The Forgotten King – Chapter 12, Part 2
November 28, 2018
Neil held his sword awkwardly with both hands as he watched Ian ride towards him. His hands trembled, but his feet at least were steady. As he stood in the middle of this field, so far from everything he had ever known before, he remembered that he was only a farmer and he felt less than confident. It had been years since he had even seen someone use a sword—and that was nothing like holding a sword himself. Helen knew that as well as he did. Volunteering to hold Ian off had merely been an offer to die for her—and for Zaric. Knowing this surprised even Neil, besides making him feel very afraid.
There was a slight smirk on Ian’s face as he came closer. His speed didn’t slacken. He swung his sword in a sweeping motion and, as Neil tried to raise his sword in defense, the broad side of Ian’s hit him in the middle of the chest, knocking him onto his back and expelling all of the air from his lungs.
He took a second to fill his lungs again, then scrambled to his feet and turned, grimacing at the pain. Ian sat lazily on his horse, laughing coldly. “Do you think I really want to fight you?” he asked mockingly. “I’m sorry, Neil, but you just aren’t worth my time.”
He steered his horse around and started to gallop towards the hill. A wave of panic went over Neil, overwhelming all the fear he felt for his own safety. He needed to hold Ian off long enough for Helen to open the gateway, though he didn’t know what would happen when she did. He wondered how much time had passed between Helen leaving and Ian reaching him. It didn’t seem likely that she had reached the top of the hill yet. But there didn’t appear to be any way to stop Ian.
“No!” Neil shouted, feeling stupid as he did. Yet when he spoke, a slight shiver went through the field. For a moment, he thought he had only imagined it, but with the shiver, Ian’s horse startled and fidgeted, and nothing Ian said to coax him calmed him down. The horse became more and more agitated until, finally, Ian was thrown from the saddle. He got to his feet and, walking in long strides—anger lining his face—crossed the yards that separated him from Neil. He swung forcefully, but this time Neil was prepared to block the blow.
“I think I’ll enjoy killing you both,” Ian shot out, beating his sword against Neil’s, causing a vibration that rang through the hilt and Neil’s arm until it shook his core. “I’ve suffered so much for your mistakes. You should have joined me, Neil. It’s better to live than to die for a worthless cause.”
Neil didn’t respond, focusing instead on warding off Ian’s blows, hoping he could prevent Ian’s sword from cutting into him just long enough for them to see a sign that the gateway had opened. Each strike made his sword heavier in his hands. Soon he was on his knees, the weight of Ian’s sword threatening to break the bones in his arms.
“It’s almost inspiring,” Ian said, “to realize that you honestly believe you’re giving Helen time to open the gateway. Have you ever considered I might not be working alone? When you die, it will be for nothing.”
In a whip-like motion, Ian struck Neil’s hand with the broad of his sword. Neil dropped his sword with an involuntary yell. Ian raised his sword again, his face taut and triumphant, but a sudden, bright flicker at the top of the hill pulled both men’s eyes away. Within seconds, a wave of blue light was rolling down the hill, through the trees, and into the valley. It washed over them like a gale of wind. Neil closed his eyes.
He expected the force of the wave to push him to the ground, but instead, he felt an odd sensation in his chest, as though the rush of light had revitalized him. This feeling was in its own way painful, as though his soul had been stretched and cracked like the shell of an egg. With his eyes closed, he could see this valley in a green more vivid than when his eyes were open. The sun seemed brighter and he thought that the world was laughing. Excited voices filled the air, though he couldn’t tell what they were saying or where they were coming from. And then it all stopped and the air fell silent.
Neil opened his eyes, expecting to find Ian standing over him with his sword swinging. Instead, he was lying on the ground a few feet away, pale and unconscious, but still breathing. He thought for a moment, stepping towards Ian with his sword held out in front of him, considering his position. It would be easy to prevent Ian from ever following them again. But Neil knew himself too well and didn’t have to think too long before he sheathed his sword and ran to the hill.
The tangle of trees on the hill disoriented Neil. He found it difficult to make his way to the crest, frequently wondering if he was even going the right way. Occasionally he thought he saw the columns of the gateway, but they disappeared again before he could think of how to reach them. He only hoped Helen had thought to stay at the gateway and wait for him. Finally, the trees began to clear and the pavilion was distinctly visible before him.
“Helen!” he called as he neared the top. There was no answer. He listened intently as he walked forward, trying to keep his gaze steady as he searched the area. Seeing a bundle lying on the ground a few feet away, he walked more slowly. His face fell as he realized it was Siri. For a minute, he couldn’t move, or even think about moving. He was afraid he already knew why she was there as Ian’s words rang through his head, but he didn’t want to believe it. Neil’s mind had already connected why Ian had been affected by the wave in a way Neil hadn’t. Siri’s face was just as pale as Ian’s and a hollow reed was lying on the ground only inches from her hand.
“Helen?” he called again, moving past Siri. He couldn’t see Helen anywhere. He could almost hear his heart beating and his throat felt constricted as he walked across the platform. He couldn’t believe the wave would have harmed Helen. Unless, of course, being so close to the gateway when it opened sent out a shock too strong for her to handle. Or she had gone back to the valley, looking for Neil. He now hoped she had. In the back of his mind, however, he knew that the reed next to Siri was ominous.
Neil came within a few feet of the small table and halted, then continued to move forward. Another bundle was lying on the floor on the other side of the table, mostly obscured by it, and he knew it must be Helen. Walking around the table, the world froze when he saw the tiny feathered dart embedded in her neck. He began to sob as he fell to his knees next to her, gently touching her pale, cold face. “Helen?” he whispered, wishing she would somehow respond.
Dumbfounded, Neil sat down and pulled Helen’s limp body onto his lap. He tried to convince himself that none of this was real, that somehow his mind was confused. Perhaps the wave of light had knocked him to the ground after all, and he was lying unconscious, nightmarishly dreaming, in the field below. This had been Helen’s journey from the beginning and Neil had no desire to move on without her.
But then a slight sound aroused him and he looked down. Although it was shallow and labored, Helen breathed softly. Neil smiled with relief, holding Helen even closer. His relief was cut short by an apparent movement behind him. He didn’t really think Siri had stirred, but he realized quickly that he didn’t want to be there when she did. Taking Helen’s bag from her shoulder, he slung it over his own. He found the small bag that had held the stones where it had fallen to the ground, plucked the dart from Helen’s neck, and dropped it in. Then, he gathered Helen in his arms and got to his feet.