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William's Ride

"William's Ride!" as it was christened by an enthusiastic press riding on a wave of jingoist fervor, was billed as a glorious cross country ride by the King and his dragoons to the front.  The stunt was calculated to boost morale at the front. By the cocksure warrior king's estimation, once he took to the field, the enemy's resistance would not last one day longer.
It was a gamble, to say the least, and the young King met with disappointment from the very start. When he rode from the barracks, he was led to a secluded platform where a private luxury car awaited him.
"I am as sharp as my saber's edge and ready for battle." the eager King protested to his handlers.
"Please, your majesty, the calvary was just for the front pages." A Royal Minister explained. "The bulk of our field forces are moved by trains now."
The King shot the minister a cock-eyed glance."
"Yes, your highness," The Royal Chief of Staff intervened. "Speed and mobility, that is how battles are won now, and it's all thanks to this iron beast!"
"Alright," The King wearily agreed.
"But when I get to the front, I want my horse there waiting for me!"
Once aboard, the King set about establishing a temporary headquarters. The plush maroon billiards table was covered with a map of the battlefield and covered with finely carved figures meant to represent the royal regiments.
The ministers and generals spent over an hour watching their King move these toys around his outdated map. All the while expressing their admiration for their Sovereigns tactical and strategic abilities.
Once the strategy session was concluded, they tapped a keg and settled in for the rest of the ride. Talk about the war turned to talk about the officers, and that turned to gossip about their wives.
The King's mind retreated from his present surroundings and drifted to daydreams of glories yet to come.  He saw himself saber in hand, leading the decisive charge, bullets snapping by his ears and cannonballs whistling overhead.
He saw himself standing victorious with legions of his soldiers crying his name. A smile broke across his face. This was sure to the best summer of his life. He rested his chin on his fist and gazed out the window.
The train passed through fields of tall, gently swaying grass that swelled into rolling hills and meadows painted by the vibrant petals of thousands and thousands of flowers and roses. Occasionally the train roared by a sleep farming village where hundreds of heads cattle quietly grazed with total indifference to the war.
"Your highness?"
The words jolted William. "Yes, what is it now?" William asked.
The General repeated his question, and the King mentally rejoined the bull session.
The King stayed present in mind, but his eyes continuously drifted to the window. The passing world outside the glass-framed was quickly changing as they neared the front.
The farms they passed were abandoned husks. Where the only sign of life ever having existed were the scattered carcasses of livestock being greedily stripped of the remaining tissues by hungry buzzards. The vibrant fields brimming with life became a desolate sea of mud. The only distinctive features in the morass were the pulverized concrete fortifications wrapped in shredded ribbons of barbed-wire.
The train sped past waves of refugees trudging along carrying everything they had left in the world on their backs, in some cases the lifeless body of a child.
"Maybe we should close the curtain," suggested a royal minister, but William waved him off.
An attendant entered the cart. "Your majesty, I regret to inform you the track up ahead is damaged. We will be stopping at the next platform."
"Where is that?" The Chief of staff sheepishly asked.
The train came to a screeching halt in Oberaberg. "If we're going to be stuck here for a while, then I should at least greet my subjects while I'm here," William grumbled.
"I'm sorry your majesty, but that wouldn't be advisable at this time," The Chancellor informed the King.
"Why so?" demanded William. "I'm the King, am I not? If I want to get off this train, then I'll get off this train," William scowled.
"Of course, as you wish your majesty," the Chancellor relented.
"Prepare the Royal Guard for the King's disembarkation from the train!" ordered the Chief of staff.
A red-faced colonel rushed into the cart. "I'm sorry, General, but that would not be advisable right now," the officer huffed.
"Why what's going on?" William demanded.
There was the sound of something hitting the side of the train.
"What was that?" asked the visibly, worried Chancellor.
There was another thud, then another, soon it sounded as if the sky were raining stones.
"Stand aside, I'm going out there," William roared. The King's guards followed closely, pleading with him not to leave the train, but William brushed ignored them. When William got to the door, he could hear shouting outside.
"We need bread!"
"Down with the war!"
"Down with the king!"
"Bread, not war!"
William stepped out onto the platform, and a brick smashed into the ground just in front of his feet. The town around the station was in ruins. The mighty bell tower overlooking the town's center had collapsed, and the streets were choked with the rubble of people's homes. Clouds of bulbous black flies filled the air, feasting on the human flesh rotting in piles debris.
The ravenous crowd was dressed in tattered rags, and their flesh was with dust. Their black eyes were sunken into withered faces, and they screamed with mouths filled rotting teeth.
"Leave William, you're no king of mine!" A hoarse voice jeered before launching another brick towards William.
The King was paralyzed. He watched helplessly as his guards tried to push the crowd back from the platform. Another brick flew over William's head. It was answered with the rifle shot.
"Open fire!" The people fell before the muzzle flashes in bursts of blood.
"Sire, you need to get back on the train now!"
William hurried back into the safety of his armored cart. Where his advisors nervously awaited. The King glanced wildly around the room. "Bring me back to the Capital now!" The engine hissed, and a plume of steam belched from the iron trains iron stack. There was the shriek of the engine's whistle, and the train backed out of the station. So ended William's ride.


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