“Gabe, I want you to know something.” Gabe was again at the King’s feet and saw sadness in the King’s eyes. He sat up straighter.
“A very severe hailstorm is going to strike the village. I’m telling you so you won’t be frightened. People won’t be suspecting it when the winds pick up. They’ll think it is just an April shower. It will be coming soon. On a sunny day when the winds suddenly pick up and a dark cloud covers the sun, I want you to go to your kitchen and stay there until the storm passes.”
“When is it coming?” Gabe felt uneasy all of a sudden.
“Soon. Watch for the signs, and you’ll be prepared.”
“Yes, sir, but how will I convince my family? My parents don’t even believe you exist.”
“I’ll make a way. Your family will be safe.”
He had done it again, lifted the burden off of Gabe. When Gabe returned home that day, he mentioned the storm to no one but Angela. Over the next few days the King didn’t mention it again, so neither did Gabe.
Then one night Gabe had a nightmare. He thrashed and sweated and cried out. Angela sat up with a start. She could almost feel Gabe’s heart pounding as Gabe sat panting. Tabitha was sleeping peacefully next to Angela when Mother rushed to his bedside.
“It’s okay. It’s okay.” Mother tried to calm him. She stroked his hair to soothe her nerves as much as his.
“I had a dream. Mother, you can’t go out today. There’s going to be a hail storm. I saw it. A terrible storm. Hail big enough to knock a man down. The winds tore the banner off the Hall, and hail put holes in its roof. I saw roofs collapse and animals killed. You can’t go out today.”
“Gabe, what are you talking about? It was a dream. Relax. Let me go get you a warm cup of milk.” She shuffled through the dark doorway and disappeared.
“Do you really think it will come today?” Angela asked.
Gabe tried to see Angela’s form in the dark. “I think it might. He didn’t tell me when, but he said he would help me make Mother and Father believe so they would be safe. Maybe that’s why I had the dream. It was awful. I don’t want to think about it anymore.”
“Okay. It will be okay. The King will help us. Think about him. Think about King’s Hill. You’ll be able to go back to sleep.”
He followed Angela’s advice, relaxed and was asleep before Mother returned with the milk.
When the family gathered for breakfast, Mother told Father about their eventful night. He, like Tabitha, always did a good impersonation of a hibernating animal, sleeping no matter what was happening in the outside world. He listened to Mother and noticed the concern written in the wrinkles on Gabe’s forehead.
“I’m glad it was just a dream. Don’t worry about it.” His father spoke nonchalantly. When his advice didn’t soften the lines on Gabe’s face, he added, “We can’t just stop our lives because of a dream.”
“It’s not just the dream,” Gabe said softly. “The King told me a terrible hailstorm was coming. He said when the winds picked up and the clouds blocked the sun, we were to go to our kitchen and wait out the storm.” Gabe didn’t dare look at anything above his toes.
“What?” His father was perplexed by what he was hearing.
Gabe didn’t answer.
“What did you say?” Gabe’s father never raised his voice, but there were times when Gabe felt like Father was yelling at him, and this was one of them.
“The King told me.” The words fell to the floor.
“What are you saying?” The subject of the King had been dropped by the family months ago. His parents knew he went daily up the hill but that was all.
“The King told me.” This time Gabe looked his father in the eyes and spoke each word deliberately.
His father was taken aback by his forthrightness and spoke softly in return. “When did you speak with the King?”
Gabe looked directly at his father. “I speak with the King every day. The King is alive and lives on the hill. You and Mother didn’t believe me when I first went, so I’ve kept quiet about it.”
“He’s told me everything about the King,” Angela added. “And I believe him. It’s true.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Mother’s vexation was evident. She busied herself cleaning to avoid the conversation.
Father, however, was carried by Gabe’s words to a world away. He watched his grandfather as he scrolled the words of the King’s law. He flew to the summit of the hill heavy laden with a King’s golden throne. He heard the King’s song and his banner flap in the breeze. He was remembering the King. His world had faded away, and the reality of the King engulfed him. Taking in a gulp of air, Gabe’s astonished father came to his senses and asked, “He lives?”
“He lives,” Gabe answered authoritatively.
“He lives,” Angela assured him, beaming.
Gabe and Angela watched the transformation come over their father with gleeful hearts. They knew the experience well. Gratefulness overwhelmed Gabe. Months of wishing for this moment, and here he was a witness to it. Angela sighed a happy sigh and said, “This is the perfect day.”
“When will you tell me about the King?” Gabe’s father realized he was an infant in his knowledge.
“When we’re huddled in the kitchen during the storm,” Gabe decided. “The King has a way of—” Gabe started in but was promptly interrupted.
Mother’s skirts brushed against the table as she swept past the others fixing a scarf over her dark brown hair. “I’m going to market. I’m not staying home because of someone’s imagination. Besides, what will everyone eat if I don’t go?” She was out the door.
Father was worried. Angela set out to console him. “Gabe, didn’t the King say your family would be safe during the storm?”
Gabe nodded toward Angela.
“Well,” said Angela, “let’s not worry. You taught me the King’s word is always true.”
“That’s right.” Father’s memory was jolted. “You told us that right after you read the King’s law. ‘The King’s words are sure and true.’ I believe that’s what you said. Don’t know how I can remember that, but I’m glad I do. Let’s believe the King’s words and not worry.”
“Yes, sir!” Gabe was feeling giddy, a rubber ball set loose from a great height. He felt like anything was possible. No fears were lurking inside. The King will keep Mother safe.
Mother had already left the inn, but Father, along with Gabe and Angela, agreed to stay home the rest of the day. Keeping Tabitha with them would not present a problem.
There was no sign of a storm. The sun was a golden medallion adorning a cloudless blue sky. The family busied themselves with chores around the inn. Gabe chopped and stacked firewood which would be needed for the stove even when the weather warmed. Angela swept the floors and peeled potatoes. They worked silently, but they knew what the other was thinking. When’s the storm going to come?
Crash! Tabitha shrieked. Bang! “Tabitha, go sit at the kitchen table and don’t leave.” She was so surprised by Angela’s commanding tone that she quickly obeyed the order. Gabe had dashed out the front door of the inn and skidded to a halt. Angela quickly fell in behind him. The landscape was staggering even though they had been warned. The sun was gone, swallowed whole by the threatening mass of a cumulonimbus, hovering, dwarfing the village like a giant boot about to squash a bug.
The inn’s sign was knocking against the eave, its metal chains jangling. In a pine just in front of the inn, a red crossbill wrapped protective wings around her eggs and braced to defend her nest against the storm. Gabe’s gaze turned to King’s Hill. It seemed the storm skirted along its edges; the peak was reaching up to the clear blue heavens. The King was somehow in control of this storm. Gabe didn’t understand the thought, but it was a comforting one anyway.
The dusty road had become more whirlpool than walkway, dirt fiercely swirling, not caring who was pummeled by its pebbles. Their next-door neighbor passed by. “Can you believe this wind?”
Gabe hollered back, “Get inside, Mr. Bollix, and stay there! This is going to be a bad storm!”
“I’ve seen worse. Funny how suddenly the wind picked up. I’m on my way home now. We’ll be seeing you.” He shielded his eyes from the onslaught of dust.
Gabe was startled by the man’s composure. Gabe wanted to tear through the streets telling everyone to take cover. Thinking of Mother, he felt helpless. The vanished fears were slowly creeping back.
Father rushed to the door and herded his children away from the whipping winds. He had brought Betty inside. The incongruous sight made Gabe laugh out loud. “What would Mother say if she saw a cow in the dining hall?” The laughter left his lips with the words. Mother. The three of them stood in silence. Then it began.
Thud. Thud. Thud. A heavy fist was pounding the roof. They looked up at the ceiling and then at each other. Hail. “Let’s get into the kitchen.” Their father shepherded the children to the kitchen where Tabitha was waiting at the table. Inside, the only movement was the kitchen door swinging back and forth. Outside, the storm was a rampaging drunk, toppling everything within its reach, its fury crashing and splintering all it touched.
Thump. Rattle. The three tried to ignore the percussion symphony playing for them outside, especially the hail which was using the inn as a kettle drum. They distracted themselves with talk of the King.
Father looked to Gabe. “I don’t know where to begin, what to ask. What do you want to tell me about the King?”
Apart from having his mother sitting across from him right then asking the same question, there was nothing more Gabe wanted. “Remember the old village song? The line, His love’s a banner waving over all of us.”
“Of course, His love’s a banner waving over all of us, a beacon leading us out of our darkest night.” Tabitha didn’t recognize the words.
“Well, that song was about the King, right?” Gabe was enjoying his role as teacher. “It tells us about him. He is love. When you are with him, you feel loved. I don’t know how to describe it, except I think we all feel it right now.”
It was true. They all looked at each other and loved each other. It was more than the requisite love of family bonds. It was deeper and purer and more unalterable than any of them could describe.
“Why does the village have a new song now?” Angela asked. “The old one was so beautiful. Why did they change it?”
“I think I know,” Father answered with a sigh. “I’m realizing it all right now. I was blind to it before. Obviously if the King is alive, we were lied to by our leaders. They were also the ones behind taking away the song that taught us about the King. It’s just as before. I bet my father was right that the village leaders asked the King not to return. They didn’t want to compete with him for authority over the village. They are doing the same now. They want to get rid of the King so they can rule.”
“But Father, they already rule the village. The King hasn’t been involved in years and years. I don’t understand.”
“Angela, there’s a difference between elected officials making laws and rulers who usurp power and abuse authority.” Father’s gaze was fixed hard at the far wall. “I couldn’t see it before.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
“What?” Angela couldn’t follow her father’s thinking.
“Lord Vulpine wants to be king.”
“I’m lost, Father. What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry, Angela. I’m just realizing it all and still trying to put the pieces together. Lord Vulpine convinced everyone the King is dead. They changed the village banner and song to erase any memory of the King. Vulpine has been working through the Assembly, but somehow I bet he’s going to figure out a way around them so that he alone holds the power over the village.”
“What’s he going to do?” Angela asked, worried.
“I have no idea. But it is obvious he wants the King dead. Then he could be sure there wouldn’t be any opposition from the outside to his taking power.”
“We don’t have to worry about the King.” Gabe interrupted the discussion. “There’s no way they could kill him. He’s untouchable. Even today his throne sits above the clouds. If this storm can’t touch him, Vulpine can’t either.”
Everyone’s focus was brought back to the storm. “Where do you think Mother is?” Angela asked what was now on everyone’s mind.