“I can’t believe we’re finally going to do this!” I said excitedly.
“Yep. By the day after tomorrow, Loifle will be a better place, thanks to us. The plan is in motion. You, Carthi, Jek, and Roan will be standing guard, I’ll be making the preparations and implementing the getaway, and Hesethi will be the one to actually do the killing.” Saola beamed at him.
I froze. “Wait. We’re going to kill the king?”
Everyone stared at me. “Yes, Isletia, that is the point,” Saola told me exasperatedly. “We haven’t been planning this for two years just to, what, take him captive? Let him step down? Force him into exile? Tyranny must end; we kill him.”
“It’s for the best,” Hesethi said, more kindly.
“But… I thought we all agreed he isn’t really that bad, mostly.”
“It’s the principal of the thing, dear,” said Saola in her most patronizing tone. “You’re free to back out if you like, of course.”
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to. I agreed wholeheartedly that monarchy is tyranny and the only fair government is one that governs itself; I wanted to help bring democracy and equality and justice to Loifle. I just wasn’t quite sure about the means.
But I hadn’t been involved in the plot for two years just to drop out at the last moment. “No, I’m in.” I wanted to try to convince them that it wouldn’t be necessary to kill King Brhyme. Why couldn’t we just let him step down and go into exile? But I knew it would be useless. I was the youngest in the group, and none of the others accorded me the least shred of respect. They wouldn’t listen to a word I said, and if they did, they’d only laugh.
So I went home, and went through the rest of my day as normal, and eventually went to bed. The idea of standing guard while Hesethi committed murder haunted me. It would be one thing if King Brhyme was a tyrant, but while he occasionally raised taxes a bit too high and sometimes passed laws that the vast majority of the country disagreed with, he wasn’t really a tyrant, not compared to some kings. And his wife and children… I hadn’t even thought of them, and when I did I wanted to run out and ask Saola what would happen to them. But in truth I already knew. If any of the royal family lived, the monarchy would continue, and our goal would not be achieved.
I don’t know whether I would have been able to be part of the murder of King Brhyme or Queen Jaiya. But I knew that I could not stand by and let my friends kill ten-year-old Princess Elfithia and eight-year-old Prince Adre. I decided that the next morning, I would go and tell Saola that I wouldn’t be part of it, and with that decision made, I was eventually able to drift off to sleep.
When I woke up, I knew that backing out of the plot wouldn’t be enough. They would carry it out without me, no worse for having three lookouts rather than four. The royal family would be dead due to my inaction rather than my action. That wasn’t good enough. And thus I, a rebel, made up my mind to rescue the king and his family.
The rebellion was planned for very late in the night; I had time, though only a little. I only prayed that King Brhyme would listen to me, or at least not have me arrested before I could deliver my warning.
King Brhyme was holding audience, so I had to wait in line and watch him listen to complaints and mediate debates over chickens. I thought he handled most of them well enough. My knees trembled when I finally reached the front of the line. Surely someone would recognize me as a rebel--never mind that our faces were not known--and have me seized.
“Your majesty, might I have a word in private, concerning a matter of great importance to you and your family?” My voice shook.
Everyone seemed surprised, but I was hardly going to say what I had to say in front of everyone. “If you like,” King Brhyme agreed. “My guards will need to be there, of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed, and followed the king to a small room off of the larger hall. Two men with swords stood on either side of the king.
“You need to step down from the throne and take your family and leave the country.” My words came out in a jumbled rush. “There’s a plot to kill you.”
“Tell me of this plot,” he commanded, looking unworried.
“No, I can’t.” I knew he wouldn’t give me a choice, and that I’d made a mistake in coming, but they were my friends, and I would not turn them in. “There’s nothing you can do to stop it. If you want to live, if you want your children to live, you’ll leave Loifle before tonight.”
I fled. I expected him to stop me, or to order his guards to stop me, or for someone to prevent me from leaving the castle and running all the way to my house, but no one did. I wondered whether he took my warning seriously, and if he did, whether he would do what I said or merely heighten his guard. There was, after all, no reason for him to flee. With that kind of forewarning, he could quash a rebellion. I hoped I hadn’t just gotten my friends killed.
On the other hand, our plan--their plan--was good, and their backup plans numerous. I wouldn’t have cared to place odds on King Brhyme’s life, if he decided to stay.
I fretted, and paced about the house. Would the king be killed? Would my friends? Would someone come with a warrant for my arrest for being part of a rebellion? Or, once King Brhyme had been overthrown, would my friends--maybe my former friends, in their eyes, at least--have me arrested for betraying them?
I hadn’t chosen a side, or rather, had chosen both, and I knew I would have to pay for it. My house, which had felt like a refuge when I left the castle, now seemed a trap.
I jumped at the knock at my door, convinced that whoever it was, they probably wanted me dead. But it was too soft a tap to be guards to arrest me, and my friends wouldn’t yet know of my betrayal. Even so, my heart pounded as I opened the door.
It was a little girl. I recognized her immediately as Princess Elfithia, and was utterly shocked. “Are you Isletia?” she asked.
“Yes, your majesty.”
“You’re the one who warned my father to escape?”
“May I come in?”
“Of course.” I let her in, and she closed and locked the door behind her. “How did you know where to find me?”
“You were followed home, of course. And then once my father poked around into what you’d said and realized that it’s not just going to be a rebellion, but a complete takeover, with the army involved as well--”
“What?” I was surprised, but at thinking about her words, I wasn’t, really. It would be just like Saola to coordinate the rebellion with a military coup, and not tell any of us.
Princess Elfithia nodded solemnly. “So we’re going to do what you said, and escape, and well, he doesn’t trust much of anyone right now, so he wants your help.”
“Why on earth would he trust me?”
She looked at me as though it was obvious. “Well, you warned him. Anyway, he sent me so nobody would be suspicious--well, I convinced him to, he didn’t want to let me out of the castle, but somebody trustworthy had to go, and my mother’s too conspicuous. So you need to come back with me!”
I did, of course. It could have been a trap, but I didn’t think so--if King Brhyme had wanted to arrest me, he would have sent guards, not his ten year old daughter.
Elfithia led me into the castle through a back entrance, and into a book-filled room on the second floor. King Brhyme was alone there. He seemed afraid.
“I’m going to take your advice,” he told me. “But there’s more to the plot than you told me, and I need to know what it is. I don’t know who I can trust, and I don’t know how much time I have.”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I never knew there was any more to it than a simple rebellion; I didn’t know your army was involved. I was told the rebellion was to take place very late tonight, but now I don’t know if that’s true, or if that’s just the end of it. And I don’t know anything about which of your people are involved.”
King Brhyme nodded, as if that was about what he’d expected, and said, “Then I need to get my family away immediately, without trusting anyone. Will you help me?”
I wanted to ask him why he was trusting me, but I didn’t. “Yes.”
“Book passage on a ship. Jaiya will smuggle our children out and meet you, and I’ll come as soon as I make the announcement that I’m stepping down.”
I stared at him. “But that’ll let them now what you’re doing, and give them so many more chances to kill you! Surely it would be safer to just slip away.”
“Safer, yes, and that’s why I’ll wait until my family’s gone, but if I just disappear, Loifle will be left in turmoil and I can’t do that to the country. I’m going to announce that I’m relinquishing the throne in favor of democracy, and appoint a few people to be sure it’s carried out.”
I saw there was nothing I could do to dissuade him, so I left the castle and booked passages on a ship to Majardea--their king was a relative of Queen Jaiya; they’d be welcome there. I met the queen and her children outside of the castle; they were dressed in plain clothes so as not to be recognized, though Jaiya’s features were distinctive enough I doubted it would help. But she wore a hood and kept her head down, to hide her crimson hair and the bright tattoos around her dark eyes.
Still, we made it to the ship without incident. I took care of speaking to the captain so they wouldn’t be recognized yet. Finally, Jaiya, Elfithia, and Adre were locked in their cabin, and I breathed freely. Until I remembered the king.
It was three hours before he arrived, running. He nearly leaped onto the ship. “Can you take off immediately?” he asked the captain.
“Your majesty?” said the surprised captain.
“Not anymore. But please, go.” King Brhyme turned to me. “Are you coming as well?”
I nodded. “If my role in all this get’s found out, it would be better if I’m not in the country.”
And so it was that I achieved my dream of bringing democracy to Loifle, and left before I ever got to enjoy it. I didn’t really mind, though. When I’d been in Majardea a few weeks, I learned that Saola had been elected as the head of Loifle’s government. I’m sure she’s being completely insufferable, and though I sent a card to congratulate her, I’m glad to be an ocean away.