Wednesday, August 22, 2012

To Kill A King...



I don’t know if any of you read/remember Jessica’s story Vengeance... She wrote it for a contest I was also invited to take part in, but school was killing me, and it just didn’t happen for me. :P 

However, after reading hers, and having a few rather interesting conversations, and also falling headlong into finals week, I found myself writing this. Playing devil’s advocate, exploring ethics, de-stressing between tests… whatever I was doing, this was the result. 

Love, war, right, wrong, and somehow almost most of all friendship… Sometimes I write because I have questions, and the only way to answer them is through a story, but sometimes I don't give myself enough space. This story touches on sooo many issues, there is no way I could resolve them all, even in  my head. 

But  I am curious – what are your thoughts? On this as a story? On what the characters do? Are any of them right, or all they all dealing with a horrible situation in a worse way? 










To Kill a King


Were I watching for attempts upon his life, how would I prepare?

I dropped my head down into my hands, closing my eyes as I wondered how it could have ever come to this. Zafeiri was my sister; nay, more than sister, she was my other self. Though there was no blood shared between us, our souls were one.

I would not kill her. I could not. 

And yet... she was sworn to guard our king, and I... I was sworn to take the life she would give her own to protect. 

It had been bad enough before. Her face was always before my eyes as we planned, and the mere thought of the danger she would be in had sent fear sliding through my veins to lodge within my heart.

Then I drew the short straw. For an instant I had simply stared at it, uncomprehending. Then I caught Wes's pitying eyes upon me, and realized that I had been chosen to deliver the fatal blow. Time seemed to stop, even as my heart began a race of utter terror. I was to be the one - the one to deliver our land, to save our people... to kill a man. To kill our king.

Wes sat with me in silence after the others left, and I knew, had it been possible, he would have taken my place. But he was far too well known as one of the rebels - I had been chosen from among those few whose descriptions were not already spread all across the kingdom as traitors wanted by the crown. 

Traitors. That's what they called us. Those of us who dared still love our land and our people, who dared give voice to the oppressed, and to stand for the freedoms that had been wrenched from our bleeding hands. 

We had tried everything, and now - now we had reached the end. Our last hope was the king's death. It was no light decision - but there was not a one of us whose heart had not been torn by the death of those whose blood could be found upon our king's red hands. The cries of my own baby sister were yet ringing in my ears - they always would. She had been too small for the labor camps, and, at the king's order, she had joined the rest of those innocents slaughtered so as not to consume valuable resources. Rebel children. They were hunted like rats and less mercy was dealt them.

At that my heart hardened, and I raised my head. There was no question as to the justice of his death. He was the murderer of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, including our late king his father, whose life he had taken with his own hands. 

No, that was not the question - we were far beyond that point now. The question twisting within my mind was how I was going to slip past her who had been my closest friend, when her job was to stop me? 

Something made me turn then, and I glanced over my shoulder to see Wes again, leaning against the doorway, watching me. I nodded to him to come in, and he did, seating himself beside me on the hard wooden bench and resting his elbows upon the rough table. Neither of us said anything, until at least he broke the silence, shifting in his seat to face me. 

"Are ye ready for this, Tanza?" he asked, the faint accent in his words increasing, as it always did when he was concerned.

Catching that concern, I swallowed, then gave a slight nod. "I was just thinking..." My voice trailed away. It would do no good to give voice to my fears - they were strong enough already without that. 

But he shut his eyes a moment, as if the thought hurt him. "The kingsguard - one of them is a friend, is she not?"

"How-"

"It is my business to know the story of all those in the inner circle. I was the one who found you, remember."

I nodded, remembering the hand that had caught my own that black day I saw my sister's death, too far from her to help, and the whisper in my ear that there were others that felt as I did, and it would do no good to throw my life away in vain despairing fury, not when I could give it for a worthy cause. Remembering that, I smiled slightly, painfully, as I met his gaze.

"Here is the worthy cause, ey?"

He shook his head. "It is indeed... and yet... were I to choose, it wouldna ha'e been a woman sent to do this."

Bristling automatically, I frowned, knowing I should not but doing it anyway. "Are we not as able?"

"As able, surely, but at what cost do we who are men send those we should be protectin' out to save us?"

He was right of course. 

"It's all so wrong," I whispered suddenly. "All of it." The pointless death of one sister, the loyalties of the other lying perforce on the opposite side, the plans flying through my head for how to get around her, and the fact that all of the others hiding beneath the city to escape the killing camps had lost as much, or more, than I.

Wes's fingers folded around mine then, and I glanced at him, surprised, but he seemed lost in thought. So I merely looked at him a moment, knowing that had things been different in this life, he was such a one as I would have dreamed of loving. But they were not different, and if I was to be dead by this time next week, it was just as well I would leave none behind to mourn my absence. 
"We're fighting for the right."

I started from my thoughts, pulling my hands away as he met my eyes with his own. But he did not let go of my fingers, merely tightening his grip as he looked at me. 

"Don't forget that. We're fightin' now so that someday, someday the world will be right again, for all those comin' after us."

"With courage to fight when all others have fallen, daring to rise and find new horizons, knowing that if in this moment we falter, hope will be lost as the darkness descends..." His words were from his heart, and I was responding with the words of our vow, but he knew they were one and the same.

I had chosen those words to be the beating of my own heart, and now I took a deep breath, allowing the measured cadence of the rebel vow to calm my frightened pulse. Because good is called evil, and evil good, we must stand to protect the innocent blood... 

"Will she know, when she sees ye? Will she, perhaps, be willing to leave the way open?"

Swallowing the last of my fear before it could rise up again, I shook my head. "She knows all he has done... but her family have been in the kingsguard for centuries - and whether he deserves death or no, she will die to protect him. She said... she said he is the Lord's anointed, and his life must be preserved until God takes it - not by the slacking of her duty." 

I pushed away the memory of our last conversation, before my brother had spoken out from his pulpit and we had all been sent to the camps, for the king liked his ideas, and those who did not... died. Even the high prince was in the dungeons, if not dead, for his attempt to stand against his older brother. 
In a way, I understood Zafeiri’s reasoning - had we not always known each other's heart? He was our king, and who had placed him over us, if not God Himself, for our sins? Nor had doing evil that good might come ever seemed right to me.

But though I was to take a life in the next few days, it was taking life as a soldier in battle, not as a murderer for my own desires. Even the revenge I might have sought was overshadowed by the knowledge that this death was for far, far more than just myself. We were all soldiers, fighting the evil that had overtaken our land in the person of our late king's wicked son, choosing, as had Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, and Jael, to deliver God's people from their oppressor. 
Regardless of that, Zafeiri would not slacken in her duty simply because I was the one opposing her. But... would she actually kill me? That, I could not imagine, and I told Wes so. 

But he shook his head, saying with pain in his voice, "Showin' yourself to her might keep your life... but she'll be knowin' why you're there, and ye canna allow it in that case. Nay, if she knows where ye stand, then ye mustna let her see your face."

I nodded, though I knew I was sealing my own death warrant with that decision. I could do no other. She must not know it was me until I had accomplished my mission. 

"You said you knew how to get past the dogs?" he asked next, and I tried to smile, though I could not, not truly.

"She told me how once," I answered, and knew it would be easier to cry than smile. It was hard, knowing I was using our friendship against her. Yet, were our roles reversed, I would rather that she took a secret I had told her and use it to defeat me, rather than find herself torn apart by brutes such as those that guarded the king. There were four of them, great beasts that flanked the kingsguard at all times, snapping and snarling if someone dared so much as come within ten feet of the king. 

Some thought they simply could smell danger, others thought they had been trained to leave those wearing the kingsguard uniform alone. The first, of course may or may not have been true, but with the second there would have been the chance of someone of one dressing in the uniform and the dogs perhaps allowing them close. No, they were trained to attack any not wearing a certain scent, and, thanks to Zafeiri, I knew what that scent was. 

"It will be easily worked into my disguise," I added, once I was satisfied that I was not about to start crying at the moment at least.

"Then it's time to put it all together," Wes said, and I nodded, rising to my feet. 

"Are the others ready to go over the plan?" I asked, and then saw them coming down the hall. Jared, Mels, Cassia, and the rest who were going to do whatever it took to get me to the king's side. They were all depending upon me to take it from there, and as I turned to greet them I sent up a silent prayer for help, knowing even as I did so that Zafeiri prayed daily – for the king's life and safety.

May Thy will be done.

~~~

From my hidden perch upon the rooftop, I could see them coming, and as the band began to play, I caught my breath. There was our flag, the flag that had once stood for so much that was good and beautiful, and now merely served to announce the latest claims of our greedy king. But beneath it marched the kingsguard, surrounding him far too closely to allow the shot of an archer, with the big black dogs at the four corners of the phlanx. 

Once, they said, the kingsguard had been composed of eldest sons - for as long I knew, it had been made up of eldest daughters. Women were said to be better at guessing intrigue, more imaginative when it came to protecting, and more willing to die for what they loved, and nowhere on earth was there a more loyal group than the kingsguard. On they came, each woman's chain mail almost appearing to shimmer in the sunlight. They marched in perfect step, years of training having turned them also into incredibly skilled warriors. Each of them was nearly, if not at least, six feet tall, and together they were nothing if not a force to be reckoned with. A man would have no chance of hacking his way through them to assassinate the king.

It was a good thing I was not a man. 

As they neared, I recognized Zafeiri marching at the head, her eyes everywhere at once, and my heart leaped to my throat at the thought of what lay ahead of me. I had forgotten how good she was, and how well suited to the kingsguard, though I could never have pictured her as a common soldier. 

Which is what I had become, I thought ruefully, though it had been through no conscious choice of my own. And now here I was, an assassin and a thief, preparing to take from her that which she most closely guarded, her king's life. 

She was not the captain, but she was close enough. Even from my place high above the street, I could see the vigilance that seemed to surround her, and I knew that if she suspected something, the others would leap to obey her orders. Swallowing, I looked away from her, turning my gaze instead to our wretched king, trying to catch a glimpse of him between the guards. 

If I knew anything about him, he was wearing armor - though Zafeiri had told me of her failed attempt to convince him to wear full body armor. He was arrogant, our king. If I could only get close enough, he would be arrogant no longer. 

He would be dead.

Shuddering at the thought of death, even of his, I began to pray, eyes wide open, watching the crowd in the streets ahead begin to build up. Mels was working it, turning the silent hatred that always filled state holidays into actual anger. Sometimes the mob snapped, sometimes it didn't; today we wanted a distraction. 

Finally the last guard disappeared around the corner of the capitol square, and I shoved away my thoughts, scrambling down from my roof corner and adjusting my disguise once I reached the ground. It was simple, merely a child's formless dress, a bouquet of flowers for the king and a basket of them as well, and my face made up to appear even younger than it normally did. My hair was died black and there was a bonnet tied beneath my chin – Zafeiri could not recognize me unless she directly saw my face, and the others would see merely a young girl.

I was barely past five foot - I could never have been a kingsguard in my wildest dreams. Or rather, nightmares, since I would never have wanted that, even before the death of our late king. Sighing, I started in the direction my friend had gone. Her loyalty to the crown had been fiercely loyal, while I... I guess I'd always been somewhat of a rebel. Had we always been heading toward this moment? 

Then I heard the shrill whistle that signaled Cassia's successful barring of the forum's gates. A tiny thing, but it would be another change in the schedule, and the whistle was my cue. I started forward. 

A street had never seemed so long. I kept within the crowd, moving carefully along its very edge until I was near the tail end of the rear guards. Pausing a moment, I took a deep breath, checking for the hundredth time the bouquet I held to make sure everything was ready. Of course it was, and I rose up on my tiptoes, stretching as high as I could to see to the front of the kingsguard. Zafeiri was at the gate, her vigilance gone into hyper-alert at the change that had stopped them before their destination. So long as she was up there… 
I darted forward, holding my breath. The two dogs nearest me turned their heads, but the scent I had so carefully mixed into my flowers did its work well. It did not appear that I would be ripped to shreds at the very start, anyway. Their handlers saw me though, and instantly the guards pressed together, blocking my way. 

Sliding to a stop, I pouted. “I want to give them to the king!” I said, keeping my voice low and praying with all my might that Zafeiri would not come back yet, even as I kept my face turned so that if she happened to glance my way she would see but a child’s lacey bonnet. 

“Stand back and hand it over,” the nearest guard commanded, her voice like ice, and I held out the bouquet, clutching my basket tightly to my chest. 

Tears of thankfulness almost started for my eyes when the guard responded according to plan, reaching to snatch the basket of flowers from me, completely ignoring the bouquet in my hand, within which the king’s death lay hidden. 
Rough hands raked through the innocent flowers, and I stole a glance at the king. He met my eyes, obviously bored, and I knew he thought his guards were overreacting to everything. 

“Your majesty, this girl –” The guard holding my basket turned towards the king, and I saw Zafeiri approaching out of the corner of my eye. 

There was no more time. The guard’s turning had opened up the smallest of spaces, and I launched myself forward, crashing between the nearest two before they could close ranks and dropping the flowers in my hand. Now I held only a small syringe – but within that syringe was venom of a sea-snake, lethal enough to kill a thousand. 

Like the thousands he had killed.

  I could have cried, "Justice!" as I struck the fatal blow, but instead I found myself whispering, "I'm sorry..." as I drove the tip of the needle straight into his right shoulder, slamming down the plunger as soon as I knew it was in.

It was done. 

In that instant I met his shocked eyes, and wished I had not, for his expression of angry disbelief was not the last sight I wanted to see in this life.Then a dagger was ripping through my back and all else was pushed aside. Someone twisted it hard, and the pain sent me to my knees, a scream forcing itself from my lips - I could not hold it back. Another dagger struck low on my side, and I screamed again. I could not move; I could scarcely see. There was shouting all around me, the kingsguard pressing close against the king as they supported him, the crowd howling in the distance.

My child's bonnet was torn from my head, the ties catching at my throat and choking what little breath I had left in me. Rough hands were turning me over, holding me down - could not they see I was no longer a threat? But it was too much to ask to be allowed to die in peace. I had not expected to.

 "Tanza!" 

The agony in her voice almost over-matched my own, and through pain-blurred eyes I recognized Zafeiri’s horrified face above mine. She should have been at the king’s side… but she was at mine. With the last of my strength I reached out, catching hold of her wrist. She dropped the dagger she held as if it burned her, and I slid my hands down to clasp her fingers. 

"Zafeiri," I whispered, fighting back the blackness that threatened me. "Be the kingmaker. Please."

She shook her head, viciously wiping away tears with her free hand. "Don't you dare," she said, then slid one arm beneath my shoulders, holding me tightly. "You can't leave me like this! You can't!"

"I'm sorry," I gasped out, forcing myself to continue. "It has to be you that crowns the new king. And you that guards him. Please. Do it, for me. Find Wes..." But the words would no longer come. For a moment longer I struggled, and then the darkness was too strong for me. I let myself fall into it, Zafeiri’s despairing cry the last thing I heard before utter silence consumed me.     

~~~

How long that silence lasted I could not have guessed… but eventually it began to lift. Slowly, and with much muffled confusion, but eventually I could hear again – hear sound, not simply the roaring within my ears that had first come. Then there was light, dim at first, then brighter and brighter, until one morning I awoke to find myself in a white bed, its lace canopy rustling in the breeze from an open window. 

Outside birds were singing, and I lay there, too tired even to wonder at the change I felt in the very air itself. Somewhere a door banged, and then another. From my place on the bed I could see only the top corner of the door to the room in which I was, and suddenly it swung open. 

Cheerful footsteps approached, and I slowly turned my head. Something fell, crashing to the floor with a smash of pottery, and then I recognized Zafeiri. I could not help but smile at the look of shock upon her face, and the next instant she threw herself towards me, hugging me tightly. 

I hugged her back, my tiredness disappearing as I remembered all that had happened – and realized that I was still alive. 

“How…” I whispered, and slowly she released me, sitting down upon the edge of the bed and staring as if she still could not believe her eyes. 

“That didn’t hurt, did it?” she asked in sudden worry, and I shook my head, glad when she smiled. It had been so long since I had seen a smile...

“Does anything hurt?” she asked then, and again I shook my head, wondering at it. It seemed that I should feel pain somewhere, but I did not. 

“What happened?” I whispered, still working to gain control of my voice. 

Her smile disappeared, and I wished I had not asked… yet, I had to know.

“He is dead,” she said soberly, and my eyes went to the coverlets. I did not want to think of it – I had not planned on living long enough to have to think of it. But somehow I had.

“Why… why are you not guarding the new king?” The question slipped away from me before I could catch hold of it, and I could not breathe until she answered. But there had to be a new king, and she had to be his guard, else there was more to answer to than I was prepared for.

“It is my day off,” she said, and once again I was breathing.

“Then…” At last I dared meet her eyes again, and she nodded.

“The others were given leave… I begged to stay on, and one you know said it was what you would have wanted. He was the one to release the high prince, and in gratitude to him, the high prince chose me to be assistant captain of the kingsguard at his coronation. Also in gratitude to me, because I spoke for him in the peoples’ meetings.”

There was a strange soberness in her as she added, “I may not have been the kingmaker alone, but I am yet a kingsguard.”

Catching the hint of pain in her voice, I swallowed. “Who else was kingmaker?” 
Her eyes went to the window, and I felt my heart begin to beat faster. 

“I think… I think the one you called Wes would be closest to kingmaker. I am sorry,” she said then, looking back at me.

Tears were already in my eyes, and I shut them as I heard her next words.

“Afterwards… there was fighting in the end… and he was killed.”

She took a deep breath, continuing on as I tried to keep myself from crying.
“He destroyed the camps, though… and obtained the high prince’s vow to remake our land. The high prince – king – has returned our freedoms… and as he was in the dungeons at the order of his elder brother, the rebels have been pardoned; rewarded, even – as have the kingsguard, though we failed in our duty.”

I swallowed, for an apology did not seem exactly suitable. But as I opened my eyes, she bit her lip. 

“He would not say what he planned to do with you, not until you recovered.”

It was just like her, to say not a word of reproach for the thing I had done, and to instead have concerned herself with what was to be my fate. 

“I should not have recovered,” I said, thinking of those who had not. It was not right that I should live and he – they should die. 

A shadow crossed her face, and a part of it seemed to drift to me.

“What is it?” I asked, not understanding the dread that had seized me.

“The doctors said…” but she could not continue.

Frightened in spite of myself, I struggled to sit upright – and then full memory of that day came crashing down around me, and I could again feel the knife twisting in my back. My breath seemed to flee my body and I shuddered violently, ceasing my vain attempt to sit upright. For it was vain – completely. It was not a wonder that I felt no pain; I had no feeling at all below the place the dagger had struck.

I had been willing to give up my life for our people, but this… 

Shutting my eyes, I forced myself to breathe, repeating the rebel vow from simple habit. If this was the price I was asked to pay, then this was the price I must be willing to pay. If my deed had been right, there was nothing too dear to give up. 

“Are you all right?” 

Zafeiri’s hand had found mine and now she squeezed it tightly. That only reminded me of Wes, and I began to cry, this time lacking the strength to hold back my tears. She cried with me, and when our tears could no more run, we let the gentle breeze dry our faces.

There was much to mourn… yet somehow the dancing zephyr that dried our tears was a reminder of the season’s change and new beginnings. The silence between us was strangely comfortable; a reminder of our childhood and the hours we spent together, not even needing to speak. 

At last, however, I broke that silence, finding the apology I had felt so insufficient somehow now easier to say. 

“I am sorry,” I said softly, and she merely hugged me. No matter the extent of her loyalty, she had forgiven what was in the eyes of a kingsguard unforgivable. Still she was my more-than-friend.

The future lay hidden before us, with so much uncertain, so much unknown… but she was alive, and somehow I was as well. So much had been lost in these past years, and yet, strangely, I was not afraid of what lay ahead. No matter how the high prince decided my fate, it would be as God willed – and Zafeiri would stand beside me, as sister of my heart and mirror of my self. 

5 thoughts shared:

Miss Melody Muffin said...

Oh. My. Gosh. WOW!! Just wow. This was amazing, Katherine!!!!!

You write to answer questions of your own, too? Glad I'm not alone!

What a powerful ethical and moral dilemma! It is one I continue to struggle with in my writing, and to a degree, in my life. Is doing evil that good may come of it ok? I was taught that it wasn't, but... at the same time I've always been one to say, 'But, what if?'.

As I was reading this, I found myself wondering, in her place would I have chosen to kill the king? I've always been a bit of a 'rebel without a cause' so I can honestly say in that situation I'd have joined the rebels in a heartbeat; but kill the king? Even had I believed it the best way to resolve the issues; I don't think I could have done it, not because I lacked the courage or because I was unwilling to go up against a sister-friend, but because, well, I guess it is summed up by Zafeiri's reason: 'he is the Lord's annointed'. I don't think I would have killed him like that. I could easily have killed in battle, but not assassination.

I'm not criticizing the story! I'm just saying you made me think hard about what I would have done in such a situation. Which is a good thing, I think. :)

The friendship... wow, what a passionate theme. I can't really express how that moved me. They are on opposite sides, and Tanza knows it will be Zafeiri's duty to kill her. But she follows her duty nonetheless.

I'm not sure any of this has made sense and if it hasn't then I'll try again. :)

By the way, I loved the picture!

Katherine Sophia said...

Ah, a fellow rebel... :) I've been working on the aspect of myself... trying to make sure I'm in submission to God - particularly regarding all those that He has placed in authority over me - and in rebellion to only those things that displease Him. But yeah, I would have been on the rebels' side so fast... :P

I am thrilled at your reaction though - it was definitely a thinking story of me sorting out how I felt about things, so it is awesome that it got you thinking about the same things. :D

I am still a firm believer in not doing evil to promote good - how well I would be able to that into practice in a given situation, of course, I do not know. Interestingly, after writing the story, I pretty much decided that I, myself, would not have been able to kill the king either. Not, however, because of him being the Lord's anointed. Yes, God raises up kings and takes them down... but we don't really have prophets going around declaring who the king is supposed to be most of the time. Especially thinking about Jael and Ehud - they had nooo problem getting rid of bad kings. :P I just don't think that would have bothered me that much, personally. :P (Which is obviously where I differ from you and Jessica. :)

However, something about the cold-bloodedness of what they did - and admittedly, what Tanza did - I don't think I could do it. Like you said, in the heat of battle or something... but to simply go out and take a life, even one so utterly evil as that... *shudder* I guess there are reasons I'm working on becoming a doctor. :) I felt this story as I was writing it, and... pretty sure this is as close as I want to get to the subject. Nope, I would make a horrible assassin. XD

So, yeah, more of my long-winded thoughts... ;) It was very cool to see what you were thinking about it, so thank you!!! :) And yeah, isn't that an awesome picture? :D

Jessica said...

Okay...again all I can say is EPIC EPIC EPIC EPIC EPIC!!! and why won't this font get any bigger!!!!!! *pouts*

You made my cry again!!!!! ACH! SOOOOO SOOOOO GOOD!!!!!

THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR EPICNESS!!!!!

Jessica

Jessica said...

Oh...and AWESOME PICTURES IT'S SOOOO PERFECT IT'S AMAZING...it just fits your epicness...

Katherine Sophia said...

:) Making its reader cry must be one of the highest compliments a story can receive... :) Thank you!

And I KNOW! Is that picture perfect or what?!? :)

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