The guards took me up a wide, wooden staircase, and when I ventured a glance upwards, I saw only darkness. It's out of my hands now, I thought. The wheels have been set into motion, and there's nothing I can do to stop them.
We arrived upstairs, where I now saw a man holding a candle waiting for us. We followed him through a long corridor, and at the end he opened a door and handed me the candle. I went inside, and he locked the door behind me. I bent down to set down the candle and sat on the wooden floor, my back against the door.
"Jorden?" Jared's voice.
"They've locked me in some upstairs room. I'm alright."
"Good." Then he was gone.
As I sat there while the candle burned down and the first morning light crept in through the window I began to wonder whether I was, indeed, alright.
In the dim light I could see a bed, a table, a chair, a closet, and a door, possibly leading to a bathroom. I should get some rest, I told myself. I got up, picked up the saucer with the molten remains of the candle and sat down on the bed. Outside, the birds began to sing, and I could hear the bells clanging as the first goats and sheep were herded to their pastures. Inside the house, all was quiet.
I removed my boots and lay down on the bed, not bothering to take off my clothes or to crawl under the covers. The pillows were soft, and the familiar smell of freshly aired linen reminded me of home. Rhiana, I thought, and reached out to touch her hair.
Her hair was brittle and dead, and I cried out and jerked back my hand. She lay beside me and looked at me with light-less eyes.
"What do you see?" she asked me, her voice no louder than the rustling of dead leaves.
I didn't want to look at her. Rhiana, I thought, my one and only love, what has become of you?
I ventured a glance at what was left of her hair, and I almost cried with relief. Not my wife, I wanted to say, I'm not seeing my wife. For a while that was all I could think of, but then I began to wonder: what did I see?
"Fear," I said, "I see what I fear."
Then she was gone, and I was alone in the dark. "Do not leave me," I said. I'm not sure why, maybe I just couldn't bear the darkness anymore.
For a moment I thought she wouldn't return, but then I heard her voice again. "Why? Men have little use for my company."
"Let me gaze upon your face again."
"Why? You could hardly bear to look at me when you had the chance."
"I want to see you as you are."
"You cannot," she told me. "But I'm glad to have some company, so you're welcome to try."
I took a deep breath and opened my senses to her. Death. Decay. Cries of pain, and manic laughter. Broken dreams, and lives lived in vain.
"What do you see?"
Try as I might, my eyes wouldn't focus, and I wanted to cry out in frustration. "Give me time," I said. "Time to focus my eyes and still my mind."
"Time is not mine to give." With that she was gone, leaving me alone in the darkness again.
"Please stay awhile," I said.
"Why? So you can gaze upon my face again?"
"That will be no use," I said, "I know that now. I don't know who or what I am. I once came close to seeing myself as I truly was and it nearly killed me, so how could I presume to truly see another? Yet, stay, and allow me to keep you company for a while."
"It is well," she said, and bright light surrounded us.
The bright light of the morning sun, shining in through the barred window, woke me up. It's time, I thought. I'm tired of this journey, and it's time for it to end.
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