A Step in the Great Journey - Part 2
He wakes to her holding him.
“Nil. Something's happened or it's going to happen.”
“You dreamed. That's all.”
“No. No, I swear. This is something much, much more. I know it.”
“You don't. You don't remember.”
“But I know it.” He feels wild for her to believe him.
Nil shakes her curls. “Go back to sleep. We have you here. I promise.”
And you? What about all of you?
“I won't be far. You just need to sleep.”
“I don't want to.” He sounds like a child. He feels like a child. But the others will sleep, they don't need him waking them. Lying down feels like walking into a lion's den, the darkness is all out of
welcome, all it can offer him is teeth.
And they open. As soon as he sleeps. And the mouths breath fire. What he sees in the dream-skies are something magnificent. Their wings harbour so many colours, all concocted out of flames: huge, wide, rainbow-shining, blinding. Explosions turning monsters: these things fall out of the sky – no they dive – they dive and breath more light, explosions begetting explosions. And the sky, sundered,
It doesn't matter.
Nothing. Nothing's left to fall on.
He tries not to wake them, sliding out from his sheepskins, and creeping
to the door. These people have been good to him. Whatever horror's
locked inside his head is none of their doing. But the close walls,
the smoky-warm air, it's too much. He needs to be out in the open
air, in the world – to know it's still there.
But she follows him out there, under a white moon that silvers the grass.
Gondrian crouches on an old, stone wall. He can trace the path of the river by its darkness, can see small movements amongst the still grasses that signify hunter and prey. But his attention is riveted mostly at the sky. A clean sky up there, a moon, a pattern of stars. He's waiting to see it all collapse into burning brightness.
“They're out here somewhere.”
And he sees it. Not in the sky. In the earth. Out there in the plains he watches a patch of darkness start glowing. A soft white mist at first, but the mist brightens, taking on shades of blue and green,
then the colours turning, the way autumn turns, going reds and oranges and old golds. A glitter of sparks seems to float up towards the sky.
Nil gasps gently. She thinks its beautiful.
“Have you see that before?” He asks her.
“Once. I've heard others describe it too. The Lights of Deep Earth. That's what they've taken to calling it.”
“And nobody knows....”
“How could we?” She smiles, shrugs, not understanding.
“Oh, Nil. It's the end.”
“What do you know?”
“I'm not sure.”
“Maybe nothing then.”
“Maybe.” He's sure otherwise. That's not nothing out there. He's seen its real face.
“Come inside, please.”
“I do need to sleep.” More than I knew.
She leads him in by his hand.
In the morning he wakes to her near him, packing oatcakes into a sack.
He says “I wish I could stay” as they start their protests. And it's true. His body is a weak thing, compromised by pain. A sick bed is exactly where he belongs, but he knows he hasn't the time forthat. Whatever's out there and real in the world.... He has to.... something....
“I'm grateful.” He pulls a second ring off – gold, with a dragonish design. A significant gift.
Maylez protests “But you gave us a song.”
“And a ring already,” he's reminded by Nil.
“And you. All of you. My life.”
Nil helps him out into the open. She helps lace the shirt they're letting him keep, the sheepskin jerkin, wool leggings that maybe were Sugvern's. They're kind. And at the same time, well paid for their kindness – he guesses the rings are quite valuable. She ties the sack over his shoulder, as they walk, and points out the different directions, the places they lead to, the hazards he might encounter along the way. It's only when she runs out of things to say that he realises she isn't turning back.
“Nil. I don't know where I'm going.”
“I don't care.”
“Or into what.”
She stops, looking down, suddenly awkward.
“But you want to come with me?”
She nods, lips pressed together.
“Leave all this?”
She nods again. She casts a look back at it all, her expression hardens in doing so.
Gondrian wonders what it is to her, here, what he'll unwittingly rescue her from. Whatever the trap is, whatever its teeth, he can't imagine what worse he might be dragging her into.
“Are you sure, Nil?”
“Do they know?”
A shake of her head.
“Will any of them come chasing you?”
It's like that. Maybe he ought to have guessed. And he'll get used to Gondrian; when he re-learns his true name he won't want to wear it any more. Well. He chooses a direction. Guided by only by instinct. Nil tells him there will be grass and more grass, much open space, spear-men as they cross the White Pasture – that place where the species of grass change and lighten, where a nomadic, aggressive people are said to roam – and a white, churning river at the other end. Something – something not from himself – says he needs to follow that river.
With Nil as his crutch, as his warmth, his comfort, his charm, he sets off to follow that way.