In my recalling back there was no distinct time that I could point to when my change in ego began to wield its full and entire effect. However, I do believe that the meeting with the Leaders, in which I defended my brother and he offered his support in helping me with any troubles, was certainly a beginning point, especially after I responded to him with an air of confidence in claiming I would be able to take care of any issues on my own. But even then, as I look back, I initially continued to conduct myself as I usually did. How quickly the escalation of the enhancement of my own image within my own mind happened was just as surprising to me as it was to those around me.
I didn’t change in the way I treated my men, though. And their responses to me also didn’t change. I’m sure they could see that I was changing but the thing that mattered most to them remained: I continued to fight with an ability unlike one that had ever been witnessed in our Cause. Continuing to fight in this way, as well as continuing to win battles, was where I still actually felt some pressure, as I increasingly became numb within my own aura to anything not pertaining to fighting for the Cause. The pressure was not felt because I was afraid of losing, however. The pressure came in the form of a desire to perform better each time. My men, in return, strived to match my ability on the battlefield. This was their livelihood and to be a part of what we were doing was what maintained their respect for me. Most of them even took on a similar mindset that I did; to be a part of my portion of the army was to be a part of the best our movement had to offer, causing them to also become prideful.
My men conducted themselves differently. They walked around the main village with an aura that was not present in the other warriors fighting for the other generals. And for me to allow this to happen so soon after I had demanded my peers’ respect for the arrangement I had with my brother may have seemed irresponsible on my end. There of course had to be some jealousy and animosity toward what we were doing and how we were acting. But with the victories, this actually wasn’t much of a problem. We were becoming nearly untouchable.
The other potential problem that I could’ve been presented with was the possibility of one of my men reaching a height of greatness that would cause him to believe he could challenge me in my own god-hood. This also wasn’t a concern of mine, though, because a glimpse into my own mind at this time was to see someone so convinced that his greatness was greater than any other greatness that could be possessed by another human being. I truly believed that if I lifted someone else up to legendary status my own legend would only grow larger. And I was probably right.
The Leaders didn’t intervene in stopping me as I continued down this path of self-indulgence. Quite the contrary actually:
“Valeric, you’ve surpassed the expectations that even we had for you… and I can assure you that they were very high expectations.”
“Thank you, sirs. I’m simply trying to perform my duties the best that I can.”
This particular meeting with the Leaders only involved me and Theodon. Had the other generals been present, I’m certain there would have been some eye-rolls at their opening statement and at my response to it. And I wasn’t sure, but Theodon may have done his own internal eye-roll when I made my response. We weren’t outwardly quarreling at the time, but I could feel the tension.
“We know,” The Leaders said, “and that’s actually why we’ve brought you here for this meeting. We know what’s being said. We know about the adoration being shown you… and how that may be resulting in some jealousy towards you and your men.”
Theodon began to shuffle in his seat. His normally composed self was struggling to remain in that state.
“I won’t lie to you, sirs, I sometimes see and sense it too… but I can promise you I won’t let it get to me.”
I glanced at Theodon quickly and then looked back at the Leaders.
“Good. Because that’s exactly what we were going to say to you. Keep doing as you are doing, and we will take care of any trouble that you may encounter.”
“Thank you. I will continue to ignore and proceed.”
“We knew you would… mostly we wanted to give you some reassurance. Because if we, as your Leaders, aren’t getting jealous of your notoriety, then no one else has any right to.”
“I’m thankful for your support, especially when it would be so easy to take the same path as the others.”
I truly was appreciative. It seemed to me that the Leaders were the only ones being sensible in regards to the issue. We were progressing, and those who displayed animosity should’ve been grateful to me for where I had gotten them — where I had gotten the Cause.
The Leaders then had the final word and ended the meeting.
“That is all, Valeric. You may continue as you have been… with no fear of repercussion.”
This had been the only meeting with the Leaders in which both Theodon and I had been present and only I had spoken.
After the meeting Theodon and I still walked together through the Main Village, but not saying anything to each other. Nothing needed to be said. As we walked, I concluded that word must’ve gotten out that I was meeting with the Leaders and that I’d be walking through that portion of the village to get back to my own home. Because the streets began to fill up. Men, women, children coming out of their homes just to get a glimpse of the person who was bringing our movement so much hope. Some called my name and thanked me. The children looked at me in awe, unable to speak; their greatest desire: to someday be me. Some of the men were my own warriors. Men who had the privilege of being a part of what I led, and yet they still came out to get a glimpse. I’m sure they felt a sense of pride, knowing that they were closer to this very spectacle than the other onlookers who were not a part of my regiment. And some of the men who came out were indeed a part of the other regiments of the Cause. Men who were led by generals who felt and expressed that aforementioned jealousy and animosity, but still could not remain inside their homes as I walked by; I experienced the most amount of pride when I observed this part of the parade.
For that’s what it was, a parade. Part of me wondered if Theodon’s mind would let up, with him being a part of the spectacle. I told myself that he had to be feeling his own sense of pride as he walked alongside me, showing to the people that he was perhaps the closest person to me — a person with his own personal access to a god within the Cause. I hoped that it would give him a sense of why I couldn’t not allow this to happen. I couldn’t tell the people to go back to their homes. I didn’t understand how he could be upset by what was going on, especially after how I had fought for him to be the person who had the greatest access to me. How I had stood up before my peers and the Leaders. I still loved him, but I resented him for this seeming lack of appreciation.
How was it that the Leaders were the only ones in leadership positions actually possessing the desire to foster and enable this phenomenon within the Cause? I eventually looked to see if Theodon was taking it all in, attempting to search within his mind to see if his perspective had changed. But what I observed was that he was unmoved.
I finally broke our silence, once we had made it through the parade and were nearing my home.
“How is it that you can’t see that what’s going on is not good?” I asked him.
“It’s not that I don’t think it’s all bad, Valeric. It’s as I’ve said… I think you need to be more careful with things.”
“Careful with what exactly? You think I’m becoming too warped within my own greatness… but I’m not asking these people to come out here, Theodon, and I would be fine if they didn’t. It’s their choice and there’s not much I can do to change their minds. Unless you want me to start purposefully losing battles.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Well what is it then?”
“You’re right. You can’t make people’s choices for them. If they want to come out then they should, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s you, Valeric… you’re changing.”
“I can see it in your eyes, in your demeanor, in how you speak. You’re not just warped into the idea that you might be a god… I think you’re actually starting to live out the part. You believe it.”
“Now you’re the one being ridiculous. The meeting we just came out of, I was very respectful towards the Leaders and I allowed them to lead the conversation. They didn’t seem at all concerned, and like they said, if anyone in our movement should have cause for jealousy, it’s them. But they don’t.”
“That’s a part of it, though,” Theodon replied, speaking more quietly now, “I don’t think that everything with them, and especially with this meeting, should be met at its face.”
“Now you’re speaking in conspiracies and becoming too political.”
“It’s not that… I just think we should all be more cautious.”
“Look, I will give you that the Leaders may be more jealous than what they’re giving off… but we’re winning, Theodon. And the Leaders know that that’s what’s most important.”
Theodon let out a loud and long sigh. I was convinced he had been holding it in since the meeting began.
“Perhaps,” he said, in resignation.
“I don’t know what else to say to you brother, but I need sleep. I will see you tomorrow.”
“Of course. Goodnight, Valeric.”
A warm and flustering rush blew into my upper body, my neck, and parts of my face, for I was going to say one more thing. Something that part of me screamed not to say… but I still said it despite this inward warning.
“Goodnight, Theodon. And before you go… I urge you to reconsider these misgivings you have, before you’re left on your own. Because if we have to, we will proceed without you… so please, brother, reconsider.
I knew he was shocked. And I was as well after I had let out the words. But what was said was final and I couldn’t take it back. And despite my regret in saying the words, I still believed them. He simply shook his head in response. Then he walked off for the night.
I was convinced that what I’d said was necessary and that it needed to be said sooner or later. It was for Theodon’s own good. But I also knew that the words would cause extreme hurt. We had quarreled before, sometimes even to the point of not speaking to each other for a few days. But never had the idea ever been planted in either of our minds that one day one of us would leave the other behind. Comradeship was implied from our very beginnings and an alternative was never to be considered, entertained, or even thought to be possible. And yet here I was, essentially offering up an ultimatum: either fall in line or get left behind. What that even meant in full, I did not know. With my power, though, I could very well make it — whatever it was — happen.
Theodon knew that too. So of course I had hurt him on many levels. I told myself that my goal wasn’t to hurt him, though. It was to help him. Later on, when alone, I even posed the question to myself of my possibly being hurt by his lack of trust in me, which in turn led to me hurting him with my words. For that’s what we do. We justify our actions by placing the blame on the actions inflicted upon us beforehand. But I didn’t delve too deep into this question, because I was afraid of any inconveniences potential answers might have uncovered.
I still slept soundly. And I dreamed well. I dreamt that I was in battle. It was a revisionist dream, a dream re-hashing a conglomeration of all the battles I had fought until that point. In the dream was my very first battle; a time of numbness and then reality. After moving on from that first battle, the dream, in warp speed, included all of the men I had killed. The men I conquered, achieving over them exactly what they wanted to do to me. In the dream were also the times I was close to being conquered, the times that I was the one whose life was nearly ended forever. But I had always gotten out of those times, emerging a stronger and better warrior than before.
I came to a realization in this dream that, although the times I had killed the enemy were much higher in number than the times they came close to killing me, my own flirtations with death had a greater impact on my greatness than the actual blood I spilled. Sometimes this was evident in reality: I'd come out of a near miss still living and breathing and I’d almost despise the enemy for not being able to accomplish their goal; not completely eliminating me almost irrationally caused me to be angry with them for failing to kill me. Coming away unscathed brought me more motivation and a sense of wanting to make it known to them that their failure would result in much greater consequences than if I’d been able to do away with them more quickly at the very onset of the battle. In my mind, they, and the rest of their army, needed to be punished severely for their failure.
This feeling was amplified in my dream because while my dream covered the blood of the men I killed at warp speed, it slowed down for my near misses. And I was able to see how those times had brought me to where I currently was. Some men cower and are in a constant state of avoidance after having flirted with death so closely. For the remainder of their warrior lives they try so desperately to avoid the encounter they had been lucky to come out of, not realizing that this avoidance almost always led them to death more swiftly than not avoiding would have. Other men simply fought; they did their duty, went through the motions, and didn’t put much thought into the death they had just cheated.
Very few men emerged from the experiences rejuvenated and exhilarated. Ready to not only make the man who had failed in eliminating him pay for his miss, but making his comrades pay as well, and ultimately, allowing himself to feel as if he was taking one more step towards invincibility, like a small sip from the cup of immortality. I was one of these men. In reality I was increasingly entertaining the idea of invincibility and immortality in my mind; in my dream, this very dream, I was believing it wholeheartedly. I was becoming invincible.
The invincibility took a short reprieve the very next morning. Theodon was back early, waking me from my slumber. He was not there to continue the argument from the night before.
“Mother is dying, Valeric.”
The news was both shocking and not at all surprising, as much as those two things can be the correct at the same time.
Despite my various disagreements with my mother and our last conversation being one that was not favorable towards me, my mother was still the rock who had always been present in my life. She was often my greatest supporter, and even when she played the role of detractor, I still held her opinion in the highest regard. And now she was about to enter the role of simply being a memory. I knew this was coming. Rather, my subconscious knew it.
My mother was old and her body had been becoming weaker by the day. What masked this bodily decay, however, was her mind being as strong as it had ever been. But sometimes the mind and the body don’t always go hand in hand, and they each possess different ideas on what our length of time on this earth should be. My mother’s body was winning, her mind was losing. Or, so I thought that to be true going into my final conversation with her.
“Valeric,” she began the talking as I entered her room. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Of course, Mother. I would not be anywhere else. I’m here for you… we’re both here for you.”
Theodon had let me go in alone. He had spent that entire night awake with her, monitoring her every breath, perhaps positively going over the past while also speaking positively about the future, assuring her that her legacy would continue.
“Theo says that you and he had an argument.”
“Mother don’t fret over that. We’ve argued before… you know this.”
“He seems to think it was different this time.”
I was frustrated with Theodon for even mentioning this to her as she was on her deathbed. It also told me how serious he considered the issue to be. But I couldn’t let her see my frustration, not at that time. I determined I’d have to deal with it away from her, most likely after she had passed on.
“It’ll all be resolved… I promise.”
“I hope so. Don’t ever let go of what you and he have, Valeric.”
Due to the words I had said to Theodon the night before, these words stung. And while I tried to conceal the stinging, I’m sure she could see it. My mother knew her sons. Our secrets were her realities.
“I won’t,” is all I could get out in the hopes that we could move on from the subject.
She continued: “It’s not just because you are blood, although that is where the greatest form of loyalty comes from. It’s also because you and he are one… his strengths are your weaknesses, and your strengths are his weaknesses. You know this, Valeric.”
“I do. However, and this is the last I’ll say on the matter, Mother, lately he seems to only want to dwell on his strengths.”
“I understand,” she said, “Don’t think that I’m taking a side. I’m with you both. Just talk to each other. But talk to understand each other’s point of you, not simply to defend your own.”
She was speaking with so much conviction and clarity in those moments that I began to wonder if she truly was on the verge of dying. Yet she still seemed and looked weak in body. She was lying down, making no attempt to sit up. She was also holding my hand at this point and it was very cold. But never had she seemed so strong and so convincing than what she was at that moment. And it caused me to wonder if she had more to give.
“I will try,” I told her, “...Mother, you still seem so strong.”
“I don’t feel it, Valeric… it is my time.”
“Maybe you just think that… maybe time hasn’t decided that for you yet. We don’t really ever get to choose.”
“We do and we don’t,” she said to me. “In time you’ll come to know exactly what that means. I actually feel that I’ve cheated time these last few days.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve held on a little longer than maybe what I was supposed to… so that I could have this very talk with you, and the talk I had with Theodon last night. That is probably why I sound so clear to you.”
I couldn’t argue with this. Nor did I want to. Her mind was convinced and it was made up. I only gripped her hand more firmly, the tears I had been holding back began to appear in two small streams running down my face. There weren’t a lot of them, but there were enough. This final conversation symbolized our entire relationship. It contained some disagreement and back and forth, it involved my trying to conceal true feelings from her but not being able to, but it ended as any interaction with her had: with the illustration of her true love and devotion to me and to her family as a whole. The love she had for the Cause was also present, as it was certainly implied when she spoke of me and Theodon’s strengths and weaknesses.
She asked me to call Theodon into the room.
Theodon entered and we stood there side by side, for her. Our frustrations towards each other were not present in that moment. Only our love for our mother was shown, in sadness, in loyalty and respect, and in gratitude. It didn’t take long for her to die. She had said what she needed to say and then let go completely.
My mother’s death was many things to me, as is the case with any son who loses a mother he loves. One of those things, however, was a wavering of back and forth thoughts within my mind about whether the mind and the body truly did have different ideas of time, or if they were actually more in tune with each other than I originally thought — my mother’s body gave out immediately after she was content with what her mind had released, as she seemed to imply in her final conversation with me.
The next day the Leaders expressed their condolences, making a short statement:
“We are deeply sorry for your loss. Your mother was a strong woman. She was a wife and mother to our movement, serving and raising four men who have all fought for the Cause.”