The Forgotten King – Chapter 12, Part 3
November 30, 2018
Like he was moving in a dream, Neil had trouble moving as quickly as he wanted to. He wished for greater strength and endurance—and he felt strange. So many thoughts were going through his mind all at once, the primary one being whether or not he would be able to get Helen to Larisa in time for Zaric to help her. An uncomfortable nausea settled in his stomach. It seemed to take all of his energy to fight his fears and focus on getting away from this place. Repeatedly he tried to convince himself that Larisa couldn’t be very far from the gateway. But, the longer he walked—always higher and higher—the more his hope faded. His thoughts slipped into his memories as he thought of Helen’s distrust of Siri. He even wished he had found some way to kill Ian before he had managed to get this far. Most of all, he wished he had gone with Helen. If only he had believed that they could reach the gateway together before Ian had reached them, he might have been able to protect her from Siri. Neil shook away fresh tears and tried to imagine his destination.
Soon, he realized he was climbing a hill without another one visibly rising behind it. Neil tried to will his feet to move him more quickly. He couldn’t fight his impatience. Larisa must be on the other side of this hill, sprawling out in the valley below, waiting for him. He pushed himself harder and held Helen closer.
He reached the top of the hill and, for a minute, stood frozen. Then, he sat on the ground, leaned over Helen, unable to contain his frustrations and disappointment as he allowed the tears to pour out of his eyes. The valley ahead of him was dull, greyish-green, and somewhat hazy—an empty, dead wasteland.
Though he wouldn’t allow himself to admit it before, Neil actually believed that Larisa was real, and not simply because Helen believed it was real. He couldn’t help believing his grandfather’s stories, the things his grandfather had always believed himself, even if his confidence was shaken. His grandfather wove the stories into Neil’s soul until there was no way to separate them from his own identity. Inside, he knew it was all true, he only held onto the possibility it wasn’t to save himself from disappointment. As long as Helen was with him, though, everything seemed possible. Zaric was real and he would actually take his kingdom back from Mered. When Helen spoke, her voice filled with hope, it was difficult not to see Larisa in his mind, beautiful and peaceful. But, perhaps Zaric himself was dead and his city had crumbled into ruins long ago. Ian and Siri would wake up, follow Neil, and take him back to Mered. He knew now that he wouldn’t go with them and he and Helen would both die, if she wasn’t already dead by then. Or, if he tried, Neil might overcome Ian, as Helen had done more than once before. But he still wouldn’t know where to go. Straight ahead seemed to be his only option.
Neil raised his head, feeling a little calmer now. He had seen too much the past few days to allow himself to think that it wasn’t true. King Zaric was real and, in some way, he would save them. He was waiting for them in Larisa and Neil was willing to believe one last time that Zaric would prevent one of his supporters from dying. Helen and Neil had walked so many miles and pushed themselves farther than they would have for any other reason—they had even walked over a lake. He smiled as he remembered that impossible feat. Now that Helen was dying, it wasn’t enough for her to believe; Neil had to believe for himself. And he did.
Before him, the valley began to change. The haze gradually melted away, leaving behind grass that was much less grey than before. As it turned greener, Neil realized that it had always been green, almost as vivid as the color he had seen just after the gateway opened. And as he watched, stones appeared and took a more definite shape, forming first a few small walls, then clusters of stone houses, and finally, in the center of it all, a modest stone palace. The city reminded Neil of Stephen and Meira’s city, but much more vibrant and beautiful. The fields around the city were cultured and cultivated, both soft and practical. Sunlight rested on the city, brightening it. The blue sky and white clouds above enhanced the brilliance of the land below, and the land magnified the beauty of the sky above. In the distance, the stony mountains were still deeply capped with snow. The entire picture was more majestic than anything Neil had seen before, each piece complementing the others.
Neil felt a cleansing relief fill him, like he was truly feeling life for the first time. He got to his feet again and started forward, but looked down at Helen’s face and paused. She had come so far, and now she couldn’t see the end of the path. Hurriedly, he started his descent down the hill. If he could get Helen to the palace, there was still hope that she would see Larisa.