Gabe and Robert sat alone in the long empty dining hall at the inn. Only one candle burned but gave them enough light to talk together late into the night. Robert mostly kept quiet. He wanted only to listen to the boy with the wisdom and understanding of the King and the humility to know he had no wisdom and understanding of his own.
Gabe obliged and continued sharing about the King. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but you weren’t in control of that virus.” Robert looked puzzled. “You weren’t, and Vulpine wasn’t either. The plague was really sent by the King.”
Robert’s surprised and confused look made Gabe grin. “I don’t know how to explain it to you other than the fact that the King is always in control. He somehow always knows what’s happening and is in control of the village and what happens to it. It’s mind-boggling. I know I don’t understand it except to know that it’s true. He’s proven it true to me thousands of times.
“You thought you were planning in secret and using it all to your own ends, but the King knew about it all and was using it all to his ends. No matter what it looked like.”
Robert suddenly burst out laughing. He had to hold his belly he laughed so hard. Tears filled his eyes and he gasped for air. Gabe couldn’t help but laugh too at the sight of the sad, worn doctor rolling with laughter. Robert took deep breaths to calm himself, still letting bursts of laughter escape at times.
“Tell me what’s so funny. I was laughing at you. You looked pretty hilarious, laughing like a little kid being tickled. What were you laughing at?”
“Vulpine.” Robert said with a chuckle.
“I’ve never found him funny,” Gabe said, shaking his head.
“Vulpine thinks he’s so smart. He thinks he’s five steps ahead of everyone else. And all this time, he’s just a part of the King’s bigger plan.” This time Gabe laughed with Robert, instead of at him.
“It’s late, Robert. Stay the night at the inn. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. The King always makes a way.”
“Thanks for the offer. I would like to stay here with you. And don’t worry about me. I know Vulpine won’t rest until he’s got me, but I’m not scared. Even when he gets his hands on me, I’ll know I’m free.”
Gabe looked into Robert’s eyes; they were bright and clear.
The morning passed peacefully at the inn. Robert looked relaxed. He was sitting in the dining hall with his feet propped up, reading the King’s law when the copper bell tolled. He dropped the papers onto the table. Gabe came running into the room.
“Do you know what it’s about?” Gabe asked Robert directly.
Robert nodded, stood and used his hands to iron out the wrinkles in his clothes. He calmly put on his cloak and hat and opened the door before he replied. “They’re calling me to the Square. I won’t keep them waiting.” With a nod, he exited the inn.
Gabe ran to fetch Angela. John was waiting for them by the time they left the inn.
“Do you know what’s going on?” John looked at Angela, but Gabe answered.
“Robert seemed pretty sure it’s about him.”
“He still thinks they’re going to kill him?” Angela’s stomach knotted at the question.
“He hasn’t really said much of anything,” Gabe explained. “But, he’s really changed from yesterday. He was so distraught. Since last night he’s really been at peace, even laughed a long time last night.”
“Laughed? At what?” Angela wanted to know the joke. “Vulpine.” Gabe started chuckling again, thinking about it. “I’ll explain later.”
The three teens walked in silence even though the hum of curious villagers surrounded them on all sides. By the time they reached the Square, Robert had already been arrested. He was standing on the Assembly Hall porch with a guard on one side of him and Phineas, greeting the villagers, on the other.
Gabe elbowed his way through the crowd until he was right in front of Robert. Their eyes met, and Robert smiled sincerely. Gabe wouldn’t allow himself to be distracted. He wanted to keep his eyes always on Robert so if he needed encouragement, he could find it in Gabe’s countenance.
Fellow servants of the King arrived and huddled together in front of the good doctor. Many of them clasped hands, hoping for the best but dreading the worst. The bell finished its welcome, and Phineas spoke.
“Thank you for coming. I know it’s a cold day, but we waited for the sun to be its warmest before calling you out.” Robert rolled his eyes at Phineas’ description of himself as considerate of others. “We were sure that you would want to see justice carried out. King Vulpine, with his vast insight, has uncovered a terrible crime. Never has a crime such as this been committed in our village. It is hard to even speak of. A year ago, a terrible plague descended on our village. Likely more than two hundred people were killed: your fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, your sons and daughters, killed by the devastating virus. It took King Vulpine to lift us up out of our despair.”
Robert looked at Gabe. Gabe was relieved that though his face was solemn, his eyes were clear. Phineas gestured toward Robert, who stood straight but not proud. “This man was the cause of that plague. I know it is hard to understand, but it has been proven true. He deliberately made the men training for King Vulpine’s guard sick with that virus. It’s his fault entirely that your loved ones are dead.”
“Give him to us,” an angry voice in the crowd shouted up to Phineas. “We’ll see that justice is served.” The villagers around the man started shouting their agreement and moved toward the platform. Shoving and shouting, their anger festered and the crowd throbbed with violence.
“Justice will be done!” Phineas didn’t think more than a few heard him. Phineas gave the guard his orders to take Robert through the square to the platform at the far end and to lock him into one of the wooden frames. The guard hesitated on the first step of the Assembly Hall, seeing the seething crowd. Phineas assured him that they would be more than pleased to let him pass to get his prisoner to his punishment. With a tug at Robert’s arm, they started across the Square. They never even made it to the well.
At first, the servants of the King were there to encourage Robert with a word, a pat on the back. Robert had to shout to make himself heard, even to those next to him. “Don’t worry about me. I know I’m free!” Gabe felt relief at his words. As Robert stepped out of their reach, Gabe quickly motioned to the other servants to move up and onto the Assembly Hall porch. They all sensed the danger and followed him up the steps.
The crowd pulsated with their hate. The guard shouted at them to give way and resorted to pushing aside those blocking his path. Then someone pushed back. The guard knocked into Robert, causing him to lose his balance. The crowd plunged forward, trying to get at the prisoner, but not even the guard could see him now.
Butting and ramming, the villagers were goats fighting over the single grain dropped in the farm yard. Shouts, grunts and cries emitted from those in the middle of the mass being squeezed in from all sides.
The guard pushed his way out and ran along the edge of the square back to Phineas. “He’s gone. My guess is he’s trampled under that mob out there.” Phineas didn’t respond to the report, never even acknowledging the guard. He just looked straight ahead with a satisfied smirk on his face.
“Please Gabe, let’s go,” Angela begged her brother. He put his arm around her, and they jumped down from the side of the porch, away from the angry mob. The other servants followed. Gabe turned to Caleb and asked him to stay so they would know what had happened. Caleb nodded and remained.
It was a long time before Phineas sensed the crowd had expended its venom and called out for the villagers to quiet, waving his short arms above his head.
“Please, everyone, step back. Please move toward the edges of the square. Let us see what has become of our guilty prisoner.” He asked repeatedly until eventually the center of the square lay bare, save for the trampled body of Robert.