The Blood of the People: XII
“I am a dishonest man.”
Kasethen looked at his friend in the light of the fire. He tried to read his face, but it was difficult—he was indeed sombre, troubled, but Kasethen could not understand what he meant by “dishonest”. The Vasaath was the most honest man Kasethen had ever met; he was honest to a fault, and inside that warrior’s body, there was no room for lies. Even if the man ever told a lie, he would not be able to hold it in for long. Sooner or later, he would always clear his conscience.
Kasethen furrowed his brows. “Why? What have you done?”
The Vasaath squared his jaw and set his brows low. “I lied to Juniper.”
“What lie did you tell?”
“I told her that we hadn’t yet decided on whether or not her brother is to be judged as a King.”
Kasethen tensed, and his chest tightened. “And what is the truth?”
The general grunted, swept the wine he had left in his glass, and glared at Kasethen. “The truth is that the boy’s life is in my hands. The decision is mine.” He sighed. “Vasmenaan and Vasenon have agreed to judge him as a King. We need to be unanimous.”
Kasethen felt relief wash over him like rain after a drought. “So, the boy will live.”
The Vasaath grunted again and looked away.
Kasethen tensed again, shifted in his seat, and then he nodded, his jaw tightened. “What did she say?” He felt resentment rise within him like poison. “What did Vasmenaan say to make you change your mind? You gave your word to Juniper, did you not?”
The Vasaath sighed deeply. “She promised to sanction Juniper’s and my relationship. If I kill the boy, remove the potential threat, the Vasmenaan will look the other way. There would be no consequences for either me or her. We could be together.”
The advisor was in shock. “That can’t be true.”
The Vasaath gazed at him. “It is. But it feels like a test. She asked me what was more important to me—my honour or my desires. But it feels like neither is the correct answer.”
Kasethen watched his friend before him, but he did not see the great and mighty Vasaath—no, it was just a man, heartbroken and desperate. He knew very well the ail that tormented the general; he was a formidable warrior, but he had met an adversary he could not defeat. Kasethen himself had tried and failed, like any other individual in history. No one could beat the heart, no matter how hard they tried.
But he felt coldness spread in his chest. The Vasaath would be mad to turn down the Vasmenaan’s blessing—if it indeed was an honest one—and surely, the Vasaath would be ready to kill the boy in a heartbeat if that meant he could be with the girl. The realisation left a bitter taste in the advisor’s mouth.
“But she would hate me,” the Vasaath then muttered. “If she were to find out I sacrificed her brother to have her, she would shun me. I would be worth less than dirt to her, and the Vasmenaan’s promise would be worthless.”
“Then don’t kill the boy,” Kasethen said, his voice strained. “He is innocent in all this.”
The Vasaath scoffed. “You sound like Juniper.”
“When I was imprisoned,” said Kasethen, “he was the only kind soul I met. In truth, I don’t think I would be alive had it not been for him.”
The Vasaath narrowed his eyes. “He kept you alive?”
“The Duke wanted to flaunt my dead body to the soldiers,” said Kasethen, “but he didn’t care how I died, be it on Town Square or in the dungeons. He wanted to prove that we are mortal, that our blood runs red just like any other.” Then he sighed. “But the boy does not want bloodshed. He never did. I can see it in his eyes.”
The general sighed and straightened. “Yes, I know you’ve visited him on several occasions.”
“He is afraid,” muttered Kasethen. “And lonely. He’s only a child trapped in his father’s war.”
“What is your interest in this boy?” The general leaned his elbows onto the table and set his brows low, tight. “You know as well as I what threat he poses. Why would you defend him?”
“Because the world is not black or white,” huffed Kasethen. “Just because his name is Arlington, it doesn’t mean that he will oppose us. If we show him kindness and mercy, he might see the correctness of the Kasenon.”
“‘Might’ is the key in those words, my friend.”
“But he certainly won’t if we keep treating him like the enemy.”
“He is the enemy,” the Vasaath grunted.
“No, he is not,” Kasethen persisted. “His father is the enemy. Why would we abide by their ridiculous traditions and let the child inherit his father’s faults?”
“Because that is the nature of these families,” the Vasaath growled. “They learn from their fathers! They learn from their actions, from their thoughts, and from their fears. They learn critical skills from men and women who aren’t apt to rear children, and that is why these people turn on each other at every opportunity! That is why they are weak! They don’t know any better!”
Kasethen bit his tongue. He had no wish to quarrel with the general and dared not say that he, too, was shaped by tradition. Who had taught him such ruthless justice if not his predecessor and the Vasmenaan? As a young boy, he had been gentle and sensitive, but the minute he had found himself in the care of the former Vasaath, he had changed. When he met Lady Juniper, he changed again.
This, Kasethen had witnessed, but he dared not say it. Instead, he just sighed. “So you won’t even give him a chance?”
“Give him a chance to do what?” the Vasaath muttered. “Join us, or fight us?”
Kasethen sighed. “Be honest, my friend. Are you considering killing him because you fear he might rally the people against us, or because you want the Vasmenaan’s blessing for yourself?”
The Vasaath clenched his jaw tightly, before sighing in defeat. “I don’t know.”
“Then I have a heartfelt request,” Kasethen mused. “If you decide to kill the boy, do it for the right reasons.”
The Vasaath only grunted in response to this, but Kasethen could see that he was pondering.