The Blood of the People: XIV
When the news reached her that morning, she dashed for the dungeons. The heads of every rebelling noble family in the city had been arrested and imprisoned, together with most of her father’s council members. Tomorrow at noon, they were all to be executed. The Great Warrior was to do the deed himself.
Her brother had not been released from his prison cell, and Juniper was terrified he had been sentenced to die as well. She had to speak to him, had to hear for herself the folly that enveloped the boy’s mind.
When she approached the door to the dungeons, she was told that she was not allowed to pass. No one was.
Upset and terrified, she rumbled, “Let me through, right this instance! Please!”
“My apologies, ohkasethen,” said the guard. “No one is allowed down to the dungeons.”
“I need to see my brother!” she pleaded. “You could come with me!”
“I’m sorry, advisor,” sighed the guard, “but I have my orders directly from the Triumvirate.”
Juniper only huffed in fury and spun on her heels to march straight to the stables. She demanded a horse, and despite the stable workers’ confusion, she was given a saddled gelding only minutes after.
She was not a particularly good rider, but her anger and desperation kept her straddled as she rushed through the street towards the harbour. A guard from the fort gates helped her dismount, but he was hesitant.
“What is the matter, my lady?” he asked.
“I need to speak with the Vasaath,” Juniper demanded. “It is of the utmost urgency, and I need to speak with him now.”
“But, my lady, he is training the—”
“Now, please!” She would not take no for an answer, and she would not be refused yet again. Thankfully, the soldier did recognise the seriousness in her demand and allowed her entrance.
There, on the courtyard, she found the Vasaath as he demonstrated movements to the new recruits. When he saw her approach, he ordered them to spar with each other, and he met her in the courtyard.
“Lady Juniper,” said he, noticing her distress. “What are you doing here?”
“Is he going to die?” She fought the tears, but it was difficult. She had been so certain her brother would survive after the Vasaath had promised to spare him—now, her hope was crumbling, and she was crumbling with it.
The Vasaath clenched his jaw as his gaze hardened, and she did not like the look of it. He urged her towards his tent and she marched ahead. Her tears had already started to fall, but she did not care.
She barged in and turned to face him just as he entered. “Couldn’t you save him?”
The Vasaath stared at her, his gaze hard and impatient. “Sit down, Juniper.”
“Please, just tell me!”
“Sit.” His voice was calm, but it was still an order.
“I don’t want to sit!” she hissed. Instead, she started pacing, her breath troubled. “I don’t understand—I couldn’t speak to him! I couldn’t even see him!”
The Vasaath sighed as he made them some tea. “He is to be judged as a King.”
Juniper froze, trying to understand what he was telling her. When she remembered that it would take a unanimous vote to execute him, she suddenly felt a wave of relief wash over her.
When the Vasaath served her tea, however, his face was profoundly troubled and it terrified her.
“And you will save him, will you not?” she asked cautiously.
He looked at her. His countenance was hard and his eyes were ominous. “He will not submit. I spoke with him today and he is still defiant. I have given him until tomorrow but if that isn’t enough to sway him, he will die.”
She blinked slowly. The world seemed to stop around her. No, she though. He could not die. Without being able to hinder herself, she burst out in sobs as she dropped the cup of tea onto the floor and flung herself at him, pleadingly.
“But he needs more time!” she cried.
“There is no more time,” muttered the Vasaath while trying to keep his own hot tea from spilling as she charged at him and grabbed his arms.
He sighed deeply. “I promised that I would let him live—if he submitted. I told you, from the very beginning, that order will only come through submission. Those are the rules, and I cannot change that.”
She angrily pushed him away before she buried her face in her hands and wept. She knew her brother was stubborn, but he was just frightened.
“He believes he has to play the part of a strong leader,” she sobbed. “He thinks it’s his duty, to win this test of character. He will never submit if you ask him!”
“If he cannot recognise my authority,” muttered the Vasaath, “he won’t last long.”
“He’s just foolish!” she cried out.
“Foolish or not,” the Vasaath barked, “he will not be treated differently.”
She dried her flooding eyes. “But why can’t I speak to him? I could convince him!”
“No one is allowed in the dungeons but my soldiers,” said the Vasaath. “The nobles down there have been arrested for opposing the Kas, for treason. In such a critical situation, we cannot risk a follower speaking with the rebels.”
“But I’m not a follower of the nobles!” Juniper spat. “You know that!”
“I can’t let you down there!” the Vasaath sighed. “I can’t treat you differently. You are part of the People now, and so you must abide by the rules just like any other!”
“He is my brother!”
“And he will submit like anyone else, or he’ll die!” His voice was thunderous, his eyes dark, and Juniper slumped her shoulders as she bawled.
There was no point trying to convince the stoic warlord. She let her head fall and she buried her face in her hands yet again.
She would never see her brother again. He was going beyond the Void and the one she loved was the man that would send him there. She knew it was the way things were, but she did not want to accept it. It was grim and cruel and unfeeling. She was heartbroken and knew not how to mend it.
She was only six when her brother was born, and she had loved him from the very first moment she’d seen him. She was only a child then, but she had vowed to the Builder that she would always protect him from harm—and now, she had failed.
She sobbed as she whispered, “I never even got to say goodbye.”
The Vasaath sighed and gently wrapped his arms around her. He kissed her head, caressed her hair, and softly said, “You must know I never wanted this. But there is still hope, he can still save himself. He has until morning. If he still refuses, I promise that I will give him a quick and painless death.”
It was not a comfort, even though she knew it was meant as such. She pressed herself closer, desperately wishing that he wasn’t the one who had to make such a horrific decision and that he wasn’t the one who would have to swing the sword.
Ohkasethen – foreign teacher