I was chasing the tail-end of a dream, but it kept slipping away from me. When I opened my eyes the room was completely dark, and I reckoned it was still very early. I closed my eyes again and turned over thinking that, if I went back to sleep now, I might be able to catch up with that dream.
Half-asleep again I reached out to pull Rhiana closer to me, while listening for signs of Jorden waking up. Suddenly, everything was wrong. Rhiana was gone. Our bed wasn't there. I could hear voices, where there should be just the three of us. Hands were shaking me by the shoulders, and I tried to fight off whoever it was.
"Jorden, please wake up," a voice said.
Jadri, I thought, and calmed down. "What's going on? Why is it so dark in here?"
"I'm sorry," he said, and I remembered as soon as he started talking. Blind. In my head the word resonated like a prison door closing behind me, locking out the light forever.
I wanted to tell him that I couldn't do it, that I couldn't live like this, but what use would that have been? I couldn't survive on my own, and they didn't seem inclined to allow me to die. "What were the two of you talking about, last night?" I asked instead. "It sounded like you were arguing."
"There are things I haven't told you," he said, "and you should probably know about them."
"There's this… group within the Army," he continued. "A couple of years ago they realised we were in danger of losing the war, and they saw what was happening to my grandfather. Their leaders are very traditional men, high-ranking officers, faithful to our country and to the Royal House. They've always been watching over me, and when I was old enough they made themselves known to me."
I could almost see the scenario play out in front of my eyes. A lonely boy with an absent father and the rest of his family wanting him out of the way, being approached by these Army officers and made to feel important by them. If Merran had been involved as well, it would have been impossible for him not to comply with whatever they wanted from him.
"They helped you escape from Heartstone, didn't they?" I asked him.
He hesitated. "Yes."
At least that sounded more plausible than what he'd told us earlier. What he had told me didn't seem to explain last night's argument, though.
There was a knock on the door and I heard him get up to answer it. "Not a word about what I just told you," he whispered.
"No, of course not."
It was Rodan. "Good, you're awake," he said. "We'd better get ready to leave."
"Leave? Where are we going?"
"Didn't you tell him?"
"I'm sorry," Jadri said. "He just woke up, and I didn't have a chance to tell him yet."
"We're moving the two of you some place else," Rodan told me, "and right now that's all you need to know. We realise you're in no condition to travel but we have no choice, and the two of us are here to help you."
He removed the covers and together they helped me to stand up, each of them wrapping one of my arms around their shoulders to support me. They took me down the corridor to the latrines, cleaning me up afterwards. After that they took me into the adjacent bathroom where they washed me and clipped the nails on my fingers and toes. They were very matter-of-fact about it, but still the feeling of utter vulnerability and degradation brought tears to my eyes and I felt myself withdrawing into a dark and lonely place within myself. I can't go on like this, I thought. I can't live like this.
They took me back to the bedroom and helped me to sit down on the bed. Assisted by Rodan I did manage to put on my own clothes, which made me feel better. "After you've got your strength back, you can start learning to take care of yourself," he told me. I couldn't hear any pity in his voice, and for that I was grateful.
On this page Transitional HTML 4.01 and CSS 1 are used. If you're seeing this text you either have CSS switched off in your browser, or you're using a browser that can't handle CSS. If you're using an older browser version, you might want to consider upgrading.