The two were quiet. They knelt beside each other, faces down and hands tied behind their backs. They both trembled knowing what was going to happen to them. Despite knowing for a week or so about how their lives would end, it didn't make this any easier. King Kasim Adofo, the newly crowned ruler of the realm, stood before them. His eyes were angry, and his fist clenched tight around his sword. The Columbine King and Queen knelt in silence waiting for their sentence.
"These are them?" Kasim snarled. His father was behind him, looking down at the former rulers of the castle their forces successfully took over. The realm was Kasim's now. The Columbine's forces were the last in his way. Their tyranny was over. Now it was time to punish them for what they had done. The Adofo family's forces had taken the most powerful kingdom of the realm of Sanitarium. The Columbine forces were defeated. It had taken ten years, but the War was finally over. Kasim remembered what he had lost to be standing here. He wondered if it was all worth it.
"Yes. It is them," his father said coldly. Davu Adofo knew his son well enough to know he was hurting to the point of weakness. The new realm needed the Columbine Royals who knelt on the floor to die. Their death will fuel unity and conformity, and let their people know the Columbine's plans died with them. For now, they just needed compliance and the loss of hope in their followers whom he knew loved the Columbine Prince to pieces.
That hopelessness was instrumental in the Adofo's goal. Cunning and simple tactics by the Columbine family were enough to make the Adofo's mission to rule the realm harder than Davu would like to admit. But as long as the heir dies, the people's love for him would too. All they needed to do was find him.
Kasim stood eerily still, frozen in rage. Knights lined up behind the couple, ready to do whatever the King said with the defeated pair.
"You know the crimes you are charged with," he said quietly, barely audible through gritted teeth. "You are going to die whether I kill you or the fire does. Now tell me. Where is he?"
The two were silent. The two were proud, Kasim knew. They wouldn't be so foolish as to let their plans unravel under fear of death. They had already planned on as much. They could fear it, but they wouldn't back down now. Though their plans had caused more harm than good, they were adamant to remain a problem.
They stood still, unflinching, determined to their silence. Kasim knew this would go nowhere, but the child was the key to their plan as far as he could tell. He had to at least try to smoke him out. Unfortunately, even if he tortured them, he wouldn't get the information he wanted. Even their forces were a mystery he knew he would never solve using coercion.
"Very well. But I will find him. Your pathetic 'cure' is no more. Your apathy to the threat has made the curse spread even faster than it would have. Half of your kingdom fell to the affliction and all you did was fiddle with books and magic to exacerbate a wound already large enough to destroy us all. Even with your son elsewhere and your commander missing, there is no way for you to win this battle. Its a lost cause both in theory and practice. You have to fight this problem at the source of the illness, not through the sorcery in which it was made. And don't expect me to spare your lives because of your little secrets. Faria didn't deserve to have her life taken by the likes of you."
He paused, huffing heavily as if it took all of his strength to stay on his feet. Faria's death was still fresh. He had lost her to their forces in the battle to claim this kingdom.
"Bring them to the stage."
The two were grabbed harshly by the two guards and dragged across the marble floor. They didn't kick or scream. Their faces were masked in a vague happiness knowing their son would live wherever they stashed him.
"Wait," Davu interjected, causing the guards to stop in their tracks. Now that Kasim acted, it was time to prepare a spectacle.
"Kasim, you have to let the people know the Columbine reign is over. A living heir would cause a hole in your rule for any of their supporters." Kasim knew that, but had no other options.
"The heir is gone. The Columbines sent him away. Unless we find him immediately, these two will have to be executed without him. We can justify not killing a child. We can say he's in prison." Kasim was a man of nothing but necessity. His father knew it was an element to his son he could use to manipulate him. Despite Kasim's apprehension of causing harm to a child now that he was a father himself, Davu was sure he could persuade him with the right motivation. Davu smiled a crooked smile.
"We don't need him yet," Davu said sternly. A soldier dragged a small boy from another room to his side. The boy was pushed to the ground, grunting in pain as his body slammed against the white floor. "But a look-alike will do the trick just fine."
"You know what you must do." Davu said coldly.
Kasim looked down on the child who now quietly whimpered. he froze in fear, stepping away from the child that trembled on the floor before him.
"There has to be another way," he rasped. "I can't burn an innocent child at the stake. Simba is around his age..."
Davu put his hand on his shoulder, knowing his son would listen to him if he reminded him why he has to do it.
"If you don't, then you risk losing what your wife died for. You wouldn't want her death to go to waste, wouldn't you agree?" He walked away, leaving his son to face the child alone. "But the decision is yours to make. You are King after all."
The crowd cheered as the former royal family was brought to the stage
The crowd cheered as the former royal family was brought to the stage. The couple was first, followed by the child meant to play their son. They were tied to wooden posts, around which dried wood was placed, set up to burn quickly. On each stake was a banner of the Columbine kingdom's emblem: a bird with wings spread holding a poppy in it's beak over a blue background.
"Simba should be here to witness this," Davu demanded quietly from the King's side. "He's going to be King one day. How can we expect him to lead if he cannot cheer as his kingdom's enemies burn?"
"He's been through enough. He needs to rest and grieve." Kasim's voice was stern. Davu knew when it came to Simba, it was a topic he would have to work hard to change his mind about. Kasim's compassion towards his son and wife got in the way of his true potential. Davu's tone grew more irritated. He wouldn't get anywhere now, but perhaps breaking him down overtime would work. Even a frog placed in a gradually heated pot overtime doesn't recognize its being boiled to death until its too late.
"Seeing his mother's murderers will bring him peace." Davu insisted.
"No. He is only a child. He doesn't need to see this yet." Kasim stepped forward as the family was tied to their posts. The crowd of his citizens cheered as he stood, chest puffed up to the sky, projecting his presence far beyond to the nosebleeds of the crowd. Their new Colosseum will be used mostly for live combat in the future, but doubled well for important executions. He heard the Columbine's had previously used it for theater and plays for their people, but it was merely a space he owned now. He could make it anything he chose.
He faced the family, and he found tears rolling down their faces. The two parents were as still as they were on the floor before him, but the child writhed against the pole he was tied to. A cloth was put in his mouth to avoid his inevitable screaming. Kasim looked at the boy, snot dripping down his face, a wet stain on his trousers.
"Do you have any last words?" he asked with a low voice, feeling the weight of what he was doing fall onto his chest like a brick. The Columbine King and Queen looked into his eyes, the fear in their faces suddenly gone.
"The cure is in the future."
They said it together, no hesitation or stammer. Kasim paused, knowing they had a plan still under their sleeves. Too bad it would falter once they perished. He turned his back to them to face his people and announce their sentencing with a booming voice.
"Today, we find the Columbine Royal Family to be guilty of treason. We find them guilty of using dark magic as the core of their research. We find them guilty of letting the curse grow, and harboring it themselves in their family. We also find them guilty of assassinating our fair Queen, Faria Adofo."
The crowd booed loudly, throwing various objects at the three criminals on the stage before them. They waved their fists in the air, hissed their names, cried for them to die.
"We sentence the family to be cleansed by holy fire, and pay for their deeds of treachery."
The crowd cheered as Kasim nodded to the guards holding lit torches in their hands to step forward. Kasim took his place again next to his father as the dry wood was lit underneath the feet of the accused. Kasim watched as a child as old as his own son was burned to death, the boy's screams feeling like a knife through his chest. He found it harder to breathe with each second the flames fed at his skin. He was lucky the cloth in the boy's mouth muffled his painful wails or he may have burst into tears himself. The stage burst orange, the fire easily engulfing them and their banners as it pulsed into the air, smoke spiraling to the empty sky above.
"We will never find the boy and the Commander. They were too smart to keep the boy anywhere we could find him, and that Commander with her tribe is out there plotting against us. How long do you expect this to last?" Kasim was flustered. As a new King in his mid-twenties, he was concerned one of the first deeds he did as ruler of the new realm was burn a child to death. He was supposed to protect his people, not deceive and murder them. Davu's voice in contrast was calm and collected.
"As long as we find the key to their disastrous 'cure' before it has a chance to spread, then we will have generations to keep our hold over the land. Until then, we must heighten patrols for the afflicted. We have to establish dominion over this place. We must extinguish loyalty of the past and usher in a new wave of power and order. But most importantly, this Kay Columbine must be located and dealt with".
Kasim listened with a low heart as the screams of agony slowly stopped one by one until the only thing left to listen to was the roar of the fire that ignited his rule.
The only solace this brought him was that his wife didn't die for nothing. Without the curse, his wife would still be alive and by his side. He would still have a whole family. He had to do everything to expunge the curse from the land, including killing the culprits that let it spread as if it was nothing. The 'cure' the Columbine royals presented their people was nothing but empty promises. If it was anything but a falsehood, maybe his wife would still be here.
He watched the fire rage on. He would have to set many more to fix what the past rulers caused.
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