End Credits Scene: The Astral [S1E43]

“There are those that believe the greatest leaders are the most capable warriors, the most sound tacticians, that victory is built on the strength of the sword arm and the sharpness of the mind. What they fail to realize, however, is that anyone can learn the most effective ways to swing a sword, the soundest ways to outmanoeuvre an enemy. The greatest leaders know that victory is instead built upon the hearts of those that fight for it – and that winning those hearts is the true test.”

Foreword in The Practice of Leadership

The soldiers stood to attention as the iakim and his entourage emerged into view from behind the great doors of the Rock. The legion could hear Lord Keldrath’s advisors appraising him of the latest developments, hurrying after the towering soldier just to keep pace, their words seemingly going unheeded. The iakim’s face was grim, his jaw contorted in an expression of disgust, waving their discussion away as he neared the waiting unit, then raising the same hand to shield his one good eye from Midwinter’s bright eclipse. His long red cape trailed along the sun-beaten stones of the courtyard behind him, his crimson glass armour shimmering as it moved.

The captain saluted as Raikos and his attendants came to a halt. “Lord Keldrath, it is my honour to present the new—” he began, cut short by a raised brow plate and the glance of a wide eye. He began again. “To present the 8th Legion for your inspection, sir.”

Raikos Keldrath, lord of Keld Rock, Raikos of the Shattered Sword, Iakim of the Red Clan, Raikos the undefeated, warmaster without equal, grunted and began his inspection. The monolithic scalar walked a slow route through the ranks, stopping at each soldier to look them up and down. The captain kept two paces behind him, offering commentary as he went. “No facet has been left unworked, my lord. The men and women you see before you are some of the finest in Scale. Tactics, drilling, physical conditioning, stratagems, the 8th are ready to do anything and everything asked of them, sir.”

Raikos did not respond, almost as if he didn’t hear. He gripped a soldier by the jaw, turning their head from side to side and looking them up and down, before releasing them and continuing.

“They are ready to show the world the might of our nation, and of Clan Keldrath, sir.”

For the first time, Raikos spoke, addressing the captain with a low drawl from a jaw that hardly moved. “And you are the commanding officer?”

The captain nodded. “Aye, sir. Captain Karth, sir.”

“You succeeded Captain Gaur?”

The captain swallowed, unsure what the best course of action was. “Yes, sir.”

“And what was your measure of the man?” asked the iakim, pointedly straightening a soldier’s insignia.

“He…is a traitor, sir. He is a coward that has led the men in his care to their deaths.”

“Only if he loses.” Raikos turned finally to look Karth in the eye, his sweeping horns framing either side of the heavens’ Midwinter eclipse. “You tell me your opinion of Gaur. I asked for your measure.”

Karth’s eyes widened. “I…he…he was capable, sir.”

“Capable?” Raikos turned back to finish the rest of his inspection.

“Aye, sir.”

“At what? Chess?” The Keldrath lord half-drew a soldier’s blade, tapped one claw on it before sheathing it again. “Winemaking?”

“He was a capable leader, sir.”

“Do you think you are his match?”

“His..match, sir?”

“Aye. His match. If you met him on the battlefield, could you outmaneuver him? Would your men prove victorious over his?”

“Of course, sir, I—”

“How many does he have?”

“I…”

Raikos turned his eye back to the captain.

“I am unsure, sir.”

“How well-equipped are they?”

“…I am unsure, sir.”

“How loyal?”

“I…”

“And how loyal are yours?”

“They would do anything for Scale, sir—”

Raikos raised a finger, cutting the captain off, and leant forward to be eye level with him. “How loyal are they,” he said, placing a finger firmly on Karth’s chest, “to you?”

Karth was silent as he tried desperately to craft the response the iakim was looking for.

“The dissidents in Gaur’s employ were loyal to him more than to king and country. They will follow him wherever he goes, because he understood what it was to be a leader,” Raikos began, standing back to his full height and turning to address the unit. “How many of you would do the same for Karth?”

The soldiers murmured amongst themselves and a thin smile cracked the iakim’s scarred face. He turned back to Karth. “I would advise you to think on that, captain.”

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