Chapter twenty-one

In the palm of his hand

 

 

†††††† The doll rested in the palm of his hand, its limbs dangling down on either side. Ciaran touched its face with one finger, tracing the curves of the cheek and brushing over the dead eyes. Then, when he heard someone approaching, he crumpled the doll up and thrust it under his cloak.

†††††† "Have you had anything to eat?" Oliver crouched down beside him, a platter of food in his hand.

†††††† "I can't eat," Ciaran said, "not while Elias is out there."

†††††† Oliver placed the plate on the ground, and sat down. "How will starving yourself save him? Sacrifice that will help him is one thing, but sacrifice for no point..." He shook his head. "Eat, Master Morgan. Be strong for him tomorrow."

†††††† "It's not as if you even care." Ciaran rubbed the inside of his wrist with his thumb. The marks from the ropes were almost healed, because for days the ropes had been nothing more than illusion. "Reynard betrayed him, and you've sided with him. Yes, I know," he said triumphantly. "I'm not as useless as you think I am. I saw you go off with him. And I saw you come back just now, and he still had his sword, and has gone straight back to his cronies over there to plot some more."

†††††† Oliver stared into the fire. "Reynard had his reasons," he said slowly. "It was a hard decision for him to make, and he is suffering because of it. If anything happens to Elias, he will blame himself."

†††††† "So he should." Ciaran whirled on Oliver, his face twisted in hatred. He wished he had his staff, but it had been left behind in the city, yet another thing stolen from him by Reynard. "And so should you. You sent him into that situation. If it wasn't for you and your demands..."

†††††† "Do you think I don't know that?" Oliver burst out. He sighed, and looked away again. "We all played our part in what happened."

†††††† Ciaran clenched his fists. "We all played our part? What's that supposed to mean? Are you saying it's my fault?" Oliver was like Reynard, accusing Ciaran of not really trying to escape. It was all lies. Ciaran had done everything he could, but he had been coerced and imprisoned. He had been cruelly used on all sides, and he was the only true victim here.

†††††† "Does it matter whose fault it was?" Oliver's voice was mild. "Yes, it does. But what is more important is undoing the damage. Whatever is asked of us tomorrow, we must give. Elias's safety is more important than anything."

†††††† "You only say that because you want him to be your king," Ciaran said. "You don't care about him at all."

†††††† Oliver scanned the camp, looking slowly and lingeringly at every last person around the fire, all busy with their heartless eating and their soft conversations. "If they lose their king, it will be the end of everything," he said, looking back at Ciaran. "Five hundred years all come to nothing. The hope that has kept them alive, gone. If the king dies, my people will lose the will to live. Can you even begin to understand what it is like for them tonight?"

†††††† "Selfish reasons," Ciaran declared. "They just care about the king. No-one cares about Elias, that he's alone out there. He always was so scared of being alone."

†††††† Oliver looked at him, and Ciaran saw that his eyes were shining as if he had been crying. "I do care," he whispered, in a voice that cracked.

†††††† "If Elias dies..." Ciaran swallowed hard. "If he... fails to come home, then I'm stuck here. Have you even thought about that? No-one else can send me home. I'd be stuck here in a world that killed my Elias." He had been going to say "my apprentice" but it came out wrong.

†††††† "I know." Oliver touched his arm. "But we would share your grief. You would not be alone."

†††††† He snatched his arm away. "Yes I would." He wouldn't stay here with the Kindred. He would go out into the cold world and search every stone for Elias, and he would not give up on him until he saw his body, and even then he would not rest until he had found everyone who had killed Elias and made them suffer.

†††††† Oliver shifted position, twisting his hands together. "There is something you should know. Long ago," he said, although Ciaran snorted and turned away, and tried not to listen. "A thousand years ago, before the kings had started to decline, it is said that they could change their shape and become like the animals. They could be anything they wished, though each of them had a special form that was close to their heart, so most took only that one. But that power has been long gone. Some thought it only a child's story, never true at all."

†††††† His voice was an irritation." What's that got to do with Elias?" Ciaran snapped.

†††††† "Elias has changed himself into a bird," Oliver said. "It is as a bird that he is coming back to us. But he changed his shape out desperation, and he's clung to it for too long. He doesn't know how to change back. He doesn't even know that he ought to change back. He's forgotten who he is. He's forgotten that he was ever a man."

†††††† Ciaran threw back his head and laughed. "You expect me to believe that?"

†††††† Oliver bit his lips, clenched his hands so tightly that the knuckles were white. "I know it's hard for you to believe something that's outside your comprehension. I know it's hard for you to believe that Elias has powers. But please, Ciaran. You have to."

†††††† "Have to, do I?" Ciaran stood up. "Are you giving me orders?"

†††††† Oliver looked up at him, but his shoulders were still hunched over and he looked very small. "Please," he murmured. "When he comes, he'll need you. You might be his only hope. You're the only person he remembers, and that might be enough to call him back, if you try, if you really believe, if you give everything you've got."

†††††† Ciaran wanted to slap him on his pathetic up-turned face. "I won't be manipulated any more, not by you, not by anyone."

†††††† "He needs you," Oliver pleaded, but he had said that before, when he had tricked Ciaran into promising to stay. He had painted such a rosy picture of Elias rushing home, desperate and needy, sustained only by his certainty that his master would be there waiting for him, that Ciaran had agreed to anything he had asked. It made him feel dirtied and exposed. Oliver knew his deepest wishes, and used them against him, and by doing so, he made even the wishes seem tainted.

†††††† "He needs me, yes," he snapped, "and I will be help him, but in the way I choose, and in no other way."

†††††† Oliver let out a breath, and seemed to shrink in on himself. "Then it will come down to me," he whispered.

†††††† Ciaran spun on his heels and strode away.

††††††

 

†††††† The moon set just before midnight, and the world was utterly dark.

†††††† Ciaran lay on his back in Elias's bed, the wooden doll clutched tightly on one hand. In his dreams he was stooping down from a great height to pick up a boy who lay broken and sobbing by the wayside. "We're going home," he whispered to him, "and everything will be well." But then the boy's adoring eyes turned to wood, and his limbs hung stiff and lifeless from the sides of Ciaran's palm. When Ciaran arrived back in Greenslade, the boy was gone.

†††††† Alone in his tent, Oliver was not asleep. Kneeling on the floor, he reached out in the darkness and touched each one of his possessions, and wondered if it would be for the last time. His master's lute he left until last, gently unfolding the cloth that swaddled it. He plucked its strings, and listened to the sweet fading of the music. He had never played it as it should have been played, and now perhaps he never would. "I've wasted my life," he said aloud, and lay down in his bed, alone.

†††††† Reynard was kneeling beneath a tree, his head bare and without a cloak. He pressed the naked blade of his dagger to the inside of his wrist, then slid it along the skin just hard enough to draw blood. "This is the beginning," he swore. "If the king returns, then tomorrow the oath is completed."

†††††† In their own separate darknesses, few of the Kindred were asleep. Amalric was pacing around the fire, wishing there was something he could do to make Oliver pleased with him, and stop saying the name Elias all the time. Then he stopped, for he had found himself wishing something so terrible that it could not be uttered. Clenching his fists, he hurried to his tent and threw himself face down on the bed, but the thought followed him into his dreams.

†††††† On the fringes of the camp, the Seer lay on his back and tried in vain to see again a vision of his king. He wanted to bring comfort to his son, but instead, and without warning, he saw something that would bring him only grief. But he would not tell him, he swore. He would spare Oliver that much.

†††††† The only person who was smiling was a woman called Adela, who placed both hands on a folded cloak, and smiled into the darkness. She had stayed silent for far too long, but now her time had come. The king was coming back tomorrow, and then Oliver would be free to smile again.

†††††† Only hours away from them, a falcon roosted in the fork of a tree, and went to sleep. In its sleep it saw strange pictures, of pale faces and dark clothes and a man called master. As it slept, blood leaked from its crusted wound. It had rained blood on the land as it had flown. The fact that it was leaving a trail behind had never entered its mind. The fact that there were things in the world that could follow such a trail was something it had never known, not even as a man.

††††††

 

†††††† Ciaran woke up and tasted salt on his lips. Fiercely, he wiped his eyes, erasing all trace of the treacherous tears, and strode out of the door. Today things would be different. Today he would take matters into his own hands.

†††††† Oliver was sitting cross-legged by the fire, playing his lute. Heartless as the rest of them, Ciaran thought, and told him so. "It's no time for music."

†††††† "Yes it is," Oliver murmured. He continued to pluck out a tune, then started to sing quietly, in a language Ciaran could not understand.

†††††† Ciaran listened to it for a while, but the tune made his eyes prick and his throat ache. "I'm going after him," he announced, interrupting a long liquid flow of notes.

†††††† Oliver stopped singing, but the tune carried on. "I can't stop you," he said. "I can only beg you again to believe me, and stay."

†††††† "I can never do that."

†††††† "I know." Oliver gave a sad smile. "And that is why I won't try to stop you. Even if you stay, you'll be no use to him, since you don't believe. You might even harm him." He stopped playing, dampening the strings with his hand. "And that I cannot tolerate."

†††††† It was almost more than he could bear. "You sit here and wait for this bird of yours," he sneered. "At least I'm doing something. When I come back with him, then we'll see who was right, won't we?" Though maybe he would never come back. He would take Elias straight home, and they would be gone forever. This could be the last time he ever saw Oliver, the last time he saw the whole lot of them.

†††††† Oliver started to play again. "I do wish you could take the risk of believing," he said. "I wish you could hazard everything, just for the chance that you could save Elias by doing so."

†††††† "I am risking everything," Ciaran raged. "I'm going to find him, like I tried to all along, but Reynard stopped me."

†††††† "No, you're not." Oliver shook his head. "You're not risking anything at all. Nothing that really matters to you. You never have."

†††††† "How dare you?" Enraged, Ciaran clenched his fist and almost hit the man, but he stopped himself just in time. "You're not worth it."

†††††† Turning his back, he walked away, but just before he could reach the hut, something attacked him, plunging towards him in a blur of movement. Reynard! he thought. An arrow or a sword, illusion, or deadly trick. He shrank back and threw his arm up to protect himself, squinting upwards to see the threat.

†††††† It was a bird of prey, diving out of the sky as if he was a cowering animal to be killed. It had a cruel beak and curved talons, and its breast was stained with the blood of its prey. Ciaran's dodge had saved him from its first attack, but now it was circling round, coming back for more. It was frenzied with bloodlust, desperate to dart under his arms and tear his throat apart. It wanted his heart. Screaming, it came at him again and again, his wings brushing against his face, its claws catching his hair.

†††††† "Go away!" Ciaran brought his arms together like a club and smashed at the bird with all his strength. The bird screamed and landed broken at Ciaran's feet. He raised his foot to stamp on it and crush it dead.

†††††† "No!" Oliver screamed.

†††††† The bird struggled pitifully, its wing broken, and blood smearing the grass. It looked up at Ciaran with its repulsive yellow eyes, and opened its deadly beak, mewling like a baby.

†††††† Something launched itself at Ciaran and he felt himself dragged back bodily, with arms on his shoulders and his hips and his throat. They wrestled him to the ground, and Reynard was there, and others. They pinned him down, but did nothing to hurt him. Ciaran struggled, but they weren't even looking at him.

†††††† "Is he...?" Reynard breathed.

†††††† Oliver knelt down beside the bird and touched it reverently. It cowered away, quivering, but did not bite him. "I'll do what I can," Oliver said. "It might not be enough. If it is not, you are seneschal after me, but my last wish is that you lead them as your king would have wished."

†††††† Ciaran laughed aloud. "Listen to yourself," he scoffed. "You really believe it?"

†††††† Oliver picked up the bird and cradled it to his chest. "I really believe it," he said, "because it is true. There is an enchantment about this bird that is strong enough to see. Those who do not have the eyes to see it just have to believe."

†††††† "Well, I won't believe." Ciaran's hands were itching to strike at the bird again. He hated it, because it was not Elias, and the Kindred kept saying it was. Let them kill themselves trying to turn a bird into a man if they wanted to. It was nothing to do with him. It would keep them busy, and, while they wasted their time, Ciaran would find Elias and save him.

†††††† Oliver stood over him, the bird clutched tenderly to his breast. "You won't even try?" he asked, his voice almost pitying.

†††††† "No." Ciaran struggled against the arms that held him down, and suddenly they were not there at all. Even Reynard let him go, and walked away from him, leaving him lying on the ground like a cast-off rag. "I will not," he said, as he pushed himself to his feet and brushed himself down. Laughing at their idiocy, he went off to cut himself a staff. With a staff in his hand, he could take on the whole world, and win.

††††††

 

†††††† Oliver laid his king gently down on his own bed. It was a beautiful bird, with soft cream feathers on its breast, and wings the same dark gold as Elias's hair, barred with a darker tawny. It was a falcon, built for speed. Because all you wanted to do was get back to us, Oliver thought, stroking its head. Back to your master. Back home.

†††††† "And now you are home," Oliver told him. The bird gave a high whimper. "Can't you take the last step? You're safe now. You can change."

†††††† The bird have a high screech, and its yellow eye gave no sign of recognition.

†††††† "Elias!" Oliver beseeched him. "Hear me! Come back! You can do it! Here." He thrust his hands at the bird. "Take my hands. Use my strength, and come back."

†††††† Nothing happened. He stared into the bird's eyes, then lowered his face and stared at the ground, but still nothing happened. No hands clasped around his own. No rusty voice spoke his name.

†††††† Oliver lowered his hands. It was time, then. He was alone, for he had forbidden the others from entering. If Amalric was here, he would try to stop him. Even Reynard might try to stop him if he was here. This was too important for anyone to prevent him, but it meant... It meant that he would die all alone, in a cold tent that was not even a home.

†††††† Oliver looked around his tent, seeing the things he had only touched in the night. He had so very few possessions. As a youth, he had loved the beauty of art and music, but he had lived most of his adult life without them. His life had stopped on the day his father had made him seneschal. Even his master lute had been hidden away, and he had never played it, and never even touched it until last night. If he lived, he would play it. If he lived, things would be different. If he lived...

†††††† "I have never lived," he breathed. "I didn't let myself." The realistion had been whispering to him for weeks, but only now, on what would probably be the last day of his life, could he say it aloud. "I wasted my life."

†††††† His father had made him seneschal, and Oliver had seen it only as the closing of a door, but it had only closed because he had made it close. He had thrown himself into his duty like a martyr, telling himself all along that he would never take any pleasure in it. He had mourned what he had lost, but he had never looked at what he had gained, and never seen that the things he had thought lost were not lost at all. For ten years, he had dreamed of the beautiful shining life he could have lived, and never let himself see that there could still be beauty in the life he had been given.

†††††† He could have filled his life with music, if he had wanted to. He could have played his master's lute, and found time to court the woman he loved. He could have travelled and seen the world, and still served his people. He could have been happy. And if I live, he whispered, then I will be. I will take my chance, and I will not waste it.

†††††† Blinking back tears, he placed his hand on the bird's wounded side. "But if I die saving you," he said, "then I will not regret it. I regret the life I have led, but not the death that I die."

††††† His enchantment was not strong enough to bring Elias back. His only hope lay in leaving his own body and casting himself out into the fires of enchantment to be a rope for Elias to haul himself back with, but there would be no rope to bring Oliver back. He would be stuck there, far away from his body. He hoped death would come quickly afterwards.

†††††† "But I am doing it willingly," he said. "Anything to save you."

†††††† Elias was the reason things had changed. The king had come back, and Oliver had suddenly found himself fiercely glad that he was seneschal. Elias was a young man, even younger than Oliver had been when his life had fallen apart, and he had been facing a far more dreadful duty. While Oliver could have clung on to all the trappings of his old life, Elias had been given no choice. He had been ripped from his home, and Oliver, who had never been asked to leave his, had found himself wanting nothing more than to help him.

†††††† There was so much in the future that he was longing to explore. He wanted to play music, and he wanted to fall in love. He wanted to get to know his father again, without the shadow of resentment that had haunted them for the last ten years. He wanted to share his house and his heart with a woman who loved him. And he wanted to walk the path of his future with his king at his side, supporting him and helping him and loving him.

†††††† "I want us both to live," he whispered. "I want a second chance."

†††††† But there were no second chances, and the king came first. "Elias," he whispered, and, closing his eyes, he summoned the enchantment.

††††††

 

†††††† "Ciaran Morgan!" someone shrieked. "Come out! Come out and face me!"

†††††† Ciaran held the half-cut staff in one hand, and clenched the dagger tight in the other, but did not turn round.

†††††† "I see you, Ciaran Morgan," the man bellowed. Ciaran readied himself for a fight, but nothing could have prepared himself for the man's mindless ferocity. Heedless of his weapons, the man threw himself at Ciaran, and the point of Ciaran's dagger scored along his side, under his arm. "You killed my brother!" the man screamed into his ear, smashing him in the jaw with his fist. "I'm going to kill you!"

†††††† Ciaran swung his staff and lifted the man bodily, the middle of the branch catching him full in the stomach. Bleeding from the cut on his side, the man sprawled backwards, but he immediately tried to spring up again. Ciaran recognised him as Amalric.

†††††† "I didn't kill your brother," Ciaran sneered, jabbing the end of his staff into the man's chest to keep him down. "I don't even know who your brother is."

†††††† "Oliver," Amalric sobbed. "You killed Oliver."

†††††† For a moment Ciaran's certainty faltered. Oliver dead? But how could it be his fault? "I'm sorry if Oliver is dead," he said, "but it was nothing to do with me."

†††††† "Come with us, Ciaran Morgan," Reynard said, "and then say that again." He had arrived during the fight, and his men had the two of them surrounded. "Come with us, and know what you have done."

†††††† "I didn't do anything," Ciaran protested, as they grabbed his arms and pinned them behind him. He would have fought, but Reynard punched him on the jaw, just where Amalric had hit him, and the pain briefly blinded him.

†††††† They led him through the camp towards Oliver's tent, then pushed him through the opening. "See?" they said.

†††††† Oliver was slumped at his feet, his body twisted awkwardly. His eyes were closed, and his skin was as white as paper, but there was no blood, and no sign of any wound. "You can't say that I did this," Ciaran protested.

†††††† "Look," Reynard said, relentless in his ear. "Look on the bed."

†††††† A man was lying on the bed, facing the wall. His legs were bent, and his arms were huddled up to his chest. He was naked and filthy, his hair matted and dark, and mud deeply ingrained in his skin. Even through the mud, Ciaran could see the hideous wound on his side, where blood seeped out through rotten flesh.

†††††† "Do you know him yet?" Reynard asked. "Or are you blind even now?"

†††††† Ciaran teetered forward. "Elias," he breathed. His legs gave way, just as the men loosened their hold on him, and he fell to his knees. He crawled over Oliver's body, kneeling on his hands, struggling to push him away. "Is it Elias?"

†††††† He tugged at the naked shoulder, and turned the body onto its back, and there was Elias, his eyes wide open and staring. His wrists were deeply marked with crusted wounds, and his left arm was broken. Innumerable lacerations and bruises covered his chest and his back, and he was filthy, but he was here, he was back. "Elias." Ciaran touched his brow, and gently traced the curve of his cheek. "It's me, Elias. Can you hear me?"

††††† "Oliver sacrificed himself to bring him back," Reynard said. "He did so, because you would not."

†††††† "You killed him!" Amalric screamed. "Both of you!" He tugged at Oliver's body, trying to drag him free from where Ciaran was kneeling. "Oliver," he sobbed. "I'll take care of you."

†††††† Ciaran brushed his fingers over Elias's lips, then felt the pulse at his throat. It was there, faint and fluttering but alive.

†††††† "He isn't dead," Reynard said, "but he is lost. In time, his body will die."

†††††† Ciaran turned and stared at him. "Elias?" he managed to croak at last.

†††††† Reynard shook his head. "Oliver. But maybe Elias, too. That rests with you now. Make Oliver's sacrifice mean something. Finish what he has started."

†††††† Ciaran turned back to Elias. "I'm here, Elias. I've got you now." But Elias just stared at the ceiling, and said nothing, and there was not even the faintest flicker of life in his mind when Ciaran reached for him, not even the faintest flicker at all.

†††††† Elias was gone.

††††††

 

†††††† The first thing Ciaran did was to heal Elias's wounds. The cuts on his body were easy, though it sickened him a little to touch them, as if they were infected with a dark story that did not want to be told. He wondered how Elias had come by them, and why he had not healed them himself. When they were healed and gone, he felt better, as if the story was now over and would never need to be heard. So that much was good.

†††††† The unhealed wounds on his wrists were harder. When Ciaran touched them, he saw the faded abrasions on his own wrists, and he remembered that he too had been bound, but only by illusion. Elias's bonds had been real, and made of something far more cruel than rope. If Ciaran had been able to escape, Elias would not have suffered so. "But it wasn't my fault," he said, as he gently eased open the crusted scabs so he could clean behind them, then poured away the pink water, and did it all over again with a fresh bowl. Sealing the wounds with Shadow, he wrapped them in white cloth, then kissed the back of Elias's hand in an apology for binding him again. They would take a while to heal properly, but he had started them on the way.

†††††† The wound on his side was the most serious of all. Elias had been run through with a sword, and when Ciaran saw it he could have screamed aloud in fury, for Reynard had watched it happen, and had lied about it afterwards. It had missed his internal organs, but it had been untended for too long, and was infected, a terrible wound that could still kill him.

†††††† Ciaran's head slumped forward as he knelt with his hands on either side of the wound, and tried to find the strength to heal it. Someone asked if they could come in, but he did not reply. Then they came in anyway, and it was an old man with a bowl of steaming water. The steam smelled of herbs, and the scent seemed to hit Ciaran between the eyes and make him feel stronger. "Let me help," the old man said.

†††††† Ciaran snarled at him, and hunched protectively over Elias. "I can do it."

†††††† "Can you?" The old man set the bowl down on the table. "Keep the herbs. They're good against infection. And these ones here you might need yourself." He placed a sprig of grey leaves beside the bowl. "They are useful when you've reached the limits of your strength, but still need to go on. I wish Oliver had asked me for them."

†††††† When the old man had left, Ciaran stroked Elias's face. "He's gone," he whispered. "Is that why you're hiding? Because you're afraid? But it's just you and me. I'll keep you safe."

†††††† Reaching for the warm water, he bathed Elias's wound, easing out all the dirt, gently dabbing at the swollen flesh. It must have hurt terribly, but Elias made no sound. "Or is it because you don't want to wake up in a body that hurts?" Ciaran asked him. "I'm healing it for you. Soon it'll be as good as new, and then you can wake up."

†††††† His Garden formed around him, and he walked into it, and knelt down in the middle of the meadow that lay beneath the grey mountain. He knelt there for a very long time, as he used the Shadow to encourage the wound to close.

†††††† When he stepped out of his Garden, it was dark outside. He slumped forward and slept a little. It was light again when he woke up again and surveyed the job that he had done. Elias was healing. The only thing Ciaran could not touch was the broken arm. As soon as he touched that with the Shadow, he was hurled out of his Garden and the door slammed in his face. All he could do was set the bone by hand, and bind it gently with cloth.

†††††† It was daylight, and outside it was another day. Was it the second, he wondered, or the third? He was thirsty and hungry and thought he should leave the hut, but how could he leave Elias all alone?

†††††† He leant against the wall, his legs spread out in front of him, his hands resting limply on his thighs. "I healed him," he said. He closed his eyes, and found that he wanted to weep. "I healed him." It should have felt like a triumph, but why did he feel so bleak inside?

††††††

 

†††††† The sun was high in the sky, and the air was crisp. The camp felt like a graveyard inhabited by walking ghosts. Everyone Ciaran saw was pale and pinched, and some of them looked hungrily at him, and others just turned away.

†††††† A man fell into step with him. "Any change?" Only when he spoke did Ciaran recognise him as Reynard. He had cut his hair in the city, but now he had shorn it brutally until barely half an inch remained. He had a blood-stained bandage at his wrist, and his face was as grey and cold as stone.

†††††† Ciaran shook his head, but, "I've healed his wounds," he said.

†††††† "But he hasn't said anything?" Reynard asked. "He hasn't shown any sign of knowing you?"

†††††† Ciaran clenched his fist. "He will."

†††††† They walked a little further, Reynard still following him. "You haven't asked about Oliver," Reynard said at last.

†††††† Ciaran tried to say the words he ought to be saying, but could not.

†††††† "He's fading." Reynard turned away. "It's been two days now. He can't hold on for long like this."

†††††† Two days? So he had his answer. How had two days passed? Had he been that long lost in the Shadow, healing Elias? Or had he lost it all in sleep, because, in his dreams, Elias was alive and smiling at him?

†††††† "He sacrificed himself for Elias, and you don't even care," Reynard burst out. "He offered his life." His voice fell to a whisper, and he said something that Ciaran thought he heard, but was not sure.

†††††† "What did you say?" Ciaran asked, faintly. He wanted to feel angry, but he couldn't seem to remember how. He wanted to scream at Reynard and fight him and hurt him, because anything had to be better than this waiting. But his anger had gone, and it seemed that Reynard's had, too, for Reynard just turned and walked slowly away.

†††††† "It should have been you," Reynard said, casting the words behind him as he left. "That's what I said."

†††††† But Ciaran knew that was not what he had said at all. It should have been me. That was what Reynard had whispered before he had left. That was what he believed.

††††††

 

†††††† Ciaran sat on Elias's bed, and pulled the boy's head into his lap. "Do you think it should have been me?" he asked. "Is that why you won't come back? Because you shouldn't think that, you know. What else could I have done?"

†††††† It was dark outside again, and the room was lit by a pair of candles on the chest beside the bed. The yellow light made Elias look almost healthy. Ciaran had changed his bandages a short time before, and found the wounds to be healing nicely. "You'll be up and about in no time," he had told his apprentice, as he had softly bound them up again, and pulled a long loose tunic over his head. Then he had combed Elias's hair to get the worst of the tangles out, before climbing into bed and settling the boy in his lap.

†††††† "I couldn't believe what they were telling me, you know that," he said. "Oliver said you were a bird, but how could I believe that?"

†††††† He sighed and stared into the candle flame. Without looking away, he started to speak. "You don't understand what it was like, Elias. You' d never heard of the Brothers until you were nine, but I'd lived with them for as long as I could remember. I grew up thinking there was nothing more mighty in the world than to be a Brother. I have built my life on firm foundations, and..."

†††††† He closed his eyes, pulled Elias closer, and started to speak again. "I could accept you having visions, because they say that some Brothers in the past could see the future. I could even accept illusion, for it's some trickery of the mind, and trickery is no rival for the pure power that is the Shadow. But to change your shape... If I accepted that, then I would have to rethink everything I have ever known to be true. You can't make me do that, Elias. You can't be that cruel."

†††††† For a moment he thought Elias's eyelids moved, but it was only the candle flame flickering in the draught.

†††††† "But it was only a trick, wasn't it, Elias?" Ciaran demanded, shaking his apprentice gently by the shoulders. "You came back during the night, and they didn't tell me. They hid you in Oliver's tent, then threw that bird at me, so I would attack it. It wasn't you. They just wanted to trick me, rather than admit that they were wrong." He touched Elias's broken arm. "They wanted to make me think that I had done this, that I had struck you down when all you wanted was for me to take care of you. They wanted to make me blame myself. They wanted to break me."

†††††† Elias said nothing. The candle guttered, and someone spoke outside in the darkness, but Elias did not move.

†††††† "Well, I will not play their game," Ciaran vowed. He pulled Elias fully into his arms and hugged him. "I will not be broken."

††††††

 

†††††† In the morning, Ciaran tugged at Elias's shoulders and raised him into a sitting position. He pulled at his hand. "Come on, Elias. Up you get." Perhaps if he pretended everything was normal, Elias would wake up and come back to him.

†††††† And Elias did. Obedient to the pull on his hand, Elias stood up. He staggered a little, and Ciaran had to prop him up, but he stayed on his own two feet.

†††††† Ciaran beamed at him. "Now walk, Elias," he said, and Elias did.

†††††† He led him by the hand, out of the hut, then away into the woods before anyone could see them. It was early morning, cold and frosty, and Elias's flesh stood up in goose pimples. Ciaran propped him up against a tree. "Stay there." He wanted to go back to get some more clothes, but could not bring himself to do so, terrified that Elias would be gone when he came back. Instead he took off his own cloak and wrapped it around the boy, belting it to keep the hem from trailing on the ground and tripping him up.

†††††† The boy had no shoes on, but didn't seem to mind. The forest floor was covered with fallen leaves, each one rotting to a soft pulp. It would be as soft as a carpet, and would not hurt him.

†††††† "I won't leave you," Ciaran told him, and he led him by the hand. "Shall we go and give you a wash. That would be nice, wouldn't it?"

†††††† They walked hand in hand to the stream, but Elias said nothing at all, not once. When Ciaran took his face in both hands and dragged it round, then he seemed to stare at Ciaran, but his eyes hardly blinked. If Ciaran let go of his hand, Elias kept on walking, moving as if the ground was level and free of obstacles. Once, Ciaran had to cry out and haul him back from walking into a bramble bush. Another time he had to pluck him back from the edge of a steep drop.

†††††† "It's because you've been hurt," Ciaran reassured him. "You've only just woken up. You were lost for a very long time. It's bound to take a while for you to remember things. But I'll be here for you all the time. I'll never leave you."

†††††† He snatched hold of Elias's hand, and did not let it go, not until they reached the stream, and not even then.

†††††† "Can you undress yourself?" he asked, but Elias stood there, and showed no sign of hearing him. "Do you want me to do it for you? Is that it?" He unfastened the belt and removed the cloak, then tugged the tunic over Elias's head, until the boy was standing there completely naked. "Don't be shy," he whispered. "I won't look."

†††††† Gently he led Elias down the slope and into the water. "Kneel down, Elias." He pushed down on Elias's shoulders until Elias's knees gave way, then supported him at the elbow so his fall was controlled.

†††††† The water came up to Elias's ribs, lapping around the edge of the bandage. Ciaran undid the knots, and took the bandage off, then removed the bindings at the boy's wrists. The pure water removed some crusted blood, but it did not turn pink, and Ciaran smiled to see it, for it showed that the wounds were truly healing.

†††††† "You're all covered with dirt, Elias," he told him. "What have you been doing to yourself?" He crumpled up one of the bandages and used it to scrub at Elias's back, until the boy's skin was pink and healthy and clean. When he had finished, he knelt down in the water and pulled Elias back in his arms, so he was floating in the water, completely submerged except for his face. "Your hair, too," he said. "Goodness knows how you got it so dirty." As he rubbed it, the water turned dark and cloudy. Some blood came away too from a matted spot behind his ear, but only a little.

†††††† "There," Ciaran said, raising Elias up. "You'll feel better now, you just see if you don't." The boy's hair was dark, but it would dry its usual honey colour. Ciaran would comb it while it was still wet, so Elias would look just as he did when he was healthy, if not better.

††††† He tugged at the boy's hand to make him stand up, then led him from the stream. He shivered. "You're better off than me, Elias. At least your clothes are dry." He rubbed Elias's body with his cloak, then pulled the tunic over his head. He wrung the water out of the ends of Elias's hair, and wrapped him up in the cloak. "All done," he said. "See how I take care of you."

†††††† Elias said nothing.

†††††† "You aren't really here, are you?" Ciaran said very quietly. "Nothing's changed, has it? You're still gone."

†††††† Elias stared straight ahead. If Ciaran tugged at his hand, he would walk in the direction he was pulled, but that was all. Just as his body remembered how to breathe and keep his heart beating, it remembered how to walk. Elias was still not there.

†††††† "Come back to me!" Ciaran screamed. "How can you do this to me?"

†††††† Elias blinked, and Ciaran shoved him, one hand on each shoulder, so he fell over hard. He made no move to catch himself, but just lay on his back, his arms tangled up in the cloak and his eyes blank.

†††††† "It's all your fault," Ciaran spat. "You. Right from the start. You chose to let this happen, just as you're choosing to do this. You could come back if you wanted you, you with your oh so mighty power, so much stronger than mine, as everyone keeps on telling me." He sucked in a breath and carried on, pacing around Elias's fallen body. "You let them arrest you. I would have saved you, but you pushed me away. You didn't give me a choice. You managed to speak to Reynard, giving him your little orders, but you didn't speak to me. You didn't even say goodbye."

†††††† He threw himself to his knees and hauled Elias up by the throat of his tunic, and slapped him across the cheek. "It was your fault." Flecks of spittle struck Elias in the face. "What did you tell Reynard to do, Elias? Did you know that he would use it as an excuse to tie me up? He hurt me. I could have died, Elias, and do you even care?"

†††††† A bird screamed in the trees, and Ciaran cast Elias away. "And it started long before that," he said, rocking back on his heels. "You couldn't wait to push me away. There you were, you and Oliver, with your heads together, as soon as we arrived. You couldn't wait to explore your new powers, could you? You couldn't wait to use them against me. You tied me up, Elias! And then you kept doing things, finding new powers, saying things. As soon as I thought I'd caught you up, there you were racing ahead again. You made decisions with Oliver and Reynard without consulting me. You went away. You left me."

†††††† He stood up, and pressed his fist against his mouth, but not even that could stop the flow of words. "Sometimes I think you did it only to hurt me. You found out exactly what things I couldn't bear, and then you did them. And now you've gone from me. You did that just to hurt me, too, didn't you?" His voice cracked, and his hand fell to his side. "And now you've gone."

†††††† The wind stirred the edge of Elias's cloak, and his hair moved on his brow. The pulse at his throat fluttered, but still he did not speak.

†††††† Ciaran knelt beside him and touched his cheek. "I'm sorry I hit you," he whispered. He was shivering badly, and dizzy with lack of food. "Come on," he said, wearily. "Let's get you back to the camp."

††††††

 

†††††† One evening, he peeped round the edge of the door and looked at the firelight. It looked warm and good, and the smell of food made him feel faint with hunger. "Come on, Elias," he said, dragging Elias to his feet with the hand he would never release again. Perhaps being with people would bring Elias back to himself.

†††††† They walked out of the hut, and headed for the fire. People started whispering and pointing. Someone leapt over the flames and ran towards him.

†††††† "No!" It was Reynard, and he shoved Ciaran back physically with a hand in the middle of his chest. Ciaran lost his grip on Elias, and felt the boy's hand torn out of his.

†††††† "How dare you?" Ciaran demanded.

†††††† "No," Reynard said. "How dare you? I didn't think even you could sink this low."

†††††† Ciaran blinked. "What have I done?"

†††††† "To parade him out here like that." Reynard's face twisted in a sneer of disgust. "To let them see him. To let him be seen." He shoved Ciaran again. "It's repulsive to us to see him like that. What are you thinking?"

†††††† Elias had walked a few more steps, then come to a halt. He stood there staring straight ahead. His posture suggested bewilderment, but his face was blank. He gave no sign of even noticing that Ciaran's hand had been torn from his own.

†††††† "It's how you've always wanted him, isn't it?" Reynard said. "Your own little obedient apprentice, who only moves when you tell him to move, and never answers back. And, now you've got your wish, you want us all to see it. You want everyone to see how their king is reduced to a pale shadow who walks in his great master's footsteps."

†††††† "I will not even reply to that." Ciaran hurried to Elias's side, and put his arm around his shoulder, telling him that he was safe.

†††††† "You never really tried to escape me," Reynard persisted relentlessly, "and you've never really tried to bring him back."

†††††† "I've tried!" Ciaran retorted.

†††††† Reynard raised one eyebrow. "Have you?" He spat onto the ground. "You disgust me, Ciaran Morgan."

†††††† Ciaran guided Elias back to the hut. "We'll ignore him, shan't we?" he crooned. "Don't listen to him. We don't need people like him, do we? All you need is me."

††††††

 

†††††† "It's not true," he told himself, much later. "It isn't."

†††††† Elias's eyes were closed, and he did not respond when Ciaran pulled at his hand. Ciaran hoped it meant that he was asleep. The alternative was that he was growing weaker, and there was a limit to how long a body could live without a mind to animate it.

†††††† Ciaran sat in the light of the single candle, and picked up the wooden doll he had cast down on the table so many days before. Its eyes stared ahead, blank and dead, and its limbs had never been alive. Ciaran could twist its head up and down, just so, and it looked as if it was nodding. He could raise its wooden hand and its whole arm would move along with it, but when he dropped it, it all fell down limp again.

†††††† He reached over to the bed and lifted Elias's hand, and dropped it again. He touched the boy's broken arm, but Elias did not even groan. He was as dead as the wooden doll. He would never disobey Ciaran again. He would never tie him up, or stand there in the midst of a glorious white flame, and walk away without permission. He would never utter promises that bound him to a strange land, or wield illusion, or leave Ciaran's side.

†††††† "It's how you've always wanted him," Reynard had said.

†††††† Ciaran clapped his hand to his ears at the memory. "I didn't," he said. "Did I?"

†††††† He remembered finding Elias in the gutter, and surprising himself by taking him as his apprentice. The boy had always adored his saviour so, and been terrified that he would be abandoned again, and that had been good. A child so needy would never disobey. A child so needy would never leave him. He would cling to his master, and his master could shape his every thought, like a craftsman carving a doll out of wood.

†††††† He remembered how the boy had trailed him around Greenslade, and how he had sometimes included him, and sometimes not, but had always known that he would be there. He remembered how wretched he had felt when Elias had first started devoting his time to the sword, and how alone he had felt when they had arrived in this world. He remembered raging with anger, but deep down, all along, it had always been misery.

†††††† "But it isn't true," he said, touching Elias's hand.

†††††† He remembered how Elias had stood up to Reynard, not once but several times, and he knew now that he had been proud of him, though he had never told him. He remembered how brave the boy had been, sacrificing himself for others, just as Finbar had done in the stories. He remembered how gracious and modest he had been when the Kindred had honoured him, and how charming he had been to the woman in the market. He remembered how handsome he had looked in the clothes he had worn in the city, when he had looked like a man, and not like a boy at all. He remembered how much he liked Elias's smile, but remembered, too, how often that smile had died because of something he, Ciaran, had said.

†††††† How could anyone prefer a wooden doll? How could anyone want a lifeless shell, that just stared straight ahead, and said nothing?

†††††† With a wordless cry, Ciaran stood up and ran from the hut. He did not stop until he reached the fire, and there he cast the doll into the middle of the flames with all his strength. The fire surged up and took it, eating up its dead eyes, consuming it until it was ashes.

†††††† Slowly, Ciaran turned and walked away, back to the hut, where Elias lay very still and did not awaken. His hands felt very empty. He wished he hadn't burnt it.

††††††

 

†††††† Some time in the middle of the night, he woke from a dream in which memories pressed around him and taunted him. "I didn't say sorry," he gasped aloud. "Is that why you won't come back? Because I never said sorry?"

†††††† Elias's eyes were open now, and Ciaran tugged his face to one side so he seemed to be looking at his master. He blinked, but the eyelids seemed sluggish, and his breathing was so faint that Ciaran had to touch his neck with trembling hands to make sure it was there at all.

†††††† He took hold of Elias's hand. "I'm sorry, Elias. I'm sorry I hit you. Not just the other day, by the stream, but that day on the road just before you got sick. I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was coming with you to the city. I'm sorry I stirred up Reynard's son so he attacked you, and then you blamed yourself for his death, and I never told you that it was all my fault. I'm sorry I never told you that you'd saved yourself when you were sick. I'm sorry I told you that I hated you, and those were the last words you heard from me. I'm sorry I couldn't save you."

†††††† He pressed his face into Elias's chest, and longed for the feel of hands closing gently on the back of his head, keeping him there. "I'm sorry," he whispered into Elias's clothes. "I'm sorry for all the times I've ignored you, and all the times I've hurt you. I'm sorry for being jealous of you. I'm sorry for keeping secrets from you. I'm sorry for everything."

†††††† Reaching blindly, he grabbed Elias's hand, and pressed it against the back of his neck, just where Elias might hold him if he was awake. He was crying now, the tears salty against his lips when he moved his face against Elias's tunic.

†††††† "I'm sorry I broke your arm, Elias. I'm sorry I couldn't believe. I'm sorry Oliver had to be the one who died to save you, when I wouldn't even try. Because it's true, isn't it?" He slumped sideways and fell to the ground, his knees pulled up to his chest. "It was you," he whispered. "You were the bird. It wasn't a trick. It was you all along, and I knew the truth from the moment I first saw you on Oliver's bed. I knew, but I couldn't face it."

†††††† Elias's chest rose and fell, but he did not say a word.

†††††† "I'm not very good at facing the truth," Ciaran whispered.

†††††† Nothing. The candle flame flickered, but Elias said nothing. He didn't open his eyes, and he didn't say, "Itís all right, master. I forgive you," and smile, and tell Ciaran it could all be forgotten.

†††††† "Am I?" Ciaran screamed. He grabbed Elias by the shoulders and shook him, jolting his head forward and back. "Speak to me, Elias!" But then, sobbing, he had to apologise for that, too, and still Elias did not speak.

††††††

 

†††††† "It's almost full moon," Ciaran said, one night. "You know what that means, Elias. We've been here for a month."

†††††† A month. Sometimes it seemed like a lifetime. Elias had changed so much, grown away from him, and now was lost to him. And, as for Ciaran, sometimes he thought he was falling apart, losing a little bit more of his sanity with every hour that Elias remained gone.

†††††† Everyone else was in bed, and Ciaran had dared creep out of the hut. He was no longer leading Elias by the hand. When he had tried, Elias had slumped against him, and his legs had folded. His breathing was fainter than ever, and his pulse was growing slower every day. Soon, Ciaran thought, he would slip away and die without even a murmur, so gradually that Ciaran might talk to him as if he was alive for hours after his death.

†††††† "It's winter now," Ciaran told him. "I don't know if you can see anything through those eyes of yours, but the trees have lost nearly all their leaves. Full moon's the day after tomorrow. I heard Reynard say that's the first day of winter. They want to have some sort of festival. A festival, Elias." He hugged the boy's cold body closer. "A festival, when their king is dying. Can you imagine that?"

†††††† A thin cloud passed slowly across the moon, its grey smears covering the silver, but not obscuring it completely. An owl hooted in the treetops, and passed overhead on silent wings.

†††††† "What else can I do, Elias?" he asked. "I've healed your body. I've talked to you. I've apologised." He closed his eyes, then opened them again, suddenly terrified that Elias would fade away if he looked away even for a second. "What else do I need to do?"

†††††† "Perhaps it isn't even you," Reynard said.

†††††† Ciaran whirled round. How much had the man heard?

†††††† "Perhaps you had your chance, and lost it," Reynard said, folding his arms. His cheeks looked sunken, but maybe that was just an effect of the moonlight. "Oliver asked you to do it, but you refused. Maybe the two of you together could have saved him, but that will never happen now. Perhaps it's too late now, because of you."

†††††† "It isn't too late," Ciaran shouted. "I can still save him."

†††††† "Find a way, then, and quickly." Reynard stepped over Elias's legs, and stalked away.

†††††† Perhaps it isn't even you, Ciaran heard again, as the man's shape disappeared into the night.

†††††† Oliver had said much the same to him, when Elias had been dying of fever. Elias had only been saved when Ciaran had accepted that he lacked the strength to save him. But you will never do it, the voice had taunted him, in Elias's vision. You will never admit that there is something you cannot do. And that voice was true, too, for Ciaran had never told Elias afterwards. He had let the boy believe that his master had saved him, and Elias had nearly died because of it.

†††††† He looked at his wrists, where the rope marks were now entirely gone. Reynard had kept him prisoner, and how he had raged, shouting that he could save Elias if only Reynard let him go free. "But you won't be able to," Reynard had told him again and again. "If you try, you fail. And you hate failure, don't you? At least way you have me to blame. At least this way you can tell yourself that you would have succeeded, if only I'd let you try."

†††††† Tears fell on Elias's face. "He's right," Ciaran whispered. "I didn't try hard enough. I only struggled when there was no chance of success. I hardly tried to use the Shadow. I didn't shout out when I should have. I could have escaped a hundred times and tried to come for you, but I didn't."

†††††† Elias stared straight upwards. In the silver moonlight, his eyes were grey, like a dead man's.

†††††† "And I turned my back on you when you were a bird," Ciaran told him. "And I haven't really tried to bring you back. I haven't really tried to reach you, so you know how to find your own way back. I haven't done anything at all."

†††††† He hauled Elias up in his arms, and pressed his face into his throat. "And that makes me useless," he whispered. "A failure at everything I do. And I don't know how to live with that."

††††††

 

†††††† He felt like a stone wall, being dismantled brick by brick.

†††††† Maybe that was the problem, he thought, just before morning. He was falling too far. He was not the master Elias remembered. Elias was lost, just as he had been lost as a child in the streets of Conisborough. It had not been the snivelling wreck of a man who had plucked him out of the gutter, but a strong master, in control of his feelings.

†††††† I've allowed myself to feel too much, Ciaran told himself. He wiped his eyes clear of tears, and washed his heart clean of emotion. He would be stronger that way. He would be the strong Brother, standing tall at the centre of a lattice of Shadow.

†††††† A child terrified of monsters didn't want a master who was scared of them himself, but a master who was fearless and could banish them. "I will be that master for you, Elias," he said. He spread his arms. "See?" Perhaps, to Elias, Ciaran's guilt and anger and weeping seemed like monsters. He would be so scared, wondering where his master had gone. He would only creep out from beneath the blankets when he thought his master was strong enough to protect him.

†††††† And this is the only way, Ciaran whispered, that I can survive this without going insane.

†††††† He built a thick membrane between himself and the world, and nothing could touch him. Safe behind it, he walked out into the camp, for he wasn't afraid to leave Elias, oh no, and he wasn't scared to meet the eyes of the Kindred.

†††††† Reynard was pacing restlessly up and down the camp. How lonely he looks, Ciaran thought. How sad. I suppose he brought it on himself. He never saw Amalric. Once, he heard someone say that Oliver was not expected to last the day. He saw a woman crying, and children clinging to their mothers.

†††††† He stopped by the fire, but the flames could not warm him. They were burning in another world, behind the membrane. A woman tapped him on the shoulder, and he was slow to feel it. "Yes?" He turned around. She begged him to help the king come back, so he in turn could bring Oliver back. "You care more about Oliver than Elias, don't you?" he asked her, and she shook her head and said they cared for both of them, but Oliver was very dear to them, and had done a wonderful thing.

†††††† So did Elias, he wanted to say. Elias did an amazing thing. He saved a girl from the pain of death, even at the cost of his own life. What can be more amazing than that? Or selfish, he added, in another voice. Selfish to leave me all alone.

†††††† But then the membrane was weakening, and he hurried back to the hut, where Elias was hardly breathing. "See," he said, folding his hands in his lap. "Come back to me, and this is how I will be like. I'm strong. It's safe to come out from wherever you're hiding."

†††††† He unfolded his hands, and touched Elias's neck. His pulse was hardly there. "Dying," he said, aloud. "You're dying, aren't you?" Not expected to last the day. That's what they had said about Oliver. And Elias had been lost for longer than Oliver, trapped in the form of a bird, not knowing who he was.

†††††† The membrane shattered. "Don't die, Elias," he pleaded. "Please don't die." He slumped to the ground.

††††††

 

†††††† And there, hours later, he raised his head. "I've tried everything," he wailed, "and still you won't come back."

†††††† So give up, a voice said, and he knew it was part of himself. Let him die. You've done everything you can, and he still won't come back. It's someone else's fault. Does it really matter if he dies?

†††††† His head snapped up. "Of course it does."

†††††† Why? it hissed. To make him live, you might have to give something you will never be able to take back.

†††††† "I don't want him to die." He clung to Elias's hand.

†††††† Why? it asked.

†††††† "Because..." He closed his eyes. Rain fell on the roof of the hut, but there was no other sound, not even the sound of Elias breathing. "Because I love him," he whispered. Something shattered deep inside him. "Because I need him," he sobbed.

†††††† For years, he had known one fundamental truth, and that was that he needed nobody. He was strong, and he stood alone. The people of Greenslade needed him, and that was good. Elias needed him, and that, too, was good, because someone who needed him would never betray him. And so, when Elias had wielded enchantment and stood up to Reynard, Ciaran had disliked it, because someone so strong would soon no longer need him. When Elias had pushed him away in the city, Ciaran had hated it, because it had shown him that Elias could stand on his own.

†††††† "I wanted him to need me," he admitted, "because I needed him. I needed him to look up to me. I needed him to love me, and I refused to give anything in return."

†††††† Elias's eyes had long since closed, and not reopened again. Ciaran clasped his face in his hands. "I need you," he moaned. "I want you to live. I don't want to carry on in a world that hasn't got you in it. I want to see you smile. I want to hear your voice. I'm miserable without you. I'm nothing unless you're by my side."

†††††† Inside, he was sobbing, hating the words he was uttering. I've let it happen again, he wailed, and I swore I never would.

†††††† He dragged Elias into his arms and wept into his hair, a broken man. "Come back, Elias," he pleaded. "I need you."

†††††† And even that wasn't enough. He reached for the link in their mind, and, as he did so, he realised that he had never done it before, never reached for him with all his heart and mind, never given anything of himself with any honesty. He had opened up a tiny conduit when it could have been a shining river.

†††††† Elias, he called, in his mind. Please come back to me.

†††††† And he saw things, and they were enough to make him scream. He saw the world far beneath him, spread out and golden, and he felt the pain of a festering wound in his side. He saw a hand swing towards him and smash him to the ground, and his heart crumbled and he wanted to die. He saw a man in black clothes, and heard him close the prison door behind him, and speak his name in a voice like honey, like blood.

†††††† But they all flowed around him like water, like a river in flood. He waded through them, and there on the other side he found a tiny door, and behind the door he found a small silent room of safety. There was nothing bad in here. It was just big enough for him to fit, if he curled himself up very tight, and he was good at that, at making himself small as a mouse, at hiding.

†††††† Strange things were happening outside the room, though. Someone called out "Elias," and he thought that was his name. Something unfolded and refolded again, and something flared deep inside him, as if a part of him was responding to that call, even if he didn't know how. After that his body felt different, but the room remained. After a very long time, when he thought the bad things outside were further away, he thought he might try to peep out again, but the door had gone. There was no way out, and he didn't think he minded very much, really.

†††††† But now a new voice was calling to him. It's me, Ciaran thought, and he realised that he was hearing the voice both as the one who called, and the one who heard it. He was both Ciaran and Elias, and he was seeing as both of them.

†††††† "Elias," he called, and pulled back just a little, clawing himself back into his own mind. "Please. You have to come out. You have to come back. I order you," he shouted. "I command you. Please," he sobbed. "Please, I want you to. I need you to. I can't bear it here without you."

†††††† Master, he heard, from very far away, as tremulous as someone new born. Ciaran. Who's hurting my master?

†††††† "You are," Ciaran sobbed. "Please come back. Please end this." Please, so I can be whole again. Please, or I'll lose my mind.

†††††† "There isn't a door" Ciaran could almost hear the scratching as Elias struggled to get out. "I don't know how to do it."

†††††† "I don't know how to get you out," Ciaran admitted. "I don't know how, either. I don't know anything. I'm scared."

†††††† "Don't be afraid, master. Please don't be afraid." Elias sounded close to tears. "I'm coming. Please don't cry."

††††††††††† And then the body he was holding began to move, and Elias was crying, and alive, and back with him, and here. Ciaran breathed his name just once, then slid sideways, and fainted.