The Forgotten King – Chapter 9, Part 3
December 20, 2018
“Well, unless you expect the key to fall into our hands, we should probably start looking,” Neil said in return, trying to smile. “Do you feel drawn to any place in particular?”
Helen pointed towards the lagoon they had seen from the opposite shore, then followed Neil as he walked to it. They stepped carefully into the pool at its base. As they got nearer to the waterfall, they found nothing but a cascade of clear water rolling down the cliff. Neil put his hands through the water and pushed against the rock, but it was solid. The cliff was perfectly flat and the water ran down the front of it in smooth sheets. It would be impossible to hide anything beneath this waterfall.
“I think your feeling might have been wrong,” Neil stated.
“Since when has it been easy?” Helen asked quietly. “It’s either in these cliffs or we need to go to the top of the hill. I think it is here, but it’s in a place where we would least suspect.”
“Helen, this waterfall is like glass. All I see under it is rock. And there’s nothing else here.”
“Do you think it might have something to do with the water?” she asked after a minute. “Like the fire before.” Cupping her hands, she put them in the running water and allowed it to gather. Then, she pulled her hands out again quickly and peered into them, not really sure what she was expecting to see. But the water only slowly drained through her fingers.
Neil glanced down, too, and couldn’t help saying, “There’s nothing there.”
Helen dropped her hands and sighed.
“You’re not losing your patience, are you?” Neil asked her. “I’ve been relying on you this whole time and if you lose your patience, I think we’ll all be lost.”
“I’m trying not to,” Helen replied. “I’m just so tired. I want to find the keys so that we can find the king, so that I can rest.”
Neil nodded, but said nothing. His mood was softening, which relieved Helen. She didn’t like his coldness—it made her feel more alone than being alone ever could. Now, Neil stared at the water running in front of his face, a look of concentration replacing his previous manner of annoyance. He contemplated the trees on top of the island, the beach on either side of them, and then the lake itself, and Helen followed his intent gaze, trying to break into his thoughts. In the castle and the garden, the space where the key was hidden was limited, but here, there seemed to be no boundaries. The key could be anywhere. Yet Helen felt it was right in front of them.
“Let’s check the trees,” Neil said, then started walking towards the hill that would take them to the top of the cliff. Helen followed, beginning to doubt as well, though she wasn’t quite willing to let go of her impression. After a few feet, Neil stopped abruptly.
“What is it?” Helen asked.
“You feel drawn to the waterfall.”
“I said that, yes.”
“I have an idea.”
He took up his place in front of the waterfall again and stared at it just as before. Helen came slowly and stood next to him.
“In the castle,” Neil said, “I put my hand into the fire, but it didn’t burn me.”
“In the garden,” Helen said, “I picked a flower.”
“And we just crossed a very deep lake with no boat, without drowning in it. Now, we’re standing in front of a wall of solid rock. What do you think is the least obvious solution?”
There was a twinkle in Neil’s eye as he said this. Not wanting to ask what he was thinking, Helen simply watched him. Without reservation, he stepped forward, into the cascade. Helen was startled, and yet, she could only look on in wonder. His face went through the water, then his entire head, his torso and arms, and finally his legs. In amazement, Helen stared at the place where Neil had been, but Neil had completely disappeared. Her nerves tingled through her whole body. She smiled to herself, took a deep breath, and followed.
The water tickled her nose, then her cheeks and eyelids. The fear of breathing in water stopped her from gasping at its icy coldness. A shiver ran through her body as the water ran down her head and over her clothes. She felt herself growing heavier in the wetness. But instead of hitting a solid rock wall, she soon emerged from the waterfall into a cool, empty space. She opened her eyes.
Behind the waterfall, where the cliff should have been, was a cave, lit so brightly, Helen almost believed it wasn’t a cave at all, but an open alcove. The source of the light seemed to be the water on the floor of the cave, which came almost to Helen’s knees. But, when she looked at the water, it didn’t seem unusual at all. Still, its light bounced off the grey stone of the walls and filled the entire space. Neil stood in the middle of the cave, smiling though he was dripping wet, gesturing excitedly.
“Wonderful!” was the only exclamation he could think of. “It would be the most beautiful place I had ever seen, if I hadn’t seen the manor or the sanctuary as well.”
“It all makes me wonder how many things I’ve missed in my life,” Helen said, unable to hold back her own exhilaration, “because I wasn’t looking in the right way.”
Neil laughed—a sound that still surprised Helen—then turned to face the other end of the cave. It wasn’t hard to find what he was looking for because the cave was almost completely empty. The only thing in it was a basin cut into the opposite wall, as high as Neil’s chest. The reflection of light on water danced above the basin and he stepped forward, peering inside the pool. He turned to Helen and waved her over to him, and she quickly obeyed.
They stood next to each other and gazed down. Resting at the bottom of the shallow pool, glittering with its own radiant light, was a bright orange fire opal, cut into a perfectly round sphere. Neil reached in without hesitation, pulled it out, and held it up. The brilliance of the jewel was more than they could have imagined.
Helen took the small purse from her bag and handed it to Neil, not thinking twice until he held it. She realized then that there was still something she hadn’t told him. He opened the bag, looked inside, and dropped the stone in, then froze. His gaze, she knew, was locked on the sapphire, resting among the emerald, amethyst, and fire opal. Neil’s immobility only lasted a few seconds, then he closed the bag and weighed it in his hand.
“Where did that fourth stone come from?” Neil asked, trying to sound natural, but holding the bag tightly.
“I found it a couple of nights ago,” Helen answered, “when I went into the woods. I’ve been meaning to tell you—”
“Don’t you trust me, Helen?” Neil interrupted. His features loosened and he smiled sadly, then handed the purse back to Helen.
“Yes, of course.” She looked down at the purse for a minute, then slipped it back into her bag. She debated whether she should say what she wanted to or not before looking at Neil. “I think I was afraid you wouldn’t believe my story.”
“How could that stop you from telling it? You tell me your stories all the time. If this has something to do with Siri, you could have found a way to tell me without her hearing.”
“I met a man in the woods that night,” Helen blurted out.
Neil stood stonily staring at her, his face expressionless. “And he gave you that stone,” he finally stated.
“No, he led me to it.”
“Are you sure it’s not a trap? It could be a false key, and we’ll be stuck when we reach the gateway.”
“It’s a real key, Neil. I know it is. There was something familiar about him. The man didn’t harm me in any way and I feel he would never have intended to.”
“How can you know? It was a very foolish thing to do, following someone into the woods. You should have woke me up so we could follow him together. You could have been in danger, Helen.”
Looking more injured and confused than angry, Neil brushed past Helen and back through the waterfall. Helen stood in the middle of the cave for a moment, considering what Neil had said. It was possible that her feelings about Siri were only imaginary, or the result of jealousy, but she simply couldn’t accept that explanation, just as she couldn’t believe the man she had met was dangerous based solely on the fact that he was a stranger. Of the two strangers they had met, he was the one she felt she could to trust.
Neil was combing through the thick brush on the beach when Helen emerged from the waterfall. They didn’t speak, but searched in silence. This silence only added to their frustration when they discovered it wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be to find a boat. They were moving farther and farther away from the waterfall, and still they found nothing but brush. Soon, they reached the hill that led to the top of the island, and were met with rocks and grass. They stopped and looked around them.
Again, the sound of running water reached their ears, though this time, it wasn’t a cascading sound, but a light rushing sound. They moved forward, following this sound. Soon, they found themselves standing next to a stream, coming down from the top of the island. They could see that it broke into two smaller streams—the first leading to the water fall and the second widening as it reached the lake. Resting at the bottom of the stream, just a few feet away from where they stood, half hidden in the tall grass, was a small boat, tied to a large rock. Inside the boat were two oars. A surprised laugh escaped Helen’s mouth as Neil walked to the boat. “Our transportation,” Neil said. He inspected the boat, then climbed in. He held his hand out to Helen, then helped her to climb into the boat. Once they were settled, he untied the rope. They each took an oar and began to row.