Ebon released the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. He started to turn to Feenah, only to be hurriedly shushed. "Not yet," she whispered as a warning, and so they continued on. Only when they were well out of sight of the city, shielded by a copse of shade trees, did they stop to rest and release the tension of their escape. "I thought it was all over when that Knife made my look up at him," the boy exclaimed softly. "I was sure they would have had my description."
"They did," replied Feenah with a chuckle. "He just didn't remember he had it at that moment." She cackled with merriment when Ebon simply blinked at her. "Nice trick, eh?"
"That was my doing." Ox lowered his hood to reveal his face, and as he did so, his features seemed to blur and shift until they appeared as a balding older man, his bearded face graced with warm eyes and a kind smile. There was something about him that Ebon recognized, but how or why, he couldn't say, and so he simply listened to the man. "This," as he touched the plain metal clasp at the front of his hood, "is a gift from... far away, something your friend Astenyar once gave me. It casts an illusion of however I wish to appear, something he called a glamour; my own gifts assist, subtly convincing those minds around me to simply believe what they are seeingâ€¦ or, in your case, forget what they are seeking and what--or whom--they saw."
Letting that bit of news sink in, he turned to Feenah, concern in his eyes. "Are you sure you want to go back in there? Even with the memory cleared, itâ€™s dangerous." As he spoke, two others moved out from the trees around them. One looked exactly like Ox had appeared, while the other was not much larger than Ebon.
"Now, you know I do more good for the cause in the city than I could ever do out in the wild with you." She reached up and gently patted his bearded cheek. "Don't worry about me, get the lad to safety." Then Feenah turned to her new "Ox" and motioned for him to take up the cart while his companion moved to her side to support her. At the edge of the thicket, she paused and looked back. "Be well, lad!"
Ebon's voice cracked as he lifted his hand, though whether to wave farewell or to implore her not to leave him, he really did not know. "And you also," he finally answered, just as they were moving away once more.
Then he was alone with the strangerâ€¦ and yet, somehow not a stranger, though Ebon knew that they had never met before. A lengthy silence fell between them.
The man broke the stillness with a chuckle. 'You don't know what to make of me, do you? You know me somehow, and yet you do not know me. The answer is simple." Suddenly his expression hardened, grew cruel, just for a moment before resuming its prior kindly state.
Ebon gasped and stumbled backwards, while at the same time a nearby rock rose from the ground and launched itself at the stranger. It was an erratic flight, easily avoided, but the man raised his hands with palms out, a staying gesture. "Peace, lad! I am not your enemy!" Somehow the truth of that statement reached the boy, calming him. "You have suffered greatly at the hands of my kin, and for that I am truly sorry. My daughter took your innocence, my brother took your sister. I know not what I could give to replace them... in truth, nothing can, but I hope to help you find the strength to find your peace within."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Doran." He strode forward, offering a hand out to Ebon. "I wear my shackles no more, neither hand nor heart."
The youth blinked once, but after a moment realization struck, and with it a memory. As he clasped Doran's outstretched hand, Ebon felt himself all but bursting with elation. "I am a free man."