Part Two: The Cheerful Pirate
It was nearly an hour before Donovan and merchant came back into the cottage to find the king mulling over a mug in front of a dying fire.
“It’s time we set off, if we’re to reach a safe landing spot by dark,” merchant picked up the king’s traveling sack and waited as the king slowly rose from his perch and followed the two men out.
The river was much more impressive, but much less frightening than how the king remembered it from the night before, mysterious and pensive. Now, the blue-green waters suggested strength and intensity.
The trees shook softly with the slow, patterned wind. The sun was already setting down and it would be dark within a few hours, obliging the travelers to put up for the night.
The king expressed his farewell and appreciation to Vick, and then boarded the boat with the others. It was a small craft with space to sit or stand at the bow, and a covered cabin for storage at the stern. The merchant and Donovan were busy at work putting things here and there, quite ignoring the king- which he seemed to prefer.
The water carried the travelers along for quite some time, but it wasn’t long before the sun announced its final moments with a furious display of clashing oranges, pinks and reds against the passive blue sky. Donovan came up to the bow to light the forelamp that hung over the king’s head.
“We’d hoped to be further by dark, and our friend has decided that we should keep on until we come to a suitable landing spot,” the old man set the lamp alight.
The king sat mute, indifferent to the decisions his companions.
“I’ve got some bread for you, and some drink,” Donovan set a folded cloth next to the king. “Do you mind if I join you? It’s much better if a man has some distraction when traveling over night waters.”
The king nodded that the man should sit, and they both stared out at the last fading remnants of the sun’s routine protest.
“Why did my father leave?” the king spoke into the darkness more than to his counterpart.
“There’s a longer story to be told than can be answered with such a question,” Donovan pulled his hood over his head to protect against insects and the cold alike.
“Your father became king after he and his soldiers united the three provinces of a land much older than your kingdom. There were many events that led to this unison, but you have probably learned those from the teachings of your youth. What they haven’t told you however, is that your father was not like the rest of the men from the West.”
The king looked up from contemplating the cold waters and faced Donovan. The older man’s hood shaded his face. A soft light from the forelamp cast highlights and shadows to his features, adding intensity to the narrative and further interest to the king.
“It is another long story that he might as well tell you when we meet him in a few days, but let it suffice to say that no matter how well the new kingdom was established, no matter how prosperous the land became, the new king did not at all feel that he belonged. He knew that he had come from another land, another people, and that he must someday return.”
“Perhaps that is so, but for a man to abandon his family! To leave without a word?” the king returned his eyes to the water, now unsure whether he really cared to hear any more from Donovan, and quite certain that he did not want to meet his father.
“There’s more than you know now, and much more than you understand,” Donovan rose from beside the king and started for the stern. He paused for a moment and then turned to the king. “I’ll tell you more when you’ve an ear to hear it, but for now it is good that you contemplate the water. And also, it is no good that I continue to call you king, who are you that I may address you properly?”
Remembering his prior conversation with the merchant, the king replied: “Call me Sigmund.”
“The name of the ancient hero. It was given to you, or you have chosen it for yourself?”
“In either case, it is what I wish to be called.”
“So you have chosen it for yourself,” Donovan grinned. “An interesting choice- a hero in a foreign land before he returned to his own. Then a good night, Sigmund.” So he turned again to the aft of the boat and set down to sleep against the cabin door.
The king sat wondering what the old man meant by his final remark. “A hero in a foreign land before he returned to his own.” He considered waking the old man for an answer, when a loud holler sounded from the shore, and an object whistled behind him and struck the deck! Sigmund turned sharply around and saw four crude arrows protruding from the wood and heard several more splash into the river beside him! He heard another shout, this one came from the boat and not the land.
“Sigmund, quick! To the cabin!” Donovan’s voice was urgent and strained.
As he came under the cabin’s cover, Sigmund slammed the small door behind him. Across from him, the merchant was bent over the figure of Donovan, lying on the floor. An arrow was sticking out from the old man’s side.