When Varian awoke, he was lying on his stomach in a ten by ten foot cell. The imprint of the cold stone floor pressed into the side of his face. Varian raised his head and winced as dwarven drums began pounding behind his eyes.
When Varian awoke, he was lying on his stomach in a ten by ten foot cell. The imprint of the cold stone floor pressed into the side of his face. Varian raised his head and winced as dwarven drums began pounding behind his eyes. He remembered being thrown into the wagon. The moist, hot thickness of the air inside the hood had almost made him sick, along with the smell of the blood trickling down the side of his face from Jevran’s cowardly blow. He remembered the lurching as the wagon started off, the tilting as it had started up a hill. Kerrin had rolled against him once. Then a rock had jostled the wagon, and his head had been thrown against the wagon’s side. After that everything was black. Slowly Varian got up. His mouth was dry and his tongue stuck to his teeth as he tried to lick them. Fighting down the dizzy sickness that threatened to overwhelm him, Varian stood and staggered to the washbasin at the right side of the cell. He leaned down and splashed his face with the cool water inside. Washing the crusted grime off his face and neck soon turned the water brown, but at least he felt cleaner. He stood up straight and stretched his arms. He winced as his sore muscles instantly made their protests clear. “Yeow!” Varian hugged his cramped arm to his side. “Hey, Varian!” Varian turned to face the cell door. Mel’s face was framed by the tiny window. “Mel! Are you all right?” Varian gripped the bars of the window. “Jevran didn’t hurt you or Tikah, did he?” “Not a chance.” “Good.” “What happened to your face?” Varian’s hand clenched the bars tighter. “Compliments of my brother.” Mel grimaced. “Ouch. Do you know when you’ll get out of here?” “No. I don’t even know why I’m in here. Jevran knows better than this.” Varian folded his arms. “Have you heard anything about Kerrin?” “Nothing solid. There are plenty of rumors flying around.” “Great.” Varian leaned forward as they heard a doors open at the far end of the corridor. “Mel, do you know where Kerrin is being kept?” “I can find out.” Mel lowered his voice to a whisper as two soldiers walked in, one whistling and twirling a set of keys on his finger. “Do that. I’m sure Jevran will want to speak with me, so I’ll come find you as soon as I can.” “Hey you, get outta here!” the soldiers had spotted Mel. Mel dodged one’s kick and scuttled out the door. “I’ll be around the stables as usual, Varian!” he called over his shoulder. Varian nodded and snapped at the soldiers, “About time you got here.” The one with the keys grunted as he unlocked the door. “Jevran wants to see you. He’s in his council room.” “That’s good. He was going to get a visit whether he wanted to or not.” Varian marched out of the dungeon and headed cross the Great Hall. The door to the council room was standing open. Varian slowed down and took a deep breath as he reached the doorway. All right, just keep your head and don’t do anything irrational. He scanned the room. Jevran was sitting back in his chair, his feet propped on the long table before him. The kingdom elders, ten in all, sat on either side of the table. Especially not in front of the elders. “…sure the Highlander is a spy?” one of the elders finished questioning as Varian walked into the room. “The last thing we need is to accuse him wrongly and set up a war with the Highlands.” “Well, the Highlander’s confederate is here now,” Jevran smirked, seeing Varian take his seat at the foot of the table. “Maybe he can enlighten us.” “Take your feet off the table first, Jevran. That’s not kingly.” Jevran’s feet came down with a crash. “Keep your comments to yourself!” The head elder, Danilos, winced. “Sire, please. This isn’t becoming to a king.” He leaned forward to look down the table at Varian. “We’ve summoned you to ask you a few questions about the Highlander. Now, Varian, please try to cooperate. We’re just trying to decide what’s best for the kingdom.” “I can tell you that right now—let Kerrin go. He’s not doing any harm.” “We already suggested that, but your brother…” Danilos glanced at Jevran’s stormy face. “Anyway, we just want the answers to a few questions.” “All right.” “First of all, what was a Highlander doing in the Lowlands?” Varian searched each man’s face before answering. “Believe it or not, some Lowlanders actually like Highlander artisanship. Kerrin is a merchant who was coming to sell a few of his daughter’s pieces of artwork. He was attacked at the border, and while escaping he broke his leg.” “Why didn’t we find any of his wares, then?” Jevran demanded. “Lost while he was running. It just underlines what I’ve said before. If we established a good trade road between the Lowlands and Highlands, half of these accidental attacks wouldn’t happen.” Jevran waved the suggestion away, and none of the elders seemed inclined to agree. Varian sighed and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Nothing is going to be helped by getting stubborn,” Danilos said, glaring sternly at Varian. Varian let the comment pass. “Varian, just how often did you visit this Highlander?” Jevran leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “I’m not standing trial and shouldn’t be required to answer that question.” “Just answer it, please,” one of the other elders insisted. “No. Kerrin isn’t a criminal and neither am I. You’re not going to treat us like criminals.” “Until proven otherwise, Kerrin is considered a spy. By association, you’d also be guilty.” Jevran raised his eyebrows slightly. “Now, please clear this up for us, little brother.” Caught me. I haven’t been here five minutes and I’ve already let them beautifully manipulate me. I hate that. Varian clenched his hand into a fist under the table and heard his knuckles pop. “I visited Kerrin once or twice a week to make sure he had enough supplies.” “How long had he been there?” “About a month.” “So you saw the Highlander about eight times without informing anyone else of his presence?” “Mel knew. And Tikah.” “Oh, wonderful, the two traitor’s children. Why didn’t you tell anyone else?” “Think about it, Jevran. No one trusts Highlanders. Why should I let anyone else know?” “So you didn’t stay long? Only a few minutes to make sure his needs were met?” Varian squirmed slowly in his chair. In all likelihood, he already knows the answers to these questions. If I lie to him, he’ll call me on it. I don’t need that, not in front of the elders. It could mean Kerrin’s life. “No, I usually stayed for a while to visit with him.” “Why would you visit with someone your country considers an enemy?” Danilos asked the question this time. “He’s the first person I’d ever met who shared my mother’s heritage. Is it such a crime to want to know someone from the Highlands?” “They’re our enemies!” Jevran glared at his younger brother. “How much will it take to get that through your head? I’m surprised Kerrin didn’t take off that stupid lump on your shoulders the first time he laid eyes on you! It’s their way; plundering and killing. They’re worse than animals.” “Sometimes I think they’re more human than some people in this room,” Varian said pointedly. The elders glanced at each other and shifted nervously in their chairs. Varian stood up. “I’m done with this. I can’t prove to you that Kerrin isn’t a spy, especially not with your bigotry against him. So choose now what you believe. You either believe me when I say he’s not a spy, or you believe that I’m a liar. I want to hear the decision, so choose now.” “It’s against our ethics to choose whether a man lies or tells the truth in front of his face…” Danilos started weakly. “Choose now, Danilos, or let me choose for you.” That got their attention. Slow, reluctant glances passed from elder to elder. Varian and Jevran waited on each end of the table, their arms crossed and their eyes narrowed. Danilos saw what he needed in the eyes of his colleagues and rose to his feet. “We proclaim…” he wouldn’t meet either man’s eyes. “That Kerrin is guilty of spying and will be put to death accordingly.” Varian felt his chest grow cold. I’d actually dared to hope that they wouldn’t say that. For a moment he stood still, staring at his brother’s mocking, satisfied smile. Then he whirled and stalked from the room. The walls shuddered as he slammed the door behind him. Jevran nodded to Danilos. “See that your decision is carried out first thing tomorrow morning.” Danilos inclined his head, his eyes troubled. He was obviously not proud of the elders’ decision. “Yes sire. It will be done.”
copyright 2008 by Magical Ink (magical-ink.blogspot.com)