“What the hell just happened?!” Kabuto tailed Rokusho as he made his way to the king. Undoubtedly, the commotion that had just blown over was now the talk of the castle. Kabuto, wanting in on all the juicy bits, swarmed Rokusho excitedly. “C’mon, Ro! I know that you at least know!”
Rokusho smiled a little bit. At least his friend’s enthusiasm could never be curbed. “I apologize for keeping you in the dark, my liege. It was for your protection, nothing more.” He took a deep breath before recounting the events that had happened. “I was visited by the leader of the Scissors troops a while ago, and they roped me into an assassination plot on the king. It took a lot of stress, but I eventually formulated a plan to switch out the king for my second-in-command, due to their similar height…” He let out a long sigh. “It was a gamble. Anything could have gone wrong…”
“Hey, it didn’t. I’d say that’s pretty good.” Kabuto put a hand on Rokusho’s shoulder.
Rokusho gave his best friend an uneasy smile. Though the source of his stress had been dealt with, his battle was still not over. “I am glad to see that you are safe, Prince Kabuto, but there is something more I must do.”
“I’ll go with ya,” the prince offered.
While Rokusho appreciated it, he said lightly, “It’s quite alright, my prince. I’m just meeting with your father.”
“Oh. Well...” They came upon the king’s study, where the king had stayed while his decoy had engaged the Scissors in the meeting room. Kabuto paused in front of the door. “Are you sure you wanna go in by yourself?”
“I’m sure, my liege.” Rokusho was careful to use correct honorifics when addressing Kabuto, since the king was right inside and may have been able to hear. Despite the likelihood of the king being in a good mood, he was always a stickler for due respect. “It’s… rather personal business.”
“I get’cha... Good luck, buddy.” Kabuto patted Rokusho on the shoulder before he finally knocked and went in, the heavy doors slowly swinging back shut.
The king sat at his desk, hands clasped as he welcomed the knight, “Ah, if it isn’t the Medalorian of the hour.”
Rokusho bowed. “My liege, it is good to see that all has gone according to plan and that you are unscathed.”
“All thanks to you. I value your loyalty to us over your own people, Sir Rokusho. It was a bit… surprising.” The king thrummed his fingers against the surface of his desk. “Your second-in-command came in earlier to report, and she told me that you made some promises to these intruders, to these would-be assassins. Would you mind telling me what’s going through your mind?”
Rokusho paused, knowing that if he could convince the king that it would be beneficial to let the Scissors soldiers go, then he had a chance. The king was not much for pathos, but he was quite strategic-minded. “My liege, I humbly implore you to let them go. Apparently, even after so long, there is still bad blood from your conquest of the Scissors kingdom. If you show an act of charity to this dying people who feel that they’ve been wronged, then the enemies you had gained might hold off their ire.”
The king thought for a moment. “Even after their assassination plot, you still wish to save them? I suspect this idea might stem more from personal feeling than you may want to admit,” he mused aloud. Rokusho felt his stomach tie into knots. There’s no way the king would‒
“But,” the king interrupted his thoughts, “you are correct that conquering the Scissors brought us much unwanted attention from their allies, who we are still dealing with. I recall debating with my advisors over a similar dilemma so many years ago, when you were first brought into the equation… Though, political formalities aside…”
Rokusho gulped. If the king decided to banish or kill them, he could only stand by and watch.
“You are the one who saved my life, and I thank you for that. Not once have you wavered in your loyalty, and I know it to be genuine, as I’ve seen it in your eyes. You have sacrificed much for the sake of this kingdom and my family. I also know you to be true to your own beliefs. Yet, despite your loyalty, you still plead for the lives of those who have threatened harm upon me and my son. This fact is enough to affirm me of your conviction.” The king paused for a moment in thought. “You’ve never failed us, and I will relent against my better judgment to give you the choice of their fate. Think carefully, as their lives now officially lay in your hands.”
Rokusho let out a small gasp before remembering himself and bowing before his king.
“Thank you, sir. I am honored that you would give me this responsibility. I will have to think upon it before deciding.” With the king’s nod, the knight left the room.
Responsible for the fate of the Scissors survivors? It was better than having the king decide it, but Rokusho still felt overwhelmed. They would need somewhere to live, and someone to look after them… though also giving them the opportunity to leave for another allied kingdom if they chose.
He also wasn’t sure how much faith to put in these would-be assassins. They had already killed several Helm soldiers, and they came very close to doing the same to the royal family. Letting them into the kingdom could put the king in greater danger. With a sigh, he went to find Kabuto. Even if the prince didn’t know what to do, he would at least help him clear his mind about the situation.
A lone Scissors scout landed just outside a small grate, making sure no one spotted her as she revealed herself. “Commander, are you there?”
There was some noise before the scout beheld the visage of their commander within the prison cell. “Yes, what is it?”
“I have the location of the prince. How should I‒” She was interrupted with a hand held up to cut her off.
“We will not be going through with the threats of our deal,” Juno said. “Let’s…” They sighed. “Let’s put our faith in another of our kin.”
“What? You mean the knight? He’s practically a Helm!” she uttered in disgust.
The commander shook their head. “You did not see for yourself what he did. It’s true that he is not one of us, but he is a completely different breed of Scissors.” Juno touched their chin pensively.
“Well… fine.” The scout looked around again, knowing that she’d be caught soon if she didn’t leave before the patrol looped around. “I can… I can try to get you out!”
“No, that wouldn’t do. Many of us are wounded, including me, and even if you did find a way to get us out without alerting the entire castle, we wouldn’t be able to escape.” Juno closed their eyes. “Just stay out of sight outside the castle for now. We have little choice but to place our faith in Sir Rokusho.”
With hesitance, the scout nodded. “Yes, Commander.” She darted away and out of sight, and Juno sighed again. As they looked around at their soldiers, beaten but not broken, they ardently hoped that things would turn out for the better for all of them.
“And that’s what happened,” Rokusho said as he finally finished explaining everything to Prince Kabuto, who looked at him in awe, eyes twinkling.
“Holy shiiiiiiit!” Kabuto held either side of his head with his hands, mind completely blown by the enormity of it all. Rokusho gave him a reproachful look for the foul language but said nothing. “Man, that’s some tough stuff. I’d say that if you want the Scissors to go free, maybe you should tell ‘em to go back to Scissors lands. Then, you help ‘em rebuild and try to make good relations with them. But then there’s the risk of them coming back even stronger than ever before...”
“I was thinking that it might be better letting them decide their own fate… If they wish to stay here, they may, and if they wish to leave, they may. It would also… help split them up. I don’t want something like this to ever happen again, and while I think the leader understands this, I don’t have as much faith in their underlings,” Rokusho explained. “Going to their homeland would be nice, as they could indeed begin to build anew. Even with the threat of them rising up again, it’s wrong to keep them here regardless of their desires.” He leaned against the wall, finger to his chin in thought, then sighed. “I suppose I should go discuss it with the lead‒ I mean, Juno. They have a lot of sway over their soldiers.” Rokusho began the walk to the dungeon, instructing Kabuto to not follow him.
“I’ve gotten some news, Juno.” He quietly stood outside of the cell door. Juno winced as they moved but still came up to respond.
“News?” they replied.
Rokusho nodded. “The king has decided to leave your peoples’ fate in my hands.”
“And?” Juno shifted nervously, though trying not to show it.
“And I wanted to know what you want for your followers. You’ve been with them the longest, and I presume you know what would be best for them. This is your fate we’re talking about, after all. It would be unfair for your fate to be decided for you.”
Juno paused, soaking this in. “They… They wish to be free of the strife their lives were riddled with after the fall of the Scissors empire. But seeing as there’s no way to reverse time…” They looked down.
Rokusho thought for a moment in silence. “What if we were to help you all rebuild and make a better life for yourselves? I know it’s not as good as giving back what was taken, but it seems like the best we can do.”
Juno looked back up at him. “I doubt your superiors will be happy with letting failed assassins go free. What message will that give for any other enemies to the Helm kingdom?”
“How about this? You all return to Scissors homelands, we help you rebuild with me overseeing things, and in return, you submit frequent reports as well as help that part of the region prosper. Once infrastructure is bolstered, you will help educate however many children you can, particularly those in need.”
“So that means…” Juno parsed their words, turning over Rokusho’s proposition in their mind. “We help anyone else who was displaced by the war prosper in return for you letting us go.”
“And,” Rokusho added, “The Helms could set up a trade route along your way, once things improve for you.”
Juno looked away, thinking. It really was their best solution. Here, they would be treated as less, perhaps even persecuted for their attempted assassination. They didn’t, after all, know how far Rokusho’s authority over them extended.
“I... I will speak with my teammates. Thank you, Sir Rokusho,” they said humbly, giving a careful bow. Rokusho bowed back.
“It would be an honor for me to return to our homeland, as well. Let me know when your followers decide. And… thank you, Juno.” After final agreements, Rokusho turned and left the dungeon, idly running a hand along its wall.
A queasiness formed in the pit of his stomach.
This place still held bad memories for him.