“That’s impossible!”  Neal all but screamed, tossing one of the chairs in the Hall across the room to break against the wall.  He beat his hands on the table and then slumped into another chair, running his hands through his beard and then his hair.

            “I’m afraid that’s what the man said.  A rebellion has begun to the east.  Already several of our outposts have fallen.”  Jason told him again, repeating the messenger’s words.

            “But how?  We killed Alex, they were utterly destroyed, no one would dare…”

            “It appears that your benevolent rule has not quelled those seedier members of society that crave violence and revolution.  There are always rabble-rousers, Neal.  It is a king’s duty to ensure peace in his land.  We must gather our forces.”  Simon told him.

            Jason fought hard not to react to Simon’s description of Neal as a benevolent ruler of a peaceful community.  The sounds heard through his window put that to a lie.  If anyone craved violence it was no doubt Lamb.  Jay suspected that the rebellion was probably more trustworthy.  He guessed that they weren’t rebelling because they wanted to hurt people; he thought it much more likely that they believed in overthrowing tyranny.  That they remembered what liberty was like.

            “This is the report the messenger brought from the frontier.”  Jason said, holding out a scroll of paper, dusty and a little worn from the man’s panicked ride.  Simon took it, as Neal hung his head in his hands, obviously deeply perturbed by the news.  Jay reflected that the news did not sit too well with the idyllic picture in Neal’s head, the way he wanted the world to be.  When you’ve convinced yourself that you’re beloved by your people, open rebellion is something of a shock to the system.

            Simon read the scroll to them both:

 

To his lordship, Neal Osborne, from Outpost Fifteen, Captain Jasper commanding:

 

            Today at dawn we changed the guard as per routine.  Just as the new sentries reached the wall a man was spotted on the road, wearing a cloak and scraps of cloth to guard against the sandy winds of the Badlands.  We have had little snow of late, but it was still bitter cold.

            A warning was shouted as this lone figure approached, and still he came forward in silence.  A warning shot was fired, and by this time one of the sentries coming off duty had fetched me to the wall.  I saw the cloaked man come closer, ignoring the arrow that went past him.  Then he drew a sword from beneath his cloak and held it up to the sky.

            I know this sounds unbelievable, but all my men attest to the same thing:  that sword glowed white.  I remember light bulbs from my youth, and it was something like that.  The light shone from the blade.  From down the road suddenly many more men appeared.  Some were dressed like our soldiers, others were peasants.  We had not received word from Outpost Sixteen for two days, and I suspect he had been there first and the men in his outfit were deserters.

            They attacked the front gate, and I am writing this as they do so.  I fear that we will fall soon, and write to you so that you might know that there are those who oppose you.  Send your troops as quickly as possible – there is little hope that we will survive, but if you move swiftly you may be able to quell this rebellion before it gains strength.

 

            Neal was visibly enraged.  The cords of his neck stood out as he roared in anger, rising to his feet.  He called for servants to ready his horse and armour. 

            “Perhaps we should not act rashly, Neal.” Simon said, his voice flat.

            “Rashly?  We must ride down on them and take our vengeance swiftly!”  Neal roared.  He knocked over another chair.

            “No doubt they are following the messenger who brought this news.  They are coming here,” Lamb said.  “It’s the only thing that makes sense.  It may be a few more days, as they gather troops, but they will inevitably reach this fortress.  Since it is the seat of our power, it may be best to let them come.  They cannot challenge our strength here.”

            Simon’s voice was low, almost melodic, and as he spoke Neal began to calm.  As Simon finished talking, Neal slumped back down into his chair.  Jason watched in astonishment as his cousin was hypnotized.

            “Yes, you are right.”  Neal agreed, his voice monotone.  “We will wait for them to come to us.  They seek revolution, but all they will find is death.”

            He and Lamb both grinned, and their smiles were like Reza’s grim visage.  They grinned like madmen, like death’s heads, their eyes cold and empty.

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