The Forgotten King – Chapter 6, Part 3
February 2, 2019
The heavy tramp of horses awoke Helen in the morning. Her eyes fluttered at the first sound, and at the second, all sleep was gone and her body laid still and stiff. She had turned in the night and was now facing the outer wall of the garden. A group of mounted men were visible above it, bringing their horses to a stop as they cast their eyes around. Slowly, Helen moved her eyes as far as they would go without moving her head. At least twenty men were within her line of vision; it wouldn’t be long before they looked towards the tree she was under and spotted her. And as she became more aware of where she was and how she had arrived there, her hope fell. Stephen and Meira must have been wrong.
“The marks end here,” one man called out, his voice coming clearly over
the wall. But his next statement was confusing. “I don’t understand it.”
Helen lay still, now wondering why the men hadn’t noticed her or Neil yet. There were a few bushes between them, but nothing large enough to shield them. She could see the men quite clearly. Carefully, she pulled her knees to her chest and used her arm and shoulder to spin herself on the grass, until she was facing Neil. He looked back at her with bewilderment that matched her own. Not far away was the archway they had come through into the garden. Another group of men had stopped beyond it, yet none of them looked through it. Helen waited another minute or two, then raised herself up with caution, first sitting low, then kneeling, and finally standing. The wall was too low for this to go unnoticed. But it did.
“I don’t understand it,” the same man said. “They couldn’t have disappeared. That’s impossible.”
“Maybe they covered their tracks,” another man suggested.
“We would be able to see that. The tracks just—stop.”
Feeling a little more confident, Helen studied the men a little more thoroughly. They were a band of about one hundred, dressed identically in dark blue, carrying swords and shields, though not apparently protected in any other way. Many of them looked directly at her as they glanced around the clearing, but no one fixed his eyes on her and her fear of them melted away. She smiled down at Neil, who slowly got to his feet and stood next to her.
“What are they doing?” he whispered. Helen put up her hand to silence him, noticing one man react—although she wasn’t sure—to the sound of Neil’s voice. His head snapped up when Neil spoke and he looked sharply, but said nothing.
“They must have gone into the woods,” the apparent leader said. “Maybe they retraced their steps somehow. Let’s split into groups and scour the trees. We’ll merge again five miles to the east. We might at least drive them to a place where we can overtake them.”
The men hung back uncertainly and the leader continued with impatience,
“They can’t hide in the middle of an empty field. The grass isn’t long enough,
and we’ve been over the entire place.”
He issued a few commands and the men dispersed in small groups, riding towards the trees. Helen and Neil stood still for a few minutes, even after the sound of the horses stopped ringing in their ears. They were afraid to speak until they knew the men weren’t coming back. If they believed this was only a field, there wasn’t much chance of them returning. At last they sighed in relief and wonder as they took their first opportunity to examine the garden.
The colors that met their eyes were vibrant, almost alive. Flowers of every shade and kind covered the ground. There seemed to be no seasons in this garden. Spring flowers and summer flowers and autumn flowers grew side by side, complementing each other in an unusual way. Some trees were only blossoming, while others bore ripe fruit. Still others were shedding their leaves. There were weathered marble pedestals and benches, gravel walks and a large, dry, marble fountain. Great archways, some intact and others collapsed, stood outside the garden at regular intervals. It was like they were looking at the remains of a ruined temple, though it couldn’t have been more beautiful if it was restored. The garden appeared to be carefully tended, with cut grass and flowerbeds clear of weeds.
“What is this place?” Neil asked. Helen began to sift through her memories. This all seemed somehow familiar. It was strange that she hadn’t thought that before. She sat again on the grass and pulled the book from her bag. She scanned the pages rapidly, her fingers finding it difficult to keep up with her mind. Towards the middle of the book, she found the page she was looking for and stopped to read it to herself.
With a bright, clear smile, she looked up at Neil. “It’s the Sanctuary,”
she told him.