Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 20

Chapter 9

Protector of the Law, Ashok Vadal, twenty-year senior, rode through the lands of the great house that shared his name, dwelling on what he’d lost, what had been taken, and the legal questions pertaining to the proper way to end his life.

A light rain fell, more of a mist really. Ashok didn’t mind the rain. Water that came out of the sky was water’s purest form. It hadn’t had a chance to become corrupted yet. It wasn’t until it collected that it turned malicious. The night was dark and chilled. It gave him an excuse to keep his hood up and his distinctive insignia covered. It was best if word of his arrival didn’t spread. He was still riding the same poor, tired horse that had taken him into the Capitol, and from there all the way across the northeastern portion of the continent to Vadal. He’d only worn out one horse this time. There was no reason to try hard to reach this particular destination. Time was no longer of the essence, and the long weeks had given him time to think.

All that time hadn’t dulled his anger in the slightest.

Damn Mindarin. Damn Ratul. Damn them both along with their lies. Mindarin had put a curse on his head. Ashok had been offered a choice, to be a liar like them, but that was nothing but an illusion. The master must have known there was no way Ashok could continue living once given this knowledge. Ratul had broken the Law by allowing him to live to begin with, and ever since then the Order had perpetuated fraud in exchange for power. For the first time in his life Ashok was angry that the religious fanatics were deluded and there was no eternal soul and no eternal punishment, because they were dead, but that wasn’t enough. They still needed to suffer for the mockery they’d made of the Law…The Law was everything.

Protectors routinely sacrificed their lives so that the houses could have stability. Though he could understand the strategic reasons for why the masters had kept up the lie, he could never forgive them. And thus he would never forgive himself. Ignorance of the Law was no defense for violating it.

A cluster of lanterns told him there was a checkpoint ahead. Anyone crossing house borders was required to stop and present their travelling papers. A few wagons were waiting to have their cargos inspected and papers stamped. This was a busy trade road, so the checkpoint was practically a fort, but with the rain there wasn’t much of a line tonight. Protectors were of the highest caste, so all he needed to do was display his token of office and ride through, but since he was trying not to draw attention to himself, Ashok got into line. As usual, his horse was glad for the chance to stop for a bit.

“Almost there, Horse,” Ashok told the animal as he dismounted. When you spent months on the road with the same beast, you had to call it something, and he had never been one for titles, so Horse would do. Horse didn’t care. It just stuck its face into a trough of collected rainwater and drank.

The wagon ahead of him was nothing but a cage on wheels filled with a cargo of untouchables. It was hard to tell how many, because they were packed together. The cage didn’t have much of a roof, more of a canvas sunshade really, so the casteless had clumped together to try to stay warm in the rain, until they got to wherever their betters thought they belonged. Their clothing was nothing but rags. The adults wouldn’t make eye contact, but the children were staring at him, hungry and miserable. They looked tired, wet, abused, and completely used to it.

The casteless knew their place.

A merchant of the worker caste was standing next to his wagon, awaiting his inspection. He had an umbrella, a respectable coat, and shoes that probably kept his feet dry. He was clean, groomed, and even a little bit fat. He was even allowed a sword for protection. Ashok had never paid much attention to the worker’s ranks, as he was above them all so their relative differences were meaningless, but from the fine attire this one probably fell somewhere in the middle, above the laborers and farmers, but below a skilled craftsmen or a banker. Another worker was driving the wagon, he was below the merchant, but far, far above the casteless.

The workers knew their place.

Warriors of House Vadal were manning the checkpoint. They were fit, strong, and proud. They wore armor, not so different in design from Ashok’s own, but not nearly as expensive or well-constructed. Their weapons were cared for, and unlike the merchant’s sword, they didn’t require a permit to possess one. The soldiers seemed bored. This bureaucratic necessity was beneath them, but their duty required them to be here, biding their time until the next fight, when their house would spend their lives as readily as the workers spent money.

The warriors knew their place.

Through the door of the checkpoint, he could see that a low-ranking arbiter was sitting on a padded stool behind a large table. A brazier next to him provided warmth and enough light to make sure the travelling papers weren’t forgeries. He collected the tariffs, stamped the papers, and wrote in his ledger. The bureaucracy was required to lead and organize, and it was what made sure the rest of the castes worked as designed. Only the lowest of the governing caste would be assigned to such a duty, especially during the slow hours of the night, but even then this man could command all of the others and they would obey without question.

The first caste knew their place.

All men had their place within the Law…except for him.

What am I?

Ashok was an anomaly, and that made him an abomination as much as any creature of witchcraft or demon that slithered from the sea.

The arbiter declared the merchant’s papers to be in order. The warriors opened the gate, and the casteless rolled on to their destiny. When it was Ashok’s turn to present himself to the arbiter, he simply opened his cloak and displayed his insignia. The arbiter immediately began babbling about how the allegations of bribery against him were nothing more than slander and to please have mercy. Since it was against the Law for a Protector to investigate his own house, this man’s possible crimes were not Ashok’s problem, but a few stern words assured him that this particular arbiter would make no mention of his passing through. He was able to return to his journey, with Great House Vadal being unaware that the bearer of its mighty ancestor blade had returned.

Ashok knew he needed to be destroyed, for there was no place for a man without a place, but that was where the legal conundrum arose. There were certain obligations for a bearer. The blade’s continued use was far more important than the fate of a single bearer. His existence was a crime, but so would be his execution. A dishonorable death might cause the incredibly valuable sword to shatter. Suicide was a coward’s death and would offend Angruvadal. Much thought had gone into his problem and what solution would best satisfy these competing requirements during the long journey, but this would have to be a question for the judges. He didn’t care if he lived or died as long as justice was served.

Regardless of his fate, there was one last thing to be done before giving up his office and submitting himself to judgment.

The ones who created this fraud had to die.

Justice demanded it.