Moonrise on Jupiter

A Glimpse into the Thoughts & Imaginings of Vibeke Hiatt

The Forgotten King – Chapter 5, Part 3

“Neil, have you ever seen anything more beautiful than this?” Helen whispered.

“Not many things, no,” he answered. “Unless, like me, you consider a field ready to be harvested as beautiful.”

The doors opened into an entryway made of polished yellow and white stone, lit by many small oil lamps. Blue and white tiles in the floor formed an exquisite mosaic that Helen hardly dared to walk on. The polished walls gleamed white around them and there were many clay vases resting on pedestals made to look like the pillars outside the palace. But the entryway was only appealing in a simple way, without excess ornamentation—nothing quite as Helen would have imagined.

Stephen led them through the first set of doors they came to, then he closed them heavily. A woman stood in the middle of the floor, her back to the door, dressed as though she, like Helen, was about to leave on a long journey. She turned abruptly at the sound of the closing doors.

“I thought everyone was gone,” she stated with surprise. Then, after a pause, she continued, “I’ve never seen these two before.”

She was careful not to show any concern, making it seem as though strangers generally came unexpectedly in the middle of the night. What she made no effort to conceal was the kindness that covered her face, radiating from beneath the skin and making it look as though she were constantly smiling, even though she was not. Her entire presence was more graceful than Helen had ever seen in anyone before and Helen was embarrassed by her own inadequacies in manner and appearance. Like the palace that surrounded her, the woman evinced simplicity—in her dress, in the way she wore her hair, and in the way she carried herself.

In the clear light of this room, Stephen’s features were more visible, and, as he stood next to the woman, their similarities in manner stood out. In the street, he had used the trick of the moonlight to his advantage, because any amount of light would have betrayed his own look of kindness. His face didn’t smile as the woman’s did, but it was constantly expressive, and that expressiveness was gentle.

“Meira,” Stephen said to the woman, though his eyes were fixed on Helen and Neil, “this is Helen, and this is Neil. They would like our help finding Larisa.”

At this last word, Meira’s eyes brightened more than Helen thought possible, and they darted quickly between Helen and Neil and Stephen, before finally locking on Stephen. Then, they both smiled broadly.

“Helen and Neil,” Meira exclaimed, “trying to find Larisa.”

She looked the two of them over, making Helen more self-conscious than before. Trying not to let the trembling of her fingers show, she reached up a hand and tried to straighten her hair the best she could. She also attempted to dust off her tattered gown, but knew that it was no use. The woman laughed quietly, taking a few steps forward.

The more Helen watched Meira and Stephen, the more confused, then worried, she became. She wondered if she was just too tired. This situation was very much like a strange dream. A heavy doubt began to take hold of her. “Is this Larisa?” she asked, thinking of the empty city outside, which was nothing like she had imagined, and thinking she was wrong to believe she would know Larisa when she saw it. “I didn’t believe it was….”

“No, it’s not Larisa,” Meira answered, shaking her head gently. “It’s only a pale remnant of Zaric’s kingdom. Have you come far?”

“I come from Veren,” Helen replied, “and Neil comes from Camdor.”

“We’ve never been so far south,” Stephen said, “but we knew someone from Camdor once. A wonderful man. He traveled everywhere and told the most impossible stories. They were all true, of course. No friend of Zaric could tell a story that isn’t true.”

“That sounds like my grandfather,” Neil said with a faint smile, his own expression softening.

“Can you help us?” Helen asked, feeling more comfortable knowing that these people were friends of Neil’s grandfather. “We only need shelter for the night and help finding our way in the morning.”

“We can show you which way to go,” Meira replied, “but we can’t give you shelter for the night.”

“But, from what we saw outside, you have plenty of room.”

“It isn’t a question of hospitality,” Stephen said understandingly. “It’s a question of safety. No one should be here in the morning. We shouldn’t even be here tonight. Mered’s men are coming.”

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