This is a deleted scene from The King’s Sword, the first in the Erdemen Honor series. There are spoilers for The King’s Sword in the discussion below about my goals for the story and the reasons why this scene was deleted.
This scene was written with the idea that maybe Kemen and Hakan’s victory was “too easy.” Some of my beta readers thought that the physical conflict was too simple and there wasn’t enough intrigue and betrayal. I saw their point, and I did make some edits in response to that critique. But the story isn’t fundamentally about the physical conflict or the betrayal and intrigue… my edits were more towards emphasizing the character growth and the development of Kemen and Hakan’s friendship, rather than adding more surface conflict.
I also liked the character of Hayato, and this change twisted him in a way I didn’t like. Perhaps it’s more complex. But the complexity of betrayal wasn’t really what I wanted to focus on. Instead, I liked the simplicity of his trust in Kemen. I liked his reliability, and how he stepped up to do the right thing from the beginning. In a way, Hayato represents the rest of the army in Erdem – I didn’t want Kemen to be the only honorable man in the army. Not only was that not how I meant to show the army, but it kind of made Kemen look like a fool, if everyone he trusted betrayed him. He’s not a fool, and he’s not meant to be naive or stupid. The one great betrayal shocks him because it IS unusual.
* * *
We weren’t far from Rivensworth, only a league, and if all had gone well we would have reached it just after midnight. But things never go as smoothly as I wish.
The moon lit the road for a brief moment. I was moving my arm cautiously, testing the wound in my shoulder, and I looked up only at Serkan’s voice.
“Sir! Ahead, sir. Do you see him?”
“No.” The moon had retreated again, leaving us in the drenched darkness.
“Here, sir.” He dismounted and fumbled in the darkness a bit. The moon fought its way through the clouds and rain to give us just a hint of silver. A uniform, green and brown. Muddy. Pale blue eyes. Blood on his throat and down his chest. I didn’t remember his name, but he’d been in Hakan’s group. My heart beat faster.
Serkan and I searched in the downpour and the deep mud for other clues. I found Hakan’s cloak pin, iron with a golden eagle at the top. It wouldn’t have come off by chance.
I wished I were as clever as Hakan, to figure out the puzzle. To find a different answer than the one that came to mind. Either Taisto’s men had also come from the other direction and taken Hayato and Hakan by surprise or… I tasted bile. If that were the case, Hayato would also be dead in the mud.
I had entrusted Hakan to Hayato.
I’d been a fool.
The fastest road to Stonehaven began at Rivensworth. We sprinted through the pouring rain. One of the archers went down, thrown when his horse stepped in a hole. We left him behind. Hakan was more important.
I heard Hakan first, and if I hadn’t been so tense, I would have smiled at his act. “I’m tired. Can’t we stop a bit?”
“I’m not your nursemaid. I don’t want you dead, boy, but if you don’t stop whining…” he stopped. “Phraa!” He must have heard the clink of the horses’ bridles, or the thud of their hooves as we closed on them.
The moon peeked from behind a cloud as the rain lessened. I made out Hayato’s dark form ahead of us, and Hakan on his own horse next to him, slumped a little to the side.
“What are you doing?” My question seemed inadequate, too simple for Hayato’s betrayal.
“It’s not what you think,” Hayato growled. “Taisto will be better, stronger. Tafari is going to invade, and this child will do nothing to stop him!”
Hakan spoke up sharply. “He is not! You saw the agreement yourself!”
Hayato cuffed him sharply on the back of the head. “You trust Tafari more than Erdemen soldiers? I don’t like Taisto either but at least he knows what he’s doing.”
Moonlight glinted on metal, and I realized Hayato had a knife in one hand along with the reins. Ready for me or for Hakan?
Hakan looked dazed, and he leaned forward a bit, his hands still behind him. Bound. Tied. Like a criminal. He swayed a little in the saddle.
“Where are you taking him?” I edged forward, but Hayato pulled his horse back, keeping Hakan close. Clouds obscured the moon again, and they became only dark, amorphous shades in a world of shadow and water.
“Rivensworth. Men there will take him to Ophrano. He’ll be alive. He just won’t be king.”
If I’d been able to see his face clearly, I might almost have believed him. Hayato was a more convincing actor than I’d realized. But in the darkness, I heard the lie. His guilt betrayed him. Hakan was to be killed later, when Hayato wouldn’t be blamed for it.
I slipped my bootknife out and kept it hidden along my arm. If only I could see better.
I softened my voice. “And what of you? What if Taisto finds out you protected him?”
Hayato flinched. “He…” he hesitated. “He won’t know.” He smiled, white teeth flashing in the dim light. I was closer now, and he hadn’t noticed. “Besides, he’s more worried about the invasion than this brat.”
Hakan looked toward me, the pale oval of his face barely visible. He was slowly, subtly shaking his head. He mouthed something that I could not understand.
“Go on then, Kemen. This isn’t about the boy. It’s about Erdem.”
“What about the money? How much did he cut you in for?”
I heard his sharp intake of breath. The insult was accurate, then.
“What about it?” he growled.
It was the confirmation I had dreaded, but I did not hesitate. I threw my knife.
It struck true, just below Hayato’s heart. He gasped, and time seemed to slow. I caught his shoulder as he slid from his horse, kicked my feet free of my stirrups to slide down with him, softening his fall.
“Why?” He was breathless, sounding almost tearful.
“It’s Hakan’s throne. You don’t have the right to take it from him.” The words sound almost harsh now, as I retell them. But at the time, my voice was choked with my own unshed tears.
The moonlight broke upon us in belated brightness, silvering Hayato’s pale hair and illuminating my knife buried nearly to the hilt in his chest.
Hayato’s eyes closed, then opened again. “I should have remembered. You were always good with knives.” He gave me a pained rictus of a smile. “I hope you’re right.”
My breath caught in my throat. He tensed in pain, shuddered, and then relaxed again, his eyes drifting closed.
“I’m sorry, Hayato.”
The rain had shifted into a fine drizzle, dripping from my nose into his face. He blinked up at me, eyes unfocused. “I didn’t do it for the gold.” He gasped, breathing fast through clenched teeth. “Safe riding. Luck. You’ll need it.”
“I’d rather your knife than his.” He grinned, and there was blood between his teeth. “I did it for Erdem. Believe that.” His hand clenched, fingers digging into my arm. “We all make sacrifices. Mine would have been my honor for Erdem.” He shuddered again. “I hope you’re right,” he said again.
Then there was only the rain.
I bowed over him, forehead resting on his chest beside the knife. I was shaking as if I were sobbing, but I couldn’t tell if my face was damp with tears or only rain. I felt cold inside.
Hakan touched my shoulder. Someone had cut him free. “Come, Kemen.”
I pulled Hayato off the road and curled his fingers around the hilt of his sword. I put it across his chest as he would have wished.
Once we were riding again, Hakan asked me if I was all right, his voice so soft and tentative in the rain that I nearly did not bother to answer him. Instead I said, “I’m fine.” It wasn’t the truth, but it wasn’t a lie. I was numb.
I’d trusted Hayato. Beyond his betrayal, we were still friends. Had been friends. I wiped his blood from the hilt of my knife.