Thirty-five

"Right," Jarvik said, running his hand through his hair. "Tell us what happened." He looked tired, and I believe he had the same feeling that I had - that we were standing at the edge of the abyss and the ground was crumbling under our feet.

"I came to live at the law-men's headquarters in Heartstone when I was six," the young man started. "My father was away a great deal and my mother spent most of her time praying and meditating in her own quarters. I guess my grandfather just wanted me out of the way, and I suppose he also trusted the law-men to give me a decent education. I'm not sure where my father went when he disappeared but as long as I could remember he'd been away most of the time, and it never crossed my mind to ask questions. Anyway, Paulos assigned you as my tutor." He looked at Merran.

"I am the second son of a Duke and my father is a personal friend of Commander-in-Chief Paulos," Merran added. "I was thirteen when Jadri arrived, and it's common for the law-men to have the older boys tutor the younger ones. Since he knew my father well Paulos chose me for the job."

"For a couple of years life was good," Jadri continued. "The law-men took care of me, I enjoyed my studies, Merran and I got along just fine, and the war was nothing more yet than a distant rumour."

"We only got involved at a fairly late stage," Merran said. "Some ten to fifteen years ago we began to notice that a lot of the trade caravans that travelled into the west seemed to disappear, and no caravans were coming out of the west anymore. Since local sheriffs like Jarvik used those to send us their reports this meant that we didn't get any news from the west at all, and we started to get worried. In those days Paulos was an advisor to the King and we were little more than his personal staff, so there wasn't much we could do on our own. Only after much negotiation between Paulos and the King we were allowed to join forces with the army and to start calling up reservists to active duty. As Paulos' personal secretary I was present at most of the talks, and I remember them well." He turned to Jadri. "Your grandfather can be a difficult man."

The boy chuckled. "You've got that right." Then he became serious again. "Then you went to the war, and soon after you left the madness started." He took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. For a while none of us said anything.

"It started with my father's disappearance," he said. "He used to do that a lot, so at first nobody paid much attention. But this time it was different. He left shortly before you did, and as far as I know he hasn't been back since. That was one thing, though we only realised it later. The second was the war itself. By that time the enormity of what was taking place in the west was becoming clear, every day we got news of friends and kindred dying in battle and I think we were all beginning to realise we couldn't win. My grandfather was taking it pretty badly."

He sighed. "After you left Paulos made me his personal secretary, so I was present at a lot of discussions with my grandfather." He rubbed his face and looked at Merran. "He was mad, there's no other way to describe it. In the beginning he was panicking but coherent, but after thatů I think that in some way he realised what was happening to him and he started to withdraw from the world, leaving Paulos in charge. Paulos wasn't too happy and he tried to get the King's council of advisors to appoint a Regent, but they wouldn't hear of it. So, we muddled on."

He leaned forward, covering his face with his hands. "I don't know how we did it. It was such a nightmare, and everything just kept getting worse." He swallowed. "And then came the day that my grandfather summoned us."



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