He wanted me to travel to a town called Stillwater to see a woman named Lowanda. He gave me a letter that he wanted me to deliver, and told me to tell her that Jarvik sent me. He never explained why he picked me to run his errand. I didn't insist on an explanation. I didn't have anything planned for the near future anyway.
He opened the door and I followed him out through the corridor. Through the bars I could see small cells like mine, all empty. We came to a door that he unlocked with a key from his ring and locked behind us. After a while we turned around a corner and passed larger cells, each with six beds in them. Most were occupied by men young enough to be my sons, many with missing limbs or terrible scars, and others damaged in less visible ways. They were taken care of by the men in black and by their fellow inmates. Some of the doors were open and men were walking in and out with trays of food and medical supplies.
"Who are they?"
"Men like you, mostly. They came back after the war, found there was nothing left to come back to, and started drifting. Many of the younger ones need help. They were boys when the war started, and war is all they know. We're taking in as many as we can."
He looked at me and chuckled.
"Times have changed, haven't they?"
"Yes," I said, "they have".
We crossed a court yard and reached the outer gate of the prison. A black-clad guard saluted and stepped aside, and Jarvik opened the gate.
"Down this path it's about ten miles to the main road, and from there it's another ten miles to Stillwater. Don't stray from the road and don't stay out after dark. There's an inn where the path meets the main road, stay the night there if you don't expect to make it to Stillwater before nightfall."
He gave me some packed food, five silver coins and a letter.
"This is a letter saying that you're working from me. It might open a few doors for you when need be. Good luck."
The prison door closed behind me, and I was a free man again.
Though it was still early, already the day was getting warm. I put the food, the letters and the money away in my back pack and strapped that onto my back. Then I was on my way.
A military man, Jarvik had called me. I wondered about that.
For me, I guess the war had started when they came and burned down my house some twenty years ago. I managed to get my wife and my young son out in time and sent them to a neighbour's house, telling them to have the neighbour and his sons come back here and help me put out the fire.
Nobody ever came. I did what I could, but my house burned down to the ground. I had managed to salvage my storyteller's cloak and some papers, and I buried them in the small led-lined safe space in my back yard. Then I left to look for my family.
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