Still half asleep, I felt my fingers trace the still-familiar shapes. A long, curved stitching. The king, taking his daughter into the mountains. A bright-blue bead. The spring, where she stopped and refreshed herself. In King Evazar's Daughter's Tale that was the point where she sings her ode to the beauty of the world, always a favourite with the audience. Another curved line, the difficult trek up the narrow mountain path. And eventually the small white feather, where her soul winged its way to heaven to dwell with the gods in eternal bliss - if it ever had.
Already, the early morning light was coming in through the barred window. On the floor to my right was my empty back pack, my clean clothes neatly folded on top of it. My storyteller's cloak was spread over the blanket, and the white feather that I had sewn on so many years ago was between the fingers of my right hand.
I froze. Why hadn't I left it where I had buried it before the war?
A door opening and closing in the distance, and the sound of footsteps. My chief captor appeared, carrying a jug and a small washing basin, a towel over his arm.
"Good, you're awake", he said. "You'll need to get going soon."
"You'll find out in due time."
He set down the jug, took a key ring hanging from his belt and used one of the keys to open a door in the fence separating my cell from the coridor. He then picked up the jug again and walked in, setting the jug and the washing basin down on the floor and leaving the towel on top of my clothes.
"Clean up and get dressed."
He left, locking the door behind him.
I got up, neatly folded the storyteller's cloak and put it away in my back pack. I felt better with it out of sight. I washed and dressed. I even clipped my hair and beard, using the pair of scissors and the piece of mirrored glass that I kept in my bag for the purpose.
The man in black reappeared.
"Good," he said. "Keep that up and you may actually survive for a while. The good folks around here aren't keen on men who look like vagrants."
"So I've noticed."
He sat down on the chair behind the bars again.
For the first time I got a good look at him. He was in his fourties, his read hair streaked with gray. His face showed the traces of worry and hardship, and his blue eyes were studying me as I was studying him.
"What do you want from me?"
At first he didn't reply.
"I need you to visit a friend of mine and give her a message. After that, you're free to go wherever you please. I wouldn't hang around here, though, if I were you."
"Why are you doing this?"
He thought about that for a while.
"Everything about you shouts military man. I fought in the last war and I have a suspicion that you did too, be it on different sides. And yet, there's that storyteller's cloak that you carry around with you. I'm beginning to find you very intriguing indeed."
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