Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 25
“It isn’t just the blade itself, but what the blade symbolizes,” Chavans argued. “Losing our house’s sword will make us appear weak, and our allies in the courts will turn on us.”
“I’d rather not have an ancestor blade at all, than bear the scorn of having it carried about by casteless scum!” Harta kicked a pillow for emphasis.
“On that point, heir, we are in agreement,” Chavans said. “However we proceed, no one can ever know of this shame.”
The sleeping poppy was making it hard for the boy to keep his eyes open and there was a pleasant humming in his ears. While Chavans and Harta continued their debate, Bidaya was absently studying the boy. He’d seen that expression before on the face of a butcher about to take apart a hog, only he found that he was too tired to care.
Harta had gone back to pacing. “Worst case scenario: we kill the casteless, the sword shatters, and then we give the shards to Kule’s wizards to play with. I know they’re constantly raiding the treasury to buy black steel fragments and demon parts enough as it is.”
“If you believe that’s the worst that can happen, then you lack the imagination necessary to someday rule this house,” Chavans replied. “If this scandal were ever brought to light, it would ruin us. We would become the laughingstock of the council. Our warriors would revolt before they would follow a non-person into battle. The Capitol would send the Protectors to execute us all.”
“Enough, both of you,” Bidaya said. Chavans and Harta closed their mouths. She looked over her shoulder at the last person in the room. This man had not spoken this entire time. He was so quiet and unassuming that the boy had nearly forgotten he was there. “The boy must go, but we can’t jeopardize the sword. What do you think, Kule?”
The boy shivered. It was a name that was spoken of only with fear and superstition among the casteless of House Vadal. From the stories, he’d expected a fire-breathing giant dressed in demon hide, raven feathers, and baby skulls, but Kule just seemed like a small, quiet, soft-spoken type. If he’d been casteless he would have been too frail to work and would have been sent to the pleasure houses to be abused for the whole men’s amusement. But everything was different when you could work magic.
The terrifying wizard was cleaning beneath his fingernails with a talon that had been cut off a bird of prey. “Send him to the Protectors,” he answered absently.
“What?” That seemed to alarm Harta. “Are you mad? What would that bunch of fanatics want with it? How does that solve –”
Bidaya held up her hand and the heir immediately fell silent. “Continue.”
“The answer to our conundrum lies with history. It has been a very long time since a great house has volunteered the service of the bearer of their ancestor blade to the Protectors of the Law. The last time that happened, impoverished Akershan’s obligation died after a few years, but they gained the Capitol’s gratitude for a generation. For mighty Vadal to give such a gift would be seen by the judges as an incredible act of devotion. Our foes will believe that we are so confident in our defenses that we do not even require the blade’s presence. Angruvadal exists to serve, and there is no honor greater than to dedicate a life to protecting the Law. Everyone wins.”
Except me, the boy thought to himself. All he knew about Protectors were that the non-people were taught from birth to never break the Law, because then the Protectors would come for them.
“The life of a Protector is one of hardship and service, but it is not usually a long life…” Chavans mused.
“That is correct, Arbiter. Their lives tend to be glorious and brief. Their average member doesn’t survive their obligation. Our only terms would be that when he is inevitably killed fulfilling his duty, the ancestor blade must be swiftly returned to its rightful house so that it may choose its next bearer. Then we can put this unfortunate incident behind us.”
“The Order is brutal. With any luck he’ll die in training.” Chavans smiled. “Yes. This course is honorable and brief.”
“Foolishness,” Harta declared. “The Law is clear on the separation of castes. What happens when the most ruthless of all its enforcers discover that we not only violated the Law, but insulted them in the process by sending them this…this…farm animal?”
The wizard smiled. Perhaps it was the poppy, but the boy thought Kule’s teeth were too sharp. “I will make sure the boy tells them only what we wish him to.”
“Your potions may be able to cloud the mind, but they can’t pass a casteless off as a whole man.” Forgetting his earlier fear, Harta strode over to the boy. It probably helped that by now he was barely able to keep his eyes open or his heavy head from drifting toward the cushions. Harta roughly put his hand on top of the boy’s head and rubbed it around through his hair as if searching for something. “Everyone knows casteless have horns.”
“That’s only a myth,” Chavans snapped. “Did you not pay any attention in your studies? They are mentally defective savages, but they’re still physically human.”
Embarrassed, Harta backed away, wiping his hand on his robe because he’d touched something filthy. “They’re still coarse and stupid. This charade will fool no one.”
“Protectors are not known for their polite company, firstborn, but rather for their viciousness, a quality which casteless have in abundance,” Kule explained patiently. “The Order will be so pleased at having access to an ancestor blade that they will overlook his limited intellect. Vadal encompasses a vast territory, I have no doubt we can find some backwoods inbred village for him to hail from.”
“My scribes keep the Vadal genealogy,” Chavans said. “It can be arranged.”
Kule, satisfied that his nails were clean, stuck the talon back inside his sleeve. “I assure you, grant me a bit of time and no one will ever suspect this little thing was not born a whole man.”
“Very well, wizard, you had best not disappoint…Giving our best to the Order…Only Vadal cares enough about the Law to make such a sacrifice,” Harta muttered. “Yes, I could sell that in the Capitol. Let those Vokkan monkey-humpers try to suck up to the chief judges over our trade disputes after that.”
“What of the boy, Kule?” Bidaya asked.
“What of him, my lady?”
“Can you truly make him believe he is one of us? Can you truly make something forget what it really is?”
The wizard was confident. “It will take a great deal of effort and expense, but my art can obscure its memories and construct new ones in their place. I will give it a new foundation built upon a total devotion to the Law. Upon that foundation I will build a most obedient servant.”
Bidaya seemed intrigued. “While you’re at it, can you remove his fear?”
“It will take some doing, my lady. Emotions are stamped upon us. Cutting off one may damage the others. May I ask why?”
“I want my family’s sword back as soon as possible.”
“Ah, yes, of course. That is wise. The bold die first. I will erase his sense of fear. As for erasing the evidence of the rest of his existence, that is up to you.”
“Very well, we will proceed with the wizard’s plan. Chavans, how many others know of this?”
“Six guards, mere nayaks, so no one of rank sufficient to cause a scandal if they die. I saw to it that they were all confined to the palace and allowed no visitors.”
“Excellent. Come up with a crime and execute them for it. Murder all the house slaves and their overseer as well.”
The boy protested. The house slaves had been kind and fed him, but his cries meant nothing to the first caste.
Bidaya turned back to the boy. “Do you have a family?”
He didn’t want to answer, but the sleeping poppy made it so the words just fell out. “I have a mother.”
“You don’t know who your father is? Of course not. Since the sword chose you, I’m assuming you’re my dead husband’s bastard. And all this time I thought he had better taste than to slum about with a fish-eater whore…Chavans, before you kill the overseer have him take you to the casteless quarter, find the boy’s mother, and kill her. In fact, let us err on the side of caution. Find whatever slum he called home and burn it to the ground. Kill everyone he’s ever known. Make it certain.”
“It will be done,” the old man assured her.
“Please don’t, my lady,” the boy begged. “I can keep a secret.”
“This is for the best, child. Go to sleep now. Tomorrow will be a new day.”