The Pope is conducting a meeting and cannot meet them until one hour after lunchtime. And then Robert and his friends are invited to lunch with the Pope and several Cardinals in the grand dining room.
They all sit on silver chairs facing a round, large table made of marble. There’s a big, round tray-like marble plate on the top of the table, so they can easily pass food to each other, and reminds them about Vadis’ teachings such as:
Serve each other; it’s better for you than getting others to serve you.
Put a good use of your wit and your surroundings, it’ll bring blessings to you and others.
Everything in Basilica Vadisium is observed extremely carefully to maintain holiness and purity, so one may say that the Holy City is ‘full’ of Holy Aura.
About the food, Vadis doesn’t forbid his followers to eat meat from animals, but reminds them very clearly that eating excessively is a sin against your own body, as it is one of the manifestations of greed.
So, the reason why the monks and priests only eat vegetables is simply to maintain good health. The Pope and cardinals eat the same food as the monks and servants, promoting equality and humility to all. Vegetables and water.
Robert and his friends also feel this air of grace and easily blend with their table-fellows. Even Chris manages to behave properly – mostly because of his status, you may say – with spotless table etiquette.
Then, when everybody seems to stop eating, the Pope talks, ‘Well, Robert, what is it you want to talk about?’
Robert answers, ‘Your Grace, we come to you to express our gratitude for saving Carolyn’s life and picking me up in the Black Forest.’
‘It’s all Vadis’ will, my child. We are but followers of his divine will.’
‘Praise Vadis. Your Grace, pardon our insolence, but we need to ask one more favor from your graces.’
‘Do continue. You’ve been doing us a favor in return, mind.’
‘It’s been six days since we began our watch day and night to protect Your Grace. And now, seeing that your defenses are all set and ready, me and my friends are now ready for another quest.’
‘Inside or outside Valanis, but not in Basilica Vadisium.’
‘Hmm. How come? Please fill us in. What do you propose?’
Now Andreas takes the conversation over with a full presentation of his plan.
‘Your Grace, we have been conferring among ourselves and trying to delve into the dark forces’ mind, predicting their moves. You said there must be spies in here, so they will probably know about our defenses.
Then, they can gather a multitude to break it, or simply find weaknesses to breach into it, a much more efficient way. They can do it with our without us to guard you. Even if they hire a troop of assassins like MacLair, your traps, snipers and mages will suffice to stop them.’
Xylen interrupts in a disappointed tone, ‘No, no, instead, you gave me an impression that our defenses are not enough to hold them. If I was the heir, I will send a troop of assassins, wraiths and ghosts. The assassins kill the mages, and the ghosts break through magically unprotected spots and do their killings as only magic can destroy them. No, no, we still need you all here. Too bad I can’t persuade Kyflynn to stay.’
‘Then again,’ says Andreas. ‘If we stay here, the heir may choose not to attack until we leave, but for how long? He might be weak now but he’ll be powerful again sooner and later, and nothing can stop him then.’
Robert adds, ‘So, we will act first before they do. Our departure will leave a hole, but we won’t leave the city. The heir will attack immediately, and we will come back to aid you.’
‘But then, it’ll be too late,’ says Xylen. ‘We can’t risk that.’
Chris speaks up, ‘Even if we help, it won’t guarantee that we will win against them. Our proposal is just a strategy suggestion. Forgive us if it offended you, Your Grace.’
‘Better try and fail than not trying anything at all,’ says Xylen. ‘If the heir can’t strike here, he’ll try somewhere else anyway. So, the best chance of stopping him is here. Anyone have another strategy? Speak it out so we can ponder on it.’
Silence. No one speaks up or even move a muscle. The Cardinals are no war planners, so they haven’t prepared a modification for the scheme they already have. Father Bernides breaks the icy situation by saying,
‘I think Robert’s plan is worth a try. Let’s work this plan for a week or so. If the heir doesn’t take the bait, we can recall Robert’s team to the Basilica or send them on their way.
If in case we’re under attack, the mages and guards will cast sign flares immediately, and reinforcement will arrive quickly.’
‘Very well, then. We’ll go with Robert’s plan,’ says Xylen. ‘Robert, you and your party may go tomorrow morning, thus commencing our plan. Brother Andreas, you’re free to go with them. Brother Bernides, will handle communication. Brother Nicodemus will lead the mages, and Brother Ladineus will assist him. The foot soldiers, griffin riders, archers and crossbowmen will report to Brother Ulbergis, and Brother Ryddus will manage the traps. Let us pray to Vadis for protection.
And one last thing, remember this always. Don’t give up the fight should I fall. A Pope can die and be elected again, but our faith must never waver. We’ll fight the darkness to the very end, and may Vadis walk with us along the way.’
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