I woke up in a world of black and dark-grey.
I closed my eyes and opened them again. There was a difference. I lay back and closed my eyes, retreating into the darkness once again. Deep inside me I could feel my guilt, my fear and my anger, all scrambling to get out. Pay them no heed, I told myself. Sleep, you'll feel better in the morning.
I turned over, but sleep wouldn't come.
The opening of a tunnel in front of me, with only darkness behind it. No, I thought, and turned away.
I opened my eyes. The room was lighter now, but it seemed still early.
The tunnel, again. I turned and ran, only to find the opening in front of me.
No, I thought.
"Your voice sounds familiar," I said, and then I remembered. The palace. The voice had told me to stay and die.
"You cannot escape the inevitable."
"So be it, then," I said, and plunged forward into the waiting darkness. I fell, and fell, until I believed I would be falling forever.
I opened my eyes, and the world came into focus. I was in a bedroom, light trickling in through the dark-red drapes that covered the window.
"I can see," I said aloud.
"Yes," the lady said, and I turned my head. She was on a chair by the bed, a veil covering her face.
"What is this place?"
"A safe haven," she answered.
"Is it real?"
I thought I could see her smile. "As real as anything in this world."
"Where are my friends?"
"In unexpected places."
I laughed. "I'm glad to hear it."
"You'll see your companions soon enough, but I wanted to talk to you first."
I kept quiet and leaned back in the pillows, watching her. She got up and began to pace the room.
Eventually she stood, facing me. "You've been in the dark for too long," she said. "Do you even know where you are going?"
"To the King," I said, "at least that's what they've told me."
"Do you know who is King now?"
In the war I had fought on the King's side, but that had been coincidence rather than anything else. I had always lived in a small village a long way from Heartstone, and the King had never meant that much to me. Then I remembered.
"Jadrek the Second," I said. He had been crowned in the year that my Rhiana was born, and I had always teased her when she mentioned it. I also remembered what Jadri had told me about his grandfather, but decided to keep my suspicions to myself.
"Jadrek the Second," she repeated, "less than a man, and more."
Did she know? I asked her what she meant, but she didn't seem to hear.
"He knows you're coming," she said. I wondered how he'd know. Maybe the older man who I'd met at Jarvik's prison had sent a messenger ahead.
"He probably thinks I'm someone else, a fairly high-placed law-man called Merran," I said. "It's a long story."
"No, he knows it's you. And he very much wants to see you."
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