Culmination, Part 14

Veilia was silent for a long time while she pondered Kryla’s question, which left Kryla little to do except for sip her filiate and admire the decor in Veilia’s sitting room. Fortunately, the filiate was quite good, and the decor was quite admirable. Kryla was by no means an expert on filiate (as it was consumed almost exclusively by the nobility), but admirals did have a tendency to rub shoulders with nobles, so she’d sampled it a few times in her life. This batch was probably the best she’d ever had. Thick and creamy, with a reddish-brown color and a sweet, spicy taste, filiate may not have been the best perk of being a noble, but it was right up there.

After a few minutes of sipping and admiring, she finally sighed loudly and placed her cup on a nearby table. Veilia looked startled at the sound, but she quickly recovered, a warm smile spreading across her face. “I apologize, Admiral,” she said smoothly. “This question that you have posed is indeed a tricky one. I am finding it exceedingly difficult to separate my familial affection for my brother from who he really is as a person.”

“No need for apologies, my Lady,” Kryla replied, bowing her head slightly. “It was foolish of me to come to you for advice. You’re not a soldier, so coming to you for help on a military matter was, perhaps, a poor idea.” She prepared to stand up, but something about the look in Veilia’s eyes made her pause.

“It’s not just a military matter though, is it?” Veilia said, her luminous blue eyes holding Kryla in place. “You want to know what kind of a man my brother is. I understand that. I don’t know exactly what he’s planning, but I can imagine. I know about his love for his wife, and about the rivalry between him and General Fanas.” She leaned forward, and suddenly her eyes transformed from pools of light into icy blue flames. “And I especially know about how much he loathes Neminatrix IV.” She leaned back again, and the fiery look in her eyes was gone so quickly that Kryla wondered if it had really been there. “Given all of that, I have a pretty good idea what my brother is planning.”

“So you do understand my dilemma,” Kryla said.

“I do,” Veilia replied with a slight nod. “You want to know if my brother is the type of man who is worthy of devotion.”

“Yes,” Kryla said. “I already know who your brother is as a military strategist. I know that this plan of his will almost certainly succeed, and I don’t even know the details yet. But what good is a victory if it’s won by a tyrant? If your brother is going to defy the orders of his commanding officer, before I can go along with him, I need to know if he’s really doing this for the good of the Empire, or if he’s just doing this for his own selfish ends.”

“Isn’t there a possibility that those two things might overlap?” Veilia asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Yes,” Kryla admitted, “but intent matters. If Belfamor’s main goal is to serve the Empire, then I don’t care if he rescues his wife and murders the man who wounded his family in the meantime. But if his real goal is to get revenge, then I want nothing to do with it, even if his vengeance would incidentally further the goals of the Empire.”

“I see what you mean,” Veilia said with a thoughtful frown. “If you’re going to risk execution, you want to make sure that risk is for a good cause.”

“I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” Kryla replied with a pensive frown. Veilia gave her a sympathetic smile, and took a sip of her filiate.

“I think my brother is somebody worth giving loyalty to, even loyalty unto death,” she said carefully. “I think he is a good man, and one who would not do something this drastic simply to fulfill his own desires. I believe that he is truly motivated by the good of the Empire.” She took another sip of filiate and eyed Kryla over the rim of her cup. “Of course,” she continued, setting down her now empty cup, “I say that as someone who is already devoted to him, heart and soul.”

Kryla sighed deeply and looked out over Veilia’s spacious and well-manicured gardens, which were easily visible from the large, arched windows in the wall to her left. “I suppose that’s the answer I expected to hear,” she said wearily. She gazed at the beautiful gardens for a moment, and then she looked back at Veilia. “Are you familiar with Admiral Abaden Lors?” she asked. Veilia thought for a moment, and then she nodded.

“He was the Commander of the Imperial Fleet until a couple of years ago, correct?”

“Yes,” Kryla replied. “He died in the Battle of Noramonen. He was my mentor, and the closest thing I’ve ever had to a father. When he asked me if I’d join him in defecting from Extrator to Valador, I didn’t even hesitate. I would have done anything he asked me to do. But soon after that, I started to think. I realized that I was a grown woman, and not only that, I was an Admiral in the Imperial Fleet! I decided that it was time for me to make my own decisions, that I could no longer do things just because someone I admired and respected asked me to do it.”

“It seems to me then,” Veilia said thoughtfully, “that the question for you is not, who is Belfamor Hemetal, but rather, is this thing that he’s asking you to do something that you want to do? Do you believe its good for the Empire? If so, then it doesn’t really matter what Belfamor’s motivations are.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Kryla said with a pensive smile. “Well thank you, Lady Hemetal. This conversation has indeed been exceedingly enlightening.”

To be continued…

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