I am eighteen years old when Father takes me to the City.
It is far larger on the ground than it is on the Mountain. Its buildings—skyscrapers, Father calls them—stand as silent sentinels, watching the lonely world as their foundations rust and their innards rot. They are gutted and empty. Haunted. I do not like looking at them.
Grass grows in the streets. Tree roots tangle over the sidewalks. I hear no birds, but Father tells me they are in the trees, as silent and watchful as the buildings towering high above. I don’t know if I believe him. It feels as if we two are alone, we and our horses, their bellies rising and falling with exhaustion from the ride up and then down the Mountain.
Glass litters the City, making the ground a sea of sparkling color. I marvel at the sight of it, at the way it crunches beneath my boots, but Father does not seem interested. He leads me to the heart of the City without speaking a word, and when he stops, I stop. The only sound is that of our horses: one blows her nose, and the other sighs.
Father looks up, toward the sky, and I follow his gaze. It is then that I see the sign: it is perched upon a building, welded into the metal frame. The bottom half of the sign is missing, and the words I can see are faded, weathered by time. The sign is a testament to the weariness of the world, and yet it still stands, its bold words dazzling my eyes.
LAND OF THE FREE.
What does it mean? I ask Father.
It’s where we live, he tells me, sounding far older than I remember.
I am silent. And then: We live on the Edge of the world.
Yes. We do. But it is in the Land of the Free. The Home of the Brave.
The Home of the Brave?
We are the Brave. And this is our Home.
I’m not entirely sure if I am Brave. But Father says it with a conviction I should not argue with, and so I am silent. I don’t know what makes us Brave. I wish I did.
But if Father says we are Brave, then I suppose we are.