The sea! I have heard the sea!

a dying man found close to the Wall

 

It started raining half an hour after they got home.

Sarea listened to the drumming of raindrops on the shutters, safe by the crackling fire. Ionas had fallen asleep some time ago, after she’d rustled up a meal of bread and ham. How he could sleep curled up against the wall was beyond her.

It wouldn’t be so bad, she thought. Perhaps it might even be tolerable to have someone else here, to carry around things and talk nonsense in quiet moments. Someone to distract Mistress Junker from her, and keep off danger. It would even work, until he learned the family shame and bolted for the hills.

She sighed, stretching. Silly fancies. She’d known him for all of two days. After Mistress Tineke died, it’d been so dark and alone here. Having someone around again felt too good. He’d leave and never come back and that was the truth of it. Let him go charm some other young thing into adventures that would end in ruin and despair. Not her.

There weren’t any adventures out there for her.

“You’re just a fool Wall traveller,” she said out loud, and glanced at the fire. The low, crackling flames danced with all the joy of the short-lived, bright and dangerous.

“I beg your pardon,” Ionas said.

So he’d been awake, then.

“I think I’ve told you I’m not a fool,” he said, the smile in his voice, damn him. “Wall traveller? Well. I’ve been there five times. It does send you rattling around in your own head for a while.”

She stayed silent.

“Would you believe me if I told you I’m out to save the world?”

“There isn’t a world to save,” she said.

“You don’t believe there was more than the Wall?”

“I believe it,” she said. “I don’t think it can be saved. Why should it be? Just so we can run outside the Wall and screw it up like we do everything else?” She played with the hem of her skirt, rubbing it between finger and thumb. “I think you’ve been away from people too long.”

He was, for once, quiet. She glanced at him. He was staring at her from his dark corner, eyes wide and shadowed and intense.

“There’s too much dark in people,” she said, and looked away.

Ionas said, so very soft, “I have walked ways no human will walk again, if I fail. I have spoken to the echoes of greats lost to the darkness and carry their wisdom. The world is worth saving, Sarea Sahar. Just for the sake of saving it.”

“Definitely a madman,” she said.

“And maybe a little the fool.” A snort. “That doesn’t stop me trying.”

:-#-:

By morning, it had stopped raining. After a breakfast no more impressive than supper, Sarea hung up the sign for the woods and turned to Ionas, almost respectable in his new coat.

“You’ll be off, then,” she said.

“I know when I’ve overstayed my welcome.” He half-bowed to her. “I won’t trouble you any further, Sarea Sahar.”

She didn’t say yes or no, for fear the empty nights looming ahead of her would make her beg for him to stay. “Travel well,” she said instead, and turned away to see what there was to be gathered.

“Thank you,” he called out after her.

:-#-:

Ionas stood on the overgrown road. He looked down, to where it curved off to meet a better one, then up. Towards Mistress Junker’s house, it went straight past to a mass of green darkness. He put his head to one side. He looked up, shading his eyes with his hand. The sun was out, not a cloud in the sky. It’d rained itself out.

He walked up the road, staring at it. Things were only dark for two reasons – either there wasn’t light, or the light was being eaten by it.

“Mistress,” he called out, stopping by the big house. The door was ajar.

“Mister Pachin!” Mistress Junker leaned out. “What is it?”

“What’s in that wood?”

She came out to look. “There was something important there once,” she said, hands on her skirts. “If you asked anyone else they’d tell you there was a big house here, and estate all around, but my man thought it was too small to be a manor house. He spent two months trying to cut his way in, but all he ever saw was a painted wall.”

Ionas glanced at her. “Did he ever describe it?”

“An o’seen,” she said. “He said it was an o’seen, whatever that is.”

“Ocean,” Ionas said.

“O’seen, ocean, whatever.” She shook her head. “Do you want anything?”

He smiled. “Do you have a pair of hedge clippers I can borrow, Mistress?”

 

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