I heard someone laugh, and for a moment I thought it was me.
I rubbed my still-moist face. I hadn't been laughing, though the sound was still ringing in my ears.
"I'm sorry, I guess I'm just being silly." I looked up. Rodan was still crouched in front of me. He looked at me, almost hesitating to have his eyes meet mine. "It's just that… he's been there for so long, you know? I didn't even know he was there anymore." He wiped his eyes and looked away. "You do understand, don't you?"
No, I thought. I don't understand a thing.
All went quiet around me, my voice loud in the sudden silence. This can't be true, I thought. He can't be gone. How can he be gone?
Someone shook me by the shoulders and I could hear the wind in the trees again, the scurrying of small animals in the grass beside the path, and something else, something further away. Voices?
"Jorden, you need to stay with us."
Jared. I lifted my hand to touch his scarred face. "Is it true?"
His laugh almost sounded like a sob. "I think it is. I don't know. Right now, I don't know what to believe."
I put my hand on his shoulder and he helped me up, supporting me when I stumbled. "Whoa," he said, chuckling, and I began to laugh as well. There's madness in the air, I thought, and it's going to get us all.
I froze and listened. Voices, getting closer, and something else as well - the low rumble of many men making their way down the path. At my side I could see Jared reaching for his sword, and at my other side I heard Rodan pull his from its scabbard.
And then they were there, rounding the city walls and coming down toward us. The boy was in front, as I had somehow known he would be. On one side of him was another boy who looked like him, though he seemed to be slightly older, and on his other side was an older man who also showed a family resemblance. I tried to remember what he had told me. Had his older brother been taken? His father? His uncle? I couldn't remember, but it didn't matter.
They laughed and talked as they passed us, occasionally slowing down to hug or give each other a playful shove. There were others following them and we watched as they passed, the boy looking straight past us without any sign of recognition. He's let him go, I thought.
"Yes," Badur's voice said in my head, still sounding like the boy's. I wondered whether he would say more, but he didn't.
"Thank you," I said eventually.
He kept quiet, and for a moment I thought he had left. "They're free," he said then. "When he had them they all seemed the same, but now they're all different, and I can see them and feel them all." His voice was changing, becoming deeper and more mature, as if the memory of the boy was fading from his memory.
"Where will you go now?"
"What, are you offering me asylum?" He laughed. I know him, I thought, but I couldn't remember where or when. "Don't worry about me. I've got places to be, things to do…" With that he was gone.
Three men moved away from the rest and began to make their way toward us, and I recognised their uniforms before I could see their faces. They were the soldiers who had set out with us from Jarvik's prison. Suddenly I realised with some regret how little I knew about them.
With Rodan I watched the men meet and talk. At first there seemed to be an awkward silence - then smiles and slaps on the back, and eventually Rodan turned and came toward us while the four soldiers rejoined the last of the body of men making its way toward the main road.
Suddenly I felt cold and black spots appeared in front of my eyes. My son, I thought. I haven't seen my son. Where is he?
On this page Transitional HTML 4.01 and CSS 1 are used. If you're seeing this text you either have CSS switched off in your browser, or you're using a browser that can't handle CSS. If you're using an older browser version, you might want to consider upgrading.