In this story, an anonymous councilperson investigates the sudden death of all the kingdom's top leaders and comes to a horrifying conclusion. When told to choose his successor, she prays the late King would be proud of her decision. Originally published in Issue IV of Juven Press.
CW: Mention of Suicide
Never had words failed me as they did that night.
Tears threatened to drip down my cheeks, but I forced them to stay where they were: wetting my eyes and blurring my vision. I was grateful the night hid the blankness in my eyes, but the same night allowed my pounding heart to echo across the kingdom.
Once I trusted that my voice wouldn't fail me, I spoke hoarsely. "Are we sure?"
The messenger nodded. "The Council Chief determined that the next two men in line for the throne are Lord Daniel and Lord Kendrick. The Chief wants the King to be announced tomorrow at sunset. I will return for your vote before then."
The messenger waited only long enough for me to nod in understanding before disappearing into the night. A day was not enough time to decide the future of the kingdom, and I couldn't afford to waste time thinking about anything else, but my mind kept wandering to the King.
Five heirs should have been enough. It had been that way since the kingdom first formed.
I couldn't believe that someone would want to bring down the throne of an island kingdom that rarely interacted with outsiders. We had few acquaintances, let alone enemies.
But there was no reason to assume an outsider killed the King. Though I hated to blame my fellow citizens, I couldn't help thinking, what if?
Every right granted to the people meant a responsibility forced upon them. While it was unlikely that someone in this kingdom believed that the responsibilities outweighed the rights, it was possible. Still, even if a royal chef or servant felt this way, none of them would risk being convicted of treason. After all, poisoning the drinks at the royal supper only guaranteed a new ruler, not a better one.
Then again, there was no reason to assume that the traitor was truly disadvantaged. It was entirely possible that he simply felt that way. There was no shortage of rich and influential members of our kingdom who felt that they had been cheated by the government. After all, the more one has, the more they want.
Faces of the richest flashed through my mind: those who might gain the most from systematic murder of this sort. Even then, if someone truly wanted the rules to change, they should have targeted the Council. While the King was the face of the kingdom and heart of the people, the Council members truly ran the kingdom. Considering the murders had been conducted so neatly, it was odd the traitor hadn't considered that.
That is, unless they weren't seeking to take down the government. What if they simply wanted to take the King's position?
Although I doubted anyone had consciously considered the possibility, everyone in the kingdom knew that Daniel and Kendrick were tied for sixth in line to the throne. And of course, 'everyone' included the two Lords themselves.
Perhaps one of them was tired of holding a position so low in the chain of command that, normally, they never would have reached it. The only question was, which one?
Forcing my weak knees to hold my weight as I stood up, I walked to my library. I quickly found the group of scrolls titled "Lord Daniel of Brancel," and it didn't take me much longer to find Kendrick's scrolls.
I already knew both candidates well—not personally, but by reputation.
Daniel was strong-willed and true to his word. Always been loyal to the throne, no matter who sat on it, he was known as a "stickler." He held his region on a tight leash, punishing even the smallest crimes. While I didn't find him too appealing, especially as a future king, it didn't seem that he would attempt to bring down the throne.
My eyes grew tired, my vision blurred, and my reading slowed, but I didn't dare waste time resting.
Kendrick—open-hearted and beloved by the people—couldn't have been more different from his opponent. However, he loved the people so much that his oath to serve the throne first and foremost didn't extend far beyond words. There were many instances, however minor, where he had prioritized the people over the throne.
Could his disloyalty extend this far? Before I could truly contemplate the implications of this possibility, I gave in to my tired eyes and fell asleep.
Once asleep, I found myself facing the King in the castle.
"They're all praising your proposal," I told him.
He laughed drily. "It's all staged."
"What makes you say that?"
"None of my proposals have succeeded."
"Yes, they have," I protested.
"Then why do children still die of hunger?"
"You can't be perfect."
"I am the King," he said simply.
"And you think someone else would make a better King?"
"Alexander?" I asked.
"He's too impulsive."
"Too young and inexperienced."
"How about Diana as Queen?"
The King laughed. "She wouldn't be much better than myself."
"Five heirs. And you don't like any of them?"
"I love them all," he whispered. "But the kingdom doesn't."
"They're in line for the throne because—"
"A few people in the kingdom believe they should be. I want someone who everyone loves."
"That's impossible," I argued.
"If he serves everyone, everyone will love him."
"Anyone in particular?" If the King didn't serve everyone in the kingdom, then nobody could.
I awoke with a start, the sun's rays pushing their way through my eyelids. I could barely open my eyes, but I couldn't afford to sleep again.
I decided that regardless of time, I needed to take a minute to wash my face.
So I did.
Having regained my bearings, I struggled to make sense of what I now knew, or rather, what I now remembered.
Even though I knew the King well, I couldn't come up with a reason he wouldn't do this. Maybe that was why I couldn't come up with a reason.
The murders of the six most powerful people in our kingdom were executed flawlessly, thanks to him. He took care to leave the two prospective candidates, presumably to avoid suspicion for the successor he wanted.
He had been planning this for a while. Certainly longer than I had gone without seeing him.
Yet, I hadn't noticed. All the signs were there. I should have known. I should have stopped it.
Someone pounded on my door. I must have missed his knocks in my thoughts.
When I opened the door, the messenger handed me a sealed envelope. I ripped it open and looked over it. Then, I read it again. And again.
Each of the other eight Council members had already written their votes on the ballot next to their names. The votes were split evenly.
The decision was supposed to be the Council's, but now it seemed to be mine.
I eyed the blank spot next to my name warily. I couldn't take this responsibility. I couldn't.
Then, I realized I didn't have to. The King had already told me who to vote for, though he hadn't said a name.
My heart pounded.
I chose a pen carefully.
With that pen, I wrote, in careful script, the name I knew the King wanted me to write: Kendrick, the perfect king.
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