“Mercy. Please. I’m begging you. Mercy.”
The coach sat impassively upon the throne.
At its foot were his conquered adversaries. From left to right: The deposed leaders of the Purple Hoard, Steel Empire, and Lakesmen.
The first of these, the formerly swaggering warrior prince of the purple, was the one pleading for their lives.
If the plea made any impact, it didn’t register.
The coach’s feet didn’t jig, his hands didn’t tremble. His facial expression didn’t change, his forever dropping eyelids moved neither up nor down. If one didn’t know any better, they’d think he dozed off. But the coach was alert. Oh, the coach was devouring every word.
Mercy? Mercy? As if any of these blundering fools would have given me any quarter when they topped the heap. Years of defeats, years of being pinned beneath their dirty heels. Well, it’s not as if I’ve ever knew this feeling of triumph, the thrill.
As if sensing his gaze, the king of the Lakesmen raised his bald head, if only for a moment. His thick mink overcoat did little to hide the shudder that racked through his body, from his shiny dome to his tiny feet.
Raise that head again and it’ll be the last thing you ever do. Mercy. Mercy?! This was a brutal game, a man’s game. Blood must be repaid in blood. Every schoolboy who shouldered on the battle gear knew that. If he didn’t, he learned quickly—painfully.
The coach still didn’t move a muscle, his murderous thoughts masked by a face hinting at boredom.
The war had been long and violent, and peace was tenuous. Every other week brought a rebellion from one corner or another. Less than a month had passed his since his troops battled to a stalemate with the gray coats from North Carolina.
Even now, while these three knelt at his feet, the coach knew they were raising reinforcements back home. Plotting, sowing discord, waiting for the right moment to strike—like that disastrous October campaign.
The thought of those long weeks, those lost, painful, godforsaken weeks, brought the coach’s blood back to a boil.
Look at them, feigning sincerity, when I know at any moment, at any opportunity, these bastards would stick the knife into my back. Time was when they laughed at us, at me. A running joke, the eternal punch line, mocking our very name—our very dignity. Who’s laughing now?
The candles in the great hall flickered, tossing shows over the rows upon rows of unoccupied seats. A sob rose from the bald man’s chest, bouncing off the stark stone walls all the way up to the mahogany rafters.
To the left of the coach stood the executioner, black hood over his head and sharpened axe in his hand. To his right stood his former minion, Jay, recalled from the capitol for his solemn occasion.
Perhaps I should show mercy. Be the bigger man, let it be known from the peaceful shores of the east to the great ocean of the west that I fear no uprising, see no threat. Let them go home to their armies and their clans knowing that their lives were in my hands and I set them free.
And yet …
The coach rose from his gilded chair, prepared to take his leave without a glance at his enemies.
They cowered, all three of them, awaiting the verdict. The great hall itself seemed to hold its breath.
“Off with their heads. Jay, see that it’s done.”
The coach headed for his chambers, purposeful footsteps the only sound in the room, his face still impassive.
The executioner prepared his weapon.