The Charger Times

“The Law of Winter” by Kobe Bankston

Kobe Bankston, Author

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It wasn’t just the icy wind that bit into him. It was the gnawing teeth of what would happen if he failed. He had come here to save a man’s life and to prevent the destruction of an entire nation. Jace stood between the blade of a tyrannical empire and the keen edge of everything that he knew to be lawful and good.

“The mob has found him. We must intervene now if we hope to succeed.” Spoke the man standing next to, face shadowed from the moonlight. Jace couldn’t help but laugh. Preston was a warrior who had hung up his sword for the last time, always speaking with no waste of words.

“I did not realize our situation was so funny.” Came the words amidst a cloud of warm breathe against the freezing night air.

Jace smiled, teeth chattering lightly against one another. “I do not laugh at the situation, but rather how you act in it, my friend. Now, we have a war to prevent. To the river.”

The pair moved through the trees, cloaks drawn close to their bodies to keep as much heat as they could close. They walked upon a silver landscape as the waning moon bathed the snowy forest in its glowing embrace. They moved with intent, knowing that any wasted moment could mean their failure.

As Jace and Preston moved ever deeper into the forest, they began to hear the noises that marked their destination. Water from the flowing river that fed the nearby town’s crops in the growing seasons could be heard in the distance, as well as the hooting of nocturnal owls soaring through the night for their dinner. Softer sounds could be heard as they moved closer to the river: whinnying horses, crunching boots, clanging steel, and a strange muffled sound akin to a trapped animal. For those men who were adept in the sounds made by wild animals, it was clear that this was no ordinary animal that was trapped. The sound was clearly that of a terrified man.

“Hurry now! Before the watch arrives! String him up!” Shouted a voice from the dark gloom.

A chorus of voices rose up in response.

“Kill him!”

“He took our lives, now we take his!”

“Blood for blood!”

Now, Jace could see torches glowing between the trees. A large clearing was awash in moonlight. Dozens of people stood crowded around the edge of the clearing, barring Jace’s view of the center. But he did not need to see the clearing to know what was transpiring.

Stopping just outside of the ring of warm bodies, Jace turned to Preston, drawing his sword.

“Hold this for me, will you? I do not wish to be seen as a threat.”

Preston took the blade from his friend’s hand, gripping the hilt tightly as his hands fought the harsh frost that had accumulated on the soft leather.

“And if they wish you harm?”

Jace began to push past the people blocking his path, saying over his shoulder, “If I cannot win this fight with words, then I will have no hope with a sword.”

Bursting through the heavy throng of people, Jace was greeted by the narrow shoulders and flowing cape the gold of the setting sun.

“I had hoped to be invited to your gathering, sister. You know how much I hate missing out on important events.” He greeted.

The figure turned around to face him, lowering the heavy rope coiled in her right hand. Raven black hair fell in waves on either side of her pale face. A shining metal headband ranged from temple to temple, matching the beautiful shade of her cape. However, it was not the bright metal and fabric of her clothing that added to her already imposing model. It was her eyes, whose colors were the origins of Jace’s family’s banner: A shining bright yellow, speckled with the deep brown of oak wood.

“You are always welcome here, Jace. Our parents taught me the importance of your opinions just as they taught you how important my own are.” She responded. She stepped forward to hug her intrusive brother, but Jace stepped away from the embrace.

“You know why I am here, Katrine. I am here to save our family and nation. Do not attempt to distract me with sisterly love.”

Katrine regained her composure, unsurprised by Jace’s reaction. She lifted the coil of rope that she held in one hand and began to move around the clearing. The rope trailed behind her, unrolling itself as she moved towards the tall tree that stood sentinel in the center of the clearing. Now, Jace could see the source of the despairing sounds he had heard earlier: a lone man sat tied hand and foot at the base of the tree. Another rope was wrapped around his head and through his mouth, keeping his words from coherence.

Katrine stopped next to the man and began to weave the rope. She raised her voice to speak to her brother.

“You think you know best. You always have, and always will. Because you are older, because you are a man, because our parents saw the potential in you from the very moment you entered this world. To you, this may be a blessing. Boundless opportunity and advantages. I, however, find this to be quite a curse.”

Jace moved along the circular boundary of the crowd, keeping eyes locked on her sister as she pivoted to watch his path. “A curse, sister?”

“Yes, the curse of man. All you men are the same. You do as you wish, keeping the positions of power in our nation for yourselves. You choose who our allies are, whom we trade with, who we go to war with. We women are tired of it!”

The crowd raises its fists, shouting encouragement to Katrine.

“Look around you, Jace. What do you see? I’ll tell you. You see women, is that right?”

Jace paused, unnerved by his sisters choice of action. “I do.”

Katrine moved closer to the captured man, and placed the fruit of her knotting skills around his frail neck. With now sign of gentleness, she tightened the noose.

“You see wrongly brother. You see mere women. I see mothers, sister, daughters, cousins, wives. This so-called mob is here to right the wrongs of men. Men like our father.”

Jace advanced on his sister, encouraged by the anger building in his chest.

“Our father does what he is told! He has sworn loyalty to the king, just as you and I have. Were he to go against His Majesty’s orders, we may all hang. The entire Kaldaci family.”

“You are right brother.” Katrine proceeds to throw her end of the rope over a thick branch extending from the tree’s trunk. “We would all hang. We would all be traitors.”

Strong arms suddenly grip onto Jace, holding him still.

“You can’t do this Katrine! This is murder! The king will use all his power to find who committed this murder!”

“Yes Jace. That’s what I’m hoping for. It’s time our brothers and sons died in wars started by barbarians like our so beloved king. It is time he saw his own family dead before himself.” With those words, Katrine began to hoist the man up into the tree’s branches by his neck. Torches were raised high into the air and shouts of victory echoed through the silent night.

“You are killing the King’s favorite general, his own brother!”

“A murdered is sentenced to death by headsman. That is the law of our nation, written down centuries ago. A traitor is sentenced to hanging, so he may look those he betrayed in the eyes as he swings and chokes. This man is a traitor.”

Jace began to struggle with all his might now. He called for Preston’s aid, but the throng of women kept him away. He looked up into the eyes of the condemned man. Eyes he had looked into a hundred times as he had stood on parade in front of the king’s palace. Eyes that had watched him grow from a boy into a man. Shining yellow eyes, detailed with brown speckles throughout. The eyes of a man he trusted and loved.

“Now, now brother. Do not be so angry with me. My friends gave the king’s brother plentiful warning. He chose this path, knowing what it would bring.”

Looking into Katrine’s through streaming tears, Jace whispered, “He was your father. Our father.”

Suddenly, unyielding rage filled Katrine’s eyes. She bent down to pick up another coil of rope, and began to approach Jace.

“Yes, he was my father. But now he is no longer. He chose the side of war and bloodshed. The side of manly honor and prowess. He chose wrong. Just as you have. As he is n longer my father, you are no longer my brother.”

Those words bit harder than any winter gale.

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“The Law of Winter” by Kobe Bankston