Ilfin of Arc
EPILOGUE - Part 1
The Makar Palace Dungeons
CANDLE LIGHT FLICKERED in the draught created when Enris Makar shoved the massive iron door open.
Here the ancient methods of incarceration reigned. No technology had ever been installed in the dungeons underneath the Palace, not even basic electrical fittings for lights. In other cells on other worlds such installations were frequently employed towards escape. An electrical cable could become a strangulation device. A technological keypad had once been used to trip all locking mechanisms, thereby opening the cells for mass exit. Many died that day.
Great keys and ancient locks kept all prisoners captive here. Removing from them the comforts of modern living formed part of their punishment.
As dungeons went, this was a small one, maintained for political captives and traitors, men and women regarded as too dangerous for the general prison population, although the danger they posed was not physical; it lay in how they were able to sway others. The buried space was dry and warm, however, unlike the stone pits of times long passed, though the air was stale and stank of urine and fetid breath.
Enris gestured the two inner guards to leave and thereafter strode along the row of cells, his boots loud upon the flagged floor.
There were twelve such, but only three were currently occupied. Holi Ker came into view first, his cell closest to the great door. Enris had given orders that the three prisoners were to be kept separate with empty cells between them. They could, of course, talk, but needed to do so with voices raised. No secrets could be shared here; the guards recorded every word uttered.
The Ultimo of the Faith had lost his rounded stomach and his once fleshy jowls now hung slack. He stared at Enris pressed against the cold stone at the back of his cell.
“Your fate has been decided, Ker,” Enris said in a firm voice, his eyes revealing no emotion.
The man dropped to his knees in his tattered scarlet gown of office and wrung his hands together. “Mercy, Lord Makar. Please.”
“Mercy you shall have …”
Holi Ker’s eyes lit up.
“… in that your death will be swift. You will be executed at first light and may your god have mercy on your soul.”
As Holi Ker gave a low moan, Enris moved on.
He halted a few cells down to glare at Fenn Moravin. The Brigadier-General no longer remotely appeared as a soldier; he was unkempt, his hair curling around his ears and his bearing was that of a man defeated.
He drew himself erect, though, when Enris stopped, and waited wordlessly. He might not look like a soldier, but it remained what he was.
“Athol Gennerin is now Brigadier. You are stripped of all rank,” Enris stated.
Moravin nodded. “Gennerin is capable.”
“You will be dropped into the badlands, Moravin, without supplies or weapons. If you emerge, you will be granted a second chance.”
Moravin cleared his throat. “You are aware no one survives the badlands. This is a death sentence, a slow death.”
Enris inclined his head. “Two have walked out before. A man of your abilities might do so, do you not agree?”
The soldier drew himself up even higher. “I might, yes.”
Enris bent a cold gaze on him. “Of course, I feel I must warn you that the insurgents know you are coming.”
Fenn Moravin blanched, but offered no further words. Smiling, Enris swivelled to approach the final cell, the smallest one at the end of the row.
It was time to face Lorn Makar.
Lorn lounged insolently upon his straw bed. “So, nephew, my turn. You have news?”
His traitorous uncle’s hands were bound with linen still; the injuries to his hands had not been healed. The man remained the most dangerous individual on Makaran; with healed hands, the sorcerer in him would be an annihilating force.
Enris did not respond; he simply watched him. He had trusted his uncle with his secrets and with his heart, yet this man murdered not only his daughter Didra, but his sister Iliri too. Lorn nearly succeeded in killing his father as well. By rite of blood, he, Enris, had the right to mete out punishment in whatever form he desired.
Eventually he spoke. “What do you care more for, uncle? Your own skin or that of your son’s? Which answer do you wish for?”
Those shaded blue eyes narrowed to slits. “What have you done to Brant?”
Enris tapped at his chin. “Ah, your son comes first. There is a point of mercy in there for you.”
Growling, Lorn clambered to his feet and haughtily approached the bars. Coming to rest braced, he demanded, “Does Brant live?”
“For now. His trial starts next week.”
Silence reigned as the two men traded stares. Long minutes went by with neither severing the duel of wills.
“What must I do?” Lorn Makar finally whispered and dropped his gaze to the filthy floor.
Smiling inwardly, Enris murmured, “Confess, uncle. Clear Brant’s name and he will remain our royal cousin with all privileges. Tell the whole truth, and your punishment will be merciful.”
Lorn jerked his head up.
“We shall surgically remove your hands and allow you to live in an isolated place for as long as life desires your presence.”
Snarling, Lorn gripped the bars with his bandaged hands. It had to hurt, but he shook the iron rods repeatedly. “Without my hands I am nothing!”
“But alive,” Enris whispered as he placed his hands over his uncle’s and squeezed. “I like that you will be nothing.”
Screaming agony, Lorn ripped his hands free and stumbled back. Had the wall not bit into his spine, he would have fallen. With tears of both rage and torment tracking through the dirt smudged upon his cheeks, he whimpered, “I need to hear this from my brother. Linus is king.”
Enris inhaled to straighten. Legs apart with his hands clasped behind him, he assumed the soldier’s stance. He also assumed the soldier’s inscrutability.
“I am your king.”
Lorn Makar stared at his nephew, his mouth working. Cradling his hands to his chest, he was unable to move.
Shaking his head, Enris muttered, “Your hands will be removed within the hour.” Swivelling, he then stepped forward to walk away. Enough. He could no longer stomach looking at this traitor.
“Wait!” Lorn lowered to his knees. “Majesty, I shall confess. All I ask is a swift death.”
Because death also meant rebirth. Enris did not again look at him. Striding away, he said, “I shall send the scribe.”
As he passed by Moravin, the man bowed low. Holi Ker was already on his knees when he came abreast of that cell.
“Hypocrites,” Enris muttered and gave the dungeon as a whole the finger over his shoulder.
Waving the guards to return to their positions within, he left the candle-lit space.
The iron door clanged shut.