Victor’s band of future kings and queens were treated warmly all over town. So eager to learn more were the new believers that there were mild arguments over who would host whom. Two went here, one there, until all had a family with which to stay and everyone a guest. Arndt remained with Harmon talking late into the night. They were not the only ones.
While the team was splitting up, Victor and Jacob walked the cobble stone street in the direction of Regents Hall. Suddenly, in front of them, a small detachment of soldiers approached marching double-time. “G-u-a-r-d, halt!” (“Click, Click” went the boots on the stones.) “State your name and your business.”
“My name is Victor. My friend’s Jacob. We came to visit your fair city. We are interested in selling our wares.”
“No one visits our fair city,” the officer said with a sneer. “No one here wants your so-called wares either. Come with us.”
The soldiers broke rank and moved in behind, pushing Victor and Jacob forward toward an ivy-covered building. Entering the guarded gate, they were roughly ushered into a large hall. There to greet them were Shev and Saffron, arrayed in rich-looking robes. “Victor,” Shev said walking toward his “friend”. “And Jacob. You found us.” With that he kissed his leader’s cheek while Saffron kissed Jacob’s cheek. “We have been telling our kind benefactors all about you and your quest,” she said. “They wanted to hear it from you.” Shev added, “And, oh yes, they were really interested in our visit to that god-forsaken island and who you talked to.” With that a push from behind started them toward another door and another hall.
Their destination was once a lively banquet hall but no more. Sitting alone at a table, dining on beef and pie, was a plump-faced old man. Without looking up, he said, “You must be the Victor I’ve been hearing about.” His words were hard to make out because of the meat and bread bulging his cheeks. “I see you’ve a friend with you.” Wiping his face with his sleeve, he said, “Your comrades ‘ve told us some interesting things.” Finally, lifting his eyes from his food he said, “Hmmm, you look familiar. Might we have met?”
“No, as I’m sure you were told, we come from afar,” Victor answered. No sooner had he finished, then a blow from a leather covered club smashed his shoulder from behind. Jacob reached to catch his falling leader, but was solidly thumped as well. Both went down, one on top of the other.
“Take this garbage away,” the regent ordered while taking a handful of pie.
Days turned into weeks and the suffering was intense. Alone in their cells, Victor and Jacob were stretched out in an “X”, pinned to the ground at the ankle and wrist. Jacob was unable to make a sound. Cold water was flung from the guard whenever it seemed they might be sleeping. The pain was almost unbearable; death was welcome. The worst part of their ordeal were the cries that supposedly came from lifelong friends. A woman thought to be Suzann, screamed, “Victor, they’re hurting me. Make them stop. Don’t let them do this. Tell them everything. If you do they’ll go away.”
“They flayed Dolph, Canjar, Darius and Mikel. Next are Heinrich, Kwame, Stahl and me,” a man sobbed. “Jacob and Arndt have betrayed you. They’re telling everything. Everyone’s been turned in and begging for mercy, or they’re dead. It’s hopeless now,” another male groaned. “God led you into a trap.” (Night had fallen. The sky was black. Unknown to Victor, it was the new moon.)
“So this is what hell is like.” Victor had conceived his first lucid thought in a fortnight. “I don’t want to go there,” he heard himself say. Surrender came to Leonidas’ son, but it was not to the devils that had hounded him. “Your will be done Father. My life is yours,” he spoke into the darkness.
With that, peace entered Victor’s spirit. “Thank you,” began to form on his lips when he heard a commotion outside his door. Bursting through was the stranger of the wood. A white glow came from his face lighting up the rancid smelling cell for the first time. Using the tip of his staff like a torch, Victor’s ropes smoldered and fell off exposing his wrist and ankle bones. The stranger flung a long robe over the prostrate Victor covering him. Instantly, his body was healed. Strength returned. Standing to his feet, Victor felt the stranger’s touch on his forehead. At once, Victor was purified from head to toe. His battle was over.
Moving into the hallway, Victor stared at the sight of a pack of ferocious dogs tearing apart the robes and flesh of what had once been Shev and Saffron. No guards were in sight. Noticing the door to Jacob’s cell was ajar, Victor was struck with a deep sorrow. “Don’t worry. Your friend is safe. He’ll be fine,” the stranger said reading Victor’s mind. “Everyone is well. The fellowship has swelled to at least ten thousand souls. This night, they’re excited about seeing you and following Harmon out of the city. Be on your way. The light will guide you to their meeting place.”
Just then, Jacob came around the corner holding what looked like a candle, only ten times brighter. “That way!” said the stranger pointing in the opposite direction of the animals busily chewing on bones. “The guard will open the gate. He’s one of yours.”
After running a few steps, Victor abruptly stopped. He turned to express his gratitude but the mysterious stranger was gone. Grabbing his arm, Jacob said with a grin, “We’ll see him again.” And they departed, as far from the doomed hall as their feet would take them.
From a nearby tower, watching with worried expressions, were six priests of the Dark Lord.
Next time, “A Parable of Future Kings: A Conclusion”