Waelyngar, the capital city of Magramland, was an orderly collection of white marble edifices and thatched cottages, painted to match, that sat upon a high, grassy bluff in the middle of the wide Madaram Valley. Rolling yellow-green hills, patched here and there with farmland, stretched away from the city all the way to the distant mountains in every direction but south, where the earth remained forested well past the Uolxana Mountains and into Carvil, in the far north of Murkintsen. The Waelyngar River disappeared into this forest some three miles south of the city, and it would see few signs of human civilization again until it flowed into the Murkintir and through Brysail to the Pendient Sea.
Charles Sigmund Marandur Edmund—known to anyone who remotely respected him as Simon—had thought often of that river and those woods during his two years of captivity. In his spare time, he would weigh the costs and benefits of each as a route of escape. These, he had concluded, would depend almost entirely on his mode of transportation. If he were a squirrel, he could leap from branch to branch in the forest and make it home to Edmund Manor without even touching the ground. If he were a frog, he could let the river sweep him to the mouth of the Carvil, then hop upstream along its marshy banks. If he were a raven, though, he could soar right home without a care in the world.
“But Simon,” his cellmate, Seoc, had said after listening to his plans. “You’re a man.”
“I can be whatever I want to be.”
“Then be a good little squirrel and let me sleep, please.”
But right now, Seoc wasn’t trying to sleep. He was sitting across the splinter-ridden table from him, his eyes glazed over and his face smudged with dirt and blood in the places he had touched it with his peeling hands. He wasn’t trying to sleep, but now that this was the case, Simon found that he had nothing to say to him.
“What are you thinking about, Simon?” said Seoc.
Simon glanced up at him quizzically.
“Have you still not grown accustomed to my accent?”
Seoc stared at him for a moment, his gaze unreadable, and then went back to pushing his mushed peas around his plate with the back of his spoon. “I asked what you were thinking about.”
“What about it?”
Without looking up from the remnants of his meal, Seoc raised his eyebrows and curled his lip. “You don’t say.”
“But I do.”
“Not a lot.”
“I can say ‘a lot.’”
“And so you did.” Seoc set down his spoon and leaned his elbows on the table. “I stand corrected.”
“Why are you still here?”
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“Waiting for whom, Seoc?”
“My knight in shining armor,” he said. “Or in patched urban leather, as the case may be.”
“How long do you intend to wait?”
“I’ll be patient.”
“Well,” said Simon. “I’m glad you decided to stay. I would have missed you. You’re the only friend I have left in this world, and I’m not very good at making new ones.”
Seoc sat in silence for a moment, his brow furrowed. Then he opened his eyes, and tears trickled down his face, cutting rivulets in the grime on his cheeks. “Thank you, Simon.”