Qasin adjusted his crown as he sat in his chair across from the messenger he had taken prisoner earlier that day. With his finely-tailored, three-piece purple suit, red cape and emerald-encrusted gold crown, his appearance didn’t fit in with the drab, gray stones that lay around him. Truthfully, it didn’t fit in with many places at all.
“Do you know why you’re here, soldier?” he asked the man chained across from him. The soldier had been stripped of his armor and was left with only a pair of ragged cloth breeches that could scarcely be called clothing. Their color seemed to be an even duller gray than the stones of the prison. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and each foot was locked in place by shackles attached to a heavy chain that was threaded through hooks bolted into the floor.
The messenger didn’t answer. Qasin knew he wouldn’t if he were guilty. His soldiers had been trained on how to behave if the enemy caught them, and they knew how to withstand interrogation techniques.
“One thousand and thirty five men,” the king responded for the soldier. “That’s why you’re here. Because of you, a kingdom with scarcely a few hundred thousand citizens just lost over one thousand and thirty five good men.” Qasin stressed every syllable as he repeated the death toll. “If you help us out today, we can give you a chance to give these men some justice.”
Still nothing. The soldier just glared at the king with squinted eyes.
“It’s okay. It’s easy to understand how difficult it might be for a man in your position to bring justice to so many,” Qasin said, “especially when you’re not very smart. But that’s okay, I can tell you how. You see, what’s going to happen is that the councilmen will find out I’ve stayed your execution. Not only that, but they will also soon learn that I personally came down here to interrogate you.”
Qasin crossed his legs and clasped his hands in front of him as he spoke. He wasn’t trying to appear casual, but he had to find a way to stop himself from continuously adjusting his crown. “You see, I made a big show of coming down here just so they would know. After all, their plan didn’t exactly go as they had hoped, and I can imagine you probably weren’t expecting to die for them. Right about now, they’re probably wondering whether or not you’re going to talk after a few hours of agonizing torture.”
“I’m honestly not too sure either. Most men are good when you pull off the first toe. But the fourth? The fifth? When you start taking out organs or cutting tendons so that they can never walk again? It’s hard to say what kind of man will talk, and what kind of man will just say anything he can to get away from the pain.” As the king spoke, one of the soldiers carried in a table and began setting it up with as many cutting and breaking tools as Qasin had been able to find on such short notice. Their dungeon wasn’t really equipped for torture, but he had to make a convincing display with what he had.
“After they find out you’re being interrogated, they will complain that questioning a lawful soldier in such a fashion is monstrous and that you should be released immediately. At which point, lucky for you, I’m going to let you go. So take a deep breath and relax.”
The soldier obviously didn’t even realize he had been holding his breath since the mention of breaking the first toe. When he did exhale, he let it all out in one loud burst.
“That’s right. You’re going to go free. So you can talk to me for a moment, right?”
Again, the shackled man said nothing. Who ever said interrogations were easy?
“What about your daughter? What’s her name? Do you want to talk to her?”
Panic filled the soldier’s eyes, but he still didn’t respond.
“It’s okay. She wanted to talk to you, and who could ever resist such a cute kid? Guards! Bring in Annabel!” the king shouted suddenly, taking some small pleasure in the soldier’s unexpected shock. One might have thought he had just killed the girl from that expression. “How old is she again? Seven?”
One of the guards entered the room holding the hand of a young girl with dark hair, matching the soldier’s, and an awkward gap-toothed smile.. “She really is cute. Aren’t you, Annabel?”
Annabel saw her father in chains and looked at the king confused. The king stood up and walked over to the girl. “Don’t worry, Annabel, your dad is just helping test some equipment for the kingdom. He’s the strongest soldier, don’t you know? That’s why we have to use him. He’s making the world a better place.” Qasin looked at the man and smiled. “Aren’t you?”
“Yes. Annabel, just go home.”
“Oh, don’t worry. She’ll be home soon enough. She’s just waiting on her mother. Annabel, why don’t you wait in the other room while your father finishes his work. We want him to be home in time for dinner, don’t we?”
“Yes . . .” she said as softly as a little kid might.
The situation was obviously unnerving for her. Damn this man for what he’s made me do. Damn him and those filthy swine. Oh well, here goes nothing. As soon as she left, the king stood up and walked over to the table of tools the guards had brought in.
“Are we going to talk yet?” the king asked while picking up a rusted saw blade. “Or do I have to bring your daughter back in here and give you . . . some incentive? But don’t worry. She won’t be alone. For every day you don’t talk, I’ll bring someone down here and torture them until they die. Your daughter may be first, but your wife, your friends and your neighbors will soon join her. I’ll keep going until every person you’ve ever cared about is ripped apart in the most horrendous fashion possible. I’ll even let you watch.”
“What do you want?” He spat out the words more than he spoke them.
“What do I want? I want one thousand and thirty-five families to have their husbands, fathers and sons come home. I want those men to live long, happy lives and never see a day of battle again. What I’m going to settle for, however, is you telling me exactly who you work for and what they wanted you to do. You’ll also add your complete obedience in everything that follows into the bargain.”
“The . . .” he hesitated, not taking his eyes off the instrument that the king was playing with in his hands. “The Council paid me five years’ wages to run messages. I carried the messages of the battle plans to the Black-Wings and White-Horns so that they would double their troops and be in place to thwart our counterattacks.”
I knew it. Dogs like them should never be allowed to show their face in public. “Good. That wasn’t so hard to say. You see, now your daughter has a chance of living, doesn’t she? But you know we’re not done.”
“What else do you want? All I did was run the messages. I don’t know anything else.”
“What I want you to do next is pen out every detail you can remember while you wait here for your precious den of scoundrels to come rescue you in an attempt to save their own skins. After that, I want you to kill the man who hired you and return to me. He’s going to try to kill you since I didn’t, so my telling you to do this is a favor in and of itself. Next, if you are still alive, I want you to report back to me when all’s said and done. If you do everything exactly as I say, your wife and kids will want for nothing and will live happily with me at the castle.”
The king smiled again, putting down the twisted, spiked tool and walking towards the exit. He didn’t have to wait for a reply; he knew the soldier’s answer. Qasin was just lucky that the man didn’t know his king would never have hurt anyone–no matter what the outcome had been. Control what they see, and you can control what they believe. It was a maxim that had enabled him to never use violence in an interrogation.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the soldier responded as the king walked out the door, unsuccessfully repressing the grit in his voice. The king knew the soldier was smart enough to realize the wife and kids living with him wasn’t a reward. It was a punishment. They were prisoners to guarantee his loyalty. Damn all these men for making me even utter such threats.