Duncan Gilmore, Duke of Eldaria, was not an attractive man. He was well-aware of this – it wasn’t exactly a secret to him, or to his wife, or to anyone else in the kingdom for that matter. He was more or less used to it now and paid no attention to the whispers of adults and stares of children that followed him every time he walked through the streets of Eldaria. He did think it might have been fairer if he could have been blessed with brains in lieu of good looks, but no – his big brother Maxwell had gotten both. Duncan had always been a straight-D student; his report cards always contained notes like Duncan tries his best, and Everyone learns differently, and, on one occasion, just a drawing of a smiling tree with no words on the report card at all.
Duncan felt like he had tried his best, and that he really did learn differently, but his parents were less inclined to be so understanding. They had tried over and over to get him to make better grades, to go on dates, to brush his hair once in a while. But none of it had worked, and eventually they paid him no attention at all. Maxwell was the one they needed to worry about – he was going to be king, after all, and a great one at that. So while Maxwell was being pampered and groomed, Duncan was watching from afar, – sometimes literally – his feelings of discontent seething inside him until he was filled with hatred for his family.
About ten years ago, he had decided his life needed a change. He deserved to be king, not Maxwell. Sure, he wasn’t as qualified for the job as Maxwell, and would likely make a terrible king, but the people wanted a leader who was one of them, an everyman, not some perfect-looking guy who used words like “indubitably.” Duncan had no idea what that word meant, but Maxwell used it as if it was going out of style: “If we don’t attack at dawn, we will indubitably perish,” “This is indubitably the best apple pie I have ever had,” “Duncan, you had better stop setting traps for the livestock or you will indubitably be grounded.” It had driven Duncan nuts. But of course their parents had loved it. They thought Maxwell was so smart for knowing such a big word, and had even given him a blue ribbon to hang on his bulletin board in his room as a reward. It took all of Duncan’s willpower not to rip the ribbon in half every time he saw it.
Looking back now, Duncan could see that the ribbon was really the last straw. Duncan had once managed to spell three new words and invent a torture device in one week, and did he get a ribbon? No, he had gotten sent to the school counselor.
Tired of being treated so unfairly for so many years, he had finally devised a plot: He hired mercenaries to break into the palace and kidnap his parents in the dead of night. They mercenaries had only one rule to follow – to make sure his parents never returned to Eldaria. In hindsight, Duncan realized he should have set a few more rules, as the mercenaries returned and said they dropped off his parents at an unknown, far away island, but they had forgotten which island and didn’t mark it on a map or even write down any visible landmarks to help identify the path they had taken. For all Duncan knew, the island was right off the coast and his parents were making their way back at this very moment. But he tried not to think about that.
The second part of his plan had been to take care of his brother in a similar fashion – he told the mercenaries to find the driest, most lifeless place in the known world and take Maxwell there, and – after marking the location carefully on a map – leave him there forever, without so much as a drop of water to sustain him. Unfortunately, once his parents were kidnapped and it was clear they weren’t coming back, Eldaria had crowned Maxwell as their king. As a result, the security team for Maxwell nearly doubled, and though the mercenaries tried on three separate occasions, they were never able to kidnap the new king. Duncan’s lack of forethought seemed to smack him in the face when he realized he probably should have had Maxwell kidnapped first, and then his parents, or possibly have them kidnapped simultaneously, so that Duncan would have been the only choice left for the crown. He tried to compensate for his stupidity by making a few half-hearted attempts to have Maxwell kidnapped over the years, but none of them were ever successful, and eventually he stopped trying altogether.
Until recently. Mere weeks ago he had thought of the greatest plan to ever be planned in the history of planning. It would require careful scheduling, some bribery, and a lot of patience, but Duncan was determined not to fail again. It had come to him in the dead of night, as he lay sleeping next to Benjamina, his tabby cat, in their room in the palace basement.
“I’ve finally got it” he told the cat, who had jumped off the bed in fear. “Don’t look at me like that, Mina. I’m sorry for waking you. But listen to my idea!”
Benjamina hissed at him.
“Okay, so we want to rule the kingdom, right? And the only way to do that is if all the other heirs are dead or missing, right?” Benjamina didn’t respond. “Trust me, that’s how it works,” he continued, pacing back and forth in front of his bed. “Getting to my brother would be nearly impossible – the security detail alone could stop a small army, not to mention all the other guards in the hallways and whatnot. But what about the Prince?”
Benjamina purred and lay down on the floor.
“Yes, Mina, I know he has a security detail, too. But I also know that he sneaks away from his guards on a regular basis – clearly there are a few holes in the security. If we are careful and keep an eye on him, we can catch him unawares and kidnap him! And I know what you’re thinking – my plan only takes care of the boy, and not Maxwell. But Maxwell and Trudy will be so distraught over their missing son that they will gratefully accept when I offer to take on the role, just temporarily of course, until they feel better about the whole losing their son thing. Then, once Eldaria crowns me as their King, I will banish my brother forever!” He punctuated his thought with a fist in the air, as if inspiring a room full of invisible troops before battle.
The tabby yawned and rolled over, apparently unimpressed with Duncan’s idea.
“It’ll work, Benjamina. You’ll see! All I have to do is find those mercenaries again… I hope I saved their address.” He had rifled through his desk drawers until he had found the contact information he sought, and wrote the mercenaries a letter on the spot.
Now, three weeks later, he was biding his time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Planning a kidnapping was tricky, he’d learned – you needed enough people there so you wouldn’t stand out as the only suspect, but not so many that they got in your way as you tried to wrestle a grown man in a potato sack out of his room and onto a horse. Of course, Duncan himself wouldn’t be doing the kidnapping, but he didn’t want the mercenaries to get caught, either – it would be too easy to trace it back to him. Besides, he had gotten their services at a discount this time and he hated to waste a good bargain.
The judging for the queen’s annual crocheting contest was to take place that evening – perhaps after the excitement from the contest died down, the palace wouldn’t be so crowded and he could set his plan in motion. The mercenaries were on call for the entire week, which was costing him a fortune, but Duncan considered it a small price to pay for ultimate power. The idea that it could be achieved as early as that evening was so exciting that he allowed himself one small giggle. No one was around to hear it except Benjamina, and she didn’t mind.