Greater of Two Evils, part 5

Friday, October 3, 2008 - 7:26 PM

All three of the men had something in common; they would not look Tristan in the eye.

He sat comfortably in a velvet-lined chair, the ocean-borne wind whistling over the tower balcony and tousling his long, dark hair slightly. His customary colors made him a handsome study painted in blood and night, and at his feet slept his two hoarfoxes, ghostly white and silver in the late evening gloom. Behind him, beyond the low balcony guard, the vast tiered city of Yhelm spread out in a maze of shadows and lantern-light.

“My lord,” one of the three began. Tristan lifted his chin slightly, and the man went quiet.

“You know,” said Tristan, “what comes of excuses. Are you so weak as that? Bring me the truth.”

“Yes, my lord,” said the one again. He paused. “They have many friends among the alfarkinder, and so it is not easy to ask questions.”

“Did you attempt it?”

“, my lord,” came the hesitant reply.

Tristan saw a sideways glance from another, and noted it. Elis wants promotion, and thinks he can get it.

“Good,” said Tristan decisively, and the predicted surprise on their faces was quickly hidden. “Anything else?”

“Yes....yes, my lord.”

Serin, a nervous shadow of a woman, slipped up and gave Tristan a goblet of wine while the man started reciting some tired information. Much of this Tristan already knew, but he enjoyed discovering how thorough his servants were. Or how treacherous, if they choose to leave something out he knew they'd find.

Many people believed Tristan's perception was supernatural, that his words carried more than mere sound, but the truth was he simply knew what to say and when, to whom.

Yes, he had supernatural means as well, but he preferred to rely on the mundane.

“That's all, my lord.”

“You two,” Tristan indicated the others. “Go.”

There was a furtive silence, and the two left, shown out timidly by Serin, who then cringed back to Tristan's left to fold her hands and sit very still. In turn, Tristan peered at the leader, who was very nervous.

“Be at ease,” Tristan said, and put his smile in his voice.

The man looked up despite himself, eyes wide, caught himself and tried to look down, but he could not.

“Do you understand why I approved of your choice, regarding the alfarkinder?”

Uncertainty flickered over the man's face, trying to reconcile threat with the pleasant warmth that Tristan was projecting.

“No, my lord.”

“When you figure that out, come back and see me again. Keep your men in line, and watch Arrald and Elis both. They'd like your position.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“Good. You may go. Also, kill Murdoch.”

“...Of course, my lord. I do your bidding.”

The man bowed deeply, and waited for Tristan's leave to go, which was granted. Serin shut the stone door, avoiding the man's regard, and shivered against the door when it was closed. The shiver turned to a ripple, smoky wings spread from her back and her body redrew itself into long, graceful lines. When she walked back to Tristan, the shadow of the timid, wary Serin was utterly gone.

“Murdoch is valuable,” she said in her true voice, all candles and winter.

Tristan regarded her with idle fondness, and sipped at his wine. “Yes, he is. But his loyalties are conflicted, and his death will push the others to make choices of their own. We need that right now.”

Serin nodded, leaning against the side of his chair and curling one of her wings over him like a blood-spotted canopy. “He's also very popular.”

“I don't like popular men without firm loyalties, Serin... at least, not in this case.” He stood up, accidentally waking the foxes. One tilted its elegant snout up at him, peered sleepily, and then tucked itself back into a large, silvery ball.

Tristan moved to the balcony edge, looking out at the moon rise over the city. “We're almost done here, in any event.”

Serin turned, sweeping her other wing out of his view, and leaned towards him again, resting an elbow on the balcony's rail. She did this with the eerie grace of her kind, as if the tower itself had adjusted slightly to accommodate her movements. “And what of the priest and his friends?”

Tristan nodded, thoughtful. “The priest understands sacrifices. The rest will eventually, or so you said.”

“Yes,” said Serin quietly. “That is what I have seen in them. But they will be your enemies, Tristan.”

“Does that trouble you?”

She tilted her veiled face to one side, watching him with crimson eyes. “It does not. I know you. And yet, they are clever adversaries. Do you not worry that they'll undo what you have built?”

Tristan shook his head slowly. “Right now, we are on the same side, whether they like it or not. Whatever I do, it will be serving them, just as I have done for others. Some succeed, and some fail. That is how it has been since the beginning.”

“They will never accept you as an ally, Tristan.”

“Oh, I know. But I am their ally regardless, even if one day I must kill one of them.” He took one of Serin's hands, feeling the silken warmth there, and gave it a gentle kiss.

“They won't take that well,” she replied wryly, her veil hiding a slight smile.

“Now you are trying to be funny,” Tristan said quietly, smiling despite his admonishment. “But I'm being quite serious. What freedom fighter comes to greatness without oppression, Serin? What man takes up the sword to right wrongs if all he knows are peace and prosperity?” He paused, setting her hand back down. “It doesn't matter whether or not they understand. They'll do what they were meant to do, and the world will benefit from it.”

“And you, Tristan?”

Turning to look out at the city, he thumbed the edge of his ruby signet ring, and for a moment, he was a boy looking out at the poverty of Shanmora. “I? Without men like me, there would be no heroes.”

Labels: , ,


At October 5, 2008 10:43 PM, Blogger Montgomery Mullen said...

I'm glad you are enjoying this! There's actually one more in this particular set, though I certainly agree that this would have made a fine end point for the series.


Links to this post:

Create a Link