It was, all told, a fairly run of the mill prophecy.
A Dark Force would rise, all would be swept before it and it would rule o’er the land until such time as a hero pure of heart might rise against it, to cast down what once had seemed unstoppable and return his people to their rightful place in the sun.
Hackneyed, to be frank. Overdone. The sort of thing you’d heard a thousand times before…
Still, they WERE my people, and hackneyed or not I was determined to protect them, no matter what hell I had to put myself through, what sacrifices or compromises I might have to make. They were my people, I had a duty to keep them safe, and whatever dark force might in time rise I’d keep them safe whatever price had to be paid.
If I didn’t, after all, what sort of hero would I be?
What sort of leader would I be?
Fighting the Dark Force, I decided, would be an easier matter were I to seek it out before it had time to take root and establish its base of power, and to this end I sent a network of spies to all four corners of the kingdom, to find whatever hole it might be hiding in and drag it out into the light.
Yes, there were tales of spies abusing their power over the locals, but I paid them no heed. They were doing important work, after all, and I couldn’t let the misdeeds of a few taint that work, however grave those alleged misdeeds might have been.
Some protested, because some will always protest, and I admit it did hurt my heart to order my generals to put the protests down. They were good people, after all, most of them were good people, they were probably good. But in a time of crisis a people must stand together, strong and resolute, and if the dissent of the few threaten to weaken the whole it has to end, however well meaning it might be.
There were those among my advisors who disagreed with the heaviness of my hand in dealing with the protests, and of course I encouraged those around me to voice their opinions on the matter.
It made it easier, after all, to know who was against me for when the long knives came…
By the second round of protests my precautions were really beginning to come to fruition. My spies told me well in advance they were being organized, and my forces, now freed from any in their leadership who might take moral issue with the crushing of dissent, cracked down with brutal efficiency. The streets ran red, and by the time the bodies had been carted away it was clear that, if a third wave of protests were ever to begin, they would begin far away from the capital.
I heard the rumors when they did, of a farm boy in the provinces giving speeches, rallying locals in support of the values our kingdom once held dear, as though every step I had taken had not been to protect those same values, but every time I sent an assassin, or a platoon of soldiers to put him down once and for all, all it did was drive more people to his cause.
I couldn’t believe, as the reports came in, how many eventually grew to support his cause. Did my people not understand that all I had done, I had done to protect them?
And now he and his rag-tag bunch is outside the walls of this very capital city, and more of my soldiers are abandoning their posts to join him every day.
Before long they will breach these walls, I understand this now, and they will find me in my castle and drag me out into the street. I could run, but I will not. When the end comes for me I will face it, not out of any sense of courage, but rather with the profound moral exhaustion of a man who has done everything he could to protect those he loves, only to see his best intentions come to less than nothing.
I have nothing left to fight for, now, and my heart is too heavy to try.
It’s never easy realizing that, at the end of the day, all you’ve made of yourself is the Evil King in someone else’s story…
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