Chapter no 59 – On The Eve of Execution

Empire of Silence

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN made to contemplate your death? Locked in a tower cell, perhaps, or in some bastille of the Chantry to await your end on the

edge of the White Sword? Have you ever sat there through a sleepless night and counted the seconds you have left like grains of sand? I pray that you have not. It is one thing to die and quite another to have suffered the fear of death and survive. I wish neither for you, who has suffered both. You stand as does the solitary candle in chapel, flickering against the Dark. A darkness not of space but of time, of the yawning maw of some empty,

echoing future forever barred to you.

It is comforting to know the sun will always rise—that is, until it does not, until it dissolves into cold ash and the universe runs down, or you do. Fire fades. And life. Or it is snuffed out. For the chapel candle, that is no tragedy—the candle knows not when it is extinguished. It is only a symbol, only the avatar of the unconquered sun lit to keep watch through the night in the Chantry temple. But the human flame knows, and it shivers not from the wind but from fear. From the sickness of the heart. And so I shivered in my cloying bed and on the floor beside it when I could lie amongst its folds no more. Though I was but one score and three years old—next to nothing compared to the centuries I have since counted—I felt my age and the

specter of my fleeting mortality. I felt the ache in every once-broken bone, felt every scar from every wound healed on the street and in the Colosso.

I have made many mistakes and done many terrible things on purpose.

For fifteen hundred years I’ve haunted our galaxy and gathered regrets.

Perhaps Gilliam Vas deserved to die. He was not a good man. He was

wicked, petty, cruel as nature was cruel to him, as others doubtless had been cruel, too. I have stopped believing that it is up to any man to decide what

other men deserve. I have met saints punished for their virtues and monsters praised for their monstrosity. I have been both sorts of creature.

Not long ago I said that I have always considered myself agnostic, but I believe that men must have souls. It was not always thus. I used to think that we were only animals, and thinking that justified the way some of us were treated as only animals. Thinking that helped me to turn a blind eye to the ugliness of the world. I know better now. Whatever Gilliam was—and

there was little good in him—he was a man like any other. But I had made a choice, as we each must always do. I was young and angry, embarrassed

and afraid. I did not want to die and did not want to kill, and I did not wish for Valka to hate me.

I had to choose.

Life is never about what we deserve. I do not know if there is a God, be it Mother Earth or the icona or one of the uncreated gods of old, but if there is, God alone may dispense perfect justice. It is not to be had in our fallen world. We can only strive for it. Perhaps Gilliam deserved to die. Perhaps I did. Perhaps we ought to have killed one another or made peace without the use of steel. It doesn’t matter, nor is it for me to say. I had made a choice,

and I have made several choices since. That is all we can ever do, then live by our choices and by their consequences. Judge me as you will. What gods there are may yet forgive me and have mercy on his soul.

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