They helped me to get up from the bed and sat me down in a chair, and I leaned back and closed my eyes.
I couldn't see anything clearly. Images came and went, sunlit landscapes, people walking down a road, a flight of birds against the bright afternoon sky, moonlight on some lake's surface… I watched, unable to make sense of what I was seeing.
"Are you alright?" Rodan asked me, as he started to remove the bandages from my wrists.
"We're going to work on that."
He inspected the wounds, and told me they were healing well. I thanked him, and as he re-bandaged my wrists I closed my eyes again.
More images, as meaningless as before.
"You need to focus," Agromas told me.
I felt something tugging at my head, and I heard the sound of scissors. Someone was cutting my hair.
No reply. I tried to concentrate, and slowly the stream of random images began to slow down.
A brief, sharp pain right below my right ear, followed by the sensation of something warm and wet trickling down my neck brought me back to the here and now.
"I'm sorry," Jadri said, pressing a piece of cloth against my skin.
As I took over the piece of cloth and continued to apply pressure I began to laugh. "What on earth are you doing, anyway?"
"Clipping your beard. We've got visitors."
"Visitors," I said. "Do I know them?"
I was sure he understood the reason for my question. "I don't think so."
While Rodan was giving me my medicine there was a soft knock on the door, and Jadri went to answer it. I heard him talking to someone, but I couldn't make out what either of them was saying.
"They're ready for us," he said. "Time to go."
They helped me up, and with the two of them supporting me we made our way down the corridor. We stopped, and I heard someone knock. Jarvik's voice told us to come in, and Rodan and Jadri led me through the door and sat me down in a chair. Suddenly I felt disoriented, and I grasped the chair's armrests for support.
"Who is he?" A voice I didn't recognise. An older man, I thought, wielding a great deal of authority.
"His name is Merran. He was the boy's tutor when he was in Heartstone." Another voice I didn't recognise.
"What's wrong with him?"
"He can't see," Rodan said. "I haven't found anything wrong with his eyes, and the blindness may only be temporary."
"Ah." The meaning was clear - his curiosity had been satisfied, and I had been deemed unworthy of further attention. I sat back and breathed out, releasing the tension that had been building in my neck and shoulders.
"And you must be young Jadrek," the older man continued.
"Do you know who I am?"
"You're a very important young man, and I'm glad that we finally have the chance to meet. I'm sure that, over the coming weeks, we'll be seeing a lot of each other."
"Thank you, sir."
I sat there, trying to take in everything that happened around me - the voices, the little sounds of movement and breathing, the currents of emotion and suspicion and things left unsaid. I could sense Jadri, fierce in his friendship and loyalty, so open and so easy to hurt. The older man, a hard and impenetrable surface making me wonder what lay beneath. Pride? Most certainly. But I could feel something else there, something darker. Then there was the younger man, who gave off an aura of such anxiety and overwhelming weariness that I almost felt sorry for him. Rodan, withdrawn so far into himself that his presence was almost imperceptible. Jarvik, cautious and alert.
I couldn't sense anyone else there, and I wondered what I was doing anyway. Was I deceiving myself into believing that I had found some other mode of perception to replace my eyesight? Was I going mad?
"We'll be leaving for our headquarters this afternoon," the older man said. "I trust you'll come with us."
"I will," Jadri said. "Thank you, sir."
"What about the other one?" the younger man asked, and felt the older man's attention focussing on me.
"He's going to Heartstone. If the King want him, he can have him."
Apart from someone's sharp intake of breath, there was only silence. Then Jadri and Jarvik began to speak at the same time. They both stopped in mid-sentence when the old man spoke again.
"It's good to see that you're loyal to your friends," he said, "but we have no place for invalids.""Leave him here, then," Jarvik said. "We're used to treating the sick, and my men would be happy to look after him."
"I'm sorry. I have to show the King some sign of good faith, to keep him from suspecting that I'm the one who helped young Jadrek escape. Right now, this young man's safety is more important than anything else."
"But my grandfather will kill him," Jadri said. "Please, is there no other way to show your loyalty?"
"I'm sorry. He isn't the first to die for the cause and he won't be the last."
"You don't understand. This man isn't…" Jadri began, and I cut him off by saying, "Jadri, it's alright. I'll go." I wasn't going to let my friends endanger themselves by admitting that I wasn't Merran, and if anyone found out I would take full responsibility for the deception.
"Thank you," the old man said. Again I could feel him looking at me, this time with curiosity and something that bordered on respect.
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