I see the panic in the tall elf’s eyes. His fingers grasp at my hand convulsively.
“Let him go, Arq,” Enturi says from somewhere behind me. “I think you’ve made your point.”
He’s right. I release my grip and the elf drops to the ground, coughing and gasping. His mate and daughter rush up. Gilon’s mother looks up at me with a mixture of fear and anger. “You almost killed him!” she says. Then recognition steals across her face.
“You’re the singer!” she exclaims. “Your songs, they’re beautiful.” She looks confused. “How can you be so violent and dangerous?”
I turn back to Gilon and the breadseller. “Are you all right?” I ask. They nod. “My name is Arquë,” I tell them. ”And this is Enturi. If anyone gives you trouble, you ask for one of us. We’ll set them straight.”
“I am Cennil,” replies the breadseller. “Thank you.” Her words are polite, but I can hear the fear in them. Fear of me. I glance around. We are standing in a circle of refugees, all staring, all witnesses to my violence against this man who just wanted to take his kid back into his family. All looking at me as though I’m the monster. That’s just great.
“Come on, Enturi,” I mutter. “Let’s go.”
As I walk away, elves stepping hastily out of my way, I hear Gilon say “I wish he was my dad.”
No, you don’t, kid. No, you don’t.
Although I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t toss my own child out into the stinking rain of a dirty slum to fend for himself.
It occurs to me that my parents are probably in one of these columns. The thought fills me with dread. I do not want to experience a reunification scene like the one I just witnessed. The old anger rises within me. If I see my father, I will kill him. I don’t care if every other elf in Elftown went through this abandonment. I will not forgive my father. I will not. I will kill him. I imagine choking him to death. It feels good.
I stop walking.
Gilon’s mother is right. I am violent and dangerous.
I don’t belong here.
The exodus will be difficult. The euphoria will wear off and the uncertain journey will wear on everyone. What if someone pushes me, provokes me? Will I lash out with my fist or my blade, like I’ve done so many times? Like I did yesterday, to the whore, the brigand, the breadseller? Will I almost choke someone to death like I just did to Gilon’s father? I don’t trust myself enough to believe I will be able to hold back my rage. Hell, the last thing I did before crossing the bridge and leaving Elftown forever was to murder two elves. They deserved it and I don’t regret it, but still.
For all my bitter wondering about whether my fellow Elftown prisoners deserve to be free or could even function in a free and ethical society, when it comes right down to it, it is in my own ability to do so that I have no faith. I need to excise the taint of Elftown from within me first. I need to purify myself. And that is something I need to do alone.
“Follow me,” I say to Enturi, weaving through the groups of elves until we get to the landward side of the column. Before us, a green forest of very tall trees, many of them taller than the wall, climbs away from the coast on a smooth, steadily rising slope.
“Come on,” I say to the elf beside me. “Let’s take a quick walk in the woods.”
“As you wish,” he says uncertainly, glancing back toward the elves behind him. I lead him through the colossal tree trunks, until we are out of sight of the others.
“I have a question,” he says as we walk. Great.
“What is it?”
He looks at me searchingly, the same way he did back when he asked about Bolin.
“I don’t really want to know what happened in the guardhouse,” he says softly. I can tell by his tone that he has a pretty good idea what did happen. “But I will ask you this. Was it necessary?”
I sigh. “It was. Remember when I told you that someone close to me had gotten drawn into Calmorien’s net and I vowed to avenge his death? It was Alvar, one of the street rats we found drugged in Calmorien’s warehouse. When I went back later that night to make sure he was okay, he was dead. While the rest of us were getting ready to leave the warehouse that afternoon, Lynae snuck back there and killed Alvar and his two little friends. Then she sold the corpses to Raichon to use as diggers to finish the tunnel under the warehouse.”
Enturi shudders. “That’s so horrible. Those poor kids.” His eyes meet mine. “After you asked me that question in the warehouse, I knew who had hired Jeamo. Then Bolin’s murder made sense. They didn’t want any loose ends.”
“Yeah,” I say. “They probably should have killed us when they had the chance.”