"This is unacceptable!" Rann'eal'teristi, chief speaker of the Ruling Families, shouted. He made no effort to contain his anger He had ordered this meeting to be private for that very reason. He had wanted the opportunity to have his words with the accused, without citizens watching. They hadn't been happy. Everyone wanted the chance to say that they had been present for a trial that would, most likely become one of the most famous events in their lifetimes. They would just have to wait for the sentencing.
Mitth'raw'nuruodo, the accused who had previously been submissively studying the tiled floor, now looked Rann'eal'teristi directly and defiantly in the eyes.
"They were manufacturing weapons," he said, his voice calm and matter-of-fact despite his precarious position, "That, along with various other signs, indicated that they were preparing for an attack. I thought--"
"No, you didn't think." Nael'are'tanari, another speaker interrupted him.
"It was a weapons instillation!" Rann'eal'teristi yelled, "We can't attack people because they produce weapons!"
"It isn't moral," Mattl'ark'eari, the third and final speaker added, a bit more calmly than the others.
"Precisely," Rann'eal'teristi agreed, "Can you prove their intent?"
"All the evidence pointed in that direction," Mitth'raw'nuruodo said, still calmly meeting the gaze on the enraged speaker.
"But you have no proof. 'The only acceptable proof of an Enemy's intent at war is war itself'," Mattl'ark'eari said, quoting the Warriors' Code.
Mitth'raw'nuruodo hesitated for a moment, all of the arguments he'd thought of against that code coming to mind once again. He'd watched his father and sister die because of that code. But he shook those memories away. Now was not the time for such thoughts.
"We cannot keep waiting for an outright war," he said, "It is this lack of action that is killing our people."
There was a moment of silence in with Mitth'raw'nuruodo thought perhaps the speakers were beginning to doubt there precious, ancient morals and codes.
"No," Rann'eal'teristi broke the silence, "it is our Enemies that are killing our people."
"Then they should be dealt with accordingly," Mitth'raw'nuruodo replied, his patience wearing thin. Why was he the only one who could see this?
"We cannot sacrifice our morals in dealing with them," Mattl'ark'eari stated.
"Would you sacrifice your morals if an Enemy held a knife to your throat?" Mitth'raw'nuruodo questioned, "Or that of your child?" He held back the vivid memories that threatened to assault him. He casually touched the high, black collar that hid his own scar from that same attack.
The speakers had no answer.
"Enough," Rann'eal'teristi stated gruffly, "This argument simply continues to run in circles. You are dismissed. We shall reconvene tomorrow for you sentencing." He threw Mitth'raw'nuruodo an icy glare that made it clear that he wasn't at all happy with this argument. He didn't like questions that he couldn't answer.
Mitth'raw'nuruodo met that glare with defiance as a pair of guards emerged from a side door and replaced his binders. The huge, wooden doors of the Kaa'pet'ale swung open and he faced a mob of angry citizens. He was somewhat surprised how quickly the news of his arrest had spread.
Despite the circumstances--being led along like a prisoner by men who had followed his command just days ago--he kept his head held high. He didn't flinch as the mob assaulted him, calling him a murderer, a heretic. Some said worse things.
He didn't--couldn't--meet their eyes. Couldn't they see he had saved their lives? He couldn't blame them, though. They simply followed what they were told by the Ruling Families. And they were told that he has a murderer.
He did meet the eyes of one person. He found her easily. She stood there, calm in the midst of a storm of fury. But she seemed different. There was a deep sadness and despair in her beautifully glowing eyes. She was his lifemate, the female to whom he had pledged his very existence. The female who would, in a matter of days, bear him a daughter. If his sentencing went well, he would be there to see her. If not...
For the first time, he lowered his head, hoping that no one saw the tears in his eyes.
Alana could hardly believe the crowd. It seemed as though the entire city were there. Most astonishing of all, though, were the friends and neighbors who shouted curses along with the rest. The same friends and neighbors who had, not long ago, told her how lucky she was to be the lifemate of such a noble warrior leader.
She tightly clutched the pendant that always hung about her neck. He had carved it for her not long after they had met. It was an intricate knotted vine, a traditional symbol of eternal love.
Her heart nearly shattered when she saw him. They kept him in binders, guarded by the very same men he had once commanded. Yet he kept his head held high, his face an expressionless mask. But she knew him better.
Their eyes met as he passed. He said nothing but his gaze spoke volumes. He seemed to send her a silent assurance that things would be all right. And she wanted with all her heart to believe it.
Then, all too soon, he was out of her sight. Still staring after him, she placed a hand to her stomach. Never before had she felt so hopeless. Her lifemate was facing judgment by the Ruling Families and there was nothing she could do to help him. Nothing except to not lose hope. She said yet another silent prayer to the seven gods. There was nothing more she could do.
"What if he's right?" the thought struck Rann'eal'teristi as he stared out the huge panoramic window of his private quarters. He'd made many difficult decisions at this window.
The town square, with it's monuments to great warriors and leaders, was visible and in the distance the mountains, haloed by the evening mist just beginning to form. It was a beautiful, inspiring sight. He'd fought for a long time to protect all of this. And always, in the back of his mind, was the nagging fear that one day he would wake up and it would all be gone--conquered, destroyed, or forever altered by one of the Enemies that seemed, always to plague them.
"What if he's right?" What if Rann'eal'teristi and the others had been wrong all this time? Was the code out of date? Should they let go of their morals and take their vengeance on the Enemies?
No. He shook away those traitorous ideas. Ethics were never out of date. He would rather his race face extinction than face dominance without morals. He would not allow his race to become barbarians.
He sighed and turned from the window. He had considered the situation from every possible viewpoint and had concluded that there was only one thing to do. Despite his radical ideas, Mitth'raw'nuruodo was one of their greatest warrior leaders. It was a pity it had to come to this. He sighed again and left to discuss his suggestion for sentencing with the other family speakers.
He lay awake, studying the ceiling. Again. he'd barely slept since this whole ordeal had begun. Not so much because of the terribly uncomfortable cot or the claustrophobia induced by the tiny cell, but because of the thoughts that kept nagging him.
What if he'd been wrong? Perhaps there was nothing wrong with the code. He realized that they couldn't let vengeance get in the way of morals. If ever they came to the point of fighting for revenge rather than defense, they would be as bad as the Enemies.
He shook the thoughts away. He hadn't done this for vengeance. He'd done it to save his people. He had vowed long ago to not let personal matters affect military matters. He sighed. Depending on how his sentencing went, he may no longer have to worry about military matters. Then what would he do? That thought terrified him. He wanted nothing more than to protect his people. What if he could no longer do so?
He turned over and tried to shake away such thoughts. He would deal with the consequences of his sentencing when they came about. Lying here berating and worrying himself wasn't going to do any good. He closed his eyes and tried, once again, to sleep.
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