The Forgotten King – Chapter 7, Part 1
February 4, 2019
“And what is the sanctuary?” Neil asked.
“It’s a place that evil isn’t allowed to enter,” Helen answered, beginning to walk around the garden, her eyes taking in its beauty and color as though she was quenching her thirst at a mountain brook. “To most, it’s completely invisible. According to your grandfather, anyway. Zaric is said to have built it.”
“How can one man in one lifetime do all the things Zaric is said to have done?” Neil stated with a wry smile, following Helen.
Helen reached down and ran her fingers across the petals of a cream-colored rose. Its scent swelled and filled the air around them for a few seconds.
“Do you seriously think it’s impossible for evil to come in here?” Neil asked.
“Yes,” Helen said. “You saw what happened just now. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zaric built hundreds of sanctuaries that we just don’t know about. He really does want everyone to be safe, and he would want places for the people to be safe.”
“And Larisa would be the ultimate sanctuary.” Neil sat down on a stone bench not far from where Helen stood. He took a few deep breaths and tried to soak in the stillness of this place. The early morning sun was shining and only a few wispy clouds were suspended in the sky. The more he sat still, the more Neil felt the easiness of safety, but still he thought of the imminent danger that waited outside. He looked back at the wonders of this garden and thought of the city below them, abandoned by its people so quickly and easily in favor of a nomadic life, despite the city’s solitude and apparent comforts. He thought of Ian and Mered’s other men and wondered how safe he and Helen would be once they left this sanctuary. For once, he hoped Larisa was real, and he thought he understood why Helen felt the same way. There had to be something to look forward to, or they might as well let Ian or Mered kill them now.
“But why would Zaric need a garden?” asked Neil, just loud enough for Helen to hear. “A fortress would have been much safer. A hundred fortresses would have been safer.”
“A garden is where things grow,” Helen answered, basking in the tingle of her skin as she breathed in the fragrant and clean air. “You can’t help feeling alive when you’re surrounded by life. I can’t speak for Zaric, though. That’s just how I feel. Fortresses are stone—hardness—and they feel like war.”
“My mother always loved flower gardens. I’ve never been very good with them, though. Vegetables are all right and there were a couple of fruit trees around the cottage. She would have been very disappointed if she had seen what happened to her flowers after she died. I was afraid of hurting them, so, besides pulling the weeds, I allowed the flowers to grow wild. Many of them died.”
“We never had the right kind of soil for a garden. There were a few plants and flowers suited to the climate, but not many. I read about them in books and saw them when we traveled, and a few of the rich people in our city had gardens that would sometimes peek over their walls, but never anything as beautiful as this.”
“You speak about the rich as though your family didn’t belong to that group.”
“We didn’t—not really. What money we had wasn’t spent on importing soil to make an exotic garden to hide behind a wall that no one could see past.”
“Daffodils were my mother’s favorite,” Neil said, standing up and walking to a cluster growing a few feet away. “She was tall and blonde, too, so I guess that was why. Nothing like me. I looked forward to seeing them in the spring because they reminded me of her. They were one flower that seemed to thrive after she was gone.”
Gingerly, he took one of the flowers at the bottom of its stem, twisted it slightly, and pulled. The stem snapped easily. He held the flower out and studied it, then turned and smiled at Helen.
She returned the smile, but it quickly melted from her face. With a confused and slightly horrified expression, she stared at the ground next to Neil, then slowly walked to it and knelt on the gravel. Neil looked down, too, and the daffodil in his hand fell to the ground.
The patch of yellow and white and orange flowers withered in only a few seconds, leaving behind only a cluster of brown. Not only the daffodils were affected, but a few smaller flowers near them withered as well. The dirt in that part of the flowerbed became parched and dry. And the flower lying at Neil’s feet was now dry and withered as well.
“What did you do?” Helen asked.
“I only picked one,” Neil said defensively. “People do it all the time. You saw me do it.”
“But what happened to the flowers?”
“I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Getting to her feet, Helen walked down the path, sweeping her eyes over the flowers and other plants. A dread came over her that the sanctuary’s powers were fading and it was losing its ability to protect them. Somehow, she thought, its safety had been compromised, and anyone would be able to enter it. She examined the ground for more dry patches, but found none. She stopped in front of a cluster of rose bushes, scanning the plants and trees intently. Her initial panic subsided.
After standing still for a moment, thinking, she stooped down, picking a small red rose from one of the bushes. Then, she waited over it, until, like the daffodils, the flowers withered before her eyes and the leaves of the bush turned brown.
“Don’t kill any more of them!” Neil exclaimed, running up to her. “What if Zaric comes and sees that we’ve destroyed his entire sanctuary, and then asks us why? Let’s just try not to touch anything. We should probably get away from here.”
“It’s just strange, though,” Helen said. “Picking one flower shouldn’t do so much harm.”
“If there really is some sort of power in this garden, maybe the flowers aren’t meant to be picked. It might weaken the whole place. Pretty soon, those men will come back and find that we aren’t invisible after all.”
Helen considered this theory again, but she wasn’t sure she could really accept it now. It made sense, protecting the garden’s power, but if only good was allowed to enter the garden in the first place, the walls wouldn’t allow someone to pass through who could possibly destroy it. If anything, the flowers themselves would have a protective power for anyone who picked them. The strangest explanation was the most probable one.
“The next key is in here,” Helen stated firmly.
“In this garden?”
Neil stared at her and thought about it for a minute. “In one of the flowers?” he finally asked.
“It makes sense, doesn’t it?” Helen said with relief, glad Neil had caught on to her thought so easily.
“No,” Neil said, shaking his head. “Most things haven’t made sense so far. In a flower and not in a crevice somewhere.”
“In a flower,” Helen answered, growing more confident in the idea.
“But it might not be here at all. You may be wrong.”
“It won’t hurt us to try, Neil.”
“It might hurt the garden,” Neil stated sharply.
“What if we don’t look, and it really is here? I don’t really think we can change our minds later and come back.”
Neil sighed and nodded. “All right,” he said. “We’ll look. But what exactly are we looking for?”
“I don’t know, Neil,” Helen answered, exasperated. “Just trust your instincts.”
“I only want more information, Helen.”
“And I don’t have any, so you might as well not ask. Try not to pick anything unless you’re pretty sure it’s the right flower.”
With a sigh of frustration, Neil threw his hands in the air and turned away from Helen, walking down the gravel path, studying the flowers with meticulous attention as he went.
Helen looked around at the acres of park-like land surrounding them. It was like a painter’s palette, a sea of every color imaginable. The flowers varied in size, from those as big as Helen’s head to others that were only the size of her smallest fingernail. She stooped down to look at some, and stood on the tips of her toes to look at others. She studied every flower as minutely as possible, bending so close to many of them her eye nearly touched their petals, all the time afraid she might be wrong and preparing her defense in her head.