“It is not good that man be alone.” Thanks be to God, Europa’s back, even if just for this installment. Everybody gets older. Not one, single clue what happens next. Awesome!
He dropped his hand and was still. It was good to hear her voice again, even if she was warning him. Again, he looked left, up, right, and front.
Is she beyond this wall? But, if she could speak to me through my touch, is she part of the wall? He had been different before he’d beheld her. Were things so different in her land?
Hmmm. He’d much to consider. He withdrew a few paces and waited. It grew cloudy. This was unsatisfactory. He looked about at the ground. Ah. A stick the diameter of his thumb and about as long as his arm. He picked it up and moved back to the wall. He poked it sharply at the metallic surface.
To his surprise, it was not a solid: the stick penetrated, making an odd ripple on its vertical surface. The ripple spread much slower than one in water and faded quickly. He made to pull the stick back out but encountered resistance. He added his left hand and more force. With a sound he’d heard rocks make when the fall and break, the stick came free.
Its hole remained.
He was about to lean forward and examine this new thing when the hole began to expand, doubling in size in a second, then doubling again. The metal kept dilating out until stopping at a size that made a tunnel just taller than he.
Did she open the door? Should I go in? The light from outside where he was only penetrated a little bit; it was utter darkness further in. A breeze blew past him into the tunnel.
“Europa!” He took a step…
She stepped out of the hole in the wall. She opened her arms. And smiled.
“Logres! I’m so happy to see you again!”
He held her just under her arms at a loss for words. His face blank.
“Logres?” He heard doubt, fear. “Are you happy to see me, too?”
“Of course!” He yelled, then continued, quieter. “Of course! I… I may have forgotten how to smile, though…”
She put her hands onto him just as his were on her, but tickled him again.
He laughed. And smiled. He closed his arms about her.
“Europa. I… without you… unhappy…”
She clasp her hands in the small of his back as she looked at him.
“You missed me. You were sad.”
“Yes.” He was older. “Thank you for the words!”
There was something about how she looked at him. Something changed. He leaned away from her just a little.
“You are taller.”
“Yes!” She giggled, lifting her hands. “Your shoulders are a bit broader!”
“Swimming all those rivers…” he muttered.
“Europa,” how he enjoyed saying her name, “what has happened to the cord about your tunic?”
“Oh.” Her smile fled as she lowered her face.
The thin rope was gone. In its place was a metal chain of the same color as the wall. Strangely, the loop around her waist was integral to the line of links that led back into the hole. Not along the ground, but straight back, as if under tension.
“I… am not allowed out, right now.” She still would not look up. “I’m a little surprised I made it as far as I did!”
A small laugh, but to the ground.
“Oh.” Did her Slow Ones do this to her? Why? “Shall I try and remove – ”
“Do not!” Her head came up and her hands to each side of his face. “I… fear my end if you did that.”
“Oh. May I, then, accompany you into your home? In or beyond this wall?”
Beads of water formed in the outer corners of her eyes. He learned sadness, regret.
“My home,” she whispered, “is a wilderness of mirrors. A place of lies and half-lies. I shall not hurt you like that!”
It was so easy, and such good play, to learn when she held him, even if the subject was somber.
Somber, he thought.
“Lies,” he said, looking down the now only one inch to her eyes, “are a kind or murder. Is that right?”
A small nod. The corners of her mouth tugged up just a little.
“Then I shall stay with you. Here. Always.” He announced.
The corners came up just enough for the little clumps of water to break free and slide down her face.
Tears, he saw.
She turned her head and pulled him to her as much as she could. He did the same for her. The light from them reflected off the dull metal wall.
What light is this, he wondered? No matter. He closed his eyes and held Europa.
There was a sudden jerk. She was out of his arms and just at the hole in the wall, her arms still open.
“Europa, what – !?”
“Logres! I have to go back, now! I – ” Another jerk; she was just inside the tunnel.
He moved. At the entrance in a moment, reaching in to take her hands.
“Let me come with you!”
The water in her eyes came back, but this time streaming out.
“You CAN’T! Logres! I – ”
She was pulled out of his hands, the hole closed ten times faster than it opened.
“ – ove yo – !”
He stood still, regarding the wall. What they had shared in their embrace would take many times around the island to understand. Perhaps, once he did, he could return…?
No, he thought. I shall return. And this wall and that chain will not stand against me. He spun on his heel and walked away. West.
Rivers, he thought, morosely.
He stood where he’d come ashore in the land across the sea. There had been an odd moment, earlier, before he’d leapt into the Rhine: a light had appeared no more than a few lengths away from him. A simple white light, about chest high to him. Doing nothing. What had that been?
With his white tunic tied against his back, he waded into the water to swim home. He was older that halfway across he’d have to swim quickly to get through that odd dead-zone. Fortunately, from holding Europa, he had been able to tease out the idea of ‘forward crawl swimming.’ Recalling holding her made his breath catch. He’d forgotten to tell her that she was prettier!
Halfway across the Channel, he increased his pace. It didn’t matter. Faster than expected, his arms and legs stopped. The last time, the drift south was to his favor. Now…
A bump. Something ran into him under the water. A fish? He’d seen them in the rivers and along the coast of his home. This one must be rather large…. *bump* There it was again, but on the other side. And, both impacts had pushed him toward the northwest. He counted five more before he could move his body again. The fish did not return.
He stared up at the white cliffs, wringing out his tunic. There were no bushes around and he was older that laying it on a rock to dry was tedious. He walked to the path that led up off the beach.
But some things were in his way.
They reminded him of the light next to the Rhine. That he had ignored: it was not his home. This was. He was ordered to watch. He stopped and stared. The two lights and Logres did not move.
It was here, he thought, where I met Europa. Hollowness. Is there something about this place…? She was laughing and when I perceived her…
To fake a laugh was a lie. He let his eyes fall a moment while he thought about her smile. Playing together. Her tickling him! He chuckled. The sound of sparks reached his ears. He looked up.
Two small children. The one on his right, standing in the sand, had some close-fitting material about him from his waist to just above his knees. Pale hair and soft green eyes. He did not smile.
The one to his left was perched on a large rock. She wore a tunic very similar to his, although the blue pattern over her heart was different. Her longer hair was not quite as dark as his, but her white eyes and blue lips were striking.
He recalled meeting Europa. Whom he loved.
“I am Logres!” He called to them. “I watch the border.”
The children looked at one another, then him.
“I am Joey. I watch the sea.” Without a word, the little boy turned left and sprinted for the water. A moment later, he was gone.
“I am Georgie,” she girl lisped somewhat. “I watch the sky.”
To his surprise, two huge, grey wings unfurled from her back. She leapt straight up –
With a flash, she was gone.
Logres did not move. Later, he did, making it to the top of the cliff. He stared out at the land across the sea.
“Europa? Someday, I would like you to meet my little brother and sister.”
He turned west. Walking.