A short story by ikwords
What do you do when your own brother betrayed your kingdom, and you must execute him for his crimes?
Teya pondered this unique question as she shoveled cold meat into her mouth and wiped her lips with a cloth napkin.
Reading her mind, Emme, a maid of the castle and the one who looked after Teya and her brother nearly all of their lives, looked at her with a solemn face. “You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
Teya sighed. “I know. What am I going to do?”
Emme paused. “After what Rian did, perhaps he deserves it. But it will be hard, and I will leave the choice up to you. Just remember there will be consequences if you do not follow through with the council’s orders.”
“That doesn’t help at all.”
Emme smiled sadly and stacked hers and Teya’s dishes, bringing them to the kitchen. “The choice is yours.”
Two hours later, Teya settled in her small bedroom and waited, listening for Emme’s footsteps, light and ginger but focused. She smiled as the footsteps paused and a silhouette stood in the doorway. There was a knock on the half-open door.
“Come in, Emme,” Teya said.
Emme walked in and did something she hadn’t done in a while, now that Teya was “grown up.” She gave her a tight hug and whispered in her ear, “No matter what happens tomorrow, I love you.”
Teya nodded as Emme stepped out of the room, not supposed to be there. As soon as the footsteps scuttled away, she stepped out of her bed, avoiding the part that always let out a loud creak, and tiptoed out of her room and down the corridor. She managed to not be seen and made it to a narrow staircase leading underground.
The room was lined with cells on either side. Most were empty, but as Teya walked farther, shuddering from the dry cold, she began to walk past people in the cells, most asleep. She went to the last cell where a young man had been sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching her make her way toward him. “What, are you hear to kill me already? Has my time been shortened?” he said bitterly.
“Rian…” Teya couldn’t say anything else as she grabbed the bars and stared at her brother, whom she hadn’t seen in months.
“You need to leave, Teya. You will get in trouble. And I do not want to see you.”
Teya became defensive, ignoring the fact that she knew he was hiding love. “What have I done wrong? Did I teach our enemies how to defeat us? We have lost everything. We—”
“We.” Rian looked her in the eyes. “Who is ‘we’? Everyone but me? Have you considered my side of this? ‘We’ were once best friends, Teya. Why must this change when I have made a mistake?”
“It wasn’t a mistake.”
“Go to sleep, Teya. I’m not the only one who has done bad things. You have killed innocent people.”
“Not as many as you did.” Teya breathed shakily in frustration and walked back to her bedroom, every emotion possible swarming around her. She collapsed onto her bed and lay motionless for hours before giving up on sleep. She flipped through her notebook, full of drawings, mostly sketches of dreams and memories. Almost all of them depicted her brother somewhere until a certain point, where he disappeared in her drawings from then on. Teya knew that point too well. She closed her eyes, blocking out the memory, and found a blank page. For the first time since then, she drew him.
The pencil seemed mto have a mind of its own as it traced the pronounced curve of his jaw, shaded his amber eyes and scrawled his bold, curling eyelashes. Soon Teya realized it was a picture of him as a toddler, when they would chase each other around the castle and be scolded by Emme. She grinned, remembering when they had run into the head council member, who looked down upon their pale-as-a-cloud faces. They had never run away so fast.
Teya finished shading the folds of his shirt as the sunrise shimmered through her tiny window. As if on cue, there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Teya called, snapping her notebook shut and shoving it under the blanket.
“It’s the big day. It’s time.” As if she needed another reminder. “I have to go,” Emme continued. “But good luck.”
“You already said all that. And it’s not a game. I don’t need luck.”
“Watch your tone,” Emme scolded, but her voice was too weak for it to sound threatening. “…and it sure seems like it is.”
Teya thought about that. “Emme, what do you think?”
She shook her head. “I won’t get involved. It’s not my job.”
“Why not? Do you care about me? About Rian? Take a stand, Emme, and not in the background.”
Emme sighed. “I wish it was that simple, Teya. You’ll understand eventually.”
She closed the door. Not bothering to puzzle over what Emme meant, Teya slid out of her loose-fitting nightgown and into a frayed dress. At breakfast, she scanned the room for Emme so that she could ignore her, but couldn’t see her there. Giving up, she sat in her chair and ate very little and downed five glasses of water. Still, she felt nauseous as she stepped outside. She made sure to keep her head turned away from Rian as she walked along the road, watched by silent spectators. But soon she had no choice but to gaze at her weak, shackled, angry brother. He looked like some wild animal like that. Teya tried her best to keep an emotionless face.
She could feel the ominous presence of the council behind her, probably disapproving of her old clothes despite them not giving her any better. The head member allowed Rian to choose his way of execution. He answered an arrow.
It felt like spiders crawling up her back as the council all looked down at her. She turned to them and curtsied, staring enviously at a carefree ant crawling across the dirt. After a few moments, a servant displayed to her a smooth wooden bow and a single arrow. Without another choice, she grabbed them. Teya didn’t have much experience with a bow and arrow — most chose a faster, more certain death.
“You have one arrow,” said the head member, his tranquil voice hypnotic. “One arrow to kill this criminal. If you fail, then you shall be executed in his place.”
She nodded. It was all customary. She heard something along the lines of that once or twice every day.
Teya lifted the bow and set the arrow against it. Her heart galloped. She hooked her fingers on the string and yanked it back, startled by its sudden tautness.
The same wild blend of emotions as the night before filled Teya’s mind and soul as she aimed at her brother, who watched her with a calm face, wondering what she would do. But the most prominent emotion was uncertainty. No matter what she did, she would regret it. Her breathing slowed as she entered her mind, her thoughts racing faster than ever before.
It is a simple choice. Kill him or do not. If you kill him, you have done your job and lost your brother, but it is what he deserves. If you spare him, he will owe you a favor, but if you make it alive, you both will be hunted criminals.
“Shoot, girl! You are the executioner!” a council member screamed. Did they even care enough to know this was her brother?
Teya opened her eyes and aimed at his head, forced to make the choice she’d contemplated all night in milliseconds. SHOOT! everyone screamed — the council, the spectators, herself internally. She exhaled, pulled the string back as far as it would go, and, one stiff finger at a time, released the arrow.
The next three moments happened so quickly before Teya’s eyes that it took her a minute to interpret what happened.
First, the arrow spun through the air and the bowstring shook.
Second, someone from the crowd screamed in a familiar voice, “STOP!”
Third, the arrow whizzed past the criminal’s shoulder and pierced the wall behind him.
Emme stumbled through the people and onto the cleared area where Teya and Rian stood, both stunned. She waved a leather-bound book in her hand. It only took Teya a second to recognize it.
Emme flipped through the pages and spoke. “Most of you did not know Rian, but I did. I raised him from when he was three and your executioner was just born. I never expected either of them to turn out like this. They have both done things they should not be proud of, one to follow the law and one to break it. Rian committed terrible crimes. He indirectly killed many people with his words and actions. But how can you force this boy,” she said tearfully, holding up the page Teya had drawn in the morning as she burned with embarrassment, her sweaty hand gripping the bow still, “to be executed by his little sister?”
Teya shook her head. This was not what she meant when she had told Emme to take a stand. Of course Rian was once a child. All of them were. Teya sighed and looked at the council, whose faces made it clear that they did not know she and Rian were siblings. It was also clear that they didn’t care. Teya braced herself in preparation for her turn to be killed.
Realizing it hadn’t worked, Emme sighed and skipped back to a different page. Teya abruptly realized what she was doing. No. No. Don’t show that.
Emme swallowed and held up a page. Everyone watching was holding their breath. Sweat itched down Teya’s forehead as she tried to motion for Emme to stop.
Emme brought th page to the council for a better look, and in those next few minutes, all anyone else could see was the council’s surprised expressions, exclamations among them, and whispering across the table.
Then, the head council asked that everyone leave the area except for the criminal, the maid, and the executioner. Once everyone had slowly departed and seven remained, three on the dusty ground and four at a raised table (two council members had died recently as a result of Rian’s betrayal, and replacements were still being figured out), the head council continued.
“We have received evidence that a prisoner may or may not be the one fully guilty. Until further notice, Emme Silver and Rian Redstone will be brought to the dungeon, and Teyanna Redstone will be escorted to her quarters, where she will stay, only coming out for mealtime.” Two servants motoned for Teya to come with them.
“Wait,” Teya said. “I want my book back.”
The council briefly discussed this, then passed it to her. “We would like to view it later. Please bring it back tomorrow.”
Teya nodded and took the book. Then, as the only two people she cared about were pulled away, she walked to her room. She walked briskly and the servants had to hop to keep up. One of them asked her a question, but she wasn’t paying attention. When they arrived at her bedroom, she stalked inside and slammed the door in their faces. Maybe it wasn’t their fault, maybe they had nothing to do with this, but she didn’t care. She sat on her bed and sobbed. She hadn’t cried about an execution since her first one.
Teya didn’t utter a word for the rest of the day. She sat on her bed and flipped through the pages of her notebook, over and over again, staring at the page Emme had held up. Why had she made it so obvious? Why did she have to add the caption? She fumed at her younger self.
She kept watching it, brow furrowed, as if she were waiting for it to do something. But it stayed the same, a stern-faced Emme towering over a young Rian, giving him a rolled up piece of parchment. “Emme keeps giving Rian secret plans. Rian told me they are evil plans and she wants him to do them.”
She punched herself in the arm until she was satisfied with the bruise it would leave. Why in the world did she feel the need to make that caption so clear!? Besides, she was wrong. Rian was joking, or she didn’t hear what she thought she did. Either way, when she asked Emme about it, Emme had sworn Teya had it wrong.
Then why did Emme turn herself in? Teya’s head burst with questions. Was Emme just being the amazing, kind soul she was, and showed that to the council just to save Rian’s life? Or did she feel deserving of the punishment for some reason?
When someone called her to dinner, she dragged her feet to the small dining room, running her fingers along the brick wall, forked potatoes in her mouth, and went back to her room. Teya knew it would be another night without sleep, so she leafed through her pages and came to the blank page after the one she’d drawn last night. Then she drew. She drew herself and Emme and Rian, in the dungeon, again and again and again.
And as she drew, Teya made a plan.
TO BE CONTINUED
Hope you enjoyed!