The following continues directly from Part 1.
The King continued on the path, his pace slightly increased as if trying to make up for the brief stop.
“What was that?” The bard asked, frozen to his spot. The King kept walking.
“I said ‘What was that?'” The Bard tried again and then hastily added “Sire.”
The king rounded back, and the Bard suspected he heard a sigh of annoyance as well. “When someone tells you that you are being hunted down and threatened with death, it is troubling that your first instinct is to stand still.”
“I would like some more information is all.”
“That is understandable. But unless your legs and ears have become incapable of operating at the same time, I suggest we have this discussion as me move.”
“Of course. Majesty.” And with that the bard rushed to follow his King.
Despite the King’s suggestion that they discuss the situation as the walked through the forrest, the two of them spent the next several minutes in silence.
“Do you think we can…” tried the Bard but the King quickly cut him off.
“Not just yet. Wait until we crest that hill.”
The Bard was tempted to insist for answers, but soon the climb had him winded enough that he decided that now was indeed not the time for conversation.
In silence the trekked up the hill. Several times the bard resorted to grabbing hold of nearby trees to haul himself up and keep pace with the king. Soon his hands were sticky from sap and despite the wearying climb he found himself thinking how he would need to clean his hands before playing to keep from covering his instruments in the gel.
When the reached the top the bard lay on the ground panting. He looked up at the rays of the midmorning sun streaking through the overhanging branches full of bright green leaves. Turning his sun he saw the King standing, looking far out into the distance.
“If your Majesty has the breath to talk, now would indeed be time. You would have a most silent audience.” The bard hoped the King failed to notice how much effort it took to get that sentence out without wheezing for air.
“What else is there to say?” The King leaned close to a tree and gave it a sniff. He frowned and moved on to another. “We are being hunted. They want to kill us.”
“Why would they want to kill us?”
“I am the King. There is always someone who wishes to kill the King.”
“If your Majesty allows, that makes for a rather unsatisfying story.”
“It is the truth.”
“Slice the truth as thin as you like and it still remains the truth, but it loses value.”
The King at last found a tree whose smell he seemingly approved of. From his belt he drew a plain but very well maintained dagger and gently sliced off a few thin slices of bark that be popped into his mouth and began to chew.
“Are you the eldest child?” he asked as he chewed.
“In your family. Are you eldest?”
A pause hing in the air. Somewhere in the distance a bird screeched.
“No, I’m not.”
“I didn’t think so. I suspect that you are in the middle somewhere. Of a large family. Am I correct?”
The King took some of the chewed up bark and looked at the mass. He carefully squeezed it between his fingers and then stretched it out. He frowned slightly and popped the goo back into his mouth and resumed chewing.
“Middle children, their curse is their blessing. The eldest are often controlled by their parents. They have to carry on for their family. They will do the inheriting. They will continue the legacy. It is both blessing and burden. Youngest are babies and can be spoiled. Middle children often have to find their own way and can easily be forgotten about. For good or bad they can have the most freedom. Is that how it was with you?”
Something in the bard’s eyes glared at the King. “You’ll forgive my bluntness, Sire, but I doubt I received the opportunity as had Your Majesty.”
“Too be sure. But, still, on some level this life of wandering, of story and song, you chose it for yourself, did you not?” Again the king took some of the muck from his mouth to examine.
“One some level.”
The King nodded at the muck and spat the full amount into his hand. He turned and approached the bard who reared back at the King’s outstretched hand.
“Trust me,” the king said. “You don’t want to risk infection.”
The King reached out again and this time the bard stayed put. There was pain as the wound was covered with the goo, but quickly the pain gave way to a cooling, almost shimmering sensation. Only as the pain died day did the bard fully realize how much there had been.
“Why did you ask about my family?” The bard asked.
“To answer your question, about why I am being hunted, I should explain that it has much to do with my being the second child myself.”
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