50: The Choice
It was the first time I’d ever held court as King of the Ryne. At first, when I’d stepped up onto that stage that showcased the royal thrones, and propped myself regally into the luxurious King’s throne, I’d been elated. Now, an hour later, I was burning with the need to get this over with. I’d been listening to minute details from commoners, resolving the aftermath of the battle, correcting wrongs that had occurred because of the change in power. In truth, I wanted to help these people. They were my people now, and I wanted them to have peace and safety. But it would take a long time to rebuild what I’d broken down, and I was starting at the very bottom of the pile.
I sighed and adjusted the thick, metal crown that circled my forehead. It was uncomfortable, despite the thin cloth that lined the inside. Heavy steel, embossed with elaborate designs and inlaid with tasteful gems, it was a beautiful show of power. But beauty is often dangerous, or difficult. Much like this job. I would be ninety years old before all of these people were happy, if ever. Then, something more interesting than deciding who should keep the family farm waltzed into my vision.
Spenser Red, restrained in cuffs, was presented in front of me, supported by two of my soldiers. I leaned back in my chair, curious.
“Your Grace, King Dayne Cerul, we present to you Spenser Red the Traitor,” stated the soldier on the left.
“I would like to hear what he has to say,” I said. I breathed deeply, closed my eyes, and continued. “I am well aware you betrayed us to the Usurper, Mr. Red.”
Fearful, he glanced around the room, but didn’t meet a single sympathetic face. He gulped, and said, “Your Grace, I am a man of simple wants and needs.” His chains jingled as he rung his hands, attempting to squeeze out the nervousness. “All I’ve done, I’ve done in the pursuit of happiness.”
“So, your happiness just happened to come in the form of sabotaging my cause? You realize that had you succeeded it would have meant the loss of thousands of innocent lives.”
I saw Spenser tremble at my words, and it made me smile. I never had liked him, and for no particular reason at all. It was pleasant to realize that my instincts hadn’t steered me wrong.
“No!” he rushed to say, jumping forward as far as his restraints would allow. “No, that’s not what I meant! I struck a deal with... with the Usurper for personal gain... which I know doesn’t sound any better.” He stopped speaking, thinking deeply.
I allowed him the moment to speak, gracious a King as I was.
He continued. “Your grace, you know me to be a man of... humble origins. All I’ve ever wanted in life was a family of my own. I needed money, a decent reputation, a title, maybe... and I knew that if I gave something to the Usurper, he would give me those things in return.”
“And did he?” I asked, well aware that the King had indeed offered him something. I was there in the throne room that day, in this very room. Although, right now I sat in a much different position. My eyes flit to the marble column I’d concealed myself behind, and then back to Spenser.
“He did, Your Grace. He gave me the castle of Tarr.”
At least he had spoken truthfully. “What exactly do you wish of me, traitor?”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Your Grace, I would ask that you grant me refuge, and honor the... previous King’s promises. At the very least, please, spare me my life. I mean you no harm, and I will swear fealty to you until my dying days.”
I considered his offer. Of course, I had already made up my mind as to what would happen to him. I had to make an example of those who would betray me, especially now, when my reign is easily questioned.
Then, I remembered Larke’s words. She had asked me to give him the choice that she and I never got. She didn’t choose to be a Suryan Mage, much like I didn’t choose to be an exiled prince. I sighed. I envied Spenser, even though he sat in my throne room with his future looming over his head, restrained by metal and men.
“I will give you a choice, bastard.” I readjusted my position in my throne, crossing my right ankle over my left knee. “Execution, or exile.”
“I choose exile, your grace!” he said quickly, without a moment’s hesitation.
I smiled, thankful for Larke and the wisdom she’d lent me. I was tired of death, tired of the toll it took. She was wiser than I’d ever expected.
“Exile it is. Spenser Red, you will no longer be permitted in the Kingdom of the Ryne. I’ll give you two weeks to leave the country. If you are found even looking at my border, I’ll slit your throat on the spot.”
“Agreed, your grace. You are too kind.”
I gestured that the soldiers take him away, and they did. I whispered to one of the soldiers closest to me to make the necessary arrangements. I gazed around the throne room, observing how my decision was received. Fortunately, most everyone looked relieved. Public executions were something that Zante Urion did, and I had no wish to follow in his footsteps. Right then and there, I made another decision.
I stood to announce to the court.
“Let it be known that any of those loyal to Zante Urion will be given a similar choice. If they pledge fealty to me, vow to serve me however deemed fit, then they are granted a pardon. However, if they do not, then they will face either exile, or execution.”
I dismissed myself, exiting. The crown I wore on my head felt heavier.