The Forgotten King – Chapter 6, Part 1
January 28, 2019
“I thought this place would be safe,” Helen said, hoping not to sound disappointed.
“It’s safer than most,” Meira reassured her. “But every city falls in the end. Except Larisa. We’ve received reports that a group of Mered’s men aren’t far from here. They haven’t found us yet, but they probably will by dawn. All of our people left this morning. I wanted to go, too, but Stephen wanted to wait a little longer. He was sure you would come.”
Surprise made every possible reaction swirl through Helen’s mind. After attempting to think for a few seconds, she discovered she didn’t have the words to respond. So many people knew what Helen and Neil were doing, while they were only finding it out for themselves. Finally, Helen simply repeated, “He was sure we would come.”
“I’m sorry now that I doubted you,” Meira went on. “I’ve lived long enough to know that people always come when you stop expecting them to.”
“How did you know we would come?”
“The man Stephen mentioned, the man from Camdor, he told us you would. Long ago. He didn’t say when, and I thought he must have been wrong. But he was never wrong. You coming tonight proves that.”
“Won’t they notice so many people leaving?” Neil asked in a very practical tone of voice. “This is a large city. If everyone left at once, they won’t be able to move discreetly.”
“They’ll disperse before they get too far,” Stephen answered. “It’s part of the plan. By tomorrow night, our city will be scattered over the land until each family group is swallowed up into the cities on the outer borders of the kingdom. Have you ever been to the outer borders of the kingdom?” Helen and Neil shook their heads, and Stephen continued, “There aren’t many cities or villages between Camdor and the northern frontier, but the outer borders are vastly populated, especially on the western coast. Yet they are spread out enough that no one will notice our city relocating.”
“I thought they would have gone to Larisa,” Helen stated.
There was a strange pause, and Meira was visibly confused by the question.
“No one can go to Larisa,” she stated in a measured voice. “Not yet.”
“But we’re going to Larisa,” Helen argued. “If no one can go yet—”
“You’re different,” Meira replied simply.
Stephen started to move impatiently. “I wish we didn’t have to leave, and I wish we could do more to help you, but it isn’t safe for any of us to stay here. I’m glad you came when you did and not a few hours later. But now, if we can get out of the city, we might be able to disappear.”
“Disappear?” Neil repeated incredulously. Helen’s imagination was moving in much the same way, picturing Meira and Stephen dissolving into a cloud of dust.
“He means, use our superior intellect to evade them,” Meira said, “which is easily said and even more easily done. But, we don’t have much time. As we walk, you can tell us what you would like to know. If you don’t ask questions, we’ll most likely give you the wrong answers.”
As she and Stephen crossed to the door, Meira smiled so beautifully, her face so full of hope, Helen felt herself relax. “Meira,” she said, stepping forward and putting a hand on the woman’s arm. “Do you know Zaric?”
Meira’s eyes flashed with bright memory, adding to the effect of her smile. “Of course,” she almost whispered.
“What’s he like?”
“Too difficult to describe.”
They almost ran down the streets, Helen and Neil struggling to keep up as Meira and Stephen led the way through the city they knew so well. Helen had a haunting memory of leaving her own city and wondered how Meira and Stephen could walk with so little regret. The pace in which they moved made Helen search frantically for the right things to ask, afraid they would run out of streets before she and Neil learned anything useful. “Please don’t be surprised if we know less than you think we should,” Helen began. “What do the keys do?”
“There is a barrier,” Stephen replied, “that separates Larisa from the rest of the world. A physical barrier. The keys must be taken to the gateway that opens this barrier. No one can pass through it until all of the keys have been found and the gateway is opened. Well, besides Zaric himself, but he doesn’t count.”
“Does Zaric ever leave Larisa?” Neil asked.
“Of course,” Meira said, as though this was general knowledge.
“I thought he went to Larisa to seal himself off from the rest of the world,” Neil expressed.
“He isn’t trying to protect himself, but the people inside of Larisa,” Stephen said. “Mered has managed to persuade the rest of the world to follow him, but Zaric’s people are too loyal to ever turn against him, and Mered knows it. If he could get to them, he would kill them all.”
“Then why do we want to open the barrier?”
“Because they are also the strongest people in the world, in their convictions as well as physical strength. With enough support, they can defeat Mered. Being closed off for so long has only made them stronger. We can only imagine what Zaric has taught in the years they have been gone.”
“Zaric is also protecting the idea of Larisa,” Meira added. “As long as a part of the kingdom is set apart from the rest, there is a hope to hold onto.”
“We found a green stone a couple of days ago, in an abandoned house,” Helen told them. “It’s perfectly round and more brilliant than any emerald I’ve ever seen. Is it one of the keys?”
“Yes, that sounds right,” Meira nodded. “Though I’ve never seen the keys myself. Zaric has access to everything of value, and it’s not unlikely that he would have cut gems for such a purpose. He would never use them in any other way, actually.”
“Do you know where we can find the rest of them?” Neil asked.
“I’m afraid we don’t, but I can’t imagine it will be too hard. Did you have any trouble finding the first one?”
Neil wanted to say yes, but decided it would sound as sarcastic as he felt.
They turned a corner and found themselves facing the eastern wall of the
city. They made their way to the gate that led to the field outside, which
looked very much like the one Helen and Neil had passed through not long
before. It was a secluded place to build a city and Helen now understood why.
“Perhaps when we open the barrier to Larisa,” she quietly said to Meira, “you
and your people will be able to come back here.”
“It’s only a city,” Meira said. “Stones and mortar. What matters is that our people are safe, even if it means never seeing this place again. Stephen and I are the protectors of the people, not the buildings in the city. We’ll find a new home where we can prepare to help Zaric. Anyway, opening the gateway won’t solve the kingdom’s problems instantly.”
“We need to leave you now,” Stephen said apologetically. “Meira and I are going to the trees, but I think the two of you should go east.”
“Can’t you come with us?” Helen asked, feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
“Our purpose is different than yours,” Meira gently reassured her.
“You can take refuge in a garden about two miles from here,” Stephen went on, “and wait for the men to pass.”
“Won’t they find us in a garden?” Neil asked, not worried about revealing his sarcasm this time.
“Not this garden.”
Meira hesitated, looking from Helen to Neil, and then from Neil to Helen, then finally stepped forward and embraced each of them. “I wish we had more time. You’re coming has confirmed all of our hopes, and it allows us to hope for even more.”
She smiled again, then turned and began to walk towards the trees. Stephen stepped forward and firmly shook Neil’s hand while also clapping him on the shoulder, and then briefly held Helen’s hand between both of his. “Take care of each other,” he instructed. “We’ll see you again.”