We were on the road, and a small voice in the back of my mind kept telling me we that shouldn't be there.
Jared and two of the soldiers were riding in front and I could see they were chatting, though their words were blown away in the afternoon breeze. Rodan was riding next to me, and when I looked over my shoulder I saw the remaining two soldiers following behind us. One of them saw me look and lifted his hand, and I returned the greeting.
I can see, I thought. I can still see. Strange, how the darkness that I had resigned to inhabit for the rest of my life was fading, even within hours of regaining my eyesight. I wondered whether this was how it happened. Was this how we left the uncomfortable truths behind?
Though the day was wearing on the sun was still warm, and it was easy to let go of all worries and enjoy the ride. I glanced at Rodan. He seemed more relaxed than I'd seen him before. Maybe this wasn't a bad thing, I thought. Considering what lay ahead of us we might as well enjoy our moment of peace and quiet while it lasted.
Jared fell back to ride next to me. "Welcome to my home land," he said.
"You're from here?"
"Yep. Best farmland in the world."
I smiled at the hyperbole, but when I looked around I began to suspect he might be right. On the sloping hills around us there were corn, and grapes, and grassland with cattle and sheep as far as I could see.
"I believe you," I said. It's like the war never happened here, I thought. Perhaps, this far from the border, it hadn't.
He seemed to have guessed my thoughts. "There's been no fighting here but we've had our share of the war, alright. We started paying for it ten years ago when the war was going badly and our good King Jadrek was always out of funds. And in the end every family lost sons, daughters, parents, brothers and sisters." He looked ahead and smiled. "The land is still beautiful, though."
I kept quiet and we rode on, while the setting sun coloured the sky orange and purple and a pair of ravens circled high above our heads. My friends, I know you seek carrion but I don't want to die, I told the birds. Life is too beautiful.
"Then don't die."
"The last time we spoke you told me I couldn't escape the inevitable."
"You won't. And yet you may live." I thought I could detect the merest hint of surprise in his voice.
"Who are you?" I asked him.
"I am Jared. I am Rodan. I am countless other men, some of them still alive, most dead. I am the sound of the prayers that have been silenced, the splendour of the temple whose walls have crumbled and whose great pillars have collapsed. I am what's left now our master has gone."
Stories, I thought. My old teacher Agromas had told me stories had a mind of their own, lurking in the other world waiting for a host who would keep them alive a little longer. Maybe worship and prayer were like that as well. Maybe they lingered on in a semi-sentient form, long after the chants in the temples had died down.
"What do you want from me?"
"I'm tired of life," he said, "and I'd like nothing better than to fade and die. There's no place for me in this world anymore, I know that. And yet, I must follow you until the end. I have tried to disobey, but I don't seem to have a choice in the matter."
I almost laughed out loud, and I could see Rodan glancing at me. Great, I thought. A murderer, two defrocked priests and the spirit of prayers past. The King's as good as dead.
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