Every Subject’s Duty is the King’s, but Every Subject’s Soul is His Own
The storm had not diminished and put Hemele in a foul mood as he rode down to the Courtside hospital at sundown. It had been a full day since he left Galen in the madhouse, for all intents and purposes, and he was riding down in the rain still not knowing what he would do with this man. Part of him hoped that Galen would be a stubborn and sentimental idiot pledging loyalty to the truth so the easy decision to lock him in that room for the rest of his days would be made for him. However, he didn’t have high expectations for that. This man seemed smart and clever, and he probably would not allow himself to be idealistically condemned.
Hemele hated riding near sundown. He didn’t like the empty, quiet streets as everyone locked away into their barricaded homes. The sounds of emptiness always played tricks on his ears. Like just now as he neared the hospital he could hear anguished screams ring out from his nightmares playing tricks on him. A crow flew from a window in the hospital at the sound. He stopped his horse. Perhaps that scream had not been a trick of his memories after all. Maybe this scream was real.
He entered the hospital and walked the long corridors to the secluded room in which Galen had been left. With each step closer he knew that his time for decision was running out. He decided to just trust his instincts. He would follow orders always and would depend on his honor. But as he reached for the lock and handle of the door, he paused. He wasn’t quite certain of his instincts anymore. What does one do when their instincts go against orders? Where then does honor and duty lie?
He decided to not announce his entrance or stand on ceremony. Hemele opened the door with confidence with no intent to toy with this man. The sight of the room took him aback. The bedside was overturned. The clay pitcher that held his water was shattered against a wall. Hemele saw Galen on the floor with his back against the overturned bed. His fists lay at his side red and swollen. Hemele could see signs of bruising then as well.
The scream he had heard outside came from this man. Something very recently snapped in him.
Hemele stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Galen didn’t even look up at Hemele’s entrance. He just continued to sit on the floor and catch his breath. His tirade and outburst had to indeed been only moments ago.
“Did you get it out of your system?” Hemele asked as he looked around the room and then again at Galen.
Galen didn’t respond, but did get visibly angrier at the words or perhaps the sound of Hemele’s voice. His fists clenched tighter. This did not go unnoticed to Hemele; his training had kept his senses always detail oriented and heightened for danger.
“You know, you didn’t need to play the part of a madman just because you were in the room. But if you’re trying to convince me to keep you here…”
“I need to see her,” Galen interrupted what he considered instigating dribble coming from his captor.
Hemele looked at Galen and noted that his voice was clear and not raving. “Not the answer I wanted to hear,” Hemele admitted. He thought long about what he would have to do to this man now. To keep the secret, to follow orders, he would have to essentially take this man’s life away. He was risking it all for this woman. “What is it about this woman? Help me understand what is so amazing about her that you would knowingly persist against my warnings to try and get to her? You do know that by not taking my strong hints to forget her that you could be throwing away your life?” Hemele thought that maybe if he made this man think hard enough to put this woman into words, he would realize that it wasn’t worth his life.
“You tell me. Maybe instead think what is so horrible about her that you would knowingly condemn her?”
Hemele decided then to sit down with this man with his back against the door. “I’m not condemning her. I’m following orders. As far as I know, it’s for her own good. As far as I know, her secrecy is necessary for her safety. As far as I know, she has my man under a spell just as much as she has you under one. What makes you so convinced that she is being harmed by my actions? What makes you right and me wrong?”
Galen smirked then and turned his head. Every part of him didn’t want to keep with this conversation. As far as he was concerned, this man was a mindless drone, and nothing he said was going to make it through to his head to change his mind. He was a believer, and he believed that the letter of his orders were correct and true. Galen knew that nothing from a stranger was going to turn this man’s face towards the light. But Althea was worth every breath spent to try.
“You haven’t seen her recently, have you? Of course you haven’t. You wouldn’t be asking me about her being in danger if you’d have seen her.”
Hemele thought maybe that this man had truly gone mad. “I’m not sure I understand a word of what you said. Are you saying she’s been harmed? And that you know this for a fact from within this locked room? You know that makes it sound like you belong here.”
“I’m sure you were going to end up keeping me here anyway,” Galen responded resigned.
“Maybe I was.”
With the tone he was hearing from his warden, Galen looked up and realized that maybe this man wasn’t quite as determined in his path as he had once been. What was changing his mind?
Galen seized his opportunity then to try and reach him, “I have my own ways of knowing. Ways you probably won’t believe but are no less true. I know for a fact that you are keeping her in Durai’s suite of rooms which is in the farthest wing of the palace. It has a courtyard that sits on a plateau-like hill, and even if one tried, they wouldn’t be able to see her there. Not even if that person knew what they were looking for.”
Hemele perked up at his words. Only those who resided in the palace knew where the individual nobility’s Suites were, and even at that, not many knew exactly which belonged to Durai. Certainly even fewer people knew about Durai’s courtyard patio and what it looked like. How was it this man knew these details?
Galen noticed that he was at least being heard, and he continued. “I also happen to know that she has come to harm. She has a burn, a brand, on her right shoulder now. I can only assume it was from ‘your man.’”
“That’s quite a claim,” Hemele said a little indignant.
“A claim I’m willing to stake anything I have left on. That’s beside the point. I know she was brought there like a sacrificial lamb, and now she’s at the mercy of a sadistic sociopath. And you were the one that delivered her.” Galen tried so hard to keep the venom he held in his heart at bay, but this man had clipped the wings of an angel and delivered her helpless into Hell. There was no forgiveness in his heart for that. “How does that fact sit with you?”
Hemele didn’t respond for a long time. He couldn’t deny that he had felt suspicions on his orders. He even confronted the inconsistencies and discussed his lingering doubts with Jian. He couldn’t help but hear his own misgivings mirrored in this man’s speech. “Let’s say I were to believe you. Let’s say that this very specific claim of yours is true. What then? What would you do against a ‘sadistic sociopath’?”
Galen turned his face from Hemele’s mocking tone. He was right. What was his plan? What could he do against a man so powerful? He had to admit he had no plan and was woefully underprepared for the next step, whatever it might be.
The two men then made eye contact with expressions the other had not expected. Hemele had sincerity and genuine concern behind his questioning yet authoritative look. Galen had apprehension and uncertainty behind his indignation. Perhaps the vulnerabilities they saw in the other was enough to trust.
“Maybe,” Galen said dropping his aggressive tone, “maybe I wouldn’t be against him alone.”
Hemele made a small flinch at what those words could mean, but he kept listening anyway.
“Listen, maybe there is something about her, and it casts something like a spell. But it’s not a deception, and it’s doesn’t harbor manipulative ill intent. Just as every good leader inspires those around him, she inspires me. The spell she has is being so purely good that I want to be the best of myself. It’s not a spell; that’s good influence.”
“And Durai?” Hemele asked then putting pressure on his proof.
Galen didn’t have an easy answer. “Sometimes the shadows seek to overtake the light. I cannot say. But if you were to spend any time with her, you wouldn’t be questioning what I clearly see in her. The things she’s told me,” Galen continued despite the faltering he felt at remembering her stories and the memories of her haunted by her nightmares, “were unthinkable. What she had fought through, what she ran away from, was terrible. No one should go through what she did. And yet she went back willingly to try and save us all. The least I can do is try and save her. She deserves at least that much from me, if not from others.”
Hemele found he couldn’t speak. The conviction of this man was admirable and full of honor. It seemed idealistic, and it reminded him of himself when he was sure he was right. And he couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t feel that way now. Maybe what he had been a part of was monstrous. Maybe what he had been a pawn to was the damnation of all of their hopes to a man he barely knew anything about except the fear he invoked in everyone he had ever talked to.
How does one live with the knowledge that they helped destroy someone? How would he live with it?
Was it even true?
Hemele rose to his feet. Galen’s expression went into panic. Maybe he hadn’t reached this man after all, and he misread the whole interaction. Maybe he was about to lose his only chance to get out. Would he ever get another shot? Galen lifted himself from the floor as well. “Please,” Galen begged, “I would be willing to be subject to any terms you lay out just to see her and do all I can to help her one last time. I’d do anything if you would let me. You can send me away, lock me up here until I die…I’d even let you kill me on the spot. But I cannot stay here another day while I know she suffers alone. Please!”
Hemele didn’t move to leave, but he didn’t make a sign that he would consent to any terms. Galen lowered his tone to slight resignation, though he was far from giving up. “Please, if I’m wrong, and she’s safe, then me seeing her in secret one last time will not hurt anyone. I’ll quietly be silenced in any way you would see fit, and gladly.” He then took one step forward to Hemele who did not retreat at it. “But if I’m right…” Galen swallowed hard at the pain in his words. He knew he was right, he had been told so by the visiting crow. He knew what she was suffering through without any help at all. He was in torment within these four walls knowing that she was facing all of her nightmares with no one at her side, and he had promised to be there with her. “She is probably our last hope. I don’t doubt that the ills of this world can be made right by a Healer. More than that, I know that it can be made right by her specifically. I’ve seen what she can do, and I know her heart. If I am right, then our last hope is in danger. She is being tormented and cut down piece by piece. Can you take that chance to simply follow orders if I’m right?”
Hemele heard every word that had been said to him then. More than that, he felt them in the deepest parts of him and reached the idealism that he had once had in his boyhood hearing of heroes fighting dragons and defying all odds. That idealism had been buried deep under the heavy weight of honor and duty. Somewhere along the way his the honor of stories and the honor of the job had been muddied. But for that moment, those words reached through it all and reached him where he thought had been lost.
Hand upon the door, Hemele didn’t turn to Galen. He kept his back to this man and his inconvenient truth. He wanted to shut it out, forget what he heard. He wanted to deny his speech and pass it off as ranting falsehoods. But the light that had been given the air to breathe wouldn’t be stifled within him again. He knew the possibility existed that this man could be right, and he would be wrong to keep on his path unchanged.
Hemele heard a sigh behind him. Galen’s voice sounded more defeated than ever, but he was not resentful. He knew the strength it took to change the course of a heart, and he knew that perhaps he didn’t have the persuasion enough to give him that direction. Not even with all of his gifts. “If you won’t take me to her,” he said, “then at least please talk to her. Given that you drugged her, you owe her at least a minute of your time. See if I’m not right. It’s the right shoulder.”
The door latched and bolted as Hemele left the room. He didn’t see the sharp details of the places he past as he walked out. He saw only blurred lines and the dancing contrast of light and dark as he rode further away towards the castle.
Galen watched after the door and did not feel despair. Instead, he held onto the smallest flame of hope. He knew that Althea would want him too. And if he read this man right, his soul would speak to his conscience. The way for him was lit, and it was the path a good man must walk. Galen felt confidence that, in the end and given enough time, the Captain would prove a good man.