The soldiers half dragged him into the chamber. They kept hold of his arms, and one kept a grip on the back of his neck as they brought him to the Archage. Samet found himself wanting to laugh at the precautions.
“Ah.” The Archmage nodded. “Prince Vadin. I am pleased you could join us.”
“How could I resist such a polite invitation?” Samet raised an eyebrow. He started to turn his head to scan the room, then grunted as Arda grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head, forcing him to look at the Archmage. “To what do I owe the dubious pleasure?”
“We require a confession to your recent actions against the Coalition.” The Archmage folded his arms, then lifted one hand and gestured lazily at two pillars.
Arda immediately began directing his men to bind Samet. His robe was roughly stripped from him before his wrists were bound to the two pillars, leaving him hanging between them high enough that his heels did not reach the ground. His ankles were also fastened, pulling him off balance. The position strained his not yet fully healed wound, causing pain to shoot up his side. “And what, pray tell, actions have I allegedly —” Samet cut off as pain suddenly wracked his entire body. It felt as if someone had set fire to his very bones. He screamed wordlessly.
“They took Samet.” Ethan strode toward where Graham and Tabitha were talking, Margaret a pace behind him. “Arda took Samet. We need to –”
“Arda called in more soldiers.” Tabitha sighed. “Right now, they have the forces of ourselves and our allies outnumbered five to one. They are currently holding the castle, and preventing the soldiers in the valley as well as Robert from getting to us.”
“We need to help Samet.” Ethan folded his arms.
“If we act against the Archmage, we will turn the Coalition against us.” Graham shook his head. “We do not have enough forces to retrieve Samet without being arrested ourselves.”
“Ethan, the last thing we can risk right now is giving them cause to arrest you.” Tabitha put her hand on his arm. “If they have you, they control Samet. And you know I am right. It is a small mercy Arda hasn’t figured that out yet.”
He stared at her for a moment before nodding. “I can’t leave him to the Archmage.”
“We won’t.” Graham straightened. “I’ve called for a council. Let us handle this, Ethan. Give us time.”
“How much time?” Ethan stared at him.
“A couple days, at least.”
Margaret put her hand on Ethan’s arm. “Ethan, he surrendered to keep you safe.
Ethan closed his eyes, then nodded. “If the Archmage has so much as laid a hand on him, I’m killing that son of a bitch.”
“No.” Ethan shook his head at Graham. “Fuck the Covenant. He hurts Samet, he dies.”
“What do you mean they won’t…” Robert’s eyes narrowed. “Arda’s men?”
“Yes, your highness.” The soldier nodded.
A trick. They’d sent him to meet with Vadin so they could… “How the hell didn’t I see that coming?”
“Your highness?” The soldier blinked.
“Get…” He caught himself, then took a deep breath. “Sent word that our soldiers are to take position around the valley. When Vadin learns Arda has his son, he’s going to come in force, and we…” He said a silent prayer for his family. “Must be prepared to meet him.”
He hung limply by his wrists, trying to get his breath back. Blood trickled down his arms and side from where he’d struggled against the pain.
“I fail to see the point of this.” King Val shook his head. “If that binding works as claimed, he’ll speak whatever words we put into his mouth.”
King Arda sighed. “A confession is necessary to sooth the coalition. Robert is a fool, but he will abide by the treaty. It is not as if he can beg mercy from Vadin at this point.”
Samet reached again for his magic as the Archmage approached again, wand in hand. It continued to elude him. “I will have the truth, hellspawn.” The archmage tapped his wand against Samet’s side, then shook his head. “He will be useless to us if I burn the magic out of him.”
“Fortunately…” Arda picked up a thin leather strap. “There are alternatives.”
“Torture will leave marks.” Val frowned.
“Then I suggest you find a healer.” Arda glared at him.
“Healers can do nothing while he has that binding.” Val glared back.
“Let me worry about the binding.” The Archmage put a hand under Samet’s chin, lifting his head. “The pain stops when you confess.”
He stared back at the man. “My father taught me not to lie.” He hissed as the lash bit into his shoulders, then took a deep breath. “You missed the itch. It’s a little up and…” The lash bit into him again. He swallowed. “And to the left.”
“If I knew where they were holding him I would simply go get him.” King Henrik shook his head. “Arda must be called to answer for this.”
“Answer for what?” King Predar shook his head. “Interrogating a sorcerer? All Arda is guilty of is side stepping Robert’s attempts at stonewalling.”
“You sent him to meet with Vadin to get him out of the castle.” Tabitha folded her arms.
“I will not deny that we took advantage of the opportunity.” Prelate Sandra’s voice was calm. “Concerns were raised that King Robert may have been unduly influenced by the sorcerer. Considering what befell his own brother, we must determine if the sorcerer’s machinations are part of a long game intended to destabilize…”
“Sandra…” Sikander rubbed his forehead. “The man sealed an archway. I’m not suggesting we welcome him with open arms, but if a man who could do that was behind the attack on this castle he would have had far more success.” He straightened. “Whatever his true motives may be, the fact of the matter is that he has committed no crime which justifies the actions of Arda nor the proposed actions of the Archmage.”
“Are you forgetting Kendlemoor?” King Tomas rose.
“Where he sent a knight back with sufficient warning to save our soldiers?” Graham stepped to Tabitha’s shoulder.
“And then disposed of said knight when the man became a liability.” Sandra arched an eyebrow.
“A claim which you have no evidence to support.” Sikander shook his head. “If you are so certain of the sorcerer’s guilt, produce him for trial.”
His back burned with pain from his neck to his knees, and lifting his head would take more energy than he currently possessed. The Archmage was doing something to the bracer, but Samet couldn’t make his mind focus enough to follow the matrix. “Try now.”
The gray robed healer’s hands glowed as he worked his magic. The wounds healed, and as they faded so did the pain clouding his mind. Immediately he reached for his magic, and then his bones caught fire again. A scream tore from his throat. The Archmage laughed. “Whether magic is available to you is entirely at my discretion, Prince Vadin.” The Archmage shook his head. “We are growing short on time, so these gentlemen and I have agreed that you did, in fact, confess to summoning demons into the summit, and that said confession was not compelled by magic.”
“That is disappointing to…” The lash came down across his back again, and he cried out as much from surprise as pain.
“You were not given permission to speak.” The Archmage smiled. “Know that every word spoken without permission will cost you three lashes.”
He started to run the math, and decided against it. He was helpless, and they were going to keep hurting him anyway. “Do you and Arda fuck separate cows, or share?”
Ethan paced restlessly. While they were arguing, Samet was… His hands itched for his knives, and he was starting to feel the rising traces of panic. He turned when the door opened. “Well?”
“The situation remains unresolved.” Graham shook his head. “They needed a two thirds majority to take him from us, but unfortunately the reverse is also true.”
“But they violated the…” Margaret shook her head.
“They did.” King Sikander strode into the room. He gave Tabitha a small bow, then took a deep breath. “This is troublesome on many levels. Your majesty, have you sufficient guard remaining to ensure the safety of you and your family?”
“I…” Tabitha frowned. “To be honest, I am not certain.”
“Then until this situation is resolved, I would appreciate it if you would accept my soldiers to supplement your own. I will place them under your command.”
“You think…” Graham’s eyes widened.
“I am not certain what to think.” King Sikander frowned. “I am obtaining far more questions than answers.” He turned to Ethan, and gave him an appraising look before turning back to Tabitha. “You are aware that it was King Arda’s uncle that was responsible for the assassination of the sorcerer’s mother.”
“They tried to take him hostage.” Ethan looked up at Tabitha. “She picked up a sword to defend him, and they killed her.”
“At which point, a dozen men were burned alive from the inside by a seven year old child.” King Sikander folded his arms. “And as the story goes, later a nine year old child paid a visit to Duke Milien’s hunting lodge, and brought fire with him. There were thirty eight people inside. Only the child emerged. They are not wrong to fear him.”
“I killed his brother.” Ethan squared his shoulders. “And instead of hurting me, he healed me.”
“As I said, I have more questions than answers.” King Sikander slowly shook his head. “I maintain that the sorcerer should be imprisoned or otherwise safeguarded, and if there is evidence of his complicity with the attack I will vote to have him executed.” He shook his head. “But the Archmage is operating outside the bounds of both law and justice.” He straightened. “Vadin is not a being we should emulate.”
“Well spoken.” Margaret said softly.
“Thank you.” He smiled at here. “Which brings me to my purpose here.” He squared his shoulders before turning to face Tabitha. “I know where Arda has taken the sorcerer. Ensure your children are safe, and then my blade is yours.”
“You…” Ethan blinked. “You’re going to help?” He stared at King Sikander. “Why?”
“Because you are correct, Prince Ethan. All I actually know as fact regarding the man is that while he defends himself, whenever he has been given the choice he has chosen to save lives.” King Sikander smiled at him. “What kind of man would I be, if I could not rise to at least the level of hellspawn?”
Samet attempted to focus his concentration, to disrupt the modifications the Archmage was making to the bracer. As soon as he reached for his magic, the pain seared through his skeleton again. His scream was muffled by the rag Arda had shoved into his mouth to ‘stop him from making those distracting noises.’ The Archmage finally stepped back, then nodded. “Let him go.”
“You certain?” Arda’s voice asked.
“Yes.” The soldiers holding him released him, and he collapsed to his hands and knees. His muscles twitched and spasmed. He lifted one hand to yank at the rag, and then the Archmage said a single command. “Stop.”
He froze in place. Samet concentrated, trying to force his arm to keep moving, but his body refused to heed his commands. Behind him, he heard Arda’s low chuckle. “Not bad.”
“Stand up.” The Archmage smiled.
Against his will, Samet stood. His entire body ached, and he could feel himself trembling as he fought against the order. “Verbal orders are a little obvious.” Arda shook his head.
“Have faith, your highness.”
His body moved of its own accord, and Samet sank to his knees in front of Arda, his head bowed. Arda caught his hair and yanked his head back, removing the gag. Arda waited a moment, then nodded. “Is he quiet, or are you forbidding him to speak?”
“Unless I release him, he’s a puppet.” The Archmage smirked. “If he reaches for magic without my express permission…” He shrugged. “Well, you saw. Even then, it would do him little good. The bracers will continue to block his power save when I direct it.”
“Demonstrate.” Arda released him.
The Archmage removed a handkerchief from his pocket and held it out at arm’s length. He let it go. Samet felt a trickle of magic. He tried to catch it, but it slipped through his will, twisted by other thoughts. The handkerchief fell to the floor as mere ashes. “You saw his eyes?”
Arda nodded. “They glowed.”
“Hellfire.” The Archmage nodded. “Tamed to our will.”
“I think we can consider this war pretty much over.” Arda laughed. “Now we just need to decide where to aim our weapon first.”
“He should remain caged. He cannot use his magic without my allowing it, true…” The Archmage nodded. “But unless I am actively controlling him he will be able to move of his own accord.”
“Breaking him into proper obedience shouldn’t take too long.” Arda shrugged. “I should go ensure Val is handling his end properly.” He let go of Samet’s hair. “The maps will soon need to be redrawn.”
“I certainly hope so.” The Archmage laughed.
“Tell your sisters to stay put until Robert or I come to get them.” Tabitha hugged Margaret.
“I will.” She nodded. “I promise.” Margaret hesitated. “Be safe, all of you.”
Ethan looked at the small group with him. Sikander, Graham, Tabitha, and Sir Jakob. “We’ll be fine.”
She gave him a look that suggested he was being stupid, then followed Sikander’s soldier. Sir Jakob frowned. “It might behoove us to have more soldiers.”
Sikander nodded. “We do. However, your men and for that matter Henrik and Dorasha’s will be challenged. They will keep Arda’s soldiers occupied, while my men maintain a safe path for our retreat. The only way we have any chance of getting to the sorcerer is if they do not expect us. A larger group would be noted.”
“And they lose their veneer of legitimacy if they attempt to arrest anyone present save you and Sir Jakob.” Graham nodded to Ethan. “They still need that. Unfortunately, you won’t stay put and Sir Jakob won’t leave your side.”
“There may be people who need blades forcibly inserted in their bodies.” Ethan narrowed his eyes. “King Sikander only has one sword.”
“He does have a point.” Sikander shrugged. “We should move.”
“Alright.” Tabitha nodded. “I’ll keep Val and Arda busy. Gods be with you.”
He stood, motionless, staring at the wall as the Archmage walked a circuit around him. “Arda’s right. Fully breaking you should be one of our first priorities.” He reached out and touched Samet’s cheek, and Samet felt revulsion as he was unable to so much as twitch away. “Your father did an adequate job on Prince Ethan.” The Archmage ran a hand down Samet’s side, stopping to examine the half healed wound. “I’m sure we can find a few handlers willing to employ similar methods. Arda may even take a personal interest himself, though you’re a bit older than he usually prefers them.” He chuckled. “I must admit, it is a tempting prospect. The most powerful man in the world entirely at my mercy.” He lifted his hand, and flicked Samet across the nose.
For half a heartbeat, he almost tried reaching for his magic again. From the look on the Archmage’s face, he knew it. The man was actually smirking. The man opened his mouth to say something, and then there was a noise outside the room. “Your grace?” one of the soldiers asked.
“Why my dear boy.” The Archmage smiled. “It appears someone may be attempting to rescue you.” He laughed. “This is perfect. I can test the enchantment…” He folded his arms. “And the Coalition will condemn you when they learn you turned on your own allies before I was able to gain control of your binding.”
Samet started to reach for his magic, hoping the pain would drive him into unconsciousness before the Archmage could… Horror filled him as he felt the Archmage’s will twist around his own, taking control of the magic. Fire began to trail up over his body.
The door opened. Ethan and Sir Jakob were the first through, followed by a man he vaguely recognized as King Sikander. Graham entered behind them. The Archmage smiled. “Kill them,” the Archmage’s voice said both aloud and in his mind. He turned, his eyes glowing, and he saw fear on Graham’s face. And then there was fire in his hands as he began to focus his magic on…