The Throne is not acquired by inheritance, but by conquest. After an unprecedented eighteen years as King he finds himself on his knees before his usurper.
East of the Sun
1. Long Live the King.
Each breath burned. He gasped, his own hot air pushed back into his face by the metal he wore. The iron of his sword echoed as it clanged against stone. On his aching knees, he reached up a battle-scarred hand and divested his helmet. It too, bit the stone with a resounding finality, and he looked bare faced into the eyes of his conqueror. As dark as the gates of Ulmaya, his features obscured by the metal he wore. Bristling with the black Mohican of his armies.
The cold tip of steel touched at his throat, and King Yüsek bared it, unflinching. Long had he accepted his fate. He would die on the blade. As his predecessor had died. And the man before him, as far back as the Kingdom of Istaav could know. He would die with honour, and bleed out onto the floors of his Fortress, under the gaze of his soldiers, who would then fall to their knees and swear fealty to their new Lord and Master.
But the killing blow did not come. Not swift and keen as the Northern storms. The blade point hovered and rested, just in the hollow of his throat. He watched the twitch in the new King's face, the way his lips thinned, before he spoke. "Yüsek… Warrior of Bears." A muttering for their ears alone. Thick with something Yüsek did not expect to hear from the man that would seize the crown from his severed head, and the ring from his cold fingers. Awe.
"Dün-Seçen. Demon of the Blade." His mouth moved stiffly around the name of his conqueror. Known only by reputation, not by face. He was almost glad to speak his name. Almost wished to see the face of the man who killed him. The man who would rule the people and the land that he had so viciously protected for nearly a third of his lifetime.
He saw the man's armour rise and fall with the heavy heave of his chest. A hard breath, his sword unmoved, before it dropped to his side. Yüsek almost flinched, his eyes darting between the conquerors face and his idle weapon. Uncomprehending. Wavering. Why would his destroyer falter on the brink of Victory? Why hover in this praecipe?
Then he did the unthinkable. He sheathed his blade, took a step back and barked. "Bind him!"
Dün-Seçen's soldiers leapt forward like wolves over a carcass while his own hovered. He rose to his feet, but staggered. His body sweat streaked, his muscles aching with the fatigue of a long battle. His defeat had been done, he could fight no longer, but he would not take this dishonour, this…injustice on his knees! His death was not in chains! His death was not for soldiers, or peasants or mere men! He would not die by their hands, in binds!
A roar ripped from his throat, but it was the roar of bear already speared and bowed. The last vestige of strength summoned in fury. The first man downed him, a weight that hit his side and crashed them into the stone floor. It struck the air from his heaving lungs, arms quickly twisted behind his back. His writs bound. He struggled like a worm. Like a dog kicked into the dust. Not a king. Not the iron fisted ruler of his proud peoples.
The final blow was not by a hand. It was the sight of Dün-Seçen's back, as he walked away.
They had not killed him, but left him tied and prideless in the gloom of an empty bedroom. Stripped him of his armour, his gold, then his clothes. He'd had no choice but to sit, and wait. Biting the rage behind his teet, and swallowing back on the waves of sorrow that threatened to consume him. He was being robbed of his honour, stripped of his right to die in valour. He had not fought so hard, so long, to be a prisoner. To be naked of all he was.
The shame of being bound, like a common thief, weighed heavy on his ageing bones.
A storm raged beyond the thin, high window. Ice and snow whipped past castle stone that seemed to soak its chill. Radiating through his aching bones. Bruised, battered and weak. Defeated. Exhausted. The faint light leaking from the room.
Dün-Seçen came to him late in the night. The briefly opened door casting light across the new King and his acquired clothes. A dark-toned guard lit the candles in their brackets, but Yüsek had eyes only for the young, foreign conqueror. The twisted crown, once his own, flattening the dark curls on his head.
The new King carried with him his foreign land. Not so threateningly broad as Yüsek. Not the imposing image of Northern Lord. The Warrior of Bears: thick muscle and the power of a draft horse. Dün-Seçen, in his contrast, wore the rich darkness of his sun-flooded home on his skin. A southerner in face and voice. Aristocratic in his fine boned face and lean, toned form. He came before Yüsek crowned and wrapped in Istaav furs, and pinned in Istaav gold. Thick heavy drapes of black wolf and broad, solid buttons of hammered gold that seemed strange on his foreign body.
The guard gripped the wrists bound by his back and forced Yüsek to the floor. Yüsek found his lips curl from his teeth, burning anger in his face. The King stopped not two feet before him, as though taunting his helplessness. Without an option, he bowed, and came eye to eye with the high-shine toe of Dün-Seçen's black leather boots.
The bitter taste of injustice burned the back of Yüsek's throat. Never should it have come to pass that he bowed before another man. The crown he'd seized and pressed upon his own skull should have granted him that honour. The power he had taken and held for eighteen years should have granted him death on the end of Dün-Seçen's blade.
But the taunting he expected did not come to pass Dün-Seçen's angular face. The darkness of his eyes ran Yüsek head to toe. Again and again. Unabashed, fearless, but not without respect. Not without…reverence. Yüsek was almost chilled to hear the awe on his name for a second time.
"Yüsek." The King's voice was rich. Accented thickly as his tongue rolled around unfamiliar syllables, but saturated with a strangely intense reverence. A note that caught Yüsek's ear, even if he refused to give the usurper his eye.
"You should have killed me." The words came as a rumble form his lips, dark and bitter. Weaker than the words of a king. This was cruel. He had fought, and lost, his battle. There should be no need to fight anymore. "You should not dishonour me like this."
To feel the King's weapon rough fingers touch his cheek made Yüsek flinch. But the touch was warm, and it was shockingly tender. Tracing the stubbled line of his jaw to his chin, and tipping his face. Forcing Yüsek to look upon him. "I dishonour you?"
In the fray of battle Yüsek had seen his usurpers eyes. Flashing in the black shadows of his fearsome armour. Then they had been furious and filled with flames. The eyes of a true Demon of the Blade. Dark and molten, liquid gold and cocoa. Burning but now… not with murder. With something that made Yüsek falter. He saw in his face that Dün-Seçen knew precisely what he was doing. What he had done. He knew exactly what it meant to leave Yüsek alive.
Dishonour. Shame. Disgrace and humiliation. The swift and immediate destruction of all that had defined the Bear King.
Yüsek would humour him with no answer. Though the strange affection was startling, it could not kill his anger. The rage a silent ice behind his eyes, staring the usurper in the face. They were warriors, both. Dün-Seçen could not feign ignorance.
Dün-Seçen sighed and suddenly seemed to assume years beyond himself. He dropped his hand, but did not look away as he spoke to the silent guard. "Leave us."
The man saluted, sharp and perfect, and left them to their frozen stones. Wordless minutes passed in which Yüsek held the Kings molten eyes. He did not waver in his gaze.
The King gave no indication as to his guilt. And all this contact proved to Yüsek was that he had well and truly lost. This was the King that stood before him. He no longer held that title. In fact, he held nothing at all.
He did not expect it when Dün-Seçen fell to one knee before him. He raised both hands and with each cupped one half of Yüsek's face. The long, scarred fingers spanned his cheeks and stroked the ridges of his bones. And this act might have been patronizing, a part of Yüsek burned with resentment of it, but Yüsek knew how to read men's faces and this face held little but honest affection.
Strange and startling. Young. As ridiculously young as Yüsek had been when he'd seized the head of King Yagrab from his shoulder. The King took an unsteady breath through smooth lips. "I was seven when I saw –for the first time- the mountains of this place. Do you know what it is like?"
Of course he knew. Looking into the insurmountable, formidable, and knowing you must defeat it.
Yüsek was quiet.
"My father and his men marched against you. So stupidly." A smile touched the King's lips. A strange smile, but his eyes did not waver. Did not cloud with memory. He saw the pictures pass before his eyes with utter clarity. And he seemed to see Yüsek much the same. Intrinsic to the intensity, the emotion, the memory had impressed on him. "They seemed to me like…Gods in steel." The brief smile faltered, and faded. "Then you came."
The King's thumb ran his jaw and the clipped line of stubble at his throat.
"The sun set at your back, and I saw you summit the hill on a great stallion. The banner men followed, but for a moment it was you. Your blade raised, and the great black flag at your shoulders. The Lord King Yüsek… Master of stone and steel. The Warrior of Bears." The King leaned forward. His face tipped into the flicker of candle flame, a dark lock of curled hair falling across his forehead. The spark of intensity touched his voice. Lowered to fall almost a whisper between them. As though the King imparted the most intimate of secrets with the closest of lovers. "The undefeated Northern champion. Matador of Dragons. The Iron Puppeteer of the most powerful people on the four faces of our earth... And I have defeated you."
"Yet you have not killed me." Yüsek's voice rumbled, involuntary, like the distant roll of thunder. Dün-Seçen broke the unwelcomely intimate space between them, but he did not drop his hands from their caress.
Neither eye wavered. The heat molten and the ice frozen. And Yüsek was privy to the flames that had touched Dün-Seçen in the fierce moment of battle. The darkness that flashed and danced behind his youthful face. "I have not killed you. I am your King, Yüsek. And I have not killed you."
The realisation rose like flood waters. Yüsek was silent as he swallowed the words and came, finally, to their undeniable truth. Yüsek thought he had understood; the lightning and thunder of Dün-Seçen's strikes had driven him to his knees, but there was more. A vigour, an obsession that made the darkness of his eyes burn with an intensity he had not seen in any man for over a decade. Yüsek had no words to respond, and with the pain and humiliation of defeat lying heavy on his back, he bowed his head.
"I am your Lord. I am your Commander, and if your are the man I believe, you know what this means."
"What…" Yüsek stared at the stones of the floor. "…would you have of me?"
The seemingly idle trace of Dün-Seçen's fingers on his skin burned like a brand. Yüsek's seething rage at the injustice was flattened by the weight of truth. One King's life was forfeit to the man who defeated him. The interpretation had been death. A severed head. He had lived the last eighteen years knowing he would end his reign on his knees. But reality did not follow expectation. Yüsek had been defeated, yet he lived. His life, therefore, belonged to the King.
His knees were bowed before this man. His King. Before whom he was helpless. Stripped of all honours, all titles, all history and all power. A naked, nameless man. The sole subject of Dün-Seçen's attention.
And that bowed Yüsek's head lower than it had been. Still cradled in the King's hands. Dün-Seçen pulled him forward, and feeling every day of his age, Yüsek let his forehead rest against the King's shoulder.
Gold ringed fingers ran through his hair with terrifying affection, and the king leaned close to his ear as he spoke one word. One word that took Yüsek's head from his shoulders as cleanly as any blade.
The gust of his breath washed across Yüsek's skin. His eyes open and blank upon the fur of Dün-Seçen cloak. The King's fingers stroked down his throat, across the skin of his collar to stop at a mangle twist of scars. His thumb tracing the sensitive knot pooled discomfort and cold in Yüsek's gut. But all strength seemed to have gone from him. Leaked from the powerful muscles that bound his body to leave him helpless and bereft. He'd been defeated… He should not have to fight anymore. Could…not.
He had never felt so helpless.
"Why should I kill you?" Dün-Seçen stroked the waves of his hair in affection. A mockery of affection? Yüsek could not tell. "You, who have held the most covet throne for longer than any man. You… who made the world tremble with a shake of your fist."
"You want my council." Yüsek's tone was dead, even to his own ears. That was why he'd been bound like a dog? Dishonoured before his entire court? Because this man decided he could not battle on his own? "I had not the right to council. You had not the right to rob me of my death."
"I am the King, I have all the right." The King traced the scar on Yüsek's shoulder. Followed its brutal line down the broad, bare expanse of his back. One hand still cradling the back of his skull. Carding through his hair. "There are so few men like us, Yüsek. Men who truly know what it is to desire, and to seize all that is desired."
He heard the man heave a steadying breath, and the warm hand returned to mould around his shoulder once more. His fingertips tracing the thick, jagged line of the same prominent scar. "You are a man of honour, Yüsek, and it binds you. You will be as I command, but I promise, it shall not go unrewarded."
Yüsek would not, could not, look him in the face. It was small consolation for what he had lost; he wanted to say as much, but held the words like stones in his mouth. Weak with defeat, with the conflicting shame and anger that ran like molten lead through his blood.
"I thought…" Dün-Seçen began, and faltered, tracing the evidence of war and violence on Yüsek's skin. Brazen, unhesitant. As though he owned the skin itself "…I thought you might be grateful. To live. But I see how I was wrong."
"Eighteen years, I have waited to die." Yüsek closed his eyes. It was a secret he imparted. A great secret that had weighed on him for many, many years. No man or woman in his charge could have known how he waited for the final blow. How it left him sleepless, or plagued with dark dreams. "I was prepared for death. Not this. Not this dishonour."
"Yüsek." The King pulled back, and held his face. Cradled his chin. Forced the contact of their eyes. So strangely warm and loving. Burning. "The dishonour is mine. "
The King released him and rose. Yüsek's skin burned with the loss of warmth, and he shivered. The king stood before him and stroked his skull. Tenderly. "You will swear your allegiance to me."
Yüsek could not hold his eyes open. The words seemed to burn the air h breathed. Sunk into his veins and very blood. Defeated. Dishonoured.
The King repeated. "You will swear your allegiance to me."
"In the morning." The King breathed deeply, his hand rested where Yusek's crown had been. "You will pledge your love to me before the Kingdom. And by the afternoon all the world shall know."
The king offered his hand, bright with conquered gold, and upon his Knuckles Yüsek lay a kiss. He left then. Plunging Yüsek into darkness where his shoulders bowed. Defeated. The burden seeming to great for him to bear.
Note: A little side project of mine. I don't see it being very long, but I needed to flex my brain a little. This will likely be a rather different style to So, the Rain, for those who might have read it. We will see.
If you liked, or did not, I appreciate your comments and feedback.
All my love.