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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Duty

Category: Short Story

Duty


“How many?”
“Many, master. many,” the frightened peasant groveled at the junior minister’s feet.
“It’s always ‘many’ with your kind. You illiterate fools can’t count past ten. Everything looks like many to you.”
“Yes master…I mean no master.”
The minister dismissed the man with a kick to his rear. What could it mean? Even a single Bala on the move meant serious trouble. Half a dozen, a catastrophe; and many, well there probably weren’t more than a dozen Bala anywhere. A dozen Bala, now there was a frightening thought. It would mean big trouble, maybe an end to everything.
The question was what to do with the information. It was important, no doubt about that. The question was how to use it. The name of the game here was power, and, at court, knowledge was power. Any Bala on the move was a frightful thing. One or two could destroy a village. Six could level the capitol itself and bring down the government. He should report this to the chancellor right away but then the chancellor would have the knowledge and he would lose his advantage. Maybe the Chancellor would remember and throw him a crumb. He was tired of crumbs. He’d been living on crumbs for too long. Here was a chance to be invited to the feast. He could go to the Emperor directly with the news but, as a junior minister, he would have to wait weeks. No, that would never do. He needed to act immediately before others found out and he lost his advantage. Too much delay and the chancellor might learn of it himself.
As a junior minister in intelligence he was little more than a glorified file clerk. It was only by chance the peasant mistook him for someone of importance. It was his duty to tell the chancellor. Let him sound the alarm. That was what he should do but that wasn’t how one got ahead in this world. It was his job and his duty to tell the chancellor, but a little ambition never hurt anything. It was simply a matter of how one played one’s cards and, for the moment, he held a winning hand. He didn’t have much time. The peasant had seen the Bala in sector three, a three day’s march from the city. Time was short. Who could he trust to remember the junior minister? The answer, plain and simple, was no one.
He could approach General Stump. He had a solid family connection with the General. Uncle Dag was Stump’s Aide d’camp. The general could raise the army, meet the Bala outside the city and defeat them. He could almost hear the cheering throngs as a grateful emperor showered wealth and fame on its saviors. Yes, he liked that idea—wealth and fame were definitely what he wanted. This news was his ticket out of poverty. He could whisper the news to his uncle and… Ah but there it was again—the issue of control. Telling Uncle Dag would only give him the power and advance his career. The uncle would almost certainly use the knowledge to help himself or, even worse, his son, his idiot cousin. Helping others wasn’t a great career move. He wanted to be at General Stump’s side in the victory parade not cheering from the gutter. He just needed to figure all the angles.

The junior minister walked aimlessly around the city pondering how to squeeze the most gain from what he knew. Several hours later he had his answer. It was a clever plan. A bold solution. He felt relieved having reached a decision.
Suddenly he was hungry. He had not eaten since that morning. Looking around, he went into the nearest tavern and ordered a pint of lager and a meat pie. He paid with his last silver coin and received some copper ones in change. He was as poor as any man in the place and looked it. His hose was mended and his doublet worn but he owned a nugget of knowledge worth a kingdom.
He tucked into his meal with gusto. He was hungrier than he realized. He had a plan. He would act on it immediately. He shoveled the tasty pie into his face. It was good. Life was good. Soon everything would turn around. He swallowed a great mouthful and froze. A piece of meat and crust lodged in his throat and he could neither swallow it nor call for help. He rose to his feet and staggered about helpless, unable to breathe. Clearly choking to death, he caught the eye of a rough looking fellow playing cards at the next table and pointed to his throat his eyes beseeching help. The card player looked the threadbare junior minister up and down and weighed the odds. No money there. He wondered what was in it for him if he saved the stranger’s life and decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
The junior minister lost consciousness and fell to the floor. His dreams of wealth and fame and the knowledge that could save them all dying with him. His purse was taken and his body dumped in the street. Two days later the Bala came, twelve of them, and laid waste the city, killing thousands and toppling the empire.

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Old Comments

  • Idiot peasant relying on a government agent to do his duty.  It’s the story of my life!  I hope people realize the truth in the schmuck’s words to that “illiterate fool” who told only one person about what he discovered.

    We’re peasants too, mostly, right?  It’s always dangerous to put the responsibility onto the shoulders of someone who is paid not from the price that a customer in want chooses to pay, but from the taxes collected from enslaved citizens.  Thanks for the opening!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  10:09 PM
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