04/09/2015 § Leave a comment
“My name.” He begins to speak but cannot go on. Something in his own voice. The way it sounds in his ears, inside his chest. So strange. Alien. He closes his mouth. The inside of it has gone hopelessly dry. His tongue feels as though it’s covered in soot, it’s useless, can’t shape the words he needs.
“Yes,” says the Watcher. Softly, perhaps even kindly, this time. “Your name.”
It is a struggle. But he manages, at length, to summon up the syllables, to speak again. “Shaw. Horace Shaw.”
The Watcher nods. “I take it you were exiled?”
“And who, might I ask, is the man tied up on your mule?”
Horace looks down at his right hand. The reins in his grasp. Then he glances back at the mule, at the unconscious man upon it. He sways as he does so. His head feels impossibly light, the earth is spinning under his feet. He closes his eyes, thinking, inexplicably, of the birds he saw from the hillside a few days ago, those luminous forms born of dying light and a cold river, and his own imagination. A revelation there, a flash of something so… beautiful, amidst so much hunger and silence.
I am almost home.
Horace opens his eyes. Notes that the Watcher’s arm is down by his side again. He forms the words he needs to speak, first in his mind and then in his throat. With little time they come, not easily but easier, now, than his own name.
“He was… waiting for me, I think. By the wayshrine.”
“And you fought him off?”
“Not without cost.” So much blood. He has spilt so much of it. “I have come… a very long way. Will you not let me through, sir? I must see my family.”
The Watcher shakes his head. “I’m afraid I cannot, messere. An exile must be received by a justiciar and pardoned formally before being admitted into the city. We will send for one.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turns and gestures at one of his comrades, who steps forward.
“Shorey, go to South Hall and fetch a justiciar. And a physician, while you’re at it.”
“Shall I look for the sergeant as well?” The one called Shorey asks, a hint of amusement in his tone. “He’ll want to be present when the justiciar gets here.”
“Oh, I imagine he will,” says the Watcher. “Find him if you can, but only after South Hall and the physician.”
Shorey nods. He turns and moves past the gates, swiftly, out of Horace’s sight. Horace takes a step forward, following the man, following the only thought he has, is capable of, which is less of a thought now and more of an… urge, a tugging at his soul. But even as he takes the step, the earth, spinning, brings him down.
The Watcher catches Horace as he falls, pulls him up by the crook of his arm. “Easy now, messere.” He puts his shoulder under Horace’s arm. “You must wait a little longer to see them. The justiciar will be along shortly. Come, we will wait inside the gatehouse. We can see to your wound in the meantime.”
Horace nods, responding more to the tone of the Watcher’s voice than the meaning behind it. His vision is blurring, the redness finally giving way to dark, and there is a ringing in his ears like tolling of a great many cattle bells. Beads of sweat run down his sides, each one cold as a drop of ice. A particular fear blossoms in his mind, one that he has felt and suppressed every day of his exile, familiar yet more urgent, now, as he is helped into a small door inside the gates and up a narrow stairway.
So he mutters the words, under his breath, not fully aware that he is saying them. A prayer of sorts, a fevered oath, a promise made against all odds. Time and again, always and forever. Surely as one lives and dies.
The only person privy to the moment and the words spoken, the Watcher, Theodric Lowe, cannot help but feel a great surge of pity at what he hears.
For the words are: “I will not die until I see them again.”