Salvation: Chapter Eight
The thin coverings on Gadreel’s feet wore through in several places. The thin skin of his soles made contact with the cold, smooth cobbles as they marched back into the city and up to the constable building and their place of belonging. The cart, rattling full of scrap wood and jagged kindling stopped first.
The silver-toothed man greeted them at the door, looking them up and down with crossed arms. “Everyone decided to act civilized, it seems. And what a good haul,” he finished, placing himself behind with wagon to examine the load, hands on his hips. “These big scraps will burn for a long time. We’ll just take a few for ourselves.”
Piers trudged forward the best he could, ankles still bound to the others behind him. “I heard for sure that the weather was going to change for the warmer. But seems you’re still cold too, eh?”
The constable huffed and sent the back of his hand into Piers’ ribs. “Get inside, or you’ll all just head back out to the yard with your shackles still on.”
Arthur grabbed at Piers’ shoulder and turned him to face the door. “Move.”
Gadreel’s body felt immediately lighter as the metal descended from his feet. The fabric of the trousers had begun to fray. Beneath, the skin upon his legs had taken on red abrasions. The others were freed and pointed out the door to the yard, but the silver-toothed man held him in place with a heavy hand. “You will stay. We need you.”
Gadreel nodded and caught Piers glancing back at him before he was shoved out the doorway. The silver-toothed man stared into his eyes, arms crossed until a smile crept across his face. “Let’s not keep his highness any longer. They wanted to see you today. I’m not sure who decided to let you go off with those blokes all morning, but at least you’re back now. I hope you don’t care for more walking.”
Outside, the cart was being unloaded of its haul and passed through the fence by the other constables, who smirked at Gadreel and the silver-toothed man behind him. They marched the opposite way of the forest, back to where they had gone before to be examined by the strange men of the castle.
The silver-toothed man remained stiffly behind, his hand on Gadreel’s wrist held against his back. “You’ve grown more docile since we brought you in. Tamed. Not a single word of ‘blas-fe-me’, even to our collection of prisoners you made nice with. They themselves have done much worse than I could ever bring myself to do.”
Gadreel shook his head gently. “I believe in forgiveness, as in the way we wish all to be.”
“Eh, we believe in forgiveness as well, just after a few months or more of hard time working the yard,” he chuckled. “Or perhaps you were intending to save all of them from that? That’s what your order was… Salvation? Not that I would receive nor accept any in the first place.”
“All are deserving,” Gadreel stopped walking for a moment to turn back. The silver-toothed man shoved him to keep walking, and he continued, “You too may be saved. I would hope you would accept it if you knew its worth.”
“I’ll tell you again, I don’t want any, whatever it is. Save your words for the King. He shall be the one to decide if your words have any warrant being uttered in this land.”
“The King?” Gadreel asked, but was only met with a hurried shove to the back.
Ahead, the cobbled street continued to rise, up to the highest point of the town where the structures towered up way above them, walls of rock and fine timbers, with wide doors and windows of glass. The largest of all of them, decorated with pale banners, was their destination.
The castle was guarded by knights in light panels of leather armor, standing straight-faced and straight-bodied for all to see. Gadreel and the commanding constable were offered sole gazes and allowed further in until they reached a wide set of doors, which opened for them to the foretold meeting place.
Fires burned in the corner, offering a warmth that Gadreel had not felt in some time. The walk up to the throne was clear, but people of all sorts in fancy and colorful clothing clamored lowly at either side, looking upon them, but particularly him.
“He simply looks like a man.”
“He is dirty.”
“The constable has had his way with him.”
“What could he do?”
“He’s been with those other prisoners in the yard.”
“He carries wings beneath his clothing, I’ve heard.”
Without a warning, all those voices were suddenly extinguished. At the back of the court was a set of doors that opened for the wide man, dressed in red and black and white, toddling out to find the seat that looked out upon the audience. Sitting shifting backward towards his seat with the help of his servants, his gaze landed on Gadreel.
The silver-toothed man pushed one last time at his back and stepped off to the side, sliding up to the crowd. A thinner man in fine robes stepped up beside the throne and spoke with delicate yet voluminous words. “I present the King, His Highness, Lord Cassian.”
A deliberate round of clapping washed over the crowd then disappeared as soon as it began, allowing the King to sit and finally speak for himself.
“Stranger who comes before us today. State your name.”
Gadreel felt all the eyes of the room on him, and he answered, “Gadreel.”
“Gadreel,” the King repeated, his chest rising and falling under the robes. “Many a person who lives in this city has heard of your presence. Certainly, it would not be long before all who reside in this kingdom know of it. And they know not just of the words you have attempted to spread, but of your peculiar form. You hide them now under your clothing, but there are those who saw your true form, uncovered, upon your arrival. Constable, allow the people of the court to gaze upon them.”
The silver-toothed man nodded and stepped back out into the aisle, jerking the back of Gadreel’s clothing up. The bare wings, just barely sprouting the nubs of fresh feathers, unfolded and flexed in the sight of the courtiers. The constable guided Gadreel around, allowing all eyes to fall upon the appendages, urging forth murmuring.
When all were satisfied, the King spoke again slowly, allowing the crowd to reset. “Tell me, Gadreel, in what land, what kingdom, do folk sprout wings like birds?”
Gadreel lifted his chin to speak, “In the Kingdom of Heaven. Those of us who are angels, messengers of God.”
“God,” the monarch repeated, leaning back into the throne. “We receive visitors from far and wide. Never have I heard of such a place or such a king. Why, at this point in time, have you come before us? Before my people?”
“It has become known to us that this is a land escaping the salvation of his holiness. The Lord desires that you come to understand and receive this salvation.”
The King nodded. “Such are the words that our wise men gathered from their meeting with you as well. But we are at a loss understanding the true meaning of this salvation that you so wish to bring us. To be saved, it is said? From what?”
“Salvation is to be saved from the unknown, from eternity. To know God’s grace, and to allow him to take you with him into the afterlife.”
“Afterlife? There is no life after death, if that is what you mean to say. There is nothing. Nothing, unless you may allow us to count the accomplishments that follow us. As the ruler of this land, I know such things better than most. I work towards bettering this land and birthing strong heirs to take my place when I am gone. That is my legacy. Surely you understand these things? But perhaps, I will ask, what would become of us if we decide to forgo this salvation?”
Gadreel shook his head deeply and solemnly. “To know of salvation and then to forgo it is to doom oneself to the eternity of darkness, nothingness… Purgatory. Possibly worst of all, the tortures of Hell.”
“I see. Purgatory… Hell. Names unheard by anyone here. Look at the faces of the people of this room. Your words do not reach them. They cannot fathom what you say. You cannot frighten us with things that are simply nonsense.” The King nodded and a smirk crept across his face. “But I assume that you, yourself are saved, good angel of God?”
“I know it in my heart that my existence and my deeds are eternal, separate from this world and this form I have taken.”
“Then to you, something like death is meaningless? If we were to enact the punishment for treachery, for poisoning the minds of the people of this land… to remove your head… you would not contest it?”
Gadreel took in the words and offered a sole nod of his head. “If it were inescapable. Yes.”
The King clapped his hands several times before clasping them together. “Then we shall test, to the last moment if necessary, if your salvation will stay your conviction. Tomorrow, the guillotine shall fall.”