The ground shook violently.
All eyes looked to the Eastern Mountains where the kingdom lay. A great rumbling and thundering was coming from the mountains. To their horror and amazement, the exiles watched as the mountains began to crumble.
“We will be crushed!” someone cried. The crowd panicked, trampling each other as they ran from the ensuing avalanche of rocks and boulders. Only Lucius and his knights stood in place.
“Wait! Look!” one of the knights yelled, pointing at the mountain range. The mountains were collapsing in on themselves. No boulder would reach the village.
As the dust settled, the exiles saw a radically different terrain around them. The ground was completely level. The path back to the kingdom was straight and true.
Lucius laughed. “Do you know what this means? The King’s death eliminated his barrier as well. There is now nothing and no one in our way to keep us from conquering the kingdom. The King’s foolishness is our gain.”
Lucius kicked the King’s body, then looked down in shock when his foot hit air. The body was gone. The clothes, stained with blood, and the walking stick were there, but the body was not.
“What madness is this? The King’s barrier disappears, and so does his body?” Lucius grabbed the nearest knight. “Ah, it doesn’t matter. We leave at once. Get everyone prepared. Gather the exiles and arm them. We march on the kingdom now.”
As the knights grabbed weapons, armed the exiles and prepared them for battle, a small group stood off to one side, huddled together and hoping to go unnoticed. But they weren’t. Two knights spotted them and ordered them to join. When they refused, Lucius was called over.
“What’s going on here?”
“Sir,” one of the older men answered, “with all due respect, we don’t believe it was right to kill the King. And we don’t want any part in taking the King’s land. We can’t go with you.”
Lucius‘ face darkened as he scowled. “Are you telling me your allegiance is to a dead man? That makes no sense. Now that the kingdom is finally ours, you want to give it up?”
“Sir, I can only speak for myself. I was a young man when we challenged the King. I have come to see the error of my ways, that I was wrong. I regret having made that choice, and not just because we all ended up here. I see now that the King was the only man worthy of being King of the kingdom. He was a better man than me. And a better man than you. I have no desire to live in the kingdom if the King is not on the throne.”
Lucius screamed with rage, “Do you all feel this way?”
One by one they nodded, from the oldest to the youngest. Men, women, and children.
Lucius smiled a wicked smile. “Fine, I will respect your wishes. None of you will live in the kingdom, but you are going with us. You will be the front line of our attack. We will use you as human shields when we face the King’s knights. And you will die.
“Since your allegiance is to the King, you will share his fate as well.”