A few hours later, Robert is already in the Lorean camp up on Vaudevale Hills. The hill is a very strategic place with access to the plains, water and roads all around it. Lumien Forest is East, Alceste is South, Leddingsford is North and the woods is West. This place has never been used in battle before because no enemy ever attacked from the East Coast before.
Still, Robert and Rael’charon set up the camp here. Now both of them, along with Kyflynn, Agustina, Desmond and the Knights of the Order of Lions are conferring about strategy.
‘Well, I hope your tactic to burn Lumien Forest will drive them back to Arcadia, Counselor. I know you never approved to that considering how elves love trees so much – like their own sons,’ says Sir Mallard, leader of the Order.
Rael’charon replies calmly, ‘Well, it was a worthy sacrifice. As a High Elf, I’d rather see trees burned than innocent people got killed. Still, we have tried to negotiate with them and they charged anyway, so we got to stop them, demoralize them.’
Lady Irene of Everglades speaks up, ‘But, are you sure the Arcadian Emperor will withdraw his troops and go back to Arcadia? We didn’t give them maximum damage back there.’
Agustina, the sorceress with few words gives a straight answer, ‘Impossible.’
Robert completes the answer with, ‘I’d say it’s a fifty-fifty chance. The Emperor won’t be that stupid or mad to march to Vaudevale with that broken army – in normal situations. However, judging to my last talk with him, he is not his normal self now. Rage and vengeance has possessed him. His armor seems dark and dull, and his sword can’t stop vibrating on his hand.’
To that, Rael concludes, ‘In that case, we still must prepare for battle. Now let’s talk about tactics, ladies and gentlemen..’
Suddenly, a soldier comes with a salute. Sir Vincent the Raging Bull scolds him at once.
‘Soldier! We’re in the middle of a meeting here! Stay outside until we’re finished!’
The soldier answers timidly, ‘With all due respect, S-Sir Vincent, this is ur-urgent! An Arcadian soldier came in peace and he wanted to see Commander Robert!’
‘Really?’ says Robert. ‘Did he tell you his purpose?’
‘Yes, Sire. He said he bears a gift that you will like. He said he won’t leave this camp until you come and see it.’
‘Very well, then. Take me to him.’
Robert, followed by Rael and the other knights go out from the tent. The Arcadian soldier waits just outside, and he bows very low. When Robert comes to him, saying, ‘What gift do you bear, soldier?’
The soldier puts a roughly-made wooden crate in front of the Commander, saying, ‘Here it is, Sir. I hope you’ll like it.’
Robert opens the crate lid and gets horrorstruck to see what’s inside.
It’s a head. A head with a familiar face.
The dwarf priest, Andreas Marvellini’s head.
Robert is most shaken. His partner, his spiritual mentor, the well-experienced healer who liked to help people in need. A hero. A Paladin. The second of twelve to fall.
Wasted. As a casualty of war.
Rage, grief and curiosity explode within Robert, and he tries to suppress them, saying, ‘Who killed Father Andreas? ANSWER ME!’
The soldier doesn’t expect such reaction, and stutters, ‘I-it was me, S-sire! I killed him. Here,’ He takes out Andreas’ healing staff-axe Gloria Vadis from his back, unwraps it and puts it before Rob. ‘I also brought his weapon along.’
‘WHY?’ The Commander looks furious now.
‘Er-euh... Because... Because I want to switch sides, Sir. And to do so, given the opportunity, I must slay an enemy general to buy my way in and save myself. I thought this present will be beneficial for your army, and prove my loyalty to Lore.’
‘Tell me how... This Paladin... die.’
‘Uh- well... An arrow got my arm and I barely escaped from the forest. I lost lots of blood and almost passed out when suddenly...’
‘Hang in there, young man.’
A priest came next to me. I was too weak to move a muscle, so I only looked him on his face. It was Andreas Marvellini, all right.
As I’m helpless, I let him work on me with a healing spell. Warmth spread all over my body, I fell asleep.
I woke up in a cave and saw Andreas was still hear me. He just sat silently like a hermit, with his eyes closed. I thought he must be either sleeping or praying. Plans and thoughts zoomed in my head, and a definite one popped out when I saw my spear next to me.
The next thing that happened was, I sprang and thrusted my spear into the fat priest’s belly, all the way to his back.
Andreas said, ‘Why? I just saved your life. Why?’
I gave him the same reason as the one I’ve given you, plus, ‘Sorry, Father Andreas. You might’ve saved my life now, but for how long? We’re in a battle here, and the Loreans will kill me anyway. So, I came up with this great idea. Why didn’t I switch sides and give them something convincing, like an enemy general’s head. And you gave me a perfect opportunity. Your protection field is down, and you always trust the one whose life you saved. And I took it, by my bones, I took it. I had to do it, so I took your life.’
Hearing that, the priest calmed down, and with his last breath he said, ‘I can save lots of lives if I’m alive. Poor kid, killing me, betraying me won’t save you. Understand this: Treachery is more lethal than any weapon and magic in the world. Understand this, and I’ll die with no regrets. Uli... Eni... Ivor... fare... well...’ And he was no more.
‘I didn’t know why he said that. I didn’t quite get it, or rather, what it has to do with me. I need to be alive too, so I didn’t have a choice but to do that.’
The white-haired knight is thunderstruck on hearing that. His body is shaking all over, more so at the sight of his friend’s head. And then, Robert talks to the Arcadian soldier.
‘You said you didn’t understand Father Andreas’ last words. Let me help you with that. GUARDS! SEIZE HIM!’
The soldier is shocked when two gruff, strong guards seize him. He protests desperately, ‘H-hey! What’s the meaning of this?’
‘TAKE HIM OUT AND EXECUTE HIM!’
‘B-but, I just gave you the enemy general’s head, right? I don’t understand this! Tell me, why? This is so unfair!’
‘Treachery is more lethal than any weapon and magic in the world,’ says Robert. ‘It even took a Paladin’s life. You came here by betraying your old comrade. Even if you move all your family to Lore, what’s the guarantee that you will not betray me in the future? My head will soon be in the box you carry to Arcadia.
So, I’m doing this to let everyone in this place know that betrayal is the most serious offense and the penalty is death. We can’t afford to have a traitor in our army. Enough explaining. Take him away now.’
The guards drag the Arcadian away. The traitor still shouts desperately for his life, ‘Wait! You can’t do this to me! What about you huh? You are also a traitor like me! You killed Prince Alexis, your comrade, your fellow Paladin! What made you Commander, huh? Who gave you the right to judge me so? TELL ME! TELL ME!’
Robert can’t hear the last sentence, but all other Knights stare at him, demanding answers to the questions in their mind. Rob guesses that question and speaks,
‘I gave you all my word. I didn’t kill Alexis. I didn’t kill Pope Xylen or anyone else on our side. Just let me prove that by putting my life in line to defend our Kingdom. Now, if you please excuse me, I need to retire for the day. Counselor Rael’charon will conduct this meeting to formulate a strategy.’
Taking a salute, Robert walks away. Sir Zigurd, Sir Mallard, Rael, Sir Vincent and Sir James Hickram who know Robert understand his sorrow. He needs to be alone now, mourning the loss of his partner, friend and spiritual mentor. The others just let him be, though some of them have doubts about his leadership.
Robert, he just doesn’t care. He walks and walks, until he finds a place of solitude on the hill, outside the camp. He stares at a distance towards Lumien Forest. The fire has died down, leaving smokes from the burnt forest. A damaged forest will be lush and green again in time, but how about a mortally damaged person?
On that thought, Robert falls on his knees. His two hands bang on the rocks in front of him and he screams at the top of his voice, pouring out all his anguish and grief. The same grief as when he lost his family, and when he lost his mentor, Duke Walthorn.
You were like a father to me, Padre. You taught me lots of things, like caring for others, letting go of my grudges, and holding on to the truth by the Right Way. You told me that I was meant more for this world than my egoistic vendetta. It was just like Lord Walthorn had said, but you made it clearer after Dar’gum spared my life. Altogether, you changed me into a better man. For that, I thank you, my friend. You will always be in my heart.
You didn’t go back to Grad at all, Padre. Yet, you went to your true home at last, on Vadis’ lap in heaven. I didn’t even have a chance to take you back to Grad with these Mythril Greaves. When I offered it to you, you refused it, saying that your mission was not done yet. You would go back to Grad when peace come to the world and the Dark Forces were vanquished, but now you’ve gone. Going home. A better home where you’ll wait for your family and rest in peace.
Farewell, Father Andreas Marvellini – Rollo Bigstumble. Be sure to reserve a place for me in heaven while I pass your legacy on to the world.