Janne followed Valgard as he stepped out of the tent. Asgeir waited for him at the edge of the encampment, reins held out. The Archbishop took them with a soft nod towards the page and swiftly mounted. His chainmail rustled under night-black vestments as he turned back to face Janne and Asgeir.
“Watch carefully, both of you,” he told them. “Watch and understand what it means to keep an oath.”
Asgeir nodded solemnly; the hospitalier followed suit, but with a second shudder, as if a chilling shadow had crossed over her. Valgard chose not to notice. He spurred his horse on, trotting off towards the center of the ordered troops as Janne and Asgeir watched on. As he moved towards the center of the field the surviving soldiers scattered, moving into tents or under carts. The hospitalier wished she could join them.
“Exciting, isn’t it?” Asgeir asked. Janne nearly jumped out of her skin as the youthful-looking page spoke. She turned to face him; he was barely as tall as her, with messy flaxen hair and rumpled brown leathers worn from long hours walking beside the Archbishop’s horse on dusty roads. He smiled, a genuine soft smile as he turned back to gaze at his mentor. “To see firsthand what the Archbishop can do?”
Janne pursed her plump lips, green eyes creased with anxiety. “I’ve never seen…I mean, we’ve prepared orderings, but never to this scale, and I’ve never…” She relentlessly smoothed down the sides of her blood-stained vestments, tabard fluttering in the gentle autumn breeze. “I don’t know if I want to see this.”
Asgeir cocked his head, unsure of how to reply to the redhaired hospitalier. Before he could form any words, though, a loud whinny from Valgard’s horse brought both of them back to the matter at hand.
The Archbishop cantered the horse in a wide circle, black cloak fluttering behind him. “Listen to me!” his voice called out, bold and confident. “I am Valgard Broddrson, Archbishop of the One True Church, wielder of the locking key!”
He reached down, hand brushing past the hilt of Rorik’s sword to grasp his own blade. He drew it forth and held it aloft. In appearance, especially compared to his son’s embellished steel, the long thin blade was perfectly ordinary. As Valgard pointed the sword at the sky, however, crimson flames began to crawl up the blade’s surface until it crackled and popped with searing heat.
“You have died trying to keep your oaths!” he called out. “You have died in failure! Your duties are not yet complete, your obligations are not yet met! As the wielder of the locking key, I do not release you!”
Janne and Asgeir felt the ground shudder under their feet as three thousand corpses shivered in unison. Janne held back a gasp; Asgeir made the sign of the sword over his chest.
“I do this out of compassion!” Valgard continued, his voice growing in volume and intensity as the flame of his sword burned hotter and brighter. “I do this out of mercy! I will not let you pass on with your oaths broken. You will have the chance to redeem yourselves from your mistakes before you are held to account. Now – stand up! Your Church demands it!”
Janne stepped back in shock as, in unison, the bodies around her suddenly lurched upwards onto their feet. Bones snapped and popped back into their original positions. Flesh and sinew hissed as they bonded back onto severed stumps. Broken necks craned around, dragging heads with shattered skulls and smashed jaws up to look upon the massive form of the Archbishop with his blazing sword held high. None of the soldiers drew breath, but all blankly stood at attention. They were dead, reeking of decay and dripping with blood and gore, but they could still serve.
Valgard nodded with satisfaction, turning his horse back as he lowered his sword. The flames died away by the time the Archbishop reached Janne and Asgeir. He looked down upon the page and the hospitalier, who by now was fighting back a mixed instinct to vomit and run. “Bishop, tell your cohorts that their parishes are restored to them,” he commanded. “Tell them they are to remain here and properly defend the Reach; they must not be defeated a third time.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” she stammered, blinking tears out of her eyes.
“And hurry,” Valgard continued as she began to stagger back to the main tent. “We must get moving.”
Janne shook her head in confusion. “We, Your Grace?”
“We.” Valgard’s gaze was emotionless, cold grey eyes staring out from a grey-framed face giving all the compassion of a tombstone. “You’ve seen our enemy. You know what we face, and so you must join me.”
Janne nodded. “The goblins, of course,” she muttered, but Valgard shook his head.
“No, Bishop. I told you earlier – the goblins are an annoyance.” He turned to survey the standing army, the soldiers that had already given their lives once in service to the Church. “We go after my son.”