Chapter 7

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A hush fell over the room as the Arbiter announced the charges against Braeden. "Under the law of Emese, you stand accused of the massacre of the village of Tuskar and the subsequent massacre of Kabasa. Those who stand against you accuse you of heresy before the Great Mother and her consort Cathair. We, Her living servants, seek the truth and divine justice in Her name. Do you understand the gravity of these crimes?"

Braeden inclined his head.

The Arbiter stood up from her crystal throne and flung out her arms so that the sunlight set her aglow. "The scales of justice must be balanced. As you have done, so shall be done to you, no more and no less." She dropped her arms to her sides, and in a split second her expression shifted from one of rapture to cold calculation. A shiver skittered down Sam's spine. This was the real Arbiter, the woman who had overrode an emperor's wishes and removed his sister's tongue. "When did you leave Rhea for Thule?"

Sam was close enough to see the muscles in Braeden's throat work. "Eleven years ago, your holiness," he rasped out. He was nervous. Sam couldn't decide if that was good or bad.

The Arbiter pursed her lips. "And why did you leave Rhea?"

He looked down at his feet. "To start over."

The Arbiter's expression was inscrutable. "I see. And you needed to start over because...?"

"I saw the man I called my master for who he was. I wanted to live a life free of his influence."

The Arbiter furrowed her delicate brow. "Master?"

"The man who took me in and raised me," he explained. "I don't know his true name; he was always Master to me."

"I see," said the Arbiter with an enigmatic smile. "And this master held your loyalty?"

"He forced my loyalty when he inked his blood into my skin."

The Arbiter raised an eyebrow at that. "You would have us believe your master knew binding magic?" She brought her hands to her mouth and chortled, a light, tinkling sound. Her laughter didn't reach her eyes, still shrewdly obervant. "That gift is lost with the Warders, buried with the Traitor King."

Braeden shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know the name for his magic, or if it is the same. His blood was a curse, not a gift. It made it so I couldn't disobey an order, and so that he could always find me. So that I didn't know I'd done wrong until I gained some distance from him."

A ripple of low, shocked murmurs spread through the room. Even Nasrin looked uncertain. Something about Braeden's answer had unnerved them. Good, Sam thought.

"Silence!" the Arbiter snapped, her gaze never leaving Braeden. "What you speak of is a perversion of magic long gone from this world. You lie."

"My master lied about many things," Braeden said evenly. "I know only what he told me. His magic was meant to be a tether to sanity. He didn't tell me until later it was also a tether to him."

"Perhaps it is you who lies. Perhaps you have no master."

Braeden's mouth twisted with bitter humor. "No one wishes that were true more than I, your holiness. But have a look, if you will. You can see the mark he left on me. I'd show you myself, but--" He jangled the chains locking his wrists together.

Sam felt a spark of hope. If the Sisters saw Braeden's tattoo, maybe they would understand any wrongs he committed were not his own. Or, if nothing else, maybe they would recognize the symbols carved into his skin and provide some clue as to their origin.

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