Commander-General Kurk Deshon attended the coronation. The Commander-General had been among the throng with his wife and children and had had a heck of a time extracting his family from the panicked crowd. He had urged them against the walls as panic took over the crowd. He watched in fascination and horror as people were trampled underfoot. His daughter broke out into sobs and he picked her up and held her as she wrapped her thin arms around his neck and buried her face against his left shoulder. He rubbed her back.
“It’s alright, child,” he said against her braided hair.
His wife wrung her hands. She pressed against him.
“Be calm,” he told her. She was big with child, having reached her seventh month of pregnancy. He did not want her going into labor.
She looked up at him with her large hazel eyes and swallowed.
Their son was pressed against her side. She had an arm protectively around his narrow shoulders.
Kurk watched as Yllysian soldiers apprehended the disruptors, manhandling them out of the Throne Room and into the hallway. Soon there were only the injured writhing on the marble floor, the more levelheaded of the attendees tending to wounds and hurts until healers could arrive. He quickly ushered his little family to the Great Hall.
He set his daughter on the floor and looked at his wife. “Take the children to our suites and wait for me. I have to see if his Majesty is well.”
She put her hand on his arm. “Be careful.”
He nodded and watched as she took each child by the hand and hurried them down the long hallway.
Kurk strode through the edges of the agitated crowd until he attained the War Room. The guards at the arched door saluted him and let him through. Inside the War Room, he found Belihn pacing impatiently.
When Kurk entered, Belihn stopped. “Kurk! Thank Goddess you are well!”
Kurk bowed to Belihn. “I am well, as is my family, your Majesty. How are you?”
Belihn frowned. “As well as can be expected. Are the injured being cared for?”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“Good,” Belihn murmured. “There were five culprits, but one took his life. The other four have been detained in the donjon. I want them interrogated, tortured if need be.”
Kurk bowed. “I’ll see to it right away.”
“I want to be there,” Belihn said.
“Of course, your Majesty. Let me arrange for the interrogations. I’ll send for you when we are ready.”
Belihn blew out a breath. “Thank you, Kurk.”
Kurk bowed and spun on his heels, striding into the hallway and then to the donjon door, where two fierce looking Yllysians stood guard. He swept past them and down the donjon stairs. He asked where the agitators were being held and was directed accordingly. When he arrived at the first of the cells, he found Ambassador Torim was already there.
They bowed to one another.
“The King wants the agitators interrogated and he wants to be present during the interrogation,” Kurk told the Ambassador.
“I’ve sent for truth serum,” the Ambassador told him. “It’s more benign and efficacious than torture, we find.”
Kurk raised an eyebrow. “Truth serum?”
The Ambassador gave him a mirthless grin. “Yes.” He indicated an open cell door. “We’ll administer the injections and await the effects of the serum.”
Kurk entered the cell door and found a faded wooden table with restraints for the hands and feet. The cell smelled of earth and dust, mold and dampness. Two torches in wall niches filled the room with a sickly yellow light.
The Ambassador looked at Kurk. “The serum is administered and the effects begin around a half an hour after the serum is introduced into the body.”
An Yllysian healer arrived with a leather bag. He set the bag on the table and removed a syringe and vial from the bag.
“I’m ready for the first prisoner, your Eminence,” the healer said.
The Ambassador motioned for a guard. “Please bring one of the prisoners.”
The guard brought his fist to his chest and bowed. “Right away, your Eminence.”
Kurk stepped further into the room and watched as two guards forcibly hauled one of the prisoners into the room. They forced him onto the table and restrained him. The young man fought like a tash-tash, screaming obscenities the entire time. Kurk stepped forward, studying the young man. He was a clan son, with the black hair and gray eyes of the aristocracy, but Kurk did not recognized him. As he watched, the doctor approached the prisoner, the syringe in his right hand.
The young man noticed the needle and paled. “Wh-what is that?”
The doctor did not reply as he pushed the young man’s head to one side and plunged the needle into the side of his neck. The young man screamed.
The Ambassador watched impassively before signalling to Kurk. “Bring his Majesty, Commander-General. This should go rather quickly.”
Kurk had Belihn fetched by two Yllysian guards. He refused to leave the prisoner, wanting to learn as much about the truth serum as he was able. He watched the young prisoner’s reactions closely. At first nothing happened. The prisoner moaned and rolled his head left and right. Kurk walked to the head of the table and stood over the prisoner. Soon, the prisoner’s skin grew pale and a fine sheen of sweat coated his skin. By the time Belihn arrived, the young man was shivering and sweating profusely.
The Ambassador explained to Belihn that a truth serum had been administered.
Belihn glanced at Kurk then at the Ambassador. “Truth serum? Does it work?”
The Ambassador bowed. “It works differently on different bodies. The serum’s efficacy is estimated around 93 percent.”
Belihn’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s impressive.”
The Ambassador bowed again. “Yes, your Majesty. Shall we begin?”
He glanced at the healer, who bent over the prisoner and pulled up an eyelid. “His eyes are dilated. You may proceed with the investigation.”
Belihn approached the table. “Begin then.”
The Ambassador bent over the prisoner. “What is your name?”
The prisoner frowned. “Sjul.”
“What is your clan, Sjul?”
The Ambassador began to slowly pace. “What was the purpose of disrupting the coronation?”
“We were too far,” Sjul muttered. “Kill Belihn.”
“You came to kill the king?” Kurk demanded.
The prisoner spit to one side. “Not my king. Filthy commoner.”
“Who sent you?” the Ambassador asked.
The young man’s frown turned into a scowl. “Father said if the commoner was killed, then there wouldn’t need to be war. We could overcome Draemin City–” He swallowed.
“But what of Yllysia?” the Ambassador prodded.
The young man shook his head and barked a laugh. “Easy to overcome the blue-skins. Cowards can’t compare to Torahni.”
The Ambassador shared a look with the doctor. He sighed. “This feeling of superiority will soon be wiped from your land. We are evenly matched, militarily speaking.”
“I have no doubt of that, Ambassador,” Belihn said. “But the clans think themselves superior to all other cultures and people.”
“We are aware of that,” the Yllysian stated. He frowned. “Let’s see if we can glean from the prisoners numbers of soldiers and strategies, shall we?”
Kurk clasped his hands behind his back and settled in for a long interrogation.
Belihn’s disappointment was palpable as he began to pace. They had learned nothing about the opposition’s forces and strategies from the prisoners. He had not thought it would have been easy, but still he was disappointed.
Kurk and Ambassador Torim watched him pace in silence.
“We will win, your Majesty,” the Ambassador assured him.
Belihn frowned. “I wish I could be as certain as you, your Eminence.”
“You are not old enough to have ever seen Yllysians in battle,” the Ambassador said. “So you do not realize how fierce and nigh unbeatable we are.”
“I’ve read historical accounts,” Belihn told him. “Yllysia is truly fearsome, but I wonder if the opposition has gotten assistance from Tjish.un or South Torahn.”
Kurk shifted. “My spies have sent me accounts that lead me to suspect the clans are fighting on their own.”
Belihn shook his head. “I wish I could be sure, Kurk. They are arrogant and cocksure, to have sent the protestors and allowed them to fall into our hands.”
The Ambassador shook his head. “They know nothing of our forces, nothing of importance. They wanted to discredit your coronation and they wanted to rattle us. They did not succeed in either endeavor.”
“I agree,” Belihn said. “If anything, they’ve angered the citizens of Draemin City-State.”
The Ambassador smiled and nodded. “They have, your Majesty.”
Kurk rose from his chair. “You should not allow your doubts to take hold of you, your Majesty. If you second guess yourself, we are lost.”
Belihn nodded. “I know, Kurk. I am trying to stay positive and to have faith in Yllysia, but my life and my family’s wellbeing rests with our success.”
Kurk bowed. “And we will succeed, your Majesty. What do we do with the prisoners?”
“We can’t allow them to live,” the Ambassador piped up. “As long as they live, they pose a security risk. Besides, they are traitors to the new clan and the new regime.”
Belihn and Kurk shared a glance before Belihn sighed.
“You may take ownership of the prisoners, Ambassador,” Belihn said.
The Ambassador rose from his chair and bowed. “Excuse me then.”
Once the Yllysian strode out of the room, Kurk turned to Belihn.
“We can’t kill them, your Majesty,” the Commander-General said. “That will only add credence to the opposition.”
“I disagree,” Belihn replied. “The Ambassador is correct. Besides, I think Yllysia doesn’t want it generally known that they have a truth serum.”
Kurk shook his head. “These prisoners are young men, your Majesty.”
Belihn raised a hand to stall any further words. “I see your point, Kurk. I share your distaste for ending four lives, but these men made a choice and now will pay with their lives. My trust is limited and I am not sure we do not have traitors within our ranks. As long as those four prisoners are alive, they are a symbol. We can’t afford that, Kurk. Can you see?”
Kurk grimaced and rubbed a hand along his chin. “Yes, your Majesty. I see your point. It just doesn’t sit well with me, murdering Torahni.”
“It doesn’t sit well with me either,” Belihn told him. “But our hands are tied. An example must be set that we will not tolerate treason. Our duty is to the greater good; that means we have to change the culture and the laws, no matter what. Our purpose is greater than the lives of four men who fully knew what they were getting into.”
Kurk bowed and said nothing more.
The four prisoners were forced to kneel before King Belihn. The King looked them over, noting the stubborn set of their jaws and icy stares.
“Are you willing to die, rather than swear fealty to me?” he asked them.
The young man at the end spat on the earthen floor. “A pox on you. You are a usurper and you shall fall to our sword.”
Belihn raised his gaze and locked it with Ambassador Torim’s. “You may proceed, your Eminence.”
The Ambassador bowed.
An Yllysian guard stepped forward. He unsheathed his broadsword.
The young man who had spat looked over his shoulder. He paled but squared his shoulders. “For the glory of the Clans!”
The other three echoed his words.
The Yllysian guard raised his sword and swung it, cleanly decapitating the first prisoner. His head rolled and came to a stop at Belihn’s feet. The body gracefully fell forward, gushing blood onto the earthen floor. A metallic, sweet tang filled the dank donjon air.
“I ask you again,” Belihn told the other three. “Join us and your lives will be spared.”
“Goddess damn you!” the second prisoner from the left spat.
Belihn motioned for the guard to behead the second prisoner. And so it went, until all the prisoners lay dead on the floor.
Belihn spun on his heel and strode from the cell.