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“Dying Old”

Strychnine is bitter, but the most pleasant to work with.

This story began life as a gift for the 2012 Yuletide fanfiction exchange. The definition of fanfiction used there is very broad; the “fandom” this tale fits into is Classical Greece and Rome History & Literature RPF, which is the current unwieldy tag for stories about real people from Mediterranean antiquity. The recipient had asked for a story about Mithridates VI of Pontus, the king immortalized in A.E. Houseman’s A Shopshire Lad:

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

So naturally I wrote her a story about all the horrible things that happen when you consume sub-lethal doses of various poisons.

With the recipient’s permission, the story is included in my collection Ars Historica.