Chapter 5: A Kaiser's Confession
What time was it? What day was it? What year was it? Bishop Palmark didn't know the answer to any of these questions, and honestly, he didn't care, either. His death was coming soon, and he knew he deserved it.
He rocked his emaciated frame back and forth on the soiled bed in the corner of his tiny, dirty cell, mouthing the words of Edda's rosary over and over again. He had no idea how many times he'd repeated it. He only knew he had been saying it once every morning, noon, and night since he had been imprisoned in the winter of 776. Was it a thousand? Ten thousand? However large the number, it wouldn't be enough. It never would be enough. For it was due to his own cowardice that he had been locked up here, and that all of Jugdral was suffering even more than he was.
He could have stopped all of this. It would have been easy. He'd needed to do nothing more than tell the world what now-Kaiser Alvis had confessed to him. He would have prevented the tyrant's rise to power and rescued the land from slavery and oppression. But he hadn't. He didn't have the courage.
He lied to himself at first. As he watched Alvis' coronation as Kaiser, he told himself, "No matter what, I cannot violate the Seal of the Confessional." If he had been honest, however, he would have told himself it was because he was a coward. In his heart of hearts, he was afraid of what would happen to him. Maybe Alvis would have silenced him, breaking his promise to accept Palmark's decision. Maybe the kingdom would have been thrown into chaos, and the confessor blamed for it. So many maybes, and Palmark was afraid of them all.
So he'd kept his mouth shut and done nothing but watch as Kaiser Alvis extended his dominion over Jugdral. At first, it wasn't so bad, and Palmark wondered if he had made the right decision. Alvis appointed capable and honest officials, erased discrimination and racism where he found it, and paid close attention to the governance of the entire land. Palmark himself had been appointed Bishop, for after Father Claude's death, he was one of the few clergymen with a sufficient degree of seniority to replace him. Though Palmark always repeated to himself that Alvis had never repented and could never be forgiven, and only the Seal of Confession protected him and his reign, the bishop wondered if he would have turned Alvis in even without being bound by his vows. The kingdom was prospering, as was Palmark—the higher you went up Edda's hierarchy, the better you were paid, and Palmark was fairly high up.
Then, about six years ago—on the tenth birthday of Crown Prince Yurius, in fact—everything had gone wrong.
The Lopt Sect had emerged from its hiding places all over the continent, and Kaiser Alvis did nothing to stop them. Indeed, he handed his entire government over to them. They conducted their disgusting rituals with impunity and reduced the people of every nation on Jugdral—not just Grandbell—to slavery. Men and women were worked like dogs, having lost every right they once enjoyed, and the children…
Palmark shuddered and stuttered, momentarily forgetting his place on the rosary when he recalled what the followers of Lopt did to the children. The blood games, the sacrifices, and the burnings…
Perhaps he should have tried to stop it then. Revealed the terrible truth behind the reign of Kaiser Alvis I, and at least made an attempt to topple the tyrant. But at that point, it would have done no good. The Lopt and their servants were too strong, and somehow Prince Yurius himself had become the true power in Barhara, assisted by his dark priesthood. Alvis was, ironically enough, the only thing standing between him and total domination.
The Church of Edda certainly wasn't. That was why Palmark had ended up in this cell. The moment the Lopt had emerged from hiding, he and his Church had protested vehemently to Alvis, but the Kaiser would not listen, proclaiming "religious tolerance" throughout the realm. Ever since then Palmark and the rest of the clergy had tried to oppose the darkness as well as they could, but it was a futile struggle. For a decade the Lopt gained more and more power and converts, while Edda lost a bit more every day, through either apostasy or "disappearances."
And in 776, the government shed even the pretense of tolerance for the old religion. When the rebels rose up in Tilnanogue, the church of Edda was blamed, and all of its clergy and hierarchy—including Palmark—were rounded up and imprisoned. Most had been thrown into this dungeon in Chalphy, and over the course of the year most had died as a result of their horrible treatment. Only Palmark was left, and he knew he would be joining his brothers in the faith soon.
He was so consumed by his chanting that he didn't hear the door to his cell open, and only when he felt the rough hand of a cruel guard 'round his arm did he break his reverie.
"Get up, scum," said the Dark Mage harshly.
Palmark sighed. A few years ago, he would have been afraid, but after facing death for so long it no longer held any power over him. "Am I to be executed?" His voice was mild and calm, though starvation had made it weak.
"Not today. Kaiser Alvis wants to see you."
"T…the Kaiser? He's here?"
"Yes. Chalphy is where your little rebel friends will die, burned to ashes with the power of our Kaiser's Fala Flame! I imagine he wants to gloat about it to you. Now get up!"
Not resisting, Palmark got to his feet unsteadily, and the guard had to help him out of the dungeon to Chalphy's grand throne room.
There, the Kaiser was waiting.
Alvis I sat alone on the massive, gilded throne, leaning his head on his right hand, his brow furrowed and his mouth turned down into a frown.
"Leave us," he said, in a deep, commanding voice. "Immediately."
"Of course, your majesty!"
The Dark Mage bowed and made a quick exit, shutting the gigantic double doors of the throne room behind him.
Palmark almost fell over—not only was he tired and half-starved, but also very old, well over sixty. With as much strength as he could muster, though, he willed his failing body to stay upright. For the first time in a year, he was filled with hope—if the rebels had made it this far, the Lopt Sect must be losing power. Even if he died here, the reign of Alvis would die not long after. That was just enough to keep him on his feet, at least long enough to show the Kaiser the sort of defiance he should have shown seventeen years ago.
It might not be an easy task, for the Kaiser looked every bit the part. Alvis had grown a great deal since he had ascended to the throne. While he had always been quite a tall man, as a magic user his frame was slight compared to most knights. That had very much changed. He seemed to be almost twice as large as he'd been when Palmark had first met him. His legs were thick and strong, his arms muscled and powerful, his chest wide and sturdy. Alvis might have been almost as physically powerful as the Crusader Neir had been in his prime, and he was as well-armored.
The Kaiser's entire body, aside from his head, was covered in the finest suit of armor Palmark had ever seen. It was pure silver, the light from the torchstands on either side of the throne glinting off of it beautifully. It was far thicker and heavier than any armor worn by Cavaliers, or even Armor Knights and Generals. It would surely provide an almost impregnable defense against any magical or physical attack, at least when the helmet was equipped.
Alvis wasn't wearing it at the moment, allowing Palmark a good look at his face. The Kaiser had been very handsome once, his aquiline features making him almost beautiful. Time had not been kind to him. Along with the rest of his body, his face seemed much tougher and harsher: The skin was a bit darker and more leathery; which made sense given that Alvis had spent much of his reign fighting alongside his men and even working alongside the people, determined never to be called lazy or a coward. The cast of his face now seemed utilitarian rather than aesthetic. His hair, however, was as red and vibrant as it ever was, unlike Palmark's, which was now as grey as the robes Bishops like him wore.
His eyes, however…they no longer seemed as piercing as driven as they used to be. Now they seemed tired and sad, just like Sigurd's before his death. Palmark felt a twinge of pity for the man before him.
But only a twinge.
"It is an honor to be called before you, Kaiser Alvis," he coughed, allowing sarcasm to seep into every word. "Do you hope to watch me die? I'm afraid your dungeons have done most of that work already. I simply won't be able to give you a good show."
Alvis shook his head.
"What, then?" Palmark felt a pain in his chest and was wracked with a sudden, whooping cough. "A-another confession? Another false confession, another false show of piety? All while you drag this country deeper into the darkness?"
Alvis nodded. "Yes, actually. I do want a confession."
Palmark laughed, a harsh and ugly sound. "You don't deserve one. You won't fool me twice, Alvis, I—"
"Hear it anyways, Palmark. I want you to know this: You were right."
"Oh, do you expect me to believe that? Now, after all the misery you've put me through? After all the misery you've inflicted upon Jugdral?"
"No…no, I suppose I can't. But, please, Father, listen to me anyways…" His head sank, and when he looked at Palmark again, there were tears in his eyes. The Kaiser of the Empire, the most powerful man on the continent…was crying. And that stunned Palmark. At least, long enough for Alvis to give his confession.
"I'm a failure. A wretched failure, as a ruler, a husband, and a father. You…you were correct, Reverend. There is no way to build a kingdom free of oppression on the blood of the innocent. I wanted to bring peace, prosperity, and equality to people…I've instead delivered them into the hands of demons. I…I truly loved Diadora, with all my heart and soul. Yet I couldn't save her from the darkness. I loved my children, little Yuria and Yurius…yet they were both taken from me. Yuria…only now have I seen her again, and Yurius…is lost forever, his soul consumed by the Adversary. Everything I love is gone, everything I tried to accomplish has come to nothing…"
He stifled a sob. "Why? Why…no, there's no need to ask. I know why. It's punishment for my sins, for all the people I trampled over, all of those I deemed "sacrifices for the greater good." The Gods have passed their judgment, and found my excuses wanting. I deserve every bit of the misery I have endured, but my children…the children…I would endure a thousand damnations in Hel to spare them what I have gone through. Would that the Gods have simply taken me instead of forcing my entire country to pay!"
"Y…Your Majesty…" Palmark, despite his resentment of the Kaiser, could not bring himself to condemn him. Not now. He never would have expected it, but Alvis was genuinely contrite, genuinely repentant. Even if it was too late, far too late, Palmark could not bring himself to condemn a repentant sinner—a kindred soul.
"Bah…enough of this." Alvis shook his head, and when he looked at Palmark again the tears had disappeared from his eyes. They now held only determination—and resignation. "Thanks for hearing my confession, Reverend. But there's one more thing I want you to do."
The Kaiser raised himself from his throne, his enchanted silver plate mail clattering as he did so. For some reason, he went to his left, kneeling before a section of the stone wall behind his throne. He ran a gauntleted hand over it, stopped on a small stone which seemed to protrude slightly, and pressed it down.
To Palmark's surprise, with a whoosh of air the section of the wall slid down into the floor, revealing a secret passage behind the throne! Even more surprising, there were people in there! A silver-haired young maiden—very beautiful—was crouched down there, her arms wrapped protectively around a small group of frightened children. They looked at the massive Kaiser with fear, while the girl had a hopeful look in her eyes.
"Don't be afraid, kids. No-one is going to sacrifice you to the Lopt. We'll make sure of that."
"K…Kaiser Alvis?" Hope bloomed inside of Palmark's heart. Could Alvis really be turning away from the path of evil?
He nodded. "Bishop Palmark, take the children and get out of here."
The old man's hopes were coming true, but he still couldn't believe what he was hearing—after everything he'd experienced, he couldn't believe it, not just yet. "P…pardon me? You mean you're setting them free!?"
"That's right. Yurius' people will be here soon from Barhara. You must leave immediately!"
It was true. Alvis was finally taking a stand against the darkness upon the land. And for the first time, he seemed like the ruler he should have been."Y, yes, Your Majesty!" Even though his body was wracked by starvation and privation, Palmark stood tall, and the children could hear both strength and faith in his voice. "You have my sincerest blessings! This is the first step to—"
"No, no salvation for me. But for the next generation…maybe. Palmark, I also want you to hold on to this."
Alvis reached to another section of wall nearby and pulled out a stone this time, revealing a small hole. He reached inside and drew out a hidden sword. A sword Palmark would have recognized anywhere.
Roughly the same size and shape as a regular longsword, its unearthly craftsmanship and aura of magical power proved it was no ordinary weapon. Its blade was alabaster-white and seemed to glow, meeting the golden hilt of the sword at a crossguard which consisted of an amber gem framed by a golden circle. Within that gem pulsed a spark of pure white light. Simply looking at it filled Palmark with hope and purpose, and seemed to heal his broken, hunger-ravaged body. There was no mistaking it—this was a Holy Weapon.
Still thinking he was in some sort of fever dream, that he had been granted a vision of hope that would disappear when he woke up, he stammered, "B, but, isn't this the..."
Alvis nodded grimly. "You served under Sigurd, correct? His son, Celice, will arrive here soon. I think you know what to do with this."
Palmark reached out and touched the weapon—and once he did, all doubt fled his mind. Even though he was unable to wield it, simply holding it was enough to banish his uncertainty, convince him that his hopes had been fulfilled, that Alvis was true, and that this was reality, a glorious reality. And he was filled with purpose, purpose he had not felt for his entire life.
"Yes, Your Majesty," he said, in a strong, firm voice that belonged to a man half his age. "I believe I do."
"Good. And…please, don't speak of where or whom you got this from."
"As part of the Seal of Confession, I will remain silent, Your Majesty."
Alvis allowed himself a smile. "Then get going... And keep those children safe!"
"Yes, my lord!" Keeping the sword in a death-grip, Palmark rushed into the tunnel. "Follow me, children! We haven't much time!"
Neither the boys nor the girls hesitated. "Y-yes sir!" After they'd taken a few steps down the passageway, however, they noticed one person wasn't with them—the silver-haired girl. "Milady," Palmark asked, not knowing the girl's name or who she was, "Aren't you coming with us?"
She shook her head. "N-not yet. I need to talk to the Kaiser. Please…"
"Mister," said a boy, tugging on the hem of Palmark's dirty robe, "they'll be here soon!"
"Yes, you're right. Let's go, children!"
The confessor turned away and headed back down the secret passage, his new wards following behind him.
And for the first time in seventeen years, he could see a light in the distance.
"Kaiser Alvis" is a bit of self-indulgence on my part. In the first drafts of this fic, I really laid it thick with the fan-German; for instance, Duke Victor was originally "Herzog Victor von Velthomer." I thought that was a little overboard, so I toned it down and kept the German strictly to the "old language" of Edda's rituals. However, I REALLY wanted to see a Kaiser class, since Hardin was already an Emperor, so I made Alvis a Kaiser. :D Also, I use "Cavalier" rather than "Social Knight" even though I'm trying to remain loyal to the original FE4 translation patch. The reasoning behind that is…well, let's face it, "Social Knight" does not make any sense. At all. XD