The dismantler drone was not quiet, and Crutchford heard it coming. The go-carts seemingly forgotten, he turned to face the approaching doom. “No!” he screamed in frustration and fear. Flicking open his refrigerator door, Crutchford flung a jar of mayonnaise at the hurtling drone. The jar connected, splattering mayonnaise everywhere, but the drone was only momentarily knocked off course. Again it made straight for its target. “No!” Crutchford screamed again in rising panic. He opened his door once more, this time throwing a Tupperware container of Robert’s mother’s Jello salad. The Jello missed its mark, and the drone shot straight past it and into the refrigerator. The door slammed closed. “No,” said Crutchford again, this time in despair. It was the last thing he was to say.
Seconds later, the refrigerator collapsed in a pile of its own components and foodstuffs, leaving the dismantler drone hovering in mid-air above it. After a few seconds, the drone alighted next to the pile and shut itself off.
Robert walked out into the street to inspect the remains. The king and the five remaining riders drove slowly forward. They stopped in a line facing the heap that had been Crutchford. The six exchanged glances, and then the king began to sing. After a few seconds, the others joined in, and their voices rose in harmony.
The language was not one Robert recognized. Nor was the melody. But it was the most haunting music, and the most beautiful boy’s choir, that Robert had ever imagined. He was transfixed by it. All too soon, the singing was finished.
“That was amazing,” said Robert in awe. The king acknowledged the compliment with a nod. “What was it for?” asked Robert.
“We were honoring our fallen foe,” the king replied.
“Honor?” cried Robert indignantly. “For Crutchford? But he was a monster.”
The king regarded Robert coolly for a few seconds before speaking. “It is true that our values were incompatible with those of Crutchford,” he said. “However, to our mind, his prowess in battle and his dedication to his principles cannot and should not be overlooked. He was our sworn enemy long before you met him. To be blunt, we know more about him than you, and we will bestow honor as we see fit.”
Robert was crestfallen. “Forgive me,” he said. “I meant no offense.”
“Of course you’re forgiven,” said the king. “It is not surprising that we see things differently, being so different.” The king then turned his attention to the other riders. “Gather the remains of Crutchford,” he commanded. “Each of you must take an equal measure and bury them in the far corners of our realm. Take the drone with you and return it to our fortress, but leave me the heart. Go.”
The riders obeyed the king’s commands in silence as he and Robert looked on. Each rider produced a canvas sack from somewhere and filled it with refrigerator components. Then the larger pieces were distributed and strapped to the backs of their go-carts. The food they left in the street. When all of the parts were collected, the riders sped off down the street and out of sight.
The king climbed out of his go-cart and walked to the spot where Crutchford had fallen. He reached down amongst the garbage, and Robert noticed for the first time a metal box lying there, half-covered by a head of lettuce. The king picked it up. It was about three inches on a side and was studded and pocked here and there with bolts and screws.
“That’s the heart of Crutchford?” said Robert.
“Indeed,” replied the king.
“Only by the heart of a monster can a monster’s evil be mended,” said the king solemnly. “Watch and see.”
So saying, the king went to the nearest block of ice and touched it with the heart of Crutchford. There was a loud poof and a quickly dissipating cloud of white mist, and the rider was free.
Robert’s heart soared with hope to witness it.