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The quest for hope, p.4
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       The Quest for Hope, p.4

           A. S. King
 
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  So, she just nodded that first day when he told her he would be busy with other engagements while she was there. Then she hastily disposed of the food to the appropriate prisoners and made her way down to where she had heard the singing.

  Her excitement began to dwindle, and nerves started to kick in as she drew near the woman’s cell. She stopped short at the last corner which would bring her directly to the owner of the voice.

  What do I say? How do I begin? Why am I even here, she worried. Aliatta had just decided to turn away and forget the whole thing when the woman in the cell spoke.

  “Don’t be afraid, child. Speak what you would.”

  The voice startled Aliatta, perhaps even more so since it had spoken aloud. “How did you know I was here?” she asked timidly.

  “I felt your presence—and your footsteps echoed off the walls in a way very different from those of the jail guard. Come, let us speak face to face.”

  With a deep breath, Aliatta stepped around the corner.

  8

  The Prisoner

  They stood there in silence, each gazing speechlessly at the other. Bright blue eyes stared wonderingly back at a matching pair of bright blue eyes. Their height would have been identical had not the prisoner acquired a bit of a stoop due to age and some years in captivity. Her long gray hair still held traces of black, and it fell down to her waist in a tangled mass. As the prisoner gazed into the face of the young, richly dressed girl, her eyes took on a hint of longing. A wrinkled hand reached out through the iron bars as a single tear made its way down her wrinkled cheek.

  The movement took Aliatta by surprise, and she responded with an uncertain step back. Was this the one who had been singing? How could such a clear voice belong to such an old woman?

  The movement of the Princess had, in turn, startled the prisoner. She abruptly withdrew her hand, straightened to the extent she was able, and, with great effort, managed to collect herself.

  “Forgive me, my lady,” said the prisoner in the same clear voice she had spoken with the day before. “I forgot myself. You remind me so much of someone I once knew.”

  An unfamiliar feeling tingled within Aliatta. She discovered with a shock that she was actually feeling sorry for someone. This woman was strange in so many ways, and yet she felt inexplicably drawn to her.

  After several more moments of surprisingly not uncomfortable silence, Aliatta found her voice. “I heard you speak to me yesterday, at least, I think you did. None of the others seemed to have heard you, but that could be because they were arguing so loudly.”

  “There are many ways of speaking, my lady. Using your vocal chords is merely one of them. Yes, I did speak to you, but more importantly, you heard and spoke back in the same manner.”

  “So, I spoke to you with my mind?”

  “The words formulated there, but you communicated them through your spirit—a spirit that is seeking truth and light.”

  Confusion shown through the eyes of the young girl.

  The prisoner smiled with understanding. “There is much you do not know—much that has been hidden from you—much that you are seeking.”

  “Tell me,” Aliatta requested, and it was indeed a request rather than a brusque command of the kind she was accustomed to giving. “Please tell me, but first, tell me how you came to be here—how I can be sure I can trust you.”

  “I will indeed tell you my story, my lady, but the choice to trust me or not belongs to you.”

  “I came into being when I was fifteen years old, I believe. At least, that is the age the High King gave me. No, I wasn’t born as you were, though I know you find it hard to comprehend. You see, at the beginning of this world, the High King created the first lives as though they had already been around for years. Some were made as babies, others children, and still others were brought into being as adults. Those first days were an enormous learning curve for everyone, especially the older ones!

  “Each family on Novus was given a particular responsibility, something which would aid others in this land. My family was given the responsibility of assisting the Royal family of Novus, serving as their advisors and companions. Yes, I grew up in the household of King Lev, Queen Malka, and their daughter, Princess Elsie.”

  “Princess Elsie? I wasn’t aware the King and Queen had a daughter.”

  The prisoner nodded, and a smile lit up her face, transforming her features into a likeness of the carefree girl she had once been. “I was her handmaiden. We were great friends, she and I. We would run through the nearby forests together, climb trees, braid each other’s hair—we were as close as I imagine any sisters could be. Elsie was very impulsive. She was impatient and eager to know and experience everything as fast as she could. I guess you could say I served to temper her wild spirit a bit, for I was far more cautious. As much as I enjoyed our exciting escapades, I actually preferred spending time with the Livids, learning from them as much as I could about the High King.

  “And then, the Darkness arrived. I remember it as though it were yesterday.”

  Sorrow and deep pain filled the eyes of the older woman. Her features changed again to those of the weary, life-worn woman she now was. The next words came out in a broken fashion. Each one appeared to cause physical distress.

  “On that night, the castle in Zion stood as a stark white contrast against the dark night sky. The skies above Novus had, in the beginning, been clear and blue. An incredible display of stars used to dance in the sky every night. For the past few months, however, that had not been the case. Thick gray clouds had covered the heavens, both during the day and the night. These clouds were so dark that the sun and the moon could not be seen. The only light came from momentary flashes of lightning-like brightness.

  “On this particular night, we were all especially disturbed. The King and Queen were restlessly pacing back and forth on the balcony of the highest tower. They seemed to have sensed an unrest in their spirits and had apparently gone to look for comfort from the heavens. The sky, however, would provide them with no support on this night.

  “Elsie and I had been quietly watching them and listening to their conversation from the Princess’s bedchamber in a nearby tower.

  “‘I do not like this, Malka’ we heard the King say. ‘This covering in the heavens only appeared a few months ago and hasn’t gone away since.’

  “‘Perhaps it is simply some new creation of the High King’s,’ suggested the Queen, though it was evident she didn’t really believe that.

  “‘No, it is more than that,’ the King replied. ‘There has been silence from the High King since their appearance. I have to admit, dear, I’m worried.’

  “‘So am I. But surely, if there were truly something amiss, the High King would let us know. He would show us how to proceed and what to do for the people … Darling, I’m not sure if I can do this—I get scared sometimes—I’m afraid I don’t know how to be the caretaker He assigned me to be. Sometimes… I just wish I knew more.’ The Queen of Novus gave a soft sigh and leaned against the railing, staring thoughtfully into the heavens.

  “The King approached and put his arm around her, as though to protect her. ‘I do know what you mean,’ he said. ‘I often wonder if I am strong enough for this task. It almost makes you think the High King would have been better served by putting someone more powerful in charge of this land.’

  “A blinding flash of light brought their conversation to an abrupt end. There was no warning. It lit up the entire sky in a blinding flash for just a moment and then disappeared.”

  9

  Betrayal

  “Then what happened?” Aliatta asked. She was sitting cross-legged on the dungeon floor, completely oblivious to anything outside the story being told.

  “The huge flash of lighting-like brightness blinded us for only a few seconds. Elsie and I were stunned. As had become her practice, the Princess looked to me for assurance and guidance. I scarcely knew how to respond.

  “‘I don’t know, Elsie,
’ I finally answered, ‘I have a mixed feeling about the whole thing. On the one side, there is the sense of a great victory. On the other, there is a great foreboding, as though something terrible is going to come upon us.’

  “‘You’re beginning to sound like those Livids you’re always spending so much time with,’ Elsie had teased with a slight smile.

  “I assured her of my loyalty and friendship, but also acknowledged how much I enjoyed listening to the Livids and learning from them. ‘They know so much,’ I told her. ‘I want to learn, too. I want to learn and write it down so others can know it as well!’

  “Our conversation paused as we turned back to the window and noticed that the flashes in the heavens had stopped.

  “Elsie was the first to notice the strange creature. ‘What’s that?’ She asked as she pointed to the forests beyond the city walls.

  “A dark shadow in the form of a man was moving slowly towards the city—towards us—blocking out any light as it went. After a while, we could no longer see it. The next thing we saw was a beautiful figure of light moving toward the city gate.

  “‘Open up,’ the creature of beauty cried out. ‘Open up, in the name of the High King! I have urgent business to discuss with the King and Queen!’

  “The gateman gazed in wonder at the shimmering creature before him. He had likely never before seen such strength and beauty; none of us had. The gateman finally shook himself free of his awe long enough to fumblingly open the gate.

  “The next thing we heard was the cry of a steward as he approached the King and Queen.

  “‘It is a messenger from the High King, my lord.’ The steward spoke in an excited, halting fashion. ‘He has approached the castle and requested an audience with you and the Queen. He says he comes with important news from the High King!’

  “‘We will meet with him in the throne room,’ replied the King, his voice shaking with anticipation.

  “‘Did you hear that?’ Elsie had exulted. ‘A message from the High King! We’re finally going to know what has been going on!’

  “The Princess jumped from her bed and was nearly out the door before she realized I wasn’t following her.

  “‘Well …?’ she prodded, looking back.

  “‘Well, what?’ I asked. I hadn’t moved an inch and had absolutely no intention of doing so.

  “‘Aren’t you coming?’

  “I shook my head. ‘Something doesn’t feel right.’ I told her. ‘If the message is so urgent, why didn’t the High King come Himself? Besides, we haven’t been summoned.’ I had hoped this final reason would settle it. The Princess did, in fact, seem to be very nearly swayed into listening. Her impatience and curiosity, however, soon took over and she shook her head as though to shake herself free of the conviction that she may not be acting in a right manner.

  “‘I’ll sneak in,’ was her reply. ‘They’ll never know I was there.’

  “Then she was gone.

  “As for me, I continued to stare up at the sky, wishing I could rid myself of the feeling that something was horribly wrong.

  “I learned later, from my father, that Elsie had crept quietly into the throne room and hidden behind a large tapestry on the side, close enough to the thrones that she could hear what was being said. The eyes of one of the figures on the tapestry had been altered on a previous visit in order to provide her with a subtle peephole. From here, she could safely watch and listen without detection, as she had already done on a number of other occasions.

  “She glanced around and caught the eye of Avinoam, my father, and the King’s Chief Advisor. He had shaken his head in disapproval at her presence and then returned his attention to the proceedings at hand.

  “The beautiful creature we had seen soon entered the room and when he did, Elsie, along with everyone else, couldn’t take her eyes from him. She finally tore them away and looked at her parents. They were clearly enthralled. Her gaze wandered around the room and then settled once again on my father. His expression was troubled. He seemed to be the only one in the hall who wasn’t entirely pleased with this visit.

  “The Princess was witness to all the horror which happened that day. She watched as the towering creature took a shimmering jewel and with it, baited her mother, preying on her insecurities. She watched as her mother stepped forward to take hold of it, then stood powerless as the Queen received from the Gem the knowledge of all that is good. She saw her mother reach for her father, the King, saying something and holding the Gem up for him to take hold of it. When the King finally stepped forward to join her, the creature laid his hands on top of her parents’ hands. With their hands trapped within his, he released an unrecoverable darkness which would ensnare her parents and all of existence forever. The evil knowledge drained them and began to fill them with an oppressive darkness. Moments later her father remembered full well that this was the Gem, which the High King had instructed them to stay away from. Elsie witnessed all of this and was deeply distressed by it.

  “She raced back to her bedchamber as soon as she could, stormed into the room, and related the events to me.

  “‘What happened?’ She vented. Tears ran down her delicate face, giving evidence to the storm of emotions raging within her. ‘What happened to my parents? The darkness, the look in their eyes—I don’t even recognize them with all the darkness. Why didn’t the High King step in? How could He have lost track of one of His own creations? Why did He allow such a thing to happen? I hate this Dark One for what he has done and … and I hate the High King for not stopping him.’

  “At this point, my friend stopped short. I had been listening so sympathetically throughout the narrative, but I could not contain my look of censure when she recounted her newfound hatred for the High King.

  “‘Well I do hate Him!’ she screamed defiantly ‘and nothing you can say is going to change my mind! You weren’t there! If you were, you wouldn’t be giving me that look!’

  “I continued to stare silently at my friend, my eyes and spirit pleading with her but my mouth saying nothing.

  “Elsie calmed, but only for a moment. When she next spoke, her voice held none of the rage, but rather, a dark determination. ‘I have to leave. I will not follow that Dark One and no, I won’t follow the High King either. Come with me, please? We can look after one another.’

  “I begged her to stay, tried to convince her that the High King could explain what had happened.

  “But she stubbornly shook her head. ‘Are you coming or not?’ she asked one final time.

  “With a sigh of sorrow and resignation, it was my turn to shake my head. ‘I will wait for the High King,’ I answered with equal resolve.

  “Without another word, Princess Elsie of Novus grabbed some of her belongings, stuffed them into a bag, and ran out the door.

  “I have neither seen nor heard from her since that moment.”

  “Is that why the King and Queen had to choose an heir to the kingdom?” asked Aliatta softly. Her voice seemed to startle the woman who had apparently forgotten her little audience.

  “I suppose that makes sense,” the prisoner acknowledged.

  “Do you … do you know why they chose me?” Aliatta spoke slowly, not entirely sure she really wanted to know the answer.

  The prisoner looked deep into Aliatta’s eyes. The nod she gave was scarcely visible. For a long moment, she was silent. Her voice, when she spoke, was a gentle whisper. “That, my child, is a story for another day.”

  Aliatta stood to her feet and turned to leave. Then she turned back. “I have one more question, at least for right now,” she said. “What happened to you – after the Princess left?”

  “The first order given by the Dark One was to destroy all loyal followers of the High King. He must have thought that if he could rid the land of those who loved the High King, then he could have complete control and complete revenge.

  “I was unaware of this and may have been among the first to be captured had not an Erela, a true Erela of ligh
t, begun to materialize next to the bed where Elsie had recently stood. ‘It is time for you to leave also,’ it told me.

  “‘Have you been here the whole time?’ I asked.

  “The Erela nodded.

  “‘Then why …?’

  “‘Why didn’t I answer Elsie? I tried. Her heart had already set itself against the High King, and so she couldn’t hear me. But come, there will be more time for questions later. Right now, we must leave.’

  “‘My father?’ I asked.

  “‘We will meet up with him soon,’ it assured me.

  “The purge didn’t happen all at once. It was a slow, steady, systematic process. My parents and I were among the first to leave, ushered out by a host of protective Erela. We took refuge in the Qatan Forest, just west of the city. Protected from the view of our enemies by an invisible wall, we spent our days learning about the High King. The Erela were our teachers. Throughout the following weeks, the bravest of the group would regularly venture back into the city in order to bring out others who were resisting the continually tightening grip of evil and darkness. It was heartbreaking to see the city I had grown to love so much descend into such a hopeless state. There is one thing, above all else, that has helped me hold on to the hope that Zion will once again shine brightly.”

  “What is that?” asked Aliatta, thoroughly enraptured by the story.

  The prisoner looked intensely into Aliatta’s eyes as she spoke. “The High King promised me that one day, one of my descendants would help usher in a new age of light.”

  Footsteps sounded in the dungeon corridor, alerting them to the return of Jixgaink Groundcash and bringing any further conversation to a direct halt.

  Throughout the following days, Aliatta continued to visit the older woman in the dungeon. Each day, the woman would describe a different characteristic of the High King, giving examples and application from palace life. The two would also talk about the dungeon. The prisoner would suggest improvements and Aliatta would implement them. In this way, a task which had begun as a drudgery became an opportunity for fellowship and growth. You might even say there were times when Aliatta actually enjoyed herself, with the exception of the duties that required her to oversee the carrying out of punishments and the disposal of bodies. Those were two aspects of the job in which she never could get over her disgust.

 
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