The Space-Time Chronicles
A collection of tales spanning across the multiverses of time and space. Read the prologue at this link.
A Question of Loyalty
By John J. Joex
Copyright © June 2018
(Featured Image: Clock Tower 5 by indigodeep)
Jorret sat silently as he looked at the planet on the screen in front of him and read through the information that displayed on the monitor. When he finished, he sat back and thought for a moment.
“The country of Sontaya on the planet below appears to be at a crossroads,” the computer Abraxas observed dispassionately. “They have struggled for years with partisan control of their Republic, and that has brought them to a crucial point in deciding the importance of the rule of law.”
“This has been a long struggle among civilized beings,” Jorret observed. “Do they follow leaders or do they follow the law? Strong and just leaders have proven themselves vital to many civilizations, but sadly they are fleeting and rare. Thus the need for laws that keep the ambitious and opportunistic from tearing down what has been accomplished by wiser rulers.”
Jorret looked up at the screen which revealed a view of Sontaya from their position in orbit.
“The country of Sontaya on this planet now faces its day of reckoning and will be tested as to whether it will waver on its commitment to the rule of law.”
Lahna stood silently as the three members of the High Council of Sontaya entered the room and took their place at the table. She had been invited to sit, but her position as Chief Guard to the Throne typically found her standing and she felt more comfortable on her feet with her hand resting on her sword hilt. Outside, the Great Clock began to chime announcing the arrival of the hour. It was a great symbol of their country and had stood since the early days of the Republic, when they had thrown off the yoke of absolute monarchy. The clock had been exquisitely designed so that as each gear shifted it perpetuated the movement of the next and the next. It required no attention and had continued to run of itself since first erected over two hundred years prior.
“We have reviewed Lord Kanna’s request,” Sir Carreth of the High Council said aloud looking over the papers in front of him. “He demands that the delegation from Challa be detained and tried for treasonous acts. Also that the lands of Challa be placed under martial law to halt any further insurrections.
“We have chosen to deny that,” Sir Carreth continued. “The Challan delegation will be allowed to address their grievances to the High Council as per the law of the land. And our decision on this matter is final once the Council of the Republic as voted in full.”
Lahna felt some relief at this. She did not wish to lead troops against the Challan delegation, nor to their lands, because they had violated no laws. But she knew that this news would enrage Lord Kanna who felt that the Challan’s were trying to challenge his authority.
“This is not acceptable,” shouted Sir Falkan, one of the lower Council members. “The Challans have no substantial evidence to prove their claims against our leader. It is beneath this council to listen to every petty complaint, and their actions come far too close to rebellion against the throne.”
“By the laws of this land,” Lady Saren of the High Council spoke up, “they can address the Council. They petitioned to have their case heard and we accepted.”
“But the situation has changed since then!” Sir Falkan insisted. “Word has spread throughout the land that they wish to challenge the authority of our leader. This has brought unrest to the country and a loss of faith in our leadership.”
“Then we will restore it through the process of justice,” interjected Sir Maikon, the third member of the High Council. “The Challan delegation has asked to heard, so we will listen to their grievances and act accordingly.”
“They spread lies!” Lady Thespa stood in support of Sir Falkan. “They work in deception and half-truths. They will try to turn us against each other, make us look weak. And in so doing, they will diminish the authority of our own leadership.”
“This Council has already divided against itself,” Sir Carreth observed. “Several factions have developed in an attempt to grab power. Factions that only represent a small part of this nation’s people. You, Lady Thespa, and you, Sir Falkan, are part of one such faction. One that helped sway the larger Council, which was deeply divided, into putting Lord Kanna on the throne. Do you perhaps fear that the Challan delegation represents a threat to yourself and your faction?”
“They are a threat to our nation!” Sir Falkan shouted angrily. “They come here with lies that they will use to tear us apart. Their actions are treasonous. They have no respect for the throne. They have no respect for their leaders!”
“That respect must be earned!” Sir Carreth shouted angrily as he glared at Sir Falkan. “Some would argue that Lord Kanna—and those who support him—have not earned that respect.”
“All citizens must show respect and loyalty to our leaders!” Sir Falkan barked as he pointed an angry finger at the High Council.
“Respect and loyalty, yes!” Sir Carreth shouted in seeming agreement. “But to the laws of the land represented by the Throne. The person who sits on that throne as our leader must earn that respect and loyalty. And the citizens of this land have the right to speak out and oppose actions that they believe go counter to our laws.” Sir Falkan tried to interject, but Sir Carreth cut him off with a wave of the hand.
“If the Challan delegation comes before us with lies,” he continued, “then then our system of justice must weed those out and find the truth. If we cannot rely on it to do that, then perhaps we are lost. But if we allow our leaders to silence opposition simply because it threatens them, then certainly we are lost.”
Sir Falkan tried to object, but Sir Carreth waved it away.
“The time has come for the entire Council to cast their votes,” Sir Carreth announced to those at the table.
“But we have not resolved the issues at hand!” Sir Falkan insisted.
“You wish only to argue!” Sir Carreth said accusingly. “You attempt to delay a decision knowing it will give Lord Kanna a chance to act. But the Challan delegation is only a few days away and we must assure that they have the protection guaranteed to them by the law.” He turned and looked at the other council members.
“Those in favor of the High Council’s decision will raise their hands.” A bare majority of the council members raised their hands, several after a contemplative pause.
“Those against will raise their hands.” Most of the rest raised their hands.
“Those that abstain will raise their hands.” Two council members chose to abstain.
“Then it is decided,” Sir Carreth announced. “You will take this information to Lord Kanna, Chief Guard.” He said turning to Lahna.
“Yes sir,” she agreed. “With the Council’s permission, I will depart now.”
“Go with haste,” Sir Carreth said. “And may the Great Clock chime with joy that we have chosen the path of law and not blood today.”
Lahna departed from the High Council chambers and hurried toward the elevator just outside. She slid the door open and entered the small compartment, then pulled the door closed again. She could hear the gears cranking as it slowly descended to the ground floor. Her duty was clear to her, and defined by the law. But she knew that her commander would not easily accept the decision. Did her duty extend to convincing him to accept it, or was she just the messenger?
The elevator reached its destination with a thud, and Lahna slid the door open. She exited from the building to the street just outside. It bustled with noise and activity as steam cars and horses and carriages hurried on about their business. Her horse was not far and she knew that would get her to the crown palace the quickest, though something inside urged her not to proceed with haste.
Was it best to wait? Should she give herself time to prepare before delivering the news? How should she respond to his orders that will follow?
As she stood silently in thought, the Great Clock chimed again and spurred her to continue forward. The news would spread quickly and likely only increase Lord Kanna’s rage. She must face her duty here and now and act according to her charge. Surely her commander would see reason and act within the law.
Lahna entered through the large doorways of the throne room. The sound of the doors closing behind her echoed through the vast and mostly-empty hallway and announced her arrival. Across the chamber sat Lord Kanna in the throne who watched with a scowl as his Chief Guard entered. She could tell that his mood was foul, but she expected that.
Kanna was a man of ambition who enjoyed being in the position of power. When he had been elected to the throne by the council, Lahna believed that his ambitiousness and brashness would be a good thing for the country and that he might cut through the partisanship that had so divided the people. But that had not happened as the partisan factions grew only stronger. Meanwhile, Kanna’s belief that the Throne, which represented the laws of the land, was subservient to him, threatened to do even more damage to the Republic.
“The Council struck it down, didn’t they?” Lord Kanna said, more as a statement than as a question.
“Yes, my Lord,” Lahna confirmed. “The delegation from Challa will be heard by the Council.”
“They bring nothing but lies!” Lord Kanna shouted as he stood. “They are a threat to stability and security of this country!”
“They only wish to address their grievances to the Council,” Lahna noted, trying to allay his fears. “In accordance with our laws.”
“Grievances!?” Lord Kanna exclaimed. “Slander! Defamation! Attacks on the Throne that threaten to tear this land apart!”
“Their grievances are against you, not the throne,” Lahna corrected, still trying to take a conciliatory tone. “As citizens of this country, they have a right—”
“A right!?” Lord Kanna cut her off. “Are their rights so important that they can be allowed to put the country in danger by disrespecting and challenging its leaders?”
“Presenting grievances in a lawful manner does not threaten the country,” Lahna started to push back on Lord Kanna’s protestations. “They will address their concerns to the proper authorities and then the High Council will decide how to best handle the situation. That is all in accordance to the law.”
“They go to the High Council with lies!” Lord Kanna insisted.
“Then let them tell their lies!” Lahna’s anger at the situation boiled over and now she openly challenged her leader. “The just have nothing to fear from justice! That is what we have been told and have believed since the early days of the Republic when we threw off the rule of kings and turned to the rule of law!”
“I sit in the throne now!” Lord Kanna proclaimed as he pointed to the grand chair behind him. “So now I am champion of the law!”
“Champion, yes!” Lahna shouted in agreement. “But not dictator of the law.”
Lahna’s words took Lord Kanna by surprise and he fell silent for a moment.
“You champion the law by acting as a leader that follows and respects it,” Lahna continued in a lower tone of voice. “The law has been set out before us and we must follow it to ensure that our Republic stands. If the time comes that the law must change or adapt, then there are ways to handle that, within the law. But if one person or one group feels threatened, they can neither step outside the law nor alter it to fit their own purposes.
“This should be nothing new to you. We have learned this as citizens of this Republic and we know that it is our laws that hold us together as a free and just country. If we feel the law or our leaders have become unjust, we have the right to declare that and address it within the system. But we cannot step outside the law.”
Lord Kanna had turned away from Lahna by this point and stood silently planning his next move. After a moment he turned back to her.
“The delegation is a threat and it must be dealt with,” he insisted. “They stir up revolution, they have gone beyond their rights, beyond the law. They do not seek justice, they seek to overthrow the Republic.”
“That is for the Council to decide,” Lahna asserted. “If they see them as a threat, they will demand action.”
“It will be too late!” Lord Kanna proclaimed. “They will waste time arguing amongst themselves, they are too divided. By that time the rebels will have spread discord through the population and it will be too late to undo the damage they have done. I order you to lead the Republic Guard against the Challans, and you must do it now before it is too late!”
“It is an unlawful order!” Lahna insisted as she felt the situation getting out of control.
“You are the Chief protector of the Throne!” Lord Kanna declared. “You answer to the Throne and must carry out any orders given to you!”
“I do answer to the Throne, but the Throne is the law of the land, not the person that sits in it!”
“I am the leader of the Republic, and you take your orders from me!” Lord Kanna declared. “I must protect this country from any threats, and I declare the Challans a threat! Now I order you to lead the forces to quell that threat!”
“It is an unlawful order, and I am not bound to it!” Lahna insisted with fierce determination, hoping that would could put an end to the conversation.
“Perhaps!” Lord Kanna grudgingly agreed. “But that is not for you to decide,” he pointed out with a sneer.
Lahna’s stance wavered as she was uncertain what her commander was getting at.
“You report directly to the Throne, correct?” Lord Kanna queried her.
“That is correct,” she replied with resolve.
“And you are bound by oath to follow the orders given from the Throne, correct?” He continued his questioning.
“Yes,” she agreed. “But—”
“If an order that comes from the Throne is unlawful, that is for the High Council to decide, correct?” Lord Kanna pressed his point.
“In the meantime,” he cut her off, “you are bound to the orders given to you from the Throne! And to disobey an order is treason!”
Lahna wanted to say something, but she struggled for the words. He had maneuvered through the perfect argument. If his order was unlawful, the High Council would act to stop it. But until then, she was bound to follow it or face the consequences of her actions.
“You have been ordered by the Throne to lead the Republic Guard against the Challans. Will you carry out your orders?”
She stood silent looking only at the floor as she considered the challenge before her.
“Chief Guard?! Will you carry out your orders!” Lord Kanna approached angrily as he shouted at Lahna.
For another moment she said nothing, then she looked up at her commander with resolve.
“I will not, Lord Kanna,” she declared solemnly.
“You understand this is an act of treason?” Lord Kanna said as he turned away from her. “And that treason holds a penalty of death?”
“It is not treason to follow the law of the land,” Lahna said, almost under her breath.
“Mister Barris!” Lord Kanna shouted. “Enter the Throne room.”
A nearby door opened and Lahna turned to see her second in command enter the room in full armor. Her heart sunk as she knew immediately that Barris must have given in to commander’s line of thinking and would support his orders without question. She also knew that the first order would be for Barris to execute her as a traitor.
“Mister Barris,” Lord Kanna said as he turned to face the man. “There is an imminent threat to this country. Will you lead the Republic Guard against it?”
“If the Throne orders me to do it, then I will,” he stated.
“There is also a traitor here who has refused the orders she is bound to,” Lord Kanna remarked without directly indicating Lahna. “Will you carry out the execution of this traitor.”
“I . . . uh . . .“ Mister Barris paused before answering. “Has the High Council made the ruling on the treason?”
“I have made the ruling!” Lord Kanna shouted in anger. “A traitor stands before you and I order you to execute her!”
Mister Barris gripped the hilt of his sword, but did not remove it from its scabbard. Lahna glanced in his direction but made no move. She had no desire to engage in combat with him, not out of fear, but because she did not want to come to blows with one of her own men. However, to die like this, in such a meaningless way . . .
“Mister Barris!” Lord Kanna prodded the Throne Guard. “Carry out your orders!”
“Mister Barris,” Lahna spoke up and the guard halted. “This is not how we do things in this Republic. We do not execute someone without a trial.”
“We do if the order comes from the Throne!” Lord Kanna decreed and Mister Barris started to move forward.
“There is no treason!” Lahna insisted.
“I have given the order!” Lord Kanna declared and Mister Barris hastened toward Lahna as he pulled his sword from its scabbard. At that moment, the chimes from the Great Clock outside began to sound. Lahna heard its song and suddenly her course of action became clear.
Her sword was out from its scabbard in an instant and she turned to face Mister Barris. His weapon was coming down toward her head but she quickly blocked and parried. She then twisted her sword in a disarming move and Mister Barris’ weapon fell to the floor. With a swift kick, she sent him falling back and then she pivoted to face Lord Kanna who was approaching with his dagger out. She paid no mind to his small weapon and thrust her sword directly into his chest.
“Now–” Lahna shouted with finality “–there is treason!”
Lord Kanna looked with surprise at the blade that had skewered him. Then the life faded from his eyes and he collapsed to the ground as Lahna withdrew the sword. She then dropped her weapon and turned to Mister Barris–who had recovered his sword and was approaching–with her arms outstretched ready to accept her execution. His face was conflicted, but he felt a need to carry out Lord Kanna’s final order, so he raised his sword. But it never reached its target.
“Hold there, guard!” A voice from behind shouted. “Stay your weapon!”
Lahna turned and saw the members of the High Council entering the chamber. Sir Carreth was in the lead and he surveyed the situation.
“Mister Barris,” Sir Carreth spoke up. “You will take the Chief Guard into custody where she will stand trial.”
“Yes sir,” he responded and approached Lahna who showed no resistance.
Mister Barris motioned Lahna forward and she walked toward the door, pausing to lock eyes with Sir Carreth.
“I understand that you believe you acted in the best interest of the Throne and the Republic,” he commented. “But there were perhaps better options available to you.”
“Perhaps,” she agreed tentatively as her gaze turned downward.
“You will be put on trial for your actions, and the penalty could be severe,” he noted.
“Then let it be,” she accepted her fate. “As long as it is dictated by the law and not by one person or a few who have lost respect for that law.” Mister Barris then hurried he along to her detention.
“It is a choice that those who would live in a society ruled by laws must face at some point,” Jorret observed. “When the rulers set themselves outside the law, how must one act?”
“Do the laws themselves not address this?” Abraxas observed. “A society ruled by laws will develop laws to deal with those who break or evade said laws,” the computer voice said matter-of-factly.
“A logical conclusion as I would expect,” Jorret claimed. “But there are times when you must look beyond that. Even when dealing with highly civilized beings, logic and procedure cannot always provide the answer. Sometimes conscience and ethics are tested, and a more immediate response to the issue is demanded.”
“Bloodshed, then?” Abraxas asked. “Intelligent beings, whether civilized or not, all too often appear to resort to it.”
“Not necessarily,” Jorret rebutted. “Resistance. Defiance. Non-compliance. These actions are possible as well and do not necessarily require bloodshed.”
“But must the rule of law always face such contention?” Abraxas asked. “In the example of this country, it appears there is an excess of ideological division. So much that a means to live together peacefully perhaps cannot be achieved.”
“And sadly, that is all to common across the civilized races . . . even those who would call themselves gods,” Jorret observed solemnly, thinking of the struggles of his own people. “Perhaps Sontaya has a chance, but only if they can learn from their current struggles and find a way to overcome the partisanship that would tear them apart. Perhaps they can find an answer at this crucial time in their history, but far too many others have succumbed after the divisions have grown far too wide to bring the opposing sides back together and for the laws to remain viable.”
Prior: Time Enough for Living
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