Legends of Amacia: The Gathering Shadow

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Chapter 36: Dealing with Traitors

Chapter 36

Dealing with Traitors

Two and a half hours after collapsing beside Hannibal on the bed, Selina awoke with a start, sitting up looking around wildly. Her pulse raced and heart pounded as she rubbed her face with both of her hands, trying to calm herself. As she calmed down, she looked over at Hannibal to see he was still out cold. She grasped his hand gently and held it saying softly, “My precious prince. How I love you.” She kissed his hand and searched his mind while he was unconscious, seeking a sign that he was all right. She immediately found that he was, but his mind was still dealing with the strange, powerful intelligence that the scepter had unleashed in him. Abruptly, she leaned over and kissed him ever so gently on the lips. When she did, he stirred and opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Selina leaning over him with only a couple of inches between her face and his. He fell into her eyes and got lost. He squeezed her hand and smiled, whispering humorously, “You know; I’m the one who is supposed to do that, not you…my dear precious princess.”

Selina laughed softly, knowing the reference he was making and she kissed him again. “How I love you,” she purred. “I love you so much it hurts.”

Hannibal clasped his other hand around her hand he was holding and replied with all of his love and affection, “So do I. I don’t know what I’d do if something were to happen to you.” She sat up, giving him space to sit up, which he did. “What time is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Selina replied. “The last thing I remember was sitting the staff next to my dresser, and then pulling you to the middle of the bed. In the short time I handled the staff it drained my strength like a glass of water.”

“Really?” Hannibal returned, pushing a stray strand of her hair out of her face. “That’s truly strange. Why didn’t you sit it over there with the Relic and Artifact?”

Selina searched her memory and said, “Because it reacted to them. When I got near them with the staff, the crystal on the staff as well as the writing on the handle glowed like a flood light. Not just that, both the Relic and Artifact glowed in a similar way so I figured it was best if we keep them separated for now.”

The account greatly intrigued Hannibal to the point that he got up and went to retrieve it. “I have to see this,” he said. Before he picked it up, Selina slid over to her side of the bed and suggested, “You may not want to hold it with your bare hands after seeing how it drained us when we held it. Maybe direct skin contact with it is the cause of the drain.”

Hannibal looked at her for a moment, and then replied, “You may be right. Let me find something to grab it with.” He sat down on the edge of the bed next to her, pulled off his sock, and then got up, carefully picking up the scepter using the sock as a glove. “Hmmm,” he mumbled as he hefted the scepter. “I don’t feel nearly as much tingling as I did when I first picked it up.” He walked back around the bed toward his dresser and the scepter began to glow brighter and brighter the closer he came to the Relic and Artifact, which also shined with increasing brilliance the closer he brought the scepter. Backing away, the items dimmed, and then ceased to shine at all.

“Strange,” Hannibal murmured. “It acts just like the little medallion I found when I put it near the Relic. Very strange; I’m sure it means something.” He brought the scepter back over to Selina’s side of the bed and leaned it against her dresser. When he let it go, he felt just a little drained, but not nearly as much as he did earlier. Sitting down and putting his sock back on, he said, “I think you’re right. We should handle it with gloves or something. There is something draining about touching the staff with bare skin.”

“I thought so,” Selina replied.

As she spoke, the door opened and Nathanael and Vergil entered. “There you are,” Nathanael said in a relieved tone. “We’ve been looking for you for forty minutes. No one seemed to know where you went.”

“Sorry about that,” Hannibal replied as he put his shoes on. “Handling that staff drained my strength. The last thing I remember is Selina helping me through the doors there because I could hardly stand up.” Nathanael looked at him with a little concern and Hannibal assured him, “I’m all right now.”

“Good. The people are gathered in the square and everyone’s waiting on you,” Nathanael returned as Hannibal stood.

“The people are gathered already?” Hannibal asked; a bit surprised at the news. “Gee. I’m really sorry about that.” He snatched up his sword as Selina readied herself. “Just give us a minute,” he said as he looked around for some gloves.

“What’re you looking for?” Vergil asked as he noticed Hannibal rummaging through the dresser, and then the wardrobes.

“I’m looking for a pair of gloves,” Hannibal declared. “I need a pair to handle the staff. It has some strange draining properties to it. I’d rather not be sapped out again by it.”

Vergil, who was just Hannibal’s build, pulled off his pair of chain mail and leather gloves and handed them to Hannibal, saying, “Here; use these.”

Hannibal took the gloves with a thank you and put them on. They were exactly his size too. “I’ll return them later,” he replied.

Vergil shook his head and waved his hands saying, “No need. Keep them. I can get another pair easy enough.”

“Are you sure?” Hannibal asked as he retrieved the scepter while Selina slung her sword.

“Absolutely,” Vergil insisted. “Besides, they look like they fit you fairly well. Keep them.”

“Thanks Vergil,” Hannibal replied gratefully, heading toward the door. “Let’s not keep the people waiting any longer.”

In ten minutes, the quartet strode down the corridor to the front of the keep where Nicodemus stood waiting with the rest of the elders and leaders of Arionath. Hannibal’s team was assembled just outside the main doors. Xavier and his people were also present along with Corso, Joel, and Liu. Jacob, Rebecca, and Crystal stayed close to Hannibal’s team with Milo and Sharon. Joshua and his most trusted men formed a perimeter around the platform and secured the courtyard. Word had spread throughout the land that the traitors and their henchmen had been taken, therefore a much larger crowd of people were in the square than those who had stayed the day before after the initial meeting. Nicodemus sensed someone coming toward them from the keep and looked.

Within seconds, everyone peered down the corridor as Hannibal marched like a king toward the group with the scepter in hand and his sword slung across his back. Selina glided like a queen along at his side. Nathanael and Vergil followed closely behind them. Nathanael noticed a marked difference in Hannibal’s attitude and gait. He appeared much more calm and confident, carrying himself with great authority. His gait was strong and determined. Everyone on the platform watched with awe at the change in Hannibal’s demeanor, quietly parting to let him and Selina through. Nicodemus approached him cautiously. Hannibal noticed the approach and held out his hand, apologizing for the wait. “I’m sorry about the wait. I lost track of the time,” he said, shaking Nicodemus’ hand.

“That’s quite all right,” Nicodemus replied. “Now let’s get this sordid business done.” He looked at Joshua and nodded. Joshua motioned to the guards nearest him and they disappeared into the keep.

Those on the platform parted and allowed Hannibal to move to the top of the stairs. Selina stood to his right and Nicodemus stood to his left as he looked at the crowd. They milled about and murmured softly as they talked with each other. In moments, Hannibal saw five familiar faces guarding the platform holding the crowd back: Turner, Kwahu, Gilbert, Cole, and Rex. A smile crossed Hannibal’s face as he saw them. When they noticed he had spotted them, they smiled and saluted. Hannibal waved back.

“You know them?” Nicodemus asked.

“Yes,” Hannibal replied. “They were the ones who were guarding the horses when we first arrived in Khitia. They separated from us just as we entered Kasa Bek and headed over the mountain to Sharindar. I’m very pleased they’re here.”

“I can see that,” Nicodemus stated. “Those five have always been the best of friends and an impressive team. They don’t give their loyalties easily, but it seems you’ve managed to make friends of them.”

“They are my friends,” Hannibal declared, “just like you, Joshua, and the others who escorted us here.”

“That’s good,” Nicodemus chimed as he and Hannibal looked back over the crowd. “It looks like we have a much larger crowd this time.”

“That it does,” Hannibal agreed while continuing to scan the crowd. “Maybe the initial crowd size had something to do with the people’s fear of the traitors we uncovered.”

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised,” Nicodemus stated. “Many were in fear of their lives because of these fiends.”

Some of the crowd nearest to his position happened to look up and saw him standing there, so they gave him their attention. But the word was slow to move through the crowd so Hannibal raised the scepter and smacked the platform with it twice. The scepter glowed softly as he did and the strikes rang out over the whole square, reverberating off the walls, getting everyone’s attention. Nicodemus and everyone on the platform except for Selina, Xavier, Amelia, Harry, and Nathanael looked on in wonder as Hannibal’s expression steeled as he looked out over the crowd. “That’s better,” he said to the crowd with satisfaction. “Now that I have your attention, let’s get down to it. The traitors and their henchmen have been apprehended, so there’s no more need to fear them. As proof of it, I’ll bring them before you so everyone can see their fates.”

A murmur rose through the crowd as Hannibal spoke of the traitors. He glanced back to the keep and saw Joshua coming out with the first of twenty prisoners. “Let them stand on the stairs so everyone can see,” Hannibal called out to Joshua as he brought the first to the stairs.

Everyone on the platform parted and allowed Joshua and the guards to bring the traitors forward. All thirteen of the traitors and seven of the henchmen were displayed in chains. The crowd was hushed as they were brought forward. Then boos and hisses began to emanate from the crowd. Someone cried out, “Kill ’em all!” A rumble of approval ran through the crowd at the statement.

Hannibal looked at the crowd as they became restless and vengeful, which caused his countenance to fall slightly. He struck the platform again with the scepter and they quieted down. “I know you all want to see these people dead,” he stated. “What you need to know is that we have sixty-three more of their comrades still in the dungeons. I have discussed it with Nicodemus and we have agreed that banishment to the Plains of Blood is going to be the punishment. They will not die by our hands. Enough blood has been spilled on their account. If they die, it will be by the Emperor’s hand, not ours.”

This did not set well with the crowd, which Hannibal noticed immediately. A roar erupted from the crowd, calling for the immediate execution of the traitors. Hannibal watched the explosion of hatred for the traitors with growing anger. Selina felt the anger and it dismayed her. Suddenly, she noticed that the scepter was responding to Hannibal’s anger, even though he was wearing a glove while holding it.

Nicodemus saw Hannibal’s countenance fall with the roar of the crowd. He also noticed that the scepter was beginning to glow brightly. He feared what was to come.

Hannibal let the crowd rage for about a minute and a half, and then smacked the platform again with the scepter, shouting out with great power and authority, “Enough!” This time an energy surge crackled out of the crystal head of the scepter in an impressive display. At the same time, the pounding of the scepter caused the whole square to rumble and his voice echoed supernaturally through the whole square. This display of anger and power shocked everyone present, including Selina. The people in the square immediately ceased their agitation and cowered before him. His expression was stern, one of great displeasure and anger. The traitors cowered as well. Everyone on the platform backed away a few steps except for Selina. She stood fast next to him, trying to temper his anger. “It’s not their lot to die by our hands! Justice will be served better with banishment than with death. They’ll be taken to the Plains of Blood and released with the express warning that if they ever come anywhere near you again, they will surely die. Joshua, take them away,” he ordered sternly with his anger subsiding.

Joshua and the guards immediately began to take them away when Hannibal said, “Wait. I have a better idea.” Joshua and the guards stopped as Hannibal suddenly started down the stairs followed closely by Selina. Everyone parted as Hannibal and Selina came down to the main level of the square. She had an inkling of what he intended to do. He walked to the middle of the square with Selina right at his elbow. Everyone wondered what he was going to do.

The crowd parted around Hannibal, giving him a good ten-foot perimeter around him. Many of the people got to see the scepter up close as he passed by. Once at the center of the square, he looked all around him, and then down to the stone pavers. He gazed closely at the pavers, and then said, “I thought so. This is the spot.” Selina looked down and saw a strange swirl carved in the pavers that stretched across the ten-foot perimeter into the crowd.

“Everyone back up. This is to show you all that there is a better way to deal with the traitors than execution,” Hannibal ordered the crowd; slowly waving the crowd back with the scepter. They immediately gave him a forty-foot perimeter. He immediately noticed the strange carvings terminated at twenty-five feet from his position in every direction. The pattern was strange with glyphs carved in the spiral pattern. He looked up, raising the scepter high with one hand instinctively, and then brought the pummel end down in the very center of the swirl, thinking of the Plains of Blood as the scepter came down. The scepter began to glow brightly as he brought it down with both hands on the staff. It struck the spot and sang in metallic resonance. The square rumbled as the pattern in the pavers began to light up like the scepter. The illuminating of the pattern began in the middle and spread outwards to the periphery. Selina stayed beside him even though her fear was rising. He felt it and telepathically reassured Selina as the ground began to tremble, forcing the people back farther. “Come on…do it, damn it!” Hannibal growled softly as the crystal on the scepter shined like the sun in brilliance. The very air became charged with raw power, making hair stand on end and nerves tingle for a seventy-foot radius around him. Suddenly, fifteen feet to either side of him and just to his front, which was facing the keep, the stone pavers began to rise. The people were so struck by the terror of what they were seeing that most froze in panic, unable to move. In a matter of two minutes, four great monoliths of stone and crystal arose from the courtyard in a square orientation around the perimeter of the spiral pattern in the courtyard. The monoliths were seven foot square and rose some thirty feet, curving inward slightly before stopping. The pillars began to glow bizarrely and within seconds, energy bolts sprang from the scepter and connected with the pillars. The pillars redirected the energy between them. Bolts of energy surged and sparked between the pillars for a few seconds before converging right between them in the middle. Selina immediately noticed Hannibal’s intense concentration and added her strength to his. In a flash, a glowing sphere twenty feet across appeared, first sending out a concussion wave in every direction, which flattened everyone in the square except for Selina and Hannibal without hurting them. The glowing sphere then faded to a twenty-foot ring of energy and a transparent center that showed a plain filled with short reddish grass and wildflowers. Looming in the distance were the ash clouds and volcanoes of Amacia. Everyone looked on with utter astonishment while rising from the concussive blast.

Nicodemus suddenly exploded off the platform and raced to the center of the square where the ancient machine had been revealed. He stopped right in front of it and said with complete amazement and fear, “Great Ancient of Days! It’s the Plains of Blood! What magic is this?”

“This is a piece of your past,” Hannibal announced. “This is a machine from the times before the Kragonar. It is a portal generator and it can allow you access to almost any corner of this cavern. This machine has not been used in over twelve thousand cycles. What you see here is not an illusion. If you step through the ring, you will be moved instantaneously to the location you see. It’s like stepping through a door.” The scepter glowed strongly, but not as brightly as it did at first. Energy crackled and spit as it circled around the center. “Joshua, bring the prisoners…all of them,” Hannibal ordered as Nicodemus walked around the portal to Hannibal’s side.

“I’m utterly without words,” Nicodemus said flabbergasted as Joshua and the guards forced the prisoners to the portal. The people immediately parted to let the guards through with the prisoners.

Turning to the crowds, Hannibal said, “After today, you will see them no more.” Then to the prisoners, he said coldly, “Step through the ring and don’t try to come back. If you do, you’re dead. You’re not going to come back here ever again. Now go!” One at a time, they were brought to the ring as the crowd gradually lost some of their fear, closing in to get a better look. By this time, Nathanael and Harry were standing next to the portal. “Harry, Nathanael...go through and keep them from trying to come back through,” Hannibal ordered. Nathanael drew his executioner’s blade and Harry hefted his war hammer, stepping through the portal first. The people gasped in wonder as Nathanael and Harry looked back from the other side of the portal, waving for the prisoners to be sent. One at a time, Joshua and the guards pushed the prisoners through the swirling ring of energy. The prisoners were so fearful of Nathanael and Harry that they immediately fled away once they were through the portal.

In a matter of ten minutes, all of the prisoners were through and Nathanael and Harry slipped back through the portal to Arionath before the prisoners could change their minds on whether to return. Once back though, Hannibal picked up the scepter and the portal vanished in an instant with a pop and a wisp of smoke that vanished quickly. The pillars, which had glowed substantially while the portal was active, diminished in brightness to a soft glow. Hannibal tapped the swirl lightly with the scepter and the pillars began to sink back into the square. The people looked on in awe and admiration as the pillars disappeared into the square. As Hannibal looked around wearily, the crowd began to murmur as a rumor Hannibal was wielding the scepter of Shadizar Kahn began to spread. He walked back to the platform at the keep entrance with Selina at his right and Nicodemus at his left. Joshua and the guards followed them and the crowd filled in behind them, carefully leaving the center of the square where the machine was located empty. Many now feared that portion of the square. But the rumor raced through the crowd like wildfire. Once he reached the top of the platform, Hannibal turned to the crowd and said, “They’ll never trouble you again. And we didn’t have to shed blood to do it. We didn’t have to sink the Emperor’s level. Wasn’t that a much better way of dealing with it?” A rumbled arose from the crowd indicating their approval of his statement. “But if you still think justice wasn’t served, be patient,” Hannibal stated. “The Emperor and his people will find them and when they do, I sure wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.”

A voice shouted over the rumbling crowd, calling out, “Great one, by what magic do you command the ancient machines? How is the staff in your hand able to summon the ancient machines?”

The question smote Hannibal to his heart and his steeled countenance softened, much to Selina liking. The question was the one that had run rampant through the crowd, so when the man asked the question, the crowd, which was nearly four thousand in number, immediately quieted, awaiting the answer. “What’s your name?” Hannibal asked the man.

“I am Seras, son of Hrothgar,” the man replied respectfully.

“Seras, son of Hrothgar, come here for a moment,” Hannibal ordered evenly. The crowd around him parted, backing away from him, expecting some sort of punishment to befall Seras for asking the question. Seras hesitated and Hannibal saw it. He saw the fear on his face and said in a plain, non-aggressive tone, “It’s all right. Don’t be afraid. You’re not in trouble.” The words were soothing to Seras’ mind and he moved through the crowd and marched up the stairs, bowing slightly to Hannibal, who allowed it.

Hannibal looked the man over. Seras was six foot eight in height and was built stoutly with very large hands. He had short red hair and a curly beard. It was obvious to Hannibal that this man was special. He looked Seras in the eye and said loud enough for all to hear, “You have courage and strength to ask such a question after what just happened, so I shall give you an answer. There’s no magic here, my friend. It’s technology and science far beyond what I’m used to dealing with. What you deem magical is not magic, but an understanding of the universe that’s beyond our comprehension. The people who created these machines had an understanding of the laws of the universe that we have yet to grasp. I have no idea how this staff is able to do what it does. But I can tell you and everyone here this.” Hannibal held the scepter up high so everyone could see it, saying, “This is the scepter of Shadizar Kahn, last king of Arionath. I found it in the throne room earlier today and used it to access the great Archives of Arionath, buried deep in the castle. It was there that I learned of the machine we just used. In time, we’ll come to understand the full potential of these machines and technology left behind by our ancestors.”

A hush fell across the crowd as what Hannibal said sank in. Then a jubilant cry rose from the crowd. They cheered and chanted, “Great One, Great One!” Voices rang out in chorus, “The great Warrior has come!”

The elders and leaders of Arionath now believed without a doubt that he was the Prophesied One and knelt to him. The crowd also knelt and praised the Eleven. Nicodemus even knelt before Hannibal. They gave him the adoration and praise worthy of a king. Hannibal looked around in complete astonishment as everyone knelt to him. He looked around the platform and saw that Seras, Corso, Joel, Liu, Xavier, Amelia, Kahn, Carver, Jacob, Rebecca, Crystal, Milo, Sharon, and even his own team were on one knee, paying homage to him. He looked at Selina with a look of total and utter stupefaction. For once, he was completely without words, utterly lost in the moment.

Selina took his hand and knelt as well, saying with the utmost love and respect, “My prince is no longer a prince. He’s a king. The Lord has done this and it is wonderful in His sight.”

Hannibal was overwhelmed and humbled by the display and began to weep softly, knowing that if it were the Lord’s doing as Selina said, it would be futile to resist it. After a couple moments, he lifted Selina to her feet by the hand and said, completely humbled by the display “Well, if I’m a king, then that makes you a queen. Stand by me, my queen.” She rose and Hannibal called out to the crowd, “All right; all right. I get the point. But be sure of this. I’m just a man and servant of the most High, like Nicodemus. Bowing is not necessary. If you want to please me just do what Nicodemus or I tell you. That’s all I need: just some cooperation. We’re all family and family should look after each other. Now everyone stand up. We have one more thing to deal with.” Everyone stood up at his order. Hannibal looked to Morrison and Arabella and asked, “Is this crowd too big?”

Morrison and Arabella stepped forward and Morrison answered, “Whatever you think, Hannibal. I guess it’s all right. What about you, Arabella?”

“After what I just saw, it’s fine with me. Go ahead and tell them if you want,” Arabella said humbly, resigned to the fact that Hannibal knew what he was doing.

“You’re sure about this?” Hannibal asked. “I don’t want to pressure you into it.”

“Go ahead,” Arabella replied confidently. “I guess they would have found out eventually.”

Hannibal nodded, saying, “Very well.” Then turning to the crowd, Hannibal declared, “Now that we have purged the traitorous elements from our midst, let’s celebrate life with a wedding. John, Arabella…come and stand before the crowd.”

Morrison and Arabella stepped forward with great fear at being the center of attention. Arabella clenched Morrison’s hand as they stood on the step just below Hannibal. Nicodemus stood to Hannibal’s left and Selina was on his right. “People and friends of Arionath,” Hannibal announced. “These two are part of my own team which, by the will of the Almighty, followed me into your savage land. They’re my dear friends, whom I owe my life to on several occasions. They’re very special to me, so I would like you to meet John Morrison and Arabella Bishop. By the will and command of the Almighty, they’re mates, as me and Selina are. They’ll be married as soon as the preparations are ready. Today, you are witness to the Almighty making two people husband and wife by His will, not theirs.” He peeled off one of the gloves and handed it to Selina. She instinctively knew that he was going to let her hold the scepter, so she put it on, and then received the scepter out of his hand. As she held it, Hannibal took Morrison’s hand and Arabella’s hand and put them together in view of the crowd, saying, “What the Lord puts together here, let no man or creature separate. Love one another and love the Lord your God and you will do well. We’ll always be there for you.”

“Thank you,” Morrison replied. “The same goes for us. We’re there for you as well.”

The crowd rumbled, but remained polite and subdued, unlike before Hannibal’s angry outburst. Hannibal turned to the crowd and said with a pleased tone, “Let us make celebration for my friends. Anyone who wishes to participate, please speak with Nicodemus or the elders. Those who have other things pressing, please go in peace.” With that, he dismissed the crowd. Turning to Nicodemus, he said, “We have a pleasant chore ahead of us now. Let’s enjoy it for it may be the last time something like this may ever happen here.”

Nicodemus nodded with a smile and replied, “Well said, Hannibal; well said. You’re becoming more and more like a king every moment.”

Hannibal sighed as the crowds began to disperse, including those around him on the platform. “I’m no king,” he admitted. “I’m just a man who finds himself caught up in something much bigger than himself. I didn’t come here to be king or free people. But it seems the fates and the will of God had other plans.”

“Ah. But that is where you’re wrong,” Nicodemus returned. “You are a king. Let’s just take stock of the situation for a moment, shall we? You came to us as an explorer, a man of the surface guided by the Almighty bringing not only your people, but also the great cat gods of myth that lived, fought and died next to our ancestors trying to keep the Emperor in check. From the moment you came to us, you have been more concerned with the people than yourself. You could have easily just refused to help us and let us die, but you didn’t. You take great risks and face great perils to help us deal with the Emperor. Just look at what just happened here in the last few hours. You unlocked fabled treasures with ease. You purged the traitorous element from our midst, and now you’re going to into the perilous maw of danger again to help Corso and his people at the risk of your own life, not to mention what you have done to help us. I must say, if that doesn’t define a king, nothing does. You are and have always been a king: a leader of men. Don’t fear it. Nobility isn’t defined by blood line but by action and deed. The Ancient of Days has put you in a position few men ever get to occupy. Have faith and trust in His guidance. He has guided you this far. He will not abandon you.”

Nicodemus’ words smote Hannibal to his heart and he replied, “The Lord truly is great, is He not? He knows just what to say when it needs to be said. I still don’t like the idea of me being a king, but if that’s what He wants, who am I to refuse it.”

“Don’t you see, my prince? That’s exactly why He has put you in this position,” Selina retorted. “It’s your very reluctance to take this power and use it that makes you the ideal candidate for wielding it. Remember the first time we merged and you found out that you had telepathic ability that you were completely unaware of and how you resisted using it because of your history in the Black Arts. The Lord does not make mistakes when portioning out gifts and abilities like that. Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing.”

“Listen to her,” Nicodemus agreed. “She speaks the truth. Don’t let this mantle shake you. You’re going to need it to deal with the Emperor and you know that you will eventually have to. Trust His wisdom and believe in Him and yourself. He’ll enable you to do the right thing.”

Hannibal let their words sink down into his heart and said softly, “I’m a truly blessed to have such good friends. Your words have smitten me to my heart and given me strength. Thank you. Come. Let’s have a marriage and a celebration of life in the shadows of death.”

Nicodemus smiled and Selina put her free arm around Hannibal, laying her head on his shoulder for a moment. Nicodemus looked at the two as Hannibal put his arm around Selina in response. “Besides,” Nicodemus added, “you two are the very image of a king and queen. Just look how you love each other and everyone around you. Your love and very presence are contagious to everyone around you.”

Hannibal and Selina looked at each other and chuckled at the comment. Putting his hand on Nicodemus’ shoulder, Hannibal said, “You don’t know how close to the truth you are on that.”

“What do you mean?” Nicodemus asked as they started into the keep.

“I’ll show you and the elders later,” Hannibal replied as they walked. “It was just something that we found in the Archives. When you see it, you will know why we laughed at your comment.”

Nicodemus nodded and said, “Very well. Later it will be. Let’s get John and Arabella properly married while we have the chance.” They disappeared into the keep, setting the preparations for the marriage into motion.

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