“Give us the books and we will spare one of your children.” He continued. “Any one you choose.”
Rinyard remained firm, his quivering lips saying nothing.
Then, the pendulous movement of the sword escalated, ticking harder, and faster, going down a quarter of an inch with each swing. And still, with the scrapes on the skin that became cuts and gashes, the defiant silence from the Carpenter. And the defiant silence on the faces of the three youths chained to the wall in front of his face. And on the faces of the prisoners below, Pacifist-Scholars who, until this day, could use their brains to effectively fight against spears and clubs, emerging victorious in every conflict, which, so far, were bloodless. Each would forfeit their life before their dignity, or so they hoped.
The mercenary Executioner had angry eyes. The blond Aryan Pacifist-Priest wore slanted blue ones obeyed none of the rules, in life or even on the verge of death. And in Ancient Eurasia, there were supposed to be rules. Commander Grathos, just promoted to Head Interrogator, knew them, very, very well. You conquered a city, your king got the throne, your subordinates got drunk, and you got to interrogate the prisoners regarding any secrets of value to yourself, or your employers. Then, when the conscripts were drunk, you stole whatever women or gold suited you before ‘order’ was established again. A fair exchange, for a Junior Officer in an Army for hire the civilized world feared more than death itself.
Its leader was Tyranisis. You never say his face, unless you were his employer, victim or both. No vase bore his likeness, no coin his face, no statute erected in his honor. He chose to leave behind his record in blood, and pain. The fabled Mercenary of Mercenaries sold himself to the highest bidder, and his armies were the best. Though he never sat on the throne of any kingdom, he was ruler of the world. Indeed, no ordinary bandit.
But Rinyard was no ordinary carpenter, and Jenada was no ordinary outpost of the once-strong Babylonian Empire. The Jenadans knew it. Tyranisis knew it. Grathos had no idea why he would get half the gold in Jenada if he found even a tenth of the books hidden within its caves, caverns and temples. But he knew that if he failed to find even one of them, it would be his own head dangling from the tip of Tyranisis’ sword.
Defiance turned Grathos’ frustration into desperation. “Tell me where the books are and I will spare the lives of ALL your children,” he whispered to Rinyard, pleading between the grimaces he gave to the other prisoners and the illusions of assurance he displayed to the soldiers, thus far, still under his Command. “All of your children,” he repeated.
“Or whichever ones are left,” from a voice behind the shadows. Nothing was out of Tyranisis’ hearing range. It was one of the senses that he had developed particularly well, so well that some thought him to be a god.
He stepped out from behind the shadows. Rinyard saw his shiny armor, embroidered with demonic snakes. Then his black lips outlined by pale skin that could be green, gray or blue, depending on which color would evoke more fear in the viewer.
“The books,” Tyranisis repeated to Rinyard. His tone was inviting. Like that of a merchant suggesting a beneficial dream deal which would profit buyer and seller alike, but which would rob the world, perhaps.
The pendulous blade stopped, the sword held above Rinyard’s eyes. Grathos was moved aside.
A victory, Rinyard thought, as did his chained Souls below. His Comrades in the pit simultaneously broke out in song, sending a resounding wave of harmony and confidence up to the interrogation platform. Strong enough voices to lift Rinyard and his sons, chained to the wall in front of him, up into the sky, and out of a world where men such as Tryansis were even allowed to exist. Courage had transformed despair into hope, defeat into victory.
Then, reality. Tyranisis nodded. It was time for Grathos to show what he was made of, and he did. The ex-Spartan, and banished Anthenian edged his way over to one of the boys, stroking him on the head, in the manner an elderly Warrior would teach a younger one the bonds between men in love, and war. It could be his own son, the Greek Mercenary pondered. Indeed, with Grathos’ record of disseminating his semen in every City from Gaul to Gallilee, the boy could have been his.
“It will be quick, and fast,” Grathos said to the lad with a tone that said ‘Comrade’, and which was received with trust, and compassion. He lifted up the boy’s hair, stroked the soft blonde locks with his hard, stubby fingers, then edged his dagger across the lad’s throat in a swift, smooth action. But—not swift of smooth enough for Tyransis’ liking. A sword cut off Grathos’ head, wielded by his second in Command, Themiku, a Persian with less years under his belt, more greed, and perhaps a political score to settle for the crusty-Greek’s involvement in a War with his homeland’s Masters and Kings.
A cheer from the crowd at the chaos inflicted upon the chain of command, and the shock in the faces of Tryansis’ army, having witnessed the death of the grubby Greek Sergeant who led them like a merciless General. And the new Sub-Commander Themiku seemed so refined, and intelligent. Even the Jenadans below seemed pleased at the change in Command. Perhaps a change in plans, the gold and silver coatings on the books and sacred scrolled to be melted down in exchange for leaving the material inside them unrevealed, and unread by the marauders.
The boy in Grathos’ hands seemed most pleased. No grubby hands on his head, no ugly man trying to violate his boyhood, no need to die before his—
“—For Tyransis, and for us!” Themiku proclaimed to the Army as his left hand grabbed hold of the boy’s foot long blonde mane, his right peeling the scalp off in one very foul swipe with his dagger. Then, before the lad could see what had happened, his ability to do was removed. Themiku dug the blade into the boy’s right socket, then his left, popping both eyes out in a deadly rhythm that silenced everyone. Scalp and eyes rolled into the blood-filled pit below to the beat of the seven year old’s screams of pain. It echoed into every bone of anyone within range who had a tinge of conscience or an ounce of perspective left. The prisoners’ faces went pale, the lesser experienced soldiers becoming green in the gills.
Tryanisis smiled, then nodded, his eyes still hidden. He knew just how long to wait for the order to chop off the boy’s head. Just how long to allow shock and terror to reach peak levels for the executed, and the soon-to-be executed if he didn’t get the information requested by his employers.
The boy’s head got chopped off, cleanly and in deadly rhythm, at just the right angle in Themiku’s hands. It fell upon the others with deadly accuracy. “On top of the calligrapher, the wheel maker and the herdsman. Like a pyramid!” he mused.
Little did Themiku note, or care, that with each head that fell to the pit, so did the Jenadan medallion, a distinctive 5 star pattern and triangular core never duplicated or imitated by anyone else. It was an ugly design, by Greek or even Persian standards. Carved from wood. Of little significance to anyone who valued power, strength or security.
As Themiku ‘tested’ out his new powers, and problems, of command, the rest of the interrogation took place between Tryanisis the Conqueror and Rinyard, the Carpenter in soft-spoken voices with the most final of agendas.
“Why us?” Rinyard asked, and pleaded.
“Your blond hair and big blue eyes offend my employers,” Tryanisis related. “But if you give me the books, I will spare the rest if your children. And the others.. I feel like being generous today, and you feel like being….stupid.”
“Why do you want the books?”
“THEY want the books, Carpenter.”
“The Romans? The Egyptians? The Assyrians? The Hebrews? The Chinese? The Persians? What ruler wants the books?”
“They all do, you ignorant pounder of nails. They’re too dangerous.”
“They’re too truthful.”
Silence from Tyranisis as his soldiers glanced his way.
“I want the books,” Tryanisis demanded, quietly, and with finality.
“You want our dignity,” Rinyard smiled back at the Conqueror or conquerors.
“I want the books,” Tyranisis affirmed, his worried eyes downward.
“And I want to see your face. We ALL do.” Rinyard was more clever, and wise than Tryanisis, after all. Still, the third class carpenter had to fight by a harsher set of rules than his Conqueror. Rinyard could spot the inner beauty behind the ugliest of eyes. Tryansis could see fear behind the boldest of bluffs. And Rinyard’s youngest son had a mountain of fear over the blank stare overcoming his peach-fuzzed face.
Tyranisis knelt down in front of the lad and unbolted his chains from the wall. “What is your name son?”
“Klimin. A brave name. You are a brave boy, not afraid to die. Not afraid to face the demons of the Netherworld. I know them personally. I can send you there with m personal recommendation. They’ll take care of you. They always take care of brave boys like you.”
Tyranisis released the shackles from the chains, freeing the boy’s ankles. A quick run into a small corner within the cavern carved inside the mountain would have bought freedom. But Klimin was too terrified to think about freedom. He grabbed hold of his older brother, bolted to the stone wall next to him.
“Family,” Tyranisis proclaimed. “It’s all about family. Your father will take care of you, Klimin. He will do the right thing. The moral thing. He knows that the lives of children, HIS children, are worth more than the lives of his fellow ‘citizens’. More than a civilization. More than ideas. More than ink marks on papyrus or etchings on a stone slab.”
Tyransis grabbed hold of Kilmin’s foot-long blond mane, his knife slowly moving in to lift it off the skull.
A defiant, though uncertain, start from Rinyard. Countered by Tryansis moving the blade in toward the boy’s eyes.
“The books!!!” Tyransis requested again to the still-silent Carpenter. “You value the books more than your own children?” Still, silence from Rinyard, a drone in the hierarchy of Jenadan society who could barely read the literary riches stored on the shelves and boxes he built. But, a drone with the Soul of a King. A Philosopher-King as well in a very different kind of kingdom.
Jenada considered itself a kingdom of the Spirit. Its terrain was harsh, dry and desolate. Its people were gentle. Its National Anthem one of simple lyrics, a prayer-like drone and a driving rhythm that could drive even disbelieving Pagans into terror on the battlefield. It worked to scare off weak men driven by evil spirits before. It could sustain Jenadan spirits—and perspective—at this time—when they would perhaps win their most important victory, on a metaphysical battlefield their enemy did not even know existed.
Umbilo, Rinyard’s eldest son, channeled the droning lyrics through his determined, yet quivering, lips. Drones became sound, then celebration. Younger brother Krimlin joined in. Then the other prisoners. Rinyard’s contribution was a smile, and a well deserved laugh delivered at Tyranisis. Though the humble Carpenter couldn’t see the Master Conqueror’s face, he could smell his desperation. It was the books that he wanted, after all. Not the gold in the Temple Cavern walls, used for physical and medical purposes unknown everywhere else. Not the silver in the underground streams, accessible for the taking for those who knew where the main aquatic veins were. Not even the dignity of the Jenadans, the silent envy of every Alexander the Great wannabe within 3 thousand miles in every direction.
Tyranisis retreated into the shadows. His men didn’t. Rinyard the Carpenter had said he would give his right arm to bring down any one of the tyrants infecting the world, and he did. The Conqueror’s blade sliced off that appendage at the shoulder, a manure-soaked cloth immediately tied onto it by a lower rank soldier to cheat the commoner Carpenter from a fast death due to blood loss. The opportunity to humiliate the infamous Tyranisis cost the fame-avoiding Carpenter his left arm with the second swing of the sword. Portions of the legs and testicles were taken from him slowly, in succession, blood and flesh dripping onto the prisoners below the interrogation platform, the former holder of said body parts still very much alive. Perhaps more Alive than he had ever been in his entire life.
Still, the singing from the pit continued, the chorus of courage driving terror into every man holding a sword. The last martyr in the last war, a lowly Carpenter, a drone in the ant hill. Appropriate for a kingdom where everyone was a king, but no one wore a crown.
Though he could never hug his son’s again, Rinyard embraced the lads with his eyes, the shaking bodies of the soldiers near them giving him confidence, and strength, until—
“Enough!” Tyransis asserted, taking the axe from the assistant executioner, lopping off the head of Umbillo and Krimlin, in front of their father. To ensure that Rinyard had seen how his defiance had cost his two remaining sons, Rinyard’s head was pushed downward, forcing him to see the heads of his eldest and youngest sons falling upon that of his middle child.
A blood curdling scream from Rinyard. Horrifying silence from the prisoners below. And, an explanation, courteously delivered by Tyransis to the entire congregation. “I want to preserve the fear, the regret, and the guilt in his eyes.” With that, the Master Mercenary lopped off Rinyard’s head, the eyes fixed into the most desperate and painful of human emotions, holding it up for all to see. “You all will experience this pain, and go to your Creator like this if I am not told what I want to know. And what you need to tell me. If any ONE of you tells me where ONE of the Sacred Books are, I will spare ONE HUNDRED of you masochistic idiots!”
Themia the Scribe was the next to be asked the questions, and pay the consequences for her answers. Maybe she knew that Tyranisis’ offer would not be honored. Or maybe she thought it would be. But she also knew what it meant to be a Jenadan. And that perhaps the world needed another martyr for Truth, for reasons not known to those who wrote about or studied It.
No one knew how the soldiers found the caverns known only to the most trusted caravan chiefs. No one knew how Tyranisis found the way into the mountain passes negotiable only by those who knew them by feel and sight. And no one recorded what the last Jenadan said to the last question asked by Tryansis, but it was certainly ‘no’. “No” to putting survival in front of Service to Humanity. “No” to allowing the Hidden Library carved into the mountains to be burned, sacked or stolen. “No” to revealing the Secrets of the East and West entrusted to Aryan, blue-eyed ‘freaks’ who didn’t fit into any earthly kingdom. And “No” to any more chances Tyranisis would get to conquer anyone else.
Nature answered the abuse of men against man, and woman and child, with Her own response. Attempts of Tryanisis to burn his way through the Mountain caverns caused the valley to rumble with an Earthquake from which only the most nameless of Tryansis’ Army escaped. As the Earth reclaimed the mountain, and the people within it, all that was left was a legend, and a scattered group of renegade ex-mercenaries who had little left to do except to run home and hope that their Sins would be forgiven by whatever gods were still listening. Sustained by the conviction that no good act goes unpunished, and no vicious one ever goes unavenged.