Benign (part 2)

One week later, mere hours before troops are deployed, one of my advisors gallops up beside me on her horse. In a rush she tells me, “King Benine, new sources reveal trouble within our fair nation of Sacroma. As your most loyal advisor I beg of you to postpone the sending of troops so we can meet about this shocking news.” What could be so bad that my trusted advisors, who are so supportive of immediate war, feel the need to postpone it? I send a scout forward to the awaiting troops of Abettor to tell them we won't be coming today as planned.

Once we return to the stateroom, I pace in front of my throne and turn to my waiting advisors. “What is this about?” I ask them controlledly.

Ophidia, the younger of my two advisors and the one who stopped me earlier today, begins speaking first. She was always the more talkative of the two, so the fact that she knows exactly what to say does not surprise me. “We have had scouts planted in and around our district ever since we came into power, but up until now they haven't uncovered much at all. And then suddenly, we have one sector of spies with information about a war, and then today another sector sends their reports with insider troubles.” She gestures to my other advisor, Vulpin. He, the older, softer spoken of the two, picks up where she left off.

“Today, I am sitting in my stateroom preparing myself for the battles when a young man barges in unannounced. I immediately leap to my feet and question him as to why he is intruding without permission. He tells me he is a spy in the Western sector of Sacroma and has spent years infiltrating the various groups and associations of commoners in the area, and today it has finally paid off. He then warns me I should probably sit down for what he is about to say, and I extend the warning to you too.” He pauses while I lower myself into my seat. “After I sat down he told me about a rebel movement that's forming in the impoverished streets of the Westies. They heard about the war and want nothing to do with it. They've created their own anti-army and plan to fight against us and Abettor in the upcoming battle.” I'm glad I'm sitting down; news like that cannot be taken lightly. My own people...

“What else did he tell you?” I ask, not even sure I want to hear the answer.

“They have a leader by the name of Ersatz. He has created an anti-movement and has been growing its numbers slowly over the past few years; apparently he doesn't feel that you run our nation in a way beneficial to all who inhabit it. He's created a monopoly of disinformation; the people are utterly spellbound by his words because no one dare says otherwise.”

“Do you recommend we still go to war?”

This time Ophidia answers. “We can't possibly; to do so will spur the disinformants to attack, and it will split up Sacroma, possibly irrevocably. We'll have to tell Abettor that we can only help them on the sly. If any word reaches the disinformants about us going to war, they will go ahead with their anti-war.” As always, she speaks the truth.

I mull over the situation for a few moments. If Ersatz has overwhelmed their senses with anarchist propaganda, the people supporting him are misinformed; surely, if they were to realize how he was twisting the truth around, they would see that I am a good, honest king.
“What we need is anti-propaganda propaganda,” I say, proud of myself for realizing the solution before one of my advisors recommends it.

“You're exactly right. Now, how should we go about spreading pro-king hearsay?” Ophilia responds, already calculating.

Before she gets a chance to come up with a plan, Vulpin replies, “here's how we do it...” And the next four hours that would have just yesterday been spent going to war are now devoted to planning the spread of propaganda.

The ensuing three weeks are devoted entirely to strategizing and teaching the prophets who will sing my praises. Every day, spies report the status of the war between Allies (Abettor and the secret militia of our own men), and Enemies (Confur and Bane, armed with their secret weapons no doubt, although they have yet to employ them). Every day, the tension rises between Ally and Enemy, between my Prophets and the disinformants, between me and Ersatz. My trusted advisors are away a lot of the time, but they assure me that they are always busy hiring Prophets and preaching my virtues. Although I have yet to see any results, I trust that they are doing something that will benefit me.
Even still, tensions rise, and I wait every day for someone to snap.


It isn't until the following month that the rebels attack.
“Down with King Benine! Long live Ersatz!” The chanting is something out of a nightmare. Our small nation never cared about formalities like castles, so I lived and worked in the building housing the throne room. Everyone in the nation knew it, so it was no surprise that the demonstration came right to my doorstep with no one to stop them. I step out on my small balcony and hold up my hands; the worst of the uproar quiets.

“What is the meaning of this?” I cry to my people. A wizened old man who resembles someone I'm sure I know steps forward out of the crowd, and the people part around him until he is in the middle of a throng of followers.

“I am Ersatz!” He cries, and I swear to myself that his voice sounds familiar. “These are my people! For too long you have oppressed us and neglected us!” The crowd cheers.

“I am sorry, my people,” I cry to them. “We live in a tumultuous time and it is hard to keep a whole nation standing erect. We are on the brink of war and our trade has been cut off completely. We are far from a self-sufficient nation and at this point in time we need nothing less than to split apart. In this tumultuous time we need to stay together to get through it.”

Now the crowd jeers. Ersatz raises his hands and his people silence; not only are they already his, but they listen to him better than they ever have to me. “Foolish Benine. You are a cancer and we are ridding our nation of you. You have 12 hours to remove yourself from our lands or we will find you and kill you.” I am positive I know this horrible man, and am concentrating so hard on placing his voice that I do not notice what he says at first. Remove myself from my own lands? The ones I brought up with my own two hands? Suddenly something clicks.

“Vulpin!” I shout to the man attempting to usurp me. Surprised by my outburst, he turns his head before remembering he is Ersatz to his people. Alas, my prediction was correct. “I need to talk to you,” I add calmly, and turn away without a thought. He follows through the murmuring crowd-their Ersatz is the King's own advisor?-and we meet in the throne room.

“What are you doing?” I hiss at him, surprised by the acidic betrayal burning its way through my chest. This man led the original rebellion with me. This man took down the old king, fashioned this new empire with me. He was my friend, or at the very least my confidant.

“You were unfit to rule this nation. Ophidia and I felt that you would not step down readily, so we had to do something about it.”

“That something was rile the people against me? That something was lose my respect? You're my best friend and my advisor-we created this nation together. Why tear it apart?”

“My friend, you are obviously ignorant to your own foolishness. There is no war. There is no Ersatz and no disinformation and no secret weapon. There aren't even any spies-we crafted them and you believed,” Ophidia jeers at me. “Your blind trust gave me and Vulpin the freedom necessary to do everything we want-except rule. No, we plan everything, we run the country, but you are the admired King, the savior, the ruler of them all. As if you would be anything without us!” She cries.

“I meant what I said as Ersatz. You have 12 hours to leave this nation or we will take you out ourselves,” Vulpin, my once-trusted advisor informs me cooly.

“I am an old man, Vulpin. My wife is long dead and you and Ophidia were the only friends I had in this world. To remove me from the only place I've ever called home would be worse than inhuman.”

“Your time is passed! I am the ruler now! This nation will prosper like you never let it before! When the people found out you were going to war over nothing, and when they found you prophesying your virtues, they realized what a dictator you are! I will rule fairly!”

The extent of my once-trusted advisors' burning madness hits me. “Listen Vulpin; we can work this out. If you give me time, I can transfer more power to your name. You are my oldest friend; it's so unlike you to sink this low.”

Wrong thing to say. His face turns a blotchy red. “Get out! I rule this nation now! Get out!” He grabs one of the ornamental knives hanging over the doorway and rushes at me, much more agile than I would have expected for one so old. I don't dare disobey him.

Slowly I inch towards my sleeping chamber. Inside I have a gun-perhaps I can reason with him if I sink to his level. “Let me just get my clothes gathered...” I say, attempting a soothing voice.

Not appearing to hear me, Vulpin takes a stab towards my side. It gouges me in the stomach and I jump back as fast as my frail limbs will carry me. I sprint to my bedroom and grab my gun from under my mattress.

“Vulpin I'm warning you, if you come any closer with that knife I will shoot,” I threaten, holding the gun in shaking hands. Whether it be the exertion or the fact that I'm pointing a gun at my best friend, I doubt I will be able to aim and shoot. Apparently he can tell that too, because he advances with the knife, swinging it wildly.

Startled, I attempt to maneuver away from him, and true to my word I pull the trigger, praying that I hit and miss him simultaneously. God, look at me, I'm praying that I kill my best friend.

Miraculously and dreadfully the bullet takes a direct hit. I have to watch as my lifelong friend falls, clutching his chest as blood pours from a wound I inflicted. I cry out and rush over to him, pressing my shaking leathery hands into his bloody chest. “No no no no...”

It is at this moment that Ophidia strikes. I had forgotten all about her in the rush to save my life. She grabs the gun from the ground where I dropped it and points it at me. “If Vulpin dies, I will rule,” she states, and pulls the trigger. Agony rips across my shoulder; luckily the bullet didn't hit my heart, only the fleshy muscle. Unfortunately, I feel my brittle bone shatter upon impact with the bullet, and my arm loses feeling. I scream. “Get out get out get out!” she points the gun again and I know that this time she will not miss. I stand and rush from the stateroom, leaving behind everything to my name, along with my two best friends and the right to rule my nation.

I stand on the wide dirt path leading the nation's center pavilion. Overhead, I hear Ophidia shouting to her people milling below the balcony, “Vulpin is dead!” even though at this moment he's probably still very much alive and writhing in agony. “Your beloved King Benine is wounded and has fled the scene!” At mention of my name, the people hiss, but when they hear I am wounded, they cheer. “Whoever catches him will become my advisor!” More cheering, even though it's very likely just an empty promise. I have to get out of here. “We have rid our lands of the cancer!”

I begin the long journey out of my nation.

I am an old man, it is true, but I have never wept harder than I do the day I lose my friends and my nation. For what they never saw was that I was not the cancer but the benign tumor, whilst they were the fox and the snake, determined to tear my nation apart at its seams. And oh, how they succeeded.





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