For a Short Time by Derek M. Johnson

Is this why you have summoned me?

“It is.”

Do not misunderstand me, I love coming to Isarn. This place exhibits the passage of time better than any other in the Inner Sea. Even better than Corentyn. The men who spilled sweat and blood to erect these structures believed they would stand for centuries. They failed to calculate their own flawed nature—theirs and their fellow men.

“Mm-hmm.”

But the Blades. They are why you called me. I’ve seen them before—all of them. This one, Poor Padrina, is not even one of the more celebrated.

“No.”

The Blades are a frustration to me. You, know that, yes?

“Yes M’lady.”

True they bring an end to many, but those spirits should be mine to judge. Instead they remain inside. They reside in the blade. It is not right.

“No.”

So you bring me here to watch this?

“Yes.”

Why?

“Him.”

The man screaming? The man howling about his innocence? The man wailing vainly for reprieve?

“No.”

Then the one behind him? The one who solemnly marches forward? He pays the price for his son’s actions. He knows that his death is not just. Still he refuses to fight, for he believes his son’s actions were righteous. He willingly accepts his sacrifice in the place of his son. I have seen many such sacrifices. Your summons is beginning to annoy me.

“No. Him.”

Him? The one whose body is limp? He knows he is guilty. He just refuses to accept it. He broods. He does not understand that this is the way of Galt. Surely he knew the consequences when he did what he did.

“He is different from the others M’lady. His sin is his own, at least as the Council might call it sin. His sin, however, is not pride. He did not strive to hold office to benefit himself. He believed in his heart that he could make Galt . . . better. He surrendered so much of himself and his life for that belief. Never did he undercut another to attain his position, nor did he defame those who opposed him in order to gain an advantage. His only crime was that when the winds of change blew, he remained steadfast. That he was pushed from his position is unfair. That his blood is demanded is worse yet.”

Yet you will sit here and silently observe his execution.

. . . Your purpose for summoning me to witness this event still eludes me.

“This man, M’lady, his name is Valwyn. He is strong, a fighter.”

But now he allows them to drag his body. He is a dead weight. He is no different than the other man, resigned to his fate.

“No.”

No?

“No, M’lady. Look deeper. He is not resigned to his fate, of course you see it.”

Sorrow. Sadness. Fear . . . no . . . not fear. . . anger . . . hatred.

“Yes.”

Loss. Loss can do that to a man.

“Yes, M’lady.”

It happens here in Galt.

“As always you are right. Still, this man, he has lost everything. Rodrick Valwyn lost his position when the Council turned on him. He lost his home when they forced him to flee to Taldor. And when the Grey’s went to claim him from Taldor, he lost his wife and son.”

Family, fortune, even faith—all of it. Yes, many lose it all. Tragic, yes.

Tragic, but I’ve seen it. Death, destruction, they are part of man’s life, part of what man does to himself. Constantly do I witness these things. Men strive to avoid such horror. They pray . . . even to me . . . to watch over them. They pray that such things might pass over them. They pray to be spared from things that are part of their condition, part of being men. I have no interest in sparing them from themselves. Oh, I may delay the call. I may tarry, but I will come.

It is so foolish, so trite, that a man might believe that he has saved a life. Perhaps he has prolonged life, but he has not saved it. Death will come. Life will end. ‘You saved my life.’ I laugh at such a silly saying. ‘You have put off my death,’ that is so much more accurate. Man might be much happier if he understood and accepted such things.

“Yes, M’lady.”

So you have summoned me here to watch this sad, angry man die.

“Yes, M’lady, but . . .”

He approaches the Blade. You have brought me here to watch the Blade, this Poor Padriana, take his head from his body, to claim his soul, and keep it from me.

Your purpose, then, is mockery?

“No, M’lady. No, certainly not.”

The executioners do not even bother to clean the bascule or the lunette. They do not clean the blood of the previous victim from the cold steel. Perhaps some men do understand that death is a part of nature. Something that cannot be wiped away and forgotten.

“Look M’lady, he doesn’t struggle even now. The Grey Cloaks do not even appear taxed by the effort.”

Still, he does nothing to assist them. His eyes stare at a far off point. It is as if he were not even here, now.

“There is no fanfare or ceremony for Rodrick Valwyn, a former Council member. The Council has forbidden it.”

“Do you see it?”

Hush man. Of course I see it. His body has tensed. His eyes and his mind are now in the present. He is here with us.

“He no longer despairs. He rages.”

Yes, his is an unjust death.

“But you’ve seen such before.”

Do not mock me.

“No, M’lady.”

Man’s justice is like the shifting Osirioni sands.

“His concept of justice has never shifted. He has remained true.”

Indeed.

“And for that, he dies.”

It is here. The blade falls. You have sat here and watched so many of these deaths in the name of justice.

Now . . .what is that?

“Mm?”

The structure shudders.

“Yes.”

It shudders again, violently. It appears as if it might pull itself from the platform. That scream. So loud, so horrid—it will call back Aroden.

“I expected his death would not be easy. That is why I called. But this . . .”

The blade rises. That strap has the Grey Cloak by the wrist. It draws him in.

“It . . . it. . . the Blade. . . it has broken from its anchors. It’s acting on its own. It seeks another, it seeks the Cloaks.”

Indeed.

“The screams are horrible.”

They are beautiful. With each Cloak it takes, a soul imprisoned in the Blade is freed. They are mine.

“It has one of the onlookers now, a women felled in the stampede to escape. It intends to claim her as well.”

As you said, Valwyn’s sense of justice never wavered.

“That is not justice.”

You were wise to call me, and I shall reward you. This is something I have long desired to witness.

“M’lady, the woman was merely a witness to the execution. Her death is not justice.”

There is culpability in idly standing by—doing nothing in response to iniquity.

“But . . . M’lady . . . but surely . . . there has to be . . .”

You are nervous. I understand. You have long bore witness to the Council’s justice and the fall of the Blades. You have silently sat by and watched, and now this Blade, formerly Poor Padriana, now Valwyn’s Vengeance, will claim you if it can. Flee. Go. You insult me not. I, however, shall sit and watch for a while.

. . . Oh, but do remember. You may go now, but it is only for a short time.