The homes where the seven men had been arrested were boarded up in the morning. The inn bustled again as Caleb’s family and John’s mother, Emily, moved in. Caleb’s sons helped Emily with her farm and both families helped supply the inn. Having guests at the inn should have brought the color back to Mother’s cheeks, but bitterness had left her pale and drawn. Her love had grown cold; now scorn marked her face.
Tabitha was growing into her mother’s image daily. Now a young lady of eleven, she was a constant helper to Mother in Angela and Gabe’s absences. She mirrored her mother in more than looks. She parroted her thoughts on the King.
More copies of the King’s law were made and given to those who had lost theirs in the raid. There wasn’t much reaching out to tell others about the King’s law any more. The village seemed entirely segregated—them versus us. No one knew where it would all lead.
Over the winter, Gabe and Angela didn’t celebrate when their seventeenth birthdays passed on a drab, gray day. Another sweep of arrests were made, and the servants tried not to think the worst. The only light in the dreary winter months was the servants’ sweet time of fellowship which seemed to stretch longer each day.
Daily they felt the weight of their persecution. Spring came but didn’t lighten the load. It wasn’t until the oppressive heat of summer pressed in on them that much of the other oppression suddenly lifted.
“The King will make a way,” parodied Vulpine from his throne. “The King is dead!” he bawled, heaving himself forward as if to throw his words over the trees and into the valley below. Leaning back and looking disgusted he added, “Didn’t anyone tell you?”
General Writ had just given his status report and looked agitated by Vulpine’s state. Vulpine gripped the arms of the throne. “I’m waging a war against an enemy who doesn’t fight back, and I can’t even win. How is that possible?” He growled the question.
Writ knew better than to answer. He remained at attention and let Vulpine go on his verbal rampage. “We need to find the one.” Vulpine held up one long finger. “We need to find the one who had the first copy of that outdated law book. Learn where it all began, and then take out the backbone of the operation. Stop the arrests. Let up for a while so they’ll feel more open. Then find him.”
Writ understood the last command was not optional. It would be his life or that backbone. He had to find it and break it. He started by calling off all sweeps of homes by the guards. The guards were told to keep away from any meetings and to stop any harassment of the servants that they witnessed. They even released the prisoners from the jail. The extremely thin but joyfully alive prisoners returned to their families.
Relief swept through the meetings. The worst was over. The King had kept his word and brought them out of their darkest night. They no longer had that anxious feeling that they were about to get some horrendous news. Everything seemed better—the air fresher, the sky bluer, their steps bouncier.
Maybe it was this free feeling that kept Emily from seeing anything wrong with listening to Mother speak of Gabe’s visits to the King in the market place. Squeezing vegetables, stroking fabric, bartering prices, they weaved their way through the stalls. Mother was talking about her children and how much things had changed once Gabe had started climbing King’s Hill daily.
They came to the well and rested their bodies and their bags against it. “He said he was visiting with the King.” She looked at Emily a bit sarcastically. “You know which King I’m talking about. He would wake up while it was dark, even in summer when the sun’s up earlier than the roosters, and would be gone a few hours every day.
“He rarely said anything at all for a long time. I guess none of us listened to him, except Angela. She has always loved that boy. But now all these people listen to him. Even if I think he teaches some fool ideas, I’m still kind of proud of him.”
She chuckled, thinking of Gabe as a young boy. “When he was a wee thing, he wouldn’t even say hello to people. He was six before he would reply to a friendly greeting. It’s the truth. Now look at him, talking at your meetings.” Her eyes and her voice dropped. “But what good is his having confidence if it just gets people killed.” Emily had no reply.
They hadn’t noticed that the woman drawing water from the well continued to do so until their conversation had ended and then had left without taking any water with her. Hoisting their bags to begin the walk home, they were completely unaware of the part they had just played in Vulpine’s plan.
“A boy?” Vulpine repeated incredulously.
“Yes, Your Majesty, a boy.” General Writ was pleased to serve Vulpine the information he had desired. “And not just any boy. Do you remember Gabe from when we had our meetings at the inn?” Vulpine searched his memory and found a mop-haired boy, who had never spoken a word or looked a soul in the eye for all the time they had used the inn for their meetings.
“Gabe?” The surprise still hadn’t left Vulpine’s voice.
“Yes, sir. He was only ten when he started visiting the King, and he hasn’t seen nor heard from him since he disappeared, and you took the throne.”
Vulpine sat higher than the morning sun, which was making its daily morning climb as Gabe had done for three and a half years. At ease, Vulpine lounged in the throne and ruminated on the information. Moments passed before a wry smile cracked his face.
Abruptly, he jumped to his feet, as excited as a school boy just promised his own horse. “This will all be finished soon, General, my brilliant General, who brought me this delectable delicacy today.” Vulpine was intoxicated with the assured final victory over this defiant enemy.
“Let’s bide our time, a few weeks—just before the harvest. Until then, watch the boy. Learn his daily routine. Know where he goes. We need to be able to find him when the time comes. Don’t let him escape. Set your guards around the perimeter of the village watching for an escape attempt.
“I will question the boy myself at a trial. When he fails before the entire village, the whole of it will crumble with him. He’ll be hung for treason.” Cackling, Vulpine slid back into his seat. He finished his chortling with a happy sigh.
With the exception of Mother and Tabitha not joining in their meetings, everything seemed just about perfect. So it came like a bolt of lightning on a clear summer night when the door guard from the prison brought news to the inn early one morning.
“You’re to be arrested.” The guard made no other introduction and looked directly at Gabe as he spoke.
“What?” Gabe didn’t comprehend what had just happened.
“I can’t stay. I wanted to warn you. I remembered your kindness and well…” He stopped and looked over his shoulder nervously. “I have to go, but just know they’re preparing a special cell for you. They’re going to arrest you after dark, tonight. I need to go.” In a flash, the lightning faded, but the dark storm clouds remained.
Gabe’s family surrounded him and sat him down with them at a table. Caleb’s family and Emily huddled around. All at once, everyone started talking.
“We can sneak you out of the village this afternoon.” “We can hide you in the cellar.”
“If we can get you over to our place, no one is checking the boarded up homes anymore.”
Gabe started shaking his head, slightly at first and then more vigorously until he vocalized its message. “No!” Everyone backed off at his firmness. “Let me stand, please.” Gabe’s mother moved and let her son out from the bench. She sat and looked up at her son.
“For seven years, I’ve been escaping.” He spoke to the floor as he paced back and forth. “I didn’t run away. The King just…” He stopped pacing and smiled at his audience. “The King just made a way. So, if he’s not making a way for me to avoid arrest this time, he must be making some other kind of way. Look, we’ve all known this was probably going to happen someday. They must have finally realized who I was. I’m sure most of the time they didn’t pay attention to me because I was a child.” Gabe stood as tall and straight as a soldier at attention. “Now I’m as tall as Father ever was and can’t hide anymore. I won’t hide.”
He leaned on the table. “I’m not saying I’m looking forward to whatever is going to happen tonight, but I’m not scared either, and I don’t want you to be. And I’m thinking, if I’m going to be arrested anyway, I might as well do something worthwhile to get arrested for. I don’t want to be arrested just sitting at home.”
Gabe pushed himself back from the table. “I’m going to go speak about the King in the Square. Maybe I can convince some new people about the King before they finish my special cell.”
No one argued with him. They knew he wouldn’t back down from his plan. Mother set her jaw, slid out from the table, tugged at her apron and said evenly, “Before you go, you’ll need a big meal.” Emily followed her into the kitchen.
Caleb helped Gabe gather up all the copies of the King’s law, leaving just the one original copy in the inn. He planned on giving out all he could. Caleb rejoined the family and Gabe sat alone with the King’s words. He had turned to them time and time again in order to prepare for whatever lay ahead. Knowing at least a sliver of what was to come, he consumed those words again to gain the strength and wisdom he would need.
Angela was sent to fetch Gabe to eat. She peeked in the door to the family’s quarters to find her brother in a familiar posture, bent over those tattered papers. She thought it amazing they hadn’t disintegrated with use. She dreaded pulling him away from this comfortable scene. She had lost John and Father; her stomach was churning just thinking about not wanting to think about what might happen to Gabe.
“Gabe,” she called to distract herself, “Mother has your food ready. She’s expecting you to come now. She and Emily made so much you might not be able to stand afterwards.”
Angela laughed but thought maybe Mother was thinking the same thing and making a desperate shot at keeping him home. Gabe didn’t mind the reasons behind it; he just enjoyed the food. Whole eggs, rolls laced with cinnamon, cheese and meat slices, apples with sugar. He feasted like it was his last meal, thinking maybe it was.
When the last crumb was eaten and every last finger licked, there was nothing left to do but say goodbye. Gabe wanted to march straight out the door, but he dutifully hugged and shook hands with everyone at the inn—Caleb’s family first, then his own. Mother’s tears were a mixture of sadness and anger. Tabitha hugged him quickly, and while Angela’s arms were wrapped around him, she whispered to him one more time, “The King will make a way.”
He strode out of the inn without looking back. He made straight for the Square without knowing exactly what he was going to do when he got there.
He stepped into the openness of the square. It was abuzz with activity. He started strolling along the shops and saw a weaver busy at his trade, sitting at his loom, weaving threads into cloth with a steady clapping of wood and the smooth slide of the shuttle back and forth.
Gabe walked past the glassblower, who had garnered an audience. He was blowing the glass up like a balloon. When his onlookers were sufficiently awed, he pricked the balloon. Pop! The light reflected off a hundred flecks of glass being carried by the wind like the seeds of a dandelion. Gabe reached out a finger to catch one as it fluttered by.
The light breeze gently encouraged Gabe forward. He left the shelter of the shops at the edge of the square and crossed towards the well in the center. Gabe let a laugh escape as he remembered calling it the Square’s belly button when he was little. He looked around quickly to see if anyone had been watching.
The ground was wet around the well, a sure sign of fall. He debated climbing onto the wall of the well to speak, but remembering his mishap and the dark chill of the well water, he chose to remain on the ground.
He took a deep breath and plunged in. “There is only one King who rules our village,” he shouted over the clamor in the Square. “Vulpine is the imposter. He has lied to you, to me, to the whole village. The one true King is alive! I have seen him and met with him. I will tell you about him.”
At first, people scurried away from him, embarrassed to be standing by the shouting young man. Others further back stopped to listen. Their ears were ringing with the foreign words of love and a living King. Some laughed, thinking him crazy, while others were drawn in by his passion—either way they gathered to listen.
He told them of his days at the feet of the King. He told them that the King would return to rule and that they would be sorry if they weren’t found on the side of the King. He told them of the King’s laws and quoted them by heart. The words of the King were burned on his mind and filled his heart until they poured out from him wherever he was.
He didn’t need to think about what he was saying. The words flowed past his lips as easily as a river passes over a pebble and they flowed with as much power as a river cascading over a waterfall. Tears filled the eyes of a woman standing several feet from Gabe; she was holding the hand of her five-year-old son. She recognized the words from the papers she had tucked away the night of the bonfire. She called out, interrupting him, “Have you really seen him?”
Gabe dammed the current. He stepped forward to speak directly to the woman. “I’ve seen him. For three-and-a-half years, I met with him daily. I sat at his feet and learned from him and was loved by him.” She searched his eyes and found a treasure of love and truth.
“I believe you.”
A man standing next to her, having heard and seen the encounter, asked loud enough for everyone to hear, “If we believe this is all true, what can we do?”
Gabe reflected as he walked back to his post by the well. “If you believe, then there is only one thing you must do. You must give yourself entirely to serving the King and obeying his laws. The King must be your first and only and everything. You must be prepared to give up your home, your family, your belongings, your last breath in order to serve him alone.”
The man was shaken by the answer, but the woman walked up to him and stood in the mud by the well. “I’m willing.” She slipped her son’s hand into her sister’s. Several stepped back and faded away. One reported to a guard what was being said at the well.
The guard hurried to break up those congregating by the water. He knew he could lose his head if he allowed this kind of chatter under his guard. When he saw the copies of the King’s law, he grew frantic. He knew he couldn’t let those get out of the Square. He ordered everyone to throw their copies into the well then asked who had broken the law by distributing them. Gabe turned himself in.
The woman chased after Gabe and the guard. The head prison guard recognized Gabe and told his captor of the big fish he had just reeled in. Then he asked about the woman.
She spoke for herself. “I deserve to be arrested. I am no longer loyal to Vulpine.”
The guards all looked at each other. Spotting her marked right hand, the head guard said, “I can help you with that,” and walked out of the prison.
The others waited in wondering silence. Gabe grimaced when he saw the guard return with a hatchet. “Put your hand on the table.” The woman hesitated for just a moment then placed her hand on the table and pinched her eyes shut. The hatchet came down heavy and wedged into the wooden table. The woman pulled her arm away without her right hand.
“Thank you,” she said calmly but stared at her arm, unmoving. Gabe started to pull off his shirt, and the guard released him so he could wrap it around the woman’s wound. She smiled at him and walked out of the prison. Free.