It took some persuading but Wendell finally convinced Karen to go into the watery tunnel, the one he had crawled through long before. He kept saying it was a forest shortcut he knew about. Shivering and miserable, at last they leaped out into the icy water pool, and a flood of distant memories went over Wendell, full of all the despair and hope he had carried for so long.
“Why couldn’t we just go around,” Karen snipped with disbelief, trembling with chill.
Wendell looked at her, standing and shivering. When he knew that she was only Kimberly, he had fought with the two men to help her. He had missed her then, when she was gone, even though she was mostly rude to him, but now he didn’t anymore simply because her name was different. Why was it any different now that she was Karen again?
“What?” she said, puzzled, looking at his thoughtful stare.
Wordlessly, he turned and began walking back down to the forest clearing, down to the red flowers, to the forest path. Karen went as well, subdued and quiet.
It was Garim!! Wendell saw him, in the distance on a horse, and raised a hand of greeting, and the old storyteller raised one as well, jubilantly. Soon Garim reached them, and before he could say anything in congratulations, Wendell gave him a pointed look, and the old man nodded gravely, and gave a kick to his horse, sending it into a slow walk.
“Who’s your friend?” Karen asked unconcernedly.
“Garim,” Wendell said simply. “It’s not far to the castle from here.”
Karen didn’t seem as happy as he had expected her to, even if she wasn’t sad.
Once they reached a street of the city, one of the town guardsmen saw them and gave a shout of surprise.
“The king’s daughter!!”
And he ran off into the crowd. The three of them continued, Garim’s horse slowly walking through the street, and soon a battalion came to escort them safely. As they went onward, people realized what was happening and cheered for them, throwing little bits of things and hats into the air.
It was a bright, bright day, and the walk seemed to last forever, with the endless smiling faces of the townspeople, and villagers looking at them from every side. Karen seemed very used to it, and didn’t even care much. Wendell looked in the crowd for Derrick and Collin, but never could find them.
At last they went up the royal avenue, and the pang of the memories brought tears to Wendell’s eyes now, he heard his young, naive voice challenging the guards again, saw himself sitting among the trees, saw himself running to the king...
Now the bridge was crossed. Two rows of soldiers stood in motionless salute on either side. The portals swung open, and they stepped through the royal palace, sunlight streaming through openings high in the walls.
The two guards uncrossed their spears with great haste as they recognized Karen, and the whole procession went in before the king.
He was still sitting on his throne, leaning, looking ahead with a look that Wendell would never forget, so anxious. When the king finally saw them, he rushed down, down the steps, and threw his arms about Karen, and blubbered with great, raw, heaving sobs.
“My Karen... my songbird... my Karen...” he said, on and on. When at last his tears were spent, he turned to Wendell with a look almost ravenous.
“Anything of mine is yours, boy,” he said fiercely, blubbering again, and patting him forcefully on the back. “Anything of mine!!”