“Every growing city has a prosperous merchant class,” he explained. “The more prosperity they bring to Eridu, the better off even the peasants will be. They’ll see this eventually, and they’ll be grateful we took this step on their behalf.”
She bit her lower lip as he lay back down and closed his eyes again. The music droned on in her ears, and she drew a deep breath to clear her mind.
“You’ve always said that I was invaluable to you,” she said, in a slow and measured tone. “I’ve done well for you—been with you and guided you for years, since you first set your sights on Eridu for your own.”
“Of course,” said the king. “None of this—” he waved his hand above his head to indicate the garden, the musician, the rest of the house, and the city in general “—would have happened without you.”
“You used to trust my wisdom, to accept my advice,” she began, and he sat up again.
“Of course I do,” he said, softening his voice and placing a hand on her shoulder in comfort. “You have my gratitude, for all you’ve done, and for all the guidance you’ve given. I could never have taken the kingship, or established myself so securely here, without you. But I now am the king. Should I not have the final authority in deciding how to rule? Can’t I disagree with you from time to time, or think that—in this case—your soft heart is clouding your judgment?”
Her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to protest, but he hastened to correct himself, “What I mean is,” he said, “you care about the needs, the well-being, of those in your care, and in my care. We have a responsibility toward all our subjects, and you may be—in your desire to protect and prosper the poorer laborers—you may be losing sight of the good that we are doing for all.”
She shut her mouth again and took another deep breath, and the king continued, “But you are right that something must be done. I do not like these reports you are bringing. We should take some action, something that will ensure order and peace during a time of difficult change and confusion.”
Swinging his legs around to set his feet on the ground next to hers, he stood up and began to walk back and forth about the garden as she watched. “We need to show that order is still kept, that we will not tolerate theft or disturbances or cheating. You should double your patrols on the street. Instruct the guards to arrest any who start riots or lurk outside storehouses to break in. Post men at the docks and at the gates, to make sure no one smuggles in goods to sell outside the authorized markets. Any who disregard the law shall be imprisoned. Any who gather together to spread unrest or stir up trouble should be treated the same. They must learn that my word is unassailable.”
“That the word of the merchants is unassailable,” she said, unable to keep the contempt from her voice. “They at least will be pleased with your heavy-handedness, I’m sure.”