The squirrel begged and pleaded with Ignatius to change his mind, but it was made up; he would return to Fair Alora, ask everyone to call off the search, admit to his desertion, and beg for the king to execute him as if he were any other deserter. Before his execution, he would request that Elric be named the king’s heir in his place. “After all,” he mused to himself, “it is Elric who gave me such a reality check in the first place. Elric is always the quickest to remind me of how ungrateful, over-emotional, absent-minded, and idiotic I am. He is always the first to reprimand me when I am acting a fool. Oh, imagine if Elric had seen the way I carried on about forgetting to tell the squirrel when to return! He would’ve never let me hear the end of that.” He deepened his voice in an imitation of Elric’s: “’My god, Ignatius, you are a clodpole if I have ever seen one! Look at you, carrying on like a spoiled child who didn’t get a sweet! You ought to be whipped like one, too!’” Elric knew how a good man was supposed to present himself. He would make a fine king someday.
So Ignatius set off for his homeland, eating and drinking nothing along the way, for he didn’t feel it made very much sense to eat when he was just going to be killed anyway. The walk took him two days, and he had to go with a limp because of how he had destroyed his feet walking barefoot on the forest floor. By the time he finally reached Fair Alora, he was dizzy, weak, and in pain in almost every spot on his body. His matted hair was so caked with dirt that it had turned from gold to a dingy brown. His sack was completely threadbare, except for his right breast, where the hero’s medal given to him by the creek was still stuck fast. He was in the agony that he felt was perfectly fit for a traitor and a dead man.
The moment he stepped within the city limits, he caught sight of Ivan, one of his comrades from the king’s guard. He tried to scuttle away so he wouldn’t be seen, but it was no use; Ivan caught sight of him and let out the most joyous cry a person could make, before running to his friend and catching him in a tight embrace. “Ignatius! Oh, dear Ignatius, my friend, my comrade! Where have you been? What has happened to you? Oh, look at you! You are in the sorriest state I’ve ever seen a person in!”
Ignatius was surprised to see Ivan carrying on like this, because Ivan so often resented Ignatius for all the special treatment he was given by the king. “Please, Ivan,” Ignatius said, trying to push out of his embrace, “take me directly to the king, for I have committed one of the worst crimes a knight could commit: the crime of desertion. And for my crime, I am to be executed.”
But Ivan either didn’t hear him or wouldn’t. He grabbed Ignatius by the hand and cried, “Come, Ignatius! We must let everyone know you have returned!” Ignatius didn’t protest, knowing that this was the only way he would be able to get to the king. He felt guilt and discomfort that just about crushed him as he mounted Ivan’s horse, as the two of them rode off through the village and Ivan shouted, “Sir Ignatius has returned! Sir Ignatius, the hero of the king’s guard, has returned!” It grew as the citizens flung open their doors and windows and cheered raucously as they passed. He heard the gasps and the mutterings as people saw the pitiful state he had returned in. He wanted to shout, “No! You are mistaken! I have deserted you, and no hero would desert his following!” But he knew he couldn’t be heard over the shouts and hollers of the crowd.
They rode into the palace courtyard and around to the stables, and the courtiers and servants and pages and other knights turned their heads to look and shouted and cheered and applauded. Ignatius tried to look as small and unnoticeable as possible, but it was no use; even with mud on the sides of his face and in his pitiful, threadbare sack, he was noticed and he was revered. He wanted to leap off the horse and run far away, never to return, but figured that execution would be a much more appropriate fate for him.
They reached the stables and dismounted, and Ivan led him into the palace.