Verdict

Original Written Work
Characters: Rylerion, Rannon
Summary: Rylerion finds out the overthrown tyrant went behind his back to negotiate with the Southern Lords and confronts him about it.
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“I gave you the South. Brought peace to your kingdom. Might that not be worth something?”

He leaned back, scowling in disbelief.

“You broke my trust. You flagrantly disobeyed my orders, ignored the sole two conditions I set up for your freedom, committing outright treason, and you have the nerve to ask for favours?”

Rannon impassively held his gaze, opened his mouth to speak, and he irritably waved a hand.

“Fine. Tell me. What is it you want?”

“A cell with a window,” the man said, softly, with only a moment’s hesitation. “No chains. Perhaps food, and water, should my King be so gracious in his mercy.”

He stared, a sudden uncomfortable cold in the pit of his stomach. Not requesting favours or rewards after all; only a last desperate negotiation for what level of hell to spend eternity in.

There was a long, heavy silence.

“Why,” he finally said. “If you foresaw such punishment, why would you do such a thing?”

There was only the slightest change on his uncle’s sharp face, askance, as though the question made no sense.

“To finally bring an end to the war, at last. I could not sit by doing nothing, when I had the power to make it stop. I have spent the last ten years trying to bring peace to Kayalana. That is worth more than anything. Certainly more than my life, or freedom.”

***

There was a long silence as the King stared him down, searching his face for lies or trickery. He forced himself to meet those dark unreadable eyes and wait for his verdict with poise, ruthlessly making every tensing muscle relax. He had known from the beginning, after all, that discovery and all its consequences would be the most likely outcome of his bold scheme.

At least he would be able to look his ghosts in the face and tell them he had done one last thing right, here, at the end. Balanced against all the wrongs, he doubted it would matter much, but it counted, it still counted.

The King shook his head minutely, clearly conflicted.

”You’re presenting me with an impossible dilemma. Even if I were to show lenience this once – and I do want to – I cannot rule if my predecessor grants himself the right to intervene at a whim whenever the future of Kayalana appears to be at stake. You know that, every bit as much as I do.”

And of course he did, the brief flicker of hope at the word ‘lenience’ quickly extinguished. He should know better – hope was a weakness, as foolishly insubstantial as wishful thinking and fairytale dreams. Reality rarely left much place for hope.

He nodded, tiredly, didn’t trust himself to speak with preserved dignity. A part of him just wanted the inevitable over and done with, yet another focused desperately on every small detail of the present, making memories of simple everyday things to remember in the dark.

This last silence stretched on forever, until Rylerion let out a sigh, restlessly fidgeting fingers coming to a rest, his pose quietly regal. He found himself tensing again, against all his best efforts, bracing before an unblockable stroke. The bottomless pools of the King’s eyes gave nothing whatsoever away.

”I cannot have you plotting and scheming behind my back as you please, no matter how good the intentions.”

He had anticipated the blow, but even so the shameful dread almost took his breath away, and it was all he could do to resume his breathing, forcing the pain off his face.

There would be plenty of time for anguish and self-pity later. All the time in the world.

Until then, duty remained.

”Sati-rama. My King. If you would grant me a day to get my affairs in order… I have documents, intelligence and notes that could be of use to you, should you want them.”

Though why he should, one could wonder. This young King had only ever seen him defeated, too-clever gambits seen through, left with no pieces left to play. Hardly a position to bargain from. But if it would grant him but one more sunset, one last dawn… Perhaps a window, yet.

”Even with this fragile peace, the road ahead will be hard, Sati-rama. Kayalana will need everything you have to give. A wise King hears out all the counsel he can. If only to avoid repeating another’s mistakes.”

There was a strange look on the King’s face that could almost have been amusement, if not tinged with something sad, almost akin to pained compassion.

”You can counsel me yourself, Uncle. I’m appointing you one of my advisors on the council. Should you accept the position.”

”What?” he asked, stupidly, before he could bite back the word for something more eloquent.

Rylerion leaned forward with his chin in his hand, a gesture somehow very human, no longer so stiffly regal, and the strange expression remained on his face.

”You’re right. I should listen, if only to avoid repeating your mistakes. Perhaps I should have listened sooner – you persuaded the South to lay down weapons when no-one else could. I will – must – admit, I know little about the complexities of rule. My other advisors know much about running a business, and running an army, but nothing of running a country. I’m not about to throw away the one person around who does.”

His dark eyes narrowed and there was amusement there, sharp around the edges but not cruel.

”I will not sit obedient and do as I’m told. But I will welcome your knowledge and consider your advice. Should you accept my offer..?”

”Yes. Of course,” he managed, furiously realizing he had left his King waiting. ”Forgive me. I am of course… deeply honoured by your trust. I would gladly serve you, and Kayalana, in any manner you see fit.”

The King nodded, solemn again.

”Good. I’m glad. And as for trust… You will give me your word that you will respect my ultimate authority. You may counsel, but never act in my stead. Do not ever go behind my back again.”

He bowed humbly, accepting the barb, knowing it was perfectly well deserved.

”You have my promise. I swear it, on our shared family name.”

Rylerion nodded quietly, clever, undoubtedly picking up on the subtle allusion to another unbreakable vow.

”Then, in the name of trust, let me make you a promise in return,” he said. ”Keep yours, and you need never fear the darkness below. Believe me, I have no desire whatsoever to condemn anyone to such a horrid fate. Never harm anyone again, and save your political machinations for the council – and you will always remain safe, up here, in the sun. That I swear, on our shared family name.”

And that, finally, was the simple statement that very nearly broke him. Choking, he had to blink furiously to hold back pathetic tears, clenching his shaking hands until his knuckles ached, yet unable to shape a single word. Only enough instinct left to bow, deeply, with genuine stunned wonder.

”Thank you, Sati-rama. You… show me far greater clemency than I deserve.”

His voice was too rough, but it would have to do. Everything was suddenly too heavy, too light, coherent thought refusing to comply. Yet when he looked up, meeting those unreadable eyes, he thought he briefly glimpsed again that odd sense of understanding.

”I have already made an impressive collection of mistakes wearing this crown,” Rylerion said, just a flash of that sardonic amusement in his voice. ”I hope this will not be one of them. I will call the council together tomorrow, to introduce the latest addition to their ranks. Much to their delight, I’m sure.”

For just a moment there was so much of Shayari in his voice it hurt, but his words were sobering.

”They will be incensed, no doubt.”

”No doubt. But they placed this crown upon this head, and have come to realize this head does its own deciding. As you said, there is a long road ahead of us. I am certain that once we have walked it together for some time, we will all become the best of companions.”

He would argue the vanity of hope, but underneath the dry levity of the young King’s voice was an unmovable sense of determination. Not hope, then, so much as absolute intent to make it so. That he could respect, though the impossibility of that particular ambition was daunting. He chose to merely incline his head, politely, still unforgivably unfocused.

Rylerion’s gaze upon him was sharp but not unkind.

”You have much to prepare, no doubt, with your promised intelligence and counsel. And I have work to do – as always. I will send for you when it’s time.”

A merciful dismissal, yet somehow without even a hint of condescension. Standing, refusing to acknowledge the weakness in his knees, he bowed again, one final time.

”Thank you yet again, Sati-rama. Truly. I will see you tomorrow.”

It took conscious effort to walk away with back straight and legs steady, but he had learned the necessity of perfect poise long ago, in the presence of a very different King.

There was just enough time to reach the highest walls in time to watch the sun set over the open sea, impossible in its beauty; the light and colors blinding, the wind and smell of the sea like the breath of life itself.

And he hid his face in his hands and wept then those shameful tears, finally, knowing no-one could see, because he had been promised there wouldn’t be a last sunset after all.

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