It was completely dark when we arrived at our destination for the day, a torch-lit farmstead that was larger than the others we'd seen that day. When we approached silent servants opened the gate and escorted us into the courtyard. I thought I could see them eye me with something like suspicion, though it was hard to be certain in the flickering light of the torches. I looked at my companions and realised I was the only one wearing the black law-men's uniform. I wondered what they thought of the law-men around here.
The servants moved a side as an older man stepped out from a door at the opposing end of the courtyard. He stopped a few paces in front of us, facing Jared.
"It's true, then," he said, glancing at me.
"Yes," Jared told him.
"We were told you had him, though."
"So was I. Imagine my surprise at the Inn."
"I guess my daughter will be pleased."
"Yes, I suppose she will."
Both men looked and sounded at ease, having a casual chat in the cool evening breeze. No one else spoke, no one else moved, and all seemed to be watching them intently. I let out the breath that I had been holding, careful not to break the silence.
"You did bring the replacement for a reason, I suppose."
"I suppose I did, yes."
Go on, I silently told them, closing my eyes while a bitter taste filled my mouth. Figure out what I'll be worth to the King, and consider what you'll have in return. Make sure the price is right, for tomorrow our journey will end and my life will be over. What a joke, I thought. To have regained my eyesight, for what?
A chance, a little voice at the back of my mind told me. A chance to face him again and redeem myself. Him, I thought. That's what it will always come down to.
"Yes. My master is the beginning and the end of all things."
"Jorden, we must go inside," Rodan told me, his hand on my arm. When I looked around I saw that our companions had already dismounted and servants were leading their horses to the stables.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I was lost in thought for a moment."
I got down from the saddle, and one of the servants approached and took the reins.
"Please, take good care of him," I told him.
"I will." His voice was somehow familiar. I strained to see his features in the uncertain light, but he turned and began to lead the horse away. Following the others, Rodan and I went inside.
Bodies pushed into us from all sides, and strange faces and unknown uniforms surrounded me. Over the shoulders of the men in front of me I could see Rodan, struggling to reach me. My arms were grabbed from behind, and a wave of panic washed over me.
"Stay calm. I don't think they'll harm you."
I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down, as hands began to feel in my pockets.
"He's got it," one of the men said, holding aloft the red stone that the old woman had given me.
"He's found the troth."
"That was quite inevitable," Jared said.
A man made his way toward me, the throng parting in front of him. The uniformed man offered him the troth.
"Thank you," the stranger said, examining the stone. It was the same voice that I had heard outside.
"It won't be any use to you," I told him.
"No, but you will," he answered, and then my captors led me away.
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