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Who would have thought that tyranny was so difficult? I had seen many previous leaders whimsically throw their citizens’ lives away, over as little as a stone stolen from the palace garden.
After twenty-three years of hard work, I overthrew my governors, and took hold. Finally, I was in control. Yet somehow, I felt more in control before I was leader than now as the dictator.
I slumped in the throne. The doors were thrown open. Two guards armed with pistols threw a scraggy looking man on his stomach in front of me. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was having difficulty getting up.
“Stand him up.” I ordered. The guards complied, and I saw the familiar face of a criminal. “What’s he here for this time?”
One guard started talking, but was interrupted by the shouting ruffian.
“I AM ACCUSED OF STANDING UP TO OUR OPPRESSORS!”
“No need to shout, boy.” I readjusted myself in the seat, and looked into his eyes. “What did you do this time? Kill anyone?”
The rough-haired man stared at my eyes in silence. A guard spoke for him.
“He preached against you in public court, an offence punishable by death.”
“Really? When did that law pass?”
“It was the fourth of your new decrees when you became leader.”
I nodded. The criminal continued to stare defiantly into my eyes. I caught a glimpse of his familiar face, but had to turn away.
“Surely, there’s a way to bypass that law?”
“If you allow it this time, you will only encourage further disobedience from your people.” The guard had a point. I cringed and rubbed my forehead.
“Stand down, guards. Leave us alone for a minute. I’d like to speak to the man alone.” The guards looked in confusion at each other, and hesitantly left the room. I sighed, and stepped down towards the criminal.
“You have no choice. You will have to kill me. If you don’t, the people will think you are softening up. And you will have a new uprising.”
“I…” I hesitated. “I will help you escape. If you run away, then I can feign a search for you. I can organize transport to another country. You will be safe outside. I… I have no power in other countries.”
The man was silent. He stared forwards defiantly.
“Are you offering me exile?”
“No. I’m offering you freedom. Life.” I walked around and undid the man’s handcuffs. “There. Go. Run.”
His hands remained behind his back, as I walked back to my throne.
“I would recommend that you call your guards back in.” He said.
“If I do that, then you won’t be able to leave!”
“I don’t want to leave. I need to be here.”
“But you’ll be killed!”
“You passed the law. You enforce it.”
I looked away. I couldn’t kill this man. It would cancel out everything I had done to get there.
“Is that really what you want? Martyrdom?” My eyes were starting to water, so I hid them with my hand.
There was a loud crash. I looked through teary eyes at the man, who had thrown a vase and its pedestal to the ground. He angrily ran towards another ornament, and kicked it over.
The guards burst in with their guns at head height.
“No!” I stood up and put my hand up powerlessly.
The man stared furiously at one of the hesitating guards, and started advancing on him. The guard looked at me in confusion, and quickly fired a shot into the criminal’s shoulder. The man screamed but continued to walk forwards. He swung at the guard, crunching face with fist.
The other guard took his baton and hit the criminal over the back of the head, instantly concussing him.
I took my chances to visit the man in his holding cell on death row two days later. Perhaps I could convince him now to leave.
“There is transport waiting out the back. I have organized everything necessary for you to go. Please at least consider it. For my sake.”
The man was quiet. He hadn’t eaten in a while, and his skin was pale. His hair and beard were scruffy, and he had scratches on his exposed skin.
But his eyes remained calm.
“I know what I need to do. I can’t leave now.”
I sat down on the wooden cell bench next to him.
“There is nothing that I can do to convince you then.”
I breathed in, then out.
“I guess… I see the error of my ways? Is that what you wanted? For me to admit that I’m doing bad?”
“Well there’s not much I can do now, is there?” I rubbed my forehead. “If I make a sudden change in my ruling, I would make myself vulnerable. I would be overthrown in an instant. People would see that I have a weakness, and they would play on that to no end.”
“So can you see? Even if you die now, I can’t change my tyranny. What is the point of dying now, if you know it won’t change anything?”
He was silent.
“Why do you want to die, given a choice now?”
“I simply have to. If I don’t die, if I run away, then I’ll have nothing left to live for.” He looked at me. “There’s nothing much else but this for me.”
I nodded. There was nothing that I could say at all to sway him. I stood up. I walked to the door of the holding cell. “You’ve put me in a difficult place. I don’t know what I can do.”
“There is only one thing you can do,” he said. “You’ll have to kill me, father.”
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