The king made a small noise deep in his throat. “I understand you lost your own family to the Kozari.”
The sharp pang never dulled, not even decades later. Even before the war had begun, Volos’s father— an ardent advocate for peace— had been forced to flee Kozar. He hadn’t been safe in Wedeyta, though. Kozari assassins had tracked him down eventually. While Volos hid in terror inside a cupboard, the men had murdered everyone. They’d likely have sought out Volos and killed him too, but a neighbor had been visiting at the time— a sweet boy who was friends with one of Volos’s sisters— and the assassins had mistaken the child for Volos.
“Yes, sir,” Volos said evenly. “My parents and my siblings.”
“How do you feel about the Kozari?” asked Prince Chidehu.
“I don’t…” Volos scratched at his hair. “I killed a lot of them during the war.”
“And… it didn’t bring my family back to life.” Did admitting this amount to treason?
“It never does,” the king replied sadly. Then his gaze sharpened. “How far does your loyalty to the crown go?”
“As far as it needs to.” Volos’s heart began to pound heavily, although he wasn’t sure why.
“You’ve risked your life in service to this country. Would you do it again?”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
“I… I took an oath, sir.”
The king continued to stare at him. “An oath is only words.”
“No, it’s—” Volos stopped himself. Took a deep breath. The ground beneath him now felt more dangerous than any battlefield. “I beg your pardon, Your Majesty. But to me, an oath is much more than that. My promise is… apart from my sword, it’s the only thing of value I possess. And even the best sword can be replaced. My… my integrity cannot.”
It was an honest answer, and perhaps also the right one, because something in the king’s eyes softened slightly, and he nodded. But he wasn’t through with the interrogation. “Captain Hiwot informs me that Berhanu’s display in this room was hardly the first time he’s treated you with… scorn.”
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty. I’ve tried to behave respectfully toward him, and—”
“Yes. Your captain tells me this as well. She says your restraint has been quite admirable, in fact.”
Another shift of the floor beneath him. Volos wished he had something to hold on to for balance. “Thank you, sir.”
“Volos Perun, does your loyalty to the crown extend to Prince Berhanu? Would you risk your life for him as well?”
“Yes, sir,” Volos answered immediately, even though his tongue was thick.
King Tafari and Prince Chidehu exchanged a very long look, clearly having a silent conversation. Perhaps they reached an agreement, because they both turned to him at once.
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” said Chidehu. “Because you may very well end up dying on my brother’s behalf.”
PS--Next Monday you can listen to the amazing Amy Lane and me being interviewed on the radio. If you're in the Sacramento region you can listen live, 9am on June 9. Or anyone can listen later online here.