The hall was packed with people, all standing in complete silence. The evidence and testimony detailing the horrific nature of the crimes committed by the man before the King this day had a sobering effect upon the entire room. What was already known paled in comparison to the full truth of the crimes. Rape, murder, torture, maiming ... All had been presented in gory detail. All the while, the perpetrator of these crimes stood silently, sneering at any who dared to catch his eye.
When asked if he had anything to say for himself, the prisoner made a rude gesture with his manacled hands and spit in the direction of the throne.
Thakkorias Shakan Boldheart sat on the throne which had been pressed upon him, contemplating the punishment he must issue. The day to day business of his rule was stressful enough, but it was sitting in judgement over cases like this that truly drained his strength. If he had known he would be pressed into service as King when he led the armies that freed Egoria from the tyrannical rule of Draxnog, he likely would have ran the other way as fast as his legs could carry him.
Almost immediately, he silently corrected himself, I would have run the other way as soon as the battle had been won.
He had accepted the responsibility, however, and now he was determined to serve with honor and as much wisdom as he possessed. Stroking his closely cropped brown beard, he looked at the man before him. The King's blue eyes locked with the brown eyes of the prisoner - brown eyes that were so dark they looked almost black.
Those eyes reflect your soul - black as night, Thakkor thought. There was little doubt in the decision he would make. The man must be put to death. The more difficult decision was the manner of the man's death. This nation had known only tyranny and horrific punishment for decades, and the punishment he must now mete out would be judged by the people. It must fit the crime, yet there must be justice in his decision. The people must know there was a new law in this land, one which was fair and abhorred unnecessary violence.
His decision made, Thakkor turned to the chancellor and nodded. He tried to ignore the lock of his shoulder-length brown hair that caught on an ornate decoration of his crown when he turned. It was no easy task, because it was tickling his neck unmercifully.
The chancellor stamped his staff of office three times, the signal for quiet in the hall. It was a formality which had to be observed, regardless of the fact that the room was nearly silent.
Thakkor rose from his throne. Even the voluminous robes of state could do little to hide his well-muscled, six-foot frame. He was a warrior at heart, and refused to let his muscle run to fat despite barely having time to exercise in the two years since his ascension to the throne.
All eyes in the room were upon him, and he scanned over the crowd before speaking. He was determined that his rule would be open and mindful of the people. His eyes met those of many in the room as he looked over those observing the proceedings.
"The nature of the crimes before us this day demand justice. We have little choice but to order that you, Aaron Tainburl, shall be put to death for your crimes."
Pleased murmurs arose from the crowd in the room. The prisoner simply spit in Thakkor's direction yet again upon hearing the decision. A few cries came from around the room, and Thakkor guessed they were from those who had been victims of the man's crimes.
"Have him drawn and quartered!"
"Castrate him and stake him out for the plains cats!"
Thakkor raised his hand before him and the chancellor stamped his staff yet again. When the room quieted, the King spoke again.
"Justice - true justice - demands not only that the punishment fit the crime. Justice demands that the punishment not bring us down to the level of the criminal we must punish. For too long, this nation has endured tyranny and atrocity. We would end this abomination and replace it with freedom and justice. To these ends, it is so ordered that the prisoner shall be hanged by the neck until dead two weeks from this day."
Again the room broke out into quiet mutterings. Thakkor saw that most agreed with the sentence, though a few scowled. Those few who were not pleased were inevitable, and Thakkor was glad to note his decision seemed to meet favor with the majority.
"Furthermore, the prisoner shall have a cell facing the grounds where the gallows will be built. He shall watch its construction and be forced to contemplate his crimes as the day of his execution draws near. Each night, a crier shall recount his many crimes that he may not be allowed to forget them in his final days. Take the prisoner away."
One final time, the condemned man spat toward the King. Thakkor shook his head sadly, wondering what could cause a man to be so bitter and mindless of the horror he had inflicted upon his fellow man.
"These proceedings are now adjourned."
With that the chancellor began ordering the hall cleared, and Thakkor left through a nearby door which led to his private staircase. Servants followed on his heels as he ascended the stairs.
Upon reaching his private rooms, Thakkor proceeded immediately toward the baths. He always felt the need to bathe after ordering an execution. He had killed any number of men in battle, but the thought of his words holding the power of life and death still unsettled him. The bath helped him relax and collect his thoughts.
He smiled, thinking back to the minor arguments which had sprung up between him and his wife on this very subject. He had considered the idea of a bath to relax his mind ludicrous, and had only agreed to end the argument. Once again, his Alicia proved to be right, as she almost always was.
Entering the bath room, he allowed the servants to divest him of his heavy crown and robes of state. As soon as this was done he said, "We can now be I for a short time. I can bathe myself, so please take your leisure."
The servants nodded and left the room, closing the doors behind them. Even though he had ordered them to take their leisure, he knew at least one servant would be waiting just outside the door to spring into action on a moments notice. There was no such thing as being truly alone for a man in his position.
He stripped off the plain clothing he had worn under his robes and settled into the bath which had been drawn for him. Servants, despite the drawbacks, certainly had their uses. Soaps, towels, and fresh clothing were all laid out for him. Having friends who worked magic had its uses as well. The bath was the perfect temperature, and would stay that way as long as he chose to remain in it. Thakkor sank back and let his head rest on the edge of the tub, closing his eyes.
His eyes opened when he heard a voice say, "Feeling better, my love?"
Turning toward his wife, he smiled. It was an automatic reaction to his feelings whenever he looked upon his beautiful wife and Queen. "A little. I've only just returned, Alicia."
Alicia smiled back and walked toward the tub. Thakkor drank in the sight of her, still amazed she was with him even after all the years they had been together. Her honey blonde hair framed her face, half hiding one of her liquid blue eyes in a way she knew he found alluring beyond the ability to ignore.
The simple gown she wore clung to her figure in just the right places, but the material swung hypnotically with the sway of her hips as she approached. His wife had not let leisure steal away her fitness either, and Thakkor could see the play of the muscles in her trim frame as she approached.
Reaching the tub, she leaned down and kissed her husband deeply. Thakkor felt a twitch between his legs as they kissed, yet another automatic reaction that had not dulled with time.
"Would you like me to rub your shoulders for you?"
"You're too good for me, love."
Alicia tilted her head and looked downward for just a moment, closing her eyes and blushing slightly. The gesture served to make her even more alluring.
She moved in behind him, and Thakkor rose up out of the bath enough for her to reach his shoulders. He sighed as her practiced hands kneaded away the tension in his neck and shoulders. Her hands had wielded both sword and magic at his side ever since the day they had met, and that gave her a strength and dexterity which let her massage his aching muscles as well as any servant specifically trained for the task.
Thakkor closed his eyes and reveled in the feeling. The warm bath soaked away the aches of the day, his wife's hands pulled the tension from him as if by magic, and the scent of her perfume was no less magical to him.
He had half dozed off when a gentle pat on his cheek caused him to shake his head and sit up straighter. Alicia smiled and kissed him. "You had better get out of there, or you're going to get all wrinkly."
Pulling water up to his face, he wetted his beard and then gathered up one of the cakes of soap to wash it. He didn't really feel as if he needed much washing, but he knew his beard had an annoying habit of picking up anything he ate. Not for the first time, he considered shaving it off. He had worn a short beard and mustache since he had been able to grow one, and he wondered how he would look without it. He had discussed it several times with Alicia, but she had never shown any real preference.
"Thinking of shaving again?" Alicia asked, always seeming to know exactly what he was thinking.
"Yes, what do you think?"
.... There is more of this story ...