Kings RisingBy: C. S. Pacat
Damen stood at the base of the dais steps as his name spread in tones of shock and disbelief over the courtyard. Nikandros knelt before him, his army knelt before him. It was like coming home, until his name, rippling outwards over the ranks of the gathered Akielon soldiers, hit the Veretian commoners thronging the edges of the space, where it changed.
The shock was different, a doubled shock, a rippling impact now, of anger, of alarm. Damen heard the first voice in outcry, a swell of violence, a new word now in the mouths of the crowd.
A hiss of a rock, thrown. Nikandros came up off his knees, drawing his sword. Damen flung out a hand in a motion for halt, stopping Nikandros instantly, his sword showing a half-foot of Akielon steel.
He could see the confusion on Nikandros’s face, as the courtyard around them began to disintegrate. ‘Damianos?’
‘Order your men to hold,’ said Damen, even as the sharp sound of steel closer by had him turning fast.
A Veretian soldier in a grey helmet had drawn his sword, and was staring at Damen as though he faced his worst nightmare. It was Huet; Damen recognised the white face under the helmet. Huet was holding his sword out before him the way Jord had held the knife: between two shaking hands.
‘Damianos?’ said Huet.
‘Hold!’ Damen ordered again, shouting to be heard over the crowd, over the new, hoarse cry in Akielon, ‘Treason!’ It was death to draw a blade on a member of the Akielon royal family.
He was still keeping Nikandros back with the gesture of his outflung hand, but he could feel every sinew in Nikandros strain in the effort to hold himself in place.
There were wild shouts now, the thin perimeter breaking down as the crowd swelled with the panicked urge to run. To stampede and get out of the way of the Akielon army. Or to swarm over it. He saw Guymar scan the courtyard, the tense fear in his eyes clear. Soldiers could see what a peasant mob could not: that the Akielon force inside the walls—inside the walls—outnumbered the skeletal Veretian garrison fifteen to one.
Another sword was drawn alongside Huet’s, a horrified Veretian soldier. Anger and disbelief showed in the faces of some of the Veretian guard; in others there was fear, looking to one another desperately for guidance.
And in the first spilling breach in the perimeter, the spiralling frenzy of the crowd, the Veretian guards no longer fully under his control—Damen saw how completely he had underestimated the effect of his identity on the men and women of this fort.
His mind, used to battlefield decisions, took in the sweep of the courtyard, and made the commander’s choice: to minimise losses, to limit bloodshed and chaos, and to secure Ravenel. The Veretian guards were beyond his orders, and the Veretian people . . . if these bitter, furious emotions could be soothed among the Veretian people, he was not the one to soothe them.
There was only one way to stop what was about to happen, and that was to contain it; to lock it down, to secure this place once and for all.
Damen said to Nikandros, ‘Take the fort.’
* * *
Damen swept along the passage, flanked by six Akielon guards. Akielon voices rang in the halls and red Akielon flags flew over Ravenel. Akielon soldiers on either side of the doorway drew their heels together as he passed.
Ravenel had now changed allegiance twice in as many days. This time it had happened swiftly; Damen knew exactly how to subdue this fort. The skeleton Veretian force had quickly buckled in the courtyard, and Damen had ordered their two senior soldiers, Guymar and Jord, brought to him, stripped of armour and under guard.
As Damen entered the small antechamber, the Akielon guards took hold of their two prisoners and thrust them roughly to the ground. ‘Kneel,’ the guard commanded in mangled Veretian. Jord sprawled.
‘No. Let them stand.’ Damen gave the order in Akielon.
It was Guymar who shrugged the treatment off and regained his feet first. Jord, who had known Damen for months, was more circumspect, rising slowly. Guymar met Damen’s eyes. He spoke in Veretian, giving no sign that he had understood Akielon.
‘So it’s true. You are Damianos of Akielos.’