Chapter 16: The Husband/The King
Eli arrived just outside the castle. It was heavily guarded. He had no weapons, no plan. He circled the castle looking to find a way in without alarming all of the king’s soldiers. If he wanted to save his wife, he needed to be smart about it.
He found a place to hide in a horse stable until night fall. From his position, he could examine the movements of the guards at a side entrance. This entrance was the least guarded with only two armed soldiers.
The opportunity to act had come. He fastened a saddle to a horse. Attached to the saddle was a rope twenty feet long. At the end of the rope was a small makeshift wagon he put together, small enough for a child to sit on. He then filled it with hay and smashed a burning lantern on it.
The horse was quickly startled by the fire and it raced passed the two guards at the side entrance. This caused a disturbance among those in the area, leading the guards to follow and get distracted long enough for Eli to sneak in.
The castle was large and he had no way of knowing how to find his wife and there were many guards walking about. Anytime a guard approached, he was able to take cover using his surroundings to escape any suspicion.
Eventually, he found his way to an area designated for the servants. This was his chance to blend in. None of them were alarmed because they were too preoccupied with their duties. He found a place he could pretend to work. There, along the spot he chose, was a little girl. He made conversation with her and asked where he could find the king. She told him.
Eli made his way to the king’s private quarters. The entrance to the room was guarded by two soldiers. There was no going back for him. No more sneaking around.
Eli charged them. Both soldiers were caught by surprise. He jumped in the air and struck the closest guard to him, knocking him down. The other pulled out his sword and swung it in haste and wildly missed. Eli then punched the soldier several times before taking the sword from him. He then, turned the sword on the guard, cutting off his right ear. The other, now scared, ran away, calling for reinforcements. This left the king’s door unmanned.
Eli quickly entered. The room was large with a stairway leading to a balcony. The king was at the top of the stairs holding a knife to Sarai’s throat.
“Sarai!” Eli shouted to her. She was visibly frightened, shaking, and crying.
“Ah! The husband.” The king yelled. “I’ve heard much about you. Thank you for taking care of my livestock. Unfortunately, my soldiers realized later they forgot one. They were merely bringing back that which is mine. To your right you will find a nice gold chalice. I’m sure that will cover the cost of your cow.”
“You are sadly mistaken,” Eli replied, “I am here for my wife, nothing more. Rest assured, I will not leave here without her and if you value your life you will release her to me.”
“I’ve never had this much trouble with cattle before. This is so much fun!”
Immediately, the door burst open with the king’s men, armed and ready to strike Eli down. He was surrounded.
“I didn’t realize how valuable she was,” the king continued, “It is usually my custom to give it three days before I get to personally break in my wild animals. Three days with the horses just outside. Well…with all of this excitement, why wait? I think I’ll make an exception for this one. Make it quick,” he ordered his guards, “I wish to enjoy my new servant.”
The soldiers obeyed their king and started their attack. First, with two at a time, they intended each strike to be a deathblow. Without having any training with a sword, Eli was surprised with how calm he was. He felt confident, strong…eager to fight.
He easily out maneuvered the first two soldiers. He took two swings and cut a limb off of each. He then picked up another sword and fought off up to four soldiers at a time. To slow them down he didn’t work hard for the kill as they had; instead, he targeted their arms, hands, and legs. The soldiers made it easy for him because they were too wild in the fight. They left themselves overly exposed for his attacks and on more than one occasion they managed to strike each other.
Finally, there was only one soldier standing opposite Eli. It was the same one charged with collecting Eli’s cattle, the same one who notice Sarai’s beauty, and the same one who convince the king to take her. He was there when her parents were murdered and she kidnapped. Eli recognized his face and dropped his swords.
“Perhaps it is appropriate for you to bring an end to this?” Eli asked him.
“I saw you ride in on your horse, so I alerted the king. Though, I don’t remember seeing one on your land when I came to visit. When I am through with you, I’ll go back to your home and destroy what is left of it.”
The soldier charged at Eli with all his might. He took a big swing, but Eli dodged it. The soldier was spun around by his miss and tripped over another soldier, still wounded on the ground. He landed on his own sword. Eli stood over him as he lay dying.
“There is no place in my Kingdom for cowards like you,” he told him just before he died.
“Your Kingdom?” the king shouted out while laughing, “You may have bested twenty of my men, but more will come. I doubt you can stop a whole army.”
“And where is this army of yours? Perhaps they secretly anticipate the death of their ruthless king? I do not see an army here.”
Eli started up the steps.
“Again, I say to you, if you value your life you will release her. If you do so, I will allow you to live.”
More guards entered the room. They looked at the carnage before them, stunned, and saw Eli as he slowly ascended toward the king. They didn’t take action. They watched.
“What are you doing? Kill this man!” the king commanded them.
Still, they did not move. More gathered in the room to witness the fall of the tyrant.
“Your time is up,” Eli said, “I am your King now.”
The king knew he was defeated. He lowered the knife to his side and said calmly,
“I will not die by the hand of some peasant boy, nor will I die as anything but king.”
Suddenly, he stabbed Sarai in the stomach with his dagger. He took three steps back, took his own sword, and fell on it, killing himself.
“No!” Eli shouted.
He ran to his wife before she collapsed and held her in his arms. He rested on the floor with her, crying, suddenly hopeless and in complete despair.
“I cannot lose you too,” he told her.
“The baby,” she whispered, “our baby.”
Eli looked at her wound and suddenly realized he was about to lose his family.
“If only there was a way, anything,” he thought, when immediately he remembered the fig.
He pulled out the once bitten fruit.
“My love, take this. It may sooth your pain.”
He put it to her mouth and she was able to take a small bite. With the little strength she had, she smiled and whispered, just before falling asleep,
“I feel better already.”
Soldiers approached them carefully.
“My King,” one of them said, “It would be wise to let someone tend to her wounds.”
“Very well,” Eli responded.
The soldiers carefully took her. Physicians and servants were called to attend to her night and day until she was restored to better health.
It took a couple of months before Sarai could walk again. During this time, Eli and Sarai were announced as the new King and Queen.
Eli was eager to reassure his Kingdom he would not be like his predecessor. He would be a fair King, only looking to bring peace to all the lands. Although he was their King, he reminded them he would be just. For he knew the hardships and struggles they faced because he, too, faced them before.
One night, the new King and Queen sat arm in arm overlooking their Kingdom.
“We will try again,” she said, “We will have a princess…Princess Elise.”
“If we have a princess, that will be her name, and what a beautiful name that is. But what about having a mighty prince?” He said jokingly.
“We can have both…and more like we’ve always planned,” she said with excitement.
On the same night, while the Queen slept, the King stared out at everything before him. It was then he noticed the forest seemed much closer than before. It was odd but not enough to deter his sense of fulfillment.
“It has all come as I said, did it not?” an old familiar voice said.
“Ah, it is you.” The King responded. “I’ve been waiting for you, at least wondering how I might find you to repay what you did for me and my wife.”
“Yes, there is payment to be made, as I said before, there is.”
“Name your price. I am willing to give you half of my Kingdom if you ask.”
“Please, no need, none for me. I have my own. It must do for now.”
“You have your own kingdom? Where is it so I know my ally?”
“It is in the forest not far from here, behind the trees. We will be linked.”
“What kind of kingdom do you speak of?”
“Some might consider it a prison, but every now and then even prisoners find a way to escape.”
The King did not know what to make of what she was saying so he moved on from the conversation.
“So what is it you seek?”
“Your firstborn child,” she said without hesitation.
The King was beside himself.
“How can you ask for such a price as this?”
“Now, now, my King. You and your wife said you will have many. Who knows? Perhaps you need me to have them as well, me alone. Besides, it is done. I do not need your permission to take the child, none at all. The child is mine and I will be back after it is born.”
The King fell to his knees. Realizing the consequence of the decision he made in haste and knowing the witch’s power to be great, he was seized with remorse.
“What have I done?”
“Do not fret; you will be a powerful King. By name alone you will rule this Kingdom, alone. Should you choose to make attempts to go back on our arrangement, I will take it all; you will have nothing once more, nothing.”
“Then take it back now! Please! I’ve betrayed my wife!”
“And what is that to me?” she said coldly, “A life of wealth and no worries, you already decided. It is done. Your responsibility is to me now.”
Before the King could get out his next words, the witch gave a laugh similar to a shriek and vanished into the night.
The King was so distraught he questioned his sanity. He knew he could not let her take his child. He could not destroy his family, the one he and his Queen desperately desired. The life they envisioned was gone. He could not live with himself betraying his wife and their child. He felt hopeless, defeated.
He did not think she would ever forgive him if she were to find out, so he hid the truth. To do so, he kept himself busy. Always planning, going to war, and overseeing monuments erected in his honor. Although she would go along with him in his travels, he constantly avoided contact with her.
In these travels, he had come across a man with poisons to suppress women from bearing children. The poisons would have a lasting effect and could result in women becoming completely barren. He purchased them in secret, thinking he would never be desperate enough to deceive his wife a second time.
Still, he could not stand the heartbreak in the face of his Queen when he thought of the day the witch would take their child. The face of horror in her eyes as she looked into his, the betrayal, the guilt. It was too much for him to consider. It didn’t end there. He could not stomach thinking of what the witch might possibly do to his child. He would be powerless, so he turned to using the poisons.
Slowly, as the years passed, the King grew cold toward his wife. It started with hating himself, but he turned his bitterness against her. Not long after, the bitterness turned to resentment. He pushed her love away for so long he forgot why he did it in the first place. He was a new man, no longer the one she married.
Still, she always believed he would return to her. She fought off ill thoughts such as she would have been better off dying when she was stabbed. She knew he resented her. She blamed it on her inability to carry a child.
To keep herself busy, the Queen did all she could to think about others and use her position to help those in need. She could not allow herself to think it had all been for nothing and concluded there was something more for her to do. Still, nothing was more important to her than bringing a child into the world with the man she loved her whole life.