Sighting Day

The subjects of the Kingdom worked hard keeping Great Park beautiful. Some were gardeners. Some were foresters. Some were vinedressers. Some were experts on animal husbandry. Some were guides for strangers. Some were healers. But no matter how hard they worked, they loved to play. The game the children played best was seek-the-King. . . .

“I saw the King!” exclaimed Amanda as she burst breathlessly into Mercie’s cottage. Two little red foxes came bounding through the door after her, one bumping to a halt on top of the other. “I saw the King on Sighting Day!” she repeated, proud of her success.

“How wonderful!” replied Mercie, who had just walked Man-Who-Sat-Like-Stone to a chair by a window where the sun shone in. Once seated, the man didn’t move. He didn’t turn his head. He didn’t say a word. Mercie said he must have experienced some awful grief in his life.

Hero’s little brother often crawled into the man’s lap and patted his cheek, but still he didn’t move. In a way, they were two of a kind. Little Child never said a word and the man never laughed.

Often the two sat quietly together in the sunshine.

“Sighting Day means the King takes times to play,” Amanda said, turning to explain to Hero, who was still too cautious for the lively girl.

“The children try to find the King all over Great Park on Sighting Day,” Mercie explained further. “It is a huge game of seek-the-King. He appears in disguises, and once a child makes a sighting he can go to the practice field where the King and the children play the rest of the afternoon. Why don’t you try to sight the King, Hero?”

Hero shook his head no, so Amanda bounded out the door without him. She laughed as she ran, and the boy watched the foxes gamboling at her heels down the path toward Wildflower Woods.

It was no use. He would never “sight” the King. Every time someone had whispered, “There’s the King!” Hero had only seen a beggar or a woodcutter or a gardener. Never a king.

Mercie said this was because he didn’t believe in a king. “You have to believe,” she always explained, “in order to see.” That didn’t make sense to Hero. The Enchanter had said the opposite: “Seeing is believing.” It was all well and good for everyone else in Great Park to talk about a king. But how was Hero to know they weren’t playing a game with him? Or pretending?

At any rate, he wasn’t in the mood for such games today. Mercie had said that a friend of hers was coming this morning to look at his brother. Something was wrong with Little Child. Mercie said he was too old to be unable to speak, and that normal children were full of laughter. Something must have stunned this little one, something that had knocked the words and laughter from him.

Hero knew it was the Enchanted City. Its sour odor sat upon their hearts. He remembered the Burners igniting the bier at his mother’s funeral. He saw again the stricken look in his brother’s eyes. Now the younger boy could no longer laugh, and the older would not play games.

Watching his brother sit quietly on the still man’s lap, Hero wondered: Does Mercie’s friend also know what to do for a boy whose scar goes deeper than his skin?

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