This book should be available now so this is the last snippet
Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 46
“That seemed to be the logical choice, but the Vadal delegation wouldn’t hear of it. They didn’t care what was done with you, as long as you died by a hand other than your own, preferably in combat, but they grudgingly accept execution. They’re willing to take some risk to get their sword back, but they refused to simply throw it away. It took some debate before they agreed to turn you over to me. So no, Ashok, you will not kill yourself, though when you hear your orders, you may wish to.”
He couldn’t imagine what else it could be, unless they wanted him to walk from here to the Capitol, naked and barefoot, probably starving and dueling every desperate fool along the way, all so the whole world could mock him before he presented himself at the Inquisitor’s Dome to be strung up and sunburned to death. But if a penance walk was what justice required, then he’d gladly do it. “I will serve.”
“Have you been to the lands of Great House Akershan?”
“Yes. The Order has sent me before.”
“Good. I’m sending you again.”
Akershan was the far to the south. It was a cold, desolate place, with tall, rocky shores overlooking an icy sea infested with demons. Yet just beyond the ice coast was Fortress, the impenetrable island of criminal fanatics and their deadly magic. Ah, a suicide mission. This was a much better death than he’d hoped for.
Ashok’s expression must have changed, because Omand hesitated. The condemned should not smile. “Yes?”
“Since I’m to die, it is wise to let me take some lawbreakers with me. I will gladly attack Fortress.”
“You would, wouldn’t you!” For the leader of such a nefarious, secretive order, Omand laughed like a regular man. Ashok had expected something with more cruelty in it. He didn’t understand why the Grand Inquisitor thought that was so funny, but then Ashok pictured Angruvadal, lost on the floating ice or sinking to the bottom of the sea where demons lived.
“It would be best if I left my sword here. Once I’m dead, it can choose a new bearer. That is the most honorable solution.”
The Inquisitor wiped his eyes. Tears were just another form of saltwater. “I must say, Ashok, you’re everything they made you out to be and more. Breaching Fortress is a task that entire legions have failed at, but you would surely try. From your reputation, you’d probably even discover a whale that miraculously hadn’t gone extinct and train it to carry you across the sea!” The way Omand’s mirth disappeared so quickly suggested it had never existed at all. “I’m afraid your assignment is far more mundane than that. A prophet has risen among the casteless in Akershan and started a rebellion.”
He had heard something about that from Blunt Karno. It was surprising that over a year later this would still be a problem. “Do you wish for me to find and kill their prophet?”
“Finding and killing seems to be your solution for everything, isn’t it?”
Omand leaned forward on his chair and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Yes, you will travel to Akershan and find him.”
“Only you’re not to kill him. You will protect him.”
Ashok blinked. “I don’t understand.”
“Since it was your title for twenty years, I’d have assumed a greater familiarity with the concept. Your orders are to find the casteless prophet, pledge your services to him, join his rebels, and do as he commands. He is to be your new master.” Omand paused to let that sink in.
It was the Inquisitors who skulked about in the shadows, pretending to be things that they weren’t. Inquisitors often lied about who they were to infiltrate cults and criminal conspiracies. They were skilled in deceit and trickery. “I’m no Inquisitor.”
“I’m not speaking of going undercover, Ashok.” Omand’s voice had turned low and dangerous. “Oh no, you’re far too noble for that. You’re many things, but you’re not a liar. There’s no hiding your identity. You’ll present yourself to this prophet as yourself, Ashok the Black Heart, the casteless murderer, the fallen Protector, in all your infamy, and you will swear allegiance to his cause and his false gods, and you will follow his orders as if they had all the might of the Capitol and spoke with the voice of the presiding judge himself. You will serve for the rest of your days. That is your punishment.”
Mind reeling, Ashok couldn’t respond, couldn’t speak, could barely think. It was as if the prison cell was spinning around him.
Omand pulled out another piece of paper and handed it over. “Read this.”
It was as Omand said. The written orders were clear. Ashok was to join the casteless rebels. Ten members of the committee had signed off, and it was stamped by the presiding judge.
Their word was law.
“The why never mattered to you before. Do you question the validity of these orders, prisoner?”
“Good. But the dumbstruck look on your face amuses me, so I will tell you why. Every man has a place. You’re a casteless criminal, so your place will be with the casteless criminals. This is your obligation. This is your sentence. The rest of your pathetic life will serve as an example to any who dreams of transgressing. If you were a normal man, I would take away your life, but your life is the Law, so I’m taking that instead.”
Ashok couldn’t breathe. This was worse than death. This was banishment, and not just banishment from a house, but banishment from all of society. This was the most dishonorable punishment imaginable, not just dying as a lawbreaker, but living as one. In a daze, he tried to unbuckle his sword belt, but his fingers had become too clumsy.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Leaving my sword here. Angruvadal can’t be dishonored like this.”
“The sword goes with you.”
“No. It can’t.” Ashok looked up, confused and hurt. The sword was more important than the bearer. Bearers lived and died, but the sword symbolized the strength of a house. “It’ll surely be destroyed.”
“The Law has spoken. You’re still the bearer.”
“But Great House Vadal –”
“Never should have let your foulness pollute the world. Now they will pay for their transgressions,” Omand hissed.
There had been no Vadal signatures on the second document. Judgment had been given to more than just Ashok today.
“Listen carefully now. For you to fail in keeping these instructions is to disgrace the sanctity of the Law even more than you already have. These are your final orders. You will take Angruvadal and you will leave tonight, in secret. You will sneak out like a thief. You will speak to no one. You will let no guards see you. All will believe you to be a coward and an oathbreaker. You will leave Vadal as quickly as possible and not look back. You will travel to Akershan without delay. Allow no one to stop or detain you. You’re forbidden from ever speaking of this meeting. You are bound from ever talking about these orders or the names upon them. As far as the world knows, you are nothing but a casteless criminal with a magic sword. Thus says the Law.”
“Thus…thus says…the Law.”
“Do I have your oath?”
Ashok couldn’t form the words.
“Give me your oath!”
“I swear to follow these orders,” he whispered.
Omand reached out and snatched the papers from Ashok’s fingers. “I told you that you’d rather kill yourself.” He stood up, walked away, and thumped his fist against the door. An Inquisitor on the other side opened it for him.
Ashok felt as if he’d taken a severe blow to the head. It was taking all of his concentration to stay on his knees and not fall over. He thought about taking Angruvadal out and plunging it into his guts. It would have hurt far less.
This was a betrayal of everything.
Omand paused in the doorway. “I must admit, of all the many terrible things I’ve done in my career, this is the harshest punishment I have ever dispensed. Farewell, Ashok.”