With a soft groan the old man lowered his heavy frame onto the smooth flat rock that had for so many years served as his favorite resting spot on the mountainside. Although slightly stooped, he was still large and tall, so it took a moment for him to make himself comfortable after he’d rested his rump on the large sun-warmed rock.
Not far from where he sat, he could hear the children he’d accompanied up the gentle slopes running and playing through a small meadow strewn with a riotous array of brightly colored wild flowers. Leaning against a large outcropping of rock he placed the walking stick that served as his cane on the ground near his feet. Removing his hat he pulled a cloth from his pocket, and wiping his brow, smiled as he listened to the children laugh and shout. He never grew tired of their merry antics and play. In many ways he was just as much a child as they were, and they enjoyed his company.
Looking down from his perch, the smile on his face grew wider as he surveyed his domain. Below him, the valley was pleasingly bright in the sun’s warm afternoon glow and the city of Refuge Vale looked every bit as safe and inviting as its name. The first and largest city in the valley, it had grown over the years from when he’d first arrived.
The area had been a hunting preserve for the emperor, his court and any imperial guests lucky enough to be invited. A luxurious hunting lodge and a number of outbuildings is what had greeted them after they’d passed through the gate, but over time all that had changed. At first they lived in the open until crude shelters could be constructed, but over time proper buildings were constructed that formed a small hamlet. The hamlet expanded into a village, and the village into a town that was now rapidly growing into a large city. Isolated in the Poniçessian Mountains, Refuge Vale’s remote location had assured the safety and security of it’s inhabitants. He’d heard talk of a dome of energy, but he never quite understood what the term meant. He did know that no one ever left or entered the vast territory he’d come to call home.
As he scanned the valley floor, a few small clouds floating in the light blue sky cast random shadows that raced across the ground. In the distance he could see that some of the smaller settlements and, larger farms settled only a few years ago, had grown larger and now spread out further toward the horizon. The beautiful valley of Taldor Valoren had prospered, and he could scarcely remember what it had been like when he’d first arrived.
The population of the valley had also grown, one might say thrived, in the years after they’d arrived. There was even talk of starting newer settlements that also might grow into cities, though there had been some opposition in the plan. The period of their exile was fixed. Although the concept of time relating to the past, present and future was something he sometimes struggled to understand, he’d remembered well that their time in the mountains was to be set be no more than one hundred years. There were those who claimed they would remain. The valley had become their home, others had argued that when the time came they would reclaim the land beyond the mountain passes that, though now blocked, would one day once again lead to the outside world.
Soaking up the warm rays of the sun he remembered the settlers early years. The adults that had accompanied them had taken care of them, now there was a council, the Circle of Elders, along with others who continued the task of leading them. Being a simple man, he didn’t know much about that. He followed the rules and did what he was told. He’d help anyone who asked. Although he walked with a limp, he wasn’t weak and when he put his determined will and strong back to a task it would soon be accomplished. He always enjoyed helping others. Friends help each other. He often recalled the words of his one special friend from the Mon des Arts; it made him smile, especially when he was asked to watch after the children.
The one thing he did know was that the life he’d lived on the Mountain of the Arts was so different from the one he’d begun the moment he’d stepped through the gate at Angel’s Fall. As the years passed the children who’d come through the gate grew into adults, and began to have children of their own. Now those children had also grown and were starting to mate as they prepared to produce the next generation that would inhabit the beautiful valley he’d come love and call his home.
Sometimes when he’d walk the streets, or sit in a pub he would hear people talking about the past that had been, and the future yet to come, but those things were usually beyond his understanding. Two things that he often did though, was to remember… and to ask.
“How long? How long has it been?”
His friends and neighbors, the children he took to the slopes, and the townspeople he worked with and helped over the years by using the brute force of his back and strong arms had grown used to his question. Having heard his story and known his past, they would smile when he asked, yet in their eyes he could see a sadness, a sadness for him. They thought they could hide it from him, and although he never understood why, he could always see it through their smiles. He had a good life, a happy life. He still missed his mother, kind and gentle women that she was, but after coming through the gate he’d gained many mothers, many fathers and many friends. There was never a time when he’d walk through Refuge Vale without people wishing him hello and good day, asking him what he was about and how he was getting on.
Leaning back against the rock he looked up at the clear blue sky. The few clouds that had been there were now mostly gone. In the mountains it was often like that on a sunny day; so clear you could see forever maybe all the way to… how long? How long has it been? Even though he was sitting alone on the slope in his favorite spot and there was no one to ask, the question still came to his mind.
“It will be a long time until you see angels flying in the skies,” his friend the prince had told him.
Looking up into the heavens he often wondered exactly when that day would come. Sometimes he’d look up and see an angel boy flying in the sky and get excited. He’d eagerly point and call out to the others, but after a moment of studying the floating shapes, they’d give him gentle smile and the sad-eyed look he’d come to expect. “It’s only a flock of birds.”
Setting there under the warmth of the summer sun, his eyes looked out over the beautiful valley. His valley. The one Prince Jamie had given him… had given to all of them. Friends help each other, he recalled as he remembered the smiling boy, talking and joking with him. Some days he could still remember the handsome young man with his sparkling crystal blue eyes laughing and joking as he brushed a cascading shock of blond hair from his eyes.
Resting his head back on to the rocky outcropping to his back, his eyes once more scanned the sky. Soon, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, soon the angels would be flying again… he was sure of it. Closing his eyes he thought of Jamie… Prince Jamie… his Jamie.
An hour passed as the sun tracked across the sky, warming the slopes and the rock the old man rested upon. One of the little girls he’d brought to the meadow skipped over to him ready to present to him the freshly picked bouquet of wild flowers in her hand. Her golden hair, almost the color of Jamie’s shown in the afternoon sun.
“Here Larrus, for you,” she smiled as she stuck out her hand.
The old man sat quiet and still as she spoke. Once more she called his name, but he didn’t reply. In the arms of eternal sleep, he’s spirit had departed the beautiful valley, soaring on the wind just like his friend Jamie… Prince Jamie… his Jamie.