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“Eric!” a young woman called from the doorway of the small cottage. Her light brown hair was swept back into a bun, and her clear blue eyes searched the surrounding countryside with several other cottages scattered nearby. “Eric!” she called again. A laughing little boy only five years old came running around the edge of the house, his blue eyes sparkling in merriment. He ran up to the woman, the sun glinting off his golden hair. Another little boy ran around the corner of the house, stopping suddenly and watching the golden-haired boy. He had stunning red hair and green eyes. The lady turned to the golden-haired child.
“Who’s this, Eric?” she asked him.
“This is Jeremiah,” Eric replied.
The young woman turned to the other boy. “Did you just move to one of the cottages?” she asked.
Jeremiah nodded solemnly. “My parents couldn’t find work in the last town,” he told her. His voice was clear and strong, surprising for a young boy.
“Well, I’m glad the two of you have made friends with each other,” the woman said, smiling. “Eric, you need to get ready for dinner, though.”
Eric smiled up at her. “Yes, Mama,” he replied cheerfully. He skipped up to the door but turned in the doorway. “Bye, Jeremiah,” he called, waving to his friend. The little redhead smiled and waved back, then disappeared over a small hill. The young woman watched him depart and then turned back into the house.
“Hi, Jeremiah!” Eric exclaimed as he and his friend met in their usual spot almost a month later. Jeremiah smiled at his friend, but his face was sad. Eric frowned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“”We’re moving again,” Jeremiah told his friend.
Jeremiah nodded. “My parents still haven’t been able to find work. They’ve decided that we should try another town.”
Eric’s eyes filled with tears. “But you’re my best friend!” he protested. “You can’t leave!”
Jeremiah’s eyes were sad. “I know, but I have to leave.” He hesitated. “I have two secrets I want to tell you first, and then I have to go.”
“Really?” Eric asked, leaning towards Jeremiah from his spot next to a tall tree.
“Yeah.” Jeremiah took a deep breath. “First: I’m adopted.”
Eric’s eyes widened. “Really?”
Jeremiah nodded. “My parents told me when I was four.”
“Whoa,” Eric whispered. He tilted his head to the side. “What’s the second secret?” he asked.
Jeremiah leaned forward. “Well, I have these dreams,” he whispered. “They always come true! One time, when I was little, I had a dream that I met a golden-haired boy with blue eyes named Eric.”
“Wow!” Eric exclaimed.
Jeremiah nodded. “I know. “Well, last night, I had a dream about you. You became a king!”
Eric’s eyes got even bigger. “Me?”
“Yes,” Jeremiah replied. He paused. “I just felt that I needed to tell you.”
“Thanks,” Eric said gratefully. “Although I don’t know if that dream will really come true.”
Jeremiah’s eyes twinkled, then became sad. “I have to go now,” he told his friend softly.
Tears filed Eric’s eyes once again. “Please don’t go,” he pleaded.
“I have to,” Jeremiah told him sorrowfully. He clasped his friend’s hand. “I’ll always remember you, Eric. We shall see each other again, my friend.” Jeremiah squeezed Eric’s hand one last time, and Eric watched his friend disappear into the forest.
Many years passed, and Eric found himself quite well off. Soon after Jeremiah left, Eric’s parents had begun to rise in both wealth and social status. They were able to pay for Eric to be schooled. His teacher soon discovered that he was quick and intelligent.
“He’s much wiser than most children his age,” she told his parents once. “He has an insight that’s hard to explain.”
Several years after that, Eric’s wisdom helped him. The king heard of Eric, and called him to the court. He asked Eric’s advice on several small, trivial matters to test him. Eric was soon appointed the king’s royal advisor.
Eric didn’t take advantage of his high position like many of the other officers. He was kind to everyone, and humble. His wise advice and kind spirit soon made him the second most powerful man in the kingdom. His life was full of happiness, including with his wife and children.
Then, one day, the king was pushed off his balcony by one of his servants. By the time the rest of the servants reached him, he was dead. Eric was horrified. He had become close to the king, and had even considered him a good friend, and now he was dead.
The former king had no heirs. Eric could never remember quite how it happened, but, somehow, it was decided that he should be the new king. The memories flooded back: a little red-haired boy sitting in the forest and a dream about Eric becoming a king. He remembered doubting the dream. Now it was coming true.
The preparations for the coronation ceremony proceeded frantically. Eric disliked the kingly clothes he was forced to wear, but he wore them anyway. He resented the extravagant decorations, but he approved them anyway. He didn’t believe that he should be king, but he felt that it was his duty to the people.
The coronation ceremony was beautiful, and Eric and his family settled into life in the castle. It seemed like it would be a happy life. The people respected Eric, and so did his advisors and officers. The country prospered, utilizing its natural resources in the most efficient way possible.
Then it happened: war. Two neighboring countries grew jealous of their prosperity and invaded quickly after they declared war. Eric was devastated, but he knew that he had to defend his country.
The army gathered and set off. King Eric and several of his advisors led the soldiers into battle.
The war dragged on. Weeks were spent fighting, and neither side gained an advantage. King Eric’s men were soon exhausted from the endless fighting.
Slowly but surely, the enemy began beating down King Eric’s army. New soldiers arrived for the enemy, and King Eric’s men were forced to flee. King Eric insisted that he and his advisors cover the retreat, to the dismay of his advisors.
One night, he and his advisors bedded down in a hidden clearing, taking turns keeping watch. King Eric fell asleep quickly. He awoke around midnight and found that his advisors had abandoned him, taking all of the weapons and supplies and leaving him with only the blanket he was sleeping on.
A mixture of rage and terror overcame him. He put his head in his hands as he realized the hopelessness of his situation.
As he sat there, he felt something change inside of him. Peace and calmness filled him, replacing the anger and fear. He stood up, determined to find his way home.
King Eric walked for days, carrying the blanket and living off of nuts and berries. His lack of weapons prevented him from hunting. He could only hope that he was walking in the right direction. Birds, squirrels, and other small forest creatures were his only company. His only thought was that his situation couldn’t get any worse. He was sure that he would eventually find a house or a cottage.
About two weeks after his advisors had abandoned him, he stumbled into a clearing. He froze as enemy soldiers surrounded him, just as startled as he was.
King Eric was kept in a tent surrounded by guards all night. The next day, the enemy unit began marching back to their castle. The king and about fourteen prisoners from his army were forced to march through thick, sloppy mud. They were surrounded by guards that taunted them from atop their war horses. Many prisoners tried to escape, but they were quickly shoved back into line, often by the crack of a whip.
At night, the prisoners were put in a huge tent with guards patrolling around it. Two guards were in the tent to keep the prisoners in order.
After the third day of endless marching, King Eric sat, exhausted, on the blanket he had been assigned. He felt no pain from the blisters on his feet, only a dull, aching sense of dread. He could only imagine the horrors of what might happen when they arrived at the castle.
He glanced, uninterested, at the two guards. One of them caught his eye. He was tall and strong. He removed his helmet, revealing his stunningly bright red hair. Eric’s eyes widened. In his entire life, he’d only seen one person with red hair: his childhood friend Jeremiah. His teacher had said that red hair and blond hair were both very, very rare.
King Eric watched as the red-haired soldier moved quietly behind the other soldier. The next second, his fist connected solidly with the other soldier’s head. The soldier tumbled to the floor, unconscious.
All of the prisoners stared as the red-haired soldier grabbed a coil of spare rope and tied the other soldier’s hands and feet. The redhead turned to face them.
“I am Jeremiah,” he announced quietly. “I am here to rescue you, but you must follow me quickly, quietly, and in an orderly manner.” He moved to the opposite side of the giant tent, turning to one of the men. “You must lead the other prisoners. I will be in the back of the line, and I shall tell you when to go.”
Jeremiah peered out of a small peephole in the side of the tent. A few minutes later, he guided the prisoners to a hidden hole in the floor of the tent.
The prisoners slipped out of the tent, unseen by any guards. King Eric stayed in the back, only a few steps ahead of Jeremiah. They rushed through the cool night air as quickly as they could without arousing anyone’s attention.
They heard a distant shout from behind them. Oh no, King Eric thought. They must have discovered that we escaped. The escapees moved faster through the thick woods.
“Run,” Jeremiah called, his voice loud enough to be heard by all of them, but quiet enough that it wouldn’t help the guards find their position. “Try to stay in pairs, but still split up,” he added.
The other prisoners quietly paired up, and they quickly took off. King Eric was paired with Jeremiah.
Eric and Jeremiah ran through the forest, dodging trees and listening closely. Soon they heard the hoof-beats of their pursuers’ horses.
“We’ll never be able to outrun them!” Eric panted.
“We can try,” Jeremiah replied.
The hoof-beats drew nearer. “You go that way,” Jeremiah called softly to Eric, pointing to the left slightly. “I’ll keep running this way and hope they’ll follow me.”
Eric frowned at him. “Are you sure?” he asked reluctantly.
Jeremiah nodded, dodging another tree. “Don’t worry about me. Just worry about getting back to your people, Eric.” He smiled.
Eric’s eyes widened, but he didn’t have time to reply. Jeremiah nudged him off toward the left. He ran slower, looking over his shoulder as he split off from Jeremiah. The hoof-beats now sounded like a pounding heart. A shot rang out, and Jeremiah thudded to the ground, clutching his chest.
Eric started to turn, but Jeremiah’s pain-filled eyes locked with his. “Run,” he mouthed.
The pain of an aching heart started in Eric’s chest as he turned and continued running.
Eric made it back safely to his people, and they eventually won the war. The advisors who had abandoned him were never found, and everyone believed that they were either killed or captured. Eric had a happy, long, and prosperous reign, and was well-loved by his people. He never forgot the sacrifice that Jeremiah, his true friend, had made for him.
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