"Father." My son's voice again.
Not now, I caught myself thinking. You're complicating things, you always have been.
The King looked me in the eyes and nodded, extending his hand to accept the troth. I hesitated, closing my fingers over the stone.
No, that wasn't true, I wanted to tell my son. The truth is that becoming a father terrified me, though I didn't realise it at the time. Back then I had just been angry, angry at Rhiana for getting pregnant, and angry at myself for not being more careful.
I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts.
Things had become so bad between us that Rhiana had gone back to her parents, and it wasn't until days after the birth that I heard I had a son. It took me a week to find the courage to go to her parents' house. When I finally went it was late at night and I was stone drunk, and at first her father refused to let me in. I thought he would close the door in my face, and I'm still not sure why he didn't. They were both asleep when I found them. I tiptoed into the room, almost falling over, her father whispering that if I woke either of them he'd kill me.
And then, in the full moon's light I saw my son's face, and the world became a different place. The next day I went back, begging Rhiana to give me another chance. She did. She bundled up my son and came to live with me again, and though things weren't always easy we'd been growing closer and life had been good.
"I'm so sorry," I silently told my son. "You're more precious to me than anything in the world, and I'll never abandon you again."
"How touching," the King said. "Now give me what is mine, and you'll have your son back."
Mine, I thought, my son is mine. Blood of my blood. Suddenly I was confused. The old woman had used my own blood to make the stone. How was it not mine?
"You're insane," the King told me. "Look at you. Even the old hag won't have anything to do with you now. You're nothing."
I realised he was right. I was nothing. I wanted to give him the stone and find a hole to crawl in to, to live out my remaining days in solitude and shame.
The King turned towards my son, his eyebrows raised. "No?" He lashed out and Jorden collapsed, his hands covering his face and blood streaming out from between his fingers.
From a great distance I heard someone scream. I couldn't move. My mouth was open, my throat was raw, and the screams seemed to come from everywhere. I wanted to tear the King away from my son but I couldn't move. I struggled against the hands that were restraining me, and that were forcing my fist to close around the troth. Jared was in front of me and I screamed at him, begging him to let the King have the troth so I could have my son back, begging him to, please, not let my son die. He grabbed me by the shoulders and shouted at me, but I couldn't hear his voice over the deafening roar in my head. Then his eyes opened wide as something smashed into us, knocking the wind out of me as we fell. I'm dying, I thought. Please have mercy on my son.
When I woke up the courtyard was lit by torches, and servants were going about their business. I raised my head and looked around. Jared was still unconscious, his head resting on my stomach. Rodan was on his side a few feet away from me, and when I looked behind me I saw one of the soldiers lying in a heap. The others were nowhere in sight.
I looked up as one of the servants approached me. "I'm glad to see you're awake, sir. May I escort you to your room?" It doesn't matter, I thought. The King is gone, and so is my son.
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.