“You fool!” She screamed, before storming out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
He sighed, dropping back into the leather desk chair behind him. It wasn’t the first time that he disappointed her, but he was sure that it would be the last. At least, it would be the last that he would be around to witness. He hadn’t expected such a vehement opposition from her. But, he couldn’t blame her for her reaction. A few months ago, he probably would’ve made a similar assessment himself.
The move depended entirely on their recent intel about the neighboring countries, and left little room for flexibility. But their country could no longer afford to spread their troops so thin. If their information was correct, there would be a four way coordinated attack. A fact that both he and the neighboring nations were distinctly aware of.
With the constant border conflicts, their country was near its limit. It could no longer afford to spread their troops into four and hope to win against all four foreign threats. He sighed. Their country was land locked, and surrounded by four aggressors. If not for their weakened army and for his understanding of the other four nations, he wouldn’t put everything down in a gamble like this.
Yes he was a fool, but as the fool that he was, he didn’t want to see his people suffer. He didn’t want to see her suffer. In truth, as risky as it was, he had some rather advantageous cards. If correctly played, he was in a position to turn the entire war. At a small cost. But that wes a burden that she didn’t need to know. Regardless of how she saw him from this day forward, regardless of how she would misunderstand him, he would protect her. He would protect his people. In the end, that’s what mattered.
He looked up, suddenly wanting a person to talk to. But there was no one there. As expected, given that he had just pushed away his greatest confidant. The last person that he still had by his side that he could entrust their country’s secrets to. In times like these, he found himself feeling alone, despite the nation of people that surrounded him. Suddenly, he found his resolve wavering. There was no one around to understand his sacrifices. There was no one around to understand his efforts. There was no one around to give him encouragement when he so badly needed it.
He leaned back into the chair, resting his head against the backrest and staring straight up into the ceiling. At times like these, that was the only thing that he could bring himself to do. He wasn’t in the mood to do more paperwork, nor was he in the best state of mind to complete any. Letting out a sigh, he closed his eyes. Perhaps it was time to rest for the day.
He sat forward, looking wearily at the paper. It didn’t look like he was going to make much more progress if he continued to force himself to work through them. Perhaps things would be better tomorrow morning, when his mind wasn’t so clouded by a recent conversation. When his doubts weren’t amplified by a mixture of tiredness and stress. Resting his chin over clasped, he closed his eyes and let sleep overtake him.
He woke the following morning to the sound of a crash outside his door. Straightening and ignoring the newfound soreness in his arms, he stood and pulled the door open.
“What in the name of the Lord are all of you doing so early in the morning?” He demanded toward the crowd of men that greeted him outside of his study.
“Handling the building project, sir!”
“What’s the hurry? And why are you working on it outside my study? Didn’t I provide a suitable room?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The man answered. “But your sister suggested that we move our projects to a place where they are directly within your convenience and range of observation.”
The woman. Just because he gave her full right to represent him in his absence didn’t mean that she could abuse the authority to do whatever she liked. At least, not while he was still around. Not for this matter. He’d made his point clear in their discussion from the previous night. His heart was set. There was no point in her trying to persuade him further.
Why couldn’t she just trust him for once? Trust him to make the best decision as an older brother? Trust him to make the best decision as a member of his family? Trust him to make the best decision as the king of his people? Was it that hard for her to trust that he could make the best decision with the information he had at hand? Was it so hard to believe that he was a capable and humane ruler that wanted the best for his subjects? Was it so difficult for her to understand that he only chose this course of action because he knew that it would save more people in the end?
He sighed. Perhaps she didn’t understand. Perhaps she would never come to understand. She could protest all she wanted. But, in the end, none of that mattered. In the grand scheme of things, there was only one thing that mattered. He needed to ensure that when all things came to an end, her actions didn’t adversely affect the outcomes of his plans.
Forget it. He stepped out of the room, and slowly passed each construction project. She doesn’t know what these were for. He passed his hand over one at the objects. An object that any onlooker would easily understand to be an artillery weapon. But like the others, she didn’t know their purpose. He couldn’t blame her if she hadn’t understood the implications associated with the act.
Carefully, he studied each of the apparent weapons. Suddenly, something caught his eye. His eyes widened as he became increasingly certain. But it couldn’t be. Not unless… she knew.
At the thought, just as the possibility flashed through his mind, a distinct set of footsteps echoed behind him. He didn’t need to turn to know who it was. Even if it weren’t for the distinctive sounds of her stepping pattern, no one else but her would dare to approach him in such a manner. He stood, turning to face her.
“Yes, my royal brother.” She said, meeting his eye and acknowledging the questions revolving his mind. “I know.”
He stepped back in shock. “What do you know?” He asked, Quickly turning away to hide the errant tears streaming down his face. He had to be certain.
“I know your plans.” She answered. “Why else would I call you a fool?”
But did she really? He leaned his weight against one of the weapons still under construction. He didn’t dare to hope that there was someone he could share the burden with. All the same, he hoped that she didn’t know. The moment she knew, everything changed.
In his silence, she spoke up once more. “You really thought that I couldn’t read your plans from the way you set up the attack?”
He sucked in a breath, but otherwise didn’t answer.
“You weren’t called a military genius if you could only come up with something like that.” She continued. “There’s no way to explain the huge weakness you put in the west flank, unless you planned to go there yourself. you’ve already allocated all your troops… who are you going to bring with you? your advisers? your bodyguards? How do you think you will win against such a strong front with just a few artillery weapons?”
“You’re right.” He sighed. So she did know. But the question was, how much did she know? Did she know the entire thing? “The weapons are more for appearance than anything else.”
“So you really were going to do it.” She answered, her face darkening.
“Don’t worry.” He reassured her. “I’m not going to betray our family or our people. It’s for the best.”
“If only surrender were an option.” She whispered. “Not that you would’ve taken it anyhow. But at least, it would’ve been a way out.”
She knew him too well. Surrender was never an option in his heart. But even if it were, it was never a valid option in this battle. The opposing forces weren’t known for granting mercy to those that surrendered. All countries that lost to them were treated the same. A tragedy that he couldn’t bring to his people.
“Perhaps.” He answered. He would’ve done the best for his people. Surrender in such a case may as well be a victory.
“When are you leaving?” She asked.
“In a bit.” He answered. “There isn’t enough time to complete them. I had asked the craftsmen to complete the outer appearances first. It’s enough for the weapons to just look deadly.”
“Can I go… in your place?” She asked. “I know the spell as well.”
“No.” He replied. She wasn’t quite as familiar with it as he was. “Our country needs a ruler in my absence. You are already equal in stature. After I leave, you will become our queen.”
“Is there no other way?” She inquired.
“Perhaps.” He acknowledged. “But you can’t deny that this is the best way. The way, our people will be saved, and our nation will have no choice but to accept a female ruler.”
“I never wanted the throne.” She answered, quietly. “I’d rather you come back.”
“It was rightfully yours.” He replied. “You’re the older sibling and capable in your own right.”
“I was never the heir.” She whispered.
“Our military will be enough to push off the threats on all the other sides. I’ll make sure that the same could be said of this side.” He answered. “Take care of our country and our people for me. I have trust in your ability to show our men that our women are just as capable as they are. Prove to them, with your leadership, that women are viable as heirs as well.”
“Promise me that you’ll try to come back alive.” She requested, in a melancholy tone, as he waved at the men and turned to leave.
“I’ll try.” He answered, sadly. The words were more to comfort her than anything else. After the spell, he’d only have a few days of strength left. He wouldn’t have enough time to make it to even the outskirts of the city.
“I’ll await your return.” She replied.
“Act as if I won’t.” He answered, without turning back. He couldn’t give her false hope. He couldn’t promise her something that might never be. But above all else, she had to learn to stand on her own. She had to do her best as a ruler if she wanted the people to accept her. This was for the sake of their country, the stability of their future government, and for their people. This was possibly the last thing that he could do for any of them.
This story was inspired by a “The Beginning” writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication.
“You fool,” she screamed as she marched out of the door.