The Silent Witness (Published)

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The office was dimly lit and Alkan found himself squinting, trying to adjust his eyes. On the opposite side of the office sat Shafis, facing him with her arms resting on her desk.

“I see you got my message,” she began.

“It seemed I had no choice in the matter,” Alkan’s reply was sharp. “Your messenger said if I didn’t comply, I would be escorted to your office by your royal guards. Is that how you treat your guests?” Shafis straightened to her full height, her hands clasped in front of her.

“Like the way you treated my daughter in the gardens?” Alkan backed away, but the royal guard who was posted in front of her office stood in his path and pushed him forward towards the queen.

“Leave us,” Shafis ordered. The guard bowed and closed the door behind him. Shafis proceeded towards Alkan and felt his heart hammer in his chest.

“I don’t know what you mean?”

Shafis snorted. “Of course, you do! You men think all women are weak and easily manipulated. You flatter. You touch. You whisper romantic words and vow promises of nothing but love just to sway a woman’s heart and bend them to your will. And before they know it, they are trapped by your charisma and will do anything for you!”

She gave him an angry look. “But not me! Or my daughter! She is with her husband now and will be until her dying breath.”

She walked back to her desk but remained standing. “Furthermore, I’ve made a decision. One I know that everyone will agree upon and welcome the news with gratification.” He tilted his head with mild curiosity.

“You will not be taking the journey with us to Rake Turf!” she announced. “I want you out of my kingdom and run back to that revolting city you now call a kingdom!” He stood silent for a while, taken aback by her straight-to-the-matter tone, then gave her a casual smile, running his fingers along her bookshelf as if trying to find any traces of dust on it. There weren’t any.

Revolting?” He mused. “And here I thought you loved the city, not just because you were born there but because of a certain man… what was his name again? Theavall, was it?” Shafis stiffened but held her tongue.

“A lover of the Grand Ambassador’s brother!” He gave a sinister laugh. She looked out the window, trying to stay focused.

“I heard it all,” he continued, walking boldly towards her. “How you cried! How you prayed! How you pleaded… only for the gods to deliver you a corpse!” She lunged and struck him hard. The impact was so great that his head slammed against the marble wall, blood dripping from his mouth.

“You forget your place!” she hissed. “If you think you can use that as leverage against me, you are greatly mistaken!” He looked at her with disbelief. “We were not lovers! We were betrothed!” She continued. “My husband, the king, had known about Theavall from the very beginning. I’ve never kept any secrets from him!” She was breathing hard now. “You can let that slithering tongue of yours speak freely of it if you so wish. I have nothing to hide!”

He sneered at her. “Will you hide how I robbed Ysha of her innocence from your husband?!” She quickly looked away, and he smiled at her discomfort. Her thoughts were racing, but a sudden sense of peace fell upon her as if what she was about to say came from Ismińa.

Was the goddess guiding me?” She thought, taking comfort in the notion and drawing strength from it, she looked at Alkan, who was giving her a satisfied smirk.

“Yes, I will tell him!”

His smile dropped.

“That’s right!” She straightened and turned from the window to face him. “I will tell him, including King Hepharis and Queen Isarin, and whatever may come, know that we all have one thing in common: our abhorrence for you!” He was completely shocked. No one had ever dared speak to him like this. If anyone spoke to him in a way that displeased him, they were simply tortured and put to death.

She gave him a confident smile. “We will unite and come after you with a vengeance as you’ve never seen before!” She was now feeling inspired. “We will rally together and march our forces against you!”

His confidence began to waver.

“Are you threatening me?” He asked in a low and dangerous tone. Shafis gave a loud laugh which made him feel uneasy.

“There’s something you should know about me, Alkan. I don’t make threats! I make promises! And I’ve always kept them!” For some reason, Alkan knew she wasn’t bluffing.

“You see, Alkan,” she continued, “you are so far from reality that I pity you.” Shafis was calm, though she was seething inside. “You believe you can say and do things to people without consequences and that they are too afraid to stand up against your might. You muse at the thought of being a god, but you bleed like any ordinary man.” She gestured to his mouth, and he involuntary touched his lip. When he pulled his hand away and saw blood, he looked at her and saw she was smirking back at him.

“I will ride in my war chariot with the four winds guiding me towards your haven and will tear down everything you hold dear. That’s if you care about anything or anyone other than yourself!”

She was now speaking with a clear and determined voice, deliberately walking slowly towards him as she spoke. He found he was gradually walking backwards.

“I’m not some woman who you can manipulate. I will lead my army and see you fall. That is my promise to you! Guards!”

Alkan swung around as the door opened. Two soldiers marched in, followed by Tidus.

“Is everything ready?” She asked.

“Everything has been arranged as you have requested, my queen,” Tidus bowed.

Alkan turned to Shafis, and his eyes were wild. “Arranged what?”

She gestured for him to look out her window. He cautiously walked past her and saw, to his horror, his entire host, who had accompanied him to the wedding, stripped and left naked. His belongings were carelessly and deliberately thrown into the dirt and horse manure.

Alkan turned towards Shafis with a murderous look, “You dare touch a king’s host!” He bellowed, pointing an accusing finger at her face. She grabbed his finger and bent it backwards, causing Alkan to cry out in pain, thinking his finger would snap off.

“You touched… no… you defiled my daughter! I’m merely returning the favour.”

She released her grip and nodded to her guards, who came forward and grabbed him, tossing him out the door and roughly shoving him until he was outside the palace with his men, who were looking to him for answers concerning their humiliating treatment. Only Elarosh seemed untouched. He was already mounted, fully dressed.

Three soldiers of notable size stripped Alkan naked and threw him effortlessly on the back of his horse. One of them slapped the mount with the flat of his sword, spurring the stallion into a canter. Alkan struggled to keep his balance and grabbed the reigns to try and steady himself. They were escorted on all sides by the king’s cavalry until they came to the bridge. The cavalry remained there until the sentry watched and announced the host had disappeared over the horizon.

Shafis had been watching the events with Alkan and his host from her window, breathing heavily. She heard footsteps enter her office. It was Tidus.

“They’re gone! Running back to Caper Løck!” He announced. Shafis nodded.

“And Alkan’s advisor?”

“Unharmed, just as you ordered, Your Majesty.”

“Thank you. I need to be alone for a while. Please close the door as you leave.” Tidus bowed and left Shafis to her thoughts. She walked to the wall that had Alkan’s blood on it.

War will be coming,” she thought bitterly. “I hadn’t forgotten what he did at Støne Fønt, nor the petitions my people drew up for us to act upon such savagery.” She thought again of the day she heard the report of what happened to the Council of Seven.

Going through her papers, she found the petitions that were signed by many of her subjects. Knowing the inevitable would happen, she turned her thoughts on how to approach the subject of Alkan and Ysha to Gunner. She sat down heavily in her chair and let out a shaky breath.

Gods give me the strength for what I need to do.” She prayed earnestly.

* * * * *

From her palatial balcony, Ismińa had been observing the entire confrontation between Shafis and Alkan with satisfaction. She’d given Shafis the extra strength to stand up against Alkan and to let the hated king know what she and many others thought of him and gave her the courage to stand her ground and not give in to fear, now that war was inevitable.

If Verontó can grant him victory in every battle,” she thought, “Then I can grant victory in a battle with words. Shafis will need more wisdom in the days to come.” She gave one last look at the disgruntled host riding south and smiled to herself, enjoying Alkan’s humiliation. She then heard the prayer of Shafis, who was now sitting alone in her office.

Gods give me the strength for what I need to do,” Ismińa lent her strength once more to the queen.

“We will,” Ismińa promised.

She then turned and walked back into her palace, readying herself for the events that will take place on both Barathørn and Evertheen.

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