"What happened, Marat? Did your conscience finally awaken inside your dark heart? Tell me the tru—”
whatever happened to Marat, the giant soldier who had been tasked with leading Naftali to the city for his execution?
At first, the dangerous man was thrilled that he had walked away with so much money, all for the price of abandoning a single mission. But he did not foresee the consequences of his actions. Once the alcohol Naftali had plied him with at the inn had worn off, he began to doubt his decision. Was it wise to lie to the king? After all, a brute like himself was only good at two things, killing and looting. Working in the king’s army was the perfect occupation for a man like himself. Where else would he be able to utilize his unique… skills?
Sure enough, the moment the king arrived back from his tour around the kingdom, he summoned Marat to the throne room.
“Marat, you have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Yes, Your Highness?”
“What happened to the boy?”
“Really?” the king scoffed, as he stared over his golden goblet at Marat. “Do you think I am so daft? You’ve been in my service long enough to know I’m not someone to be taken for a fool. There’s no chance you don’t know which boy I am referring to. The little cretin almost took my head off with that stone that he threw! Even now it makes my blood boil. And to think it was a Jewish child, no less! The insolence! It makes my stomach turn… So don’t act like a fool now, and tell me what exactly happened.”
“I did everything that you requested of me. I led the boy faithfully to ensure that he was executed in public, as you desired. Nothing could stop me in my quest. Your word was my command, and I was willing to go to the ends of the earth to make sure your instructions were carried out precisely.”
“And yet, they were not!” The king slammed the goblet against his throne, splashing red wine across the floor and over his own feet. “I returned from my trip and learned that when you returned from your own travels, the boy was nowhere in sight. What happened, Marat? Did your conscience finally awaken inside your dark heart? Tell me the tru—”
Two servants launched themselves from the corners of the room, sprinting across the floor and throwing themselves onto the ground to mop the droplets of wine shimmering on the king’s feet.
“Talk, Marat.” The king glared at Marat as he raised his half empty goblet to his lips. “I know silence is your friend, but if you don’t embrace words now, I’m going to have you executed for your impudence.”
The guards at the entrance to the room glanced at Marat, whose hand drifted toward his sword. The king took note.
“You’re a strong man, Marat. I’ve seen your acts of strength in battle. You’re a brute, there’s not a man that would dispute that. You’re a raging bull with no regard for human life, capable of taking down any opponent. But you’re still mortal, and you cannot take on all my men. Place your hand on the hilt of your sword again, and it will be the last thing you ever do.”
A heavy silence descended in the room, and the king and Marat stared intensely at each other, both breathing deeply.
“There’s a good reason for my failed mission.” Marat’s deep voice boomed around the throne room, and his hand inched away from his sword. “As loyal as I am, I am still no magician, nor practitioner of witchcraft. Can you fault me for not being able to bring the dead back to life?”
“So what happened? You killed the boy along the way? The execution was supposed to be public. It was supposed to be a warning for the people to take notice of.”
“I didn’t lay a hand on the boy, but the cold weather finished him off. We were caught in a snowstorm, and the terrible weather was too much for his frail body. We were stuck in a random village, a Jewish one as it so happened, and he died there. The people of the village had pity and took his frozen corpse and buried it right then and there. If you were to travel today to this village, they would take you to the boy’s grave. Every word I have spoken is true. The boy died, and obviously, I could not bring him for execution.”
“A grand tale, Marat.” The king raised an eyebrow. “And one that I might believe, if not for the fact there were other suspicious factors involved in your failed mission. Did you think I was unaware of the money you suddenly possessed upon your return? You fool. You didn’t even try to cover your own tracks. You’re as subtle as a bumbling elephant romping around in a dense jungle. Ever since you returned you’ve spent every waking moment buying drinks in the tavern for yourself and the few friends you have. Where did this money suddenly come from, eh?”
“Your Highness, my whole life I have lived only to serve you. I am as faithful and truthful today as I ever was. I assure you; I am still your loyal soldier and servant. Please give me a second chance.”
“Hypocrite.” The king snorted. “Did you ever give another man a second chance in your entire life? Don’t answer me, I know that you have not.”
The king threw his goblet at Marat, and it bounced off the giant’s metal armor, bouncing onto the floor and splashing the remaining wine everywhere. The servants flung themselves forward to clean up the new mess.
“I am dismissing you from my command. You will never again have a place in my army, Marat. It’s not so much about the boy, to be sure. It really does not bother me that he might be alive, as I suspect he is. It’s your dishonesty that irks me the most. Leave this room, and never return.”
Marat’s jaw dropped.
“Your Highness, I have no life, no purpose, outside of the army. My place is here, with you.”
“Go be a thief, Marat. You’ll make a wonderful robber. Who would stand a chance against you, after all? There’s yet another path for you, outside the career of being a soldier in my legions.”
And unfortunately, the king was correct.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 915)
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