“I want to continue on,” I said as I stood before the Leaders. “I let my pride take control and made a mistake. I assure you that it won’t happen again, and I will do everything in power to make sure of that. But I know such promises are useless until I’m able to go out and prove myself over again. I want to fight and I always will. And I will be willing to fight wherever it is you want me to. My desire is to remain a general, though. The Cause is all I know and I believe in it now more than I ever have.”
“You did wrong,” was how one of the Leaders broke the long silence after I had spoken. “You’ve also done a lot of great things for our Cause, and you still managed to achieve improbable victory in the midst of that wrong-doing. We need you. The Cause needs you, and I, for one, believe you should be back in the role of leading us to victories.”
The others weren’t as gracious with their words, but it didn’t take long for them to unanimously agree that I should retain my position. They did demand, however, that my next two battles be as a regular warrior before returning to my leadership role.
Each general’s regiment consisted of three hundred to five hundred men and there wasn’t much transference between the regiments. The men were set where they were and the only times men were moved from one regiment to another was when the ranks of one became devastated to the point of going under the three hundred number threshold; more often, though, these voids were filled by teenagers coming up within the Cause.
So while I was not going to be leading for two battles, the Leaders informed me that I would still be fighting with my own regiment but that one of my peers would leading it while his own regiment rested at Main.
I accepted their proposal and even somewhat looked forward to it, this despite being suspicious by the Leaders’ tactic in making me fight within my own regiment and having it led by one of my peers; there was potential for some humiliation in this. But to be just another warrior amongst the men again appealed to me, and even if just for a couple battles, I felt I could use the experience to learn new tactics, re-introduce myself to the common warrior’s role and point of view, and most importantly, hopefully display to the men my willingness to earn back their trust by fighting right alongside them. But after accepting the request of the Leaders I still wasn’t done with them, even though they seemed quite content with ending the meeting there. So as they began to get up from their seats, I interjected:
“With respect sirs, I have one request of you all, if I may?”
They were taken aback by the interjection. Their minds had been shut off and they likely wanted to move on to tending to other matters. They probably also thought it to be quite bold of me to feel like I could even make a request of them. They had let me off easy and I should take it and run with it, was their probable thought process.
But, they were about to find out that my request wasn’t going to be anything in my favor. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I was about to ask of them something that someone of my stature rarely ever asked of people. And it was my concern over the way the one particular Leader had spoken about me during the meeting that prompted my interjection. You’ve done a lot of great things. We need you. The Cause needs you. These were phrases that I would have emphatically nodded my head in agreement with in the past. Truthfully, I had done a lot of good for our Cause. But as my short journey of searching for answers had revealed to me, I had to be done with that sort of praise. I had to be humble, and the humility had to be genuine. And for it to be genuine, I couldn’t just let what he said go without response. I had to redirect the praise towards the One who truly deserved it.
The Leaders sat back down and told me to proceed.
“While you were speaking,” I began, looking directly at the man, “you spoke about all of the great things I’ve done for the Cause. You spoke of the Cause needing me and it was flattering to me, and I want so badly to look you in the eye and say to you that it’s going to continue and that you’re right. That more victories will be achieved under my leadership. But I must tell you that I no longer want to be comfortable with receiving that kind of praise. My pride has guided me for much too long. Our pride has guided us for much too long. It’s time to return to handing out the praise to where the praise is due. It’s time to remember Who we’re doing this for. From now on, any victory that’s achieved that I’m a part of, all the glory, all the honor, and all of the credit will be given to the God of our Cause. The God Who will be the reason we finally reach ultimate victory.”
The Leaders were silent. They never expected to hear such words from any of their generals. But especially not from me. I could see in each of them a searching for words to respond, but they were struggling to find them. I couldn’t tell if they were more shocked or moved by what I said. I hoped they were moved, not by the eloquence of how I said it, but by what I said. I knew, however, that I would have to wait for my answer to that particular question. Time would tell whether what I said and what I intended to do would be followed by others and followed by our movement as a whole. I hoped for our sake that it would catch on, and I wanted it to because I believed in it, and not because I believed in myself.
And I knew one thing for sure: after the meeting I would not maintain a constant focus on speaking aloud about it. I would tell my men what I was doing, but, as I waited to hear the Leaders’ response, I determined that no other talking was needed. In my mind, the less talking and the more action I took toward my goal, the more success I believed I would have, which was how I had earned the respect of the men when I first became a general.
“Very well,” the Leaders responded.
I would’ve appreciated more, but overall, I was neither encouraged nor discouraged by their response. It was enough for me to get back to work.
My next battle was to be very the next day and it took some time to get re-acclimated to it all. Partly because, for the first time in a long time, I was not leading. And also because going into battle is not something you simply return to after time off without experiencing an awakening of sorts. Going from several days of physical rest but mental exertion, mostly through searching of the soul and being in a state of constant thought, to having to shield myself from being stabbed through the heart or sliced at the neck, while trying myself to do those things to another human being was not an easy changeover to make.
A rush of familiarity did eventually come back to me, though: a return to the mindset of doing my duty as well as the feeling of honor to be able to fight alongside my brothers. There wasn’t necessarily a point of distinction or one exact moment that these familiarities came back, but they did and I remember realizing afterward that, although I could feel the struggle for re-acclimation at the beginning, the prominence of that feeling didn’t in any way prevent a quick return to form.
The blood also returned. The stench of death, too. And again, I was back to being one of the persons directly responsible for bringing about that blood and that stench. I killed many men during those first two battles back. Not being in the position of leading the men, this was my only job, and I performed it as well as I could. As a general, responsibilities increase and it’s not possible to simply focus on beating the man standing opposite you. But as a common soldier, that was it. Kill or be killed. So, I killed. And, as always, no matter what rank I held, I did it well.
There was one major difference this time, though. After two victories in two days, instead of basking in my own pride for what I had accomplished for our Cause, immediately after the enemy surrendered, I removed my helmet, drove my sword into the ground, got on my knees and praised God for the victory He had just led us to.
Some of the men watched as I did this. They were intrigued as well as taken aback as a man of my stature literally fell into the dirt and lifted his hands up while bowing to the unseen. They knew Who it was for. They knew what the Cause was. But they had never considered doing what I was doing. They considered our God to almost be the ultimate authority but didn’t really acknowledge Him as watching each and every battle closely with guided interest, not only upon the battle itself but also upon each person fighting the battle. What I was performing seemed to be a very personal act and, somewhere along the line, our God had become a disinterested third party to the men — especially the ordinary men who knew nothing but fighting; yes, they were fighting for Him, but at the same time they weren’t at all conscious of that fact.
And while I was observed by the men, I hoped that they would see me as an example. But I didn’t perform these gestures in the most open of spaces so as to be seen; I simply did what I did at the moment the enemy surrendered, as I wanted only fate to decide for whomever to see what I was doing. The act came first, the eyes that saw were next, and lastly, when and if asked, the explanation would come last.
And as I expected, it didn’t take long for me to have to explain my actions. Because shortly after that very first raising of platitudes after that very first battle I was approached.
“Forgive me, sir, but what are you doing?”
The man asked it so reticently, it was as if he was afraid of offending me by asking. But there was also a sense given off by him that rendered desperation in wanting and needing to ask. Despite my failures, the men still had a reverence for me; the fearful respect was still there, but so too was the desire to know and get close to me in some way. The two had always been in direct contradiction with each other and the way I dealt with it would also need to change.
“I’m thanking our God,” I responded to him. “I’m thanking Him for His protection over us and for His delivering us over our enemies in this battle.”
I was afraid that after many battles of not doing this after each victory, that I might’ve come off as insincere. But, as I was answering the man, I felt at peace with what I was saying, and by the expression on the man’s face, I believed that he believed what I was saying was from the heart. Even so, he was still curious.
“I’ve fought for you, and now I’ve had the privilege of fighting alongside you, but I’ve never seen or heard of you doing this before.”
I then surprised myself by telling the man parts of my story that he did not know. Not the entire story, of course, but enough of it. I told him that this was the first time I had ever done it, but that it would not be the last. I told him how my pride had become my reckless guide and how I was determined to change that. I told him how I had almost decided to give up after the great mistake, how I had to search and seek out answers before deciding to continue on. I told him how I needed to get back to fighting for the true reason we were fighting, and how the Cause, as a whole, needed that as well. I also apologized to the man. I asked him to forgive me for allowing him to think I was a god. That I was sorry for the positions I placed him in as he fought for me as my ego did most of the leading.
The man was understandably taken aback by my testimony. He told me there was no need for him to forgive me, but I reiterated to him that there was and that I truly had wronged him. He chose not to push any further on that point but made sure to reaffirm his loyalty to me:
“I will continue to fight for you, even if it means I have to die. And that has not changed, no matter what you’ve done in the past,” he said.
I was honored and told him so. But in my response to him, I wanted him to promise me that he was no longer going to fight strictly and only for me, and that he would do it mainly for the God of the Cause.
“I promise, sir.”
I thanked him and left him with one last word.
“What you have seen and heard here from me, you should not be afraid to express to others if you are asked. I’m sure you’re not the only one who saw and had questions, and just as you were not too frightened to ask, don’t be afraid to tell… and you may leave out nothing.”
After the second and final of my two battles as a regular warrior the news of my spiritual change had indeed begun to spread a little. I was sure that those numbers would multiply once I went back to leading my army into battle. But in both battles we were victorious, causing the enemy to fall back a bit, giving us a reprieve from fighting for a few days. So I then began to consider that the news would also fall back and be forgotten about until our next battle.
It was also evident that the enemy missed out immensely on a great opportunity after my mistake. Despite having won that battle, our numbers had been splintered and morale was decidedly low. That was the time to attack. They should have come at us with force. But they didn’t. They held back and recuperated from their loss, despite us having lost more than them in our victory. Yes, their confidence was shattered, but ours was even more, and although it takes some instinctual skills for something like that to be recognized, it is possible to be recognized when blessed with a strategic mind in warfare.
Along with my natural instincts in the midst of battles, I had also been blessed with the ability to determine and figure out a perspective through the enemy’s mind and eyes. Whether it was before, during, or after a battle, I could effectively put myself into the minds of the opposing generals and gain insight into how I could best fight or respond to what I believed them to be thinking and planning. It was impossible to be accurate every single time, but more often than not I was, and it proved to be an essential part of my leading. Had the enemy possessed this kind of ability after my mistake, they could have inflicted severe damage to the Cause — but they failed.
“You’ve caused a bit of a stir around here,” Theodon said to me the day after the second battle.
Apparently my thoughts on my own personal news subsiding a bit were mistaken, and perhaps my non-battle related instincts could’ve used some improvement.
“When exactly were you going to tell me about this change of yours?”
There was a hint of trepidation and maybe even some skepticism in his voice as he opened the conversation. My brother, like me and as mentioned before, was a mostly guarded person, as he was quite skillful in his ability to conceal his true feelings about something or someone when talking to them. But also as mentioned, being the closest to him, I was the best at being able to decipher him, but I was still surprised by how readily I was able to do it on this occasion.
“To be honest, I was unsure of how to even bring it up,” I told him. “Forgive me, but this isn’t necessarily something that I want to proclaim to others with words. I would rather it happen over time and through what I do instead. But I still should have told you about it first. I’m sorry, Theodon.”
“I’m not offended as much as I am curious as to where it’s coming from. And to be forthright… is it genuine?”
He slowed down in speech as he asked the question, eyes peering into my own as if he was trying to retrieve my answer by staring directly into my soul, attempting to retrieve its motives. I wasn’t intimidated nor was I frustrated by his doing this, though, because I had no reason to be. I told him the truth, just as I had told the man after that first battle. And as I told him, his ability in concealing his initial judgement returned and was much better than when he first began the conversation. I told him of the journey and what it brought me, how close I was to being done with it all, how I came to realize what I had been missing and, ultimately, what I felt the Cause had been missing. Again, it was not a strain for me to try to be genuine in what I was saying, it was coming out naturally and fluidly. I was by no means a smooth talker, as what I admired in him, but what I lacked in elegance in speech I made up for in being upfront and forthright when I did speak, being able to fully project that honesty to those with whom I was speaking.
Theodon listened intently and he was patient; at no point did he interject or give off the impression that he was bored with what I was saying. It was not lost on me that what was happening was a complete reversal of typical events, as it was usually him the one speaking and me the one listening. He seemed to truly be curious about the change I was trying to make.
After I finished he took some time to ponder it all, and I could tell he was gathering his thoughts carefully together before responding. This was who he was. Eventually, he let out a sigh, not one of judgement, but more of relief. After the sigh he finally responded with his words.
“I can see that you are being truthful in your motives, Valeric, and for that I am grateful. You’re not wrong in what you are saying. In fact, you are completely in the right. And… as you were speaking, I began to realize that I’ve been using you. I’m sorry… ”
These were not the words I was expecting. And the typical Theodon eloquence certainly wasn’t there as well.
“Using me?” I asked, “What are you speaking of?”
“I have known what you’ve discovered for some time now. I’ve also been concerned about the direction of our movement. And while I expressed to you concerns I had in regards to your behavior, I continued to want you to fight because of the victories. I allowed myself to believe that just because your motives weren’t in the right, the victories would still trump those motives, because ultimately, the Cause still needed those victories, however they came. But I now see that I was wrong. That by letting you to continue on as you were, I was allowing others to see you as a god, causing their motives and their view of the Cause to also become skewed. I’m sorry, brother. Forgive me.”
“You did warn me, brother, and I didn’t listen, just as you thought.”
“But I warned you because I didn’t want your pride to lose us a battle, not because I was afraid your pride would lose us our focus. You see, I allowed my desire for being on the winning side to cloud my eyes from the reason we fight. My pride also got in the way.”
I saw what he was saying. And he was right. But of course I forgave him. I also told him that I still would not have listened had he told me everything. I fully believed that I had to experience some darkness in order to see clearly. Unfortunately, that darkness cost many men their own lives and that was something I’d forever have to live with. But it seemed, now more than ever, that this blood was necessary. That it was going to serve a purpose for our Cause. This conversation with my brother further confirmed this belief in my mind. My brother and I had become an important and exceptional pair for the Cause, and I believed that, now that we were on the same page on the reason I would fight and lead, we could bring about even greater gains for the Cause and for the people of the Cause. We could work together in bringing the people back to seeing Who the true God of our movement was. That it wasn’t me or any of the other great generals of the past or the present. That it also wasn’t the political men, the Leaders. I was no longer alone in my quest; I had an ally, and it was Theodon again, always my greatest ally.
“I do want you to forgive me as well, Theo,” I said to him. “I was wrong to neglect the warnings you gave me.”
“I forgive you. But now it’s time to move forward.”
He did, however, add on a warning:
“We must be careful, though, Valeric. This may surprise you, but others, people in higher positions than we, have also identified and know about this misguidance within our Cause we’ve been discussing.”
“That’s wonderful, though… isn’t it?” I asked.
“You would think. But they’ve decided to do nothing about it. I believe they want things to stay just as they are and that changes aren’t necessary.”
I was puzzled by this revelation.
“How is this possible? What then is the point to fight if we have no great reason to place at the forefront?”
“Some are fighting for the glory and honor that you previously enjoyed having heaped upon you, some because it’s what they’ve always known and it’s a human duty and not a spiritual one, and some do still fully believe in the God of our Cause, but they don’t believe His ultimate blessings will be bestowed upon us until we achieve that ultimate victory.”
This showed how truly me-focused I had become. I was convinced that I was one of the few people within our movement who had gone so far astray. Now I was being told that others who had possessed more authority were just as lost and didn’t want to return. A brief feeling of hopelessness came over me. How could the change that I wanted to help bring about happen if the Leaders of the movement would seemingly fight against if they heard of it? How could such a glorious Cause become so stricken with immoral motives over time? Then I thought of the Leaders actual response to me when I had mentioned my new motives to them — one of seeming disinterest. And then I thought of my own mind and all that I had allowed it to entertain, and I realized that this revelation and the questions I associated with the revelation could actually be easily answered: the motives of men are fickle and guided by self-interest. Yet there was still no turning back in my mind, this despite what I considered to be a mountain that needed climbing now being turned into a thousand mountains stacked on top of each other. The climbing had already begun, and I was determined to keep pushing forward. I was sure my brother, my ally, would do the same.
“It’s a mountain that I didn’t expect to be this high,” I voiced aloud my thoughts, “It seemed smaller when I realized and was relieved to know that you feel the same as I do. But this latest revelation has multiplied the size of our mission. You know that I never quit, though, Theodon. I will be careful, but I’m not going to stop.”
“I know you won’t,” he said. “And I too will continue on. But I will take some time to consider how I will trek the course. Continue exemplifying your change on the battlefield, and I shall find out what I’m supposed to do.”
Those were the final words of our conversation, but the message remained. I was to keep doing and fighting. For my men, for what I believed. Fighting to help others believe in the true Cause once again.