I Will Not Take Your Role

“I’m sorry. I got your sword bloody.”

Westing grinned at Amaril. “Well worth the price.”

“You should be the one bloodying your sword. You’re the warrior.” Amaril plodded a few paces away, gazing up at the stars in the half-moon-lit night. “And I should’ve stayed on the other side like you told me. I’m sorry.”

Westing huffed. “Well, yeah, you should have, to protect you. But you came and got the girl.” He looked ahead at the small shadow of a girl darting ahead of them. “I forgive you. I would forgive you even if you put yourself in danger for no reason.” He offered his hand.

Amaril accepted it. “I still shouldn’t have taken your role. It’s your role to protect.”

“Well, yes. But if we are one, you’re a warrior, too. At least when I can’t be. I’m happy to take my role back, though, thank you.” Westing chuckled. He looked ahead at the girl again. “Think she’ll tell us anything?”

“Well, we know she can scream,” Amaril answered. “And she seems to know where she’s going. Look how she keeps glancing at the sky, getting her bearings?”

“Makes sense. It’s not like there’s many landmarks around here. Just the chasm we passed, really.”

“How’s your leg?”

“It’s fine. I just twisted my ankle bad when I jumped across. Stop asking.”

“It’s my job.”

Westing huffed in response.

The girl darted back, waving her hands, then flattening herself against the gray powder, face down.

Amaril looked to Westing, who shrugged. They lowered themselves quietly against the sand. Amaril wondered what good it would do; the sand was so light, wouldn’t it be better to quickly bury themselves if they were hiding from something?

Stars winked out above her, came back. Something blocked their light? Then the sound of great wings flapping reached her ears. The sound receded.

The girl sat up, searching the sky. Westing and Amaril followed her lead.

She sighed and offered a weak smile. “OK. They’re still looking, but we’re safe for right now.” Her young soprano voice stayed hushed. “I’m sorry. I was trying to find a way back when you found me. You exiles, too?”

Westing frowned. “No. We’re going to the mountains to find someone. We just happened across you.”

“The mountains?”

“Those things over there.”

She turned to look. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand out here. I’m glad the light went away. It feels better this way, like I have a roof again.”

Amaril asked, “Where are you from?”

The girl blinked. “Where all people are from. The earth.”

Amaril exchanged glances with her husband. Westing offered, “We’re from the gardens. Well, the wall around the gardens, really.”

The girl’s half smile exploded into joy. “So it’s true? Exiles have found a way to live up here?” She gasped a laugh. “Have you seen my parents? Do you know anyone who looks like me? They always said I looked like my mother.” She offered her face, her lips stretched into a huge grin, her eyes darting from Amaril to Westing and back.

“We don’t know anything about exiles,” Westing answered. “We have to find someone and bring him safely back to the gardens, or everyone will die.”

“I don’t understand,” the girl answered.

Amaril held out a hand. “I think maybe, we each need to start at the beginning.”

Westing nodded. “My ankle could use a break anyway. All right. Let’s sit here, and tell each other who we are, and where we come from. Do you want to start, or should I?”

This is the twentieth chapter of Summers’ End.

Gathering Stones

“Does every tree have a chittery thing like you?” Gladius gazed at another chittery thing sinking claws deep into a tree as he strode past. Dark veins ran through the white bark now, all centering on the shadow that clung to it. This is not the normal way of things in the garden, of course, but Gladius had never been told that, so he thought nothing of it.

Gladius’s friend perched on his shoulder, nose held high, sniffing the light breeze of the night, as if he had scented some roast beef in the distance. “Yes. I was forced to leave my tree to go with you. Each of us has one tree to watch over.” It barked at one of its friends, who snarled in return.

“Forced? Oh, I can take you back, if you’d like. That doesn’t sound pleasant at all.”

“Oh, no, friend Gladius. I must teach you. And I have orders from above.”

“Oh! Someone has told you to come with me? Who is it?”

The thing scurried to Gladius’s other shoulder to sample the air over there. Perhaps it smelled more of gravy on that side of the pudding-head. “No one of importance. Someone of great consequence. You know how it is.”

“Actually… no. I don’t.”

The thing growled low in its throat. “Well, accept my pronouncement. This is the way things are.”

“Oh.” If that was the way things were, who was Gladius to argue about it? Reality had a way of not brooking argument with itself, so there was no point in shouting.

Gladius walked on in silence for a while. It was nice having this thing on his shoulder. Its weight kept reminding him where he was.

And the weight was gone.

Gladius looked around. “Hello?” he ventured.

A sore squeak sounded from the ground not far away. The little creature lay on its back, clawed feet twitching ever so slightly.

Something impacted on Gladius’s back. Now, there is something you must know about pudding-heads: They have a great many disadvantages compared with a human. You already know that their learning is much hampered, of course. But another thing that causes an average pudding-head much difficulty is his sense of touch. You see, when someone taps you on the shoulder, your skin tells your nerves tell your brain, “Someone would like to speak with you, and hopefully they won’t punch you in the nose when you turn around.” So you turn around and discover that you owe your friend five dollars and it’s time to pay the piper.

Well, a pudding-head’s nerves and his brain are rarely on speaking terms. Perhaps they fought over who should have won at bingo last Thursday, or perhaps the nerves thought that the skin had cooties. Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, Gladius only vaguely felt something impact against his back. He turned to see if perhaps someone was tapping him on the back to request some money, whatever that might be, and because his eyes and his brain communicated quite well, he saw a rock come speeding toward his head.

He bent sideways and let the projectile fall harmlessly to the ground. “Hello? Has someone lost their rock?” he called. “I found it!”

Out of the shadows more rocks flew at him.

“Oh, thank you for sharing your rocks, but I am not interested in starting a rock collection,” Gladius hollered.

A pudding-head’s ears usually are on speaking conditions with his brain, though not always. Thankfully, today they decided to tell Gladius that someone was stomping the ground behind him.

Gladius turned to discover a man stomping the spot where his chittery friend had been laying.

“Sir, I am sure that’s not how you help my friend,” Gladius said. He dimly felt more rocks hit his back. Oddly, no one thought the new stomping man should have a rock collection.

The man yelped and dashed away into the woods, swallowed by the darkness. Soon after the rock collection stopped being offered to Gladius. The pudding-head knelt down on the ground to discover a pool of thick black liquid.

His chittery friend was gone.

This is the nineteenth chapter of Summers’ End

The Duty of the Sun

Brilliant sunlight and glass. Barrin trod a pavement of glass streaked in brilliant blue. Around him walls of dark glass glowed in the bright light. He squinted his eyes. One hand trailed the wall, the fingertips pressing against its surface.

He couldn’t feel it. Was it smooth? Cold?

Haliessen gestured. “Now, you know how to address the sun, yes?”

Barrin nodded. He had paid some attention to the old man.

He tried not to frown. The sun didn’t like frowns.

Haliessen grinned. “Now, the North Wind has granted you single audience. It will be just you and her. There won’t be anyone to save you! So don’t go jumping off any cliffs, all right? Stonefeather won’t save you!”

Barrin nodded again. What had the old man taught him? Remember everything. Do the duty you never trained for. Bear the weight.

If you don’t bear this weight, the sun will never return.

Finally Haliessen stopped before gates of dark green glass. Behind them, the great light of the sun pulsed. “Now, little warrior, remember: She’s not an enemy. Treat her as an honored mother, and you’ll do fine. Just fine!” His great hand patted Barrin’s back far more lightly than anything that size should be able to. “I’ll wait for your return.”

The glass doors swung toward them, casting a crimson light down the long hallway they’d trod. Barrin closed his eyes, took a deep breathe, and stepped forward.

A long glass walkway, open to the elements, open to wind and ice and snow, lay beyond. The sky remained black, but covering most of the darkness hung the sun. She bent close to the earth, a great orb that caused Barrin to break into an immediate sweat. At the end of the walkway, far away, a platform lay. He needed to get there to address the sun.

He began walking. “Never hurry to meet the sun, boy,” the old man had told him once. “She comes when she’s ready, and she leaves when she chooses. Nothing you can do will change that.”

His boots thudded against the glass. The wind pressed against him, but he felt no cold under the sun’s intense gaze. He did not look up at her.

Glass railings rose on either side of the walkway. He let a hand slide over one, just touching it with fingertips. Again, he felt nothing.

His arm began to shake.

No. No fear. Yes, the sun could burn you alive if her temper flared, but she chose to rise on the righteous and the wicked. He had nothing to fear here. She was not the Judge.

All he had to do was remind her of her duty. That’s all.

After years, months, hours, minutes of walking, he reached the end of the walkway. Only a platform, three steps up, and he would address her. One step.

The sun took up the sky. How could she not be burning him to ashes? How could she not be burning the towers and the trees of the garden? It made no sense.

Second step.

The air grew thick around him. How could he talk to the sun? The old man told him no one returned from that. And if he did the old man’s duty, who would do Barrin’s? This was madness. He couldn’t do both duties!

Third step.

He looked up toward the great orb that dominated the sky. “Mother Sun! Please listen to your child, one you care for, one you provide for. I cry out for your attention!”

Her voice came as if all the sky thundered at once. I see you, Barrin, the fifty-first generation.

“Mother, you have a duty! Do not flee! Return to the sky!”

The sun did not answer.

“Mother, answer me! If you do not return, how will you provide for your children? How will we endure?”

Barrin, the fifty-first generation. I cannot return. I fear.

She feared? What could scare the sun? And if something frightened the sun, how could Barrin possibly stand up to it? How could anyone? How could something make Mother Sun so frightened she would run away?

“Mother Sun, we need you!”

I know, Barrin, the fifty-first generation. But I will not return until the darkness has fled again. Find the Sword.

“Mother Sun – “

I must go now, Barrin, the fifty-first generation. I will not return.

The sky went black. The heat vanished. Mother Sun fled to her palace in the west.

Barrin failed his duty.

He… he failed.

This is the eighteenth chapter of Summers’ End.


The cool sand prickled between her toes. Seriah giggled as she walked across the gray landscape. She looked up to the moon. She sang it a happy song.

The moon looked down indifferently. It never cared for these creatures the One had adopted so long ago. They sang, they laughed, they died – what did it matter?

Of course there was no danger here! How could there be? All the Dark Ones fled long ago, before the Endless Summers began. Before they came to live in the gardens. Before the sun reigned from her palace in the sky, a servant to One far higher than herself. And if the Dark Ones had been conquered long ago, why would they ever need the wall?

She topped another rise, following the footprints. One set sank deep into the sand, the other seemed lighter. Maybe it was a man and a woman? Perhaps they were wed.

Seriah frowned. She should be married by now, but no man had ever fit her well. That certainly wasn’t all bad, of course. But perhaps it would be good to search someone out when she returned. They could come and explore the sands together.

The sands wanted to dance around the girl. They had no idea who she was; just that it felt good to be around one so young who did not know what they were. They wanted to leap up, but the wind was far too silent. Oh, to swirl around her! Oh, to let her breathe them in! Oh, to choke her! How wonderful to snuff out an innocent again! It had been far, far too long.

Up another rise. Seriah dropped down to let her fingers trail in the gray dust. It felt so pleasant against her skin. What would it be like to sleep on it? Would the sand listen to her the way the trees once did?

Where did these footprints lead? Was there another garden somewhere on the other side of the sands?

She scrambled to the top and gasped.

The footprints she followed led to a great dark unmoving form. The thing looked vaguely like a cat, but enormous. It lay as if sleeping, but the moon illuminated a great dark puddle that trailed from a mouth open at a strange angle.

She ran to the great cat. Even lying down, it rose to almost her shoulder. Its paws lay sprawled around as if it had fallen from a height. Its fur was so, so soft.

No heart beat in that chest.

She felt no life in its veins. The dark puddle – it was blood.

She looked at her fingertips, where tiny bloodstains still marked her skin. She looked back at the dark puddle that drooled from the poor creature’s mouth.

She had seen the dead before. She had mourned before. Never before had she seen so much blood. People died from old age or occasionally from sickness. Once a young one had fallen into a fire and there had been great grieving. But never before had she seen so much blood.

How could this be? What could cause it?

She bent her head against the flank of the great cat. She wept. Her tears flowed down her cheeks and along the fur, pale silver in the moonlight. Sobs shook her. She cried out to the moon.

The moon did not care about her tears.

The footsteps went all around the great cat.

Did they do this somehow? Did they cause the great cat to die? Who would do that to such a magnificent beast? Who were these two from the gardens?

Seriah thought of the little shadow, the one who had befriended her, sent her on this mission. He said there were no predators out there.

Was the wall there to protect the creatures of the sands from them?

Was she a predator?

No. She had no heart for this. Why would you slay a beast and not even honor it in its death? Why would you just walk away? She saw the footsteps leap across a crag in the ground and go on beyond.

No, she was no predator, but whoever owned these footprints – they were.

Seriah stood and wiped the tears from her eyes. She would follow them. She would find out. And she didn’t know how, but somehow they would have to answer for causing this animal to die. There was a very old phrase. What was it? The elders whispered it.

If you shed blood, then your blood shall be shed.

This is the seventeenth chapter of Summers’ End.

I Will Protect You When You Fall

Staying meant death for them all. No, the best way to keep her vows now would be to get out of Westing’s way. Amaril plucked the girl up and fled.

The girl weighed more than any sword. She weighed more than the pack. If Amaril couldn’t make the jump with those items, how could she leap the chasm with the girl in her arms?

No time to think. Run! Jump!

Behind her, Westing grunted, cried out.

Amaril flew through the night air, the chasm deep below her, sucking at her feet, pulling at her like Westing sucking down one of her pies, hungry, so hungry for her.

The edge caught her shins and she collapsed on top of the girl. Amaril threw all her weight forward. She crushed the girl, but she didn’t slide back down. The girl screamed. Again.

“Westing! We’re safe!” Amaril cried out.

Westing was lost in the murk of the night. Scuffling of sand. Weeping. She heard weeping. No, that was the girl, wasn’t it? It had to be. Westing didn’t weep like that. His sobs were deep and shuddering, not this light, can’t-breathe quick patter of breath.

She heard his feet on the sand again. Silence.

He must have jumped. Somewhere he was jumping over the chasm.

Make it over, Westing. Come on. You need to make it over.

He huffed as he landed, cried out again. He collapsed into the gray sand, the gladius falling from his hand.

The predators roared. Heavy footfalls pounded on the sand on the other side.

Amaril didn’t think. She didn’t have to. She had made vows. It was Westing’s vow to protect her; it was her vow to stand over him when he was weak. Now he was weak. The hilt of his sword was too large in her hands. Its blade sunk toward the ground.

She turned to the edge and saw golden eyes flying toward her.

Amaril thrust the blade forward toward the thing’s face.

The predator collided with the sword. The blade sliced through its mouth up through its head.

Unfortunately, death doesn’t stop inertia. The beast rammed into Amaril and threw her back against the sand. The heavy weight settled on her and did not move, leaking blood onto her face and hands.


She had taken the life of another being willingly.

It was to protect her husband. She kept her vows. She meant the beast no harm except to protect her family.

The second creature roared, somewhere far away.

That was the second creature, right? Not a third?

Amaril struggled to get out from beneath the beast but couldn’t move more than her shoulders. Soon a small form appeared beside the animal and began to push it aside.

The girl’s efforts didn’t help much.

Then a larger form appeared, limping over the gray sands, and added his weight to the girl’s. Eventually the dead animal slid off of Amaril.

Air! So that was what air felt like in her lungs. That’s a pleasant feeling. She should appreciate breathing more often, really.

The three gasped for breath together.

Westing smiled. “I love you.”

“Of course you do,” she answered, holding out a hand sticky with blood. She pulled her hand away. She couldn’t offer that hand to him.

He grabbed it. “We’ll overcome this together.” He turned to the girl. “Now, I suppose we should know your name, huh?”

This is the sixteenth chapter of Summers’ End.

Master and Pupil

“They don’t think you own the tree,” Gladius told the little shadowy thing. “They say someone else planted the garden long ago for them.”

The shadowy thing clung to the tree’s trunk. It had shredded the delicate white bark from a spot about two paces up and had sunk deep claws into the flesh of wood beneath. It regarded Gladius. “Then I suppose I cannot share my fruit with them.”

Gladius nodded sagely. “I suppose that natural consequences must follow. Well, thank you for sharing your fruit with me. I must go now.”

The thing blinked. “Why?”

“Because that is what I do. I awoke long ago far to the east, and I have always gone west. I do not know why.” He shrugged. “Nothing a pudding-head does makes sense, so I am told.”

The tiny beast growled up at the sky, waited a moment, and then growled again. When it spoke, it sounded unhappy. “May I travel with you?”

“Why not? But aren’t you attached to your tree? You’ve just returned; you shouldn’t leave now!”

It growled more as it drew out its claws, sunk deep, deep into the wood. “Yes. Well. I have long wished to travel to the west.” It spoke through clenched teeth. “Perhaps there we will find something new. Hold out your hands to catch me. I’ll ride on your shoulder.”

“Very well.” Galdius lifted his hands to comply, but thought better of it. “Shouldn’t we gather some of your fruit for the journey?”

“Will you pay my price?”

“Why should I?” Gladius scratched his head.

“Everything comes at a price. You get nothing unless you pay something.”

“That’s not the way it once was with your trees. They gave freely to all, merely for asking.” Gladius smiled. “It was quite pleasant in the garden before you returned.”

“Well, I am the owner, and I will say what happens!”

“Very well. I will allow you to ride on my shoulder for the price of all your fruit.” Gladius smiled. “You see, I learn when people teach me, and you have taught me so well.”

“Yes.” The creature’s sharp teeth showed. “Yes. And may I teach you more on our journey together?”

“Oh, I hope so. But what will I pay you with? I cannot accept learning unless I can pay for it. You yourself taught me that!”

The thing darted up the tree. “Oh, I will think of something. But I think you will do nicely. Yes. Let us go to the west, far beyond the mountains. A lady waits there I have long wanted to meet.”

“Oh! You mean you know someone that far away?”

“Yes. I have long wanted to meet the sun and teach her as I have you.”

This is the fifteenth chapter of Summers’ End.

The Palace at the Roof of the World

The sky’s cold air crushed Barrin. The Roc’s talons kept him in their clutch for days, for months. Perhaps for hours. He could not tell anymore; all he felt was the cold. His fingertips kept constant contact with the scaly claws that held him, but they no longer felt the surface below them.

The roc’s wings flapped like gentle thunder over and again and again, ever north, ever north.

Perhaps Barrin slept. Perhaps he passed out because he could find no way to breathe. Perhaps the cold suffocated him.

When he woke, sunlight streamed in a deep window set in a whitewashed wall onto the mattress he lay on. One hand brushed the rough fabric. He started.

A nearby form jumped when he jumped. “Hold on, little warrior, hold on.” The form stepped more clearly into view. “Gave me a surprise, there, and that’s not wise to do.” A mostly-bald man with long white hair smiled down at Barrin. “I’m sorry. My roc thought you were another snowyak falling off the cliffs. They do it often enough, brainless beasts, and that makes a good, easy meal. Sometimes I think Stonefeather is as brainless as the snowyaks!” He offered a dry chuckle.

“Where…?” Barrin couldn’t find more words. His throat burst into flames of pain.

“Here. Drink. The skies aren’t a good place for someone who isn’t used to them.” The man offered Barrin a massive mug of cool water.

Barrin imbibed deeply. One set of fingertips gripped the cool, smooth lacquer. The other set felt nothing.

“Now, as for where. You’re at the top of the spine of the mountains you fell off of, in the palace of the North Wind.”

Barrin furrowed his brow, but he kept drinking.

“You’re from one of the towers, right?”

Barrin nodded as he kept sucking in water.

“Well, I guess you’re not as trained as we thought you were. It’s our job to protect you from the worst of the cold and all it contains, so you can do your job and wake the trees and remind the sun of its duties. We know how important you are!”

Barrin finally finished the great mug and handed it back. He noticed the man’s hands dwarfed the cup. Finally he realized the old man was huge; at least three paces tall.

The old man raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“You’re – you’re huge!”

“You are a keen one. I’m sure you’re the pride of all your fellows.”

“But – how could a roc carry you?”

The old man quirked up a corner of his mouth. “Well, it’s easy when I’m not exactly human. Hollow bones and thin as a rail. Made for flight, I am. Fashioned by the North Wind as a servant to those in the gardens.” He offered a shallow bow. “Haliesen by name, and Stonefeather’s my brainless roc what caught you as you fell. And, if you’re quite recovered, we should deliver you to the gardens. You have a duty to fulfill, don’t you?”

Barrin ventured to sit up and swing his legs out of the bed. “Wait… there’s sunlight.”

“The palace of the North Wind is still safe. She’s come to say goodbye.” Haliesen’s eyes glimmered. “If you hurry, you might see her yet. Maybe you can convince her to return to the gardens; save your partner a trip.”

Barrin paused, a stab of guilt in his heart, but he nodded. “Yes. Yes, I should.”

This is the fourteenth chapter of Summers’ End.