Geleib & Caileagh Exherpts 3 - GandC 2
Farr Castle – The Steward’s Hall
Geleib wanted to swear and crow simultaneously but could do neither.
He had been summoned to Farr Castle by Danyth, who had replaced him as Royal Steward. The man wanted to ‘discuss’ how George Rosewood had been able to sequester royal funds without Melazera detecting that malfeasance. His only choices were to be complicit or incompetent, terms Danyth skillfully skirted around, implying them without ever saying the words.
Geleib wanted to swear for many reasons, starting with Danyth’s impertinence for questioning him. He was the Duke of Lorness. The Warrior was at his beck and call. How dare this Alexandrian put him on the spot? How did this temporary interloper have the gall to suggest that anything he’d done as steward was imperfect?
He’d delayed answering his upstart successor’s questions for over two years. He could not walk out of the informal ‘conversation’ without potentially dire consequences. It was so tedious being inconvenienced by such small people.
Yet, he wanted to crow due to the note that had just been delivered. Blackhawk had captured O’Toole. He yearned to shriek his delight but could not. Not in front of Danyth. Not until this travesty of a meeting was finally over.
He also wanted to scream about the timing. Melazera was departing for Lorness in only two days. Worse, he no longer had control over Farr Castle. Even if Steven could smuggle the knight into Geleib’s favorite interrogation chamber, it was not safe to use. Who knew who else had discovered it?
Further, to protect his cover, Steven would have to report the knight’s capture to the king… once his identity had been confirmed. That gave Melazera only the tiniest of windows to snatch O’Toole in such a way that Blackhawk would not be exposed.
Should I involve Caileagh? No. There is no time. I will take my prize.
Farr Castle – Jonathan’s Cell
Geleib smiled to himself.
The king’s destruction of the Black Robes had only forced them into the shadows, where they still watched, manipulated, blackmailed, corrupted, and enticed. Admittedly, it had thinned their ranks but only the dross had been discarded. The best of them still remained. And, they had amassed access to the most wondrous range of things, such as uniforms for the Royal Guard.
It was well after the night’s middle hour. The castle was quiet.
Under other circumstances, Geleib would have spent time admiring himself. The colonel’s uniform he wore – he simply could not have impersonated a rank lower than Steven’s – did wonderful things for his physique. He decided to add it to his collection of trinkets, keepsakes and mementos that marked special occasions, like King Edal’s sword.
The lieutenant guarding O’Toole snapped sleepily to attention, saw the insignia of a colonel and began to sweat.
Geleib liked him immediately. “I’ve come to transfer the so-called knight.”
The sting as Melazera’s hand snapped across the junior officer’s face had a delightful ring to it. That the youngster fell was even more enticing. The breaking of bone, and other things, as his boot ground into the floored lieutenant’s groin briefly elicited the most wondrous sounds. Then the tip of Geleib’s sword sliced through exposed flesh, leaving a growing red puddle.
Disguised Black Robes were already bundling the semi-conscious prisoner into passages that should – would – allow their escape with his prize.
Geleib forced himself to be quiet. He wanted to gloat but there would be time for that later. Apart from which, the sweet aroma of one of Caileagh’s potions reached his nostrils. What was the point of reveling in O’Toole’s coming misery if his intended victim could not hear him?
Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop
Melazera walked languidly into the room, then spent a long moment taking in his prisoner. “I’m so excited to see you again, Jonathan. You’re our most prized possession… for the time being.”
Jonathan said nothing.
Annoyed by that lack of response, Geleib gestured and the chains holding up the knight were tightened, almost raising him off the floor. “Better… a much better view. Caileagh will be so delighted to find you here on her return. I’ve already sent for her as…” He laughed. “You don’t have any friends here, do you, Jon?”
“I have the God of Tru—”
Melazera grabbed him by the throat and squeezed. “I do not want to hear that. I am not interested in your petty, irrelevant godling. Say it again and I’ll cut out your tongue. I… we… only need you alive, not talking.”
We… the Warrior and I… Caileagh is no longer anything but a tool.
He released his grip.
I don't want to kill him yet. I don’t want to kill him quickly.
Geleib had felt powerful choking the knight. He wanted to do more than that, much more. “I’ll leave you for now, Jon. Please, please enjoy the wait. Caileagh has delicious things planned for you.”
High Castle – The Gardens
Caileagh dismissed the servant, ignoring the note that had just been delivered.
Watching the queen play with her daughters was like torture, an example of everything that she did not, could not, have. Whispers within her mind teased and tormented. Her guiding spirits were angry and active and vindictive today, feeding on her fears and amplifying them.
It had not always been like this. When she was younger, her spirits had supported her, guided her, and granted her pleasures that were beyond understanding.
Now, they were agitated, goading her, riding her as if she was some beast of burden.
She tore open the note and the voices sang to her!
O’Toole had been captured.
Lorness Castle – Geleib’s Private Audience Hall
Geleib preened, delighting in the small joys his lofty station provided him. Things such as keeping someone waiting, especially a docent who had been petitioning for a private audience for three days as they had ‘crucial information’. The last time he’d heard those words, he had the fool flayed to death by the buffoon’s own daughters. It had been a diverting evening’s entertainment.
Crucial information, indeed.
Still, the idiot might have some small tidbit that could prove useful.
With a wave of his hand, he bid his page to allow the docent to enter.
Perhaps I should keep Caileagh around to deal with such rabble. No. No, I require an heir. Her spirits, potions and age have all rendered her infertile.
I must have an heir before I become the rightful king of this land. Only then will my initial triumph be complete. Only then can I consider spreading the rule of the God of this Age into the heathen countries on our borders.
“Your Grace,” Docent Labret abased himself and waited.
At least he has manners and knows his place.
“What…?” Geleib ensured that his superiority laced every syllable of the small word as he sat on his throne and looked down upon the supplicant.
Remaining bowed over, the docent spoke without looking up at the duke, “It is said you seek a way to distract Captain Lendyld. He has a weakness.”
“I have heard several such tales. Yours had better be accurate, for your sake.”
Labret’s head bobbed up and down, nodding frantically. “He likes young widows.”
“So, why should I care about that? How can I use that to bend him to my will?”
“Widows, your Grace. Widows. Plural. At the same time. I persona—”
“The ‘paragon’ that protects Colonel Blackhawk is courting, seducing and, I assume,” Geleib gloated, “bedding several widows at once? You have proof?”
“I have witnesses.”
“Of them doing what?”
“Of adultery. Of him proposing to and being accepted by no less than three women. Of his renting separate properties and setting each up as his wife. Of—”
“That is enough.” Geleib rose from his seat and walked forwards. “You have done well and will be well rewarded.”
Geleib strode out onto the battlements as dawn broke. Then laughed.
If his ancestors had intended to make Lorness Castle a militarily defensible fortress, they had done a spectacularly poor job of it.
There was no central keep to fall back into. For the sake of comfort and to project their power and prestige, if the keep had ever existed, it had long ago been demolished to create a bailey within which was a vast mansion house, set in exquisite lawns and gardens.
The inner bailey did have a curtain wall. Not that it was very high, nor did it have sufficient towers to cover all the potential blind spots against attackers. They would have ruined the desired aesthetic. There wasn’t sufficient accommodation within to house the Melazeras, their guests, servants, enough soldiers for defense, and all the provisions required for a siege. So, the soldiers and provisions had been moved outside.
There was a proper curtain wall around the outer bailey. It had towers, battlements, bastions, a pair of heavily reinforced gate houses each with its own barbican. There were arrow slits and murder holes for defense. The main problem was that it did not contain even a small fraction of the town of Lorness, which lay outside unprotected by even a decorative wall. A secondary problem was that, if Lorness ever became besieged, there was – again – insufficient space within the outer bailey to house the town’s population and the supplies to feed them. Thirdly, additional holes had been opened up through the curtain wall to improve trade, commerce and so on.
Geleib sighed. He remembered his grandfather scorning High Castle for its concentric design, layer upon layer of defenses and lack of living space for important people.
Grandfather Traneib’s opinion of Farr Castle had almost been as bad. Only ‘almost’ because the Melazeras had seen to its ‘improvement’ over recent generations. Even the king had acknowledged its superiority to High Castle by living there for a substantial part of each year.
As for the Alexandrian Castle, Traneib had not known where to begin. There certainly had not been an end to his complaints. First, it was built in the oddest of places. Second, it was as if it had been constructed backward, as if it was defending some non-existent path through the impassable Shining Mountains. Third, generation after generation of Alexandrians – people obsessed with money – had kept expanding it.
Yet none of Geleib’s musings soothed him.
There were a large number of Knights of Joshua out there, openly wearing their cloaks and proclaiming their presence. The townspeople were welcoming them, inviting them in, feeding them, and doing who knew what.
It was unacceptable.
But worse was the even larger formation of cavalry, flying King Sagen’s colors. They were not approaching Lorness. Instead, they were setting up camp across the road leading to High Castle.
Geleib did not know what their game was but did not like it.
There were large dust clouds approaching from both the north and south. The sort that, from the stories of his youth, indicated entire armies of soldiers on the move. Armies that seemed intent on intercepting each other at Lorness.
Are we being invaded? Who is coming from the south?
As he was about to withdraw inside, an ever-larger raggedly-dressed band of boys emerged from every point of the compass surrounding Lorness. They were waving dark flags. No, black flags.
No, no, no! This cannot be. Those are torn, cut and shredded black robes!
Geleib snarled but his angst dissolved into amusement.
The loss of the Black Robes as administrators was no more than an inconvenience. The loss of the incompetents who permitted themselves to be killed by raggedy-dressed boys? That was less than nothing.
I’m offended that my elegant Black Robes were bested by such gutter trash.
“Herald,” Geleib commanded, “send word to our people throughout the city. We are being surrounded by rogue knights, rebels and criminals. For their own sake, they must withdraw into Lorness Castle, where we can provide safety and weapons for those who would fight.”
Ha! Even as these fools attempt to besiege me, they play into my hands, giving me thousands of unwitting would-be-soldiers.
Soldiers. They’re no more than a distraction. As useless as building protective walls. My ancestors did something immensely more useful.
Something that many years of slave labor had permitted him to renovate, expand upon and improve.
What fool would waste money on defenses? Do these clumsy idiots think that they can capture me or make me surrender by stationing troops around me?
Geleib’s laughter bordered on hysterical.
Do these cretins think that armies change the course of history? That openly wielded power is the decisive factor? I’ll show them.
Not even Greyson or Rosewood had glimpsed the truth. Caileagh had never had the capacity to. She had been a tool sent to permit Geleib access to the Warrior’s power.
Build an army? I did so as a distraction. Phah!
I built tunnels and accessways. Had them constructed by people who could be, and were, then disposed of. Only I know of their existence. Only I know whose throats are waiting to be slit at my pleasure.
I built a spy network within a spy network
I know secrets that grant me power. Secrets whose value cannot be diminished.
Now, I will teach them all what true power is.
High Castle – Caileagh’s cell
Kennah followed the queen into the room… cell… there were not words for it. The furnishings were beautiful, exquisite. There was a small table with four seats, three double-width chairs that formed a conversation area, a place for washing and doing ablutions, and a bed.
Caileagh was tied spreadeagled to a wall, her mouth filled with a gag, from which flecks of spit and spittle cascaded to the floor. Her muffles screams and pleas unintelligible. At sight of her visitors, she thrashed wildly.
Two more armored deaf women were also in the room, monitoring the prisoner’s health.
“Remove the gag,” Kennah instructed., “I must know what I am dealing with.”
“Help… me…” were the first words from Caileagh’s parched lips, her eyes pleading. Then she laughed. It was a slow, superior, condescending sound. “…for you’ll never help yourselves. This woman is ours, given unto us to use as we see fit. We shall do with her what we will. Just as we shall do to you, when your earthly power crumbles, as it must…”
The midwife set down her bag, ignoring the threats and promises the demon spewed. “Until I give everyone permission not to do exactly as I say, when in this room, mine is the only authority, for I serve as an ambassador for the God of Truth.”
Melyssa and the bodyguard nodded immediately. Ush-Wha did so after a few seconds.
“Gag the prisoner. Then, woman from clan Ush, show me exactly what you have done, what progress you have made.”
What Kennah witnessed was, for the most part, worse than she had imagined. Yet, there was still hope. Most of the scars, runes and tattoos that adorned Caileagh’s body had not been done by her but to her. “We have our work cut out for us.”
“You are stronger than the spirits that possess you,” Kennah informed Caileagh, who writhed and screamed.
“We claim this woman for the Son of the God of Truth. Be healed, in the name of Joshua Ha Mashiach,” Kennah continued. “In the name of Joshua Ha Mashiach, come out, spirits of iniquity. You are banished from this vessel. Be gone!”
Caileagh’s body contorted. Iron chains bolted into the room’s stone walls threatened to stretch and snap. Yet the true battle was fought within that woman’s soul. A pitifully thin strand of light illuminated depths that had long ago succumbed to darkness.
Caileagh was lost in inky blackness. Naked, beaten and bloody. Memories of her mother using her as a sacrifice, as payment for a new husband, and of being raped, sodomized and befouled threatened to overwhelm her.
Rituals that she had organized, planned and conducted, showed her the endless suffering she had imposed on others.
All was darkness.
There was no hope.
There was no light.
On the endless plain that stretched into infinity all around her, impossibly far in the distance, a pale shaft of light came into being.
The light moved closer, then pierced her.
No, it was not a light, it was a sword.
A golden sword.
A golden sword that had been prophesied, that had threatened to take everything from her, that…
…might be her only salvation.
Lorness Castle – Geleib’s Rooms
Things were more critical than he’d anticipated. The two dust clouds, one from the south and the other from the north, had resolved themselves into massive armies. Alexandrians and who-knew-where-they-came-from respectively.
Damn Gregory Locke!
Worse, the Warrior was demanding a time-consuming sacrifice when there was no time to spare, no time to prepare, and – with Caileagh an almost unlamented loss – no one he could trust to do so properly.
And yet… am I not the Warrior’s equal? If a sacrifice is what he requires, then I shall give it to him… as I see fit.
Summoning his senior guardsman, he gave instructions that the dungeons, every single dungeon from within and around Lorness Castle, was to be emptied and the human refuse they contained was to be flushed, driven and expelled down a particular set of tunnels before midnight. In the hours following that, every man, woman and child who could hold a weapon was to be driven into the tunnels after them.
He then sent for Rosewood’s deputy – where was the man when he was needed? – and provided instructions for every remaining Black Robe.
When he was alone again, he looked down at his city. If he could not have it, it would burn. Just as he would destroy Freislicht if it refused to submit to his will.
High Castle – Caileagh’s Cell
Caileagh knew her eyes were open but could not focus. It was as if she was looking at everything through a thin layer of gauze.
Her hearing was similarly affected. Everything was dull and muffled.
Her mouth was parched. Even the water she’d begged for, and been given, had no taste.
But the worst, most terrifying, most alien thing was the… silence.
There were no voices within her mind, urging her to do this or that, arguing with each other, exhorting her to do one thing with all their strength then the next moment do its polar opposite.
“…an… y… earm…” the voice made no sense.
“…an… yo… ear.. m…” it came again, closer but still indistinct.
The sharp pain of being slapped across the face brought things almost into focus as the unidentified voice snarled, “…ave to do…Mywayush! …agreed to do thin… of clan Ush…”
Caileagh sat bolt upright, terror driving her movements. Ush!
She reached for her demons but they were not there.
She reached for anything.
“Once you accept the ransom of Joshua Ha Mashiach you are wholly owned by him and rest in his love no matter what happens…” She heard the knight’s words.
An elderly woman appeared before her, dressed in a midwife’s apron whose pockets were overflowing. Open arms comforted her.
Caileagh sank into their embrace… “Please… please… please… anything, I’ll do anything but save me from Clan Ush! They’ll—”
“It’s alright,” the midwife consoled. “You are safe. No one here will harm you.”
“It’s alright, Caileagh,” Melyssa echoed, having paused from reciting the Writings.
A dark shadow slipped around a corner and was gone.
“You are safe within the protection of Joshua Ha Mashiach. My name is Kennah. Are you hungry? Do you need water?”
Caileagh opened her mouth to speak but there were no words. The sight of Melyssa sitting in a corner was even more heartening than the arms around her.
“Can you talk about what you’ve experienced?” Kennah continued. “About what you’ve done? It may help you to speak of it, to make it separate from you, to put those deeds in the past.”
The questions were clear but to Caileagh’s exhausted soul, came too quickly. She could not grasp them. She recognized her thoughts. But she could talk… and the talking eased things. As did the sweet-but-watered-down wine her savior provided…
“…for there is freedom only in his love.”
High Castle – The Queen’s Drawing Room
Melyssa sat surrounded by most of her usual ladies-in-waiting. The sun had barely risen above the horizon. The cloudless sky promised a beautiful day.
Yet, it felt odd to have neither Ladies Ush-Wha nor Ush-Lus present. But, given how her guest had reacted to the mere mention of their clan’s name, it seemed imprudent – potentially even ruinous – to have them join in.
Caileagh was escorted into the Queen’s Drawing Room by Kennah, four guardswomen, eight Alexandrian mercenaries – Melyssa wished, yet again, that her third father, Gregory, would trust that those he’d already sent to protect her were enough – and three women reciting the Writings. It was quite the procession. All of which entered, and took their stations as if this was a stately ball.
Once her guest was seated comfortably, Melyssa began, “I am sorry not to have visited more often.”
“Your Majesty,” Caileagh slipped from her seat to kneel before the queen, “that you visited at all, demonstrates your compassion. To have come so often, is a kindness so far beyond what is due me. I am unworthy.”
“There’s no need—”
“But there is, your Majesty,” Caileagh insisted. “I have done great wrongs. I have done you wrong. I…” her voice caught.
Kennah put a comforting hand on the kneeling woman’s shoulder.
“I must… atone… for the wrongs I have done. At the very least, I must prevent more wrongs being done to you. Wrongs that I can prevent.”
Melyssa tried to remain calm. She had hoped to have a few useful things come up during this conversation, making the offer before her almost too good to be true.
Almost… is this a trap?
“What wrongs,” Melyssa felt as if she was in one of her childhood fantasies, facing down the evil witch, “could you prevent?”
Caileagh clutched her hands together and looked down at the floor in front of the queen’s feet. “For one, your Majesty, Geleib is losing his mind… no, has lost his mind… and his soul. He sold them to a patron demon, the Warrior. I was part of… but I can, and will, confess those sins later. There are tunnels leading out of Lorness…”
Sagen thinks he has Geleib isolated there. How does this affect things?
The apparently penitent woman’s body was shaking, beads of sweat breaking out on her face, her skin grew pale.
“Take your time,” Melyssa consoled.
“The Warrior does not care for Geleib’s subtle manipulations, for his blackmailing, cajoling and threatening. The Warrior wants action, wants blood to be spilled, wants souls to be sundered from their bodies.”
“That… sounds dire.”
“It is. The Warrior will have seen, as I did too late, that Geleib’s plans will not be successful. Therefore, he will do something. It could be anything but it will be rash, violent, and wasteful of life.”
‘Such as?” Melyssa prompted.
“The tunnels. I expect the Warrior will use the tunnels.”
“I don’t understand. Even if they can get behind the soldiers besieging Lorness—”
“No, your Majesty! The tunnels lead through old mines all along Lord Melazera’s Highway. They have been interconnected so they extend almost to High Castle.”
We have a problem. Sagen cannot have anticipated this.
“Go on,” Melyssa urged.
“For Geleib, failing to achieve his goals will result in him wanting to destroy, defame, poison or burn anything and everything that he cannot have. For the Warrior, it will mean an opportunity to spread chaos. Not just in this moment but for years or decades to come.”
“How will they do this?”
“That, your Majesty, I do not know.”
“Then how do you propose to begin your atonement?”
“With maps, pen and paper, I can provide you with the locations of their temples and meeting places, with exits from the tunnels, and where the Order of the Black Robes has stockpiles of… of… everything.”
Melyssa signaled that writing utensils and parchment should be provided.
“I can also show you the way the followers of the God of this Age identify each other.”
Melyssa looked down, controlling her physical reaction. She was not surprised but to hear it said so bluntly caused several emotions to war within her. None of them were pleasant. “That Order was disbanded by Royal Decree in 154.”
“I am sorry to inform you, your Majesty, that only drove it underground, caused Geleib great anxiety and frustration, and delayed his plans.”
“I see… then, perhaps, I should let you begin documenting those things. Start with the tunnels. Once your efforts are completed, we shall talk again.”
I have to get this information to Sagen. It will change things.
“There is only one more thing… but…”
“Go ahead, your Grace.” Melyssa had deliberately not used the title earlier.
Caileagh blanched. “Your Majesty, I am no longer Duchess of Lorness. My husband has disowned me, declared me dead, and has a substantial bounty on my head.”
“Titles, your Grace,” Melyssa corrected, “are bestowed by the king, not your husband. While King Sagen has issued warrants for Geleib’s arrest, for the seizure of his personal property, and confiscation of all his personal monies, your name was not mentioned. Nor was there a suggestion that you be stripped of your title.”
“I… that is, I don’t know what to say.”
“I did not say that you will keep your titles, Duchess but at this moment they are yours and you should be treated accordingly.”
Caileagh looked around the room for support. Her face was flushed. “There are traitors amongst you. Not many. Yet enough for Geleib’s success…”
Melyssa bit the inside of her lip, then forced herself to ignore it as she focused on what was happening.
Traitors? How many? Where?
“I don’t know names,” Caileagh resumed, “but I know that the most senior of them was a captain when he was recruited…”
Beneath Lorness Castle – Geleib’s Private Rooms
Geleib strutted into the room and felt satisfied.
The space was an exact duplicate of his private audience chamber. The one with all the interesting and amusing additions. Things like places to display his toys, living and otherwise. He’d even had the paintings and tapestries duplicated. Here, and in three other bolt holes, he had prepared in case things did not turn out his way.
If I cannot win by one means, I shall by another. The Warrior is my ally, making me invincible… in the long run. So what if a few buildings and people burn along the way? It will only make my triumph all the more memorable!
“Drake, keep up,” Geleib growled. “You insisted on joining me, the least you can do is take pleasure in our impending victory.”
“Victory? Are you mad? We’re hiding below ground. You’ve sent almost everyone you possibly can on a fruitless attempt to storm High Castle by surprise. Yet the tunnels you’re so proud of don’t have exits within that city. They’re outside on the plains. It will be a slaughter. It—”
“It’s intended to be. The point is not to win on the field of battle but to smuggle my assassins and agents into High Castle and elsewhere in its aftermath. Within a week, the king, the queen, and the heirs to the throne will be dead. The survivors will argue the succession amongst them, while I position my chosen heir. And then…”
“Then what, Geleib?”
“Then we sit back in the shadows and run everything. It was a mistake to accept elevation to being a duke. It distracted me. Yet, it also taught me valuable lessons. We’re not done, Drake. We’ve barely begun.” He turned his back on his only companion and walked into a shadowed closet. The poison on his knives and sword needed to be refreshed.
Lorness Castle – Secret Passages
Geleib swore, and kept swearing.
Jon’s son had appeared before him… again… but with too many companions.
If there’d been time to renew the poisons on his blades, he might have risked taking on three or four.
But over a dozen? Never!
Nor was there anywhere nearby where he could ambush them, gather troops or…
This is unfair! Why do you taunt me so, Warrior? I’ve done all you’ve demanded. Is the son of my enemy too much to ask for?
With the clumsy predictability of knights, Jon’s boy and his companions were breaking into the secret passages…
…then inspiration struck.
Thank you, Warrior. I should not have doubted you.
Opening a panel, Geleib reset the passages in this section of the castle so that the blundering clueless knights would think they were following a single corridor with only one or two exits from it. He then stepped into one of the concealed bays and waited.
Lorness Castle, Secret Passages
David had fallen back to being last in line. It was impossible to pursue Melazera through the accursed dimly lit secret passages that led who-knew-where except in single file. While he wanted to be first, that honor and the risks that went with it had to be shared.
Without warning, the floor of the passage gave way and nine knights fell to their deaths. Impaled fifteen feet below on rusty iron spikes, not all died immediately. Yet, there was no way to help them.
Four knights were isolated on the far side of the pit, leaving only David and two others. Without any alternative, the two groups agreed to go in opposite directions.
Unable to proceed forward, David turned around, becoming first in line again.
Less than a minute later, he heard a sound behind him. Something fell. The sound came again. David turned just in time, to block the sword thrust with his dagger, and see Geleib Melazera smashing into him.
The secret passage’s wall, which had appeared solid, gave way under their combined weight as they rolled and grappled
David felt a pain in his side as Geleib’s sword snapped. He punched into the face before him. Melazera mistakenly blocked. David’s dagger slid into flesh. Warm blood made it slippery, hard to hold onto.
Something else gave way as they continued rolling, striking at each other.
The dim light of the secret passages was replaced by dozens of candles in sconces.
Geleib kneed David in the groin, broke free and ran.
The spreading bloodstain on the Lord of Lorness’ side brought great pleasure to David. But, when he tried to rise to his feet, he couldn’t. He was nauseous. Bile erupted from his throat.
Then an impossible face was above his.
The person was saying something, issuing orders but they made no sense as they seemed to come from further and further in the distance.
Lorness Castle, Living Areas
Jonathan stood as two of his knights dragged a bound but struggling, screaming but gagged Geleib into the room where David was, just, clinging onto life. “Where’s the third knight?”
“It was just a flesh wound. He’ll be along soon,” Sir Renhope noted.
“You two,” Jonathan selected another pair of knights, “bring the third quickly. Lorness poisons his blades. As for you,” he focused on Geleib after they had departed, “part of me thinks I should take you to High Castle, trussed like a stuffed fowl to stand trial, be found guilty, and then sentenced to death. But the rest of me fears how far your influence extends even now. You chose to serve a dark god and evil spirits. By that decision alone, you have condemned yourself.
“I am not fool enough to offer you trial by combat.
“I am not fool enough to trust that you cannot buy an innocent verdict.
“I am not fool enough to risk keeping you alive a single moment more than necessary.
“Therefore, by the authority granted to me by King Sagen as his Over-Commander, I sentence you to death. Sentence to be carried out here and now.”
Geleib’s eyes had grown larger and larger with each statement. Then they focused on Blackhawk.
“If I may,” the commander looked up from his patient, “I would ask a boon of you, Sir Jonathan.”
“What? You have saved my son’s life—”
“Not yet, I haven’t,” Blackhawk corrected. “His chances are good. They will be even better if we can find one of their… workshops. But we cannot do that, guard this prisoner, and avoid the fires that I fear are spreading.”
“What is your favor?”
“Let me kill him, with one of his own knives. No matter what happens, for the rest of my life there will be those who think I was secretly in league with this… monster. Despite the fact that throughout King Sagen’s reign, and even during King Edal’s, I was working for Freislicht.”
Geleib’s eyes wavered. Tears began to roll down his face. Jonathan assumed it was because he had been fooled so completely.
“From the very first moment that I met the self-styled Lord of Lorness, my life has been cast into darkness. I shall never atone for the things I did to bring this… this…” His voice broke. “To bring this person to justice. I doubt your own son will ever truly forgive me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive myself. But, if it is known that he died at my hands, at your lawful order, it will make my future a little less gloomy.”
Jonathan hesitated. Even when the still, small voice encouraged him to agree, he delayed.
Geleib was shaking his head, struggling and failing to break free.
“I understand,” the words were heavy on his tongue. He unsheathed King Edal’s sword, looking at the length of the blade with longing. He wanted to be the one to end this matter. It was what he had asked when his first life ended, after he’d found his house burned, and his wife and daughter missing. Yet within him, his need for revenge, for retribution, warred with his desire for justice. “This man killed a king. A king you served. A king that deserves his right and just retribution. If you would kill him, do so with this blade.”
Blackhawk took a long slow breath then stood and accepted the king’s sword. It was clear to all present that emotions warred within him. None wanted to know what they were.
The two knights holding Melazera forced him to his knees.
Jonathan walked behind the prisoner, placed a foot in the middle of Lorness’ back, then put his weight on it, pushing Geleib’s torso down so that it was parallel with the ground. “Whenever you are ready.”
Melazera’s head turned toward Blackhawk. Some later suggested it was to curse the commander. Others said it was a last plea for mercy.
Commander Blackhawk raised the two-handed sword over his head. Slashing down, he ended the life of the Duke of Lorness.