The Forgotten King – Chapter 13, Part 2
November 17, 2018
A few hours later, Neil was sitting in a quiet bedroom, next to an open window. The sun had just fallen below the western hills and lamps were being lit in the streets and houses below. From here, he could look out onto the entire city and valley and see the life moving within it, without feeling obligated to be a part of it. The solemnity that had engulfed the city when he entered had subsided. Now, it hummed with voices and noises. There was an air of peace throughout the entire place and, although his head was full of worry, Neil didn’t feel that he would want to be worried anywhere else. Larisa felt just as safe as Helen had always said. Almost unnoticeably, Neil’s mind began to relax as he leaned his head against the wall, feeling the relief of his first night of no longer trying to reach his destination.
There was a soft knock on the door. Neil turned his head, not sure if he wanted to be left alone, or if he should answer it. Finally, he called out, “Come in.”
The door opened and Zaric entered. Neil jumped to his feet but Zaric shook his head and waved for him to sit back down. He smiled at Neil as he sat in a chair a few feet away. Now that his mind was more settled, Neil looked at the king with curiosity. He had seen great men before, and Zaric wasn’t like any of those men. Neil had expected to see a pampered and proud man who relied on an entourage of servants to open all of his doors, carry his books and papers and tools and anything else he might need, and to cater to his every whim. But the man who sat in front of him had the rough hands of a man who worked hard, the weathered face of a man who spent his days in the fields, and although he held his head confidently, his expression was gentle and compassionate. There was no reason for Neil to have known before, when Zaric came down the steps of the castle, that he was seeing the king—it was only something he knew inside of himself, like he had met Zaric before.
“Will she be all right?” Neil asked.
“We’re doing what we can. It’s a strange sort of poison. It paralyzed her quickly, but it appears to be killing her slowly.”
Neil flinched at the word “killing” and looked down at the floor, then his hands, then at the city outside the window. Quietly, he said, “I failed, didn’t I?”
Zaric shook his head. “No, you didn’t fail. You did what was expected of you. You found the keys and opened the gateway. You even brought Helen to me.”
“But she wasn’t supposed to get hurt,” Neil argued. “We were supposed to stay together. Alan told us to stay together.” The words struck pain in his chest and he wished he hadn’t said them. The possibilities of what he might have done—should have done—to keep Helen safe flooded him again. If he had only gone to the gateway with her, instead of trying to hinder Ian. Or perhaps if he hadn’t trusted Siri so much, wanting to believe that she was harmless, though he knew the whole time that it wasn’t true. So many possibilities—chances to do something right—and he had made so many wrong choices.
“You brought her to me and I thank you for that.”
“She would have been more useful to you than I am. She believed that you were here, that Larisa was here, even when there was no reason to believe it. Sometimes, she was so annoyingly determined and stubborn, but she was honest, good, everything we all should be. So much better than me in every way. Sometimes she was so afraid—I could see it in her eyes—but she was determined. I was afraid to completely believe something that might not be true.”
“Neil,” Zaric said after a momentary pause, “do you believe now?”
Neil let a few long moments go by, then answered, “Yes, I believe. I started to believe a long time ago—I always had a feeling all of this was true. I never would have found Larisa if I didn’t allow myself to believe. Now, I honestly believe that you are King Zaric and you will stop Mered.”
Zaric smiled at this. “Do you trust me, Neil?” he asked.
“Yes, I trust you.”
“You must trust that reality isn’t everything you see, Neil. What would be the fun in life, the joy of discovery, if that was true? How would we ever accomplish anything? Don’t worry anymore, and stop thinking that you already know everything there is to know.”
“I’m pretty sure I know nothing.”
Neil hesitated, wanting to ask Zaric a question, but not sure how, despite the fact that it was the primary question in his mind since leaving his cottage. He turned the idea over in his mind a few times before finally asking, “Why didn’t you save my parents? They believed in you, but you didn’t come and heal them. They were too young to die. I was too young for them to die. I didn’t want them to go. Why did the Eternal One take them from me?”
“You and I can’t decide how old is too old and how young is too young. Every life is different. We each have different tasks to accomplish. Once we finish them, we move on. Death itself is only a different kind of life. Your parents were good people who never forgot about me. They worked hard and they finished what they needed to do.”
“But I want them here with me, and I want Helen here with me. There is still so much they could have done.”
“Neil, you are capable of so many great things. Whether or not your parents and Helen are here, you can do so much. Perhaps instead of asking why they’re gone, you should ask what you can do to honor them, to help them see that their son is willing to be the man they raised him to be. There are many people in this world who can help us defeat Mered, if we can only find them. Don’t forget that you’ll die someday, too, and then you’ll see your parents again. Until then, I need you here. Will you believe that, Neil? Will you trust me that much?”
Again, Neil turned to gaze out the window. He felt that Zaric could see past his eyes and into his thoughts and it was easier to think of what he wanted to say when he looked away. Grey clouds were filling the sky now. An image flashed in Neil’s mind, an image of Ian standing with a dagger drawn and Helen holding her crossbow, and rain falling in a small clearing. The clouds were moving violently. Helen’s face burned vividly in his mind, as he had seen it many times in the past few days, so often with a brightness in her eyes not quite her own.
“You were with us the whole way,” Neil suddenly said, his face lighting up with the realization. “You were watching us. Every time Helen stared off into the trees, she was seeing you. You caused the storm that separated us from Siri. You were watching, but I never tried to see you. All this time, I thought you didn’t care, but you were actually right beside us.”
Neil laughed. The rain was softly hitting the window now, running down in small streams, making a soothing noise. His senses awoke with a new awareness. He felt the city around him, and the valley around the city. In his head, he heard the excited voices of Zaric’s followers, knowing that now their lives were going to change and become better than they had ever been. He heard now what he had seen earlier—the wave of the gateway opening.
“I trust you with my life,” Neil stated firmly, looking unflinchingly at Zaric. “With my life, with my death, and everything in between.”
Zaric nodded once and smiled, then stood up. “Stop referring to Helen as though she were dead,” he said as he placed his hand on Neil’s shoulder for a few seconds before quietly leaving the room. Neil glanced around the room, not sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. All he knew for certain was that he felt safe and confident for the first time in four years.