Lacking his helmet, the Grand General stepped in front of the Emperor, hands planted firmly on his hips and bearing a demeanour that would make most soldiers faint – or cry. His stern eyes made Harren uneasy too, but the general refused to meet the concentrated scrutiny, his head still limply hanging from his slumped shoulders. Trenos shared a brief look of concern with his brother who nodded that he was okay as the two of them – along with the rest of the hall – waited for justice.
The Emperor tried to move round to stand beside the Grand General, but he forbid it with a strong hand on his leader’s chest. Trenos calmly complied: at the end of the day, the army was his duty, not the Emperor’s; he would deal with this in his own way.
“Look at me, Desa.” Although the former general was in no place to argue, that did not mean that he wished to comply; his eyes stayed firmly fixed on the floor.
The Grand General waited for a good two minutes. Desa had shamed himself and he had no right to look into the old man’s eyes, but an order was an order. An officer who did not obey orders from his superiors had no place in the Karan Army – discipline was everything, and nothing annoyed the Grand General more than someone lacking it.
“Look at me!” The man slowly brought his eyes up, taking in all of his mentor, his eyes flickering noncommittally about the ornate and legendary armour before finally settling on his fierce eyes. They burned with a fierce intensity, destroying whatever hope was left in Desa’s heart as they shredded his soul. The look – anger mixed with severe disappointment – on the Grand General’s face would be enough to stop his heart; maybe tear it out completely.
As the two old friends locked eyes, Harren could see from his place next to his brother that Desa’s wise eyes had brimmed with tears, shining in the faint light. A tear leaked down his ashen cheek and slowly ran to his chin where it hung momentarily before slipping off into the air. The single drop hit the ground, causing it to be spattered in multiple directions, the small puddle left rippling slightly. On landing, it had received no lenience; it had been crushed utterly by its own momentum. Nothing could have stopped it as it headed for the ground, once its fall had begun; there was nothing in the world that could save it. That droplet would be lost to the memory of anyone present, soon to be forgotten.
Desa had slipped off the ledge this day, now he had to accept his fate: never would he belong again. He awaited his fate, suppressing the tears as they built up behind his weakening dignity, threatening to break through.
“I am so sorry, my old friend.”
“I never did think you the traitor, and I argued with our good Emperor… you have embarrassed me,” sighed the Grand General, cutting Desa’s whispered plea dead before all of it had even left his quivering lips. “But confronting the Emperor, and attacking your own men?” he boomed, “your actions will cost you dearly. Desa – how can I, or any of your men – ever trust you again? You can never be forgiven for the way you have acted.”
“But-” This time, he was silenced by the back of the Grand General’s iron plated glove, the backhanded slap echoed about the room, dying out slowly until the hall returned briefly to a silence destroyed by the legendary figure’ angry voice flooding through the man before him.
“Don’t you dare interrupt me! Your resignation means nothing: what makes you think I would have you back? Guards,” he addressed the nearby guards through gritted teeth, yet his eyes never stopped glaring at the top of Desa’s hanging head. Blood dripped freely onto the floor from the freshly cut wound on his lip. It fell unhindered by his bound arms and mixed with the tears below, each drop dissolving into the clear liquid, as it slowly turned redder. “Take this man away.”
Now he turned, shouting to the rest of the officers, not one watching their old friend being dragged slowly from the centre circle. Though they would probably never see him again, no one would dare voice a single word in his defence: there was no denying his guilt, and protecting him would never even cross their minds – not now, not after today.
Every solemn pair of eyes stayed fixed on the Grand General as he took a powerful pose before them. They seemed to fear blinking, so intense were their gazes, but Harren could see the horror clouding their minds. The lesson was one that would never be forgotten. Everyone held their breath.
“Well? Does anyone else wish to oppose the Emperor? He was right, and none of you trusted him!” he cried out to the crowd before him, fists clenched by his sides. No one answered. Trenos approached him slowly from behind and rested a hand on one of his broad shoulders, trying to reassure him as the old man’s chest rose and fell violently as the anger welling up inside him infected every word.
“That’s enough, Galbraith.” The Emperor whispered in a hushed voice into his ear. Though he did not speak, it took a long time for him to finally break the burning eye contact he held with his men. Today would have felt like a dagger in his aging heart: he loved every soldier under his command like a son. Betrayal would kill him.
“I know what I have said may fall hard on your loyal ears,” began the Emperor “but I need you to consider what I have said very seriously: times are changing and I need all of you. Just be aware. Dismissed.”
As the officers slowly stood and headed for the small exit, conversation filled the building. In spite of the inevitable topic, Harren was thankful that the buzz had replaced the tense silence. The Emperor’s shoulders sagged as the hum swallowed up his tired sigh. His mouth curled up as if he were smiling, but it was more a sign of surrender to troubling thoughts. Now, he paced hastily towards Harren; before he had even stopped his brother spoke in a prophetic manner, sending chills down Harren’s spine.
“It has begun, Harren.”
“What do you mean, it?”
“This is where everything happens, where the balance between good and evil changes. The boulder has been released, we shall see what it hits as it gains momentum.”
The strange change in Trenos’ speech startled Harren, who sought to change the topic. In doing so, the Emperor returned to what he was before; the worry was ephemeral in Harren’s mind as he continued.
“You did well; this is a meeting that they shall never forget. Our fate will now rest in their hands.”
Trenos winced, “I have to talk to you, alone.” He looked around quickly, surveying the area for anyone who may seem suspicious or anyone who may be paying just a bit too much attention. His gaze lingered momentarily on his two tacticians as they left with the Grand General.