The Forgotten King – Chapter 8, Part 3
December 31, 2018
Without any further discussion, the man took Helen around the waist and lifted her effortlessly off the ground. He raised her until she was close enough to the first branch to grab hold of it. Helen took a deep breath to suppress her anxiety over the thinness of the branch, then pulled herself up, resting her feet gingerly on it and holding the tree trunk for support. Slowly, trying to keep herself steady, she stood on the branch and reached for the next one. It was a couple of inches out of reach. Bouncing as gently as she could, she used the first branch as a springboard, then jumped, gripping the branch. She was relieved, but only momentarily. Below her, she heard a crack, and then the heavy thud of a branch hitting the ground. The rough bark cut into her fingers and palm, but she willed herself to keep her grip tight.
The man called up to her, but it took Helen a few seconds to register his words. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” Helen told him feebly, closing her eyes to avoid looking down.
With a sigh, she climbed the trunk and pulled herself up. This branch was thicker and sturdier than the last, so she wasn’t worried about stopping to rest for a moment. It was hard not to look down, to see how far she had climbed. It was even more frightening now that the first branch was gone. It took a great deal of effort to suppress the fear forming in her head. She needed to focus on getting up to the nest before she concerned herself with how she was going to get down. The reality of the situation was also pressing down on her and she was tempted to question why she had followed this man, why she was climbing this tree, and why this nest was so important.
Gathering every particle of determination she had and hoping it would somehow multiply, Helen stood again and climbed. She didn’t have far to go and these larger branches didn’t give much under her slight weight. They were arranged thickly, too, giving her a stronger sense of protection. As she got closer to the nest, Helen realized it wasn’t a nest at all, but a round wooden box like nothing she had ever seen before. When she was within reach of it, she gently placed her hand on the surface of the box. Under her fingertips she could feel a variety of intricate and ornate patterns, but in this light it was impossible to see what they were.
Helen sat on the branch just below the box, feeling a little more stable. She ran her hand over it, feeling for a seam in the wood, but she could only feel the grooves of the design. Cautiously, she lifted it from the branch, and was amazed to find that it was much lighter than she had imagined, feeling more like a piece of cotton than a box. Again she traced its surface with her fingers, slower this time, steadying herself by leaning against the trunk with her elbows on the branch. In the center of the back of the box, she felt a small knot. She pressed it, and the top of the box sprang open. Though the moonlight filtered through the leaves above her, it was still too dark to really make out what was in it. Helen turned the box in the palm of her hand, trying to get a better look inside without blocking the light. After a minute, something glistened briefly in the moonlight. Helen slowly rotated her wrist, trying to catch the same patch of light. Patiently, her hand twisted and turned, until she found it. But, once this light was found, she could only distinguish that whatever was in the box was reflective and blue.
“Helen!” the man called up to her from below, his voice shaking Helen’s nerves and almost causing her to lose her balance.
“I have it,” she answered, snapping the box shut. “I’m coming down.”
Carefully, she placed the box in her bag and descended, watching her feet closely. She reached the bottom branch and looked down to the man, standing uncomplainingly at the foot of the tree. It had been hard enough to get to the first branch when she was climbing up, and now what was left of that branch was too small to even see or step on.
“I can’t get down,” Helen said, blushing at the unnecessary statement.
“Let yourself fall,” the man instructed, as though it was the most obvious and practical solution. “I’ll catch you.”
“It’s too far,” she protested. “There must be another way.”
“Do you trust me?”
Helen didn’t answer at first. She had trusted him to help her into the tree. Nothing about this man made her uneasy or uncomfortable. Nothing so far made much sense or seemed normal, yet this man embodied pure goodness and peace. There was no space inside of her at this moment for doubt.
“Yes,” she answered, “I trust you.”
“Then let yourself fall,” he repeated in his reassuring tone.
Closing her eyes, she slid off the branch, feeling a tickle in her stomach that almost masked the terror she felt at the fact that she wasn’t holding onto or supported by anything.
When she opened her eyes, Helen found herself standing at the foot of the tree. The man was gone. Confused, she peered through the trees and listened for the sound of footsteps on the forest floor, but her eyes and ears were met by nothing unnatural. Her senses were jittery with the feeling of waking up after sleepwalking. To reassure herself that she had been awake, she looked down at the box in her bag. Helen stood for a minute, but she didn’t like being alone in the woods in the middle of the night. Waves of vulnerability swept over her again. A chill of nervousness ran through her, and with quick steps she headed back to the clearing where she had left Neil and Siri.