"You stand accused of treason. How do you plead, Count Successor Karia Graig?"
"Why, guilty of course." What an incredibly idiotic question! Karia groaned silently as the accusations droned on, all of them true. But get to it! Yes, I stole the seal to falsify a council order. Yes, I falsely ceded command to Imperial Colonel Trindai de Laiden when our capital was under attack.
He nodded to the presiding greybeard between accusations. It wouldn't do to add insubordination to the charges as well. Not any that could be seen at least. Yes, I was quite aware Colonel de Laiden was not, is not and will not become a sworn man. And that's probably why he organized a coherent defence of Belgera rather than fighting for who should be in command.
And that was probably the single most important reason they were at all able to hold this trial, Karia knew. The fighting had been bad. Faced with outworlder weapons only battlemages stood any chance. But the defenders hadn't known that at the time of the attack. City guards attacking with spears went down like just so much grain late in summer. It really had been like harvest with constant outworlder hammering in the background and invisible scythes cutting down sworn men and citizens alike.
He turned his attention to the tirade once more. They were getting to the more dangerous part now. He had consorted with an enemy and he had shown her the secret tunnels under Belgera. What else was he supposed to do? The khragan mindwalker had been the only thing between total annihilation of his entire command and survival. No sworn man had ever taken such risks as she did to keep him alive.
Karia shook his head and stared ahead. First at grey stone walls, then up at an equally grey ceiling. We didn't build with beauty in mind, did we? He was proud of the walled capital nonetheless. Then he allowed his eyes to wander over the presiding council. His accusers and judges alike. Only the king was absent, but he was about as powerless as kings ever came and didn't bother with affairs of state.
Karia followed a long table with his eyes, drank heavy bread and fortified wine with his mind and wished he could taste some for real. Then he let his gaze leave the food and settled on the present guests. In one corner some, but not all persons involved in the madness, stood and watched impassively.
Colonel de Laiden, from Keen. Old, but age had yet to bend him. That face had probably been shaved until recently. In Belgera that was about as outlandish as it got. He still wore a torn linen uniform under his winter clothes. Yellow cloth with black leather refused to stay hidden under the furs he'd draped over his shoulders. To his right, Mindwalker Hwain. The golden came and went, always exotic but their visits always frequent enough for people to take for granted another visit not too far in the future. Silver hair and golden eyes, and only the gods knew what their clothes were made of. Khanati silk with the magic of Ira sewed into the very fabric if rumours were true. Karia grinned. They probably weren't. He failed to stifle a laugh which bought him another disapproving glare from old Tanaihac who paused reading the long list of wrongs Karia was guilty of.
He nodded acceptance to yet another accusation while he studied the reason for it. Clean shaved and a full head taller than all but one. Clothes glimmering with a metallic sheen hugging close to his body he belied Colonel de Laiden's looks as the most outlandish. Outworlder Major Heinrich Goldberger made an utterly failed attempt to look as if he belonged here. He had arrived, with his men, in outworlder moving armour to tip the scales. Had been jumped inside the city walls, and that took a dragon to do if legends were true. Outworlder armour and outworlder weapons. Belgera had turned into a screeching abyss of fire and death when two armed outworlder forces clashed, one eating the other and both eating whomever was caught in the middle.
Karia shook his head as a long tirade about his responsibility for damages done to buildings reached him. Not his fault. Neither he nor his men commanded the kind of weapons that could rip stone walls apart. That blame had to be placed squarely with Christina Ulfsdotir, yet another outworlder, who descended on Belgera with her mercenaries on a manhunt.
How had he even managed to get involved in something like this? Life was supposed to be much easier, like fighting for his life high up among the mountains each summer campaign. Fighting khraga. Because fighting khraga was what they did, and Gring ghara Khat was very much a khraga and she was also present at the behest of Colonel de Laiden and Mindwalker Hwain both.
A khraga in the royal castle. Standing here among them. A few eightdays earlier he would have been among those who cried bloody murder, and now, now his heart swelled with pride watching her. Jet black fur oiled and combed so it glittered in the lamplight, tusks polished to shine as bright as her fur. Taller even than the outworlder.
And a taleweaver had been here. The target of Ulfsdotir's madness, but he was gone. Gone as well was Harbend de Garak, the head of the caravan still trading for all it was worth in Downtown. And so was Khar Escha from Khanati. A pity. I would have wanted to talk with him. Khanati was a legend, a land where winter was supposedly unknown.
He turned his attention back the the council members. The list of evil deeds was long but it was coming to an end. "Yes, I have understood what I stand accused of," Karia said. Whatever the verdict was it couldn't possibly be more exciting than the events he had lived through during one, single mad day. Probably a boring execution, with him as the main attraction.
Life, however, refused to be so easy. Karia choked down his reply when he heard his sentence.
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