This is Issue #88 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
* * *
“How are you finding married life, Plaga?” Jet wondered easily, pouring the man a glass of dark wine.
“Ridiculously pleasant,” Acer said, beaming. “You know, she’s one of the most brilliant women I’ve ever met. I gave her a seat on my high council.”
Jet choked on his own glass, setting it aside as he stared at Acer with wide-eyes.
“Don’t look so surprised, Guardian, is not your own wife on your high council?”
“No,” Jet said, laughing, shaking his head. “Absolutely not. I’m on hers. We don’t, in general, like to mix politics in with our marriage.”
Acer said casually, “Your marriage is political, though, is it not? You and the princess did not marry out of love, after all.” He drank deeply from his goblet and looked at Jet over the rim, as if to gauge his reaction.
“Plaga,” Jet said, lifting his chin. “Why do I get the sense you are baiting me?”
“Did you marry Gemma off to keep her away from Lucida?”
Rage flared in Jet’s eyes. As his lips curled back in a furious snarl, Acer immediately moved to put his glass aside, his eyes widening. “Guardian, please, wait –“
“Your wife,” Jet growled. “Where is she?”
“No, wait,” Acer begged. He held his hands up as if to show he was no threat, was hiding nothing. “You are angry? What have I done? Guardian, please–“
Jet’s expression shifted to calm, but only barely. “Tell me, Plaga. Does she please you?”
“On your council.”
“At your breakfast table?”
“At your side in your hall?”
“In your bed?”
“…” Acer opened his mouth, and his throat worked, but no sound came out. His skin darkened with a heavy flush.
“Have you a sudden modesty, Plaga?” Jet wondered, looking at Acer over the rim of his goblet, now.
“Have you a sudden cruelty toward those who are loyal to you, my Guardian?” Acer’s voice was low and pleading.
“Why did you ask me my motives in marrying Gemma to you? Has she been anything but solicitous?” Jet set his wine down. “Answer me with openness. With honesty.”
Acer flushed, staring down at his cup. “I found diaries. In her rooms.”
“Written about the Queen,” Acer said, looking pained.
“…Recent… Entries?” Jet wondered, one brow lifted.
“No, Lord. No, none recent. But they were… They were love letters to her.”
“And? Is she otherwise loving to you, Acer?”
“There are no entries to me in her diaries, if that is what you’re asking.”
“It was an arranged marriage, Plaga. The girl’s swept away from her family and what she’s known. It’s obvious she wishes to make you happy, and will give you good counsel,” Jet said, trying hard not to roll his eyes. He felt a little more reassured that the diary entries were not recent. He resolved to keep a closer eye on Gemma. “Are you expecting her to woo you?”
“You think I’m being foolish?” Acer chewed his lower lip.
“Quite, Plaga. But it is understandable. You were quite smitten with her. It is reasonable on your part to want her to be as smitten,” Jet said, shrugging. “As for her relationship with the Queen… They were closer than any two sisters, but then had a falling out, as family often can. Lucida mourns her leaving, still, but will not see her. I imagine Gemma will be saddened for this for some time, as is my wife. Perhaps you may find a way into her heart by being compassionate about such a thing.”
Acer fell silent, mulling over this thought. Finally, he drained his cup and set it down for Jet to refill. “My Lord, I believe you are right. I am being foolish over such a thing, and if I must burn my thoughts about it, I will make up my mind to be the husband my wife needs.”
“Good man,” Jet affirmed, refilling Acer’s up. “Now, tell me about the soldiers you’ve brought me.”
“Tenebrae has had a rather remarkable army, but because of my family’s treacherous leanings, it was difficult to make certain our soldiers were following our cause due to loyalty to the nation, not to their ulterior motives. Gemma’s visions have been of remarkable help, however–“
“I was led to believe that Gemma’s visions were merely… That she watched Death? How would–“
“We were able to find out who had betrayed their oaths, some going so far as to kill fellow soldiers,” Acer said, not without pride.
“…and what?” Acer’s expression was slightly wary.
“And what did you do once you found them out?”
“Gave them quick public trials,” Acer explains, his expression dark. “Very quick. They were offered the chance to beg for my mercy. Those who did were given quick executions and their families were spared dishonor.”
“And those who did not beg?” Jet wondered.
Acer lifted his chin, his expression brooking neither pity nor judgment. “Those who did not were publicly hanged.”
“Hanged.” Jet said the word quietly, tasting it, his brows knitting in a brief furrow.
“Yes, Lord. They were hanged at the gates of my estate, thrown from the wall,” Acer said. “Their families were given the option of cutting their bodies down and leaving with them, or leaving them there as a sign of betrayal, and begging my forgiveness.”
Jet’s brows lifted, then, and he said, “You have a brutal streak not unlike your father.”
“It is not brutality. It’s practicality,” Acer explained. “Tenebrae will follow you into the light, Guardian, I swear it. I’m nothing if not forgiving. I’ve made sure to offer compensation to those who are willing to kneel. Would you do something different?”
Jet nodded, slowly and solemnly.
Acer’s face paled, and he swallowed past an entire desert of sudden doubt. “What… what would you do?”
Jet’s lips curved in a dangerous smile, his teeth shining sharp. “Put my swords through them. If they would not serve me with their hearts, they will serve with their hearts’ blood.”
* * *