Standard Of Justice

Standard Of Justice

Hello everyone!
I know this might seem incredibly long, but hopefully you can take the time to read it.
I hope you like it!

(chapter two is merely a continuation of chapter one, since it could not fit on one page.)

Chapter 1

Chapter One

There was no time to waste once the messengers came to inform them that James' army was overtaking the palace. Somehow the son of that imprisoned usurper Everest had managed to convince a majority of the army of the superiority of his father's claim. Only one way of escape was now left to them. The memory of the tunnel brought back a haunting sensation to Hazel, but there were too many other things to think of for it to fully engulf her. She watched the faces of her son and daughter-in-law, and her husband, King Alainn. The flood of terrible recent events was such a shock to everyone in the royal family. All they had fought so hard for; and this...this was the end. "Sire," the messenger told Alainn, "We have not the strength to keep this army at bay for much longer. What is your command?" "Go and notify our forces to prepare for surrender, and I will come shortly." At once, the messenger went from their presence, leaving the royal family to a grave and painful farewell, which, Hazel could only conclude, might very well be the last. Her son and daughter-in-law bade theirs with duty and affection, and departed for the tunnel, but Hazel lingered; she was not ready to leave now, nor would she ever be. A strong sense of loyalty came over her as she turned to Alainn to speak, "Let me go with you." She could tell by his eyes what the answer already was. "Hazel," he told her, "There is no telling what will befall us after our submission. I would have you safe..." "I would stand by you, come what may," she persisted, "I want to stay with you." Even still, Alainn was firm in his decision. Perhaps it was not loyalty alone that pressed her to want this, she began to realize. Was this a repayment; the justified end? The sickening guilt began to consume her again. The burden had for so long been kept hidden, and yet had kept something in between them at the same time. She could not leave it there... An overwhelming, unfathomable remorse took hold of her. She would pay for it. They would all pay for it now. "It's my fault." The sorrow seeped out of her voice. "It's all my fault Alainn." He looked at her, with that resolute and serious gaze that never left his face. "What do you mean?" Alainn could not comprehend her...how could he understand? "It's my fault...I am responsible for taking part in this... this is my doing..." All of her secrets, her shame; what did it mean now? She could no longer bear it. There was no reason to be silent anymore; she rather deserved it. "It was me Alainn! It was me."

When she had first met him, Alainn was then a young man from a distant region endeavouring to reclaim the throne his father had formerly been tricked out of inheriting. But society so much admired King Ernest and Queen Gwyneth, the current rulers, it seemed they would not be persuaded. But Hazel was. He was logical, determined, and adamant; full of duty to do his best for his country; and she, observant, critical, rational Hazel...was falling in love. She began listening to his patriotic speeches to the people, but never betrayed to anyone her convictions concerning his claim. Her devotion to his cause and to him grew, but he did not know her, and probably never would. Instead, he engaged himself to the princess Guinevere. It was a logical match; a tie to the current royal family would likely make him appear more favourable. So Hazel turned her love for him into unwavering support. She joined with a team of followers who aided him during persecution from the present powers, and assisted his escape from prison. He was forced into hiding, unsurprisingly, with little chance of persuading the military to his side, even with as many dispersed supporters as he had. Waiting for an opportunity to take the throne was his only option. Some had suggested using less than honourable means of claiming it, such as assassinating the present king and prince, but he was against it from the start. As he was the true king, he desired to be just. But time continued with no improvement; hope began to fade, since there was nothing to be done.

"You know he probably won't ever become king if we don't do something." Hazel looked back towards Windsor, as he declared the words she knew to be true. The warning inside her became ever dimmer as she thought of the good that could come from this single choice. Windsor, unaware of her silent considerations, continued his current musings, "If only we could do something... about the strategy we came up with back then. It would work..." Hazel simply raised an eyebrow at this, as she asked, "...And what are you suggesting?" Windsor paused in deep contemplation before answering, "I think you already know what I would suggest." "Well..." Hazel affirmed promptly, "you know what Alainn would think of it." Windsor continued, unabashed, "King Ernest's death would be an 'accident', and the plan would just fall into place. You know...obviously...we wouldn't let Alainn find out it was our doing." "That's not the point." "Look," Windsor asserted, now with frustration in his usual casual tone of voice, "I know my uncle, and cousin. My uncle is practically just being controlled by those arrogant generals and his queen, and you think Everest will be anything close to a good king, after him? He's going to prompt our people into going on a huge conquest to dominate the world, once he's crowned, to bring back the 'glory days'; that's what. You already know enough about him to know that. Not to mention he doesn't even care about the people who aren't in high-society and sharing his perspectives; not like Alainn does. Look, if Alainn doesn't want to do this, then so be it. We'll do it behind the scenes for him, without him being under any blame. That would be the best thing, in any case. It makes him an even better king to refuse such a clearly successful scheme. He deserves, and needs, to rule our people the way Everest never would." For a short time, Hazel pondered over these things before remarking, "And if we were to do this without his agreement, he would still know someone disobeyed him. There were only ten others, besides us, at the meeting where the strategy was brought to light." "Look, if it ever comes to it, I'll take the blame. Besides, once I kidnap Everest, and make myself king, they won't be able to reach or do anything to me, even if they wanted to. And after my disastrously horrible dictatorship, I would flee the country or go into hiding before Alainn gains the people's favour and succeeds me." "And if we were to choose this course of action, how would we be able to get an assassin in the palace?" Windsor half-smiled at this, and explained, "I was going to bring that up sometime. I've made this tunnel, see; it goes from a small distance in the forest nearby down to one of the rooms in the palace that the servants rarely use. A while back, I had this thing with tunnels and built a secret way out of the palace in case I ever really needed it. You see; everything falls in place." Hazel nodded, still deep in thought, "If we are going to try this, it will have to succeed, or it will all be for nothing." "Well... we're doing it for the right reason, and we wouldn't be doing it under any other circumstance. He's not going to become king any other way." "I know," Hazel concurred, "We're doing this for him."

In a few days, the news went out from the palace: the King was dead. The royal family had gone out riding and the king was unfortunately thrown from his horse. While it did not seem to the doctors a life threatening accident, they must have been wrong, as King Ernest died that night. The palace and kingdom fell into mourning at this terrible tragedy. In a short time, Alainn's secret council met to discuss the disturbing deed, and the next step. After some debate, there seemed only one way to go. Hazel watched as one of the members rose and, summarizing what had been determined, announced, "We all know that this is, clearly, a familiar plot regrettably acted upon. There is, I think we would all agree, nothing else we can do, or undo, except to continue the plan, and, in time, see the kingdom be given to its rightful ruler." A voice of agreement came from many present. Hazel, perceptive as ever, kept her unobvious gaze on Alainn, however; he had remained silent through most of the dialogue. Finally, the voices fell, and all eyes turned toward their future king, as they waited for him to address the statement, giving his sanction or disapproval. When he began, his eyes moved over the assembly, taking note of each face... including Windsor and Hazel's. "This is not merely the enactment of a banned conspiracy," he declared, "This is a betrayal. I would have been contented to leave the throne as it was, if I were not to win it through the persuasion and support of my countrymen. My desire to rule stemmed only from my hope in gaining the heart of my people; I had no other cause. Only obligation to my father's wishes binds me to continue the procedure we now speak of, though I never approved of its initiation." When he paused, there was complete silence in the room. "This is, however," he solemnly continued, "not only a grievance to our cause; it is the murder of a king. The respect and honour of authority has been violated; respect and honour that I have vindicated and maintained throughout the midst of my endeavourers. If I do not give what is due to the sovereign of this era, how may I command the allegiance of my people in the day of my leadership? I came not to gain this crown for the sake of my own gratification or purposes, but for duty's sake, and, as is my duty, I shall uphold the authority of the crown's existence, upon which my claim rests. Those who would see such an act of disobedience as proof of their dedication to my goals do not appreciate the role of the position I pursue; one that gives out justice. The standard of justice that defines the end is not detachable from the means. I will give full justice to those involved in the murder of my uncle, King Ernest." In that moment, there was born a fear in Hazel; fear for her life. It did not devour her, but it remained secret in her mind. Her face never displayed her paranoia. It was buried; never to arise, lest her worst terror come to life.

For the next year, the country took a turn for the worse. Being one who had detested studies and sought out mischief and pleasure most of his life, Windsor played an oppressive king rather nicely. Hazel had kept a low profile, constantly afraid someone would discover something when she spoke to Windsor. Her fears that Alainn suspected her were ultimately proven; though she managed to convince him the assassination was Windsor's scheme, and only his. Alainn trusted her, charging her to continue her association with Windsor to report on him, so that any potential escape of his could be prevented. As predicted, Alainn became the saviour of the country. The people rallied to him, quite ready to take down King Windsor. But when Alainn came to claim his title, Windsor had disappeared.

When Alainn requested to speak confidentially with Hazel after the banquet celebrating his victory that afternoon, she knew something was wrong. His first words to her were startling and foreboding, "I wish to know the truth. I wanted to speak to you, having now the knowledge that I have been deceived." Tenseness arose slowly in her mind, but Hazel listened on, waiting to see if he really had discovered her. "Windsor, I have been assured," Alainn notified her, "should not have fled without our awareness. He was ignorant of the time of our arrival, and as I had spies watching his tunnel and elsewhere, he should have been captured in his sudden flight... However, he did not use the tunnel as his means of escape, though he knew well of its secrecy and convenience. What do you know of this, Hazel?" By his expression, Hazel could tell the suspicion was too heavily placed on her for her to try covering the truth, and the facts. Instead, she attempted to defend her actions, "He was a friend of mine. I felt... compelled to keep him from execution..." Alainn was firmly offended; she could tell from his sudden response, "Hazel, you went blatantly against my orders by warning and aiding him. What he has done will be dealt with according to the laws of this country, but you have defied me, though I depended on you." Hazel had been obligated to save Windsor. If Windsor was captured, might he not incriminate her as well? But Alainn was right. The guilt came back again... It was so intense; she could hardly contain it. She could only acknowledge it. "Then I deserve the justice he does. I have disobeyed you; I know what I deserve." Perhaps it was something in her voice and eyes that surprised him. For a moment, he paused, perhaps wondering over her profound reaction. "I will be just, and merciful," he finally responded, "I know you are devoted to my cause and would not disregard my instructions in the future. I deem no punishment necessary for this." "I'm sorry," Hazel avowed, the remorse still clinging to her within, "I promise, I will never go against your decision again." She knew Alainn believed she was sincere; and she was.

Alainn was observed as king, but as tradition, a king must be married at the time of his coronation. Evidently, however, while Alainn had been in hiding, the princess Guinevere had deserted her fondness for him, receiving many suitors the queen had secured for her and denying her engagement to Alainn. Now the princess claimed it had all been an act to continue in her parents favour, but Alainn, seemingly not impressed by her lack of commitment, disengaged her. But Guinevere desperately attempted to re-establish her devotion to him, along with several other well-known ladies of the town who now had hopes of winning his hand. Alainn seemed to weigh the decision equally, not taking particular interest in anyone. A slight hope awakened in Hazel; perhaps there was a chance... But she did not let herself think unrealistically. There were so many other more socially well-liked ladies that would make excellent matches. She was rather unknown. More importantly, she had disappointed him. How would he ever look past that? So Hazel did not pursue him as others did. She would wait to see who he would choose. His decision came quickly, and was announced at one of the following council meetings at the palace. Hazel, to her surprise, heard him announce that she was to be his queen. She could hardly believe that her secret love for him was truly being fulfilled. Afterwards, she searched and found him in one of the hallways, to ask him what she could scarcely understand, "Why did you choose me?" For a few seconds, Alainn glanced down in thought, and then answered, simplistically, "There were few ladies of my acquaintance sustaining the attributes of a queen. But in you I find a heart of loyalty. Often, some of our greatest strengths and inspirations are the ones most tested and struggled with. In your confession, you have gained my trust once more, and I know the faithfulness still anchored in you is of valuable and lasting quality." Hearing his words was a gift and an encouragement...but it also gripped her heart. He did not know what she had done. If he knew, would even marriage protect her from her fate? No. Alainn was a man of his word; he would hold to the law, and the promise of justice he had given to the council. He would be forced not to spare her. He must never know.

The years that followed brought a life Hazel never would have imagined living. Everything she could have ever desired or hoped for, far beyond her expectations, was hers. In ruling the kingdom, King Alainn and Queen Hazel were impartial, considerate, and commendable for many things. Though they were admired by many, there were still those who would rather Ernest's son, Prince Everest have been king, but of course he was nowhere to be found. Through all of this, Hazel's secret past remained of no consequence. Still, there seemed to be something so vague and distant separating her somehow from Alainn, but it was what she had always known in their relationship, and had grown used to. Alainn's attempts at locating Windsor proved in vain. Before they knew it, however, trouble sprung from a forgotten source. Though Everest had been kidnapped by Windsor and held hostage secretly, he escaped to lead a revolt to seize back 'his rightful throne'. Alainn and Hazel found themselves abducted at the hands of their arch-enemy, to be liberated only by someone they would have least predicted: Windsor. Once Everest had been dealt with, Windsor, as expected, was also imprisoned. If Windsor had thought his act of bravery would give him more favour in the eyes of the law, he was wrong.

A sharp echo of keys darted through the long corridor lined with rows of barred doors, as the jailor reached to unlock the cell. Behind the door was a dully lit, stone chamber enclosing Windsor, who appeared to have changed little with time. Hazel knew why he had requested a private audience with her. Immediately, he breathed with relief, after the guard went outside the door, "I almost thought Alainn wouldn't allow you to come!" Hazel simply stared at him directly, to forewarn him, "He trusts me. He also hopes to know what it is you wished to discuss." Windsor, not taking the hint, figured, "You'll have to think of something to tell him... I just need you to help me get out of here soon, Hazel; I don't know how long it'll be before my execution." Hazel knew she had to be to the point. "Ask Alainn if you want to know anything. I am not here to help you escape, Windsor. I do not want anything to do with this." Perhaps the way she stated it gave Windsor insight into her definite change of mind; perhaps he suddenly saw his chances of evasion were much slimmer than he had assumed. "Hazel, I need your help now. You know you can do something...even something small that'll give me a chance...you're the queen! Alainn would never have to find out. After all I did, you should at least try to do something. Look, for goodness' sake, Hazel, I'm going to be executed-" "Windsor, don't keep asking me," Hazel cut in, trying to remain composed, "I am not going against Alainn's judgment; not again." Windsor only stared back at her, in disbelief, "You think the secret will die with me?" Something in that question threatened Hazel; something made her stare, equally hard and threateningly, back at him, to warn him. Seeming to pick up on this, Windsor sighed and rolled his eyes, "Look, I promised to take the blame. If one of us is going to have to die for it, it might as well be me." "Then let's leave it there," Hazel stated, turning to go before the haunting sentiment returned. "Hazel...please," Windsor only called to her, "It won't die with me. You know that."

It would be years before Alainn and Hazel discovered the truth of what happened at Windsor's execution. Somehow, he had managed to bribe the executioner, a former supporter of King Ernest's family, into secretly releasing him. Now there was virtually no chance of catching him again. Relieved and yet unsettled, Hazel turned her thoughts away from the past and set them on the future; her family, country and devotion to Alainn. They had no consciousness that, though Everest was imprisoned securely, his son would find the incentive to persuade their military towards his father's claim, in time to come.

This hidden history was her confession. This was her guilt and fear; a combination of both which came pouring out, from years of obscurity, to Alainn. Why did she do this? Somehow now, after all those days of paranoia, she could not live knowing that she remained silent in this moment, or never asked his forgiveness, regardless of whether he chose to give it. "Alainn... I'm sorry. I betrayed you, and now this is the consequence of it. If we had only listened to you; even if you had not become king..." Her voice wavered as she felt the wall that had been between them for years evaporate. "Hazel," he replied, quietly, "what is done is done." "And I am responsible for it; for what you will have to do now...what will happen to you." "Whatever my fate is, I will face it, like a king." Hazel closed her eyes, tears beginning to stream down her face, "Let me go with you...let me share in it." He only took her hand and looked into her eyes, "Hazel, you are my heart of devotion. Go now, and let me have this last consolation in my family's safety." She could see that this was the final decision. As they embraced, Hazel could not keep herself from weeping; she never wanted to let go of him. Would not he be executed; the penalty she deserved? So this was her punishment...this would be her torment to the end of her days. "Forgive me..." she whispered, still weeping, "Forgive me, Alainn."

Hazel and her relations learned, while they were hidden, that Alainn and his men had been imprisoned by James, after Everest was released and soon to be crowned king. She and the remaining members of the counsel began a desperate arrangement to rescue Alainn before his execution, which was due to take place a number of weeks before Everest's coronation. With the help of a trustworthy insider of the army, they were successful, to Hazel's and everyone else's utter relief. Alainn was conducted safely to a supporter's residence that he had occupied during his time of hiding long ago. There, Hazel, his son and daughter-in-law waited to meet him. Their reuniting was one of great thankfulness, comfort and encouragement. But Hazel could perceive beneath that constant, calm gaze of Alainn's, there was desolation. They did not speak of the future till the next day; a subject which Hazel raised, while they were alone, "What do we do now, Alainn... what would you do?" His answer was one of despair, "There is nothing to be done. Here I return, as a king...conquered; having lost all hopes once again; still bound to what I am, and what I have lost. Here to wait and live, again, for the future, in secrecy, hiding from our enemies. If there was anything to be done, what would I have to do but attempt to restore the true heritage once more, to fulfil my duty? But the goal would fail in our time; only to our son and his descendants would any benefit come of it. Yet how many of my people would follow me, in a final mission, to their deaths?" Hazel looked intently to him, "I would." Hazel could see in his touched expression and eyes that, through her unchanging support, courage and resolve was reborn. As they continued to talk, his plan unfolded before her. Though Everest now had the army on his side, a surprise attack could possibly be made, using Windsor's tunnel, in order to take the palace back. If, during the course of the battle, Everest and James were killed, the crown would return to Alainn's line. Everest's army, most likely to win eventually, would surely have them put to death. But Alainn deemed it a price worth paying for his son, so that he would not be burdened to reclaim a lost throne as Alainn had been. If Everest and James did not die in the fight, they would be abducted at the end of the battle and held captive for the remainder of their lives. Either way, their son would be given a chance to claim the throne in years to come. This plan was brought before the council, where it was calculated in more detail, and quickly prepared for. A score of thirty men gave themselves in service to Alainn, understanding well the end result of their dedication. Hazel, knowing Alainn's struggle over the justice he had inadvertently promised her years ago, offered to go with them, and aid in the abductions or whatever else she could. Once the battle was over, she would be taken with the rest and given her rightful punishment. There was no hesitation on her part of this decision, for, as Alainn already knew, she desired to share his fate.

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