This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.
How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 45
He shrugged, and Sharleyan nodded. They’d discussed it often enough, and the logic which had sent her here was at least half her own. The world — and especially the Empire of Charis — needed to understand she and Cayleb genuinely were corulers . . . and that his was not the only hand which could wield a sword when it was necessary. She’d demonstrated that clearly enough to her own Chisholmians, and as a very young monarch ruling in Queen Ysbet’s shadow she’d learned that sometimes the sword was necessary.
And when it is, flinching is the worst thing — for everyone — you can possibly do, she thought grimly. I learned that lesson the hard way, too.
“Well, you can’t take it off me,” she told him philosophically. “And it’s later here than it is where you are, and your daughter has gotten over her snit over the local temperature and is about to begin demanding her supper. So I think it’s probably time I went and saw to that minor detail. Good night, everyone.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Sharleyan Ahrmahk sat very still as the prisoner was brought before her.
He was neatly, even soberly, dressed, without the sartorial magnificence which had graced his person in better days, and he looked acutely nervous, to say the least.
Tohmas Symmyns was a man of average height and average build, with thinning dark hair, a prominent nose, and eyes that reminded Sharleyan of a dead kraken’s. He’d grown a beard during his incarceration, and it didn’t do a thing for him. The smudges of white in his hair and the strands of white in the dark beard made him look even older than his age but without affording him any veneer of wisdom.
Of course, that could be at least partly because of how much she knew about him, she reflected grimly.
She sat in the throne which had once been his, her crown of state on her head, dressed in white and wearing the violet sash of a judge, and his muddy eyes widened at the sight of that sash.
Idiot, she thought coldly. Just what did you expect was going to happen?
He wasn’t manacled — she and Cayleb had been prepared to make that much concession to his high rank — but the two Army sergeants walking behind him wore the expressions of men who devoutly wished he’d give them an excuse to lay hands on him.
At least he wasn’t that stupid, and he came to a halt at the foot of the throne room’s dais. He stared at her for a moment, then fell to both knees and prostrated himself before her.
She let him lie there for long, endless seconds, and as she did, she felt a sort of cruel pleasure which surprised her. It shamed her, too, that pleasure, yet she couldn’t deny it. And the truth was that if anyone deserved the torment of uncertainty and fear which must be pulsing through him at that moment, Tohmas Symmyns with was that anyone.
The silence stretched out, and she felt the tension of the nobles and clerics who’d been summoned to bear witness to what was about to happen. They lined the walls of the throne room, there to observe, not speak, and that was another reason she let him wait. He himself would have no opportunity to learn from what happened here this day; others might.
“Tohmas Symmyns,” she said finally, and his head snapped up as she used his name and not the title which had been his for so long, “you have been accused of treason. The charges have been considered by a jury of the lords secular and temporal of the Empire and of the Church of Charis. The evidence has been carefully sifted, and you have been given the opportunity to testify in your own defense and to name and summon any witnesses of your choice. That jury’s verdict has been rendered. Is there anything you would wish to say to us or to God before you hear it?”
“Your Majesty,” his voice was more than a little hoarse, a far cry from the silky, unctuous instrument it once had been, “I don’t know why my enemies have told you such lies! I swear to you on my own immortal soul that I’m innocent — innocent! — of all the crimes charged against me! Yes, I corresponded with Earl Craggy Hill and others in Corisande, but never to conspire against you or His Majesty! These were men I’d known and worked with for years, Your Majesty. Men whose loyalty to you and His Majesty I knew was suspect. I sought only to discover their plans, to ferret out any plots they might be hatching in order to bring them to your attention!”
He rose on his knees, extending both arms in a gesture of supplication and innocence.
“You know what pressures have been brought to bear on all of us to renounce our oaths to you and to the Crown, Your Majesty. You know the Temple and the Temple Loyalists insist those oaths cannot bind us in the face of the Grand Vicar’s pronunciation of excommunication against you and His Majesty and interdict against the entire Empire. Yet I swear to you that I have observed every provision of my oath, given to His Majesty aboard ship off this very city when I swore fealty to your Crown of my own free will, in the face of no threat or coercion! Whatever others may or may not have done, I have stood firm in the Empire’s service!”
He fell silent, staring at her imploringly, and she looked back with no expression at all. She let the silence linger once more, then spoke.
“You speak eloquently of your loyalty to us and Emperor Cayleb,” she said then, coldly, “but the documents in your own hand which have come into our possession speak even more eloquently. The testimony of the Earl of Swayle further indicts you, and so do the recorded serial numbers of the weapons which were delivered here, in Zebediah, into your own possession . . . yet ended in a warehouse in Telitha. Weapons which would have been used to kill Soldiers and Marines in our service had the conspirators in Corisande succeeded in their aims. No witness you have called has been able to refute that evidence, nor have you. We are not inclined to believe your lies at this late date.”
“Your Majesty, please!”
He shook his head, beginning to sweat. Sharleyan was vaguely surprised it had taken this long for those beads of perspiration to appear, but then she realized Nahrmahn had been right. Even at this late date Symmyns hadn’t quite believed he wouldn’t be able to fast talk his way out yet again.
“You were given every opportunity to demonstrate your loyalty to us and to Emperor Cayleb,” she said flatly. “You chose instead to demonstrate your disloyalty. We cannot control what passes through the minds and hearts of our subjects — no merely mortal monarch can hope to do that, nor would we even if it were within our power. But we can reward faithful service, and we can and must — and will — punish treachery and betrayal. Recall the words of your oath to His Majesty. To be our ‘true man, of heart, will, body, and sword.’ Those were the words of the oath you swore ‘without mental or moral reservation.’ Do you recall them?”
He stared at her wordlessly, his lips bloodless.
“No?” She gazed back at him, and then, finally, she smiled. It was a thin smile, keener than a dagger, and he flinched before it. “Then perhaps you remember what he swore to you in return, in his name and in our own. ‘We will extend protection against all enemies, loyalty for fealty, justice for justice, fidelity for fidelity, and punishment for oath-breaking. May God judge us and ours as He judges you and yours.’ You chose not to honor your oath to us, but we most assuredly will honor ours to you.”
“Your Majesty, I have a wife! A daughter! Would you deprive her of a father?!”
Despite herself, Sharleyan winced internally at that reminder of her own loss. But there was a difference this time, she told herself, and no sign of that wince was allowed to touch her expression.
“We will grieve for your daughter,” she told him in a voice of iron. “Yet our grief will not stay the hand of justice.”
He wrenched his gaze from hers, staring around the throne room as if seeking some voice which might speak in his defense or issue some plea for clemency even at this late date. There was none. The men and women most likely to have allied themselves with him were the ones least likely to risk their own skins on his behalf, and the last color drained out of his face as he saw the opaque eyes looking back at him.
“The jury which has inquired into your guilt or innocence has found you guilty of each and every charge against you, Tohmas Symmyns, once Grand Duke of Zebediah.” Sharleyan Ahrmahk’s voice was chipped flint, and his eyes snapped back to her face like frightened rabbits. “You are stripped of your position and attainted for treason. Your wealth is forfeit to the Crown for your crimes, and your lands and your titles escheat to the Crown, to be kept or bestowed wherever the Crown, in its own good judgment, shall choose. And it is the sentence of the Crown that you be taken from this throne room to a place of execution and there beheaded and buried in the un-consecrated ground reserved for traitors. We will hear no plea for clemency. There will be no appeal from this decision. You will be permitted access to clergy of your choice so that you may confess your sins, if such is your desire, but it is our command that this sentence shall be executed before sundown of this very day, and may God have mercy upon your soul.”
She stood, a slender dark-haired flame in white, slashed by that violet stole, rubies and sapphires glittering like pools of crimson and blue fire in her crown of state, gazing down at the white-faced, stricken man she had just condemned to death.
And then she turned, Merlin Athrawes a silent presence at her back, and walked out of that throne room’s ringing silence without another word.