“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.”
“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.