Moonrise on Jupiter

A Glimpse into the Thoughts & Imaginings of Vibeke Hiatt

The Forgotten King – Chapter 6, Part 2

“And I thought we were going to have a comfortable night’s sleep,” Neil said as they watched Meira and Stephen disappear into the trees. “I’m tired, I don’t want to move anymore, and now we need to find a garden for protection. Flowers, probably, and maybe a few trees and bushes. Though, to be fair, there are probably some rocks, too.”

“Please, Neil, stop,” Helen said, exasperated. It was difficult to keep her mind from thinking of the empty beds in the city they had just left, her feelings torn between pity for the people who had left them, and pity for herself and Neil, because they so desperately needed to rest. She also tried to breathe away her disappointment at not being able to ask Meira and Stephen more questions. She still had no idea who they really were, besides friends of Zaric and Neil’s grandfather. Her tired mind almost believed that the last half hour or so had been nothing more than an illusion, a pantomime played in her own exhausted imagination.

But they had said there was a garden where they could find protection and Helen believed them.

Helen almost wished for an omen of danger, some sign to propel them forward and keep their pace from slackening. Yet the moon still shined down brightly, a few birds sang encouragingly, even a warm breeze wound across the landscape. There was no hint that some peril was threatening to overtake them. She was too tired to move simply because it was a good idea.

“It would have been easier to do this if we had to cover ten miles,” Neil said, “instead of just two.”

Helen chuckled. “Then maybe we should pretend it’s ten.”

“Do you remember,” Neil went on conversationally, though Helen suspected it was only to prevent himself from collapsing from fatigue, “the balls you used to tell me about when we were children?”

“I used to hide on a balcony above the ballroom in the governor’s palace, watching the people laugh and dance and flirt and talk. My mother knew I was there—I remember her occasionally looking up at me and smiling. I always imagined what it would be like when I was old enough to actually go downstairs.”

“You used to promise me that, when we were older, you would send a carriage to pick me up and bring me to one of your balls. I dreamed so many times about what it would be like, seeing all of those important people in their finest clothes. Yours was a life so different from my life in our little cottage.”

“I never forgot those promises, even if they seemed a little too childish as I got older. When we heard that your parents had died, my father wanted to send for you and bring you to live with us. But we were under suspicion by then. It wasn’t safe for you to come. By the time I was old enough to go to the balls myself, we had stopped having them. The other governors turned against my father and we closed ourselves off.”

 “As I got older,” Neil said in an understanding tone, “I realized I would never enjoy those balls as much as I wanted to, anyway. So many people! I would have missed life in my cottage.”

“We didn’t forget you,” Helen reiterated.

“I know,” Neil smiled. “I know that all too well now.”

They pushed themselves forward as the ground flattened and cleared around them. Ahead of them, like a mirage in the desert at midday, the moonlight began to play with their vision, dancing for a few moments before finally stabilizing, reflecting off what seemed to be a short wall of white stone—no more than five feet high—broken by an arch in the same pattern as the ones in the city they had just left. Shadowy trees stood at regular intervals inside the garden. It was in no way unusual.

“I don’t see how this garden is safer than the city,” Neil stated in a flat tone.

Helen ignored him and walked with heavy feet and stiff joints to the archway. She silently agreed with Neil, but didn’t want to satisfy him by expressing her own opinion. Anyway, Stephen said the garden was safe and Helen trusted him. This land was new to her, but familiar to Stephen. Despite his doubts, Neil followed Helen into the garden.

In the half-light, they were only able to distinguish the outlines of flowers and bushes, benches and statues, in addition to the trees they had seen before. Shadow and light played eerily over everything they saw. The plants drooped in sleep, unaware of the invasion upon their tranquility. The air of this garden was soothing in a way Helen had never anticipated.

“I don’t think we’ll find anywhere safer tonight,” she said. “And I’m too tired to try. We’ll sleep here, and hope Stephen and Meira were right.”

She found a patch of grass beneath a tree and laid down, making sure her skirt covered her legs completely before resting her head on her arms. Uncertainly, Neil watched her, then glanced around again before finally walking over to the patch of grass and sitting down.

“If you believe we’re safe,” he stated, “I really have no choice but to think you’re right.”

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