Waiting is as effortless as lying for the immortal. The boy grew quickly, although no doubt it felt like eternity to one so young, so fragile. Everyone said that Otto Bauer was a good young man who would grow to be something great. I never disputed that. Before I knew it, he was of age. The time had come to take the next step in the game.
"Come for a walk with me, my godson." I made the command sound like an invitation.
As if he were my own child, he followed obediently. He had never been as fearful of me as others were. He thought I would protect him, and I did. I was the godfather that Otto's father had dreamed of. We strode into the woods in companionable silence. Although I was shrunken and ancient looking, the younger man had to exert himself to keep after me, his breath forcing its way out of his mouth in rasping gasps. My own mouth remained firmly shut. The towering trees channelled the light into heavenly spotlights that lit up the thick foliage that carpeted the ground like the moss on the trees. I stopped suddenly, suppressing a smirk as Otto immediately followed suit. He rested his hands of his knees, his chest rising and falling rhythmically. I ignored him, and reached down to caress the leafy green herb that crawled across the earth. With a brisk flick of my thin wrist, I snapped the stem and held the leaf up to my steadily recovering godson.
"Now you shall receive your godfather's present. I will turn you into a famous physician. Whenever you are called to a sick person I will appear to you. If I stand at the sick person's head, you may say with confidence that you can make him well again. Then give him some of this herb and he will recover. But if I stand at the sick person's feet, he is mine and you must say that he is beyond help, and that no physician in the world could save him. But beware of using this herb against my will, or something very bad will happen to you."
My warning may have made more cautious men distrust my loyalty to them, but Otto was not cautious. A wide smile rose on his face like the sun as he realised the riches, fame and status that could be achieved with my help. It seemed that his father had made a good decision.
And so time passed again. I watched over the years as Otto became extraordinarily wealthy, even for the standards of a physician. He was famous too, any fool could see that. His fame had ventured out of Germany many years ago, drawing the sick and injured to him, all seeking the same thing; the herb I had given him, and the assurance of life. Not a day passed when I was not summoned to stand by a patient. Coins and favours were bestowed upon Otto, each time making him stand a little taller and puff out his chest.
The game was going well. No man is immune to such admiration, and I could almost see his self esteem increase with each patient, and with it, his arrogance. Yes, the game was going well.
Otto was moving up in the world. He was surprised when a summons was received from the King. As I move in all circles, I knew of the King's illness, although it was not public knowledge. I knew not only that, but his fate, and how my godson would react. These next few days, I reasoned with myself, would be very interesting. As soon as we arrived at the castle, Otto was ushered by frantic servants into the Kings chambers, I followed, invisible to all but the young physician. Once the dull and somewhat flustered formalities were over, Otto began to examine the King. I knew my cue, and stepped forwards to show the fate of the King.
I stood at his feet.
My godson fixed me with a look that would have people questioning his sanity if he was not so venerated. We both knew that no herb could help the eminent man that lay between us. The King would die.
I watched Otto intensely, knowing his next move before he knew it himself. After a few moments of careful deliberation, he slid his arms under the Kings body, and lifted him. Some of the assembled servants and family members moved forwards, unsure of what the young man would do. I was not so unsure. He spun the man around so that I was standing at the head of the King. The King would live.
Otto quickly gave the sickly ruler some of my herbs, and promised his good health. My godson left in good spirits, pleased with making a good impression in the royal household, yet I could see that he was cautious, aware that he had deceived me. I cared little for the life of a King though. I have taken greater men I my time. Emperors, warlords, Rajahs and Khans, all fall into my arms eventually. No man can live forever.
I was secretly delighted with Otto's decision. He was doing exactly what I wanted and exactly what I expected. He was playing the game. Forcing down a rising feeling of glee, I controlled my features, forming a formidable look of ferocity. Even strong men quake in Death's wrath. I chose my moment well. As soon as the road was clear, I turned on my godson.
"You have betrayed me." I hissed at him, watching as he shrank away from my anger. "I will overlook it this time because you are my godson, but if you dare do it again, it will cost you your neck, for I will take you yourself away with me."