"He is here," my son told me.
Jared and I both knew who he meant and I wanted to ask him how he knew, but I didn't.
"Yes," I said, reluctant to let him go.
I looked at his face, trying to imprint every little detail upon my memory. "Has he been treating you well?"
He smiled, seeming surprised by the question. "I'm fine."
"You've grown," I said, only now noticing that he was taller than I was.
"Children do that."
Jared moved past us and opened the door, and through the opening I could see Rodan and the soldiers. The men who had taken me up the night before were nowhere in sight.
"Are you ready?" Rodan asked when he saw me.
"Does it matter?"
We made our way down the corridor, the sound of our footsteps echoing off the plastered walls and the high ceiling. The rest of the house was quiet.
When we reached the stairs I looked down into the hallway, and there was still no one in sight. I gave Rodan a questioning look and he shrugged. We began to descend, the others following closely behind us.
At the bottom of the stairs we halted, unsure of what to do next. I looked around, noticing several closed doors that probably led off into the rest of the house. I listened for signs of life, but heard nothing.
The door to the courtyard was open, and standing in the opening I squinted against the light, feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun on my face. "Where is everyone?" I heard someone ask behind me. They're gone, I thought. When the king of the forest enters, all the lesser predators scurry out of the way.
He was standing alone, in the middle of the courtyard, and I began to walk towards him. He looked at me, his face without expression. When I was a few feet away from him, I stopped.
He's just a man, I thought. I could put my hands around his throat and squeeze until he's dead. The soldiers have swords, we could do it together. Even without the swords, we could grab him and we could rip him apart with our bare hands. I thought of the war, the death and destruction that had been my life for the past twenty years. Come, I told the rage and the fear that I had kept hidden inside me for all those years, the time has come. Time to wake up and claim what is yours.
"Father." My son's voice.
The King lifted his arm, the hand balled into a fist. When he opened his fist I knew the troth would be there, even before I saw it catching the sunlight.
"Please, don't mock me," I said. No response.
I held out my hand, and he placed the troth on my palm. Without thinking I clenched my fingers over the stone and jerked back my hand. This must be some cruel joke, I told myself. It can't be this easy.
"Jared, what do I do now? What's going on?"
"I don't know," he said. "But I don't like it."
The King stretched out his hand again, his eyes looking past me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my son step forward, and before I could stop him he had moved to stand by the King's side, facing me.
"Don't," I said.
"It's a trade."
I held out the troth. "I want to reconsider."
All went quiet as, for the first time, the King's eyes focussed and looked into mine. "You do?"
His voice is beautiful, I thought. He's my King, and I must serve him and obey him.
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