The Centurion Cycle Book Five: Of Shadow and Fire

Chapter Five: The Good and the Bad

"General Yates," Varrus said as the Ambassador of Tal Sith entered his study.

"I hope you have good news for me, High Chancellor," General Yates grumbled.

"Both good and bad," Varrus said waving to a seat in front of his desk.

"Let's save the good news for last. At least give me some hope of leaving here in a happy mood."

"Very well," Varrus said his face going cold. "Are you aware of the crime your lover has committed?"

"Crime, no. Lord Brashear is a schemer but he would never break the law."

"But he has," Varrus said in a steely tone. "Is it not a crime to steal the anima of our Centurion dead?"

"That is an Imperial law, this is Qul Tos. But how do you know Lord Brashear committed such a crime."

"Given his relationship to you, we have long suspected it. Now we have proof," Varrus said handing the Ambassador of Tal Sith a thick scroll.

"What is this?" Yates asked opening the scroll. "Why this looks like nothing but a trade agreement. In return for five hundred barrels of oil Brashear was to give the nomads of the desert an unnamed item"

"This was the unnamed item," Varrus said lifting a cask on top of his desk. Removing its lid he tipped its open mouth toward the general so he could see what lay inside.

"Anima..." Yates gasped. "I, I don't know what to say. I honestly can't believe it. Are you sure this is not some trick of Lord Brashear's enemies?"

"You know who the Captain of the Winged Guard is?"

"Aye I do, Geoff, Lord of Ingral."

"Yes, he is also the finest spy and assassin in the kingdom. In addition to being Jason's bodyguard, he also directs the king's agents. As I said we long suspected Brashear had consumed anima during the siege. We were willing to overlook that matter until Geoff received word that other men close to your lover were also coming to know the ways of Centurion love. Still we decided to turn a blind eye to the matter for the sake of peace. Then we learned that Lord Brashear was becoming extremely wealthy during a time when your kingdom was still recovering from the war. When we learned of his trade with the desert nomads we arranged an ambush. We did not just find this cask of anima but in the bottoms of the barrels of oil Lord Brashear was to receive as payment we found thousands of these coins hidden inside," Varrus said dropping a heavy purse on his desk with a dramatic thud.

"I..." Yates said swallowing hard his eyes on the purse.

"Open it," Varrus commanded.

With a trembling hand, Yates reached across the desk to pick up the purse. Opening it he found it filled with thick solid gold coins with no hole in the middle as was found on most gold coins in the east and the Domus Empire. Stamped around the edges of each coin was a wavy script that Yates, unfortunately, recognized all too well. "These, these are Lahorian coins."

"Yes, Lord Brashear did not only steal the anima of our dead but has committed the unforgivable crime of selling it for profit. By my count, he has broken two Imperial laws that have been in place since the founding of the Empire. He has also broken the laws of the Confederacy by trading with your enemies of the Lahorians. If Isil were to learn of this..."

"They would send a countless stream of assassins at him until they succeed in killing him and his entire family. They won't stop until House Brashear is dead."

"Yes, this brings up the issue of my king's mercy. Jason is a Legatio, a man of the Empire. He is therefore as outraged by what Lord Brashear has done. He also knows that for the sake of peace this must be kept secret. If his Centurions were to find out they might decide to punish all of Tal Sith and not just Lord Brashear and his family. Yet justice must be done."

"Please I can't ask you to spare Lord Brashear but his family is large with many young children."

"We know more than you think Ambassador, Varrus spat. "Were you aware that Lord Brashear gave his king a dozen bottles of Huron wine?"

"He didn't," Yates gasped.

"He did. So you see, he has not only betrayed my king's friendship with him, but that of your King Samuel as well."

In defeat, Yates slumped in his chair. "Name your price."

"This brings us to the good news. King Jason has finally deiced to marry. He wants to know if King's Samuel offer still stands."

Jumping with a start Yates gloomy face was suddenly filled with excitement. "It does indeed still stand."

"Then Jason accepts it, on certain conditions of course."

"Of course," Yates nodded. "Name them."

"First Lord Brashear's stockpile of anima is to be confiscated pack and sent upriver to Qul Tos."

"Easily done."

"No, it's not. We suspect Lord Brashear has consumed too much anima in the last year. For a Centurion or a Legatio, this leads to anima sickness. In the case of Brashear, it will result in death."

"Is there no cure?"

"There is but we chose not to give it to him. We will, however, give it to your king."

"King Samuel is also in danger?"

"We believe he is as you are as well general."

"What is the cure?"

"The bond of a Saint or Jason himself should save your life."

"I see," Yates said nervously.

"You do know what that means?"

"I and my king can either die or become your slaves?"

"No general. Jason is not so cruel. As part of the marriage contract, King Samuel must agree to become Jason's oath brother. Only then will Jason give him his bond. Your king will then become a Saint, not a slave except in his love for Jason."

"What of me?"

"Jason has left for me to deal with you."

"You?" Yates said adjusting himself in his chair.

"Do not hide behind your military professionalism Yates. I know how you look at me when you think I'm not looking. I don't really mind you know. You are a handsome man in your own right."

"Damn Brashear for doing this to me," Yates said pounding on Varrus' desk with a hard fist.

"General, if you could, would you go back to your old life?" Varrus said leaving his chair to stand behind Yates.

"What do you mean?"

"This," Varrus said bending down to blow across the general's ear. The sudden surges of pleasure and lust men give you. Do you desire to give that up?"

Jumping from his chair Yates turned to face Varrus. "Damn me but no I don't."

"Then don't fight me," Varrus said cupping Yates tanned face with his long slender fingers.

"Do with me as you will," Yates croaked his face becoming flushed.

"All I wish to do is save your life, General," Varrus said as he leaned down to kiss the shorter man.

"Is it done?" Jason asked when Varrus joined him in the palace gardens.

"Yes, General Yates has agreed to all your terms. As we speak a pair of Saints carry him to Tal Sith's capital of Valhan to inform his king." Varrus said joining Jason on the edge of a marble bench.

"So Samuel will become my Oath brother, his sister Amanda, my Queen, while his brother Louis... well as I said he is a special case."

"Which I don't understand. Prince Louis is a very plain, homely man. The king himself is having trouble marrying him off."

"He is important to my own plans," Jason said looking down to where Jacob lay at his feet.

"As you say, your majesty. I just hope one day you'll explain it all to me."

"By the way did you enjoy the general?"

"Once he accepted his fate he became a most eager participant."

"Good, I've always liked him."

"Do you want to like him more?" Varrus asked, giving Jason a friendly nudge.

"Varrus," Jason laughed. "All I need him to do is keep his king company until I arrive."

"There's no worry there," Varrus said before his voice turned serious. When will you be leaving?"

"In two days. I want to be sure that Amanda and Louis will be in Tal Tannith when I arrive."

"Does Philip suspect anything?"

"No, he is too consumed by his own amusements to notice what I'm doing." Jason sighed.

"You should scold him. He deserves it."

"Maybe, once all this is over."

"I will pray for your success then."

"So will I," Jason said resting his head on Varrus' shoulder.


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