The last three months had been the best they could remember. Even though nothing had really changed, the exiles had never felt so optimistic and hopeful. And it was all because of the strange, old man.
It had been twenty-three years since the exiles had been cast out of the kingdom. They had quickly discovered the good life they’d known in the kingdom was unique to that place, but in time they got used to the harshness of their new lives.
The exiled knights, however, had not accepted their new living conditions so easily. For the first few years they relentlessly searched for a way to sneak back in to the kingdom. Yet they found no crack or crevice in the invisible barrier created by the King.
They could not burn through the barrier with fire. They could not smash the barrier with a battering ram. They could not even launch themselves over the barrier. That only resulted in two knights with badly broken legs.
When the knights had finally accepted every attempt was futile, they turned their attention upon the other exiles. Lucius came up with a simple and terrible system of survival: the common people would provide a decent life for the knights if they wanted to survive.
They would build and maintain their houses, work their lands, and serve them in whatever capacity the knights demanded. As compensation, the knights shared recently spoiled food and allowed them to build meager shelters close by. The exiles had no choice and learned to adjust to this turn of events as well.
Living outside of the kingdom was taking its toll on them, and hardly a day went by that they did not regret their attempt to depose the King.
But the last three months had been different, ever since the old man had shown up and joined their little village. He came seeking food and a safe place to sleep, and receiving those, decided to stay and regain his strength.
He told them he had been traveling for a long time and had come from the King’s kingdom. This brought many questions which he gladly answered. He loved nothing more than to tell stories, to reminisce about old adventures with the King, stories which brought memories back to many of the exiles.
Sometimes it was hard for the oldest of the exiles to listen; it made the pain of their new reality that much greater, along with their guilt and shame. But as the days turned to weeks, listening to story after story, they began to feel as if they were with the King again. They began to imagine what it would be like to go back.
Finally one night, around the campfire, one of the elders asked the question that had been burning inside so many of them for so long.
“Old man, we are grateful for the stories of days gone by. But what about more recent events? What news can you tell us about the King? How does he look upon us exiles?”
“The kingdom fairs well. The people live as they always have. But there is an emptiness in the land they do not see, an emptiness that I have also seen in the eyes of the King. His heart broke in the rebellion. His heart is for his people. Even now, even today he longs for you, the exiled ones.”
From that night on, the old man began to talk often of the King’s love for the exiles. Of his desire to have them return to the kingdom. He almost spoke with the authority of the King himself, as if the King had sent him.
Word of this old man and his stories was spreading. Each night more crowded in to listen. Each day there was more happiness as people worked: smiling as they passed each other, laughing in their conversations, hugging as they went their separate ways.
Something was stirring. Change was in the air, and Lucius and his knights were not sure they liked what was happening. This old man was having a strange affect on them all.
Was it possible the King might take these pathetic exiles back? Lucius knew the way was still blocked for him and his men, and he was not going to lose his slaves.
It was time to confront the old man.
(Click here for Chapter Four.)