Chapter 25

“That was your younger brother,” Isoldé stated tentatively.

“Yes,” Morteus gave a curt nod. “He won’t cause us trouble. There’s no need to finish him off,” His voice was hard.

Isoldé looked sympathetic. “I understand your pain, Morteus. I know I told you that Von Mont had ordered me to kill you, but I’m not a monster,” She gave a sad smile. “From what I heard, Darren isn’t a bad person. You made the right choice by letting him live.”

Yes, but did I make the right choice by setting foot on these grounds again? Did I make the right choice by joining Von Mont? Was it right to challenge the king? The questions posed pricked his conscience. “I don’t want to talk about it,” He said morosely.

“You need to talk about it,” Isoldé quickened her footsteps, remembering to keep on her watch in enemy territories. “Killing… One can lose their sense of right and wrong. Being nurtured by Von Mont, I was surrounded by darkness and violence. But I always reminded myself the difference between good or bad… King Periphral- He exterminated my parents. My goal in life is to kill him, but I won’t harm any innocent people. You’re doing the right thing, Morteus,” Morteus found comfort in Isoldé’s confidence.

“But am I?” Morteus asked softly. “How about all those soldiers we killed? They’re innocent. They were just told to follow orders.”

Isoldé fidgeted, disquieted by what Morteus had said. “If we didn’t slaughter them, they would have murdered us. It all comes down to the way you view it… I suppose self-defense comes first…”

Morteus nodded, but it didn’t alleviate any of the guilt and torment he felt.

They arrived at two diverged paths, and Morteus stopped to think. “They both lead to the hall, but I don’t know if the king would be in the hall, or along the path. This way-” He pointed left. “This way passes through the king’s rooms, while this path-“ He pointed to the alternative route. “This path goes by his study and the office rooms.”

Isoldé contemplated for a second. “There are chances that the king would be in his room, or equally in his study. We should split up, and meet each other at the hall.”

Morteus found the decision rather foolish. “If we stay together, there is less chance that we would get killed,” His forehead wrinkled in confusion.

Isoldé let out a hoarse laugh. “This endeavor is not something that should be taken lightly. I would rather give up my life than let the king escape. I spent my entire childhood wishing to see my parents again, and spent my entire life trying to avenge their deaths.”

Morteus breathed heavily, then thought of his father. He couldn’t remember what he looked like, but Morteus was sure he was handsome, kind and benevolent… “You’re right,” He moved his hands awkwardly, motioning to nothing in particular. “I guess this is it, then. Well, uh, good luck,” He swallowed, finding it hard to split ways with Isoldé.

“Good luck to you too. Be careful,” She whispered and took the right corridor.

Morteus smiled ruefully. “Always,” He watched as Isoldé disappeared down the corridor. He walked down the left path, his hand on his sword. He trod deeper into the castle, memories piercing him as he passed the familiar rooms. He stopped at the third room on his right. This had been his room, less than half a week ago.

The door was ajar. Morteus pushed the door completely open cautiously, and it creaked, sending shivers down his spine. His horse riding gear, his photos, his possessions- they were all there, as if nothing had happened. Morteus yearned for time to be reversed, so that he could forget all of this and go back to the time when he was blissfully ignorant. Was deception better than truth? Morteus didn’t know anymore. He jerked his head back and hauled himself out of the room.

This life will never be mine again. He walked further down the passageway, melancholy. All because of Periphral.

He stiffened as he realized he was nearing the main hall. His courage- that had been slowly ebbing away since he found out the truth about his foster father- completely dissipated. He stopped at the door to the main hall, scrutinizing the walls and the room doors for soldiers that may have been planted there.

Nothing in sight.

There’ll be soldiers inside. Morteus’ heart pounded in response to his thoughts. What do I do? He considered waiting for Isoldé to come, but what if… Morteus hated to force himself to think about it, but what if she didn’t come? What if she played into a trap and perished?

He suppressed a twinge of nervousness and took a deep breath. Courage, Morteus. This is the man who robbed you of your life.  He took a step forwards and pushed open the doors, one hand on his sword, ready to unsheathe it at a moment’s notice.

“Morteus?” King Periphral’s startled voice echoed throughout the hall. From what Morteus could see, Periphral was alone. Periphral was standing there in his armor, sword drawn, ready to fight.

“What are you doing here?” King Periphral undoubtedly hadn’t expected his foster son to have a part in this.

Morteus glared at him with sullen hostility. “I’m here to right what is wrong.”

King Periphral frowned, clearly still unnerved that Morteus had been involved in this entire business. “Righting what is wrong? Morteus, tell me, what on Earth has happened to you? Where have you been these few days? Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been about you?”

“Worried that I would blabber out your secret about Cardiza?” Morteus gave a maniacal laugh. “I saw your speech, but that’s a trivial matter now. You should be worried about your life instead.”

King Periphral was taken aback. “You mean… You came here to kill me?” Alarmed, he took an instinctive step back. “Who sent you, Morteus? Where did you get all the soldiers, the support from?”

Morteus blinked, then resumed glaring at the king. “No one sent me here. I chose to come.”

“Ah,” King Periphral said, but he didn’t seem to understand at all. “Then C.V… That was you? That’s not possible. You didn’t know about the gem.”

Morteus wondered whether he should feign ignorance about the gem. “C.V?” He raised his eyebrows. “Who’s C.V?”

King Periphral looked genuinely surprised, and Morteus was confused as well by the way the conversation was going. What Morteus had imagined was taking on fifty soldiers, then exchanging a few snide remarks with the king, and then slaughtering him. Now both of them were baffled by each other’s reactions. “If you’re not C.V, then could it be that this is an coincidence?” Periphral frowned. “Not possible. Those soldiers out there, they are… yours, right?”

Morteus rearranged his expression so that his confusion was hidden. “Yes, of course they’re on my side.”

“Whose soldiers are they?” King Periphral shot at him. For now, knowing the truth was more important.

Morteus was disoriented by the questions. This was definitely not the encounter he had expected. He decided not to comply. “Why should I tell you?”

“Because I need to know the truth, so I can explain,” King Periphral frowned. “I am very sorry, Morteus, about what you heard the other day. With Cardiza… And afterwards, Darren told me what you heard. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Darius was… being Darius. But now, there’s more important things at hand, so please, do me one thing and tell me who C.V might be.”

As much as he wanted to refuse, Morteus was deterred by his desire for the truth. “C.V…” he muttered. Isoldé couldn’t be C.V… So…

“Count Von Mont,” He said, not knowing why Periphral needed to have an understanding of the people behind this, when his life was at risk. Morteus already had a plan forming. If he could confuse Periphral more, and strike him when he’s not ready…

“Count Von Mont,” King Periphral let out a little gasp. “I see now,” He sagged a little, and Morteus inched forward. King Periphral collected his frayed nerves, resuming his composed self. “That explains it all,” Then his frown deepened.

“But what are you doing here, Morteus? How did you end up with Von Mont?” Morteus circled him, but Periphral seemed the least worried about Morteus posing a threat to his life. “Why do you…” Periphral choked a little on his words. “Why do you want to kill me?”

“Why?” Morteus chuckled, an odd unpleasant sound. “I came here for revenge, for my father. I came here to take my throne. I came here for the gem.”

King Periphral’s eyes widened. “Revenge… Your throne… The gem…” He put one hand on the throne to support himself. “Morteus, I know you. You’re not evil. Revenge… is understandable, but misunderstanding clouds your head. The throne… Half the kingdom was your father’s, and in turn, rightfully yours or your brother’s…” Morteus recoiled; realizing that Periphral knew about Lancelot. “The gem, it’s an object that wields power, and not necessarily for the better. Please, just stop for a second and think it through. Please.”

Morteus stopped in his tracks, but then shook his head, his expression livid. He’s your enemy, Morteus. It’s too late to turn back now, anyways.

“It’s too late. You wouldn’t take me in even if you wanted to. I killed Darius.”

Periphral slid down into his chair. “You… slew my son?”

“That’s right,” Morteus said calmly, but beneath his carefully composed expression, he was recoiling in fright and horror at what he had become.

“I don’t believe you,” King Periphral was shaking his head back and forth, denying it. “That’s just… Appalling. Darius may have been obnoxious, but to take his life…”

“He tried killing me. It was self-defense,” Morteus stated without emotion, calming his nerves. He watched as King Periphral flinched.

“No… He wouldn’t have,” Periphral was stricken with disbelief. “He wouldn’t have dared to lay a finger on you. But still, if he did… Was killing necessary?”

“You took my father’s life,” Morteus retorted, infuriated. “How is my deed any worse than yours?” Rage bubbled in his lungs. “You killed my father and kept me in the dark all these years. And you’ll have to pay for it,” He rushed forward without notice, his sword pointing straight at Periphral’s chest.

Periphral reacted quickly and pulled out his sword in time to stop Morteus’ attack. For a millisecond Morteus stood there, frozen, his sword quivering in the air. Then he spun back wards and crouched into a defensive stance as King Periphral tried to disarm him. The two moved around the floor, their swords and feet moving so fast it appeared to be like a complicated dance. Morteus went for the obvious kill, his heart hammering with anger. King Periphral stepped aside as Morteus thrust his sword straight at him.

“You can’t defeat me, Morteus, you know that,” Periphral said, a mix of exasperation and shock playing on his face. “Do you really want to kill me?”

“Yes, I do,” Morteus was gasping for air as he charged again, but King Periphral was ready for him. Their swords clashed, and Periphral’s hand weaved back and forth, circling round Morteus’ sword and wrenching it out of his grasp. Periphral let Morteus’ sword clatter to the floor and held his sword to Morteus’ neck, his face millimeters away from his.

“Morteus. Surrender now,” Periphral murmured. “You can’t fight me.”

Morteus swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. “Never. You can kill me now as you did my dad,” His lower lip started trembling. “Then I can be reunited with my father at last,” His knees started shaking and almost gave way.

There was a second of silence, then Periphral whirled away and sheathed his sword. “Morteus, I didn’t kill your father,” He stared into his eyes. “I can’t deny my part in his death, but I did not kill him.”

Morteus stood rooted to the ground, astonished. He rubbed his eyes; shocked that Periphral had let him go. “Then who killed him? One of your soldiers?” He eyed the sword on the ground, but decided against picking it up. It would be futile, anyway.

Periphral looked into Morteus’ eyes, his expression torn and apologetic. “No, none of my subjects,” He smiled grimly.

“Then who?” Morteus’ eyes burned ferociously.

There was a pause and King Periphral hesitated.

“He killed himself.”

“What?” Morteus was thrown off balance. “No, he wouldn’t have. How? Why?”

King Periphral resisted the urge to close his eyes, knowing Morteus would take the chance to attack him. “When I attacked your father, he thought I had killed you and mother. He found no point in living anymore.”

“And you hadn’t killed my mother and I?” Morteus asked.

“No, I hadn’t,” King Periphral said dryly. “You wouldn’t be alive if I did.”

“Then… Then… Why did you attack him in the first place?” Morteus accused, perplexed. “He was forced to kill himself.”

“He brought it upon himself…” King Periphral replied softly. “He kidnapped my daughter,” Morteus could hear pain in his voice, but no anger. Fifteen years of mourning had made him forget his hate, and forgive his deceased friend.

“My father… Kidnapped your daughter?” Disconcerted, Morteus shook his head. “I thought… You attacked him for the gem? The throne?” He was utterly bewildered now. It seemed that King Periphral was a victim of the circumstances, so he had to resolve to violence. He tried to think of a retort to argue his father’s innocence, but he hadn’t known his father…

“Ah. The gem,” King Periphral looked perturbed. I wouldn’t have lay siege to Alistair’s kingdom just for that. We were good friends before everything fell apart. But I can’t say never crossed my mind. The gem that freeze time- it was a dream, a myth with a gory history… But after conquering your father’s kingdom, I couldn’t leave the gem lying there. It was irresistible. I really did mean to burn it, melt it, whatever it took, but I couldn’t.”

Morteus frowned, confounded. “So it wasn’t burned. But you tricked everyone into thinking it was, to prevent people from trying to break into the castle to steal it?”

King Periphral appraised Morteus with a new look in his eyes. “You’ve matured a lot these few days,” He smiled wryly. “Actually, that wasn’t my initial intention, to trick the citizens, but I guess it was for the better. The primary disadvantage to owning such a powerful gem would be having men seeking fame and shortcuts to success chase after you. That entire problem when I said it was burned in a fire.”

Morteus nodded, finally gleaning an insight to King Periphral’s perspective. He didn’t know what to think, whether to slink away and admit he shouldn’t have attacked, or to continue with trying to avenge his father’s death.

He couldn’t keep up his contorted expression of anger, completely flummoxed by the entire situation. “All this is so confusing… but if all you say is true, then the blame cannot be all on your shoulders…” Suspicion and rage flashed across Morteus’ face. “I’m not a fool, Periphral. You could’ve made all this up. Really, for a second there, I believed your fabricated tale,” His eyes narrowed. “My father still died because of you. Even if it was for your daughter… Which I can’t tell- can’t tell whether it’s another deception of yours- Even then, my father still died because of you.”

Tears sprang to Periphral’s eyes at the mention of his daughter. “Yes, I know he killed himself because of me,” Regret shone in his eyes. “Even as my enemy, I had loved him as my best friend once, and I could never forget the days that we spent together in our childhood, picking fights and challenging each other…”

He gulped back his tears. “I had my very first child, and one of the days that I visited your father, she went missing. I negotiated with your father for a few months, but he kept denying that she was with him. Finally, I resolved that she… she had died,” Tears ran freely down his face, and Morteus was unsure what to do. “I sought solace by attacking his kingdom, intent on avenging her death, but so unsure… Always, so unsure…”

Morteus softened a little, his expression odd. My father could have been at fault, unless Periphral is putting up a very dramatic show to trick me. But why would he do that, if he could’ve just killed me? “Tell me, why did you suspect my father? Why did he kidnap your daughter?”

King Periphral could not utter a word. “We had just fought… We’d just conquered the kingdom of Von Wreal and were arguing about how to split the plot of land- and then, and then she went missing. I don’t know why he had to capture her, I would’ve given him anything, anything he wanted,” Tears splashed onto his robes and a thought came into Morteus mind. It would be easy to kill him now.

But not before you find out the truth. A voice in his mind said firmly.

“Who was she? Why would Alistair-” Morteus felt a pang of pain as he said his father’s name. “Why would he kidnap his best friend’s daughter?” He frowned, questioning King Periphral conviction.

“I don’t know…” King Periphral was at a loss for words. “But she was so beautiful, so heavenly… She was only five when she was kidnapped,” His eyes were misty as he recalled the face from more than fifteen years before. “Her name was beautiful, too.”

Morteus’ intuition flickered. “What was her name?” He leaned forward.

Periphral closed his eyes, forgetting that Morteus might take the chance to kill him. He grimaced as if it pained him to say her name.

“Isoldé. Her name was Isoldé.”

 

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