Chapter 2

The King opened his eyes slowly, expecting to see the clearing in which he had fallen asleep, but instead, an unbearably bright light seared through his skull.  When the pain in his head receded slightly, he opened his eyes further.  He was back in his bedchamber, inside the royal palace.  The minute he opened his eyes completely, a servant who had been sitting in the corner scrambled to his feet and dashed out of the room.  Raoul presumed that he had gone to tell the advisors that he had awakened.  Struggling slightly, he managed to sit up, and grimaced when the pain in his head returned full force.  Apparently the sedative that had knocked him out had unpleasant side effects.  There was a glass of water on his bedside table, and he was just reaching painfully for it when the door to his chamber burst open.  Hilifer, who had been Raoul's best friend since they were both children, ran into the room, kneeled breathlessly at the foot of the bed then rushed to the King's side. 

"Your manservant told us you were awake.  The whole of the palace is in an uproar.  What on earth happened?"

"He was found, unconscious, outside one of the city gates."

Taugen, the lead general of Gilder's army, and the head of the Royal Guard, had entered the room, with Wizens leaning on his arm.  Wizens was an ancient, very frail old man who had been advisor to Raoul's father.  Taugen was dark and grizzled, his beady eyes glaring out from under his shock of black hair.  Muscular and fit, he was the complete opposite of Wizens, who was withered, shrunk, and pale. 

"Your Majesty."

Both men made as if to bow, but the King held up his hand.  It was discourteous to force Wizens to bow.  His old bones would not take the strain.  The King took a sip of water before he could bear to speak.  When he spoke, his voice was dry and hoarse.

"Report."

"There have been rumours of rebellions in the more remote villages, especially those on the border with Saracia. A number of villages have been burnt.  Our spies in the Saracian capital report that the Emperor is deadly ill, and the Regent has assumed power.  Milord, the Regent is a power-hungry man.  There are rumours that he may try to…extend his borders."  Taugen's normally confident voice sounded unsure, and worried.

The King turned his attention to Hilifer.

"You are my link with the people of this city.  Have the rumours affected our people?"

Hilifer looked away, "Milord, I'm afraid that the people have become uneasy.  There are those who say you are…not the King your father was.  They may not stay loyal if the Regent sets his eyes on Gilder."

The King sighed, "I am but eight-and-twenty.  Its true.  I'm not the King my father was."

"Not yet."  Wizens voice was thin, reedy, and hard to hear. "Not yet," he repeated, "But you have the potential to be a greater King than your father, may he rest in peace, ever was.  All you lack is experience."

The King smiled wanly.  "I thank you, though you'll permit me to doubt your words.  What do you suppose I should do?"

"Speak to your people.  Let them know that you will serve them, and that you will not let your country overrun by war.  Restore their faith in you."

The King nodded, "It shall be so.  Let the people know that their King will not fail them."

Taugen spoke up.  "Milord, it may not be safe."

"Then I trust you and your men to make it so."

"And the Regent?"

The King gave Taugen a piercing stare.  "We will wait.  Let him make the first move.  Keep me informed."

Recognizing a dismissal, Taugen and Wizens nodded deeply, and then left the bedchamber.  Hilifer made to follow them, but the King held up a hand.

"I have something I must tell you."

Hilifer returned to his position by the bedside, his voice full of worry for his troubled friend.

"My liege?"

Raoul told Hilifer the entire story of what had occurred in the forest.  Once he was finished, he looked his friend straight in the eye; "I felt something for this woman that I don't believe I have ever felt before.  I must find her, Hilifer, if only to speak to her again."

Hilifer said nothing.

"Tell no one of what I have told you.  Nothing may ever come of it, but I just wanted you to know.  You are, after all, my closest friend."

Hilifer smiled wanly, and, shaken, rose from the bedside as the King faded back into the realm of dreams.  He looked even younger than he was, lying there so peacefully.  As the door closed softly behind him, Hilifer prayed fervently that happier times would soon come to troubled friend and King.