“Damn it all, Lieutenant. He’s gone too far this time.” Captain Zemlander of the City Guard stood on the battlements of the First Bastion, looking down at the angry mob forming below. Amongst the masses of ragged peasants with torches and pitchforks he could even see the occasional leather or mail-armored soldier waving a sword.
“What do you mean, Captain?” Lieutenant Beckerman frowned at his superior officer. “Who has gone too far? You know who is organizing all of this?”
“No. I don’t mean them. I mean the King. His new tax, the so-called ‘tax collection tax’ that’s supposedly to charge people for the privilege of having their taxes collected. No wonder the people are up in arms. I really can’t say I blame them, can you?”
“Well, sir. I mean… we’re oath-bound to serve the Kingdom, aren’t we?”
Zemlander looked down again and winced as one of the Guard were pulled from the steps of the building and dragged into the crowd. Bits of Guard armor were ejected randomly, but the body disappeared under the mass of humanity.
He turned away, a look of disgust on his face. “That was Henrik, the poor bastard. He was oath-bound to serve the Kingdom, and look where it got him. Anyway, it’s not just the new tax, is it? It’s all the other new taxes over the past year. Taxes on windows, on doors, on the number of people living under one roof, the tax for actually having a roof.”
“We’re at war, sir. It’s needed to fund the army.” Beckerman appeared almost insulted by the sudden verbal attack on their monarch – certainly more so than by the physical one on his subordinate below.
“The army? Please be serious, Beckerman. He disbanded half the army last month. That’s why they’re out there in the crowd. They have no job, nowhere to live. They were just dumped on the city and told to find a way to fit in, when nobody has any money to employ them. All this talk of goblins coming down out of the mountains? It was just an excuse to further fill the royal coffers.”
Beckerman gave him an uncomfortable look. “I’m sorry, sir, but I really can’t listen to any more of this. The King is our sovereign ruler, chosen by the gods. It’s our place to follow his commands.”
Zemlander walked towards the stairs, unbuckling his breastplate as he went. “Come with me, Beckerman.”
“Sir?” The Lieutenant followed him down the spiral stone staircase that disappeared into the depths of the First Bastion. Originally part of the castle that the city was formed around, it now paled into insignificance next to the Royal Palace, even more so since the present King had added four new wings, including one incredibly lavish one of gold and glass to house his new state ballroom.
“They’re not going to stop. Not until they break through the gates and get to the palace itself. We don’t have the numbers to hold them off. Half the first shift didn’t even show up this morning. I think I actually spotted a few of them out in the crowd.”
“Traitors!” Beckerman exclaimed.
“Really? And when he decides the next place he can make cuts is in the City Guard? What then? What about when it’s your family starving, while he continues to have the best food shipped in from the south for the court? What happens when it’s your brother’s farm that gets burned down by the King’s ‘collectors’ for being unable to pay more gold than he actually has? Remember this, Beckerman, our oath is to the Kingdom. Not to the King. The Kingdom also means the city, the farms, the villages. The people.”
They reached the ground floor and kept going, into the old dungeons. “Sir, I don’t understand. Do you have a plan of some kind? An escape tunnel, perhaps?”
“Lock me up, Beckerman. This one, right here.” Captain Zemlander pointed to the small, filthy cell. After the city prison had been built, the cells in the First Bastion were only rarely used. “Oh, yes. You’ll need a reason. The King is an ass.” He unbuckled his sword belt, and let it drop with a clatter.
Beckerman’s eyes went wide. “Sir?”
“You heard me. I’ve now broken that new law of his. Arrest me and lock me up. At least when the mob arrives they’ll see I’m one of them and not one of… us.”
“I… I see, Sir.”
Zemlander threw his mail gloves onto the floor outside the cell. “You don’t call me that any more, Beckerman. I just forfeited my command. To you, I believe: you’ve got seniority. I noticed Lieutenant Lanniker was out in the crowd too.”
Lieutenant Beckerman paused for a moment. “I see. Well, I’ll be right back, sir. I mean, Citizen Zemlander.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going?”
“To get Sergeant Winterstein.” The name of the grizzled old veteran made Zemlander go pale; Winterstein also doubled as the city executioner for those who had committed serious crimes.
“Winterstein? Wait… You’re going to have him kill me?”
“Of course not! But I’m going to need him, aren’t I?”
“What for, Beckerman?” asked Zemlander.
Beckerman gave his former commander a grin. “To lock me in the next cell along, of course!”