Here is this week’s installment of “Machinations of War” the collaborative story my son and I are writing.
This week’s Chapter 6 is my contribution.
If you’ve missed the introduction to this project, or wish to read the story in its entirety please visit here for Chapters 1-5.
by Kimberley Thomas
Capitol City, Terra, 536 AC
Standing in the shadows of the stone threshold of the King’s personal quarters, Rafe silently observed the elder King Suhn as he sat motionless at his elaborately carved desk. Unaware of his being watched the King appeared mesmerized, staring blankly out the open window toward the sea beyond. He seemed to be desperately looking at, or perhaps for, something that was no longer there. After a long while, Abraham stirred from his prolonged trance. Leaning forward in his massive oak chair, the King propped his elbows up on the worn wooden desktop, wearily dropping his head into his hands. King Suhn sighs deeply, a sound of despair that echoes across the long room. Suddenly, Rafe becomes acutely aware that he is witnessing the private misery of a defeated and broken man. Regarding the sight before him, Rafe thinks, “A King he may be, but he suffers all the same.”
Rafe begins to shuffle in the doorway, alerting the King to his presence. King Suhn quickly gathered his composure, immediately transforming himself into the self-controlled, figure of supreme governance whom Rafe was accustomed to seeing.
Falling to one knee, Rafe greeted the King, “You sent for me, Your Majesty?”
The King stood with the grace and authority expected of one who has spent his lifetime under scrutiny for weakness. The dejected man, who Rafe had observed just moments before, had simply vanished. It was as if he had never existed.
“Yes, my good Sir Skerrett, I have indeed requested your presence. You are aware that most of my visitors do not simply let themselves into my private quarters unannounced. Yes?”
Still on bended knee before the King, Rafe bowed his head ever more slightly, “I am deeply sorry King Suhn, for my breach of protocol, I …” But the King brusquely cut him off with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Never mind, never mind.” The King was obviously impatient; another attribute Rafe had failed to observe in His Majesty prior to today’s impromptu tête-à-tête. “Rise, Sir Skerrett. We have much to discuss. But, not here,” leaning in close to Rafe, the King whispered, “there are traitorous ears listening.” Abraham Suhn, in a most un-kingly like fashion, flashed a sardonic grin at the young soldier.
Rafe swallowed hard. The only thought racing through his mind over and again, “Shit! Shit! Shit! He knows…“
Rafe was sure this was to be his end. Although, he was not certain whether the elder King Suhn knew about his relationship with his daughter, Aislyn, or his traitorous ties to his son, Alexander, the Heretic King. Rafe began to imagine the elder King knew of all his double-crossings on behalf of King Alexander, and his lack of discretion with Aislyn. Why else would the King himself, personally march him to a deserted swath of beach to torture and execute a lowly double agent? It mattered not, he supposed, as he trudged over the rocky terrain on his death march.
Surprisingly, he remained calm. When they finally reached the rocky strand, Rafe kneeled before the King. “I will not confess to any misconduct, Your Majesty. I have served the Twelve Kingdoms with honor. Exposing his bare neck to the King, Rafe continued, “All I ask in return is for my execution to be respectful of my honorable service.”
“Stand up, Rafe!” the King snapped. “I did not bring you here to execute you. Although, I am sure you do deserve it. Whether you are a loyalist to my son, and his heretical band of followers, I am unsure. However, I do not desire to know too much about you, or your activities, as that would put us both in grave danger. However, the one thing I am certain of is that you and my daughter are engaged in a romantic dalliance that has put both your lives in danger!”
Rising quickly, Rafe boldly addressed the King, “Your Majesty, I love Aislyn. This isn’t a dalliance, as you so put it—for neither her, nor me.”
“Good.” King Abraham glanced toward the sea once again and smiled sadly. Rafe had seen that same smile far too often on Asilyn’s face. “You are bold, yet shrewd, Sir Rafe. I think that if there is anyone who can defend and serve my daughter, and aid her in the trials she will soon face, it will be you.”
“Your Grace?” Rafe was clearly perplexed by the King’s remarks.
The King sighed wearily, “My son has been correct all along in his assumptions concerning the Creator.”
The ordinary man, who Rafe had so recently observed in the King’s quarters, had returned. Standing before Rafe was not King Suhn, Leader of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Capital City, but merely a troubled and remorseful father.
The King began to share with Rafe a complicated tale of deceit, danger, coercion, and treachery, spanning generations, since the time of the Great Purge. At the center of it all was the Creator. The Creator, the King confided, was not the Supreme Being their people had been led to worship and honor, the source of all moral authority and human fortunes. King Suhn illustrated a sinister entity; the Creator as the grim foundation for all the suffering the people of the Twelve Kingdoms endured.
The King further wove an account of the Creator as an all-controlling entity with feelings of malice and hostility toward everyone in Terra. How he has been aware of this for many years but because he feared for the safety of Alexander and Aislyn, he had to become part of the charade that is the established institution of the Capital City.
“As soon as I learned of Alexander’s doubts of the validity of the Creator as a benevolent God, I knew I had to send him as far south as possible in an effort to keep him safe,” the King mused. “I did not bear my estranged son any ill-will, as he has long believed.” Rafe noticed tears forming in the King’s eyes as he continued speaking, “I loved the boy with all my heart. My greatest regret is that I had not possessed the strength and courage to follow him. Alexander is the rightful King of the people, of that I have no doubt. The Creator and the High Priesthood may call him the Heretic, but mark my word Rafe, my son will one day liberate our people from the bondage of the Creator and his priesthood minions. Whatever may transpire from this day forth, you must give me your solemn promise, Sir Skerrett, that you will let my son know how deeply I loved him. Impart to him my great sorrow and shame for not being the man who could support his own son’s conviction in the rightness of his position, when he too knew its truths. Tell him all that I have told you, and convey to him how proud I am that he has become a much greater leader than I ever was.”
The elder King Suhn paused for a long time, for which Rafe was deeply grateful. He found himself grappling with the enormity of the revelations the King had bestowed upon him. Finally, the King took a deep breath in, then slowly exhaling, resumed speaking. “Now we must discuss how you will manage to get my daughter out of the city safely.”
“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but Aislyn will not leave willingly. She will not leave you, or the High Priesthood. She feels honor bound to stay, to fight by your side. Besides, she thinks her brother is a traitorous murderer. She will not go to Alexander without knowing the truth.”
“And you know this how?”
Rafe’s face reddened, “Because I have asked her to leave with me on several occasions, Your Grace.”
“Hmm, I see.” The King mulled over this new bit of information. “Sir Rafe, the High Priesthood is a highly clandestine organization manufactured by the Creator to keep the populace of the Twelve Kingdoms under control. My daughter’s gift is merely a tool for the Creator to be able to spy on dissidents and insurgents who pose any real threat to his continued rule. The innocuous and kindly Lord Preston is actually a ruthless and evil second-in-command to the Creator. Preston is the human reach of the Creator.” The King stopped abruptly, obviously gathering his thoughts, “I tell you all this because you must be aware of the grave danger the High Priesthood poses to her.”
Rafe nods his head in affirmation, “Yes, Your Majesty. I understand.”
“There is so much to impart to you, Sir Skerrett. I fear if I forget to pass on the smallest detail, it will be to your and Aislyn’s undoing.”
Rafe gently put a hand on the King’s shoulder, “Your Grace, I will trust no one, and protect her with my last breath.”
“Son, the day will come when you will need to put your confidence in someone to aid yours and Aislyn’s journey. Just as I have entrusted you. I simply hope that when that day arrives, your trust will be well placed, for her sake as well as your own.”
Rafe was the one blankly staring out at the sea now. “I will arrange the gear necessary for our quick departure. Under the circumstances, I think it best if we plan to meet here again tomorrow, before sunrise, to take our leave.” The King nodded his agreement to Rafe’s proposal. “I think it would be best, Your Grace, if you bring Aislyn to the beach. Together we can explain the situation as quickly as possible, in an effort to expedite our escape.”
The King stood, ready to depart, yet stopped short, “One last thing, before we take our leave, Sir Rafe. I am not sure how you have managed to fool Lord Preston and the council of High Priests of your infiltrator status. Moreover, I am especially curious how you have been able to defy detection by the Creator. From your first appearance in the Capitol City, I have had my doubts about your credibility, about the sincerity of your story. However, it matters not. I chose not to raise suspicion, and I must confess I have been rather astounded by your ability to gain their trust, in such a short period.” The King paused, searching Rafe’s face intently. Finally, dropping his gaze the King implored the young soldier, “I am not sure what magick you possess, but I beg of you to draw upon it to protect my daughter.”
Rafe abruptly grabbed at the pendent hanging from the leather cord around his neck. His impulsive action immediately drew the King’s gaze downward toward the crude item.
With a wry smile the King said, “Who would have guessed.”