‘Mother, why do you still wear that ring?’ my son asks.
I think for a moment. Why do I wear it?
It was given to me my by the King of Cantilan. Although, I do not call him king, that name is reserved for men of honour. Worm yes, traitor yes, but never king.
‘It reminds me that I can be foolish,’ I finally reply.
Simon is seventeen now and wise beyond his years. He knows no other place than The Crossed City. I was heavy with him when I first rode out to the west.
‘Why not send a poisoner, and be done with it?’ he suggests.
‘Because that is a coward’s resolve, and I will not lower myself to his level.’
He looks at me intently.
‘I fear this lust for revenge will destroy your life,’ he says slowly. ‘Why not forgive him, as he begged you to do?’
‘Do the dead forgive?’ I speak sharply in rage.
He is wounded by my anger, his cheeks flushing scarlet.
‘I am sorry,’ I say more calmly. ‘I did not mean to speak harshly but you are so young still and you can’t possibly understand how the war began and why I still demand Dominick’s life.’
‘I am young,’ he says softly taking my hand. ‘But mother, I am a grown man now and perhaps it would ease your burden if you could explain to me a little about the history of this place.’
Perhaps he is right. Perhaps he is old enough to see the work of that man who calls himself king.
We took horses and rode out of the gates into the wasteland that surrounds the walls of the city. Where all is lush and fertile within, made so by the toil of many people over many years, by contrast what lies beyond is a fearful place, barren, stricken with disease and the endless scavenging of inbred wolves.
It is a short ride to the cave and no one goes there except on occasion to pray and remember. My son follows me into the mouth of the foremost cave, down a long straight slope that takes us into the depths of the earth directly beneath the city and then we descend a narrow winding staircase, hewn from bare rock. Our torches flicker about us in the pitch black, the yellow light dancing on the jagged walls.
‘I do not like how the air moves in here,’ Simon whispers, his words fluttering around the cave in an graceless echo.
‘There is no danger here, it is sadness you sense,’ I reassure him. ‘Come, take your flame and light this circle of lanterns, for we have arrived.’
Simon does as I command and the belly of the earth is illuminated. He draws breath sharply as he beholds what few men will ever see.