***Wet as Rain***
215: Black as night; wet as rain. This last memory will always remain.
Kru’Nah climbed the steps to the stage. His boots scraped against the fresh wood. His fingers flexed against the rigid covers of the Writings.
He knelt and set the book gently against the back of the stage. He rested his hand against the cover for just a moment before standing. He surveyed the gathered crowd.
Taking a deep breath, he turned his attention to his mother and her priests.
“I’ve seen the carnage inside the castle,” Kru’Nah said. “I won’t go into detail about what I saw, but know it’s immense and the evidence has been left behind. You all are hereby sentenced to execution and I will personally see it out.” He glowered at his mother. “I will not order others to do what I am too weak to do. Shall we begin with the confessor?”
The confessor tried to take a step back, but the soldiers held him tightly, forcing him up the steps.
“You do not know the powers you interfere with, boy,” the confessor threatened once on the stage.
Kru’Nah turned toward the confessor and set his face and didn’t respond. He wanted to wait out the confessor to see what would happen.
Kru’Nah continued to wait. He wondered what kind of magic the confessor possessed. In his entire life, he’d never known anything of their magic. It was yet another closely guarded secret among the priests.
However, if they had a special kind of magic, why such a brutal and bloody method of killing everyone in the castle?
Kru’Nah decided that the priests were not a threat to him.
The confessor continued to maintain his silence. The crowd shifted and murmured. Kru’Nah started to doubt his method of bringing in a public execution. Between his mother’s unexpected reception and the chaos of the gruesome discovery, he hadn’t thought anything through. He made this decision and now he needed to stick with it. The one thing he had to his advantage is that he maintained his impassive facade, while the confessor did appear to grow more and uncomfortable.
“What is it you want from me?” the confessor finally shouted.
Kru’Nah maintained his silence.
“What do you want me to say?” The confessor’s face turned red and his eyes had a wild panic in them.
Kru’Nah still didn’t speak.
“Yes!” he screamed, his voice cracking. “Yes, we did it. We were ordered. We are sworn to serve the queen. We served her.”
“You are sworn to serve the Guardians,” Kru’Nah said quietly. He pulled his scimitar from its scabbard and in a smooth motion brought it down into the spot where the neck meets the shoulder. The confessor shuddered as the sword cut deep into his body. He dropped to the stage and convulsed as the blood poured from his body. Kru’Nah shoved the body off the stage. He tried not to react to the sound of it hitting the stone floor below.
“Bring the next one,” Kru’Nah said.
One by one, the priests were brought up to the stage, and their bodies split in the same spot as the confessor and pushed off the stage.
Kru’Nah’s stomach churned as the process dragged on. He understood why his mother had ordered 50 priests to clean out the castle. He still had half the priests to execute and he was losing his desire to finish the task.
This was his chance, though, to assert his authority. He said he would execute them all and now he must. If he was to lose his nerve now, he would be no better than his mother.
His eyes flicked to his mother.
Her face had turned ashen.
He just realized at this moment that he was going to have to publicly execute his own mother. He swallowed.
He turned his eyes away from her and continued to execute the priests as they were brought up. The crowd grew as the executions went on.
After more than an hour, the last priest was executed. Only his mother remained, both arms held behind her by two guards.
He stood tall and stared her down. She began to slowly shake her head.
At that moment, the crowd gasped and split.
Claudius pulled through with his sleigh. He eyed the stage and the pile of bodies in the front.
“You’ve been busy, young prince,” Claudius said.
Kru’Nah nodded once.
“I have found some things that I believe belong to you.”
With a flourish, Claudius jumped down from his sleigh and opened a side door. A small wollo jumped out. Kru’Nah gasped as a blue hand reached out.
Allyandrah stepped out of the sleigh. She gasped and brought a hand to her mouth.
Kru’Nah pressed his lips together.
“No!” Kru’Que’Nah shouted.
Kru’Nah tore his eyes away from Allyandrah back to the sleigh. His grandfather stepped out, assisted by Claudius.
“How can—” his mother said, trailing off.
His grandfather looked at Kru’Que’Nah with longing. He wrapped his arm around Allyandrah and pulled her tightly to his side. He whispered in her ear and she nodded, wiping her eyes.
Kru’Que’Nah turned on Kru’Nah, her eyes wide in rage, lips peeled back over clenched teeth.
“You liar!” she seethed.
The sickly smell of blood hung heavy in the air with her words.
No more liar than what you taught me to be. Kru’Nah breathed a deep breath evenly and stepped back with one foot, opening his body to face the crowd.
He extended one hand toward his mother. The guards shoved her forward. She resisted for a moment, but then marched up the stairs.
“You think you’re so brave and noble,” she shouted as she ascended. “You think you’re saving this kingdom. What are you saving it from? The generous hands of the Guardians? The Guardians who have protected us under my rule?”
Murmurs ran through the crowd.
“And now you’ve executed 50 priests of the Guardians,” she continued. “What do you think they’re going to do to this kingdom?”
Kru’Nah bit down on the tip of his tongue to keep himself from speaking.
“This is some grand coup you’ve planned!” Her voice rose steadily higher. “Disappearing into the woods to save your slave lover and then coming back here to murder everyone to hide it!”
“I’ve hidden nothing!” Kru’Nah spat back, immediately regretting having spoken. She hit his weak spot and he’d reacted. “For the murder of all the high-ranking officials of this kingdom, I sentence you to death.”
He wiped his scimitar on the leg of his pants before sliding it back into its scabbard.
He couldn’t kill her immediately. That would be too merciful. But could he leave her exposed in the dark? Would those creatures come here? Could he afford that?
“Bring me rope!” he ordered.
After nearly half an hour a length of rope was brought up to him.
He pointed to one of the tall supports. “Bring her there.”
The soldiers dragged her over. Kru’Nah silently secured her to the post, even as she fought against him. When he was satisfied that she wouldn’t get free, he stepped back.
“What are you doing?” she screamed.
Wiping his hands, he picked up The Writings and descended the steps.
He presented the book of Writings to Claudius without ceremony. Turning, he went into the bakery, straight back to the ovens. He grabbed the massive iron pincers and removed a flaming log from the oven. Working his way back outside, the crowd split as he emerged. He strode to the pile of bodies and tossed the log.
Smaller pieces of wood were tossed. Startled, Kru’Nah turned. The residents and soldiers had gathered pieces of their own wood and threw them on the pile.
Slowly, both fabric and flesh caught fire, the stench making Kru’Nah’s stomach roll. He stepped back. The sound of people vomiting drifted over the growing roar of the fire. As the logs caught, the flames shot upward. He stared at his mother through the shimmer of the heat.
Tears stung at his eyes. She was terrified, trying to break free. He clenched his teeth tighter to maintain what little control he had left of his emotions. He desperately wanted to free her, but he couldn’t. She couldn’t remain alive. None of them would ever be safe with her alive.
The stage began to burn and she screamed.
“Kru’Nah, no!” she begged. “Don’t do this. Kru’Nah, please.”
Over and over she screamed as the flames licked closer to her. His insides knotted and he struggled to keep his face impassive. Short breaths burst from his lips as he tried to choke back sobs.
Her pleas turned to agonizing screams as the fire overtook her. It seemed to last forever until they finally died out. Only the roar of the blaze could be heard.
A hollow spot inside Kru’Nah grew with the realization of what he’d just done. Justice had been served, no doubt of it, but he hated it. No wonder kings and queens ordered others to do this.
He breathed out. The sky had darkened and he hadn’t noticed.
This memory would be seared in his mind, and everyone else’s, forever.