We had stopped, and I heard my companions dismount. For a while, none of them seemed to be paying any attention to me.
"Stand still, my friend," I silently told the horse, "I'm going to get off now so you can get some rest."
I made sure that my left foot was secure in the stirrup and then I began to straighten my leg, until I had enough room to swing my other leg over the saddle.
"Easy now," I told myself, "you're doing fine."
Holding on to the saddle I swung my leg over the horse's back and began to lower my foot until it touched the ground, feeling the horse shift its weight to steady us.
"That's right," I said, "we're steady as a rock, you and I."
My right foot touched the ground and I removed my left foot from the stirrup, still clutching the saddle for balance. Then I was standing on my own two feet again, and I felt a sense of elation that almost made me laugh out loud.
"What are you smiling about?" Rodan asked me.
I patted the horse on the neck. "I was just thinking what an excellent horse this is, and how generous it was of Jarvik to lend it to me."
"He's a good man."
That made me wonder whether he'd met Jarvik before, and what their connection was, and I turned in the direction from where his voice had come to ask him about it.
I turned around, back at the palace where I had seen my wife. She wasn't there. There were mirrors on the walls, and all I saw was my own reflection.
"The master is gone," a voice said.
"The master is gone, and we must mourn."
"Who are you? What do you mean?"
"I'll mourn with you then," I said. "Why don't you tell me about your master?" The voice had seemed to come from everywhere around me, but the only movement that I could see was my own multiple reflection.
"Stay then, and die."
I could feel the floor trembling beneath me and when I looked up a crack crept down from the top of the mirror that I was facing, splitting my image in two. Rhiana, I thought. Maybe she's still here. I took a few faltering steps and, as the ground gave way under me and a low roaring shook my bones and rattled my teeth, I stumbled and fell.
I felt the impact of my body on the ground and I lay there, the grass cool against my face. "What's wrong with him?" I didn't recognise the voice. I could hear Rodan start to say something, but by then I was shivering so hard that I couldn't hear him.
The mirror cracked, slivers of silver raining down on me. "Almost," the voice said.
The horse was restless, and I could hear it moving in place. "Get that horse away from him". That was Jared.
A hand on my wrist. "Do something," Rodan said. "I think we're losing him."
Jared grabbed my clothes and began to pull me upright. "We have to get out of here," he yelled over the din. Plaster was falling from the ceiling and windows were exploding, debris everywhere. I took hold of his shoulders and got up, leaning heavily on him. The hall was almost dark, the sky outside near-black lit by streaks of lightning.
"My wife," I said, "she was here. I need to find her." I wasn't even sure he had heard me.
"Done," the voice said, and suddenly flames were licking the cracks in the walls and ceiling. Yes, beast, I thought, show us your true face. You're more alive than ever, aren't you?
"The master has gone, and we must mourn," the voice intoned again, and when I looked at Jared I could see his lips move along with the words.
Scorched plaster rained down on us, and flames flared up from the drapery that lined the walls. "Jared, please," I croaked, hardly having the strength to stand up. I leaned against him and he wrapped his arms around me. "It's alright," he said, "it's over."
"The master has gone, and we must mourn." This time Jared spoke the words out loud, his eyes empty and his face serene.
A door burst open, revealing a wall of flame that billowed into the room. The next moment everything was ablaze, the scorching air stabbing my throat and burning my lungs away. No, I thought. Please, no.
This isn't the farm, I told myself. This isn't real. I must hold on to that thought, nothing else matters.
And then, in the endless moment that passed between the ceiling and the walls exploding and our bodies either being crushed or devoured by the flames I grabbed Jared around the waist and jumped through the window, his arms still around me, with me gasping for air like I would never take another breath again.
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