A FINAL REQUEST...
With his beloved Prince Stephen sentenced to be executed for treason, Thaddeus, the warrior cursed by the Gods with a Blood-Rage, must fight Stephen's accuser to the death. There is one problem: He needs the Gods' blessing to be victorious.
A FINAL REQUEST...
He walked up to the platform and examined the rings, where Stephen's chains would be attached. The thought of his prince in such a precarious position made Thaddeus ill. So instead, he focused on Kinarr's pain.
"You wanted to become Stephen's warrior guard."
Kinarr nodded as he sat on the edge of the platform. "Yes."
Thaddeus quietly fingered the rings, feeling their coldness, their lack of anything symbolic other than lack of freedom. He shivered.
"I have taken your only source of comfort from you."
"No, Thaddeus. Never. In your love for Stephen, I know he will be safe. That is comfort enough for me."
Thaddeus studied him with fondness. He sat beside his friend, their shoulders almost touching. Kinarr was a gentle soul, full of love for his prince and his people. He would be an honorable and trusted friend. How far that trust would go was what Thaddeus needed to find out.
"But now you have no one to share your life. With Stephen and me joining, with Shumway giving his affections to Pemura, it remains to be determined—who will take care of you?"
Kinarr chuckled, but it was full of dim mirth. "You?"
Thaddeus smiled. "I will always be your friend, and Stephen will always hold a place in his heart for you. You must know and believe that."
"I do, Thaddeus. It is enough."
"It's never enough, Kinarr, as noble as those words are. It is, however, very brave."
"Noble am I?" Kinarr chuckled again. "No. Brave am I? Far from it. But… I would never dishonor either Stephen or Shumway with my selfish desires."
Thaddeus smirked. "Hardly selfish."
"Hardly not. For this pain is about me, and what I cannot have. I do not fault you for that, and I do not fault Shumway. I fault myself for feeling too much. Someday such a flaw will get me killed. And for a Rashule, there is no greater shame than to lose your focus of duty in the blinding light of selfish passion. Therefore, I harbor my feelings like a fish caught in a net, and I refuse to set them free. If the pain is netted, it will at least die in its own time."
He turned to Thaddeus, expectant. "I would ask you to speak not a word of this conversation to anyone, even to His Highness. By my honor, Thaddeus, I would not have him pity me. When you and he are joined, I will guard both of you as is my destiny and honored duty. I refuse to let anything other than that direct my course."
Thaddeus absorbed these words like parched earth absorbed a long-awaited rainfall. "Then it is right we took this walk tonight, Kinarr. For in your heart you have shown me a man capable of such honor as to grant Stephen and myself a final request."
Kinarr studied him carefully. "You will win tomorrow, Thaddeus. Stephen's life depends on it."
Thaddeus smiled at Kinarr's confidence in him. He put a hand to the back of Kinarr's neck and gave it a fond squeeze. "In case I do not win, my friend, hear my words and heed them."
Kinarr gazed at him, and suddenly Thaddeus could see the blood drain from the soldier's face, and he knew Kinarr understood what was about to be asked of him. "Say it then," Kinarr choked.
Thaddeus breathed in deeply. "I would ask you to take Stephen's life."
Kinarr shut his eyes, his mouth twisted in pain. "Thaddeus," he whispered.
"Make it quick," Thaddeus continued, "through the heart. And hold him fast as you do so. I will not be able to embrace him in death. I give you that task, as a trusted friend. Let him feel the arms of love around him in his last moments. Do not let the Dolens receive any satisfaction in having their guards do the deed. My final wish is for Stephen to be honored, to be saved from the Dolens' form of death. For death by the hand of one who loves is easier to bear than from the hand of an enemy."
Kinarr stared at him, and for a long moment he was unable to move. Finally, he found his feet, as unsteady as they were, and stood. The look of abhorrence on his face made Thaddeus wonder if he had placed his trust in Kinarr too soon. "Thaddeus! I cannot believe what you are… what you ask is…"
"Is from his heart as well as mine. We have discussed it. It is our wish."
"Then why did he not ask me?"
"Because he wanted me to be able to trust you. Can I trust you, Kinarr?"
Turning and stumbling, Kinarr fell to his knees and swallowed heavily as if the weight of what was asked hit him square in the heart. "Thaddeus," he whispered with a sob, the words struggling to get past the choke-hold on his throat. "What you ask will be near impossible for me."
Thaddeus knelt beside him, pulling him into an understanding embrace. "You're the only one we can trust who has enough strength to carry it out, Kinarr. Can you—will you do this?"
Kinarr lowered his head into one hand, his tears seeping through his fingers. He clenched his other hand on his thigh, and a tremble of horror and sorrow rolled through his body. Finally, he removed his hand from his eyes, partnering it with his other.
"Yes, of course I will. Only, there will be two souls meeting you on the wind should that happen." He looked up at Thaddeus, silent tears streaming down his face. "No matter the Aggregate decreeing Stephen to die, the Dolens will never allow me to escape their wrath should I take their pleasure of killing Stephen away from them. They will throw me into prison. And with both you and Stephen dead, my life will mean nothing to me anymore. Once I take his life… I will then take my own."
Thaddeus shut his eyes, the weight of Kinarr's words flaying his soul. "Kinarr…"
"Those are my terms, Thaddeus. I would do this for Stephen because I love him as I do my own life, but I will not give the Dolens the satisfaction of having any control over this."
Thaddeus’s own tears threatened to spill. He quickly pulled Kinarr into his arms. "Then so be it. Let it be thus, my friend, and Stephen's judgment in you is sound. I know that now. And I will be able to enter the arena carrying with me a peace the Dolens would never suspect to be housed within the Marked One's soul."
Kinarr pulled away from Thaddeus’s comforting hold, enough so he could look deeply into the Rantha's eyes. "Stephen's love for you… it is as true as the sun, Thaddeus. As true and as bright. His judgment is sound to choose you for his protector."
Thaddeus pulled Kinarr back into his embrace, clutching him tightly. "By all that is right and true, by Stephen's name… we will be victorious tomorrow, should even death rise up to meet us."
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