Victor as time wears on. But for now, I must call this dinner to a close.” As everyone rose from their seats, he continued, “Victor, might I ask you to stay a little longer?”
“Oh, uh, sure.”
As the other four left the room, Victor looked down at the pile of mush on his plate with disappointment. He could scarf down dozens of piles like that eating at King Gordon’s castle, but he couldn’t even finish the one that night. And now, it had cooled down into something he could barely stand to look at.
“Was tonight too overwhelming for you, Victor? You barely ate your diner.”
“Oh,” Victor chuckled. “Well, I took about as much as I would have taken at one of Gordon’s feasts, out of habit. But Gordon and I didn’t do a lot of talking at those feasts, allowing us to eat as much as we please. It was pretty much the opposite tonight, and now that all… this has cooled down…”
“Would you like some more?” Rian asked, causing Victor to chuckle and lean back in his chair.
“You mean on top of all this food I couldn’t finish?”
Gordon merely smiled as his staff came out to remove the place settings left by the other members of the inner circle. “Excuse me, folks, could you possibly take Victor’s dirty plate with you and bring him a new plate?” Rian asked while motioning toward Victor. Soon Victor’s sad, cold pile was swept away, and it wasn’t long before one of the attendants came back with a new, empty plate, a fresh start for Victor. “Now,” Rian said with a smile, “would you like some more?”
After a moment of hesitation, a smile spread across Victor’s face to match Rian’s and he reached for the dishes closest to him to fill his plate. He was careful that time to leave them distinct, as they were now cold, and couldn’t be enjoyed as a several-layers pile anymore. However, Rian’s chefs were good enough cooks that the food was still well-worth eating when it was no longer warm. And after three months with so much pressure on his shoulders, Victor was happy to just be back doing what he’d always done: finishing the food leftover at the end of Rian’ feast.
Conversation between Rian and Victor remained sparse as Victor ate what remained of the feast over the course of five plates’ worth of food. Compared to what he could enjoy in Gordon’s dining room, it was quite small, making it easy to finish what remained of the meal. Though he usually ate that part of the feast while the other members of the inner circle were still attendance, it was close enough for Victor that he felt likes things were finally getting back to normal.
Once Victor had gotten down the last bite of the dinner, Rian give him a smile and asked, “Better?”
“Yeah,” Victor replied. “Thanks, uh, thanks for arranging for the new plate.”
“Of course. It’s the least I can do after you’ve done so much for Hallea on your trip.”
“Right, about that. Did you know this was going to happen over the course of my visit?” Victor asked as he grabbed his ample belly and shook it up and down.
With a chuckle, Rian leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. “I might’ve guessed something like that might happen. All I knew for sure was that you would get along with King Gordon better than anyone else I could have sent.”
“And the fact that the pants of this outfit stretched out with my growth so much better than the shirt did?”
“Well, it seems to me that you’ve put on most of your weight in your midsection. That’s going to affect the fit of the shirt much more directly than the fit of the pants. That it so happened to lead to you adopting the same style as the king himself was a happy coincidence.”
“You knew about that, huh?”
With a chuckle, Rian continued, “Gordon told me long before you did. He was ecstatic the first time he saw you dressed in that style. I think that was when you really sealed the deal for Hallea and Gevult to have diplomatic relations. Everything after that just improved our baseline.”
Victor pondered the king’s theory for a while before nodding in agreement. “That was definitely when he started getting friendlier.”
“Oh!, speaking of your outfit!” the king interjected. “I nearly forgot the whole reason I asked you to stay after everyone left. Come, come!” he beckoned as he rose from his seat.
“You… didn’t ask me to stay to eat what remained of the feast?” Victor asked as he rose from his own chair, finding the process to be remarkably easy.
“Why… is that why you think I keep you around?” the King asked, his voice carried by a mixture of surprise and amusement. “Why, the royal hounds could fulfill such a roll if required,” he chuckled. “But no matter, come, come, I have something to show you.”
Victor followed behind Rian, who led him out of the dining room, through the hallways of the castle, and into, of all places, the chamber of the royal tailor who’d fitted Victor for his current outfit.
“Hello, Victor,” the tailor greeted. “I trust my outfit served you well?”
“Well… what remains of it did, yes.”
“Ah, yes,” the tailor sighed. “His highness did warn me to not get too attached to the shirt.”
“So you did know!” Victor exclaimed as he turned to Rian.
“I had a hunch. Now, Tillel, let’s show Victor what you made for him, eh?”
“Of course, sir. This way, please,” Tillel beckoned as he lead the two into an adjacent room. Inside was a large table, over which was laid out a wide assortment of shirts, pants, and seemingly sleeved cloaks similar to the one Victor was wearing then. Of course, they weren’t nearly as formal as the one Victor wore; in fact, the colors and patterns bore an uncanny resemblance to the clothes in Victor’s wardrobe that he’d outgrown.
“Surprise!” Rian called out. “Now, I asked Gordon to give me the best description of your size that he could, but without exact measurements, I’m afraid these won’t fit as well as they would if Tillel here could have measured you first first. However, that gives you a convenient selection of sizes to choose from. Take the ones that fit you to wear now, the ones that are too small in case you shrink now that you’re not eating three massive meals a day, and the ones that are too big in case… well… in case this outward trend continues.”
“I… wow… Thanks, Rian… and… Tyllel?”
“Tillel. My pleasure, sir,” he said as he offered his hand for Victor to shake.
“Now, Victor. I know, at your current size, it will probably be difficult to find clothes for yourself in the shops around the city. So, to show my thanks for everything you’ve done in Gevult, I want to offer Tillel’s service to you for as long as you remain a citizen of Hallea. He can take clothes in, make new ones, repair them, anything you might need.”
With a proud smile, Tillel bowed toward Victor before saying, “At your service.”
“Wow. Uh… thank you.”
“Of course! Now, I don’t expect you to carry all this yourself, so I’ve arranged for royal courier to bring it to your house. Once you leave the castle, I’ll give them the word to start their trip.”
“Great! Oh!, could they possibly take my old clothes too? And bring them to someone who’ll redistribute them to people who can’t afford clothes? Otherwise, I, uh, probably won’t have space for these new clothes.”
“Of course. I’m sure they’ll be happy to receive your gift.”
With a newfound pep in his step, Victor said goodbye to Rian and Tillel and started his walk back to his home. Thankfully, on the way back, he didn’t run into nearly as many new faces desperate to ask him about his trip to Gevult and the very obvious changes that had accompanied it. But there was one familiar face that Victor ran into one the way back, one who seemed especially happy to see him, and for once, Victor returned the sentiment.
The naturally muscular young man turned around with raised eyebrows, looking at Victor with unfamiliar but intrigued expression as his lengthy black curls settled. He spent longer than most passers-by eying Victor’s belly, before he looked up to Victor’s face. It seemed to take him a moment to make the connection, but once he did his eyebrows and eyelids shot up while his jaw dropped straight down. “Victor?!”
“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” Victor asked with a soft voice. “By the gods… I mean, I’d heard that you’d come back from Gevult looking different, but… no one said how different.”
“Mmm, can’t say I’m surprised. They’re probably the same people who never thought I was all that appealing before I left for Gevult.”
“Fools, in other words,” Robern insisted as he walked slowly toward Victor. Victor did likewise, arching his back to make his belly look even bigger. “I take it Gevult was… generous to you.”
“Extremely. Hopefully I get to go back soon. But for now,” he said as he and Robern closed in on each other. Once Victor’s bare stomach was brushing up against Robern’s clothes, he concluded, “seeing a fellow like you makes it worth it to come back to Hallea.”
“Mmmm,” Robern moaned as he raised his hands to the side of Victor’s cloak. “So what’s with this getup, Vic, huh? I can’t possibly imagine the old Victor Stroba walking around the Capitol in something like this.”
With a chuckle, Victor placed his hands over Robern’s at the edges of the garment. “Well, this getup is part of an outfit King Rian had specially tailored for my trip to Gevult. The original outfit included a shirt,” Victor said with a smirk. “But, uh… a bit too much Gevultian hospitality meant that shirt didn’t fit anymore. And as it turns out, the king of Gevult wears an outfit almost exactly like this one. So I didn’t bother with finding a replacement for the shirt, and you know?” he asked as he pulled Robern’s hands off of the cloak and laid them on his bare belly. “I haven’t bothered to since.”
After looking Victor in the eyes, Robern smiled as he let his hands open to wrap around Victor’s belly. Giving it some firm rubs on the sides, Victor could feel just how much Robern struggled to reach around the whole thing. And he could not have been been happier. With a deep inhalation, he pushed his gut out into Robern’s grip, causing him to gasp, and arch his head before he looked Victor in the eye again. “Why don’t you come back to my place and you can tell me all about your trip?” he asked, hands still rubbing over Victor’s belly.
“I really would love to,” Victor damn near growled. “But I’m expecting some couriers from King Rian at my house. New wardrobe to fit this new frame of mine,” he said more matter-of-fact-ly, though not without lifting Robern’s hands up before bringing them back down on his belly with a smack, causing Robern to take a deep inhalation. “They’ll be taking my old clothes with them too, so I’m afraid I can’t just having you lying naked in my bed.”
“If you insist. Tomorrow night?”
“That, I think I can do, my rapscallion.”
Both men let out deep, low chuckles as they enjoyed Robern’s grip on Victor’s gut for a bit longer, before Robern leaned in for a quick kiss. Once their lips had gotten reaquainted, Robern pulled away and resumed his evening walk, but not before turning to Victor to say, “Wear a shirt tomorrow. I think we’ll have more fun taking it off.”
With a smirk, Victor gave Robern a thumbs up before turning to walk to his house, and face the much less fun reality of trying on all the clothes to organize them by how they fit.
It took several years and several dozen more diplomatic exchanges before King Rian could meaningfully enact the kind of changes that made Gevult so prosperous. While Shellia worked out trade agreements with Gevult and Brunda tried to figure out how to best open up education for everyone in the kingdom, Londo quickly determined that strengthening Hallea’s infrastructure the way Gevult had would require convincing the nobles to part with a small portion their riches. Amall had his work cut out for him convincing them this was in their best interest as well. Victor of course, had no issue parting with some of his wealth for the betterment of Hallea, but every time Amall convinced another nobel to do the same, he was amazed.
It was slow, grueling work, and Rian had the determination to see it through. But the gradual pace of change meant the size of the feasts the inner circle enjoyed each week didn’t change for the first two years after Victor’s trip to Gevult. And at first, Victor was thankful for that, that he could enjoy regular-sized meals again, except when Rian sent him on the odd trip back to Gevult.
It did mean, however, the Victor’s gut did shrink for a time. Though he never came close to his original weight, he did find himself unpleasantly surprised some days when clothes that had fit him just fine before were now too loose. He supposed he was lucky that Tillel had made him a wardrobe in a variety of sizes, but he wasn’t thrilled about having to wear the smaller clothes.
It was around the end of the second year after Victor’s first visit to Gevult that his shrinking size really got to him. His belly, in his mind, was supposed to be a symbol of the prosperity that would follow Gevult and Hallea establishing diplomatic ties. The fact that it was shrinking, indicative of the fact that the feasts Rian enjoyed with the inner circle weren’t getting any bigger, made it hard to not feel like he’d failed somehow. Without the pride in his stomach that he’d once had, he found himself compelled to put on a shirt for the first time since he came back. And with each shirt he tried on that was still too big for him, he felt more and more dejected.
By the time Victor found a shirt that fit, he didn’t even want to go on his promised walk with King Rian. But with the rest of the inner circle all busy, Victor was the only one left whom Rian could go for a walk with without guards accompanying them. And no matter how he felt, a promise was a promise, especially a promise to his king.
With a sigh, Victor finished buttoning the buttons on his shirt as he walked toward his front door. After such a long time not wearing shirts, he was out of practice putting one on. Just in the course of putting on that one, he’d tried to put the shirt on after putting on his sleeved cloak, matched the buttons with the wrong holes twice, and nearly walked out of the house with the sleeve cuffs unbuttoned. But once he looked presentable, he let out a sigh and started his walk to the castle.
Victor expected more looks than he got as he walked to Rian’s castle. Sure, his neighbors had grown accustomed to seeing him out and about in just his cloak and pants, but it seemed seeing him in a shirt too just wasn’t remarkable enough to draw their attention away from their own lives. On some level, Victor was thankful that he didn’t have to explain his fashion choice to anyone. On another, it only made him feel even more insignificant, making him wonder just why Rian kept him around.
When Victor arrived at the throne room, he found Rian pacing around the room’s far-left exit, indicating that he wanted to go for a walk around the garden that day. Victor was happy to oblige, as all the shrubs and bushes and low-hanging trees meant fewer eyes on him as they walked.
Once Rian spotted Victor, his expression bloomed into a smile, and he started walking toward him. But soon his smile was replace confused expression, one that remained until the two were within speaking distance. “Well this is new. Or old, depending on how you look at it. What’s with the change of style, Victor?”
“Let’s just… get this walk over with, okay?” Victor said, causing Rian’s eyebrows to rise before he turned toward the door, holding it open for Victor to pass through.
In the garden, Victor provided Rian the listening ear he needed as the two paced around the various pathways. In addition to the usual frustrations of being King, Rian also detailed the obstacles he’d faced making Gordon’s leadership strategies work for Hallea. The former was nothing Victor wasn’t used to, but hearing the latter only left him feeling more useless.
“But enough about me, Victor; what’s troubling you?”
“Uh, p-pardon me?”
“You’ve been quiet this whole time–”
“I didn’t want to interrupt,” Victor interrupted.
“You were secretive about why you wore a shirt, and, let’s see… ah yes, you wore a shirt! I haven’t seen you in a shirt since you came back from your first trip to Gevult! Come on, Victor, something is clearly wrong, and if it’s in my power to do something to help, as you king and your friend, I want to know.”
And your friend. The words resonated in Victor’s head like he had to repeat them to himself to believe he’d heard them. When they finally sunk in, Victor let out a sigh with his face toward the ground, before looking at Rian with tired eyes. “When I stayed with Gordon for the first time, on the day he promised to open up diplomatic relationships with Hallea, he said, ‘Your belly is like a symbol of the burgeoning diplomatic relationship between Gevult and Hallea.’ In a way, I felt like my belly portended a new era for Hallea.”
“So when does that new era begin? It’s been two years since I first visited Gevult, and the size of our weekly feasts hasn’t increased at all, which I can only assume means the kingdom isn’t doing any better. And because I can’t make up the different when I cook for myself, my belly has been shrinking. I feel like I have nothing to show off, and even if I did, it doesn’t mean anything! Gordon can wear his belly out in the open because Gevult is doing well. What would my belly mean right now? That I eat a lot? Big whoop.”
“Victor, Victor, Victor,” Rian repeated in a soft, confident voice. “These things take time,” he continued slowly. “Gordon didn’t build Gevult up to its former glory in a day, or even a year. And he already had the groundwork set up for him. We’re try to do what he did, from scratch.” After putting his arm around Victor’s shoulder Rian pulled him in closer and continued, “And between you and me, we’re getting there. My scholars tell me the kingdom is starting to see enough consistent improvement that they’ll be telling my chefs to increase the size of the feasts soon.”
At that, Victor’s eyelids and eyebrows shot up extra high, and his anxious expression softened as his agape mount curled upward into something resembling a smile.
“See? Now, my question for you is, why are you so personally worried about this? You talk about it like our success or failure rests entirely on your shoulders, like you’ll be to blame if Hallea doesn’t prosper. Now, don’t get me wrong, your first trip to Gevult laid the groundwork that all of these efforts are building upon. But that trip was a resounding success! So why are you so down on yourself about it?”
“I just…” Victor let out another sigh, looked away from Gordon into the garden, before deciding to just let it out. “I don’t know why you keep me around in your inner circle.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I mean, the Gevult trip definitely satisfied that question for me for a while. But now Shella, Londo, Brunda, and Amall are all doing their parts to learn more from Gevult and use that knowledge to help Hallea prosper more. I feel like I’ve just been twiddling my thumbs in the meantime. Even when I go back to Gevult, it feels more like visiting an old friend than like I’m actually doing something. And don’t get me wrong, I love visiting Gordon–”
“And Gordon loves it when you visit. Did you know he asks when I’ll be sending you over again in our letters to each other? You know, diplomacy isn’t easy, and sometimes it can test the patience of both parties. Your repeated visits to Gordon, even if they feel like just seeing an old friend, are the backbone of why he’s tolerated such intense diplomatic exchange between us.”
Victor’s mouth hung open again as leaned his head back and said, “Huh”. An answer like that certainly addressed his role in the whole thing effort beyond symbol of Hallea’s growth. But it didn’t answer his most burning question. “What about before the Gevult trip? Were you just keeping me around on the off-chance I’d be useful?”
After shaking his head side to the side with a long exhalation, Rian looked up at Victor and put his hand on his shoulder. “Victor… I’ve met a lot of nobles and royalty in my time as king. And what they all have in common is a sense of self-importance. Some of them can even justify it,” Rian commented, goading a giggle out of Victor. “But not you. You’ve never acted like I owed you my time or attention. You’ve never been a yes-man, and I can count on your to tell me when an idea is bad. You keep me grounded, Victor. You remind me to not get too self-important too. For that way lies egotism, and that isn’t good for the kingdom or me.”
Victor’s eyes remained locked with Rian’s as he processed everything he’d just heard, before he felt awkward and averted his gaze to the path ahead of them. He tried to find the words to respond to Rian, but nothing felt adequate. It all felt too trite to be worth saying.
“Just… don’t let it go to your head,” Rian finally chimed in, causing Victor to break the tense silence with a chuckle.
“Because then I might start feeling self-important?”
“Right,” Rian said with a smile, before wrapping his arm around Victor’s shoulders to pat him on the side of his arm. He let his hand remain on Victor’s shoulders for a while longer, as the two walked the garden path in close intimacy. “Tell you what; I think it’s time you make another diplomatic trip to Gevult. Perhaps an extended one. King Gordon told me in a letter that he thinks you’re looking skinny, and I agree.”
“Oh yeah?” Victor laughed as he grabbed his belly by the side and bounced it up and down. Though he might have had less to shake, he still had plenty.
“Relatively speaking,” Rian clarified with a jocular smile.
Victor closed the door behind him with a sigh as he arrived home after another weekly dinner with King Rian and his inner circle. He was always thankful that even as he’d grown to his present size, the walk from his house to the castle never became a struggle. Except after the feasts. Certainly, Victor couldn’t wolf down food at the voracious pace that was permissible in Gordon’s castle, but not quite suitable for the inner circle’s meals. But a more moderate eating pace meant his stomach felt full on less food than it did during his visits to Gordon’s castle. In fact, the eight to ten plates Victor could eat during the duration of the inner circle’s meetings was all it took to make him feel stuffed past the point of being able to enjoy the meal.
However, with Hallea having become as prosperous as Gevult in the ten years since Victor’s first visit, King Rian’s feasts were much, much bigger than what Victor could eat in eight to ten plates. But Rian and Victor had found a solution: at the end of the weekly feast, the leftovers were packed up and brought to Victor’s house, where he could make his own feasts throughout the week and finish the food at a more reasonable pace. Soon Victor wasn’t having just one meal a week that resembled the royal feasts he enjoyed at King Gordon’s castle. At first, the leftovers were numerous enough to feed Victor in overabundance for an entire day after the weekly feast. Then two days. Then three.
Those days, however, were in the past. In the present, Victor could finish the leftover feast in four days if he ate voraciously at every meal, channelling the unbridled gluttony he could indulge in at Gordon’s castle. Most weeks, he rationed the food over the seven days until the next feast, which still allowed him to eat like a king for every meal. Perhaps not King Gordon–even though after all those years, Victor was closer to looking like him than ever before–but a king nonetheless.
And so, every week, Victor waddled out of the castle with a wider gait, a shorter stride, and a massive belly that he’d stuffed full of food, only to arrive home to a house filled with food that was his to eat over the rest of the week. Before he could think about leftovers, though, he had to make the trip home. Those days, it was a good deal more difficult than his trip to the castle at the beginning of the night.
At the end of the feasts, Victor hobbled down the streets with his overfed, globular belly leading the way. Some nights, he waddled with his massive midsection swaying side-to-side, moving with his legs stiff and he tried to use his weight to sway himself forward. Other nights, his belly took the lead more directly, pulling him forward as he walked in a way that minimized its bounce as much as possible. Then it was like a moon, roving its way around the city like a satellite across the sky, demanding a steady path. And in terms of its size, the comparison was not far off.
Though King Gordon’s gut still overshadowed Victor’s when the two met, the contrast between the two was less like a hill and a mountain and more two sister peaks in the same mountain range. Victor had grown so wide that just walking around with an empty stomach required the lessons that Gordon had taught him about how to walk with grace while stuffed to the gills. He strolled about the city with his back arched and his arms swingingly widely but confidently at his sides. Whenever possible, he tried to walk at a leisurely pace that allowed him to take short steps. While he could move with haste when required, especially with all his added inertia to keep him going, it required swinging his arms a frankly undignified distance to keep himself balanced. Plus, he’d been told by more than one person that a man as gargantuan as him moving quickly toward them was an intimidating sight.
Of course, after the inner circle’s feasts, Victor didn’t have much of a choice about how quickly he walked. So he ambled his gargantuan gut through the streets of the city, taking the time to appreciate the stars in the sky and how different the city looked at night. Or he revelled in just how much he’d managed to fill his gut and took the time to rub it when there was no one around to see, groaning quietly with a pained smile on his face. It all depended on how much he’d had to eat during the feast.
Either way, once Victor got home and opened his door, he was greeted by the smells of all the leftover food that the king’s couriers had brought to his house and left in the kitchen. Some nights, he went right for the living room and lay on one of the couches, giving his swollen gut the attention and relief it needed until he fell asleep. Some nights, he went into the kitchen to view his bounty, and maybe even have a snack. And some nights, when the conversation had been so active during the dinner that Victor couldn’t eat to his satisfaction, he brought a selection of items from the kitchen into the dining room and had his own feast, eating with the voraciousness he usually reserved for his visits to King Gordon’s castle, until he was satisfied.
That particular night seemed like it would be a lie-on-the-couch night, as Victor closed the door behind him before leaning back against it with an “Oof.” With his eyes glazed over and half-closed, he lifted his hands to his extraordinarily full gut and rubbed it over, groaning as the pressure of his fingertips drew out the dull pain before providing localized relief. As fat as he’d grown, he could barely reach all the way around his bloated gut. He was thankful he could at least reach all around the top, where his stomach was, to try to rub the pain away. But the bottom of his gut was a lost cause, protruding so far that it was totally out of reach.
But before Victor could make his way to the living room, a scent wafted his way from the kitchen that stood out unmistakably even among the background of dozens of odors clamoring for his attention: pumpkin pie. Victor remembered eying the pumpkin pie when it was brought out from the kitchen. He then remembered that in the hustle and bustle of the meeting, as he’d focused mostly on eating whatever food was closest to him, he hadn’t even had one slice of it.
“Alright,” he huffed to himself. “Just one slice. What harm could it do?”
Taking slow steps, Victor waddled his way to the kitchen. With his hands still perched on top of his belly, trying to provide it some relief after his feast, rather than swinging at his sides, he needed to move extra slowly to keep his balance. But the kitchen wasn’t a far walk, and before too long, Victor rounded the corner to see the feast that had been left for him. To his relief, the pumpkin pie sat right in front, with nearly two thirds of the dessert leftover in the pan.
Victor eyed the pie and licks his lips involuntarily. He considered getting a fork and plate, but decided it would be too many steps. Rather, he walked up to the table and picked up what remained of the pie, before hobbling over to one of the counters and leaning back against it. With his weight now off of his feet, he breathed a sigh of relief, before looking down at the pie in his hands.
“Alright. I’ll eat a slice’s worth of this, and then put it back,” Victor told himself. He held the half-pie in both hands and nibbled on one side, nibbles that soon turned into sizable bites once Victor got a taste for how good the pie was. But after a bite that was a bit too enthusiastic, the pit split in two in Victor’s hands, such that each hand held one piece.
Of course, Victor could have finished a slice’s worth of pie from one piece and put both remaining pieces back in the pan. But in his feast-addled state, that idea didn’t occur to him. Rather, he became instantly convinced that he had to finish both pieces of the pie before he could do anything else, even moving from the spot where he stood. And so, disregarding how full his stomach felt after the feast at the castle, Victor plunged one of the pieces into his mouth and took an enormous bite.
It didn’t take many more bites before Victor felt his stomach’s protestations about adding more food on top of the pile he’d already eaten. The dull pain was most pronounced on top of his gut, when the pie first hit the stomach. But as his stomach stretched to accommodate even more food, the pressure dissipated, expanding across the entirety of his belly before it finally gave in and accepted that it was going to have to hold one more bite. And then another.
With so much pie to eat, it wasn’t long until Victor adapted the ravenous eating style he used when he at meals at Gordon’s castle. The complaints of his full stomach became one of many background sensations, none of them as important as how delicious the pie tasted, and his determination to wolf the entire thing down. Alternating between the two parts of the remaining pie, Victor worked his way through both of them, scarfing down flaky crust and rich, heavy filling until there was nothing left of the pie that once lay in Victor’s kitchen.
That should have been where the evening ended. Victor had promised himself he’d only eat one slice’s worth of pie. But he’d already broken that promise, and there was still so much food to be enjoyed. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to start one more dish?
Victor didn’t even think it through that deeply. He pushed through his stomach’s complaints about every motion he made, pushed through how hard it was for him to walk with a gut as full as his was, and pushed himself off the kitchen counter. From there, he waddled back to the table and looked over all the food that had been brought back from the night’s feast, all while breathing heavily in a way that sounded like repeated grunting.
What stood out most to Victor when he returned to the kitchen table was the perfectly cooked and barely touched ham. He’d gotten to try a slice of it during dinner, and had found it to be delectable. But in the hubbub of passing plates back and forth, he’d never had the chance to enjoy a second helping. That was about to change. With a smirk and an “Mmmm” made in anticipation of the meal ahead, Victor picked up the ham and dug in.
There was no backing up against his counter for Victor that time. He merely raised the juicy roast and took a bite, finding it so perfectly seasoned that he didn’t care that it was cold, or that he was getting the ham in hefty chunks rather than thin slices, or that he didn’t have stomach space left for the ham but shoved it down anyway. The roast was too delectable for him to pay any mind to such paltry concerns. He just munched on the ham as long as there was meat to enjoy.
And indeed, once the bone was all that remained in Victor’s hand, with the other remnants having fallen onto the platter below, Victor felt ready to move right on to the next dish. But in the brief break required to finish chewing the last of the ham, Victor became acutely aware of just how ludicrously full he was. And his stomach was not subtle about telling him.
Once Victor fell out of his ham-induced feeding frenzy, the sensation of pain and pressure in his stomach seemed to constantly become more intense, until he was consistently moaning and trying to rub his belly. But it was no use: he was full beyond relief, and would merely have to work around the fullness. So he turned to the side to extend his arm over the platter and drop the bone, allowing him to do so without bending over and aggravating his stomach.
As full as Victor was, going to bed seemed to be the only sensible option. Given the choice between going up a stairwell to his bedroom and just down the hall to his couch, he opted for the latter, not wanting bother with even the gentle slope of his stairs. With a sigh, he turned away from the table to start the trip to the couch, promising himself he’d clean up the mess in the morning.
But even the short walk across his house seemed impossible with how much food Victor had managed to fill himself with. The best he could do was shuffle his feet forward, trying to minimize how much pain his stomach felt each step of the way and not exactly succeeding. With a moan as constant as his stomach ache, he let his hands rest on top of his gut, a compromise between the instinct to rub his belly and he fact that his stomach seem to not want him to bother, lashing out at his touch.
But slow and steady steps finally brought Victor to his living room. As he backed into one of the couches, he kept moving until he felt his calves back up into the upholstery. With a deep breath, he braced for the unavoidable shot of pain, and sat down. At the sudden shift in position, his stomach felt like it might douse the flame in his fireplace with his dinner. But Victor leaned back in his seat and managed to convinces his stomach to accept its new position.
Now that Victor was no longer standing, he could feel the allure of sleep pulling him down with so much food in his stomach. In his half-asleep state, he didn’t much care whether rubbing his stomach actually gave him any relief; he did it out of habit, out of a feeling he had to do something. And so he did they something, until sleep took hold of him so fully that his hands slid down the sides of his gargantuan gut and landed on the couch.