What He Knows, What He Suspects
The night came on quickly, but no one slept. The king’s court spent the night riding, making their way to the next city. That city’s militia had lent the court their headquarters to have a desperately needed meeting, which Zane admittedly fell asleep during. He woke to someone shaking him by the shoulder, and the voice of an advisor he sort of recognized congratulating him.
He rubbed his temples, confused. “Wh-what? Uh, what’s going on?”
“We were just told of your victory.”
“Oh! Yes, thank you, sir.” He rose. “With respect, sirs, I’d like to leave now.”
“Dismissed,” Raj said.
“Thank you.” Zane left, seeking out a quiet place to sleep. He wound his way through the streets, keeping his eyes away from the wreckage. People gazed out at him from the windows, the stubborn few who refused to flee their homes. He met the eyes of one young girl who watched from the wooden steps of her home.
“Are you with them?” she whispered. “The army?”
He nodded, smiling a little. “Yes, I am.”
“What do you do?”
“Well,” Zane said, “you could say that it’s my job to punish the people who do wrong.”
“Oh. So, like the people who attacked us?” the girl asked.
He nodded. “Like those people.”
“So you’re one of the good guys, then.”
He nodded again. “Maybe.”
The girl disappeared into her house, and Zane kept walking.
Halfway into the city, he was stopped by someone shouting his name from behind. He groaned inwardly -- he knew what was coming. He turned. “So, I suppose you want to talk?”
“Yes,” Raj answered. “Yes, I do.” He stopped, clearly trying hard to stay composed. “I know, Lukas. I don’t know how long I’ve known, but when you told me you were with her when...well. I know. She....” He took a deep breath. “She loved you, didn’t she?”
“Well,” Zane answered, hesitating a bit, “I’d like to believe she did.”
Raj nodded slowly, processing the answer. “And did you love her?”
This time, there was no hesitation. “I did. With all my wretched heart, I did.”
The king looked at the ground, chewing his lip. “I thought as much,” he said.
Raj just shrugged. “How could I be? Indigo’s feelings were hers to give.” His voice shook, though he valiantly tried to keep his head up.
Zane felt terrible for him. To discover this, just on the heels of Indigo’s death, must have been a slap to the face. Insult added to injury. “I am sorry, my lord.”
“Sure,” Raj said brusquely.
That was the end of the conversation.
The first night of Convergence was usually celebrated with festivals, but not this year. This year, most, like Zane, had all but forgotten that it was happening. This particular night was spent attending long, long meetings, beginning to rebuild, tending to the wounded and dying. A part of Zane desperately wanted to go see his wounded friends, but the other part of him forced him away. After everything he’d already lost, he couldn’t bear to see Orion broken.
Besides, no one seemed to want him around, and he found himself surprisingly unable to sleep, so he wandered aimlessly around the city, out of the city, into the forest. A voice drifted through the trees, Krista’s. Zane found her a few yards away, standing on the bank of a small creek.
“You are troubled also, yes?” she asked.
Zane answered yes, because though “troubled” didn’t begin to describe it, there really was no word for how he felt. “Why did I make it, Krista?” he asked, a lump rising in his throat. “Indigo was the most wonderful woman I ever knew. She was an angel. Orion was --”
“Is,” she corrected. “He isn’t dead yet.”
“He might as well be!” Zane snapped. “Orion was a saint, and who knows how many other good, decent men and women with families and lovers died on those fields? Why should I, a wretched murderer, get to live, and for what? To be an executioner? So that, even after the war, I can watch lives cut short by my hand?”
“Some are born to nurture life,” Krista said, “others are born to simply live it, and a few are born to take it.”
“Don’t spit proverbs at me!”
“I hardly spit at you. I’m only trying to make your station easier, Zane.”
“So, what? You think I was born for this? To live while other, better men die around me? To watch everyone I ever cared for suffer?” His body trembled, and he sank to his knees.
Krista knelt beside him, putting an arm around his shoulder, whispering soothing words in his ear. “Cry,” she said. “It is all right.” And he did, lost in sorrow and guilt -- guilt not only for what he had done, but for the realization that he’d never been truly punished for it. It was the people around him who were left to suffer for his actions. When he looked up at her again, Krista was crying too, silent tears gleaming on her cheeks. “You are truly lost, aren’t you?”
“I’m alone, Krista. There is no one left. Indigo’s dead, Orion’s dying, Koris is gone, my old friends from the Academy won’t speak to me -- not that they should. Hell, the closest companion I have now is Raj, and he resents me for breathing. The only reason I’m the King’s Hand is because I was the only one trained for the job at all, however insufficiently.”
She continued whispering, and slowly Zane’s emotions began to calm. Krista was pushing at his heart with the little magic she knew, doing anything she could to lighten his burden. As his emotions calmed, reason filtered through. Indigo was dead to their world, yes, but she would live forever in the skies with her father. There was still hope for Orion, as hard as it was for his jaded mind to accept. Koris finally had the chance to forge his own path, and who knew, maybe someday he really would find his lost love again. His friends from the Academy had achieved their dreams, and yes, they had every reason to cut him out of their lives. He’d taken away someone dear to them. Raj did, too: he didn’t know Zane’s reasons, or know that deep down he didn’t intend to hurt his family. All Raj saw was a man who had first threatened his sister’s life and later stolen his wife from him. A reprobate who deserved what he got.
Maybe this is my punishment, he thought. Maybe the guilt is retribution enough. It certainly felt that way. But he also understood that it was entirely deserved, and he was ready to accept it.
“You are calm now?” Krista asked.
“I’m at peace,” he answered.
“For now, that is the best you can be.” She released her grip. “I am not as good at magick as Orion,” she said, “but I hope I did something for you.”
“You did. Thank you, Krista.”
They stayed on the creek, because neither felt much like moving. “You were wrong,” Krista said, after being silent for a while.
“Everyone is not gone. I am still here, aren’t I?”
“I barely know you. I mean, I think you’re a wonderful leader, and a great warrior, and all, but we aren’t friends.”
“You fought with us,” she objected. “You may not realize it, Zane, but you are the reason we were in the war at all. You have helped us make peace with the men of Cities at last.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“You did!” Krista insisted. “Without your persuasion, Raj would never have accepted our alliance.”
Zane considered that. “That is true. Perhaps I have more influence over him than I thought.”
“Raj is a better man than I believed,” she remarked. “He is...um. What is the word? Not wise, not experienced. Not really childish, but a bit like a child.”
“Yes, he is a bit immature, but he is getting wiser. He will be a good king one day.”
“One day,” Zane agreed. “One day, we will be a great kingdom again.”