The afternoon seemed to go on forever. The gates and the walls were still being guarded, but all other orders had been revoked. Most people were reluctant to leave the canteen. Some were still sitting at the tables inside, while others gathered outside in small groups clustered around the entrance.
Nobody seemed to know what to say. Some seemed to be in shock. Others may already have been calculating their chances - what if they donned civilian clothes, climbed the walls or slipped out of the gates and just disappeared? Would they be able to go back to their families and continue their lives where they left off?
Walking dead, I thought. I didn't even need to step outside into my little hall of mirrors to know what would happen. Paulos? A traitor's death, and a naked, bruised and broken body hanging from some city's gates. Lowanda, hanging from the ceiling of her cell, a silk cord around her neck, maybe she killed herself and maybe she didn't. Merran lying on his back in a muddy battle field with his throat slit, his empty eyes staring up at the sky.
Somehow Merran and I had ended up outside the canteen's doors. He seemed dazed, and didn't respond when I said his name. I took his arm and said "Come on, let's go somewhere more quiet." He didn't seem to hear me but he did allow me to steer him toward the city wall. We found a flight of stairs and climbed up onto the battlements. We could see the farm land and the river below us, a lake glistening in the distance.
Merran took a couple of deep breaths. "Thanks," he said.
I stood there beside him and felt a white-hot fury growing within me. I thought of all that I had lost. My wife. My son. My livelihood. My home. Twenty years of my life. Every single person I had known during the first forty-nine years of my life.
"Stop it," I muttered under my breath.
Merran looked at me. "Yeah, you're right," he said. "Let's take a walk."
We strolled atop the battlements toward the western city gates. Merran started talking about what his life had been like before the war. He'd been living in Heartstone as a member of Paulos's administrative staff, the last three years as his personal secretary. Being at Paulos's side at social functions had brought him into contact with Fiora, a wealthy wine merchant's daughter with whom he'd been smitten since he first laid eyes on her. She'd had many suitors and at first she didn't seem interested in him, but in the end that changed and she had agreed to marry him when he got back from the war. Strange, I thought. He's sounding like he still thinks he's got something to go back to. Like our world isn't ending here and now.
We had reached the city gate and looked out towards the mountains. It was a clear day and I could see the road, the inn, the mountain path and the brook. My attention was drawn by a rider moving at high speed towards the city.
"Enjoying the view, boys?"
Startled, we turned around. It was Raynor.
She looked down and noticed the rider. "Why don't you come on down with me," she said. "I'm sure he's going to appreciate the welcoming committee. And who knows, you might even make yourselves useful."
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