Heir of Depravity

Perjury of the Past - Part 1

For a creature so undeniably Krovic – more snow beast than member of mankind – it was a rather poetic expression. I was impressed.

”House Sebe, ” he continued, his lips drawn. ”Offers you its deepest sentiments, my lord. ”

”They do not fall upon deaf ears, Lord Kazac. ”

The statement was one that I was bound to hear at least two more times – one from each remaining provincial house – but, from a Sebe, it was different. It was the truth.

”Because the throne was made for Kazbirati flesh and blood, your ascension needs no assistance, not even from the duchies. You and none else can hold the weight of the Iron Crown. However, it must be made plain to the ear of the crown. ” He raised his dark gaze to mine, alight with something I hadn seen from him in many years: a wolfish lust for conflict. ”Ivon is a brainless, scheming worm. ”

I cocked a grin. I could always trust Kazacs candor and, what was more, his ability to inspire within me that same wolfish lust.

”I have heard such whisperings. ”

Regarding my smile cautiously, he titled his head forward, eyes narrowed.

”Then you know he speaks of treason. ”

”Treason. ” I had to force my muscles to remain compliant. It came as no surprise me that Ivon had treacherous intent, but to be so bold as to allow the other houses a gaze into that notion? Before my father was even granted the tranquility of ashes and nothingness? Unacceptable. It may have been predictable to my rationale, but that didn mean my body would not react like a snow tiger starved of fatty flesh. I may not have had my sword at my hip, but nor did I need one. I knew the pressure it would take to rupture his pupil with my thumb. I knew the angle at which I would need to twist to rip the tendons of his shoulder. I knew how to strike his knee so that he would never again have use of his leg. But, to the chagrin of my inner self, I returned my gaze to Duke Sebe. ”Of which kind does he speak? ”

”Civil revolt, ” he divulged in a hushed manner, forcing Svetu to lean in closer. ”The amendment of Kersti territory lines four years ago under Bozhidars reign still sits rancid in his stomach. He speaks of using this time of transition to overwhelm you. ”

Time of transition? Such a thing didn exist within my family. Still, pride was not a thing that often got in my way of gleaning clandestine insight.

”And what are the chances of the fruition of this revolt, Kazac? ”

”As you know, my lord, ” he responded swiftly, noting my calm demeanor. Perhaps, to him, too calm, because he, too, understood how simple it wouldve been to just kill Ivon where he stood. That too, however, was unacceptable prospect, at least until proper evidence – and not just the whispered rumors of those loyal to me – was brought forth. ”I must pass through Kerstis capital, Constans, on my ride to Castle Mechi. Ivon has formidable defenses. ”

”I should hope so, ” I murmured. ”As his is the territory of metal. ”

”Their multiple mines have been put to use, indeed. He, undeniably, has the means to a revolt, but bodies behind the campaign seem to be lacking. ”

”Then he is the only man who believes he can rule. ” I sighed. ”Why does that not surprise me, Lord Kazac? ”

Svetu stifled her chuckle. ”It is true that the death of his elder brother was nothing but a blight to his family name. Still, utilizing the mines in excess is a transgression against the crown. Do you know, Kazac, how many kilos of iron ore he has quarried? ”

”Let him have his pride for now, Svetu. ” I flicked my fingers dismissively. ”It is so miniscule and pitiable. And anyway, when the time comes to confiscate it, the grunt work will already have been sweated out upon his own brow. ”

”Still, I would keep a sharp eye on the movements in his territory, ” Kazac advised, head tilted earnestly. ”It is a simple enough thing for Ivon to raise propagandist words against you, my lord. ”

”If such folly were to spill from his imprudent lips, Lord Kazac, ” I replied with calm efficiency. ”I will swiftly remove his tongue from his treacherous mouth. ”

The old lord gave a satisfied smile. ”Just what I would expect from a Kazbirati. And know that House Sebe shall be there to clean the bloody carnage that will be surely left behind. ”

”Your fealty is a cherished gift, Lord Kazac, ” I said to him as I caught sight of my priest huffing heavily as he approached. I bit back my grin.

”Ah, Vicar Vitale. ”

The nobles response to the sight of the Casterian priest was always the same. Always amiable, always laced with a touch of surprise. I oftentimes wondered if that was because they thought he would flee the kingdom, or because they thought that I would tire of his constant and irritating presence and kill him.

”Please, ” Vitale smiled kindly, offering a bow. Dressed in his clerical robes, donning the temperance of a submission cur, he was an ageless thing. If the dukes and duchess knew how young he truly was when dressed in the northern furs, they would never grant him the respect they did. ”Vitale will do just fine, Duke Sebe. ”

The kind smile dissipated when he turned his attention to me. ”It is done, my lord. ”

It was about damned time.

”If you will excuse me, Lady Svetu, Lord Kazac, ” I spoke, my pulse suddenly thundering in my ears. ”I believe it is high time to show my father off. ”

”Indeed, ” Kazac muttered his concurrence, placing a hand upon Svetus shoulder. ”Let us take our places, milady. ”

Their farewell was not of proper etiquette, but proper etiquette was rarely required in the Mad Lands, especially when no ill intentions were meant by them. A Casterian historian once wrote about Rodakrov that her inhabitants were a vicious pack of regressed men, dangerously civilized around survival and butchery. It was apt, aside from the portion regarding regression. The fact of the matter was that southerners couldn comprehend the notion that pride was not a requirement of man.

If a polar bear had no prospects of fresh prey, they would eat the leftovers of the more successful. Other predators around them would be too concerned with their own affairs of survival to be bothered by the victories or losses of that polar bear. Pride, for them, served no pragmatic purpose. It was the same for the Krovs.

”Any longer, ” I muttered to my priest as both nobles had found their places upon the dais once again. ”And I would have had your head for wasting my time. ”

”I made a quick amendment to your orders, sire, ” the priest had the gall to say as he produced a golden bangle from the folds of his clothing. ”The Kazbirati heirloom. ”

”Presumptuous of you, priest, ” I spoke, training my gaze upon him as I snatched the armlet from his grasp. ”To assume you have the barest right to touch it with your wretched, Casterian hands. Even more so that you think you can amend my orders. ”

”Forgive me, sire, but surely a proper funeral for your father and the proper ascension of the new Kazbirati ruler is neither a waste of time nor a presumptuous notion. ”

He made a swift sweeping gesture towards the steps of the platform, knowing that it would catch the gaze of the crowd and, thus, temporarily preserve him from my inevitable reprisal. The furthest extent I could execute at such a time was a sharp glare of warning – something I indulged in, without fail – before ceding to his gesticulating by ascending the stairs with slow, deliberate steps. Such preceding should not have been performed with haste, and anyway, the longer I drew it out, the more powerful sense of euphoria I would experience when, finally, it came to conclusion.

Vitale followed two steps behind me, head bowed low in his priestly way. Such was his modus operandi, to know secrets and to act the fool. Still, what bothered me the most about his audacity was that the heirloom had not once crossed my mind whilst arranging the funeral. Proper rites, proper weapons, proper bribes for the gods – all of these I knew to procure so that my father may have had a chance to reincarnate – but the one object which was vital for succession of my family and my family, alone, I couldn be bothered to remember. But he did.

I wouldve been suspicious of any other whose mind was sharp enough to glean the symbolic and political necessity of being in possession of the bangle, but Vitale had no hidden treachery. Not yet at least, and no matter how much hatred I held for him, he was still the sharpest weapon in my arsenal, and I would be foolish to rid myself of him over something that was ultimately a favor.

”His Royal Highness, Crowned Prince Nikolai Grisha of the Royal House Kazbirati. ” My gaze flicked to the voice of the High Priestess, adorned heavily in furs and bones. Her kohl-lined eyes were as wild as the northern gods she spoke to.

Southern vicars may have been scattered about the capital in various stations, given various duties, but only a high priestess of the Mad Lands had the fearsome capacity to send off members of the royal family.

She reached for her torch, burning bright with animal fat, and beckoned me forth, so to present me to the hordes of my people bathed in black, resting on their knees in respect for the dead. The nobility seated at my back, were so quiet that the crackling of the flames became deafening.

”Nikolai Grisha Kazbirati. ” My name rang out from her lips, amplified by the will of the gods. With her free hand, she reached into a pouch at her waist before withdrawing it, coated in thick, shiny blood. The blood she had let from my father before he was placed upon the pyre. She reached up and pressed the entirety of her hand to my face.

The Sanctorum frowned upon public funerals of royalty, and it showed on the faces of the vicars present. Their scriptures claimed it sullied the dignity of the aristocracy. In reality, I knew it was because the traditional transfer of blood was something their weak stomach couldn handle. Still, the centuries old customs of the Krovic people wouldn so easily be changed – not even the church had the power to force it.

And anyway, these people knelt before me upon the freezing ground – my people – had the right to know. The mad king was dead.

”Let it be heard by the gods! ” Her growl echoed out, her freezing breath ascending each and every word to the realm above. ”The spirit of Bozhidar Nikolai Kazbirati – blessed and rightful overlord of this unforgiving land – has been passed on to his son and heir! The handprint of his soul has been transferred by his lifeblood! ”

My skin began to tighten where the blood was freezing and hardening to my face. Apropos, I humored myself, of my father.

The high priestess turned to me, offering over the torch.

As I took it, she said, ”Destroy this empty shell, son of Bozhidar, lest it be possessed by a lich, or worse, a god. ”

The very idea made my jaw jump with tension. With haste, I approached the edge of the dais and looked down to my father, resting upon the pyre.

”Until we meet again, ” I murmured quietly to him before raising my chin and declaring so none could misconstrue. ”The king is dead! ”

I raised the torch and took one final glance at the empty body of the man who singlehandedly molded me into the person that now stood above him.

When, at last, I released, the flame took to the hay, igniting quicker than one of Vitales chemical experiments.

I bit the inside of my cheeks until I tasted metal, knowing that if I didn not feel pain, I would quickly submit to rapture.

Behind me, wood creaked as the nobles rose. Their actions initiated the throngs before me to rear, raising their right palms to the sky in an ancient gesture meant to beseech the gods, so that they, too, may witness the moment.

Heavy steps approached me from behind, and in a moment more Duke Rurik, making the decision of his fealty now known, roared to the masses.

”Long live the king! ”

His declaration echoed in the voices of thousands.

”Long live the king! ”

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