The Fall of the Builder: VI
Scheming rats and cutthroat politics, he cared little about and left to the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon, but if there was even the slightest indication of treason within the Saath, the Head of Military would deal with it personally. It was an insult to him, to his rule, and he would not have it. It infuriated him, and if this man indeed was responsible for setting the boy free, he would suffer before he lost his head.
He knew exactly who Thomas Wiltbourne was. A puny excuse of a man, Wiltbourne had dropped to his knees and begged for mercy the moment the Kas had closed in. He had even begged them to kill a boy next to him instead of himself.
He was supposed to be a highly ranked City Guard, but there was no authority in the man whatsoever. If anything, one might pity him for his pathetic being. His behaviour, however, echoed entitled authority in the sense that he, himself, imagined having it. He thought he could still order people about, as if he was of higher rank than even some of the Saathenaan.
He had been punished for his impertinence, but releasing a prisoner of war required more than just a simple soldier’s punishment. This whole ordeal had put a strain on the general and put his people in danger. If this pathetic man was the true culprit, he would pay the price for such insolence.
The Vasaath strode across the courtyard. Wiltbourne was laughing with some of the other new ohkasenon by a fire, seemingly carefree. While the others acknowledged the general’s presence at once, the former City Guard seemed clueless about why his comrades suddenly silenced and bowed. He even let out the tiniest of chuckles and put his hands on his waist, as if they were bowing to him; the arrogance was astounding.
When he finally turned and faced the towering Kas, the man gasped and bowed deeply and said, with a much irksomely silky tone, “You honour us with your presence, great and powerful leader!”
The Vasaath had no patience for such pretence and glared at the other ohkasenon. They all seemed to be shivering in their breeches.
“Arrest this man for treason,” he growled. “Bring him to the dungeons for questioning immediately.”
The men hesitated for a brief moment, looking at each other, before they carefully gripped their spears and rose. Wiltbourne whimpered and raised his hands, trying to plead his case, but the Vasaath did not want to hear it. As the soldiers did as they were told and arrested the man, the general strode back to the tent and to the lady he had left therein.
Worry was written all over her face, but he did not care as he took it in his hands and kissed her deeply, lustfully. His want was straining, burning, unbearable. She didn’t fight him, but he could feel she didn’t have her heart in it.
Parting from her, he growled, her face still in his hands, “Menaan, what is troubling you now?”
“Please, my love,” she muttered softly and grabbed hold of his wrists. Her fingers could barely reach halfway around them. “What will happen to him?”
The Vasaath gritted his teeth and glared at the girl. Her sensitive heart was vexing at times—even more so when his arousal was throbbing for her.
He huffed impatiently. “He will be interrogated, and if he confesses, he will die.”
Juniper swallowed and carefully moistened her lips—a movement so alluring, he could barely contain himself. He watched them move, softly and gracefully, releasing her sweet voice as she said, “And if he doesn’t confess?”
He had to tear his eyes from her full, reddened lips to look her in the eye. “There is little chance he’ll survive the interrogation.”
Her silver eyes widened and her face paled. She tugged at his wrists, trying to push him away from her, as she breathed, “You cannot do that.”
He pulled her closer, brushing his lips against hers. “Your father did worse things, did he not?”
“Yes, but you are not like him!” she gasped and pushed herself away from him, away from his grip.
The Vasaath sighed deeply and tilted his head to slowly let his gaze trail her features—beautiful, gentle, naive. He gently pulled her back, studied her face, and settled his eyes on hers. There was some defiance in them, anger and fear. Most clearly, he saw the relentless wit in them, the stark moral convictions.
He narrowed his gaze ever so slightly, challenged her—an unfair battle for dominance, perhaps—before he lowered his head to softly mutter in her ear, “No, menaan, I’m not. But a criminal is a criminal, no matter what. Don’t you agree?”
He breathed in the scent of her hair, and it made his head spin with desire as his amorousness made him impatient. If he had been the one to decide, he would already have her on his bed, naked and quivering, but he could see no such drive in her.
“I’m glad he did it,” she said harshly, a sound most unusual for her.
It took him by surprise, and he released her at once to look at her through a frown. Yes, there was anger in her face, bold defiance. Naturally, she was pleased that her brother had escaped his coming beheading—in truth, he too was relieved—but in the matter of the crime committed, it was not the person that had been let out that made the crime so serious, but the act in itself.
A soldier might have released a prisoner of war, and that was an offence that could not be forgiven and that had to be severely punished. Surely, she understood that.
He eyed her, observed her confident stature and her deep scarlet cheeks. He could scarcely believe this was the same fragile little bird that had first entered his tent many moons ago. It made him proud, but it also made him realise that he would not get what he wanted that night.
He sighed, took a step back, and crossed his arms. “What is done, is done. A crime was committed and the criminal has to be punished. Don’t you agree?”
“He saved my brother’s life,” she muttered. “I owe him everything.”
The Vasaath was fascinated by this new, confident woman—indeed, he knew she had a fierce temper, daring to slap him of all people, but even then, she had been trembling. He wanted to see what had brought on such rebellion. Surely, she could hold no affection for a man like Wiltbourne.
He pensively stroked his chin. “If you owe him everything, how come you exposed him?”
The anger in the girl’s face disappeared at once and was replaced by something he had seen many times before—guilt.
He sighed, softened his face, and nodded as he said, “You feel doubt. Perhaps you aren’t as certain as you said you were. The truth will come out, Juniper, one way or another. If he’s hiding something, make no mistake, I will know.” Then he reached to pour himself a cup of wine. “Your friend is out of danger, for now. If he is lying to you—”
“He’s not,” she pressed out.
“No,” he muttered, “but if he is lying to you, you better learn your lesson.”
He fastened his gaze on her, bore it as deeply as he could into her very soul, and the girl’s confident stature quickly faltered and she shrunk under his scrutiny. He frowned; seeing the girl lose her sudden confidence was not rewarding. It made him feel rather pitiful. There was no honour in it. He took a deep breath and had another drink.
“No matter what, you should be proud.” He smiled reassuringly at her. “You acted out of loyalty, and goodwill, and dared to stand up for your friends. I respect that.”
Juniper nodded, although she did not seem merrier. She sighed, curtsied, and started towards the entrance.
The Vasaath was quick to grab her as she passed him, and he pulled his brows tightly together as he murmured, “Forgive me for being disrespectful, menaan. I was impatient. I yearn for you every day, and you are just—” He clenched his jaw tightly and sighed. He wanted to tell her that she was irresistible, that she was his weakness, that he would rather die a thousand deaths than be without her—but he could not.
The girl smiled faintly, and her gaze was soft. “I long for you as well, my love. I’m just too upset tonight.” She sighed, her cheeks turning pink.
He smiled apologetically. “Can I at least kiss you before you leave?”
To his great relief, she smiled wider, and before long, he was allowed to pull her into his embrace. He was gentle this time—respectful and loving—as he kissed her softly.
She left shortly after, and the Vasaath rolled his shoulders. He didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know whether he could trust Juniper’s instincts, or if she was just too gullible for her own good. Perhaps, she wasn’t. Perhaps she knew exactly what she was doing, and perhaps she was just protecting someone dear to her. Was the soldier even guilty? He had no doubt a mainlander could do something so deplorable, and Wiltbourne was indeed a perfect specimen of a mainlander, but how could such a coward do such a risky thing? More so, where had he hidden the boy?
Troubled by all the thoughts and questions, his arousal quickly faded and a night he had hoped would be spent in blissful pleasures turned into a brooding evening with thoughts that only brought him a headache.
It was late when Kasethen entered, and the Vasaath grunted as he looked up. “Yes?”
“I saw the lady leave earlier tonight,” said the advisor. “And I saw the arrest. What ails you, my friend?”
The Vasaath grunted again.
Kasethen raised a brow and sighed. “Why don’t we sit down?”
Over a cup of tea, the Vasaath told his advisor of the turn of events and the advisor had been strangely silent. He, of all people, knew the gravity of the situation—he knew guilt would lead to certain death, and he also knew the shame that would befall the Vasaath if it was one of his own that was the culprit. He had accepted the man as a part of the military body and the chain was only as strong as its weakest link. If the man was guilty, it was the Vasaath’s guilt as well.
“No one would blame you for his crimes,” muttered Kasethen. “He’s not one of us. Not yet.”
The Vasaath narrowed his eyes and looked at his friend. It was unlike him to say anything of the sort. “What do you mean?”
Kasethen sighed deeply and gazed out into nothingness. “There is still much resistance. We took the city by force, and the people respond to it with resistance. It’s natural. It will take a long time before they accept us as their own. Until then, we will remain two different peoples.”
The Vasaath huffed, surprised, but he couldn’t agree more.
Ohkasenon – foreign follower of the Kasenon; “follower of the faith of the people but not of the people”
Saath – military; army; strength; protection
Saathenaan – elite warriors; “deepest strength”