Seventy-four

Bracing myself I took his hand and helped him up. This time I knew what to expect, but again the pain and loss that emanated from him nearly overwhelmed me. Breathe, I told myself. Keep your balance. Eventually the feeling subsided, though it did seem to take longer this time. I wondered whether it would continue to get worse, and for how long I would be able to stand it.

Jared seemed to wonder about the same thing, as he let go of my hand and took a step back. "I'm sorry," he said.

"It's alright. You've taught me well."

He shook his head. "That may not be enough." He looked away.

"We'll see." I had wanted to say something reassuring, but I suspected he was right.

I turned to check how the others were doing, and saw Rodan being helped up by the one remaining soldier. Good, I thought. I felt for them, but at the same time the thought of having to touch them again filled me with dread. I had felt the force that was pulling them towards the King, and I didn't know how much longer I would be able to withstand it.

Then I noticed the young servant, standing next to the door through which we had come in, his back pressed against the wall and his eyes wide-open. I took a few paces towards him but I stopped when I saw him recoil.

"Well, this is it, I guess," I said. He didn't respond. I heard a noise behind me and when I looked, I saw the three others making their ways toward the gate, with Jared stopping and looking over his shoulder every few paces to see whether I would follow.

When I looked at the boy's face I was reminded of my son. He's too young, I thought. There's no reason for him to get caught up in this. "Stay here," I told him. "It won't be safe where we're going."

He didn't reply. Safe, I thought. Would any of us be safe if the King wasn't stopped?

"Jorden?" Jared's voice. "We need to leave. Do you still want to come with us?"

I took a deep breath and looked over my shoulder. Jared was outside the gate looking at me, the others had already passed out of sight.

"I'm coming," I told him.

Something moved past me, and I saw the boy hurry on in the direction of the gate. Well, that settles that, I told myself as I turned to follow him.

Outside the gate, we found the others waiting for us.

"Who's he?" Jared asked me.

"One of the servants. He found me a place to hide and get some rest while we were waiting for you to wake up. He kind of insisted on going with us."

Jared raised an eyebrow.

"Why would he want that?"

I shrugged.

"I'm not sure, but from what he said I understand that the King has been here before, and there have beenů disappearances before."

Jared looked thoughtful.

"Interesting."

Rodan turned to me. "How are you doing?"

The question seemed so out of place in the situation that it made me smile. "I'm OK," I said. I realised that was almost true. The fog that had clouded my mind was lifting, and I felt I was beginning to think clearly again.

"Good." He looked at the sky. "We need to get going."

The sun had set, and only a lingering red glow lit the sky in the west. "It's almost dark," I said. "How will we find our way?"

He looked at me. "Don't worry. We will." He turned, and began to walk down the path toward the main road.



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