Rhema II: Anger, Apathy, Exhaustion


The Fourteenth Day of the Tenth Moon, 872 AD.
Anaria, Western Teleytaios, Klironomea.


His day began, as all days seemingly did now, with a sleepless night and a frustrating morning.
Okay, maybe sending away one of the only friendly faces in the capital wasn't quite as good an idea as it seemed at first, but could anyone blame him? The councillors needed to die, and there was no way Roma wouldn't find out who committed the act. Where her anger went, retribution followed, this much he knew. Seventh knew it almost as well, and Rhema would be damned if his friend was hurt because of something he'd told them to do.
Rhema had actually been second to come across the murder scene, just after Marshal Crowe had found it. To have seen her so shaken by Seventh's handiwork...
It was a damn funny sight, and the masterpiece in front of him was almost beautiful in its execution.
Before them had been the image he had been dreaming of for years now. Vile men and women clinging to power like parasites, choking to death on their own hubris. Rhema didn't know how Seventh had lured them all here. He didn't care. Some of the worst people he'd ever interacted with lay dead before him. He'd cackled like he hadn't in years.
He moved to dress himself and looked out of the hollow window. The moon hung low in the sky, and in an hour or two the sun would crest the horizon and bathe the palace in light.
It took more out of him than he was willing to admit to leave chambers. He was so tired of this act; he wanted to be at his brothers side, leading men into battle with him, drinking with him at his victory table and storming the walls of disloyal holdfasts alongside him.
He wished he had taken his brother up on his offer when father died.
No. He thought to himself. I made my choice. He had driven himself to destroy his brothers enemies from within, and so that he would do.
He'd done a damn good job of it so far, and his sister seemed to have accidentally helped by appointing her commanders based on loyalty and familiarity rather than competence.
Now a third of his forces were dead or scattered, and most of the nobles in the inner council had choked to death. Hemlock, the physicians said.
His brother's army had, by all accounts, barely suffered a scratch at this point.
He hoped beyond hope that his brother knew the act he was playing, that he wasn't actually opposing him.
If he didn't, then Rhema was a dead man walking.
He missed his brother, and Seventh. He hoped he hadn't made a mistake entrusting Seventh's care to Ser Aenethar. The man was a brilliant combatant, that much was true, but there was something weird about him, and when you looked him in the eyes something was... wrong. Missing. He shook his head. Ser Aenethar is a good knight. Crowe recommended him herself. If she thinks he was right, then he was the right man for the job. If anyone can get them to Lyk, it'll be him.

He stalked through the palace halls, empty at this hour save for the occasional cook-staff or guard.
Eventually he reached his destination, and entered Marshal Crowe's room without so much as knocking.
"Your Grace."
"Crowe. Im here to answer your questions at last. I have been hiding something from you."
She raised an eyebrow.
"What is it?"
Rhema took a deep breath.
"Okay, so im kind of actually supporting my brother by destroying my sister's supporters from within. Lyk's probably gonna march on the capital soon and I need to make sure it's as bloodless as possible."
Crowe scratched her chin in thought.
"The gates are some of the only defences the capital has that'll pose a threat to your brother. Three and a half inches of full-hard, cold-rolled steel. If you want to avoid either a siege or a bloody assault on the gatehouses, we'll need to ensure that one of the gatehouses remains in control of troops loyal to you, and who will follow your orders."
She thought for a second.
"Hieromonk Auldwyrm and his thousand men are in the northern district, aren't they? Have them occupy the North-Gate, while some of them hold the Inner-Gate leading from the northern district into the city."
Rhema grinned, admittedly somewhat confused. He'd expected questions, or exclamations he was insane, or even just a disappointed glare. Not... this.
"You've taken this... remarkably better than I thought you would."
Crowe shrugged at him, and he could just about detect a hint of a smile on her face.
"It explains a lot about how odd you've been acting. Besides. I promised I'd follow you wherever you'd lead, didn't I?"
He gave a tired smile at that.
"Yeah. Yeah, you did."
"I assume it was you that ordered Seventh to kill the councillors, then?"
He flushed and looked away.
"Yes. You don't think less of me for that, so you?"
She laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Rhema, they're parasites. They kidnapped you and tormented you four years ago to keep power, they rally behind your sister to keep power, and the second they think they can get away with it they'd depose you to gain power. I despise them."
He blinked. It wasn't often she gave a response that emotionally charged. Hell, she barely got emotional at all. She continued.
"Oh, and they blocked me from being made a Marshal-at-Arms based on my gender for years. If it was legal I would've killed them myself."
He gave a small snort of laughter. Not his manic, uncontrolled cackling, but a genuinely happy laugh. Crowe seemed to be able to tell the difference, and she smiled in response.
"Let's get back down to bronze tacks. Having those loyal to you manning the northern district would basically give your brother a clear access route to the city, bypassing most of its defences. By securing the north-gate and inner-gate we can control the flow of men in and out of the area."
She pointed at the areas indicated on a map of the city that Rhema hadn't even noticed was on the table. He moved to have a better look.
"Our next priority after the gatehouses should be securing Last Stander's Street. It's got that name for a reason, and if the Roses hold it they'll have the highest ground in the northern district with both flanks blocked by brick and stone. I don't doubt the violets could beat them, but they'd lose half-a-hundred men for each dozen they killed."
Rhema nodded, doing his best to take it all in. He wished he'd paid more attention to what Crowe and her Lieutenants had been trying to teach him down in Castelos; the place was practically the perfect example of a holdfast designed for siege warfare.
"So gatehouses, then Last Stander's Street. Anything else?"
She nodded.
"Ideally we'd have control over the whole northern district, but in case we don't and only hold our main objectives then the next place to hold should be the Bastard's Run."
Rhema thought to himself a moment.
"Bastard's Run... is that the one avenue with all the ale-houses and breweries? You know, slopes uphill, cobbled road?"
Crowe have what could only be a sigh of exasperation.
"I don't know whether to be happy that you know the area or concerned that you apparently are familiar with the drinking dens there."
"Hey, it's not their fault that the ale-houses are all that's left! The northern district's been so neglected that it's practically all slums and shanty towns up there. The breweries and distilleries are about the only legitimate businesses left for them."
Crowe smiled at him incredulously.
"Hmm. Forgive me, I didn't know you knew of the local industries."
"Don't worry, I'd be surprised as well. Me and Lyk used to sneak down there when he'd come back for the solstice. We'd go to the Last Avenue first in the western district, but the night would always end with us introducing ourselves drunkenly to each tavern and ale-house and proclaiming that drinks were on the crown for solstice."
There was silence for a few moments before Crowe spoke. Her voice was rich with a warmth he had missed in the weeks since Seventh had left.
"You were close to him. It sounds like you two got up to quite a bit of mischief."
"Not just us two. Well, not always. Every now and again Lyk would bring his foster-brother with him, Prince Alekos. He was nice, but he couldn't hold his drink for love nor coin."
Crowe actually snorted at that.
"Three little princelings, sneaking into a soldiers den and getting blind drunk with their people. Now that's something I wish I'd been able to see."
He smiled.
"Actually, I think Alekos is a King now. There was speculation a year or two ago that his father- his birth father, not the Lord that fostered him- had died. That rumour was false, but there was a grain of truth to it, for he was weaker ever after. That rumour seems to have sparked up again, so I wouldn't be surprised if Polaeros has a new king, if not now then soon."
Crowe nodded at him, seemingly trying to get back on track.
"I see. Shall we continue this line of conversation another time and get on with planning?"
He schooled his own features as best he could.
"Certainly. Remember, if anyone walks in, we're planning the defence of the capital."
She nodded and smiled.
"You'll survive this yet, your Grace."


Dinner was something else entirely. Out of civility, he had taken his meals with his sister as of late, but that didn't mean he enjoyed it.
"Rhema, you need to eat."
He pushed the food around his plate with his fork.
There was a measure of tenderness in her voice.
He didn't care if it was real or not at this point.
"I'm not hungry."
"Rhema, please eat something. When did you last eat more than a few mouthfuls?"
He shook his head, mind swimming.
"Can't eat. It all just tastes like ash."
She looked at him, confused.
"What do you mean?"
"I went out into the docks a few days back. I can't- they were burning people. I- the New Church, they were dragging out members of the Hydran's cult and torching them. I passed through the western district the next day. There were so many gallows. Gibbets too. Why are there so many dying out there? Why haven't we stopped them from killing each other yet?"
She set down her own cutlery and looked at him.
"You wrote a royal decree stating that disloyal elements within the city need to be hunted."
He shook his head at her, his own confusion rising.
"I did not! They named me butcher in the capital for what happened! Did you know that? Hundreds have been executed for crimes that aren't even really crimes, executed in my name! Why! What happened!"
"As I said, you signed a royal decree stating that all those professing or showing support to rival claimants are to be hanged by the neck until dead. Those proffering heathenry or heretical beliefs are to be put to torch at the stake. Any who disrupt either such events are to be suspended in cages overlooking the execution sites until three days after their death."
"I don't- I didn't sign that! I didn't write that! I'm not even a follower of the New Church, why would I sentence those outside it's jurisdiction to death? What do I care if the heart of the average citizen belongs to my brother? I don't want to be the king of butchery!"
I don't want to be king at all. He barely stopped himself from blurting that out loud. She'd definitely noticed him acting strange enough recently, and letting that slip could tip her off as to his plan.
Angels, but he was so tired.
So tired.
"I didn't sign this, I can't of!"
"You don't remember?"
He shook his head. His words were sullen, almost defeated in tone.
"No, I- I don't understand, I can't have ordered that many to die, we- I haven't even held court enough times to see that many bodies when I look through the city. From every arch, from every gate and tree, there's a body swinging. In every square there's a pyre. It's a nightmare out there! This can't- I can't of done this, I haven't even seen that many people!"
Roma shook her head, with what appeared to be sadness. Normally Rhema could read her like an open book, but after seeing that outside he couldn't taste anything but ash. Was she lying to him? Was she telling the truth? If she was, why didn't he remember? Was his condition worsening, was he truly being given over to insanity? Why cant I remember?
He looked around at the sound of metal clattering to the floor, only to realise he had thrown his plate across the room. Roma sat, watching on quietly.
"Fuck... I don't- I don't understand. Did I do it? Why would I do it?"
"It's okay, brother. You're under a lot of stress as king. Sometimes you need to make tough decisions, and people get hurt. That doesn't mean you did the wrong thing! If those people were innocent, then they wouldn't have been killed. You're under a lot of stress, I know. You and our... half-brother were close, but you need to accept that he's betrayed you. Lykourgos doesn't care about you anymore. He wants your throne."
He shook his head violently.
"No, no, no! He does care! I care as well! I don't want this war, I hate fighting him! I don't want him to hate me because of it!"
Roma slammed her arms on the table to get his attention. He jumped at the noise and went quiet for a moment, giving her time to speak. Vitriol and malice oozed out of her words like blood from a wound.
"Our brother doesn't care about you! You were too young to remember when he left for Aenirhen with Lord Brathaxe, but the only brother he cared about was that... that Polaeran boy!"
"Prince Alekos Virgilos."
Roma nodded.
"You aren't Lykourgos' brother, not in his eyes. His true brother is Alekos, and he's been disappointed in the brother he's been stuck with since that foreigner left."
Bullshit. He thought to himself. Lyk fought a war for me. Killed for me. Maybe his foster-brother is as dear to him as I am. Maybe he isn't. What does it matter to me? Alekos was nothing but polite when I met him, and Lyk likes him. That's good enough, isn't it?
"If the choice was in our brother's hands, do you really think he would choose us over him?"
Rhema levelled a glare at her, and she flinched from the intensity in his eyes.
"I will tolerate much from you, far more than I should, but do not attempt to tarnish the love I still bear my brother. If the choice were in his hands, he would do as duty demands."
Roma nodded, unsure.
"Perhaps. But he does not do his duty now."
Yes, he does. He did before, and he does now. You know it. We both know it. And it scares you.
"Doesn't matter anymore. Anyway, the foreigner was never a brother to our own wayward blood. They were best friends and partners in crime, and I have no doubt that they'd've stood back to back with each other against anything, but brothers isn't quite right."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"Not brothers? Okay, if that's what you believe. It doesn't change the fact that Lykourgos doesn't care about you anymore. You're against him now, and whoever stands against him he tries to kill."
Rhema's whole body shook as he spoke.
"That's not true! I won't just stand here as you slander him endlessly, dripping poison in my ears! He's our brother, our older brother, not just mine, but yours too! He wouldn't hurt us and you know it!"
Roma had clearly reached the end of her tether, and raised an arm as if to strike him. She stopped herself when she realised what she was about to do, but it still felt like she had hit him. Rhema shivered in place and raised his arms to protect himself, though nothing happened. Roma spoke again.
"Saints above, you're weak-willed. It's a good thing I helped you with the decree."
The implications of what she said sunk in fast, snapping him out of his funk, and his stomach felt as though it had turned to ice.
"It was you! You signed it while I was disassociating."
She smiled sweetly at him.
"Of course not. I merely used the signet ring, I didn't actually sign anything."
He spluttered, trying to find the right words. What would Lyk do?
"I want it stopped! The killings need to end, the people at least deserve trials before they're killed on the spot. I demand this missive be rescinded."
She smiled at him still, that damnable smug expression causing the taste of perfume and venom to rise in his mouth.
"Do what you like. Call off the executions, end the purge of the disloyal. It won't matter."
"It will if I use my royal decree, then everyone will have to listen!"
She cut him off before he could speak again, her hand dismissively waving his words away.
"It will change nothing. Go ahead, lock the door if you must, but the horse has already bolted from the stable. You will be remembered as the second manic king, and the realm will need a suitable successor to rebuild after. The people will welcome me with open arms after our half-born brother is killed, someone who can curb your madness. You can end the purges, but you cannot bring the dead back to life."
He stared at her, mouth agape. Had she truly just confessed to committing treason? A sad thought dawned on him.
She wouldn't admit it unless she knew she could get away with it. Even if I had the courage to find someone and tell them, who would believe me? I'm mad, she's not, and thats end of it.
"You do understand how bad our situation is, right? Because we are losing this war."
She rolled her eyes again, but he could tell she was unnerved.
"Of course not. We have nine thousand men in the capital and three thousand in the south-west. Marshal Harran leads several thousand more back in the rearguard-"
"There is no rearguard! The survivors have gone home to tend their fields, and the country lies open! You need to understand how close we are to dying here!"
She paled, but continued nonetheless.
"We still have more men than him. Rally them all together, then march out and meet him in battle. You were always the better one in combat, you shouldn't have that much trouble killing him."
Something inside him snapped at that, at the implication that he should kill his brother. Even if he wanted too, she knew that Lyk was the better commander and leader! His brother would beat him every time in battle! She was still speaking, though what she was saying he couldn't tell. White-hot rage coursed through him, and he slammed a knife into the table with so much force it drove straight through to the hilt.
He stumbled over the last few words as he gestured wildly between the two of them. Rage coated his words and dripped from his tongue like a poison. They weren't fine, she was actively fraying at the seams and his tired mind was so close to snapping. How could she even fucking suggest this? He wheeled back around and snapped at her again, continuing his tirade.
He took a deep breath to steady himself, and held up his hand as she made to speak.
"Im not done. Do you know how long I wasted away in the most remote part of our kingdom because of you? Because of your greed, your selfishness, your arrogance. You'd have me back down there right now if you could, and I'd almost be tempted to go willingly just so I don't have to associate myself with you any more. You've dedicated your life to pushing me, and pushing me, and pushing me to see how far you can bend me before I break. Do you know-"
He was cut off by a burst of laughter. Initially infuriated by his sister's disrespect, he realised as he looked at her that it was coming from himself, not her.
"Do you know how long I spent awake in bed each night , wondering what it was that I did wrong? If I'd only been a better son for father, a better brother to you, a better person for myself, never stopping to realise that what happened to me wasn't my fault!"
The last few words were bitten out rather than spoken, but he refused to stop, not now. Not with ten years of anger and inadequacy and despair rising from within.
"Well, congratulations!" He gesticulated wildly again, and broken laughter pealed through the room. "You've won! You've beaten me! You've found out exactly how much I can take! I didn't realise I had a limit, but here we are!"
His vision stung, and tears streamed down his face.
"You've won this game! I have nothing left to give!"
He turned to leave the room as he finished his rant.
"Sort this mess out yourself. Im done. If im lucky then the violets will kill you first. Im going to bed. Don't ever tell me what to think of my brother again."
Roma looked up, and even her careful veneer seemed to have cracked under his words. Her own tears were blinked back, and she sounded as though she was swallowing a lump in her throat as she spoke.
"We... you are my brother, Rhema. We need to stick together here. You might hate me, but our rebelling bastard brother could take our heads for treason if he wins."
She gripped his wrist as he moved to leave.
"I want you to live, Rhema. Believe it or not, I do. You're my brother. Surely you want to live? Surely you want your sister to live?"
Rhema didn't have the energy to turn around as he spoke, instead forcing as much of his flagging venom as possible into the final few words of their conversation.
"You are not my sister, and I am not your brother. Those labels were lost to us long ago."


He lay awake in bed. Again.
He couldn't sleep. Again.
In a few hours the sun would crest the horizon and bath the palace in light. Again.
Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he didn't even have enough energy to wipe them away.
He was so tired.
He wished Seventh was with him. Or Lyk.
They'd know what to do. He thought to himself. They always do.
I'm tired.


About the author


Bio: 19 Years Old.
Biromantic Asexual.
Currently working on a low/dark fantasy piece, "An Angel Called Eternity".

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