Chapter no 24

This Woven Kingdom (This Woven Kingdom, 1)

KAMRAN SAID NOTHING AT ALL during the long walk with his grandfather, his mind spinning with all manner of confusion and betrayal. He swore to himself he wouldn’t jump to any absolute conclusions until he heard the whole explanation from the king, but it grew harder by the minute to ignore the rage simmering in his blood, for they did not appear to be heading to the king’s chambers, as Kamran had first assumed, and he could not envisage now where his grandfather was leading him.

Never in his life could he have imagined the king sending mercenaries to his room in the dead of night.


What had happened to their relationship in so brief a time as to inspire such cruelty? Such lunacy?

Luckily, the king did not keep him wondering for long.

The path they followed grew darker and colder as they went, the circuitous path growing both familiar and alarming. Kamran had wandered this way precious few times in his life, for he’d seldom had cause to visit the palace dungeons.

A bolt of panic branched up his spine.

His grandfather was still several paces ahead, and the prince heard the groan of a metal cage opening before he saw its primeval design. That a trio of torches had been lit in anticipation of his arrival was shocking enough, but that the illumination forced the coarse, clawed-out corners of this sinister space into sharp relief rendered this horror only too real. Kamran’s fear and confusion further electrified as the steady drip of some unnamed liquid beat the ground between them, the smell of rot and wet filling his nose.

He had stepped into a nightmare.

Finally, King Zaal turned to face his grandson, and the prince, who even now should have bowed before his sovereign, remained standing.

Neither did he sheath his sword.

King Zaal stared at that sword now, studied the insolence of the young man with whom he shared these shadows. Kamran saw the barely restrained anger in his grandfather’s eyes, the outrage he did little to hide.

No doubt similar feelings were mirrored upon Kamran’s own face.

“As your king,” the older man said coldly, “I charge you presently with the crime of treason—”

Treason?” Kamran exploded. “On what basis?”

“—and sentence you to an indefinite period of imprisonment in the royal dungeons, whence you will be released only to perform your duties, during which you will remain under strict surveillance, and after which you will be retur—”

“You would sentence me to this fate without trial, Your Majesty?

Without proof? Have you gone mad?”

King Zaal took a sharp breath, his chin lifting at the insult. It was a moment before he spoke.

“As your king, I decree that your guilt is such that you forfeit a right to trial. But as your grandfather,” he added, with uncommon calm, “I offer you this single meeting during which you may attempt to exonerate yourself.

“If you fail to argue your own innocence in a timely manner, I will order the guards to shackle you without delay. If you then insist on fighting this modified sentence for so heinous a crime, you will force upon yourself the full punishment for treason and await your execution at sunrise, at which time you will die an honorable death by sword, in a location yet to be determined, your head severed from your body and impaled on a pike for seven days and seven nights for all the empire to bear witness.”

Kamran felt the blow of this declaration with his entire body, felt it shudder through him with breathtaking pain.

It left him hollow.

His grandfather—the man who’d raised him, who taught him most everything he knew, who’d been his role model all his life—was threatening him with execution? That King Zaal was even capable of such cruelty to his own kin was stunning enough, but more shattering was that Kamran could not begin to fathom what had brought them both to this moment.


Briefly, Kamran wondered whether the minister of defense had accused him so, but Kamran struggled to believe the oily man had influence enough to move his grandfather to this level of anger. Had the minister complained to the king, Kamran would’ve more likely heard about it in the light of day; would’ve been chastised and sent on his way with a warning to behave himself.

But this—

This was different. The king had enlisted armed men to fetch him from his private rooms in the dead of night. This was bigger than a moment of

childishness in a boardroom.

Was it not?

A tense stretch of silence spun out between them, a long minute during which Kamran was forced to make peace with the worst. Kamran was a prince, yes, but he was a soldier first, and this was not the first time he’d been faced with such brutality.

With forced calm, he said, “I confess I know not, Your Majesty, how to defend myself against so baseless an accusation. Even all these moments of silence have not inspired my imagination to conjure a suitable explanation for these charges. I cannot now attempt to justify that which I have no hope of understanding.”

King Zaal released an angry rasp of a laugh, an exclamation of disbelief. “You deny, then—in full—any and all allegations leveled against you? You make no effort to plead your case?”

“I have no case to plead,” Kamran said sharply, “for I know not why I stand here before you, nor why you would send men to my rooms to restrain me in such an inhumane manner. In what way have I committed treason, pray tell? At what point in time might I have managed such a feat?” “You insist on feigning ignorance?” King Zaal said angrily, his right hand clenched tight around his golden mace. “You would insult me even

now, to my face?”

A muscle jumped in Kamran’s jaw. “I see now that your mind is already decided against me. That you refuse even to tell me what crime I have committed is evidence enough. If you wish me imprisoned, so be it. If you desire my head, you may have it. Worry not that I will struggle, Your Majesty. I would not defy the orders of my king.”

The prince finally sheathed his sword and bowed. He kept his gaze on the filthy, pockmarked stone floor of the dungeons for what seemed a century but was more likely minutes. Or seconds.

When King Zaal finally spoke, his voice was subdued. “The girl is not dead,” he said.

Kamran looked up. It was a moment before he could speak, a brief head rush leaving him, for an instant, unsteady. “You’ve not killed her?”

King Zaal stared, unblinking, at the prince. “You are surprised.”

“Indeed I am, quite.” Kamran hesitated. “Though I admit I don’t understand the nature of the non sequitur. Of course, I’m deeply curious to know the reason for your changed mind toward the girl, but I am also

anxious, Your Highness, to know whether I must soon make these grotesque quarters my home, and at the moment the latter point has claimed my full and undivided attention.”

The king sighed.

He closed his eyes, pressed the tips of his fingers to his temple. “I sent six men after her tonight. And the girl is not dead.”

Slowly, the frozen gears in Kamran’s brain began to turn. His rusty mind had its excuses: the hour was late; the prince was exhausted; his consciousness had been preoccupied with a recent effort to defend himself against a surprise attack ordered by his own grandfather. Even so, he wondered that it had taken him so long to understand.

When he did, the breath seemed to leave his body.

Kamran closed his eyes as renewed anger—outrage—built in his bones.

His voice, when he spoke, was so cold he hardly recognized himself. “You think I forewarned her.”

“More than that,” said the king. “I think you assisted her.”

“What an odious suggestion, Your Majesty. The very idea is absurd.”

“It was quite a while before you answered your door tonight,” said Zaal. “I wonder: Were you still slithering back into your rooms? In the dead of night, dragged from your bedchamber, you now stand before me fully dressed, wearing your swords and scabbards. Do you expect me to believe you were abed?”

Kamran laughed, then. Like a lunatic, he laughed. “Do you deny it?” King Zaal demanded.

Kamran leveled a violent glare at his grandfather, hatred flashing through his body. “With my very soul. That you even think me capable of such unworthiness is so insulting as to astonish me to the point of madness.”

“You were determined to save her.”

“I asked you merely to consider sparing the life of an innocent!” Kamran cried, no longer bothering to contain his temper. “It was a basic plea for humanity, nothing more. You think me so weak as to go against a formal decree issued by the king of my own empire? You think me so frail of mind, so weak of spine?”

For the first time in Kamran’s life, he watched his grandfather falter. The older man opened then closed his mouth, struggling for the right words.

“I— I did worry,” King Zaal said finally, “that you were overly preoccupied with thoughts of her. I also heard about your foolishness with the defense minister, who, despite your undisguised loathing of the man, is a prominent elder from the House of Ketab, and your speech toward him was nothing short of mutinous—”

“So you sent armed men to my door? You sentenced me to indefinite imprisonment without trial? You would’ve risked my head over a mere misunderstanding—an assumption? Does this seem to you an appropriate reaction to your concerns, Your Majesty?”

King Zaal turned away, pressed two fingers against his closed lips. He appeared lost in thought.

Kamran, on the other hand, was vibrating with fury.

The unfolding of the evening’s events struck him suddenly as so unlikely, so impossible, that he wondered distantly whether he’d detached from his own mind.

It was true that he’d privately considered pushing back against his grandfather’s command to find a wife. It was true, too, that in a moment of madness he’d thought to warn the girl, had even fantasized about saving her life. But Kamran always knew, deep down, that those silent ravings were bred only of transient emotion; they were shallow feelings that could not compete with the depth of loyalty he felt for his king, for his home, for his ancestors.

His empire.

Kamran would never have staged a counterattack against the king and his plans—not for a girl he did not know, not against the man who had been more of a father to him than his own had ever been able.

This betrayal— It could not be borne.

“Kamran,” the king said finally. “You must understand. The girl was prepared. She was armed. The puncture wounds inflicted indicate she had access to highly unusual weapons, which one can only assume were supplied to her by a third party with access to a complex arsenal. She was prophesied to have formidable allies—”

“And you thought one of those allies might be me?”

Zaal’s expression darkened. “Your ridiculous, childish actions—your fervent desire to spare her life even with the knowledge that she might be the death of mine—left me with no choice but to wonder, yes, for it remains highly unlikely that she was able to dispose of six armed men without

assistance. Five of the six she flatly murdered; she only spared the last to send back a warni—”

The girl is a Jinn!” Kamran shouted, hardly able to breathe for the vise clamping around his chest. “She is heir to a kingdom. Never mind the fact that she has preternatural strength and speed and can call upon invisibility at will—she was no doubt trained in self-defense from a young age, much like I was. Would you not expect me to easily defend myself against six ruffians, Your Highness? And yet? What? You thought a queen might be easy to murder?”

King Zaal looked suddenly livid.

“You are the heir apparent to the greatest empire in the known world,” his grandfather cried. “You were raised in a palace with the best tutors and masters in existence. She is an orphaned, uneducated servant girl who has spent the last few years living mostly on the street—”

“You forget, Your Highness,” Kamran said sharply. “You said yourself that she was not an ordinary girl. What’s more: I forewarned you. I told you the girl spoke Feshtoon. I shared with you from the first my suspicions of her abilities, her intelligence. I’d watched her dispatch that street child as if he were a twig and not a tree. I’ve heard her speak; she is sharp and articulate, dangerously so for a girl in a snoda—”

“I say, child, you seem to know a great deal about a young woman you so vehemently deny defending.”

A gust of fury blew through Kamran at that, tore through him with a virulence that stripped him entirely of heat. In its wake, he felt only cold.


The prince stared at the floor, tried to breathe. He couldn’t believe the conversation he was having; he doubted he’d be able to endure much more of the suspicion in his grandfather’s eyes.

A lifetime of loyalty, so easily forgotten.

“You underestimated her,” Kamran said quietly. “You should’ve sent twenty men. You should’ve anticipated her resourcefulness. You made a mistake, and instead of accepting fault for your own failure, you thought it better to blame your grandson. How easily you condemn me. Am I so superfluous to you, sire?”

King Zaal made a sound at that, a disbelieving huff. “You think I took pleasure in making the decision? I did what I had to do—what I thought was right given the overwhelming circumstantial indications. Had you

assisted the girl tonight you would have become a traitor to your crown, to your empire. I did you the mercy of sentencing you to so gentle a fate as imprisonment, for here, at least, you might be safe. Had news of your treasonous actions been discovered by the public, you’d have been disemboweled by a mob in short order.

“Surely you can understand,” the king said, “that my duty must be to my empire first, no matter how agonizing the consequences. Indeed you should know that better than anyone. You go too far, Kamran.” Zaal shook his head. “You cannot believe I enjoyed suspecting your part in this, and I refuse to listen to any more of this dramatic nonsense.”

“Dramatic nonsense?” The prince’s eyes widened. “You think me dramatic, Your Highness, for taking umbrage at your readiness to sentence me to this”—he gestured toward the dank cage behind him—“without a shred of real evidence?”

“You forget that I first allowed you the opportunity to defend yourself.” “Indeed, you allowed me first to defend myself against a vicious attack

ordered against me by His Majesty himself—”

Enough,” his grandfather said angrily, his voice rising an octave. “You accuse me of things you do not understand, child. The decisions I’ve had to make during my reign—the things I’ve had to do to protect the throne— would be enough to fuel your nightmares for an eternity.”

“My, what joys lie ahead.”

“You dare jest?” the king said darkly. “You astonish me. Never once have I led you to believe that ruling an empire would be easy or, for even a moment, enjoyable. Indeed if it does not kill you first, the crown will do its utmost to claim you, body and soul. This kingdom could never be ruled by the weak of heart. It is up to you alone to find the strength necessary to survive.”

“And is that what you think of me, Your Highness? You think me weak of heart?”


“I see.” The prince laughed, dragged both hands down his face, through his hair. He was suddenly so tired he wondered whether this was all just a dream, a strange nightmare.


What was this, this feeling? This static in his chest, this burning in his throat? Was it the scorch of betrayal? Heartbreak? Why did Kamran feel

suddenly as if he might cry?

He would not.

“You think compassion costs nothing,” his grandfather said sharply. “You think sparing an innocent life is easy; that to do otherwise is an indication only of inhumanity. You do not yet realize that you possess the luxury of compassion because I have carried in your stead the weight of every cruelty, of every mercilessness necessary to ensuring the survival of millions.

“I clear away the darkness,” the king said, “so that you might enjoy the light. I destroy your enemies, so that you might reign supreme. And yet you’ve decided now, in your ignorance, to hate me for it; to purposely misunderstand my motivations when you know in your soul that everything I have ever done was to secure your livelihood, your happiness, your success.”

“Do you really mean it, Grandfather?” Kamran said quietly. “Is what you say true?”

“You know it is true.”

“How then, pray, do you secure my livelihood and my happiness when you threaten to cut off my head?”


“If there is nothing else, Your Majesty.” The prince bowed. “I will now retire to my room. It has been a tediously long night.”

Kamran was already halfway to the exit when the king said— “Wait.”

The prince hesitated, took an unsteady breath. He didn’t look back when he said, “Yes, Your Highness?”

“Spare me a minute more, child. If you truly wish to assure me of your loyalty to the empire—”

Kamran turned sharply, felt his body tense.

“—there is a task of some importance I wish to charge you with now.”

You'll Also Like