Writing Prompt: “A rebel leader is captured and thrown into the dungeons. But instead of torturing or executing them, the king asks why they’re revolting.”
The rebel leader sat on a rusty metal chair with a dark hood over his head. His heart was beating fast and his breath was shaky. He didn’t know what the king was going to do to him, but he knew it wasn’t going to be good. Pain. Torture. Death. It was all a possibility.
As he prepared for that, he heard the footfalls of large, military boots. Several people surrounded him and one ripped off the dark hood.
“Don’t move,” One shouted at him and the rebel leader sat still.
A bit of light shone in to a window behind him, making a little bit of the cell visible. It was a cold, damp dungeon made of stone and metal. A place deep underground where people couldn’t find you or hear your screams.
Directly around the rebel leader were four people in military uniform pointing military grade rifles at him.
Two more military personnel stepped forward, out of the shadows, and placed a metal folding chair 15 feet in front of him. Then a third individual stepped forward into the light. The rebel leader couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was the king.
“Come to kill me, yourself?” The rebel leader asked.
“Silence,” One of the military men on the left side of him aid as he jabbed the rebel leader with the tip of his rifle.
The king sat down without saying a word and gestured for one of his people to come forward. A woman stepped forward. She wore a military uniform but did not have a rifle unlike the other six military personnel. Instead she held a wooden box and opened it for the king.
The king reached into the box and pulled out a cigar.
“Thanks,” The king muttered and the woman bowed before taking a few steps backwards into the shadows.
The king then pulled out a small, metallic lighter. It produced a small flame which illuminated a part of the kings face. His eyes were still hidden in darkness, but the rebel leader noticed his sour expression and deep age lines on his face.
The king lit the cigar and inhaled, the end of the cigar lighting up as he did. He then pulled the cigar away and exhaled a cloud of smoke. He did this a couple more times as the rebel leader sat in the metal chair and watched.
What was the king doing? Was this psychological? Was he just plotting, studying the leader who stood in opposition to him.
After a couple minutes, the king held the cigarette to his side and spoke.
“Un-cuff him,” The king said.
He spoke with a tone that the rebel leader couldn’t quite place. It was direct and strong but had a tinge of weariness and exhaustion.
“Behave yourself or we will shoot you,” The same military man said. “Do you understand?”
The rebel leader sat there, not saying a word, just studying the king.
The military man kicked the rusty chair.
“I said, do you understand?”
“Yes. Yes,” The rebel leader said.
One of the other military personnel took a step forward and lowered his weapon for a second. He pulled a small key from his belt and undid the metal cuffs that were holding the rebel leader’s wrists. A bit of numbness began to fade as the rebel leader brought his hands forward and rubbed his wrists. The military man stepped back and pointed his rifle at the rebel again.
Now the rebel leader was no longer bound to the chair but he had four people pointing rifles at his head. Two more people in front of him standing beside the king, and the possibility of more military people standing in the shadows, unseen.
“What are you going to do to me?” The rebel leader asked.
The king took another puff off his cigar.
“We are going to talk,” The king said.
“Torturing me is meaningless. I’d rather die than tell you anything,” The rebel leader said.
“Nobody said anything about torture,” The king muttered. “If I wanted to torture you, I would have done it already.”
There was a few stifled chuckles from the people with guns.
“Then what do you want?” The rebel leader asked.
The king blew another cloud of smoke and leaned forward so the rebel leader could see his entire face. The king then dropped what was rest of his cigar onto the stone floor and moved his heavy, military boot to step on it and put it out.
He cleared his throat and then readjusted himself so he was sitting up straight on the metal chair.
“It is not what I want. It is what you want. You and your protesters. Rioters. The people in the street,” The king said.
As he spoke, his voice stayed even without much emotion. No anger or disgust. Just a never wavering sense of seriousness.
“I…I don’t understand,” The rebel leader said.
“This. Is a negotiation. I am hearing your demands. That’s what you want, right?”
The king let out a small sigh.
“You know I was just like once. I know it might be hard to think that, but I was,” The king said. “I was a young man born with nothing to my name but a passion for change. I saw what my country was becoming. The rich screwing over the poor over and over again while getting us to point fingers at one another. The communists, socialists, fascists, anarchists, and federalists all fighting one another for the crumbs the aristocrats threw after their feasts. I was angry, but powerless.”
The king paused for a second and motioned again to the shadows.
The woman from earlier stepped forward and leaned down to him. The king whispered in her ear and nodded. She turned and grabbed something before handing it to him. It was a plastic water bottle he brought to his mouth and sipped.
The rebel leader felt a twinge of pain in his stomach. He was also thirsty.
The king noticed the rebel leader’s reaction.
“Are you thirsty?” The king asked.
The rebel leader hesitated.
What if this was some sort of trick. Some way to make the him show weakness or some way to get poison into his system.
He hesitated for a second before giving a slight nod.
“Give him some water,” The king said and the woman nodded.
She grabbed another plastic bottle and began walking toward the rebel leader. The woman walked slowly, and the rebel leader saw that she had a worried expression on her face as she got closer to him.
“No funny business,” The military man said as he kicked the rusty chair again.
The woman twisted the plastic cap off the bottle and then placed it the rebel leader’s hands which were currently resting in his lap. He slowly extended his finger and grasped the bottle.
“Thanks,” The rebel leader said.
The woman quickly backed up and returned to her position, standing in the shadows.
The rebel leader slowly raised the bottle to his lips and drank the cool, refreshing water.
The king took another sip of water before continuing.
“Not knowing what I could do to change the system, I got together with a few other people in my community. Young hotheads like me with nothing to lose. We spoke about revolution. About guillotines in town’s square. We wanted to burn this world to the ground and start over with the pile of ashes. Of course these were just heated words. Words are powerful things, but without action they fall short. You need a group of people willing to put everything on the line. People who will stop at nothing until they see change. Of course you know all about that.”
The king let out a small chuckle.
“Whenever I asked people to pledge themselves to the cause, they always got cold feet. Things aren’t that bad, they’d say. Things were that bad. But they were willing to lie to themselves. They told themselves they were fine with the scarps. With the dust and the dirt.”
“However things changed. It was a hot summer day and children were out playing the street. A military truck rolled down the street. One of their routine sweeps through the poorer parts of town looking for anyone who might give them trouble. While the kids were playing, their ball got away from them and rolled down the streets. A young girl ran forward to grab the ball.”
The king paused for a second. He raised one of his hands to his face and wiped away a tear.
“That little girl just wanted a moment of joy. A bit of happiness in this god forsaken word. Instead the military shot her. They shot her over a dozen times. They later claimed that they saw movement and thought it was someone trying to rush the truck. Attack the troops, steal weapons. All of it was nothing but lies. They killed an innocent girl in cold blood in the middle of the day. That was the final straw. People were no longer content with how things were.”
“I found myself as people in my community turned to. They heard my angry words and now they looked at me for what they should do next. I lead marches began day and night. People yelled and screamed. Angry words demanding change. They were no longer content with staying on the sidelines. Even when the government fought back with gas canisters and rubber munitions, we marched. Through the blood and the tears and the smoke, we marched. Then they shot us with water cannons. They attacked protesters with batons. They tried to tire us out, knock us down, and sow seeds of failure. But nothing would stop us. We had the momentum on our side. We had the international spotlight on our side. We had justice on our side.”
The king paused again and the soldiers shuffled a bit, readjusting their grip on the rifles pointed at the rebel leader’s head.
The king cleared his throat and took another sip of water. The rebel leader mirrored the king and brought the water bottle to his lips.
“When the government knew they could not win, they took it as a sign to go for a new, more violent approach. Nothing was off limits now. We thought we were on the precipice of victory, but not before the bloodiest part of the revolution. I thought I saw enough people bloodied and bruised when the bullets were rubber, but that was nothing compared to the bullets made of lead. During the days there was mostly peaceful marches. Communities of people marching in the streets. But at night, things got violent. The military attacked us and shot at us. They killed us. Slaughtered us. The ultimate sacrifice. Blood and life for a chance that our brothers and sisters would see peace.”
The king leaned forward and grabbed the bottom of his left pant leg. He slowly raised it and turned so the rebel leader could see his bare skin. There was a deep scar running up the back of his leg.
“I was in the street when the military began to fire. I ran as fast as I could away from the sound of gunfire, but one struck me in the back of the leg, lodging itself in my tibia. Luckily I was able to get to a make shift doctor who ran an emergency room out of an old blender factory. He cut most of the bullet out of my leg with a knife and cauterized the wound. Left a nasty scar, but I survived. After that it was a long week of bloodshed before the government finally gave up. We fought tooth and nail for every city block, every inch of dirt road. But eventually the crowds of people were too much. They could not kill all of us. They surrendered capitol square and the killing stopped. We were in charge. We had won.”
“Of course winning was really just another beginning. I’m not sure how it happened but I found myself surrounded by people turning to me, asking me what was next. They spoke of me like I was some sort of divine sovereign. Someone meant to lead. But really I was just the same person deep down. Just someone born with nothing with angry words, but now I had a bullet in my leg and people depending on me. It took a few weeks, but eventually the power was handed over to me and I became king. It was never my intention to become the monarch, but I thought I could use this power for good. I no longer had to worry about the squabbles of the socialists, communists, or federalists. Now my word was law. I had the power to eliminate poverty, sickness, and suffering. Or at least I thought. People thought I was some sort of divine, but even the crown had its limits.”
The king rolled his pant leg back down and finished off his bottle of water.
“I tried my best to lead my people. I tried to bring equality to them all. I tried to bring them out of the dirt and dust. I tried to deliver on my promises to them. But I fell short. The factions were still there. The divisions were so deep. The corporations, the unions, the religious fanatics, and the diplomats all muddied my vision. I moved the country forward but I felt like I was literally dragging some people along. Years of ruling all filled with their own challenges and their own pressures. The weight of the people and the crown grew heavy and I thought it would crush me. Things soured quickly and grew worse and worse. Too many fires to put out with no water to be found.”
The king cleared his throat and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and coughed deeply a few times into it. The woman emerged again and stood beside him, but he waved her off. A few more coughs and then began to finish his story.
“Of course you know the rest. I heard rumors of mass dissidence spreading across the country. Young people with fresh ideas and angry words all speaking to each other about revolution.”
The rebel leader shifted a bit in his chair.
“Then people began marching in the streets demanding that I step down. I heard the echoes of the past calling out my name. I heard the angry words and every single one was like a dagger in my chest, a bullet through my flesh.”
The king trailed off and there was a brief moment of silence.
“So now we are here,” The king said. “You sitting in that chair and me in mine. We are going to talk about your revolution and what you want. I will hear your words and then I will make a decision. One that will once again change the history of our country, understand?”
The military men lowered their weapons and took a step back from the rebel leader.
“Yes, I understand,” The rebel leader said as his eyes met the king’s.
Header Photo Credit to Wade Martin on Art Station
Writing Prompt submitted to r/WritingPrompts by u/Athletic_Seafood