The Forgotten King – Chapter 9, Part 2
December 19, 2018
Helen shook her head. “There’s no way,” she stated. “Not unless we try to climb those cliffs, but they’re too smooth. The only way is over the lake.”
“But how?” Neil argued. “Unless my eyes aren’t as good as yours, there’s no boat.”
“There must be some way.”
“What do you think, Siri?” Neil asked, turning his head and raising his eyebrows.
Siri stared back at him for a minute. Her eyes were again unreadable. “I think we should go back and find a different way,” she finally stated.
Helen sighed in disappointment and turned back to look over the water. “But there may not be a different way,” she said. “This cliff goes for miles and we don’t know what the land looks like away from this path. Anyway, this is where the path led us. There must be a way to get across.”
Slowly, she walked to the very edge of the lake, so close the water almost touched the tips of her shoes. She swept her eyes as far as she could from left to right.
“We’ll have to go back,” Neil said with impatience.
“But this is the way,” Helen argued. She wanted to add that she felt it, but had learned by now that it wouldn’t matter. Neil wouldn’t be ready to believe her, especially not now that Siri was with them.
Instead, Helen tried to communicate what she felt to Neil with only a pleading look. There was a magnetic quality to that piece of land across the water, even though it didn’t look in any way unusual. She wanted to reach it and see what secret it might bear. Even if they found nothing, she couldn’t go on without at least trying. Neil responded to her look by stepping forward and standing next to Helen.
“There must be some way,” Helen repeated, keeping her voice low. “We couldn’t have come this far just to turn back. That path was too clear. It led us straight to this place.”
“All right,” Neil said, nodding. “We’ll find a way, then. Maybe we can find something here to at least float on.”
Helen gratefully helped to scour the brush near the beach. After looking on for a moment with her arms folded across her chest, Siri joined them, though only half-heartedly. Helen expected her to complain, but Siri’s mouth stayed tightly closed. When every possible nook and bush had been searched, they had still found nothing to help them make their way over the water. The rocky beach was mostly clear of everything but stones. Not speaking, they all looked out to the island, although only Helen tried to hide her discouragement.
“Swim?” Neil suggested simply, exasperated. “I’ve never done it, but I’m sure it can’t be hard.”
“I’ve never had to learn how,” Helen answered, her eyes resting on the still water.
“I know how,” Siri stated, “but that’s too far for even me to go.”
Helen watched the water purl against the beach, its ripples spreading out mesmerizingly. Her gaze followed the path of the ripples to the middle of the lake and she focused once more on the island. From this perspective, it didn’t look as plain as it had before. She saw a gentle slope and jagged rocks. Directly opposite the beach they stood on was a small lagoon. A few trees littered the island, their light green leaves soaking in the light of the sun and emitting an intense and alluring radiance. It made her feel calm, inviting her to come to it, though the island itself seemed untouchable.
Looking down at the glassy, crystal water and the path of dazzling reflected sunlight that stretched over its surface, an idea came to her. The impossibility of it made her frown, but at the same time the past few weeks had taught her that she shouldn’t really believe anything was impossible. She looked at Neil and forced a grin, and again asked, “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” he answered without hesitating. “I’ve already said that.”
“You might have to save me if I’m wrong,” she said. Then, taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and began to walk forward. She reached the edge of the water, but didn’t stop.
A cold shock ran through her body, penetrating every nerve, and she gasped as the early-season water soaked her shoes. Helen jumped backwards onto the beach, too embarrassed to turn around. Trying to appear unconcerned, she bent down and removed her shoes. Composing herself, she again moved forward.
The coldness of the water was stronger this time on her unprotected feet, but she only hesitated momentarily. She was determined to make this work. Gathering all of her confidence, she took a few more steps, but all she managed to do was get the hem of her skirt even more wet. Beginning to shiver, she again moved back.
Discouraged, she looked across to the island once again. It sat untouchable, but she still felt drawn to it. Everything inside of her yearned to reach it. She wondered if there really was a boat or raft farther back that they had failed to notice, hidden along the path. Or else Siri was right.
Helen again closed her eyes, holding the image of the island in her mind. The path led them to this beach and the beach pointed to the island. Helen was determined to reach it. Straightening her back and shaking off her inhibitions, she began to walk.
She had gone a few feet before she noticed what she was doing. Her feet didn’t feel wet yet, though she was about five feet away from the edge of the lake. She was shocked by the realization. Deciding to look down, she saw her feet resting on top of the water. This only lasted for a second before natural disbelief told her that what she was seeing was impossible and couldn’t be real. Her mind refused to believe in the solidity of the water beneath her feet. Her concentration broke and she fell through the surface of the lake, stumbling and falling forward, catching herself just as Neil’s hands cuffed her arms.
A smile she couldn’t hold back grew across her face as she turned to Neil, regaining her balance. Then, she laughed. Neil smiled awkwardly in return.
“What did you do?” he asked quietly.
Helen only glanced at him, shaking her head, then went back to the shore. Neil waded behind her, then stood a few feet away with his eyes fixed perplexedly on her face. Helen gazed out at the island and gathered her skirts in one hand, then stepped forward again, this time breaking into a run. For a moment Neil watched, then turned to Siri and held out his hand. “Come on, Siri,” he said.
Siri shook her head. “It’s impossible,” she answered.
“If Helen can do it, so can we,” Neil argued.
“Come back for me if you find a boat,” she replied.
“And if we don’t find a boat?”
Siri hesitated for a minute. “If you come back, then I’ll believe we can make it. Either way, come back for me if you make it across.”
On the lake, Helen was moving farther away. Neil looked from her to Siri, then back. Exhaling slowly and without another word, he followed after Helen, forcing his mind not to wonder at the fact that his feet were going easily across the water.
The water felt like soft earth under Helen’s feet. She could feel its coolness around her ankles, but none of its wetness. After a few minutes, any uneasiness she might have felt dissipated. She grew accustomed to the gentle movement of the current and ran almost as though the water wasn’t even there. Her thoughts and emotions began to swell inside of her until she wanted nothing more than to erupt in ecstatic laughter. Everything was brighter and the sunlight glistened and danced on the surface of the water. For the first time, she didn’t just know, but actually felt that she was in the northern land, farther than her imagination had ever taken her before. The land ahead was getting larger and coming closer, its details becoming more and more distinct. A tiny waterfall she hadn’t seen from across the lake trickled down the cliff directly ahead, spilling into the lagoon.
Gradually, the water beneath her feet shallowed and she slowed to a walk. The lapping of the water pushed her towards the shore, making her stomach tingle. As she stepped off the water and onto the sandy beach, Helen had trouble finding her footing and swayed for a moment before falling forward, catching herself on her hands. She exhaled and got to her feet. The water bathed her ankles from the undulating lake and she turned to see the beach opposite. With surprise, she saw that Neil wasn’t far behind her. She watched him as he came closer and waited for him to step onto the beach. Expecting him to fall as she had done, Helen stood ready to catch him.
“That was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done,” Neil exclaimed, though the words sounded completely inadequate.
Helen smiled and looked around them, taking in the lake and the island with its trees and rocks and grassy slope, as well as the sky above with its swiftly moving clouds. She breathed deeply to calm her emotions, reminding herself that no matter how many wonderful, impossible things she did, there was still more to do.
“Siri wouldn’t come?” she asked, turning to Neil. He shook his head in reply and Helen continued, “I guess we should try to find some way to get her across.”
She turned inland and started to walk up the beach, looking for any sign of a boat. Neil stood still, watching her. “When did you know there must be a key here?” he asked.
“When we realized there was no way across the lake,” Helen said, pausing her half-hearted search. “I felt it more than I thought it, though. We need to stop thinking the way we’re used to. Everything else we’ve done led to that idea. It had nothing to do with boats. If that had been the only reason to come to this island, there would have been another way on the other side of the lake.”
“You could have said something before we crossed.”
Helen shaped her reply in her mind before speaking. “We don’t know Siri very well, Neil. She stole something from Ian, so what would stop her from stealing something from us? She doesn’t believe in Larisa or Zaric. She would probably only see the keys as valuable jewels.”
“You don’t trust her,” Neil stated in a flat tone.
He hesitated uncertainly. “No,” he finally said. “I don’t trust anyone, besides you. But I do remember someone very much like Siri coming to my home not long ago, asking me to join her on a journey to a place neither of us had ever seen, in search of a man we can’t be sure exists.”
This statement stung Helen. If she couldn’t bring herself to trust Siri, could she really expect anyone to trust her? She hated to think that they were so much alike. Worst of all, she sensed Neil’s disappointment in her.
“I guess we don’t really know each other,” Neil continued, causing Helen’s pain to sink deeper.
“We’ve known each other our whole lives,” she contradicted.
“We knew each other as children. We aren’t children anymore.”
“I hope we haven’t changed that much. Not in our basic characters, anyway. And I don’t think Siri trusts us.”
“I’m beginning to think she shouldn’t.”
They stood silently for a minute. Helen tried to figure out where this conversation had come from and how it had turned so badly. She wished for a way to explain what she felt, but she wasn’t even sure if her discomfort around Siri was because of Siri, or because of her own feelings of insignificance and even envy. There was no way to answer Neil until she could answer that one question. “I’m sorry,” she said, hoping her words communicated the sincerity she felt, although her sorrow came more from hurting Neil than Siri.