Moonrise on Jupiter

A Glimpse into the Thoughts & Imaginings of Vibeke Hiatt

The Forgotten King – Chapter 5, Part 2

Only a few minutes later, the walls on either side began to shorten, and after a few more steps, a field steadily grew ahead of them. Putting their hands against the sides of the cliffs, they pushed themselves forward, emerging from the staircase onto a lush green hill that stretched out for miles, dotted with large, leafy trees. Helen moved forward a few yards before turning around to look at the path from this perspective, wanting to be far away from the edge before she saw it. Its steepness made her dizzy. She was terrified by the awareness that if she or Neil had lost their balance, it would have meant a painful, long tumble down the mountain, probably for both of them. Neil walked to her and coolly took her by the arm, pulling her to the shade of a nearby tree.

“We can rest for a few minutes, but I don’t think we should stop tonight,” said Neil as they sat on the cool grass. The sun was close to setting and the air moved around them in a cool breeze. “Not until we find a place that’s safe and secure, anyway. We might as well get as much of a lead as possible. Which way should we go?”

Helen answered by pointing to the hill ahead of them. After taking a few minutes to catch their breath, they moved forward.

A full moon rose that night, its light enwrapping the hill and trees in various shades of blue and white. Helen felt comforted by the moonlight, and although she was certain she should feel some uneasiness, the feeling never came. She felt as though the light was alive and laughing; she didn’t sense any danger.

By midnight they reached the top of the next hill. It took a moment before their eyes recognized what they saw before them. It was too unexpected. Sprawling below them and covering most of this next glen was a small, white city. It was like nothing either of them had ever seen before and the pale white light cast down from the sky only enhanced its magnificence, contrasting against the darkness of the landscape.

“I think we might be safe here,” Helen stated as a wave of relief and comfort washed over her.

“Could this be Larisa?” Neil asked, but Helen shook her head.

“I don’t think when you see Larisa you will need to ask that question,” she said softly, but her eyes were still sparkling brilliantly as she gazed at the city. Behind it was another mountain, which added to the sense of shelter that Helen felt looking at the city. She was content to look at the scene in front of her and knew that she could for hours. The slight pressure of Neil’s hand was the only thing that could immediately keep her moving forward.

“We’ll have to be careful, though,” Neil whispered, afraid someone might be close enough to hear. “This may be one of Mered’s cities. I hate to think we’re walking into danger just because the city is beautiful.”

As they walked towards the city, they were impressed by an odd sense of silence. The ground underneath them soon turned into a path, appearing more and more visible the closer they came to the city walls. Helen soon realized that all along, the path had been wide enough for cart wheels to pass easily along it, and it was only when three or four different paths converged that the ruts were made clear. Despite the fact that they were well defined, though, she could tell that it had been years since anyone had come to this place.

“Do we go in or around?” Neil asked.

“In,” Helen said without much thought.

Carefully,” Neil reiterated.

They were close enough now to see the great detail of the arched gate leading into the city. Strangely, no light came from inside it. It didn’t have the same feeling of emptiness as the manor, yet there seemed to be no one hereno mothers caring for sick or restless children, no guards out on patrol, no one out for a walk because they couldn’t sleep. Helen slowed her pace as they walked through the open gateway.

“Do you think there’s anyone here?” she asked.

Neil shrugged his shoulders, looking baffled. “Maybe they have no reason to be out of bed,” he said. “Or it’s abandoned, liked the manor. Let’s just see what we can find.”

“It doesn’t feel like anyone’s here.”

They walked through blocks and blocks of streets, all of them empty. No sounds came from the houses that lined them. To add to the awkward silence, everything looked identical: white stone houses with flat roofs built three stories high, with green vines growing from planter boxes at the windows, and wooden shutters and doors that were closed tightly. Helen worried as they walked that it was a bewitched city and they would never be able to find their way out again. Seeing this beautiful city in this way gave Helen a feeling of uncomfortable sadness. She regretted the decision to come inside.

“I don’t think there is anyone here,” she said, stopping in the middle of the street.

“Let’s try one of these doors, then,” Neil suggested. “Even if there’s no one to help us, we can at least have shelter for the night.”

A sound of crunching gravel behind them made them both jump as though they had been drenched by icy water. They turned to see a man holding out a long sword. Neil instinctively stepped in front of Helen.

“Who are you?” the man asked. The moonlight was at his back and his face was distorted by shadows, preventing Helen from judging his expression.

“You can put down your sword,” Neil said. “We’re only looking for help.”

The man stood frozen for a minute, considering them, then lowered his arm. “I’m afraid we aren’t really in a position to help anyone,” he said.

“We don’t need much,” Helen spoke up, stepping out from behind Neil. The man had a kind voice, despite his cold attitude. He didn’t give her the same feeling of emptiness she felt when Ian was around, and she didn’t doubt he would be willing to at least give them shelter and point them in the right direction, though she wasn’t sure which direction to ask him to point them in. She hesitated, not knowing what reaction to expect, before adding, “We only need help finding our way to Larisa.”

He showed no reaction to this statement, only quietness. There was no disbelieving laughter, no twitch in his posture, just the same unwavering, appraising stance. “What are your names?” he asked.

“Helen and Neil,” Neil replied.

“Well, Helen and Neil, come with me.”

“And what is your name?” Neil asked. “Stephen,” he answered as he sheathed his sword and began to move. Neil and Helen walked side by side a few paces behind him as he wove in long strides through a short series of streets, moving by instinct, then turned onto one that was wider than the rest. Growing steadier into view, at the end of this street, was a large white building, more grand and beautiful than any governor’s palace Helen had ever seen. It seemed to be the center of the city, the place around which everything else revolved. A five-foot wall enclosed it, and they entered by an arched gate that looked like a miniature of the one they had passed through into the city, into a manicured yard—an orderly arrangement of blossoming trees and grass, and colorful spring flowers. White stone steps rose up to the door of the palace, which was surrounded by large stone pillars encircling a wide terrace. The facade of the palace was all white stone, carved with images they couldn’t distinguish in the moonlight.

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