Content Warning: Violence, law enforcement brutality
“You’re unhappy with this, I know,” he said, returning to stand in front of her, and grasping her hands in his. “But can’t you just trust me, as I’ve always trusted you? I have learned much from you.”
She looked up from their clasped hands to meet his eyes, and they shone with an earnest vulnerability she could not disregard. “Yes, I’ll trust you,” she said. “We will do as you wish.”
“Excellent!” he cried. “But not now, I beg of you, for the last time. Will you please end your labors, just for a few hours? The time for the evening meal is at hand; eat with me. I have missed our quiet dinners together while we’ve been out chasing away those troublesome sheep-herders.”
“Very well,” she said, and he led her out of the garden, calling loudly for the servants.
The stink of fish rose up from below, filling her mouth and nostrils as she stood on the roof of the palace, looking down at the turmoil filling the city. Mottled green and brown and silver carcasses covered the streets in every direction, dumped there methodically by a near endless stream of the men who had caught them and refused to sell them at the low prices offered to them by the merchants. Her guards, rushing to and fro to chase after the recalcitrant fishermen, slipped and floundered every few steps, cursing and growling out their planned retribution. She might have laughed to see it, except that whenever a guard did lay hands on one of them, he made sure to beat the fisherman into senseless compliance before hauling him away to the now-overflowing prison.
Still, the delivery of unwanted and rotting fish continued, with new carts arriving every few moments from she knew not where; the fishers had obviously planned their protest well and did not intend to let the threat of imprisonment deter them.
The supply must run out eventually, but she knew it would take some time, for ever since she had posted guards at the docks, as the king had instructed, no fish had been sold on the secret, unofficial markets—or on the official markets, either. The community of the fishers, finally disgusted with the rigged system thrust upon them, had colluded to store up their product rather than sell at a crippling discount. The farmers, meanwhile, had complied, shuffling in through the checkpoints she had established with only the occasional mutter of rebellion, but even their numbers had decreased. Her informants had brought news that many were consuming their wares themselves, or engaging in trade with each other outside the city, since in this way they would lose less of their profits. After only three days of the king’s restrictions, those within the city, who relied on produce from outside the walls for survival were already beginning to grumble. Soon she would have to call upon the merchants to ration sales of food as the supply dwindled.
The additional guards she had assigned to patrol the districts that housed the storerooms and warehouses had caught only a few suspicious folk lurking as if with intent to steal, but as no further thefts had occurred, the king had expressed himself satisfied. He had grown even more triumphant when she tallied up the number of potential rioters now occupying the prison, for she had made a discovery that had led her, time after time, to uncovering the locations of their secret meetings.