Dangerous Advice - Young King Victor seeks to lead his country well. This short story/flash fiction piece takes place in his under water library in a world covered by the ocean. Previously published on gohavok.com
“Another raid has been reported, Your Majesty. We lost the Orion.”
I nodded, narrowing my eyes and bracing my feet against the floor’s slight rocking motion. Hopefully I looked as calm as I needed to.
“Sunken or captured?”
“Thank you, general. Dismissed.”
He saluted and left, silence returning to my library.
I slumped in my desk chair. Another ship added to their numbers and another crew lost. The raiders stopped at nothing, spreading like a disease that threatened to destroy our country. Now this. I couldn’t afford to lose anything else. Something needed to change.
I raked a hand through my hair, then carefully smoothed it back in place. At least in my underwater library, everything remained untouched. Every item in its place, each book alphabetized and categorized by subject. Pristine shelves lined the walls except for the floor-length, convex glass wall beside me. Calming blue light shone through, diffused by the ocean, dancing as the waves rolled above the room. Fish drifted past the window, occasionally gaping at me.
Today, not even the calm of the ocean view settled my nerves. I didn’t believe I could handle another blow.
The stack of messages had grown on my desk. Unrest plagued the same areas attacked by the raiders. And it had spread. What would Father have done?
I swallowed, my throat tight. He had always relied on voluntary recruits. But after the rumors surrounding the last fallen ship, people stopped responding to our requests for volunteers. My advisors had suggested a military draft. I refused. Now my advisors were coming up short, doing little these days. Couldn’t they see I needed their help?
I stood and paced the floor. How had Father done it? He’d ruled for years before leaving the country in my inexperienced hands as he set off on another expedition, one from which he had never returned. I settled my shaky breath and shut my eyes. What had he told me? To trust the advisors. They had served him well for years. I wanted to believe it.
A buzz startled me. “Enter.” I turned to face the door, adjusting my steam-pressed coat and glasses just before it opened.
My personal assistant Matthias brushed in, his hair ruffled and tie askew. “Your Majesty, a fresh report for you.”
I motioned for him to shut the door. “Yes?”
He shuffled his feet. “That… situation you wanted me to keep an eye on?”
“Well, sire, your instincts were correct. I’m afraid the advisors are growing… uneasy.”
“Indeed.” I stood tall, meeting his gaze. I could not let him see my fear. “What are they uneasy about?”
He glanced around. “Permission to speak freely?”
“Well, they don’t care for how you are leading our country. They say—” He eyed the door again.
I smiled, trying to give him courage. “It is safe here.”
“Thank you, sire.” He swallowed. “They say that you are indecisive. That you are nothing like your father and… never will be.”
My chest burned, then constricted. I whirled to face the ocean. Tears fought to break through, but my anger kept them in check. Despite my best efforts, my voice shook. “My father sought their counsel. I am only doing the same. Just because I am hardly over twenty years old does not mean—” I spun back to him.
Matthias shrank back.
“My apologies.” What had I done? “Thank you, Matthias, for the report.” I motioned to the door. “You may leave now.”
“Yes, sire.” He dipped his head and left.
What was I to do? I dropped into my leather chair and propped my head against my hands, elbows resting on the desk. I could no longer wonder what Father would have done. Ever since I’d succeeded to the throne, I had feared losing their approval. And now that fear was reality. Everyone was against me. I took a deep breath, but still my heart pounded.
My gaze rested on the book I’d happened upon from Father’s strategy section in the library. The title had “Prince” in it. I felt as though I were still a prince. I opened it at random. The first sentence I noticed read, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
Could… could this be true? I flipped the pages back and began reading, devouring the words. This man spoke about ruling like no one I’d ever known. My mind raced.
I had been longing for the advisors’ approval, yet I’d only been undermining myself by seeking it. This man saw leadership for what it truly was. Better to be feared if you cannot be both… I’d lost out on being loved by them. I had been losing control of the country—waiting on the advisors, for the raids to stop, for my father to return. All this time, waiting for things that would never happen.
No more. I punched the buzzer on my desk. I needed enough time to sketch out my plans. And I needed to do something about the advisors.
Matthias entered. “Yes, your Majesty?”
“Assemble the generals for a meeting in half an hour. Tell them I wish to discuss enacting a country-wide draft.”
“Yes, sire. Shall I extend an invitation to the advisors as well?”
“No. I will handle this meeting on my own.”
His eyes widened. I dismissed him with a wave of my hand.
I felt lighter already. Like my father? No, I wasn’t. Father had been too kind to them. In order to protect our world, I’d have to bury that part of me to do what needed to be done.
But Father had been right about listening to advisors. I’d just been listening to the wrong ones. They had chosen this. All of them. If they refused to be led by a kind king, then they would learn to follow one in fear. I flipped my book to the first page, ready to learn from my new mentor.