The Forgotten King – Chapter 14, Part 3
November 13, 2018
“Is something wrong?” Zaric asked Helen with unforced patience.
“Yes,” she answered, not sure how to say what she wanted to. “I have a selfish confession to make. I’m afraid my reason for coming to Larisa didn’t have much to do with saving the people of the kingdom. Not at first, anyway. When Mered’s men came to my city, they arrested my father. I don’t know where he is or if he’s still alive, but my main reason in coming to you was to ask you to help me find him.”
Zaric considered this for a minute before taking a deep breath and replying simply, “I understand your concern, Helen. If you will trust me, I will find a way to discover what happened to your father and how we can help him. Leave it to me and don’t trouble yourself about it.”
Helen hated to be unsure about her trust in Zaric, so she tried her best to suppress the fears that remained. It pained her to admit her selfishness. The things she had just heard in this room made her think of so many things at once, it was hard for her mind to grasp a hold on any of it. She wanted her father to be all right and for the people of the kingdom to be safe, but she wasn’t sure she could really have both. She wasn’t prepared for the entire world to change. With a weak smile, she stood up. Zaric reached out and pressed her hand gently, and she allowed him to before she quietly left the room.
When the sound of her steps faded down the hallway, Zaric looked at Neil and smiled, then beckoned for him to follow as Zaric crossed to the opposite side of the room, through a large glass door that led to a terrace. This terrace faced the western horizon, where the glow of sunlight still reached above the line of the mountains. They stood silently for a few minutes, watching the after-sunset sky glow in varying shades of orange and blue, dotted with a few early stars. The air was cooler in Larisa than in Neil’s own village at this time of year. He tried to keep himself from shivering.
“Helen must have figured out a long time ago that finding you wouldn’t be the end of our problems,” Neil said, folding his arms in an attempt to stay a little warmer.
“Yes,” Zaric answered, “but you knew it all along.”
“My perspective was different. I didn’t think finding you would solve any of our problems.”
Zaric laughed heartily. “Very true. But you’ve shown me what you’re willing to do for me and these people, and just how much I can trust you. Perhaps we can say, at least, that your perspective was slightly more realistic. I can only do so much. The rest of you will have to play a part.”
“Helen and I aren’t fighters. We came here for protection and I’m not sure how much we can really help. I’m just a farmer, she’s a governor’s daughter. Everything we did on our way to Larisa—all of the things you think were brave—we only did because we were too afraid to die.”
Zaric chuckled, turning to Neil for the first time since they had started talking. At first, Neil wasn’t sure what to think of this. He didn’t like being laughed at. But, there was a constant kindness in Zaric’s eyes that made it impossible for him to think that Zaric could be disrespectful towards anyone.
“I could turn philosopher on you,” Zaric said, “but I won’t. I’m a farmer, too, along with many other people in this city. Others are shepherds, some are craftsmen or laundresses or physicians. We have people in every profession necessary for a city of this size to function. Still, we all need to know how to defend ourselves. The time will come when the soldiers we do have won’t be enough to stop Mered’s army.”
“So, all of the people in this city know how to fight,” Neil stated.
“All who are able, anyway. Children don’t learn until they reach the age of twelve and those who are too old would never be expected to fight, though they do know how and I wouldn’t put it past them to try. And even though women and older children learn, we won’t allow them to fight until every other option is exhausted.”
“So Helen’s safe, then,” Neil sighed with relief. But this relief was only momentary. Zaric waited too long to respond.
“Helen has a unique role,” was his simple statement.
“What unique role?” Neil questioned, trying to hide his anxiety.
“That’s something I must discuss with Helen and Helen alone. She will have her choice, of course. There is always a choice.”
“There’s nothing special about us, Zaric. Helen and I are just two people who came a very long way from home to find someone we couldn’t be sure was real.”
“Yes, but now you know that I am real. It shouldn’t be impossible to believe everything else after you discovered that, should it? You’ve done more than I think you can possibly understand, or at least more than you’ll allow yourself to understand. When you opened the gateway yesterday, you sent out a call to the people, telling them that the world is about to change. Some of them might even understand it. I am very pleased with all you’ve done. It will take some time, though, for us to gather our supporters. Until then the people must be protected.”
Neil looked up at the few stars that had appeared in the sky and tried to imagine himself standing next to his cottage, so far away. He almost wished he could see these people the way he had always seen people before: nameless, faceless beings whom he didn’t have to care about, because they cared nothing about him. If only Helen hadn’t come to him with her memories and stories, and a confidence that he envied and wanted desperately to absorb, he might be enjoying the solitude of his own home and he wouldn’t feel so afraid. Yet it was impossible to look at his life before without feeling what he had learned since then. He had been changed over the past few weeks and the person he had become would never fit into the life he had once lived.
“I still trust you,” Neil said quietly. “I just feel tired.”
Zaric nodded, but said nothing.