The Poacher

There was once a nation governed by three rulers. One of the three rulers decided to leave to found a new country elsewhere, but the populace didn't know until he had intentions to leave until the last possible moment. They had a very short time to take down all the banners and statues depicting his likeness. There was a kind of relief mingled with sadness that drifted down upon the people as they did this. On one hand, they felt freed from his over-sized personality and his constant need for tribute. On the other hand, the province he governed had flourished under his rule. With him gone, what was to stop that region from falling under the sway of bandits or pirates or worse, ninjas?

So, it was with heavy heart that the populace prepared for his departure. The other rulers gave speeches and sent out decrees proclaiming the continued stability of their great country, despite the loss of this long-time ruler. They insisted that nothing would change, nothing at all. If anything, they insisted, the people had long complained about feeling overworked on their behalf - being led by three rulers with distinct personalities can be exhausting - and therefore having only two might result in a more relaxing lifestyle.

No one really believed this. As the day for the third ruler's departure approached, the population grew nervous. Tension erupted into small arguments, then riots in temples and marketplaces and public squares. There came rumor that many of the sub-lieutenants and bureaucrats were sliding out from their positions and abandoning the infrastructure. Were this to happen suddenly, it could mean a vast destabilization of the whole region and financial ruin for some citizens. Public town halls were held, all trying to get to the bottom of who might be leaving the country, but the citizens left each town hall meeting more confused than they had been walking in.

The whispers continued. Some said the departing ruler's trusted Governor had already left the country on his master's order. There was so much anxiety. Others suggested that wide swaths of the population were packing up, preparing to cross borders and follow the departing ruler wherever he went. Nobody seemed to know what was happening.

I can't reveal my name or station, but I was one of those few who was asked to leave my country and help the ruler start a new one. He came to me in the shadows, long before the official announcement, and asked me if I would consider a new post abroad. He swore me to secrecy and ordered me not to tell a soul.

I immediately did my best to negotiate a better position for myself, starting with calls for better pay and an improved station. In the weeks that followed, decrees from the ruler all but disappeared. Some speculated that he had already left. It was then that I learned more about the new country he meant to found. It wasn't a brand new country, in fact, but an city-state offshoot from a large, formidable country to the south. They weren't the sort of pre-industrial nation we were, but in fact, a huge, monolithic war-faring state, making its money from broad, bold ventures, bloodshed, and exploitation. I began to have my doubts. What service could I, an adviser from a small and peaceful nation, provide to such a huge juggernaut of a country?

I waited for an offer from the new city-state for an official post, but nothing came. I got nervous. While our departing ruler initially painted his maneuver as an autonomous one, giving himself all the power, I grew skeptical that he had much power at all. He had been asked, just after his official announcement, if anyone was leaving with him, and he answered, 'no.' Perhaps he was just a pawn for the Leaders of the huge country to the south. It seemed clear he was just scared. Had the other two rulers pushed him out? Had he heard of an impending assassination?

If an offer for my new post came at the last possible moment, my leaving the country could be seen as treasonous. I needed the weeks it took to apply for a work certificate and to notify all the proper channels, but the way this was playing out, I had no time left to do that. If I made the decision to leave, I was diving into the unknown, and changing the course of my life in ways I didn't remotely understand. I felt deaf and blind without more information. I sent out an urgent telegram to the leader and got one short reply. It read: "I know as much as you. Stay or leave, but make up your mind, now!"

I deserved the opportunity. That much I knew. But above all, I deserved the opportunity to do it with integrity and to do it with a modicum of information about what to expect. I had none of that. The ruler facing imminent departure now struck me as a coward. To the people, and to his fellow rulers, he made his new venture sound like the bold, brave moves of a conquering hero. But for us, those who had been asked to leave with him but given no information, no direction, no promises, no decrees, and nothing but whispers and half-truths... we had so much more to lose than he did. And he didn't seem to care.


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