White Silk: Part Six

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 6.

At the front of the lodge building, just behind where Waypoint sells its fare and brews, Daddy stops in front of the door. We’ve already loaded up my horse. I’ll be ready to go, as planned, before the sun rises.

“Do you want me to … to be up in the morning, Liddy? See you off?”

“Oh, you’ve done that plenty,” I say. “No need to burden yourself.”

He nods, but I can see this bulge at his lower lip, like he’s got his tongue pressed against the back of it. “Okay, then. I suppose this is it.”

I nod. He just stands there, hesitating for a moment longer. The big, brass lodge key he got handed, he’s playing with that in his hand, spinning it around. “Daddy,” I say, slow and sure. “I’ll be back. I’ll be back in just a few weeks, okay? Won’t be long at all.”

He raises his eyes up at me, eyebrows pushing toward the archways.

“Really, Daddy, I’ll be fine.”

“I know,” he says.

“Then what are you so worried on? I’ll be back soon. It’ll be the same as always.”

For a fraction of a second, I see his teeth clench together and his eyes narrow on me, but then the look clears off his face. “Of course you’re right,” he says. “Of course. We’ll keep your wool clean.” He leans in for a hug, awkward-like, like he’s not real sure how it’s done or if he has permission. Of course I just step in, put my arms around him. His free hand that’s gripping the key is still off to the side. For the most of it he’s hugging me with one hand at the top of my back. He pats me a couple times, then steps back brushes himself off some. Not the sort of man to hug much, that’s for sure. “Spine straight,” he says to me. So I stand tall. He smiles, then turns and unlocks the door. As he walks he straight in and I walk to the stairs on the right, he just keeps ambling on, saying over his shoulder, “Good night.”

In a way, I’m glad he got choked on the words—what to say as goodbye, anyway—cause it makes it easier for me. But I suppose I made my peace at the fence-front back home. I prefer not to extend my farewells longer than I have to. They get harder as they go on.

Much to my surprise, and maybe because of the couple drinks and the day of work here, I get to bed okay on the straw mattress. I wake up a few times, a bit dizzied, not quite sure wher I am, but I find my center fast enough. Then you can see the pre-morning light start to creep around, and so I go down to the stables. I brush Willow down and re-saddle her, re-tighten the saddle, then up into the stirrups and head out. At the gate a watcher I don’t know pulls the bridge down for me, and as I trot off toward the wastes, toward the path southwest, I can hear him heaving his breaths as he works the rope contraption that pulls the thing back into place.

The horses get pushed too hard on this leg of the voyage, sure and true, because it’s a tewenty hour’s trudge by foot from here to the next village proper. A settlement here and there, and caravans with enough men in them to do a proper guard, they’ll camp between. But the horse has to do the whole lot in one day, with packs, and that means it’s got to spend a day or two recovering the other side. Depends on the horse. I’ll get to find out how Willow does with endurance once we get to the next village over, but that she’s from the fringe like she is means she’s tested against those measures. They wouldn’t have sold me a horse couldn’t do the next step in the voyage, not unless they intended to make my nature toward them more than a touch unfriendly.

So anyway, it’s a long day. And I’d say it’s not exciting, because by all standard accounts, it shouldn’t be. In the wastes, you’ve got yourself mostly just rock, or so they said. Big stretches of it, with a bit of growth here and there, patches and such. A stream I’ll cross and water the horse at partway through. This is how they described it. But to me, to my eyes that have never been out and seen further than Marsh, it’s not a run of gray rocks.

It’s an open horizon, all gray below and above. So thick in gray you could almost dissolve into it. The crags of these rocks, they topples onto one another, sloping or crashing together, like they’re a telling a story of elements or giants or people that threw together these massive slabs. Or more than slabs, sometimes—full city-sheets of rock, all smooth and washed down. The path you go across by horse, it’s marked by cairns, these little stacks of smaller rocks. Sometimes you go a ways, over the next horizon, just hoping you’ll be able to see the next cairn—going all on faith, and hoping vision stays sharp. The sky overhead is clouded fully here, the sun barely bleeding through, and by mid-day it starts to rain. By halfway to evening, just about the time I reach that stream and water Willow up, a thunderstorm’s started. With the slate stones all thick with water, each flash of lightening overhead boils through the dark gray of the clouds and reflects up off the stones all around me. It’s like the lightning is dancing, and when the thunder comes, it follows its lead.

Thunderstorms at home, they’re just tucking inside or staring at the lighting from the clearing. A flash and glow. Not a dance of heavenly instruments like this. I was told it was a dull time, the three days in the wastes. But I’m so far from miserable, it’s hard to express it. My skin is all soaked, and Willow’s trot is enough to kick the wind up in me in a spine-shaking way. I’m all goosefleshed and cold and uncomfortable in body, but I feel like I’m part of something big with this storm. I like it. I like being out.

As it wears on to nightfall I hit the risk of not being able to see the cairns, but lucky enough the lightning’s still on. Sun’s down fully, and I feel like I’m traveling through the black, but when I get to a point of feeling lost, I just stand myself and willow still until the heavens split again. And I look fast as I can for a cairn, and most of the times, I see it and can move on. It’s another hour or two that it’s like that, and the rain hasn’t stopped pouring down, near enough to heavy. This storm, the lightning and everything, has been going on for the better part of six turns of the glass. I feel like I must have been chasing it through the infinite gray.

The next town is called Hamden, and it’s not a lot like Marsh. Out here, this far into the wastes, you’re not likely to find beasts. So that, I figure, is why there’s no wall. Just torchlight and candles from inside houses that I can see from a long journey off, before the last leg of my ride. The horizon is gray meeting gray, except for that patch that boils its candlelight out into the stones. You can see that orange glowing up off the ground.

When I finally ride into town, I shake the rain from this pelt of mine and try to ignore the scratchy feeling at the bottom of my throat, that feels a lot like a cough coming on. Something I definitely don’t want to be laid up with at any point in this journey. But Willow’s earned herself a day’s break at least, and in that time I hope I can recover. For tonight, I’ll go for soup. Turnip soup, if they’ve got it.

I trot through town on Willow, eyes open against the dark enmeshed in candle-light, looking for the right place. They’ve got a few signs here, for shops and the like, but none I can recognize as useful to me none. Then I see a man under the overhang of a building, ducked away from the thick drizzle of raining coming down in a sheet in front of him. “Light bless, friend,” I say.

He mutters “Light bless” back at me. Anyway, short version is I ask him for directions to the inn, and he gives them fair enough. It’s a big old building, made of painted wood, set up at one end of the town’s proper road—which I’d come in alongside of, not quite knowing. I make it there, stable up Willow, and step inside. They have a spicy turnip soup that I drink at, but it tastes a bit stale. When I’m done, I don’t feel quite sleepy yet, but I do feel plenty sore between my legs. It’s strange walking around. Feels like I should still have a horse down by my ivory parts. There’s not much space around here, so I go to the stables and pace up and down the stalls as I try to walk it off. After probably a glass’s turn of that, my legs feel no better, and I feel no less restless, so I decide to give up the pacing and instead take a stool up to willow’s pen.

I brush her down real thorough and talk to her some. Tell her she’s done a good job for the day. I get to talking to her like she’s a real person, introducing myself proper and telling her what this journey’s about. I get to, “That was something, that storm, huh?” Willow keeps real still, has through all this brushing. “And actually. Hey, Willow, you didn’t scare or anything. We had thunder clapping right over us, all around us. Those rushing cracks of lightning threaten to tear the whole sky right off. You didn’t jump or nothing.” I smile at that, and for some reason at the same time, I feel something harsher than happy tide upward in my chest. I try to keep the smile on, but it starts to crack. I let myself pull in closer to the warmth of Willow’s side, the side of her neck. I can’t figure out quite why my breathing’s uneven.

“You did a good job, Willow,” I say, pressing my cheek against her. “I guess … I guess Daddy was right. You aren’t scared of nothing.” My body feels that shake all over, and I try to tell myself it’s just the chill and the rain. “You’re just—you’re just like me.” I try to smile, but it fails in a crash, just as the first tear falls.

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