“These are taxes, sir. Not an invading force,” Hildern spoke with a flat tone.

His voice was ground down to quiet sandpaper, through years of yelling over the royal court and smoking as much hogsleaves as he could get his hands on. The others at the table listened intently, as he did not speak lightly anymore.

Hildern wore the sigil of the treasury. The golden triangle, lines meeting in the middle. Fine clothes, velvets and furs. Each article made by the most expensive tailor in the capitol.

He had been the treasurer before the uprising, and his skills were necessary if the rebel king wanted to keep power, no matter what ends they desired.

No one had anything to say, and the Rebel King, Jotun, struggled to find the words to throw at his man.

“Taxes must be weighed. Too much and another revolt happens,” Hildern took a deep breath, “And too little, our enemies will see weakness, and attack.”

Jotun slammed his fist in the great, long, wooden table. It echoed through the hall, and everyone jumped except for the old man.

“I fought for the people! I will not tax them to death!” He bellowed.

“Then they will know the conflict of the rebellion, and then the conflict of war. You will mar a generation with bloodstains, instead of the peace you promised,” Hildern clutched his chest and took another breath, straining.

Jotun stood up, unable to contain his anger while sitting on the throne.

He adjusted the crown on his head with a frown. Long furs draped over his shoulders, and flowed onto the floor as he paced. The symbol of his previous clan, and the royal seal were both adorned to him as pins. The red dog’s paw for the clan, and the stag for monarchy.

“I am calling on your expertise. All of you. I do not want more war. And I despise the thought of more taxes on the people I pledged to,” Jotun pointed at the finely dressed, nervous officials at the table.

The Captain of the guard cleared his throat.

“What we have done in the past, your highness, is declare a threat from the inside. For this occasion we would proclaim through the churches that there are spies from our enemies from the north. This has happened in the past, so it is not unnatural. We make executions, and it pleases the people to see a show of safety.”

The room was silent, and The Captain’s face grew redder by the second.

Jotun simply stared at the man. After a few moments he spoke.

“You would execute innocent people?” his head turned as he said it.

“Not necessarily, your highness. We execute criminals regularly. We would also declare them spies upon the day of execution,” he nodded.

“I am nauseated by the thought,” the giant man in the crown said.

Hildern rapped his cane against the table then began, “Then you will have more revolts. More chaos. More deaths. And someone more horrible than you can imagine will grab hold of the reins, and they will bring suffering to their own,” he took a breath, “On a scale you cannot imagine.”

“You know this as truth?” Jotun raised an eyebrow.

“It is written in the books. When a system crumbles the most vicious inherit the throne,” the old man said.

The room stood still. Jotun pondered the old man’s words, leaning against the table, staring at something in his mind. Everyone waited for a command, for any certainty.

“We declare spies. And we keep the idea that forces will come from a neighbor,” Jotun declared as he rose.

Hildern rapped his cane with force, “And the taxes, your highness?”

“We keep them as is. I will not siphon the life from the people I fought for.”

He turned to leave.

The Military advisor spoke up, “Then we will run into more problems, your highness!”

“No more meetings! We are done for today! Now leave!” Jotun bellowed, uncertain of himself.

He turned, and the flowing furs shot to his right. His weight shifted, and in a sudden rage he tore them from his shoulders. Jotun left them on the floor, and huffed out of the room.

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