City of Sun, over the past two months, had begun experiencing immense changes which developed into increasingly dangerous tensions. Nearly everyone in the nobility felt air growing ever more oppressive whenever they’d venture out, while commoners seemed to have gained an enlightenment about life. Some quit their jobs, some left the city entirely, some demanded basic human rights while some even began their own little newspaper where they wrote articles on numerous things.
While few were left unaware of the reason for the sudden change, majority had a perfect clarity of who was behind it all: a single beggar. By now it was nigh impossible to actually discern his whereabouts and no matter what nobles did, not a single commoner they arrested or brought in for questioning ever divulged it. Felix also returned to his family and soon after began another campaign that had risen the tensions within the ranks of nobility itself.
Prince Annel was currently reviewing the situation with a terrible expression on his face. By now he’d realized the mistake he had made; he should have captured the beggar the first time he met him rather than let things escalate to this point. He was no longer able to control the situation and, as it stood, it was only a matter of time before either a civil war or a rebellion breaks out. Rather, Annel had a feeling that if beggar chose so, it could happen tomorrow morning.
The problem, both for him and the rest of those looking for the beggar, was that they didn’t know the latter’s goal. Such elaborate game certainly wasn’t just a side-activity he did in-between his begging sessions; it had to have some sort of grander purpose. Most still believed his main goal was to usurp current powers and perhaps even don a title of a high noble in exchange for calming things down.
Others believed he was sent here by one of the main, opposing forces in the Demonic Battlefield to weaken the Empire from within and steal away their focus from the battlefield itself. There was even a small minority who believed he was simply doing all this for fun, though they were mostly ignored - even mocked - by others.
However, today, Annel had invited the most prominent supporter of that theory over; his name was Je’vel Haqin and he was a small-time Baron who’d risen to such position as an public entertainer and playwright. Since the start, Je’vel was the loudest proponent of the ‘for fun’ theory, and no matter what was thrown at him, he never shrunk back which is what piqued Annel’s interest into inviting him today.
Baron Haqin was a relatively short, slightly plump man in his mid fifties. He wore a strange, white wig over his perfectly fine, black hair and had a spectacle over one of his eyes. He currently stood in front of Annel with posture of respect and submission, though not lacking confidence in the slightest.
“I assume you know why I invited you today.” Annel immediately cut to the chase as time was of essence.
“Indeed I do, Your Highness.” Baron replied in a tame, yet slightly joyed tone.
“Tell me, then,” Annel said, taking a sip of the tea. “Elaborate your reasons as to why you believe he is doing this merely out of entertainment.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Baron said, taking a deep breath. “First, it is important to note that he’d spent two years in the city without stirring much trouble; from my research, I understand he committed occasional petty crime, such as mild theft and public urination, but that was really all. Am I correct?”
“If he was a spy, specifically one sent by someone from the Battlefield, why wait so long? If his mission was to infiltrate the nobility, it would make sense to bide his time and gain our trust, but he clearly neither had nor has such intentions. Furthermore, no matter how much he riles up the commoners, a spy should know that it won’t impact the main battlefield that much. A single squadron of guards would be able to suppress whatever unrest happens to occur without too much trouble even if they do incur some wrath from commoners. It simply isn’t a feasible strategy in long term.”
“...” Annel said nothing in response, simply indicating for Baron to continue.
“On the subject of him chasing after noble title,” Baron continued, slightly quickening the pace of his speech. “Isn’t this just... a bit too much if that’s his plan? I’m fairly certain that with his intellect he could have become a noble in no time, perhaps even ascended the ranks faster than the rest of us. With all due respect, it’s not as though earning noble title through regular means is terribly difficult.”
“... still, even with all that,” Annel said. “To say he is doing all this for mere entertainment seems a bit too far fetched, no?”
“Indeed,” Baron said, smiling faintly. “It’s the manner in which he does it that gives it away.”
“Yes,” Baron nodded. “Escalation of events, in his case, isn’t a steady climb but rather an upright jump; this indicates that he was bored with his previous status and decided to chase after something more. Perhaps even bigger giveaway is his relationship with Master Felix.” Annel’s eyes shined in a strange glint for a moment which Baron naturally didn’t miss, prompting him to speak with even more confidence. “Master Felix is Duke’s son, a direct heir at that; if one has him as a follower, is there nothing in this city - or even Empire itself - they can’t acquire? Indeed, there is not. Yet, what did the beggar assign him to do? To follow him around, talk to commoners, and then go back to his family to preach. He didn’t even consider exploiting Master Felix’s background for any sort of financial or political benefit.”
“... is his value of entertainment entwined in sheer chaos? Which makes all his actions seem so random?” Annel asked, feeling slightly convinced by Baron’s words.
“Partly,” Baron explained. “It is true that he most-likely enjoys seeing chaos he himself had engineered, but I firmly believe his joy of it all comes in three layers.”
“First one is, indeed, the chaos caused by his actions,” Baron said. “Second, however, is feeling of respect he’d gained with commoners. Regardless of who it is, it’s not a terrible feeling to have so many followers willing to do your bidding. As for the third... it’s most-likely tied to nobles themselves.”
“How so?” Annel asked though he already had a vague answer in mind.
“If he truly wanted to harm nobles, there were numerous other ways to go about it,” Baron said. “To me it seems he’s simply observing our actions. He knows that it’s not that the nobles fear the commoners, or that they had some qualms about killing a few to restore the order, but that the vast majority of nobles is too used to life with servants. He’s also aware that it’s mostly commoners who do mining of Qi Stones and other precious gems, which is why he’s pressing us from that front. I believe he has no intention of actually going through with it, but the mere idea that he could gives him enough pleasure. This, in turn, ties our hands in a sense; we wouldn’t be terribly hurt if things truly do escalate to irreversible situation, but it would still leave a mark that would take a while to recover from. There would probably be even dissenters among noble ranks as they and their children would then be forced to do manual labor.”
“...” Annel stroked his chin for a few minutes, deep in thought, while baron Haqin remained standing in silence. It was nearly ten minutes later that Annel finally spoke. “In conclusion, his end-game is that... there is none?”
“I can’t say that for certain,” Baron replied, shaking his head. “Perhaps there is none and this is all just a mere fun challenge for him, but perhaps there even is a higher purpose to it all. What I can claim with certainty is that he does not intend to actually harm us, and that the whole charade, indeed, is mainly done for his personal entertainment.”
“Can you predict his future actions?” Annel.
“Is Prince intending to send him to Royal Court?” the Baron asked with some caution.
“... I don’t know. It’s a headache,” as Baron Haqin was one of Prince Annel’s supporters in court, he didn’t mind revealing a bit truth behind it all. “On one hand, he truly deserves it if for nothing else but for daring to play with us. On the other hand, he would most-likely be incredible addition to my camp.”
“... if I may so boldly say... should you acquire this man, throne is definitely secured for the future, Your Highness.” one of the reasons Baron Haqin rushed over here the moment he received his Prince’s summons was exactly this; he wanted to persuade the Prince to try and acquire the beggar’s assets - even if it means through pay rather than through loyalty - than to send him to Royal Court to be tried.
“How can you be so certain?” Annel asked, somewhat curious. Even he didn’t think beggar was that key of a piece; after all, while he was smart, he lacked any political and financial backing, making him somewhat of a liability in the long run.
“Looking at how long it took him to practically convert eighty percent of city’s commoners to follow him,” Baron explained. “I’m fairly certain he’d be able to do the exact same thing with nobles.”
“...” though Prince Annel frowned for a moment, Baron braved onward with his explanation.
“Don’t worry, Your Highness; I’m neither instigating that the commoners and nobles are equal - as they’re certainly not - nor am I instigating that the beggar himself is that smarter than us. What I am instigating is that he’s willing and able to do things we are not.”
“... hidden from the public.” Annel mumbled.
“Not only that, but also his personality.”
“Someone as free as that wouldn’t care what was being talked about him,” Baron explained. “Which means that he would do it both in open and secret. With some backing from Your Highness, he’s certain to thrive in Royal Court.”
“... I will take it into consideration,” Annel said, sighing. “For now, we ought to at least be able to figure out where he is staying.”
“Leave it to me, Your Highness. I’ll have an answer for you in a week.”
“I’ll trust you.”
As Baron Haqin left, Annel remained sitting down and drinking tea while massaging his temple gently. It was exactly the beggar’s personality that gave Annel a headache; as Baron said, he truly would do well in court due to it, but he would also be a massive liability. Someone as free-spirted as him would never be tied down with loyalty, and benefits would eventually run out.
Kill him afterwards? Annel hadn’t even considered it once. Not only would it set a dangerous precedent, it would also demoralize his entire camp and decrease loyalty of others. Let him go? If Annel was certain the beggar would leave Empire for good and never return, he’d let him go in a heartbeat and with enormous amount of resources at that. Can that be ascertained? Definitely not.
In the end, though, he would still have to talk with the beggar. He’d only had one, brief conversation where he let himself be dragged into beggar’s pace, leaving Annel little room to learn more about the former. If he could know his story... he would know a way to chain him. That is way greater certainty than trying to buy him with gold.