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Chapter 25: Confirmation

Joshua made it to the next village. Upon his arrival, he noticed a crowd gathered in the middle of a courtyard, listening as two men spoke.

“What is going on?” Joshua quietly asked a man near him.

“Something has changed,” the man replied. “The dead are abandoning their posts and these men are claiming wild things. They say King Eli lives and is gathering an army…an army of Hope…an army with talking animals! Even if these fantasies were true, the dead cannot be defeated. These men must be drunk and out of their minds!”

There were others in the crowd sharing the same skepticism and the tensions grew. Soon, they were shouting at the two men and were ready to chase them out.

Joshua dismounted from his donkey and forced his way through to stand next to the two men. Joshua drew the attention on himself with a shout.

“Listen to me! I do not know these men or where they come from, but I have traveled from King Greedy’s castle where my family and I were once employed. I, alone, have come to know a secret and only a coward would keep it to themselves. With my own eyes, I witnessed one of King Greedy’s dead soldiers fall by the sword. I also witnessed a young man murdered by one of the dead soldiers; only, the boy did not revive to join the ranks of the dead army. The natural law of death has found its place in our world again.”

The crowd was amazed at what they heard. Still, some needed more proof.

“The power that has protected them is gone,” Joshua continued. “The power that raised mindless slaves to King Greedy is no more!”

Joshua reached into his satchel and pulled out the severed head of the dead soldier he killed with the bear trap.

Immediately, altogether, the crowd gasped in awe.

“Look with your own eyes!” Joshua shouted once more. “Do you still doubt?”

They all knew what he said was true because they recognized the color of the head to be the same color as the skin of the dead soldiers; ashen grey. This was one of their distinct features.

“What should we do?” the crowd asked Joshua.

“Arm yourselves,” he answered. “You must believe that Hope exists, and if there is an army led by King Eli himself, then you would all be wise to join.”

“Follow us,” one of the two fishermen interjected towards the crowd, “Gather your weapons and provisions. Get your boats ready for we must travel by water if you want to join King Eli. He and his army await. We don’t have any more time to waste.”

The crowd dispersed, most going to make preparations to leave their village and join King Eli. Joshua and the two fishermen were left alone to talk.

“Thank you,” they told him, “We had been traveling by the river to reach villages in secret. Now with the dead moving out we do not need to be as subtle as we once were. King Eli will be happy to meet you and to hear your report.”

“Not just yet,” Joshua replied. “I must see and warn the places you have not visited, and tell them the good news I have learned here. As you said, with the dead army now leaving their posts I can freely reach those villages not along the river. I will get the word out and gather an army of my own.”

“Very well, what is your name?”

“Joshua.”

“Then Joshua, we will tell the King about you. Should you need to find us, follow this river south. We look forward to fighting alongside you.”

Joshua and the fishermen parted ways, now united on their mission.

Battle Lines

Weeks had passed. With the dead army retreating, it was easier to amass an army and gather in one place. King Eli’s army grew quickly to 40,000 strong.

With the guidance and wisdom given by Hope’s creatures, it was time to go to battle. King Eli, with Princess Elise by his side, stood high above his army to deliver a speech.

“Here, before me,” he began, “I see a Kingdom unlike any other. I may be your King, but you are not peasants or subjects to me. No, you are more. You are family.

There was a time when I forgot what that was: family. For eight years, I was lost in the forest under the power of the witch. I should have died, but Hope intervened and saved me. He didn’t just save me; he helped restore my mind and reminded me why I needed to keep fighting.

With his guidance, we defeated the witch, lifted her curse, and rescued my daughter. I had to endure much suffering and torment because I made a selfish decision, and that will not happen again.

Look around you. These are your brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. You will no longer fight each other just to survive, but you will give your life, lay it down with the intention of saving the life next to you.

Men and women, young and old, this is your fight. Our strength comes from our reverence and love for one another, the driving force of hope. And do not let the size of their army deceive you; fear is not stronger than hope. This is our greatest weapon against our enemy.”

The King took a moment and examined the brave army.

“This is the end,” the King spoke once more, “the end of pestilence and the beginning of light. It is in our grasp! So let us fight together, united as one!”

The army cheered and yelled out their battle cries, ready to give their all.

In the Middle of the Fight

Immediately after his speech, Princess Elise tugged at his sleeve.

“And what shall I do?” she asked.

“We must keep you hidden and safe,” he replied. “Perhaps you can stay here with the others that are unable to fight. We can leave a group of soldiers just in case.”

“Now, you mustn’t do that,” the rabbit spoke up. “The Princess has been out of the forest for some time now. The dead soldiers will already know she is here. We can’t risk her staying here and endangering, not only her life, but the lives of all that are here. It would also be unwise to pull able bodied soldiers away from the fight. Our force needs to be at its strongest.”

“What about the forest? What if we hide her in there?” The King asked now feeling a sense of desperation to keep his daughter safe.

“You know very well, it is just as dangerous there. The fire has almost completely covered it. She would have to evacuate in a day’s time.”

“Then what do you propose? That she comes with us?”

“Yes.”

“Yes!? Take her to the fight? I need to protect her. I’m surprised you’d make such a suggestion.”

“You are speaking as a father just reunited with his daughter after eight years, so I understand you are upset, but you are also being led by your fear, which is the absence of hope. If you lack the courage, many more lives will be lost.”

Although he did not want to hear it, King Eli knew the rabbit was right. It didn’t matter where she was, she would still be in danger.

“It is only a matter of time before they come looking for her,” the rabbit spoke again. “It doesn’t matter if they were all summoned to the castle, there will be a few of the dead that sense her and will come after her. This will happen no matter where she is. As we fight, unless commanded specifically, they will ignore her and face the threats in front of them. Their first obligation is to protect their king. Let her come. We will surround her, protect her on all sides.”

“Very well,” the King agreed reluctantly.

King Eli turned to the Princess to reassure her.

“This is where you need to be, with us,” he told her.

“I understand father. I am not afraid. If this is what you ask of me then so be it.”

No matter how many times he saw it, King Eli was always impressed by his daughter. He didn’t understand how she got to be so wise and fearless for her age.

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