The village returned somewhat to normal. The loss of lives left many gaps unfilled in homes and hearts. Vulpine was pleased with the results of his experiment with the doctor and prepared to make his final move to become king.
Gabe, unaware he would never again climb the hill to meet the King, sat in front of the throne like every other day before the sun had the chance to warm the village.
The King had a question for Gabe. “When you were younger and your father disciplined you for disobedience, what did you do after you received your discipline?”
Gabe was used to the King leading him to a lesson in this way and was anxious to find out what the King was getting at. “I obeyed whatever I hadn’t before.”
“Of course, that’s the purpose of discipline. Do you remember our talk about the village disobeying my laws and receiving what was just in return?” Gabe nodded. “They disobeyed my laws. Do you think any learned their lesson from the discipline of the plague?”
A hint of a smile showed on Gabe’s face. He understood. “You do love the village. You weren’t just punishing them. You were disciplining them to teach them to obey your laws.”
“Yes. Some will learn their lesson. Some will foolishly reject it. But now, who will teach them my laws so they can obey them?”
Gabe’s smile faded, and he bit his lip. “I guess that would be me.” They sat in silence a minute. The King knew Gabe’s mind was wrestling. “But I don’t know what to say. I tried telling Mrs. Bollix about you, and she told me to leave her alone. My mother won’t listen to me. How can I convince anyone you are even alive so that I can get them to listen about your law?”
“Have I ever made the way for you before?”
Gabe laughed. “Lots of times. Okay. I’ll try.”
“Don’t be afraid. I will make a way.” The King’s gentle eyes caught Gabe’s and held them. “I always make a way.”
Gabe smiled weakly and nodded. “I better get started before I lose my courage.” That is what he said, but he wasn’t feeling particularly courageous.
As Gabe stood to leave the throne room, the King gave him a reminder. “Don’t forget that you aren’t alone in this. You’ll see me again.”
“I know I’m not alone. I won’t forget.”
Gabe ran down the mountain, but his heart was pounding because of the task the King had given him. He decided that trying again at Mrs. Bollix’s house was the best way to conquer his fear. The sun hadn’t long been up when he knocked on the door and was invited in by Sally.
He stood waiting for Mrs. Bollix to join them and to give him permission to speak. “Mrs. Bollix, I apologized to you years ago when your husband died. I told you I was sorry because the King had told me the storm was coming, and I didn’t warn you. What I said is true. The former King is alive, and I meet with him every day up on King’s Hill, and he told me the storm was coming and that it would be bad. He told me to get in our kitchen and stay there when the winds picked up. I didn’t tell anyone but my family. They were all safe and our inn was undamaged. The King kept us safe.”
Mrs. Bollix sat quietly and fixed her gaze on the boy. She’d known him his whole life, and here he stood before her, a young man, full of a confidence she’d never seen in him before this moment. “I almost believe you,” she said softly, but then her voice emptied of life. “But none of it matters now, does it? I don’t hold his death against you.”
At first Gabe agreed with her. It didn’t matter now. It was too late. But then a light dawned on Gabe’s face. “It does matter. You matter. You can choose to believe. I can teach you the King’s law. It’s not too late for you to listen to the King.”
His earnestness took her aback. There were times she hadn’t thought he could put together more than two words. Now here he was passionately addressing her. There was something else. She felt his compassion toward her, as if he truly cared.
“Okay,” she said. “You can teach me about the King’s law. I will listen to you. Come whenever you please.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Bollix. Why don’t you and your children join us at the inn this evening. Every night I teach my father and Angela about the King. Come. We can share a meal, and I will teach about the King’s law.”
“We will. Thank you.”
The old Gabe was back. He gave a nod and wordlessly made his exit. He exhaled when he got outside then made a beeline for another farmhouse. He remembered the people there had shooed him away when he had come to offer help during the plague.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the heavy wooden door. An elderly gentleman welcomed him in without asking his business. He offered Gabe a glass of water and motioned to his wife to bring one. Gabe began his speech, apologizing for not having told them sooner about the King being alive. At the mention of the King, the man laughed out loud.
“Alive? Did you miss his funeral? I thought the whole village was there. Do you think I’m a fool? Why would I believe a child telling a fairy tale? If that’s all you’ve come for, you can go ahead and leave.”
Gabe thanked them for the water and left without argument.
Gabe was relieved when he recognized Emily at the next farmhouse he entered. She and her husband remembered Gabe’s kindness when their son, John, had been sick and were happy to welcome him in.
“Can I get you a glass of water?” Gabe declined, remembering the half-drunk glass he left at the last house.
“I have something I wanted to apologize for.” Gabe looked with kindness at their confused faces. “I have known for more than three years that the King is alive. I have been meeting with the King on his hill and learning about his law. I have been teaching my sister and father about the King all these years, but I haven’t told you about him before. I’m sorry that I have waited so long, but I would like to invite you now to come to our home this evening to share a meal and to learn about the King and his law.”
Gabe said it all in one breath and now practically gasped for air. For a moment his audience sat stunned. Emily looked to her husband, who looked to Gabe. “We would be happy to come and learn more. We know that you are a good boy and wouldn’t be playing a trick on us. If your father is listening to what you have to say, we are willing to as well.”
“Thank you,” Gabe said in relief. He shook their hands and went out the door. While there were a few homes that rejected him, there were many who had wanted to believe Gabe because of his kindness and bravery during the plague.
Gabe eventually made it through the farmhouses along the stretch from the inn to the Square and turned back home. He had thought that the next day he would continue farther, that word of the King had only made it to the farmers, but as the farmers made it to the markets that day, news of the King being alive traveled with them.
Standing by the village well, Vulpine’s senses were on high alert as he detected a change of tone in the harmony of the village. He was certain he discerned discord among the villagers. Phineas had made an announcement and not everyone was parroting his words. When they did, it was a beautiful melody to Vulpine. Now a sour note was written into the strain. Insistent on rooting it out, he directed his spies to report on all village activity and discourse. By moonrise he had his finger on the key. It was the King.
That evening two meetings were held. While the Brothers and Sons met at one of the member’s homes, the farmers, some with wives, some with children, ventured over to the inn. Some felt a little foolish, some bubbled with anticipation, but all brought a gift of food to share with the others who had come to hear about the King.
Gabe, along with Angela and their father, welcomed the guests. Mother and Tabitha kept to the family quarters upstairs, but the rest shared a meal and listened to Gabe tell about his years at the King’s feet. When he finished, they all stood under the golden glow of the lanterns overhead and sang the King’s song.
The other meeting that night had a very different tone. “How could this have happened?” Vulpine fumed before his fellow secret society members. “Why is there talk of the King being alive? Who has the answers? How did this ugly rumor of the King’s death being falsified get circulated?” A few snickered at the question, but Vulpine silenced them with one shot from his eyes. “These rumors must be squelched at once! For the peace and unity of the village!”