"Hello father," my son said, as he set down a tray with bread, cheese and a cup of steaming broth on a table near my bed.
I began to cry. I tried to stop myself, and then I cried even harder.
"I can see you," I managed to say. Suddenly, telling him that had been the most important thing in the world.
"Yes father," he said. He pulled up a chair and sat down.
"Did you have breakfast yet?" I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my tunic.
"Yes father." He seemed to think of something. "I took good care of your horse," he told me.
I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. "I'm sure you did." Of course. That was why that I had heard last night had sounded so familiar.
For want of anything better to do I took the knife from the tray, cut off some cheese and started eating. "Are you sure you don't want anything?"
I took a sip of the broth. It was quite good, and yet I found it hard to swallow.
Who are you, I thought. I don't know you anymore.
He had called me 'father'. His voice could have been the voice that I had heard that fateful day in Jarvik's prison. I studied his face. The last time I had seen him he'd been a round-faced toddler and I tried to recall what he had looked like back then, but the image wouldn't come.
"How have you been?" I asked him.
"I've been well, thank you."
There was a knock on the door, and I put on my boots and got up, reluctant to take my eyes off my son. Did I see myself in him, I wondered. Rhiana? Her parents, or mine? The truth was that I didn't know. I'm seeing what I want to see, I told myself. And not seeing what I'm afraid to believe in. I turned towards the door.
"It is time," I heard my son say.
"What?" I turned, suddenly feeling cold, suddenly knowing that he would be gone. He was.
The door opened, and someone came in. I didn't bother to look. My son was gone. Someone took my arm and talked to me. It didn't matter. My son was gone.
"It is time."
"Time to go," Jared said, as he took my arm and began to guide me towards the door.
"My son was here," I said, and when I rubbed my eyes my hand came away wet with tears.
He stopped and looked at me. "Are you alright?"
"It was my son," I said, wondering whether he hadn't heard me. "He was here when you knocked. He's one of the servants here, I think. I saw him last night, as well."
"He was here?" He looked confused.
"Yes, right there. He had brought me breakfast."
I turned, knowing the tray wouldn't be there. It wasn't. The only thing on the table there was the saucer with the molten remains of the candle that I had put there the night before.
No, I thought. Please, no.
"Jorden, please listen to me." He took me by the shoulders and made me look him in the eyes. "You know that he's doing this to you, don't you? We're getting closer, and he knows it. He's trying to break our spirits before we're even there." He let go of my shoulders and turned towards the door. "Come on, let's find Rodan. From now on the three of us are going to stay together, no matter what."
I didn't move. "I can't do it," I said.
He began to laugh. "We've all been there, haven't we? Come on, let's go."
He was right, I thought. On my way out I passed the door that I had noticed earlier. "Wait," I said, and turned the knob. Behind the door was, as I had guessed, a bathroom, with a bucket in the corner and a jug and a wash-basin sitting on a table.
My son was there, standing with his back pressed against the wall, his eyes staring into nothingness.
For a moment I couldn't move. From a great distance I heard Jared come in behind me, muttering a profanity under his breath.
I was facing my son, my fingers ever so lightly on his face, tracing the line that ran from his nose to the corner of his mouth. Finally he seemed to notice me, and our eyes met.
"I'm so sorry, father," he whispered.
"It's alright." I had no idea what he was talking about.
"You don't understand. I am not what I seem."
"It's alright," I told him again. I didn't want to know, and I didn't want to hear. I pulled him towards me and wrapped my arms around him, and after a moment's hesitation I felt his hands lightly touching my back. I closed my eyes, resting my head on his shoulder. I was holding my son, and all was well with the world.
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