“Do what you can to save him. I will hold you responsible if he dies in your care"
The twins rode. The village appeared in the distance. The villagers stood in rows, battle ready and heavily armed. Mateo signaled to his general who raised his fist. The archers saw the signal and arrows were released into the air. The battle had begun.
Mateo lost sight of Diego as their horses plunged headfirst into the first row of villagers. He fought bravely, sure that his powerful army would squash the rebels. The villagers surprised everyone by holding the soldiers at bay. The fighting intensified. Finally, the army broke through the outer defense and penetrated deep into the village. A fire broke out and the entire village soon became engulfed by flames.
After many hours, a roar of triumph rattled the air.
“For the king!”
The surviving soldiers cheered, pumping their swords in the air.
“For the king!”
Mateo shrugged off the concerns of his personal medic.
“Don’t touch me right now, I’m fine. These are only scratches. Attend to my wounded men first!”
The villagers were wiped out, but the soldiers had suffered heavy casualties. Mateo stared at the carnage with tear-filled eyes. The rebellion had cost him so much…
A soldier galloped toward Mateo. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, cutting a path through the grime.
“What is it?” Mateo clenched the reigns of his horse. “Speak!”
“Your Majesty…” The soldier cast his eyes downward and swallowed. “I-I am so sorry…”
“Tell me what has happened!” Mateo was shouting now. Shouting because he knew what had happened, without the soldier saying any more. “Tell me!”
“Diego is dead.”
Mateo felt his world collapsing around him. It could not be. Not Diego. His brother. His own flesh and blood. His twin…
“He fought bravely,” the soldier whispered. “They are bringing his body back to the castle now.”
Mateo nodded stiffly, tears pouring from his eyes. He reigned in his emotions. He could not scream and sob in front of his men. He was the king, after all.
“I will go back now as well.”
Mateo steered his horse through the dead and wounded, followed closely by his medic and another bodyguard.
Suddenly, he fell upon a wounded man lying in the middle of the battlefield. Inexplicably, he felt compassion rising within him. He moved closer and saw the man did not belong to his army.
“He may be a villager, Your Majesty! W-why?”
Mateo’s jaw clenched.
“Did you not hear me? Help him.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The medic leaped from his horse and hurried to the wounded man.
“Please…” The man whispered. “Don’t leave me…”
“His wounds are too severe. It would be a waste of time and resources to help him.” The medic shook his head. “Should we not just care for our own?”
Mateo closed his eyes and Diego’s face flashed before him.
“Do what you can to save him. I will hold you responsible if he dies in your care. Bring him back to the palace. There is no time to waste.”
Mateo returned to the palace in uncontrollable grief. He sank into a deep depression. The rebellion had been quelled, but at the cost of Diego’s life. His twin was no longer with him.
Weeks passed and still his sadness did not abate. Then, a mysterious guest was allowed passage into the royal throne room.
“Your Majesty, I am the man you saved on the battlefield.”
“It cannot be…”
Mateo looked up from his throne and saw an elderly man with a stooped posture. The man looked weak, but healthy and happy.
“The last time you saw me I was seconds away from death. Because of your order for the medic to heal me, my life was saved. Against all odds, my wounds have mostly healed, thanks to your excellent palace medicines and caretakers. I have come to say thank you. I owe my life to you.”
“Who are you? What were you doing on the battlefield that day?”
“I am a merchant who travels to war zones to sell goods to soldiers. I always manage to find my way to battlegrounds where fighters can purchase amenities from me. I wasn’t involved with the fighting, but a few of your soldiers saw me in the village and decided to attack me. They grievously wounded me, and I was left to die.”
“It does bring me joy to see a man brought back to life.” Mateo swallowed and tried not to think of Diego. “I am happy I could help you.”
“Allow me to bless you.” The man stepped closer. “I am a Jew and gratitude is an obligation taken seriously in my faith. May your kingdom flourish always!”
“Thank you.” Mateo bowed his head. “You have brought a smile to my face for the first moment in a long time. Farewell, old man, and stay safe.”
Mateo felt the most at peace since Diego’s death. He had saved a life. The thought lifted his spirits. That night, he drifted off to sleep and was startled to see a person approaching him in a dream.
“Who are you?”
“Is that your name?”
“No, Your Majesty, that is your name. I have come to remind you of who you truly are. You are not a Christian. You are a Jew. Return to your roots, Reuven. You must go home.”
“What nonsense is this? I am a proud Christian. ‘Home?’ This is home.”
“You have buried your past deep into your consciousness. Remember where you come from, Reuven.”
A wave of memories swept over Reuven.
“So, you do remember after all… You have always run from the truth, but no longer. Time is passing and you must act immediately. Leave this palace and return to the land you come from. Teshuvah awaits all who are still living. Repair what you have broken. Make amends and start a new life.”
“You cannot be serious? I am ruler of this entire country! I am going nowhere!”
“Then, Reuven, there will be consequences…”
to be continued…
Y.B. Productions is proud to announce the next exciting installment in the Miser series. The Miser 2, by Yehuda Bromberg, is coming soon to stores near you! Get ready to join Yankel the Miser on another wild, fun-filled and suspenseful adventure!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 855)
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