True Power

As I walk through the streets of Shutar, my father’s city, my city, everything seems normal. It seems like a peaceful haven, somewhere people can come and make a living. According to my father’s financial advisors and his bankers, the kingdom was thriving and the people were well-fed, happy, and sheltered.

At first, that what it seemed like.

I walk through the market in the main street, disguised, of course, looking at all of the wares for sale. I stop to buy a few small trinkets for my older sisters, and all seemed well. Despite being raised in a castle at the height of luxury, I am not stupid. I make sure to hide my money and not let it be known that I have more than a few small coins on my person. Even so, I am wary.

I came here to see if it was true, is everyone was happy as I was lead to believe. I cannot do that from one busy street in the centre of the city, so I walk further from the marketplace. I know it’s dangerous, especially for the crown prince, but if the crown should fall into my hands, I wish to have seen my people at their worst and unhappiest.

Of course, there is little chance that the crown would go to me.

I am getting further from the castle. Now I am walking through streets with dilapidated, crumbling houses. As I pass an alleyway, two men in it glare at me. Never have I been more thankful that I am not a girl. I shudder to think what would happen to one of my sisters if they had come here. Perhaps not Shelah. She is strong, much stronger than me, and has had much practice with the blade. Unwelcome suitors have taught her to use it well. But Deshi, the eldest, has always been more interested in history than fighting. She would be in more danger.

This is certainly not the perfect city I had been led to believe it was. I know geography well, and I know that I have only gone a mile or two beyond the castle, and there are at least three more miles to the city boundaries. If this poor neighborhood continues to the city limits and to the castle wall, that’s nearly three square miles of destitution, people who are suffering because we take and eat their food. I should map out the areas of less fortune and show them to my father. Perhaps his advisors have been misleading him.

I have finished my map. I have run or walked every third street in Shutar, and mapped it out. All that I can say is that the advisors were terribly wrong.

I reach my father’s office and am let in.

“Father,” I say, greeting him.

He greets me back in the usual fashion, before dispensing with the formalities.

“Your sister has told me that you have a matter that you wish to speak to me about.”

I freeze. I told Deshi about my trips. I had hoped that, although she was worried for me, she wouldn’t tell anyone of it.

“What has she told you?”

“Nothing. Just that you were studying something new and might come to me about it soon, and that if you did I might do well to listen.”

Ah. She supported me. That was encouraging.

“Yes. I have been studying the finances of the city, and of the kingdom at large. I thought that the numbers that were given seemed a bit too low, so I did a bit of research and calculations of my own. With a bit more flexibility and power, I could make more reliable statistics, and possibly act on them. You see, I think that the city is much poorer than we were led to believe. More than half the population struggles to find food, and over ten percent has nothing to their name. If we —“

“Enough,” my father says, raising a hand to stop me. “The city is poorer than you were led to believe, yes. It was a good choice to keep the real numbers secret from you. Unfortunately,” he sighed, “you found out anyway. The crown is a heavy burden, child, as you might understand one day. You must always try to do the best for your people, but you cannot do that if you have no power over them. Remember, the power isn’t in the king. The king is just a person. Ultimately, the power lies with the crown. The crown is what gives power to people, and we must stop it from falling into the hands of anyone with a thirst for the power it provides.”

“No,” I hiss. “No. Your crown is not an honorable thing anymore. Your crown is made of the people’s bones and hunger, and eventually they will come to find it, and you will fall, because you will have no support. No one will come to your aid, and your crown will be destroyed.”

He looks disappointed in me, like he hoped that I would at least be more aggressive in my anger.

“Very well. If that is your choice, then we have no more to say.”

He waves his hand and the guards seize me. I don’t bother to fight back. I watch as the king rises from his seat, walking over to me and examining my face closely.

“Do you truly believe that I will have no support? He who has money has the whole world at his disposal. And I have money. A lot of money.”

I lift my chin, look him in the eye, and spit in his face. My arms are pulled roughly behind me for it, making me gasp in pain, but I regret nothing.

“And once your slaves are dead or refuse to work? What then? What happens when you have no money? No money and no friends and no power. Then, Father,” I snarl, “then you fall.”

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