This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is called Right vs. Wrong. We have been tasked to write up to 1,000 words on one of two themes contrasting right vs. wrong. I chose the first one, “Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil” and wrote exactly 1,000 words. I tried to go back to my fantasy roots in this story. It ended up more in the Guy Gavriel Kay flavor of fantasy than anything else. Please to enjoy.
I sit at my desk. The letter, already burning my soul, lies unfolded on the scratched wooden surface. My eyes are closed, my head cradled in my hands. I don’t need to read the letter again; its contents are etched into every fiber of my being.
They arrived last night. Castaways, refugees, call them what you will. They are the sad remnant of a once proud city, fleeing war, starvation, and disease. They scattered in all directions as their homes burned to the ground. These few have made their way to our city and rest unsteadily upon the sward between the city walls and the forest. Their fists pound weakly upon our gates, the echoes of their cries growing fainter as the rigors of their ordeal catch up to them.
I sent Brother Mikel and Sister Susurrah out into their camp, a team of nurses and healers with them, and a squad of soldiers to guard them from any depredation. There was none, of course. These folk are weary and weak after a long journey. They are hungry and sick and so, so tired. They have no strength left to visit any sort of mischief upon us.
The good Brother and Sister met with their leaders and spoke to them, gently drawing them out of their stupor, gleaning as best they could the disjointed story of the events that had led them to our city. Satisfied with what they learned, they made their way into the camp itself, speaking to the people, examining them, measuring their condition, both physical and emotional.
Brother Mikel’s report lies before me now, underneath the letter. Sister Sussurah’s addendum is no less damning. These people are weary. They are starving.
Their city was besieged for months as they sat behind thick stone walls and waited. They thought themselves safe from attack. And they were safe, against a physical attack. Then the food began to run short, tempers began to flare, and they suddenly found that, against a biological attack, they had little defense.
Their enemies used catapults to fling diseased corpses over their walls into their streets. They had not realized the bodies were diseased, of course, and by the time they grasped the truth, a Spads plague was sweeping the city. Half their population died in less than a week. They had no choice but to open their gates and flee into the teeth of the waiting armies of their attackers.
Hundreds more died trying to get outside the walls, laid low by arrow and sword. Those that managed to escape gathered in the hills west of their city and watched it burn. Then they turned their backs and began searching for a new home. Some went north, some further west. Some even built rafts and boats and set out east upon the Great Sea. Others came south. Those eventually arrived here, crying out at our gates.
They are upon our doorstep, and they have brought the Spads plague with them.
There are none among them that are actively sick, says Brother Mikel’s report, but there are many that show symptoms of early onset. They were all exposed to Spads prior to their flight, and they doubtless carry the plague inside them. Even if they do not sicken, they are capable of infecting others. It is only a matter of time.
I struggle over what to do. Spads can destroy a city quicker than any enemy. The fall of these peoples’ city is all the proof I need of that.
What do I do?
I have a duty to my city. We have nearly five thousand living here. We are safe enough within our walls. I am not arrogant enough to think us invincible, but we have food, shelter, soldiers to protect us, and our god to watch over us. As did they. So far we have escaped the plague. Do I dare risk bringing it inside our walls to succor these few?
I dare not.
What, then, do I do?
There are more than two hundred people outside our walls. Men, women, children, young, elderly, hungry, tired, and each of them able to wipe out my entire city by themselves, by eating our food, or drinking our water, or simply brushing against one of us in the street.
I have to turn them away. But how can I?
Suppose I send them away, and they continue south to the next city and infect them instead. Perhaps it would be seen as an attack by our city against our neighbors using these people as a weapon the same way their own city was targeted. We have always been peaceful neighbors. I cannot do anything that might be perceived as an attack.
I cannot let these poor people in and risk killing my own people. I cannot send them away and risk destroying my neighbors.
What, then, do I do?
The way is clear to me, but it is hard. Our priests preach compassion and love for the sick and the weak. It is hard to act against that instinct. Does doing so make me an evil man? I fear that it does, but I hope that I will be forgiven, just this once. I must see to my own people first.
I open my eyes and lift my head from my hands. The letter on my desk is from the leader of the travelers. I read it one last time, my eyesight blurring as I read the last, wavering, “please….”
I take up my pen, drafting an order to my generals sending all of our archers to the wall above the gates. I fold the order and seal it, red wax dripping onto the paper like blood before I press it flat with my signet. I call for a courier and send it out before I can reconsider. I bow my head and pray, asking for mercy on my soul.
I am not evil, but I dare not be good.