THE LAST STAND
By the time Diego and Fanique returned to Louvo with Marie and her son, Phaulkon and his men had departed for the palace to defend the king. Except for the servants the house was empty. Even Nana had fled. Marie was distraught. She was hoping dearly that she would see her husband before he went to protect the king. When would she see him again? Life was suddenly so empty. She fell upon the steps at the entrance of their house and began weeping. Everything they had longed for and hoped for, everything they had worked so hard to obtain, it was all gone. There was nothing left. She could not stop the flood of tears. She thought of her dear husband, so strong, so determined and so naively hopeful. So honest and faithful was he to the end. Fanique tried to comfort her but there were no words that could cure her hurt and put a stop to her terrible anguish. Oh, how sad life is, she cried. What is the use of it all? Nothing is permanent. She stopped crying when-her son asked her why she was crying. She had to be strong.
Diego desperately wanted to join Phaulkon but he knew he could not leave Marie and little George unprotected. Fanique too was on his way to the palace where his samurai ready for battle awaited him. Marie gathered her strength and, putting an arm around her young son, she said to him, “This is our home, your home and my home, and this is where we belong.” She said it but she wondered if they were not just empty words.
Abu Omar, his men and the interlopers arrived in Louvo shortly before dawn as scheduled and set out immediately for the palace, taking cover in the shadows of night. They found Fanique and his samurai waiting. Phaulkon and his men arrived soon after. Everyone was prepared. It was a heartfelt gathering. The men knew that many of them would not live to see another day. They knew that they were there to defend the Greek, but they knew they were also fighting for their own cause. If General Phetracha seized the throne there was no telling what might happen. No foreigner would be secure in the kingdom and many would be tried as traitors.
With everyone gathered, they studied their plan of attack. The palace gates were heavily guarded and they could see soldiers on the balcony in front of the king’s bedroom. That was a good sign. Had the king not been alive they would not have been there. It was decided Phaulkon would take eight of his best fighters and enter the palace through the hidden passage. Once inside the king’s chambers, Phaulkon would give the signal to attack. They wished each other luck and Phaulkon and his men departed.
The passage had seldom, if ever, been used and finding its entrance was most difficult. For a time Phaulkon thought he might not find it, that perhaps it was only a myth, and that all would be lost. But then, when he pushed aside a cluster of tangled growth, there it was. The battle was still not over. Phaulkon and his men had to feel their way in the dark along the walls, through a passageway in which, at times, they had to crawl. They had to work their way up stone steps so broken they crumbled under their feet. Once they had reached the last hidden door, they withdrew their weapons, not knowing what to expect. They burst through the door to find themselves in the king’s chambers. The king’s sister and his daughter stood there in alarm. They gasped to see Phaulkon and his men appear as they did. Then, after the shock came tears. Suddenly there was hope, hope where only moments before there was pain and despair. King Narai lay asleep in his bed. Aside from the king and the two women there was no one else in the room.
After calming down the women, and making promises he was uncertain he could keep, Phaulkon approached the king and gently awoke him. “It’s me, Phaulkon,” he said. “I have come with my guards to give you assistance.”
It took a few moments for the king to recognize Phaulkon.
A smile came to his face but that quickly faded and turned to scorn. “You didn’t need to come,” he scolded Phaulkon. “There is nothing you can do and I order you to leave while there is time. Take the women and go and take Mon Pi with you. Take my son where he will be safe. He will be the king one day. Go as I bid you, go.”
Poor King Narai, he did not know that his trusted general had murdered his son. He didn’t know Mon Pi was dead.
“Yes, but let me rest for a while,” Phaulkon said.
“Rest. A young man like you?” the king said. “You have your whole life ahead of you if you listen to me. I am the one who is old and tired and much too sick to even enjoy the wisdom of old age. Go, and save yourself Phetracha will execute you and you know that. He has already done all the damage he can do to me. There is nothing more painful than to be betrayed by those you trust.” He tried to sit up but couldn’t. He looked around. His mind began to wander. “Where are the French? They’re our hope. They pledged allegiance to me. Are they with you?”
“Shh, Sorasak’s guards are outside the door,” Phaulkon cautioned the king, and then he lied to him. “The French are coming and will be here soon. But Phetracha has many men. The French are being cautious not to make the first move and start a revolution.”
“I have known pain many times over,” the king said, placing his hand on Phaulkon’s arm, “but none is as deep as it is now. Yet I have no regrets. You and I have done what we believed was best for Siam. I have been a good king and I am grateful to have the service of such a wise and loyal servant as you. I hope our paths meet again in the next life. You have not told me yet what your Holy Book said about the soul. Do we have a soul? The Greeks, your ancestors, say we do.”
“The Holy Book does not say we have souls but that we are souls,” Phaulkon explained. He had gone over the scriptures with Marie only a few days before. “And yes, our paths will meet again. We will meet again for the Holy Book promises so.”
“Where, in heaven or hell?” he asked jokingly. “Well, it does not really matter if we meet in hell. I know you. You will find a way to get us out.”
“No, Your Majesty. We don’t go to heaven or hell. The Holy Book says we will be resurrected here on earth.”
“If that’s true then there’s nothing to worry about. Go! Go to France. I’ve already made arrangements with King Louis and he gave me his word that you will find France your own home.”
“Your Majesty, Siam is my home,” Phaulkon said convincingly from the heart. “I have chosen it to be so and it always will be. This is where I chose to belong.”
Time was running out fast for Phaulkon and he told the king it was time for him to act and arrest Phetracha. His men were outside waiting and must be getting restless. He bid a hasty good-bye to the king and instructed the women to keep the doors locked after he and his men departed. The king called to him to be careful and said he would pray for him. Phaulkon lingered for a moment. “Which god, your Buddha or mine?” he asked.
“Both of them,” King Narai said. “Just to make sure.”
Phaulkon and his men, with drawn weapons, charged out the door onto the balcony, prepared to give the signal to Christoph to have his men take over the palace but to his dismay, there were no guards. The balcony was empty. The guards were gone. Phaulkon rushed to the railing and looked over the side. Christoph and his small army stood alone in the square below. They had no one to battle. Phaulkon had his men search the palace but there were no soldiers, no Phetracha and no Sorasak in sight.
The sun was rising and hung like a burning disk above the horizon and, from a distance beyond the palace grounds, they heard sounds, a commotion of some sort. Against the glare of the sun Phaulkon shaded his eyes and stared into the distance. His heart stopped. In an open field beyond the walls of Louvo, General Phetracha and Sorasak had amassed a small army. The huge gates to the city were opened wide, ready for the solders to enter. Within the walls the general had set up a battery of cannons and they were trained on the palace, directly at the king’s quarters. From where Phaulkon stood he could see small pots of fire and men standing over them prepared to light the fuses in the cannons.
As the sun climbed higher and higher over the eastern wall, a messenger arrived from General Phetracha with instructions that Phaulkon and his men give up. “There is no escape,” the general said. Even the hidden passage had been discovered and it was now sealed. He said he would give Phaulkon until the sun was overhead to make his decision and at that time, if Phaulkon refused, the artillery would open fire. Phaulkon knew he was serious. This was his chance to kill the king, put the blame on Phaulkon and seize the throne.
Christoph and the men insisted they fight. Phaulkon explained that this is precisely what General Phetracha wanted. He would then have an excuse to open fire in which the king was sure to die. If Phaulkon did not surrender, not only the king but most of Phaulkon’s supporters would die, and for what-lost glory? If Phaulkon and his men did win, it would make little difference for then the real battle would begin, a battle of which even General Phetracha was unaware. The French had orders, upon the death of the king, to take Siam by force. This they were prepared to do. As long as the king was alive, there was a chance.
Christoph asked Phaulkon if he should not call the French troops. “Not as long as the king is alive,” Phaulkon said. He explained that the most important matter was to keep the king from more pain by discovering that even the French, his most gracious friend King Louis XIV of France, had also betrayed him. Phaulkon sent a message back to Phetracha. He stated that if Phetracha let all of Phaulkon’s men go free, and swore not to harm the king, he would give himself up. Phetracha agreed to the terms. Against the wishes of his men, Phaulkon ordered them to surrender.
Phaulkon removed his shoulder belt with his scabbard and rapier, laid them on the floor and stepped out into the balcony. He watched Phetracha and Sorasak below enter the courtyard. Christoph and the others followed Phaulkon’s instruction and let them pass.
Phetracha lost no time and appeared on the balcony, face to face with Phaulkon. He ordered his men to seize Phaulkon. The soldiers pounced upon him like savages gone wild, knocking him to the floor and then bound him in chains. Now satisfied, Phetracha called to Phaulkon’s men waiting below in the courtyard and warned them that, if there was any attempt to revolt, he would execute Phaulkon on the spot. He also warned that if Phaulkon escaped, they would execute the king in return. Before the guards took Phaulkon away, Phetracha had him brought forth. The guards forced Phaulkon to his knees to kneel.
“Look up, you farang,” General Phetracha shouted. “Where is your throne now? What are your hopes, that Prince Alphaitos will be crowned king, and that he will save you. That is no longer possible. Alphaitos attempted to assassinate Sorasak and Sorasak had to defend himself Sorasak wields a mighty sword. Alphaitos is no more. And the king’s other brother, he threatened the king, and he too lost his head. They are both dead. And, ah yes, Mon Pi, the King’s adopted son, what a pity. He was playing on the balcony while the king slept, and he got too close to the railing and fell over the side. He died when he hit the ground. It was a tragedy. The king has no more heirs.”
The king’s sister and his daughter, standing in the shadows of the window above, heard what Phetracha had to say. They heard and had to keep it a secret from the king. But General Phetracha had other ideas. He knew how the king hated to have information kept from him. He went to see King Narai and awoke him, to wish his speedy recovery, and to pass on to him the latest news. He told him everything.