Chapter 40: An Unhappy Reunion
King Braeden stood watch from the rooftop of a shop near the bazaar gate. The fires from the Ambassador’s Square still raged. The light rain did nothing to quench the flames. Below the shop, Braeden saw how his meager retinue of guards and volunteers piled barrels, carts and timber into the archway. The barricade would do little against the horde that was slowly making its way to them. Braeden looked to the sky. “Maker, help us,” he whispered.
A low grunt caught the king’s attention. He turned to see Rustag standing behind him. The towering man was not unknown to him. Braeden had wanted the Agronian to serve in the guard years ago, but Mariselle hadn’t liked his demeanor and insisted he be kept on as a jailor for the lower dungeons.
“Thank you for your service, Rustag. Without you, I fear more people would have perished tonight. I wish I could give you a proper reward, but I doubt I will have anything to give, come morning if ever this night ends.”
“Morning will come, my king. I’ll fight to the death to ensure you see it,” Rustag replied.
Braeden shook his head, as he looked out past the archway and down the curving cobblestone street that led to the Ambassador’s Square. The Amorite battalions would be forming. He could hear their rallying cries.
“They’ll be here soon. If only I could stop up this archway . . . ” Braeden said.
“Perhaps this man can help then. A guard caught him sneaking round in the shadows of the castle,” Rustag grunted and motioned at the stairway behind him.
Absalom stepped forward.
Braeden gazed into his son’s eyes for a moment. The boy had become a man.
“Rustag, you can leave us. I’ll be quite alright,” Braeden said.
Rustag glanced at Absalom warily and nodded to the king before trudging back down the steps.
“You’re trusting . . . Father,” Absalom said.
“If you wanted to kill me, I imagine you would’ve done so by now,” Braeden folded his arms.
“I found this,” Absalom said and tossed the patriarch his journal, “So you knew?”
Braeden looked down at his journal and thumbed a few pages, “Of course I knew, Absalom. I’ve watched you since you were a baby.”
Absalom nodded and bit his lip. He moved to the wall and stared out at the flames burning the western quarter.
“And . . . nothing? You wouldn’t acknowledge me? Send some succor for my mother? I wasn’t worth it?”
Braeden turned and stood next to him, following his gaze across the city. “No, son . . . I never felt that. It’s true I never loved your mother. It was a single night’s tryst. But you . . . ” He reached out to Absalom, but the privateer instantly backed away. Braeden continued, “Months later I caught her eye in the marketplace, she was selling fruit and heavy with child. I knew. I had my men leave food for her while she carried you. The night you were born, I was there. Your mother gave birth to you in the castle. My own personal surgeon delivered you. As a young man, I sailed to the western isles, conquered the northern lands and saw countless battles, and I was stalwart throughout. But when I first saw you, I was afraid. And ashamed.”
Absalom turned to his father. “Ashamed? Then I’m glad I ransacked your palace, consider it payment past due.”
“No Absalom, I was ashamed of myself. I was afraid of what others might have said, and as you grew and Alex was born, the truth became harder to tell. I wish I’d had the courage then. Leaving you was a mistake.” Braeden replied, finally facing his son, “There are no words to express how sorry I am.”
“You are sorry. But the deed is done.” Absalom turned away for a moment, lost in thought. “Perhaps in time we’ll speak on it again, but for now I’d ask you to keep your spies tethered and stay out of my life. I was planning to leave the city until your friends came knocking.” he looked back to the narrow market road leading to the distant fiery blazes.
Braeden nodded. There were more pressing matters. “My worst fears are realized tonight. Gilead is doomed.”
Absalom’s eyes flashed with anger before he cleared his throat and finally spoke. “In my time scurrying the streets, I learned how to pick many a lock and I wonder if you’re aware of the lamplighter stations.”
Braeden glanced at Absalom. “Of course. We keep wicks, oil, and sundries in them, hardly a defense.”
“Those sundries include a peculiar black powder and when mixed with the whale oil you import, it makes a rather nice bang.”
Braeden’s eyebrow raised. “What are you saying?”
Absalom smiled cruelly. “What I’m saying is if Gilead is going to die, let her go out with such a blast, that we take them with us.” He pointed up and down the market street and at the homes and shops lining it. “They’d make wonderful tinderboxes, don’t you think? Ready to burst on the Amorite’s ranks as they pass.”
Braeden shook his head, “People’s homes, some of them may still be in hiding.”
“And will be burned alive regardless!” Absalom laughed bitterly. “I’m sorry I have no grand scheme that clears you from all guilt, but if you truly care for your people, you’ll do what’s required, no matter the cost.”
Absalom’s words stung like a slap in the face.
“I see.” The King mused for a moment, Egan and his men had hopefully evacuated any remaining people from their homes, but there was no way to be sure, and no time to check. Any that remained would die in flames in an instant or die at the hand of the Amorites, slowly. There were no good options left. “And what men would you have me send to risk their lives in this venture?”
Absalom looked out across the city. “She’s more a mother to me than the woman you bedded. I know every street, every back alley, every crack in her cobblestone.”
“Fine. Take Rustag with you. Gather the supplies as quickly as possible. Set the charges.”
Absalom turned and hurried down the steps past a soldier standing sentinel, a soldier who stood uneasily in a chest plate and helmet that were much too large, who’d heard every word of their conversation and wondered if her father’s son was as forgiving as he seemed.