The old man did not react until a few moments later. He lifted his quilt slowly, moved to the edge of the bed, and looked the archbishop in the eye.
"If you were locked up in this goddamned place, could you eat anything?" When he spoke, his voice was obscured, as if his throat was tight. "Half a year has passed, and I've been locked here for half a year. Without a word from the outside. How're my sons? What about my daughters?"
Mayne noticed that there were dints all over the wall, which seemed to have been scratched with nails. Did the old man count the days this way?
He pulled a chair in front of the king. "Do you have to ask about these unpleasant things?"
The other party remained silent for a moment before he spoke again. "I'm of no use anymore. Are you coming to finish me off?"
"Then as a dying man, I care nothing about my pleasure or displeasure! I only want to know how they're before I die!" As Wimbledon was finishing this last phrase, his words almost transformed into a wail.
[He can't take it anymore,] Mayne thought. The old man had shown his dignity and honor as a king. He had tried many times to escape on the way to Hermes after he had been replaced by the believer. He had not gone insane, and instead, he had tried to free himself by negotiating. He did not curse or howl hysterically, which was rare in the castle prison. If it were not for the unchangeable plan, Mayne would not have wanted to end such a life in this way.
He came up with the idea in the back of his mind that he could tell the old man what he wanted to know. Otherwise, an order for a soldier in Judgement Army to end the king's life for him would suffice.
"Your oldest son, Gerald Wimbledon, has died," Mayne said slowly. "He was sentenced to beheading by your second son Timothy Wimbledon in the name of treason and murder of the king. Your daughter Garcia Wimbledon has declared independence in the Southern Territory and given herself the title, Queen of Clearwater. A war between her and Timothy is unavoidable. As for your youngest son and daughter, we have no news. Maybe they're still alive."
"What did you say? Treason? Independence? What have you done?"
"Royal Decree on the Selection of Crown Prince," he pronounced every single word of the phrase clearly, "we assigned your children to different places and declared that the one who ruled best would be the next king or queen."
Wimbledon closed his eyes in pain. After a long pause, he asked in a low voice, "Why? You grabbed the chance on the Day of Prayer, taking me into a chamber and stripping off my clothes and God's Stone of Retaliation. You made a witch replace me with some other person. You could have taken charge of this kingdom slowly and built a church in every town. Why did you have to issue something like the so-called Royal Decree on the Selection of Crown Prince? I, I couldn't have... Achem." Wimbledon had stirred himself up so much that he curled into a ball, coughing violently.
[I'd never have issued such an order to set my children against each other.] Mayne complemented the sentence in his mind for the king. "Maybe you would not, but your children may not act as you wish. As they're getting older, they each have their own mind. For example, your oldest daughter, Garcia, seized Port of Clearwater five years ago. Even without the Royal Decree, or if you were to die a natural death, would she watch Gerald ascend the throne without doing anything? The most important fact is we don't have time to do it slowly. You may have noticed a witch's power can't last forever."
"Damn. What's the benefit for the church if they fight each other? The church will also be engulfed in the flames of war while the believers will die in battles. The whole kingdom will be in chaos..." Wimbledon suddenly paused and raised his head in disbelief. "Do you intend to..." A more violent cough interrupted the king's words. When he recovered his voice, the voice became so soft, as if the fit of coughing had drained all the energy from him. "you want to eliminate the royal family."
"Exactly. But to put it more precisely, it's the kingship that we'd like to eliminate." Mayne could not help but be amazed by the acute judgement of the king. The number of people who had stayed in a dark cell for almost half a year and retained their clarity of mind could be counted on a single hand. "Kingship hinders the development of the church. No matter how weak the kingship is, it'll grow like a sapling. The only way to get the kingdom for real is to root it out.
Wimbledon's face looked much older now. He may have seemed aged before, but now his spirit was broken too. His eyes were dimmed.
"The Kingdom of Graycastle is the largest kingdom and has the strongest army on the continent. A war against it would be unfavorable for the church. We've planned so long for this. Your kingdom will lose countless soldiers and mercenaries in the civil war. In two or three years, our Judgement Army will be able to take over the whole territory of Graycastle easily. You don't have to grieve so much, for you'll not be the only king who loses his kingdom. It'll be the same for the other three kingdoms. After that, there'll be no difference between the four kingdoms. Kingdom of Dawn, Kingdom of Wolfheart, Kingdom of Everwinter, as well as Kingdom of Graycastle will all vanish. There'll be only one sovereign in the vast land. That's to say, the church."
Wimbledon was silent. The man who had taken the crown from his brother by force had lost his spirit. Mayne even felt a little sympathy for him, though he did not feel the slightest regret in his heart. The church had paid a great price for this. Countless remarkable believers had been willing to sacrifice and serve as pawns in this carefully-schemed chess game.
The man who had played King Wimbledon III was actually a pious chief justice in the Judgement Army. His faith and loyalty to the church were undisputable. He could have gone through the incarnation ceremony of God's Punishment Army. But for the sake of the mission, he was given the king's image by the witch and died an honor-less death in the chamber room in the king's city of Graycastle. He could have had his name carved out on the monuments of Hermes Cathedral. Yet now the church could only bury his name forever.
Mayne did not expect Wimbledon would speak and took out a small porcelain bottle to make the old man drink its contents, but the king suddenly spoke, "Curse!"
"I curse you. I'll wait for you in the abyss of hell." His voice grew weaker and weaker. Mayne could only hear what the king said when he concentrated.
"Sorry. There's no hell in this world. If there's one, it doesn't belong to us. What we've done is for survival only. Only by uniting the forces of all the four kingdoms can the church generate the utmost power to defeat the real enemy. Otherwise..." The archbishop stopped because he had seen Wimbledon's hands fall down powerlessly. His head turned to one side, and the movements of his chest died down.
[This is the end of a king, and yet at the same time, a brand new beginning for us,] he thought.
Mayne put the porcelain bottle back into his pocket and left. When he pushed the wooden door open, the corridor was quiet, as if the wailing had never been there. He said a few things about the ensuing arrangements to the warrior of the Judgement Army at the door and walked out of the castle with determination.
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