The Fall of the Builder: VII
Kasethen endured several meetings with other officials to organise the city defences—but his thoughts were far away. As soon as he was free, he went to look for Garret.
His heart was pounding hard against his ribs and he had never been this frightened in his whole life. What he had done was deplorable, but he would not have done it any differently. He didn’t regret his intentions or his actions, but if the Vasaath found out the truth, he knew not how the man would react. He had done something to the People that was unforgivable. He had put them all in potential danger, and all for the life of one innocent boy—but Kasethen would do it again if he had to.
He found Garret in the gardens, sitting on a bench watching the stars. Kasethen made sure no one was near before he hissed, “What have you done?”
Garret gazed up, surprise upon his brow. “Whatever do you mean?”
Kasethen glanced around again before he sat down next to the man. “The Vasaath arrested Wiltbourne last evening. Apparently, Juniper gave him the name—and I can only imagine who gave it to her.”
Garret pulled his brows together and nodded. “Yes, I did.”
“Because I was the new suspect,” Garret scoffed. “Lady Vasmenaan was set on pinning it on me, and since Lady Juniper has an ally in Lord Vasaath, that was my only way of getting acquitted.”
“So you abused the girl’s trust in you, and the Vasaath’s trust in her, to get your way?”
Garret glared at him. “I told her the truth.”
“You told her whatever you had to in order to clear your name,” Kasethen muttered. “Did you not?”
The human rolled his pale eyes. “I may have left out some details, yes, but I did not put an innocent man in charge of the crime!”
Kasethen huffed angrily. “He might not be innocent, no, but neither are we!”
Garret sighed. “My friend, do you wish to die for what we did? Because that is most likely what will happen. It would be the punishment for this sort of crime in my culture, and I doubt yours is any more forgiving. Wiltbourne was doomed from the moment he agreed, but why should we offer ourselves for slaughter when we know we could make a difference here, alive? Undoubtedly, we could make a bigger and better difference than him.”
Kasethen stared at the man. The argument laid out had the appearance of an altruistic one, but Kasethen knew it was the exact opposite. Garret feared death. Indeed, so did Kasethen, but if that was his fate, he would not be able to live with himself if he put it onto another. There was no honour in hiding one’s wrongdoings, and it wouldn’t just go against his character, but it would also go against the Kasenon and everything he believed in.
He felt dirty, tainted, and he set his face blank as he said, “If he dies, then so will I.”
Garret furrowed his brows, tipped his head to the side, and said, “Do you think anyone would benefit from either of our deaths? Do you think Wiltbourne would benefit from it?”
“It’s not about whether or not it’s beneficial, it’s—”
“It’s about honour—yes, I know your kind,” Garret muttered with a twinkle in his pale blue eyes, a twinkle that made Kasethen’s strangely weak. “Honour is everything, like some sort of deluded sense of dignity, when it’s all just a quick route to the grave.” He sighed. “I prefer to live and to do my best to help other living souls—I can do nothing when I’m dead and dust.”
Kasethen set his jaw tight. Garret was right, but he did not like the implication. “If our best requires others to die for our crimes, then that isn’t our best.”
“Sure it is,” said Garret. “I know you and your people like to pretend you value equality, but even though you claim that all are equal, you all know that isn’t strictly true and you all accept it. Lady Vasmenaan is worth more than any soldier, and in times like these, any soldier is worth more than a worker. It’s only equal when it’s convenient.”
Kasethen scoffed but could utter no words.
“Wiltbourne was mediocre at best, and would stand no chance against a seasoned fighter,” continued Garret and closed his hands on his lap. “If anything, he would be a burden, a liability.” Turning to Kasethen and looking up into his eyes with his pale gaze, he said, “You and I, however, are invaluable. Our minds—” Gracefully, he extended his hand into the air and swirled it around. “—are treasuries of knowledge. We are worth more than Wiltbourne, objectively.”
“You have a very grim view of the world,” Kasethen muttered.
“I was the advisor of Duke Arlington for many years,” said Garret. “I have had to learn the harsh truth about people and their value.”
Kasethen clenched his jaw. The more he spoke to these people, the grimmer their world seemed to be. He sighed. “It’s arrogant to believe oneself to be worth more than someone else.”
“Yes,” Garret muttered. “I can see how you would think that, but we have an entire society built upon that very notion. The Duke was a very arrogant man, thinking that only the Builder stood above him, while everyone else was beneath him.”
“Did you think so as well?”
“Yes and no.” Garret smiled charmingly and sighed. “Every Duke—or King, for that matter—has been told that it is so, as have all the others. But he was just a man, and now, he’s dead.”
Furrowing his brows, Kasethen said, “I don’t understand. You’ve had the opportunity to change your fate—if you didn’t agree with your lord’s actions, why did you stay? Why not seek employment elsewhere?”
Garret inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly, as he looked out over the garden. “The snow had just started to thaw the day Lady Juniper was born,” he said. “Twenty-two years ago… it feels as though it was only yesterday. The Duchess was happier than I’d ever seen her, but the Duke was deeply disappointed. She was not a boy, you see, not an heir—useless.”
The man fiddled some with his hands in his lap before sighing and gazing out in the dark.
“For the longest time, he didn’t even want to look at his wife, blaming her for the sex of the child. For even longer, he refused to hold his daughter. She meant nothing to him. She was just a… shrieking bundle of flesh.”
Kasethen felt his heart clench at the words—the implication of them.
The man sighed heavily. “I knew from the very beginning that someone needed to still the Duke’s temper and his whims. The man was capable of terrible things, enabled by the idea that he was chosen by the Builder, so I stayed, if only to still him a little. Indeed, I cannot say I hated the man. He was, in many ways, a very close friend of mine. I mourn his death.”
He sighed again and looked at Kasethen and the Kas was surprised by the honesty in them.
“I have sworn, to myself and to the Builder, that I will give my life to protect those children. I have saved Lord Sebastian, but Lady Juniper still remains here.”
Kasethen scowled. “The lady is safe. There is no need to worry.”
Garret huffed. “A few days ago, the Lady Vasmenaan was ready to have the girl’s head. As I understand, the only reason she is safe now is because of the Vasaath’s generosity—but I don’t trust him. In truth, I don’t trust any of you. How can I be sure that the Lord Vasaath will protect her and do good by her?”
“The Vasaath would never do anything to harm her,” Kasethen sighed. “He has already gone out of his way to make sure she is safe from the Vasmenaan’s scrutiny. You might see him as cold, but that man will wage war for those he cares about.”
“That makes him reckless and dangerous.”
“If anything,” Kasethen muttered, “it makes him reliable. He will always protect her. Always.”
Garret only sighed, strained and vexed.
Kasethen huffed. “If you’re so reluctant to trust a man like the Vasaath, then how come you could trust a man like Wiltbourne? Are you that disgusted by what we are?”
“I trust him because he’s predictable,” said Garret. “I trust that he will cave under pressure, and he will name the one giving him the order.”
Flying up from the seat, Kasethen hissed, “You are an impossible man! A minute ago, you lectured me on how honour will get me killed and how you want to survive, and now you tell me that you know Wiltbourne will give up your name?”
“Calm down, my friend,” Garret chuckled. “He won’t give up my name.”
Kasethen sneered. “So you will blame it on yet another?”
“No.” Garret rose and straightened his robes. “He will name you.”
Stunned, the Kas stared at the human as he walked away. “What?” It only took him two long strides to catch up, and it angered him to no end seeing the gleeful smile upon the human’s handsome face.
“Well, of course,” said Garret and scoffed. “You are a highly respected member of society, and the Vasaath has already proven your value by attacking the city to free you—they aren’t going to believe a pitiful man like Wiltbourne if he claimed that you gave the other, that you committed treason.”
“How can you be certain he won’t name you?” Kasethen huffed. “If you think he’ll be more afraid of you than the Vasaath, you’ve grossly overestimated your own prowess.”
“Oh, indeed,” Garret chuckled. “I would never, not in a million years, consider myself more intimidating than the Grey Warlord. But, I’ve found the one thing Wiltbourne cares about more than himself. He has two little boys, and he would rather die than have anything happen to them.”
Grabbing the man’s arm in a fierce grip, Kasethen growled in his face, “If you lay one hand on those children, I’ll kill you myself.”
“So there are grey muscles underneath that robe, after all,” the man smirked. Then he sighed. “I would never harm them.” Gracefully, he yanked his arm out of Kasethen’s grip, straightened, and fixed his sleeve. “But Wiltbourne doesn’t know that.” The pale blue gaze once again penetrated Kasethen’s. “You’re in Nornest now, my friend. You’d better learn the game.”
Kasethen watched as Garret walked back into the castle. His heart was pounding loudly and he was surprised at the profound sense of defeat that washed over him—how could he not have seen that? He hadn’t even thought it possible, such fraudulence.
Garret was as deceitful as he was charming and diplomatic, and Kasethen wondered if he might just be the most dangerous man in Noxborough.