Sorenan stepped up to Zafar's side. The councilman turned traitor shrank away from him, shrieking in preemptive terror as he waited for a blow to fall. "I would ease your pain," Sorenan said sadly, "For you are a man, not a beast." Zafar's cries were suddenly stilled as Sorenan's words penetrated the haze of pain and fear. "I am not permitted this," he continued in that disappointed tone, "I will, however, push for your punishment to be less... horrid, if you speak to me. Your life is forfeit. But this does not need to last longer. A clean death would be a mercy to you. Tell me what you have told Temna and I will do what I can to help you."
Zafar began to weep. He had not expected the Lion of the North to come to him. He had not expected Sorenan's quiet words or the promise of possible ease of his torment. He thought of his brother, the priest-king of Midthar and how the lords of Temna who came killed him. Zafar's promised peace and prosperity was ripped from his hands the instant they came into the city. Midthar was sacked, though she had offered no resistance. Zafar could only watch in horror as the slaughter happened.
When he and his brother had been brought before the leaders of the army encamped before their walls, Zafar was filled with awful regret. They were told that their reward of peace was awaiting them. For a moment Zafar hoped for exile. Then the sword fell and his brother's head rolled in the dust of the city square. He expected to be killed as well but they let him live. He was told to return to the Empress with a message. That message was the head of his brother.
It had taken him two weeks to reach the outer edge of the encampment before Dacia and Asser. Zafar was brought before General Zalaz and he begged for death. The general brought the distraught Zafar before Marcos, who knew with some supernatural certainty what Zafar had done. He said but one word to the councilman. Confess. Weighted with the power of Ashur's voice, Marcos's command was irresistible and Zafar told his king what crimes he had committed. In the midst of this confession, the Empress herself arrived, godridden. As Marcos passed judgment on the traitor, Mina spoke. She declared that Zafar would be interrogated for knowledge of the enemy before being slain.
Her appearance had changed significantly, enough so that all of the audience chamber was disturbed but for Marcos. Her voice had taken on an alien depth and a tone of command that rooted all listeners to the spot but for her husband. He was then brought to the chamber he lay in now and all became a blur of pain. Questions came but Zafar couldn't answer them. But the questions did not stop, nor did the punishments for failing to provide answers.
"Please, kill me," Zafar sobbed, "I know nothing." Sorenan looked at Zafar, doing his best to push aside his disgust with the situation. "They came out of the west. There were so many of them, I couldn't count them. They were lead by four men. One of them was the raider who would be king. I knew him by his scarred face. He looked like the silk merchant Abraxas, but for the scar," Zafar babbled as he had to the torturer. Where she had continued to tighten the rack, Sorenan said nothing.
"They betrayed us," Zafar wept, "Not even the children were spared. They came to the walls and when they came in, their swords were set upon us. Women were cut down as they fled the market. The watch were overwhelmed. They said we would be given peace and prosperity. They said that the shadow of war would pass away from us quickly. That once the Empress surrendered all would be well."
Sorenan's discomfort with Zafar's agony turned to anger as Zafar told him of the monstrosity of the sacking of the city. He said nothing as Zafar sobbed with pain that ran deeper than the agony of the rack. The sword-bearer of Ashur turned and walked to the door that Julara-Mina had exited through. "Their blood is on your hands," Sorenan said as he looked at that door, "The city of Midthar is dead because of your cowardice. You and your brother are responsible for their deaths. Your attempts to gain protection from war by surrender, they have caused this."
Sorenan thought of the villages in the north and the death that the tribesmen had brought upon them. Those deaths were less vile. The leaders of the villages fought with their people to defend them and died honorable deaths. Zafar's brother was murdered by the enemy. While the councilman cried ignorance as to why it happened, Sorenan knew. A turncoat could not be trusted. It was better to slay them rather than await their eventual betrayal. If it were not for the slaughter that came of Zafar and his brother's treason, Sorenan would have appreciated the irony of how their conquerors played them false.
Sorenan set his hand upon the door. "Please," Zafar begged tearfully, "kill me." Sorenan looked over his shoulder at the man on the rack. Then he looked away and opened the door. Sorenan exited into the passageway and Zafar gave an agonized scream, pleading for death. Coming down the passage was a Sister with a lamp. Behind her came Julara-Mina. She looked at Sorenan.
"Lady," Sorenan said, bowing to his godridden lover, "you are early."
"And you have an answer to my questions," she replied. Sorenan straightened up and nodded.
"The main force of Temna is encamped at Midthar. Althar is with three others, leading the force. I can only assume that Omuranth's sons are there with Temna's generals," he replied, "Zafar has spoken. He knows nothing more of Temna's plans. He and his brother were betrayed as they betrayed Midthar."
The godridden priestess nodded. "His death," Sorenan said looking away from his lover and into the darkness behind her, "It would be too easy, even with the eagles. They sacked the city. Their blood is on his hands."
"Death is not an escape," Julara-Mina said, "Only a gateway. I shall attend to him when his last breath is lost in Ashur's." Sorenan nodded. "Sword-bearer," she said, "this is but the first of evils you will witness. Blood flows like the river of my tears. And, like Is, it shall rise from its banks and flood the valley in its due time. Only driving them into the black sands will the valley be spared."