We left the bath-house and went to the canteen to have breakfast. The place was deserted, but on one of the tables some plates with bread, cheese and fruit were left. We sat down and ate in silence.
The canteen was another wooden building, with long tables and enough seats for about fifty people. At one end there was a counter with the now-empty kitchen behind it, and in the opposite wall there wer double doors. Windows in the other two walls let the bright sunshine in. It was promising to become another warm and sunny day.
When we were just finishing our meal the door opened and Lowanda came in. She sat down next to Merran, facing me across the table. Merran excused himself and got up and left, carefully closing the door behind him.
"I trust you slept well," she said.
"Yes," I said. "Thank you."
"I see Merran has lent you some clothes."
"Yes. They fit very well."
"You've been to the bath-house?"
"Yes. That was very nice."
We were silent for a while. Eventually I decided to break the silence for her.
"You're not going to let me leave, are you?"
She seemed startled. "What makes you think that?"
I raised my eyebrows. "Am I wrong?"
"We're not going to kill you or anything like that, and we have no intention of keeping you prisoner. We do want you to tell us all that you know about the war, and we're going to be fairly insistent about getting that information. We'll take good care of you and when we've finished you're free to go. We'll even help you getting started making a living in the outside world if you want us to."
She looked at me intently.
"I hope you'll stay, though. There's so much we don't know about what happened in that war. You're a storyteller, which means that you're part of a tradition that we thought had died out and that we know preciously little about. Also, you've managed to live through the war and you're able to tell us the tale, and that makes you a truly unique source of information. Up till now everyone who came out in reasonably good shape had only been in for a short time, and they'd been in the border area only."
Something was very wrong here. "When the war ended my men and I were only a short distance away from the border. There must have been about three dozen of us. When we disbanded some of us went to look for our families and what was left of our homes, and others headed for the border. Of course whe had been through hell but, hey, we were still able to deal with things and move on."
Somehow I had to convince her that there were others like me who had come out just fine, ready to pick up the pieces and get on with their lives. As I was trying to find words I began to realise how warm and stuffy the room had become. My chair fell over as I got up and began to make my way to the door. "I need some air," I said. I stumbled, and she was at my side taking my elbow to support me. Then we were outside and I sank down on my haunches, sucking in the warm air.
"You're scared," she said. "That's only natural. I'm scared too. We all are. But we can't stay scared. We're going to move in, plans are being prepared even now. If there's some evil still lurking in the west we'll find it and confront it. And we will win."
I looked up. "What do you want me to do?"
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