The Confessor

Chapter 4: A Betrayer's Confession

"Father Palmark, Lord Alvis wishes to see you."

Palmark didn't respond. He was in no mood to. Yes, he had been given one of the most resplendent suites in Barhara Palace, and he had been treated very well by Alvis' staff. As they had repeatedly told him, he was simply a holy man and was responsible for none of the crimes Sigurd and his army committed. That was why he was still alive. But despite these courtesies, he could not drive the images of yesterday's atrocities out of his mind. What was supposed to be a day of celebration, a reward for all of Sigurd's hard work, had been turned into a massacre! For transgressions he couldn't possibly have committed!

A part of Palmark wished he had died with Sigurd, instead of simply being accosted and imprisoned with all the other servants and support staff of Sigurd's army. Only a small part, as he did not wish to share the fate of suicides such as Victor. But that small part had been enough to keep him from doing anything more than staying in his quarters and mourning.

At least until today.

"Father, please." The woman's voice was gentle, but also firm and insistent. "I understand your feelings, but Lord Alvis was only performing his duties. I know you don't want to believe your commander was a traitor, but the evidence is overwhelming. Alvis needs as much information as possible in order to discern what really happened and to keep a tragedy like this from happening again. For the good of the Kingdom, and in the name of the Gods, can you not put aside your personal emotions and help him?"

The appeal to his faith was enough to finally sway the priest. He didn't say anything but did get to his feet, allowing the woman—General Aida, judging by her red hair—to lead him to Alvis' personal quarters. Oifey had done just the same thing a few days ago, he thought to himself bitterly. Where was the lad now? He could only hope Oifey had escaped his lord's fate.

It didn't take long at all to reach Alvis' room, despite the large size of the grand palace. Aida ushered him in and promptly left without even having to be told—she knew her master very well. Palmark was left alone with the man who had killed his commander.

Alvis snapped shut the tome he was reading—not the holy Falaflame book, Palmark noted relievedly, which had been used to slay Sigurd—and stood up from his chair. He was a tall, handsome man, dressed in the finest black gilded robes, with a luxurious mane of long red hair framing a face with aquiline features and equally red, piercing eyes. Those eyes were the most striking thing about Alvis. They seemed to peer past whatever they were looking at, towards some unfathomable goal their owner was obsessed with. And right now they were focused on Palmark.

The priest shrank before that gaze, torn between fear, anger, and sadness. Fear of the most powerful man on Jugdral, anger at he who had killed an innocent man, and sadness, because he knew what Aida said was right—Alvis was a just and upright man, entirely unlike his father, and had served the Kingdom honestly and valiantly. It had to have been some maleficent plot from a third party that had made him and Sigurd enemies rather than allies.

"Thank you for attending me, Reverend. I understand this is a trying time for you, which is why I am all the more grateful for your cooperation." His voice was smooth, deep, and quite sympathetic. Even so, Palmark would give him nothing so easily.

"W-what do you want from me? Sigurd, your so-called "traitor" is already dead. What else can you do? You've nothing to gain from me! Let me mourn in peace!"

"If that is truly your desire, I won't force you to do otherwise. But, Your Holiness, I need something from you. Something I do not believe any other man on Jugdral could possibly provide."

"What are you talking about? I-I'm nothing but a humble servant of the Gods, utterly unexceptional in every other respect. I have nothing to give you!" This was quite true—he knew very well he had not served Sigurd particularly well, or anyone else, for that matter. After all this time, he had done nothing to disprove Edda's original assessment of him, which had first sent him to Lord Victor's employ.

"You served under both my father and Sigurd, yes? This makes you the only person I wish to entrust with this request."

"W…what is it?"

"I wish to make confession, father."

Now this took Palmark by surprise. Alvis was an honest civil servant who respected religion, but he was not known for being exceptionally pious.

"That is all I ask of you. I know you must hate me for what I did for Sigurd. But if you could provide the sacrament to a man like my father, can you not do so for me as well?"

Once again, the appeal to his faith won him over. "Fine, Lord Alvis. I will hear your confession."

"And you will be bound to secrecy, yes?"

"Eh?"

"The Seal of Confession. This rite is between the confessor, the parishioner, and the Gods. No-one else will hear what I have to say, and Edda's clergy is strictly forbidden from divulging it. Will you keep your vows?"

"The church is all I have. I told no one of Victor's confessions, so I will tell none of yours."

"I'm glad to hear that." Alvis knelt, and began the ritual.

"Segnen Sie mich Vater, den ich habe gesündigt."

"Alle wir haben sündigten, denn wir sind alle menschlich. Lassen Sie Ihre Sünden und in den Namen der Götter und der Kreuzfahrer, sie wird verziehen zu."

Alvis raised his head to look straight into Palmark's eyes.

"I murdered Sigurd of Chalphy."

The priest's blood froze.

"I was not just doing my duty. It wasn't a misunderstanding. I was behind everything. Father. I framed him, fabricated the evidence, and then, as he stood before me, expecting to be rewarded for his service to the kingdom, I burned him to ash.

"And worse than that, I took his wife as my own. I knew she was his when she begged to see him before his death. I don't know where she came from—that much is true, Father. I found her, and we fell in love, and I didn't know she was betrothed to another man until I saw how she reacted to Sigurd. But now I know. And now I understand the depths of my sins."

Palmark didn't say anything. He could only tremble in horror, his body frozen, as Alvis continued.

"Do I have anything to say for myself? Do I ask forgiveness from the beneficent Gods? No…not yet. Reverend, I ask for their vindication." Alvis stood up, his expressionless face seemingly carved from stone. "Everything I did, Father, I did for the good of the people. The deaths of Sigurd and his army will forever weigh upon my conscience. But they had to die, Palmark! They knew too much! My plan had to succeed! Because I wanted—needed to save this land! The people have cried out under the thumb of men like Leptor and Langobalt for too long. Only under my leadership could Grandbell—could all of Jugdral—become a place where the smallfolk could live without oppression, without fear, where anyone could rise to power on their own merits. Only I could turn this land into a haven for true equality.

"To achieve that dream, I needed power—by any means necessary. And so I lied, I gave false testimony, and I spilled innocent blood." He stood up, then, still keeping those piercing, terrifying eyes on Palmark. "I'd like to say I have no regrets. But Sigurd's blood still cries to me from the ground. Perhaps it always will. This is why I ask the Gods for vindication, not absolution."

"W…what madness are you talking about?" For the first time, Palmark found the courage to speak. "Lord Alvis, you've earned only damnation! This is the most horrible crime since the days of Galle! You must repent, my lord! It is the only way, lest the darkness of Hel take you! Tell the King and your wife what you have done, and accept whatever punishment they mete out, even if it is death. It is the only—"

"Thank you for the advice, Palmark, but it is too late for that. It would only throw Jugdral into chaos. My only hope now is to continue on the path I've set. I will rule this land justly and well, and that will be my vindication."

He saw the expression on Palmark's face. "And now you know too much, just like Sigurd. Are you afraid I'll strike you down as well?"

Palmark took a step back, eying the door—he knew flight was his only chance. He carried no magic tome to protect him, and even if he did he wouldn't be able to stop Alvis.

"Don't worry. If I was afraid of what you could do to me, I would never have made this confession in the first place."

"T…then why? Why are you making a mockery of me and my church?! Do you take this much pleasure in blasphemy, my lord?"

"Blasphemy? No, not at all. I don't have the greatest faith in the Gods, but I respect them. I've made this confession not to mock them, but…" He paused for a moment, thinking. "Perhaps…perhaps because I want to be stopped. Perhaps you will break the seal of confidentiality, and tell the world of my crimes. In that case, it is true that the Gods have judged me unfit to rule, and I deserve to be cast from the throne. But if not, and if you maintain your silence and keep your vows, then I deserve to keep the throne, and the crimes I have committed were justified for the good of the kingdom."

He turned away from Palmark. "In this case, then, the fate of Grandbell…perhaps all of Jugdral rests in your hands. Are you the sort of man who can break the vows of your Church? Go, then, and tell the world what you have heard. Let me hang as I deserve. Or will you keep the vows of your faith, even for a sinner like me? Would you never violate the Seal of Confidentiality, even on your own life? Are you as devoted to the vows of your church as the Crusader Blagi was? Then go, keep your silence, and let Hel take us both. A small price to pay for the salvation of this continent!"

He turned away, back to the tome he had discarded, as smoothly and calmly as if their conversation had never taken place. "In any case, Reverend, I thank you—sincerely—for your time. Whatever your decision may be, my soul will be at peace."

He did not look back. Neither did Palmark, who himself turned and fled Alvis' chambers as quickly as his old feet could take him.

It was obviously not a happy parting. But it would not be their last.

::Linear Notes::

"Hel" is not a misspelling. It's from Norse mythology, and is what our word "Hell" is derived from.