The Crimson King: XIII
Waking next to Garret was a luxury Kasethen didn’t expect to ever experience. To know that this might be the last time he did so was heart-wrenching.
A strand of his silver sprouts lay over his face and Kasethen gently pulled it back, careful not to wake him. The man looked so serene in the faint morning light, as if nothing could hurt him.
Kasethen clenched his jaw. He wished he believed in the man’s god so he could curse it for sending him someone to love only to have him snatched away so soon.
Sighing deeply, Kasethen slithered out of bed. Garret stirred but after a deep, slumberous sigh, he remained asleep. The Kas dressed, brushed his long hair, and slipped away into the cold, dark halls of Fairgarden.
The breakfast parlour was warm and light enough, but he was less impressed by the ones sitting around the table. Baraam and Eloch were chatting over a cup of tea, and despite them not falling quiet the minute Kasethen stepped inside, it was evident that they were not happy about his appearance.
He nodded in respect, said good morning, and sat down on the other end of the table with his head held high. He had no wish to engage in a conversation with either of them and kept to himself. He didn’t want his childhood torment to plague his mind more than necessary, but there was a strange pull in his belly nonetheless.
Ohmaas. Not to be. It was such a degrading term, meant to undermine his dreams and ambitions. The child giving him the name so many years prior was neither Baraam nor Eloch, but it was impossible for any person moving within the learned circles of Kasarath to ignore the moniker given to the saath-kasethen who looked as though he had never raised a sword in his life. It was not to be.
The mockery turned even crueller when it was made clear that the young, newly appointed Vasaath wanted Kasethen at his side as his advisor. The small boy who had no promise suddenly became a vas-kasethen. Of course, he would be a target for jealousy and cruelty. Many years had passed since, but Kasethen still felt the sour sting of it.
He didn’t have to suffer for long inside that breakfast parlour. Garret entered once the sun had risen just a bit higher, and Kasethen felt relief wash over him at once. The man nodded at the other two Kas but paid them no further attention as he joined Kasethen with a soft smile.
Despite the man’s suppressed history, he seemed confident enough to show tenderness and intimacy in the company of other Kas as he placed a hand atop of Kasethen’s. Perhaps the knowledge that his desires weren’t frowned upon amongst the Grey Ones made him confident and relieved—but the moment the door opened and Lady Juniper entered, he quickly pulled his hand away.
The girl joined them with pain in her silver eyes. “Oh, Kasethen! I wish you wouldn’t have to leave us!”
The advisor smiled. “Neither do I, my lady, but it is a very important mission.”
She nodded slowly. “I suppose it is.” Frowning, she said, “Although, I wonder why you bother going so far south. Why not Kingshaven? Or Riverport? Why not make peace with Westbridge? If there even is a conflict anymore…”
Guilt spread in his chest like venom. The girl didn’t know—of course, she didn’t. Her initial naivety might have been snuffed out the moment the Vasaath launched the attack on the city, but Kasethen was quite surprised she hadn’t even the slightest suspicion that the invasion was far from over.
Indeed, he would not hold it against her if she hadn’t gotten to that thought just yet. Accepting the fact that the city of her ancestors, her birthright, had been invaded only a few months prior was certainly more than enough for the time being. What her thoughts would be once she found out the truth was something Kasethen dreaded to even think about.
He sighed deeply before replying, “Illyria is a great power. It would be a considerable ally.”
She nodded. “Indeed.” Sighing, she placed a hand on his. “I just hope they will treat you well and that you’ll come back to us.” Glancing quickly at Garret, she added, “To all of us.”
Kasethen smiled. “I’ll do my best. A Kas will always go down fighting.”
“Well,” Juniper said, “let’s just hope you don’t have to fight at all. My father never liked the Emperor, so that leads me to believe he might be a good man.”
The three of them chatted cheerfully during breakfast, as if he wasn’t going at all, but when the time had come for him to gather his things and make his way to the harbour, his heart began racing. Indeed, he knew very well that he was only doing his duty—but he was afraid. What if he was never to return?
He owned very little. A few pieces of garments, a few books, and a few other items were all he brought with him, together with the scroll with the Vasaath’s demands. It fitted in a smaller trunk that was carried by a large soldier, Kavas, atop one shoulder.
In the bailey, he mounted a horse and rode together with his fifty Saathenaan warriors. The Vasaath was nowhere to be seen. Not even when he arrived at the docks could he find his friend and leader. Juniper and Garret were waiting for him, but there was no grand gathering, no salute or goodbye. He was but an advisor, after all.
While the fifty warriors filled the longboats with armour, weapons, and provision, Kasethen readied himself for one of the most painful farewells of his life.
While he felt sorrowful saying goodbye to the girl, he could barely look at Garret. He had gone through unspeakable sorrow before, but Tiku was a warrior. He died with his sword in his hand, with pride, and that brought at least some solace to a breaking heart.
Neither Kasethen nor Garret were warriors, but lovers and philosophers. Their parting was not that of life or death, but of duty. If Kasethen died before he could see his beloved again, it would all be in vain. He stared into the man’s eyes, as pale as the ice he was about to cross, wishing he didn’t have to leave.
The girl softly cleared her throat next to them. “I’ll see if I can find the general so you can be on your way before dark.”
Kasethen barely looked at her as she left, but kept his gaze fastened on Garret. They stood silent for a long time while the cold winds crept closer, under the skin and into the bones. The ice from the bay sang and snapped as it grew, and the air around them puffed with each breath. A trembling hand touched his grey cheek, and he shivered.
Tears suddenly spilt from his eyes, but Garret was quick to wipe them away.
“I didn’t think it would be this difficult,” Kasethen muttered.
“You’re strong and you’re brave,” said Garret softly. “You will return to me.”
Kasethen clenched his jaw tightly. “I don’t want you to do anything reckless while I’m gone. I won’t be here to protect you.”
Garret smiled crookedly. “I don’t need saving, my dear.”
“The war is far from over.”
The man nodded and let his hands fall to his side. “I know. I knew the minute you brought an entire army to these shores.” He chuckled darkly. “You came with two hundred men because you wanted to take Noxborough. You brought thirty thousand men because you want to take everything.”
Pulling his brows together, Kasethen nodded. “I’m sorry.”
But Garret only smiled. “I knew what I got myself into the moment I kneeled. Make sure it’s worth it.” And with that, the man rose on his toes and planted a sweet kiss upon Kasethen’s lips.
The Kas’s heart raged—he wanted to claim his lips, take him in his arms and profess his love, but such a display wasn’t proper out in the open. Not like this, and especially not when he was about to leave the man alone to the vultures. The tender kiss was all they had, together with the memory of their last night together.
When they parted, it was just in time before Lady Juniper reappeared, followed by the Vasaath.
The general’s brows were set low, his jaw squared. He carried a large bundle in his arms, wrapped in crimson fabric. When he arrived at the scene, he handed the bundle over to Kasethen, and the advisor was surprised at the heft of it.
“My lord,” he said, “what is this?”
“It’s your armour,” the Vasaath rumbled darkly. “Wool-lined, tempered. The armourers have worked day and night to finish it. I’ve—been quite particular as to how it should be.”
Frowning bewilderedly, he opened the wrapping he realised was a heavy, pelted, crimson cloak; underneath was a black leather breastplate with the sun of Kasarath engraved into the materials. It was a stunning piece, and despite not even caring for armours, Kasethen felt strangely emotional. He looked up at the Vasaath, unable to speak.
“You’re my First Advisor,” muttered he. “You’d better look the part.”
Kasethen swallowed. “Thank you, venaas.”
The Vasaath avoided his gaze and blinked rapidly, his face twitching ever so slightly. “I want you to have this as well.”
Undoing a clasp at his waist, he released the belt holding one of his swords and placed the sheath onto the bundle, and Kasethen nearly lost his breath. The blade had been a gift from the previous Vasaath, as proof of his bravery and skill, and it was a sword he never parted from.
“It’s sharpened and perfectly balanced. It has served me well. I hope it will do the same for you.”
He couldn’t help himself. He burst out crying, silently and stoically—but his tears rolled down his cheeks as though there was no end to it. He snivelled, trembled, but tried to maintain his stance. “Thank you, Great Warrior.”
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder, and he stared straight into the Vasaath’s tear-brimmed eyes. Slowly, the general leaned forwards and gently placed his forehead against Kasethen’s. Both of them took a few deep breaths, eyes closed as they felt each other’s souls, before the Great Warrior took a step back.
“Farewell, venaas. May the Mother guide you, and we shall meet again at the Equinox.”
Kasethen nodded, took a ragged breath, and boarded one of the longboats. The winter winds whipped against his face as the boat was taken out along the rift made through the ice. He watched the blinding white shore for as long as he could, and when the people there were too far away for him to see, he sighed deeply.
Pulling his cloak closer around him, he fastened his gaze upon the ship that was waiting for him on the glittering water beyond the wailing ice.
Ohmaas – (oh ma arvasas); “I am not to be”
Kasethen – advisor; seer; “wisdom of the people”
Saath – military; army; strength; protection
Saathenaan – elite warriors; “deepest strength”
Vas – leader; keeper; order
Venaas – friend