Gabe stopped in front of the inn and tried to brush the dirt from his trousers. He removed his right shoe and shook a pebble from it. How can I explain what just happened? What am I— He didn’t get to finish the thought. Angela had spotted him and ran out to greet him. Tabitha skipped along behind.
“What happened?” Angela asked.
“I found him.”
“I found the King. I…I…” His lips couldn’t form the words. His tongue flapped uselessly making odd monosyllabic noises. He didn’t know how to begin.
“You found the King? How do you know? There was someone living on the hill? How do you know it wasn’t someone else?”
“Impossible.” Gabe found that question easy to answer. “There’s no one like him. He knew my name. He knew what I was thinking. He answered my questions before I asked them. He somehow fixed a plate I had broken by just holding it. He loved me.” His voice dropped off, but the words didn’t fall; they floated in the breeze and carried their warmth with them. Angela could almost feel the warmth of the King’s love as the words washed over her face.
Butterflies began flitting around in Angela’s stomach. “Mother’s at the market. Father’s paying a visit to Percy Katrid. Will you tell me all about the King?”
They sat on the ground, leaning their backs on the hard wood of the inn. He started at the beginning when his first shoe hit the path until he had thanked the King. He told her every detail he could describe. He even confessed to clinging to the King and crying. Angela remained transfixed the whole time. When all was told, he sat quietly and imagined himself again at the King’s feet. Finding the King alive should have raised more questions than it settled, but he was content. No more questions raged in him. He was at peace like the lake at sunrise on a cloudless winter day.
Tabitha twirled and watched her skirts fly out. Angela let Gabe sit in peace while she thoughtfully studied his face and determined something was different. She was sure something had happened to him up on the hill that morning.
“I believe you.”
Gabe’s thoughts were interrupted. “What?”
“I believe you.”
It hadn’t occurred to Gabe that his words could be unbelievable, but as he thought about it, he realized it all sounded crazy. He started to giggle at the absurd story of the dead King who’s alive and reads minds and fixes plates and who actually only has one plate which happens to have his name on it. He realized the significance of his sister’s affirmation.
“Do you think anyone else will believe me?”
Angela shook her head. “It’s a tall tale.” She began laughing herself. “Do you think I could meet him?”
“I don’t know. I’ll ask him tomorrow. I’m going back. I’m going to go every day.”
“Father’s not going to let you skip your chores and learning to go climb that hill every day.”
“I have to go. I don’t know. The King has a way of helping me come to him. He’ll help me get there.”
Angela remembered the toad and the buck. “Right, I forgot. I’ll help you too. I don’t need to go. I can stay home and do your morning chores. You can meet with the King, and then you can tell me everything he—”
“Oh, Gabe, you’re home.” Their mother was barreling toward them, the bounty in her satchel threatening an avalanche. “Now don’t you try that again. Only so much a mother’s heart can take.”
“Gabe met the King, and he did magic tricks.” Tabitha’s summary of his morning was not what he had expected to share with his mother. He began to object, but his mother spoke first.
“Telling your sister stories I see. Anyhow, it’s a good thing you are back here now. I just heard Lord Vulpine wants to hold another meeting tonight. We need to fix up a stew and get the room set.” She blustered past them and set straight to work.
Gabe stood dumbfounded. Make-believe stories. That’s what she thinks. She doesn’t know the truth. Does she want to know what really happened? He realized his parents didn’t consider for a moment that the King might still be alive. It wasn’t a possibility to them. How can I convince them he’s alive?
“Let’s go help.” Angela’s words cut into his distressing thoughts but didn’t cut loose their weight. He carried the burden as he trudged after his sister.
When Gabe’s father returned home, events imitated those earlier with his mother. Neither had heard the truth, but neither asked for the truth.
That evening while Vulpine commanded the audience of the Brothers and Sons, Gabe sought an audience with his father. He found him again hunched over his books. “Father, I want to go every day to King’s Hill.”
“What?” Gabe’s father had been interrupted and his mind was elsewhere.
“I want to go up King’s Hill every day. I want to see the King.”
“The King? What do you mean?”
“I met the King today. He invited me back, and I want to go.”
“Gabe, I don’t know what you are talking about. The King is dead. If you enjoyed your hike, then fine, it would be good exercise for you to climb for a bit each day if the guard doesn’t mind it. You’d have to go early in the morning and be back in time for chores and breakfast. But no talking with strangers.”
“Yes, sir.” His father had been quicker to respond than usual. He wasn’t willing to ponder the possibility of the King living on the hill. Gabe sullenly withdrew from the room.
The next morning Gabe was up and out before the sun threw off nighttime’s cloak. He returned in time for breakfast but ate in silence. Afterward he shared with Angela all the King had told him as they plucked the apples from their family’s trees and gathered them into bushels. Gabe was fast asleep before the candles in the inn had been blown out.
And so began a daily ritual of rising early, racing up the hill, sitting at the King’s feet, and retracing his steps, usually in time for breakfast. Angela took up more and more of his chores and became a diligent disciple, taking in every word of the King as reported by Gabe.
The snows came, and Gabe rose in the dark when the shrill shrieking of scavenging rats could still be heard. Huddled in his cloak, he plowed his way down the road and up the hill. He never missed a chance to meet with the King. The King taught him the words of the book of law, explained the meanings behind the words and answered Gabe’s questions.
“Are there others who come daily to visit you?”
“No. Sometimes there is someone who wanders up the hill a bit seeking one thing or another, but only those who truly seek me are able to find me.”
“Why don’t they seek you?”
“They aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices.”
Gabe reflected over the past months: the early hours and lack of sleep, the long climb, the risk of being caught by the guard, the feeling of separation from all the other kids who had no interest in the King, his family not understanding his new life.
“Maybe it’s a sacrifice,” he conceded, “but it feels like a privilege.”
“It’s both, and it is also a responsibility.”
Gabe didn’t ask for an explanation. He was thinking of another question.
“What about Angela?” Gabe knew he didn’t need to explain who she was. “She has sacrificed to get to know you, but she hasn’t seen you.”
“You’re right. She has sacrificed her time and energy, and even though she hasn’t seen me, do you think she has received some of the privileges of finding me?”
“Yes,” Gabe answered simply; he knew it was true. He and Angela both had something that others lacked. They had peace and joy and both felt the King’s love. They were gaining knowledge and wisdom about the world that even the leaders of the village wouldn’t be able to match.
“Maybe if you would come down to the village, then people would know you are alive and would want to be with you. Why don’t you come to the village?”
“The first day you came, I showed you your plate. It was your invitation to visit me as often as you like. The village withdrew their invitation to me. Not everyone is willing to
make the sacrifices you have made to be with me, nor are they willing to accept the responsibility of knowing me and my law. But even so, I said I would come back one day, and I will.”