Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Secret Better Kept

Anyone searching for the truth is trouble, and this woman was no exception. She seemed nice enough, and probably was, but that didn’t mean much—it usually is the nice ones who have trouble clinging to them like flies on carrion.

I knew what she was after as soon as she knocked on my door. “You won’t find it here,” I said.

She was startled, and a little confused, so she ignored my words and went ahead with what she had clearly been planning to say. “My name’s Alkoury. I’m looking for the truth.”

“Like I said, you won’t find it here.” Maybe I should have closed the door in her face, but I live a long way from anywhere, and I thought I might as well hear her out before sending her away empty handed. So I let her in, offered her a drink, and waited for her to start asking questions best left unasked.

Alkoury jumped right into the heart of it. “What really happened in the Cave of Shadows?”

“No,” I said.

She ignored it. “Two men went into that cave, and only you came out, along with something… else. Something evil. It’s still out in the world, wreaking harm. We deserve to know what happened.”

“You don’t really want to know.”

“I do.”

“The truth is like a feral cat,” I warned her. “You might think that you want it, that you can handle it. You might try to tame it, or think that you own it. And then it scratches your eyes out.”

“I think you’re being too hard on feral cats.”

“Perhaps. But we’re not talking about cats.”

“I want the truth,” Alkoury insisted.

“Then you have to hunt it down and capture it.”

“Why not just tell me? Save me the trouble, and get a burden off your chest while you’re at it.”

I shook my head. “Some things are better off kept secret.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“I know. That’s why I won’t tell you.” I wouldn’t have told her anyway. Even those who believe in the value of secrets don’t always keep them. But Alkoury wouldn’t even have tried.

“I will find out,” she said. She probably would.

“Why do you even care?”

“It’s what I do. It’s more than that; it’s who I am. The world has been wondering what happened for ten years, and we deserve to know.”

“Surely it’s not the only secret in the world.”

Alkoury struggled for words. “It’s… I just… I need to do this. It’s pulling at me; I can’t just let it be. I have to know.”

“Like a geas,” I said softly. And my heart sank, for I knew all too well what that kind of irresistible pull can drive you to do. She would not give up, and she would find it.

And we would all be doomed.

So I made a bargain. Not to tell it; nothing would drive me to that. But I told her I’d give her the smallest hint of where to start.

“In exchange, when you’ve found it; you have to return here and speak with me before you reveal it.”

“So you can kill me rather than let it get out?”

“No. If that’s your worry, write it down and make provisions for it to be opened if anything happens to you, as long as you talk to me before telling anyone else.”

She agreed, and I gave her a name, not of someone who knew—I was the only one with that distinction—but of someone who might have known part of it, or where to find someone who knew part of it, or who was at least very observant. Alkoury would have found him anyway, eventually. From his piece of the thread, she would slowly, but not slowly enough, unravel the truth.

It was nearly a year before I saw her again. She had succeeded, if you can call it success. Her shoulders were slumped, and the idealism of one who seeks the truth had been replaced by the disillusionment of one who has found it.

“Congratulations,” I said.

Alkoury scowled at me. “There were three men, who went into the cave, and two came out.”

“That’s right.” She knew now, there was no reason not to confirm it.

“One created a monster, one became a monster, and one… one watched.”

“Yes.” It was an admission. I had been the one who had watched, who had done nothing to stop it.

“How do you think everyone will react when they learn that the beloved ruler of the country is behind the greatest working of evil in ten thousand years?”

“So you still mean to tell them.”

“How can I not?”

“With great difficulty,” I admitted. “It’s not easy to keep such a secret. But you can, if you chose to. You can go home and try to forget what you know, or spend your time thinking of it, but without telling anyone. Alkoury, how do you think people would react?”

“They’d be angry, of course, and lose their faith in the king. But after doing that, he doesn’t deserve their faith, or anything else. At worst he’d be dethroned, and that would probably be a good thing.”

I shook my head. “At best he’d be dethroned. Violently, in a civil war between those who believe you and those who don’t. That’s still the best case. Remember, the evil he created didn’t just affect this country. The rest of the world would be upon us. Or the countries that believed it would be, and some that didn’t would be against them, and the whole world would tear itself apart. Do you really want to be responsible for that?”

“But he can’t just get away with it!”

“He has. I was the only one who ever had a chance to stop him, and I failed to take it.”

“People think he’s a good king! It’s not right.”


Alkoury’s face fell into a tragic mask of disillusionment, and I knew she would not tell. It would be hard for her, even harder than it was for me. But she’d been able to find the truth, and she’d be able to hide it.

She realized a few minutes after I did. “I’ll keep the secret.”

“I know.”

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