by Den Valdron
Except for one time, that voyage was the last time I ever saw Vadak Eth. We did not speak for the rest of the voyage. When we landed, he handed me, smirking, over to the soldiers of Diome, and they took me away.
“Any danger?” the guards asked.
“Not unless she speaks to you, then she's very dangerous. But otherwise, no,” he chuckled, “she doesn't even know which end of a sword to hold.”
Thanks, I thought bitterly. I remembered the grueling training sessions in the jagged lands. Had he been laughing at me, all those times. I wanted to spit on him as he walked away, but he was already out of range.
I marched into the palace, a guard leading, another at my side. There were no Orovar slaves here, I noted, only servants of the red race. The place seemed oddly empty, with only guards here and there and servants of various sorts. No one looked at us as we strode past. I looked around.
“Stop that,” the guard at my side said.
“No speaking,” he snapped, “no looking around.”
“No looking around?” I asked. “What's the harm of that?”
“If you speak, you will be gagged.”
We walked along silently for a little while.
“We lost good men and ships taking you back from Shiaze,” he said.
“How is that my fault?” I argued. “I was perfectly happy to be left alone.”
“No talking,” he snapped.
“Whatever,” I replied, and lapsed into silence.
“You have cast two cities into flames, roused slaves to revolt in Az-Lium and Diome,” he accused.
“I thought you said I wasn't to speak?”
“So only you can talk? Oh, well that's fair. Married life must be interesting with you.”
“Or what, you'll drag me in front of Markath Khan?”
“We'll gag you.”
“Fine,” I said crossly, “but know that you wrote your own fate, an enslaved nation will always rise up against oppressors.”
He stopped and faced me, his arm raised to strike.
“Isn't that what Diome did? Throw off the shackles of your oppression? Now so quick to place those shackles on others,” I said quickly. “How did you think, suffering and overcoming evil, that you could then deal it out.”
“One more word,” he warned.
“Jat...” another guard said.
He looked at the other guard, and then slowly lowered his arm.
“Markath Khan only requires that you be delivered to him alive,” he groused.
I had the feeling that Markath Khan wanted me in better condition than that, for whatever purpose. For the rest of our walk, I looked around all I wanted. No one spoke.
Instead, I tried to think of how I should deal with this Markath Khan. My impulse was to throw myself at his feet, beg, weep, blubber with terror and plead for mercy. That wouldn't be acting, I was as frightened now as I had ever been through this whole nightmare. Somehow, I'd become very good at concealing utter terror, apart from an occasional moment of bowels or bladder loosing. I didn't think it would work though. Markath Khan, from his works, did not seem given to mercy.
What did he want with me? I had been an obstacle of some sort? A challenge? But here I was, a helpless prisoner without resources in the heart of his power. I was here to be gloated over? That seemed petty and arrogant.
A more practical despot would simply have my head chopped off and displayed on a pike.
Or would they? After all, even if I was nothing in and of myself, there were many people who fought in the name of the Princess. I'd done enough tragic epilogues where the villain murders the heroin, and then receives his just deserts. Could I count on that happening in real life. It seemed abstract, I'd be dead, I wouldn't care.
But still, it was something a practical despot might wish to avoid. No martyrs. So if I was a practical tyrant, what would I do? I'd lock me in a tower someplace out of the way, to avoid martyr-lovers. And there might be a use later, you never know. Best to keep me around and intact. That wasn't so bad.
Of course, when there was no further possible use... Over the edge.
Or perhaps a nicely vicious show trial, confessions under torture, discrediting the Princess and all she stood for. Satisfying from his point of view, I supposed. It didn't appeal to me. I'd have to sell him on the tower.
We passed by a window. Outside, another immense statue loomed, same face as all the other statues. That was odd. Perhaps all the statues had his face? That was certainly vain. But then, there was that in his career and works to suggest vanity.
So perhaps he really was petty and arrogant? In which case, how should I play. By appealing to his vanity. No begging and pleading, that would amuse him greatly, but would do me no good. If he fancied himself a great man, he'd just have his satisfaction, and then off with my head.
Deny him satisfaction? No, I thought, then it's frustration and off with my head. Long experience with directors and stage managers had taught me that petty tyrants do not suffer frustration well.
Prolong his satisfaction? The longer it lasted, the longer I'd be kept alive. The more satisfying his victory was, the more he'd want to savour it. Defeat a weeping terrified wretch, it was like a pastry, consumed and forgotten. To bring down a powerful Queen, to inflate yourself by conquering a mighty foe, well, he'd definitely want to wallow in that.
So, play the Princess again. Proud, noble, arrogant... and just a little bit humbled. Reluctantly being brought about to acknowledge the superiority and virtue of Markath Khan.
The chains were a nice touch, I thought suddenly. Signifying dangerousness and helplessness at once, nicely visual, and they'd clank well for the right gestures. I could use them. All in all, I thought, if I didn't have them, I might have asked for them. It had just the right effect.
Careful flattery, very careful flattery, that could work nicely. I could do this as Claysort and Seaopara.
Maybe, just maybe, if I worked this just right, I could come out of this.
We were approaching the great doors of the throne room, a phalanx of guards standing before it. Two of them pulled the great doors open.
I straightened up, arched my back slightly, breasts forwards, jaw firm, try not to trip on anything. Showtime, I thought, it's just another stage and I've walked the stage a thousand times.
Courtiers and underlings lined the room. I did not glance at them. I walked straight up, until I stood before the throne on its raised dais, two dozen paces away. Markath Khan sat upon it, alone.
No queen, no concubines. Good, I hadn't thought of that, but I was glad he was alone on the throne. A female companion would make things a lot harder.
Unless he liked other men, in which case, things would be a lot, lot harder.
He was an ordinary red man, so far as I could see. His hair black and lustrous, as in the fashion of these creatures, his face was the face I'd seen over and over on statues. Egotist, I thought. But there was something different about his features, a hardness, a wear, as if life had offered more privations than he admitted. He wrapped himself in finery, but there was a look in his eyes, not haunted, but restless, a little bitter perhaps, a little uncertain. A man not born to a throne, but who sat upon it nevertheless, defiant but not quite sure.
He stared down at me. Say something, I thought, give me something to work with. No one spoke, silence filled the room. Tough audience.
Here goes nothing...
“I will not kneel,” I said with as much false pride and dignity as I could muster, “I am the Princess Kam Asutra, and I will not knee.”
“You?” Markath Khan laughed, “you're no Princess. Your name is Tay See Lors, a third rate actress.”
My heart froze. Words died in my throat.
“And you're an idiot.”
“Eep!” I said.
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