The Forgotten King – Chapter 8, Part 1
December 28, 2018
They stared at the woman for a few moments, unsure what to do. She didn’t try to hide the fear in her eyes, but she looked ready to fight them if they stepped closer. Helen darted her eyes within her frame of vision, wanting to be sure that the woman was at least alone. The trail was empty of everything else except the woman, who was carrying a bag over her shoulder much like Helen’s, besides the bow and quiver. Helen tried to subdue her panic in order to study her, trying to decide what to say and how to say it. Despite smudges of dirt, her face was beautiful in a striking way that made Helen self-conscious, and the woman’s clothes were unfamiliar and too fine for walking in the woods. Helen assumed she was simply lost in the woods, though something about this assumption didn’t seem quite true.
“You can put your bow down,” Neil said in a calm tone. “We aren’t going to hurt you.”
“That’s what you say,” the woman replied, “but how do I know I can believe you? Just go back. Find a different way.”
“It isn’t that simple,” Helen said.
“I don’t want that man to find me.”
Helen glanced up at Neil, who asked, “What man?”
“Don’t think you can trick me! The man on the black horse. I know he’s here somewhere and I won’t let him find me. And since I don’t know whether you work for him or not, I suggest you turn around and go back. I’ll kill you before I’ll let you kill me.”
“If we worked for Ian,” Neil stated wryly, “you wouldn’t have lived long enough to say that.”
He wasn’t sure this statement was true, but it made the woman hesitate, considering them once more. “You know his name?”
“We ran into him ourselves.”
The woman stared at them a minute longer, looking from one face to the other as the fear dissipated in her face. She relaxed her bow and dropped her hands.
“What’s your name?” Neil asked, stepping closer.
“Siri,” she replied simply.
“My name is Neil, and this is Helen. Can we help you, Siri?”
“We’ll see.” She considered them as she said this, slowly scanning their faces and clothing. “Where do you come from?”
“South,” Helen answered. “Veren and Camdor.”
“I’ve never heard of them before. We don’t hear about the southern lands in the west.”
“By the sea?” Neil asked, surprised.
“That’s hundreds of miles away. Have you walked all this way?”
“It’s not much farther than Veren,” Helen said quietly to Neil.
“What are you doing here?” Siri asked. “Where are you going?”
Both Helen and Neil hesitated. Helen wasn’t sure what reaction Siri would have to her naming Larisa. If she, like most people, had never heard of it, she might laugh or ask for an explanation Helen didn’t want to give. It had been hard enough to convince Neil to come with her—Helen knew it would be impossible to convince a total stranger. But Helen’s main concern was in trusting this woman too much before she had earned it. She didn’t feel the safety with Siri that she felt with Meira and Stephen, though she wouldn’t have been able to tell why if asked. It was only a vague feeling.
“North,” Helen replied broadly.
“There is nothing north of here,” Siri said, frowning. “Everyone says it’s a dead land, a land of ghosts.”
“Where are you going?” Helen asked in return.
There was another pause, but this time, Helen and Neil both knew what the other was thinking. Helen didn’t turn to Neil to see him look at her for approval; instead, she nodded slowly, trying not to show any doubts. She again considered Siri’s clothes and felt a rush of pity towards her, not sure if this strange girl was merely impractical, or if she had been forced out of her home without time to prepare herself. This pity was almost enough to overshadow Helen’s doubts. After all, seeing Ian in the woods made her suspicious of everyone. Everything about Neil showed Helen that he didn’t doubt this girl, anyway, and Helen trusted Neil. She wouldn’t allow herself to distrust Siri without reason.
“Have you ever heard of Larisa?” he asked cautiously. Siri gave him a baffled look and shook her head. “If you come with us, we’ll help you find somewhere safe. We haven’t tried to hurt you,” Neil reiterated, sensing her reluctance. “I’m sure you can see by now that you can trust us.”
She stood in thought for a minute before finally nodding her assent. “I’ll let you take me to the next safe village,” she stipulated, “as long as you make sure that man doesn’t come near me. And this doesn’t mean I trust you.”
“Hopefully, you will,” Neil responded, sounding unconcerned.
Neil stepped forward, holding out his hand to shake Siri’s, but she only folded her arms and scanned him up and down as they began to walk forward. Helen took a few steps, but hung back, her mind weighed with uncertainty. There was movement in the trees ahead of them, farther away than she knew she could see clearly. She stopped and squinted her eyes to focus her vision and saw a figure walking. She was sure from his strides and posture that it must be a man, wearing a brown traveling cloak. Though she couldn’t be certain, she thought he turned his head towards her. He was walking slowly—deliberately—and the sight of him filled her with a sense of wonder more than a sense of fear. She didn’t know where it came from, but she had an urge to run towards him, though she caught herself before she followed the urge. For the first time since leaving Neil’s cottage, she was struck by the fact that they had seen very few people on their journey, which made the appearance of this man even more strange. They purposely stayed on a path that was less populated. She opened her mouth to call to Neil, but a fear of startling the man stopped her. He turned deeper into the trees and disappeared. Helen glanced at Neil and Siri—Neil making erratic comments as he tried to find a productive subject and Siri listening with that same expression of distrust—then back at the clearing, and decided to stay quiet.
It rained throughout the morning. They soon found themselves in a part of the land that alternated between clumps of trees and large clearings. Wild flowers of all colors grew around them, sheets of snow covered the tops of the mountains, and the air was refreshingly sweet. With Siri, the silence Neil and Helen had borne lessened, though most of their conversations were initiated by Neil. He showed a concern for Siri’s comfort that he had never seemed to consider when he and Helen were alone. There was something almost fragile about her appearance, Helen realized—a fragility that Helen herself felt but made a great effort not to show.
“You’re sure you’ve never heard of Larisa,” Neil said after a while. Siri shook her head. “Have you heard of Zaric?” he continued.
A flash of recognition crossed Siri’s eyes and her eyebrows furrowed. “Is he part of a legend?” she asked measuredly. “One of the ghosts?”
“Something like that,” Neil answered.
Helen felt a twinge of disappointment at this statement. “He isn’t a ghost,” she stated with more sharpness than she intended. “He was once the king of all this land, until the people pushed him away. He lives in Larisa and Neil and I are trying to find him. He’s the only one who can fixed what is happening to this land. Trust me, Siri, Zaric is very real.”
“Wasn’t the kingdom divided hundreds of years ago?” asked Siri. “The people decided such a large kingdom wasn’t to our best advantage. That’s what I’ve always heard, and if Zaric was the king at that time, he would be dead by now.”
Helen opened her mouth to reply, but Neil placed a firm hand on her arm. With bitterness and anger combining in her head, she pulled her arm away and fell back a few paces, allowing Siri and Neil to walk ahead of her. “I’m only concerned with getting away from Ian,” Siri went on. “I don’t care if we find a king or not. I’ll feel safe if we can find a town large enough to disappear in, as long as you are correct in assuming anyone lives in the north.”
“How do you know Ian?” Neil asked, changing the subject.
“He came through my village a few weeks ago,” she answered, after considering Neil again for a moment. “I think he was building up his army. I took something from him.”
“So you’re a thief,” Helen said.
“No,” Siri said, laughing Helen’s abruptness off. “It never belonged to him to begin with. I’m sure you know Ian well enough now to believe that. It was a very important document—a treaty—and if Ian had it, I’m afraid we would never see it again. It’s the only thing protecting my people. You see, my father was the governor of our land.”
Again, Helen was struck by the statement. Siri’s story was oddly like her own. The daughter of a governor running from Mered’s men didn’t seem like it should be such a common thing. The difference was mainly in the fact that Siri was simply trying to find safety and didn’t seem at all concerned about Larisa or Zaric. It was also hard for Helen to imagine Ian building an army, when she and Neil had always seen him alone. True, they had seen Mered’s soldiers while they were in the sanctuary, but Ian hadn’t been with them, he had come later and alone.
“What’s Mered planning?” Neil asked.
“I don’t really know and I don’t care to know,” Siri replied. “I only want to get away from him and find safety for my village.”
“I would think that knowing what he’s planning and stopping him would be the only way to find safety,” Helen stated.
“If I can take the document to the next village we find,” Siri continued as though she hadn’t heard Helen, “I may find someone who can help my people.” Trying to hide a sigh, Helen resolved that it would be better to stay quiet and let Siri and Neil talk to each other. They didn’t seem to be saying anything of value anyway. Staying out of the conversation was the best way for Helen to quell her frustration. And although she was irritated with herself for feeling it, Helen hoped they would find the next village soon.