Moonrise on Jupiter

A Glimpse into the Thoughts & Imaginings of Vibeke Hiatt

The Forgotten King – Chapter 4, Part 2

Helen sighed and took a small pouch out of her bag and opened it, spilling the contents—a handful of gold and silver coins—into the palm of her hand. She handed these to Neil, who in turn took the emerald out of his pocket and dropped it in the pouch, then put the coins in his pocket, shaking his head as he did so. Helen closed the pouch and returned it to her bag.

“Are you willing to look for the rest of the keys?” Helen asked. “We know what we’re looking for now. I don’t know if we can reach Larisa otherwise.”

“You’re going to assume this is a key, and that the rest all look the same? I think we should continue to make our way towards Larisa,” Neil replied, “and just see what happens along the way. Not everything needs to be planned.”

“No, but, sometimes, just the beginnings of a plan can help.”

Neil nodded, looking unconvinced, but said nothing in return. Helen was relieved, too tired to argue. They finished their meals silently. They soon tried to sleep, each lying on one side of the fireplace, deciding to face the risk of intrusion and not keep watch. But Helen found it hard to sleep that night. At first, she was afraid to close her eyes, because of the images she saw and the feeling of intense loneliness that deluged her when she did. When sleep did come, she was haunted by scenes of emptiness, tangibly thick black space and strange colors, lights, and shadows—flashes of green and blue that she could never quite focus on. In the silence, it was hard to push away the fear of the place she had gone to when she had been pulled from the light room, and the most frightening thing was that she hadn’t been taken to any place at all. She had simply hung suspended in a void that felt like it was outside of time with nothing solid to hold onto, apart from the world in every way, afraid that at any moment she would fall into complete and irreversible oblivion. And yet, she knew that oblivion wouldn’t come. Her greatest fear was that she was not afraid at all. It wasn’t until the first tinges of morning light flitted through the windows that her mind was able to relax.

They left the manor before dawn. Too little sleep made Helen’s head and eyes ache and she had trouble making her feet move as quickly as she wanted them to. The rain from the day before covered the long grass and dampened their clothes and legs as they followed the path cut through the valley by the river. Yet, the valley ahead of them no longer seemed as imposing as it had the day before. The clouds that littered the sky were a soft shade of pink which gradually turned pale yellow and then white as the sun came up behind the hills, and the cold left behind by the wind and the rain was soon dispelled by the sun’s warmth. Helen was amazed by how immense the sky looked from where they stood. It was as though this place was the only place in the world. She tried to share this observation with Neil, but he only responded with an automatic, “Yes.” They again lapsed into silence. The quiet minutes made Helen anxious.

“You really don’t say much, do you?” she finally stated.

“I do when I have something to say,” Neil answered.

“Have you spoken to anyone since your parents died?”

Neil appeared a little bit stung by this question, though it was simple and natural. “I go to market sometimes,” he said shortly.

“Did you ever have any visitors?”

“I tend to hide in the fields when they come. No one in my village really cares, anyway. Is there a point to these questions?”

“I’m only trying not to feel awkward and alone.”

“You don’t need to talk not to feel awkward and alone.”

Helen wished she could agree with this. She couldn’t quite understand Neil’s moods, which made him willing to talk sometimes, but completely unresponsive at others. It aggravated her, though she wasn’t sure if it was a problem without a solution, or even a problem at all. She only wanted to be talking. She wondered how anyone could be comfortable with such silence. In the quiet, it was hard to prevent her mind from dwelling on the thoughts that came without invitation.

“Don’t you ever feel like just saying something?”

“Not usually.”

“Will you tell me about your parents?” she asked a little more exasperated than she intended, as though she was clutching at the last thing she could see.

“No, Helen. I don’t really want to. Why don’t you tell me about yours?”

He said it sharply to make her stop, and she did stop, but not because she was offended. Helen couldn’t stop the memories from filling her mind. The noises and voices wouldn’t go away. She tried to see her mother’s bright, smiling eyes, calm and relaxed features, unhurried movements—not her eyes wide and glistening with tears, face tightened in failing self-restraint, bustling Helen out of the governor’s palace. If she had only left before her mother had discovered what danger Helen was in. If only Helen herself had realized the danger at that time, and not weeks later. And if only she had seen her father before they took him, perhaps she would feel stronger now.

Unable to remember her parents without remembering the fear and danger, Helen realized why Neil was unwilling to talk about his own parents. For the first time, the thought hit her that he had not only seen them in all of the happy moments, but also during their last moments, when they were ill and weak and dying. Caring for them, how could he not be plagued with memories of their last days?

Folding her arms tightly as if holding her chest in place, Helen tried to smile at Neil but knew that it was only a faint imitation of a smile, then turned away from him. She quickened her pace until she was a few yards ahead, wishing she had thought about Neil and his feelings before he had hurt her own.

A sudden, low, and humming breeze drew Helen’s mind away from her thoughts and she stopped. She turned around and saw that Neil had stopped, too. Moving down the southern hill and through the tall grass was a coil of wind, concentrated to two narrow paths which passed them on the left and right, blowing the grass in a spiraling motion. Everything else in the valley was still.

“Have you ever seen this before?” Neil asked. Helen shook her head, continuing to watch the trail of the wind.  

With a sudden flash of violet light, a deafening crack resonated through the valley. Helen spun around, but saw nothing and no one besides Neil and herself. Again, the sound split the air, and then again a third time. Neil was searching the valley as well, but he looked just as perplexed as Helen. Then something to her left caught her eye and Helen shifted her gaze to the eastern edge of the valley. A pillar of violet light was rushing towards her. Neil took a few steps forward, but the light moved too fast. Violently, as it reached the point where Helen stood, it threw them both to the ground. They landed hard on their backs, yards away from each other. Gasping to fill her lungs, Helen raised herself slowly and watched as the light moved around them. A transparent wall of violet light, about three times as tall as Helen, formed in the wake of the pillar, splitting itself into two when it reached the river. The two walls wound around Helen and Neil, ending where the pillar had begun. The pillar vanished, but two transparent boxes were left behind, enclosing Helen and Neil separately.

They both sat for a few seconds without moving, then Neil stood and walked toward the wall that separated him from Helen. Within a foot of it, the wall resisted his approach, pushing him backwards. The harder he tried, the more forceful the resistance became, until his feet slid on the grass and he fell on the ground. Helen’s heart was pounding as she noticed that the box around her was getting smaller.

As they stood helplessly in their strange cages—Helen feeling anxious and puzzled and Neil’s face growing more and more bewildered—the faint sound of a horse’s hooves filled the valley. It reverberated in the silence that was left when the pillar disappeared. Helen spun in a circle, trying to locate the intruder. Looking through the walls around her was like trying to look through a thick veil, and it was hard for her to even see Neil. The horse was only a few yards away before she saw a man in dark clothes on its back, coming towards them at a moderate pace. As he moved closer, Helen thought she recognized his face, though it was hard to tell. What she could see was that his head was pointed towards her. An uncomfortable emptiness formed in her chest. It was this feeling more than what she saw that made her realize that the man was Ian.

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