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HIGHWAY 18

The moon rises through the black branches of the wood. An owl
calls and there is a rustle from the undergrowth. Behind me, west, the
sky is pale. I pull my hat and old scarf tight and run a little faster. My
boots slip on the damp earth of the pathway. The smell of bark, of
decaying leaves comes to me. In the dusk air my breath forms in
warm, hanging clouds.

When I want to talk, when I feel the conversations of those in the


Gathering shadow my mind I go. I find the trail that leads along the
river and winds through the wood and brings me to the far side of the
valley: that wood is thick, full of oak and birch. I like its silver light and
broken beams, its winding trails, dry and ochre in spring. I like it best
in autumn when those same trails are dark and leaf strewn. Sometimes
I stop where ice has frozen a watery furrow: the veins, the oval and
circular shapes, the splay of faded colours, a leaf suspended briefly.
And I look up and the sun is suddenly burned on trunks. A golden white
thing and I am lost. I am somewhere else. I am free of some pain that
carries me constantly to earth. Some weight always present, a weight
that haunts all of us in the Gathering.

My grandfather lives across the valley. There are deserted buildings


there. They come from the time before the Re-Alignment. I think of the
valley, the land on summer mornings, mist curling through its grasses.
I think of the hawthorns, the briar, and when winter comes how they
are frosted white and the ground is hard; snow is falling from a soft
grey sky.

Why grandfather lives apart from us no one says. Perhaps the


conviviality, the proximity, the dwellings and public places of the
gathering are not to his liking. I suspect he has always been a solitary
man: a man who does not take to the interference of others. And
maybe they do not take to him. He is want to ignore their petty
concerns, shun their conventions and keep his own counsel.
The building in which grandfather lives is old and vine covered.
Once it must have been splendid. Now there are gaps in the roof. Walls
have collapsed. Bramble, pink flowered in spring, grows into cracks,
curls around posts and fills empty spaces. A window, an eave is a
nesting place for birds. At the back of the building is an overgrown
garden. It is full of brushwood and bits of broken machinery. I know the
names of those rusted things: a tractor, the wing of a car, an old
television, a washing machine and a refrigerator. Language is one of
the gifts of those in the Gathering. Words. We read and study. After we
have worked our small plots of land, tended our crops we talk with
each other. Sometimes we sing and dance. There are those who read
from the old texts: poems and stories, explanations of things, the
history of our people before the Re-Alignment.

From the back of my grandfather’s house you see blue mountains.


Apple and pear trees grow around what was once a swimming pool. In
summer they attract wasps that fly about my head. When I was young
I liked to play in the long swaying grass.

It is in the back part of the house grandfather lives. If the weather is


fine, a summer evening, the sun like fire in the sky to the west, we sit
in the open. We sit in two tattered wicker chairs. Usually he pours me
homemade lemonade from a cracked glass jug. That lemonade always
tastes bitter and then sweet. It curls my tongue and makes my eyes
wince until I begin to savour its other tastes: the sugar, the wild-honey
and grape. I let it sit on my tongue as long as I can, then swallow.
Feeling it settle in my stomach, feeling it bring up memories of all the
times I have sat with grandfather talking, watching the moon rise,
hearing the birds sing their last day-songs and then waiting for the
velvet beat of bat wings on dusky air.
Now that I am near seventeen grandfather will produce the tin he
carries everywhere. He will open it and invite me to roll a cigarette
from the tobacco and wild herbs. I like the feel of the soft strands and
leaves between my fingers.

I go tonight because I wish to talk. I wish to hear grandfather speak


of The Highway. Those of the gathering turn away. ‘No,’ they say, ‘it is
best left alone’. ‘We do not wish to know. Leave alone what cannot be
changed’.
I wish to hear what grandfather has to say about those who often
looked down that Highway and went and never were heard of again.
So, tonight with the moon rising, the air sharp and frost-promising I
take the trail that leads to the river and make my way across the
valley.
The ‘Highway’ once led to the city, Caersten. It runs south and
crosses the eastern edge of the Great Forest: about an hour’s walk
from the Gathering. Now it is overgrown with weed and tall grass, its
great blocks and slabs of cement, cracked and open. When I look at it I
find it hard to believe that once it carried so many to and from
Caersten. I try to imagine the cars, the containers, the coaches rushing
along its carriageways. They go to destinations across the country,
places that are now for us many days travel.
The older ones speak of those days. They remember the time
before the Re-Alignment. Before The Shining Ones came to power and
brought truth. They speak of that time with ambiguity. With nostalgia
and bitterness. They speak of it as time when they had something. It
was a time when their learning was valued: their knowledge useful: a
time when they were not outcast. Now they have little. To admit to
having so little would, I suspect, break many of them apart. And
though I often think they are already broken apart perhaps they hold
on by telling themselves it is otherwise. I cannot imagine how a person
lives with that lie. What they have to do to make sure the truth never
creeps into their dreams, their thoughts and sweeps them away.

I like to talk to grandfather because he is different. Unlike the others


he does not deny things. In fact he often tells me of how, as young
man, he saw it coming. He understood the signs. The Re-Alignment
was in fact a return to older ways. It was he who told me that where
we now live, the houses we have taken over, the Gathering, was once
different. Once people like us owned them. They were people who had
families. They were free to go where they liked. To be with whom they
chose. Many probably worked in Caersten, travelled to it each day.
Perhaps they were not sophisticated or glamorous people but they
were honest and hard working and true. ‘But then,’ grandfather says
gravely, his voice quavering, ‘those values were destroyed. They were
turned inside out and what was up was down, what was bad was good
and truth was whatever was convenient.’

Grandfather is a man who has read a lot. In that dilapidated house


there are boxes of old and dusty books. Occasionally I have seen him
read them. With thin, grey hair falling over his face, he bends lovingly
over a faded and dog-eared cover. His mottled skin is warm in
candlelight, his sad and wise eyes move slowly and thoughtfully over
yellowed and torn pages. Once he read aloud for me. Though no longer
strong, his voice still commanded attention. ‘There are no definite
answers in books’, he said that night, ‘yet there is plenty to make a
person think. There is plenty to get a person asking questions’. He
describe his father’s time as a time when there was still much work to
be done. There was still a long road to travel. It was a ‘freedom of
sorts’. ‘Life is hard’, was his only comment when I asked him why
things changed. ‘Life is hard and there are no answers in the face of
death and the question of why we are as we are. People do not want to
face that. Offer them a solution, a delusion and they will take it rather
than live with uncertainty’. I asked him that night if the Re-Alignment
was a delusion. He smiled, his eyes becoming fierce and a little proud.
‘Those are dangerous thoughts,’ he said. ‘Do not let any hear you say
such a thing. I only said when people are afraid of knowing they will
accept delusion in preference to searching and finding an answer
within themselves.

Once I went to the house and grandfather was not there. I began to
wander around the dusty, broken rooms. I stepped over broken fittings,
shattered plaster, until I came to a makeshift ladder. It led up into the
eaves. Curiosity overcoming me, I climbed and found myself in a dry
dusty attic. There were boxes pushed back against a wall and away
from sunlight. I could not resist so I opened them feeling a little guilty.
It did not occur to me grandfather would be unhappy about me reading
them. It was a grey afternoon in late winter.
I searched through the books. There were many different titles.
Some were books on science, some on philosophy and art and others
simply literary stories. Then I came upon something different. It was a
plastic folder in which there were many hand-written pages. The pages
were yellowed and in places faded.
Carefully I took it from among the books and climbed back down the
ladder. I went to the back room where grandfather always sat and
threw some kindling into the stone hearth. Pulling my old fur coat
open, loosening my scarf and removing my hat I sat cross-legged on
the ground and took the pages gently from the folder. As the first of
the flames rose, as the dry branches crackled and hissed, I began to
read.
I read of the days that brought the Re-Alignment. I read of how The
Shining Ones offered truth. How they claimed to liberate the people
from the tyranny of the past. I read of how they promised guidance to
a world in need of guidance. I read of the great meetings they held in
Caersten, meetings and discussions shown on giant screens and
broadcast across the country. At these meetings, these broadcasts
they spoke in clear and simple terms that all could understand. They
called on citizens to be good to one another. They asked parents to
make sacrifices that their children and grandchildren’s futures might
be bright. They demanded that all respect nature. They assured any
who doubted that prosperity was the right of the deserving. Famous
personalities were eager to endorse. Stars of the cinema, of music, of
sport lent their support. A committee called The Emissaries was set up.
Its ambassadors travelled widely and worked tirelessly for peace and
togetherness. They gave awards to leaders who best exemplified what
was called the New Spirit. And suddenly they ruled. Business merged
with state. Laws were re-written rules re-adjusted. Liberties were
‘streamlined’ to make their execution more efficient. Then replaced
with the common good. When asked, neither The Shining Ones nor The
Emissaries blinked. When interrogated, they did not dissemble. Why
should we not govern? Why should you not trust your future to us? We
will provide. Why concern yourself with the burdens of individual lives
when we are all a great family. We are one. We are united in a love of
good.
I read that afternoon huddled close to the fire. The grey winter light
seeped through the broken room. I stopped for a time and watched the
day fade. Dark fell over the valley, birds cried and trees creaked. I was
still sitting there when grandfather returned. He came in, an old
woollen army coat belted around his frail body and two dead rabbits
over his shoulder. Seeing what I read, he stopped sharp and stared.
“Have you read yet of what happened to those who did not agree
with The Shining Ones? Have you read about the detention camps, the
genocide? Have you read about the forced sterilisations, the
reproductive licensing?” he asked.
He spat. Then his eyes sad, emptied as if of life itself, he asked had
I read of the despair in some people’s hearts as they watched others,
deluded, fooled, throw away the very values that make a person
unique. ‘Yes’, my grandfather said that day, ‘there is nothing a people
whose hearts are heavy with greed and fear will not accept. No
nonsense, no tyranny they will not run to’.

We sit by the fire. It burns bright. Outside the dark has settled. Stars
sprinkle the late autumn sky. The moon shadows the land and paints
the curve of the distant mountains. Grandfather holds a glass of apple
cider. I roll a cigarette.
“What did you want to speak about?” he asks. His voice is weak and
he coughs.
“Arün I am getting too old,” he adds. “I look at each autumn, each
winter now as maybe my last.”
“Grandfather, what will I do when you are not here?”
He smiles.
“You have not told me what it was you came to speak of.”
I lean forward and take a small burning branch from the fire. Placing
it to the end of my cigarette I light it and draw in the smoke.
“I shall tell you the story grandfather.”
Some days ago I went with my friend, Dayn, down the highway. We
had been talking about it for some time. You know that most in the
gathering do not like to speak of the highway. Some say it is
dangerous to follow. Grandmothers frighten children with tales of
sprites and dragons. It is thought best to stay away from it. Once it led
direct to Caersten. Though the older ones say that now the way is lost.
Anyway Dayn and I had long been curious. It stands there as though it
is asking a question. Often I have gone to its edge, sat on the old slabs
of concrete, listened to the wind blowing through the long grass and
wondered.
Fourteen mornings ago Dayn and I decided we would set out and
see how far we could go. We prepared some eggs, bread and cold
meat. Dayn brought canvas, tarpaulin and some poles he had found so
we would have somewhere to sleep if needed. We packed this all into
our canvas bags, strapped what we could to our backs and made
ready. I did not tell Dayn, but I also took a small handgun I use for
hunting.
We set out just after dawn. There was still dew in the long grass.
The sky was misty and grey. It was some time before the sun came up
but soon we passed the eastern edge of the Great Forest and found
the highway. It stood there, the concrete slabs grey and silent, the
cracked and broken struts eerie and the weed and bramble thick
where they could grow. The choice was not difficult. We had simply to
follow the old cement line and taking the sun as our bearing we would
head south. So we began. At first it was easy. We walked, the highway
to our left, our feet crunching through the damp and tangled
undergrowth. On we went. In places the concrete rose, looking as
though some creature from below the earth had arched its back and
displaced the surface. There were times we needed to use our knives
and hack our way through tangles of briar and scrub. Yet mostly the
way, though uneven was not testing.
We walked until the sun was high and had dried the dew. Around
midday a small copse of chestnut and birch came into view. I
suggested to Dayn we should stop and eat. This we did, pulling out the
eggs and bread, the cold meat and drinking from our water bottles.
Dayn had tobacco, so when we finished, we lay for a time and smoked
and watched the leaves sway above our heads. Soon we were on our
way again.
As the afternoon wore on, I wondered where we went and why and
thought of telling Dayn about the gun in my canvas bag, thought of
suggesting we should do some hunting then did not. Perhaps it was
better I remained silent. Near mid-afternoon, the highway changed and
we came to a crossing. A bridge rose before us, a great thing all in a
circle. It was collapsed in places and fallen through. Signs towered into
the pale sky. Winds whistled around them and on their blue-painted
and rusting faces were words: south to Caersten – 25 kilometres –
Highway 18. Aelmidde and Northeast – Highway 13: all other
destinations – Highway 4. We walked on, choosing the direction south,
again finding the concrete slabs and struts. I knew now we were
headed in the direction of the city and a faint excitement swept over
me. By late afternoon a small forest appeared to our right. Dayn said it
would be a good place to pitch our tent for the night and as the sun
was getting low I agreed. At the forest’s edge we came on trails
leading off among trunks of oak and sycamore. They wound, were dark
and strewn with autumn leaves. Following them, we came to a
clearing. We crossed a swift running brook and then climbed to the
crest of a low hill. We stopped. There in the distance stood the city of
Caersten. Beyond the forest line, over yellowed fields and brown hills,
like some marble monument on the horizon, it shimmered in the late
afternoon light. I had not believed it so close. And yet now I gave it
some thought and understood that the highway would not have been
of such width and length had the city not been in some way there.
We sat on that hill, Dayn and I for some time. We sat and watched a
kestrel swoop down and dive after its prey. We sat and the light
deepened and still Caersten remained on the horizon: a great thing,
darkening in shape with the fall of the sun, yet slowly lighting from
within. It was silent and strong. It was a citadel. It brought on me a
great feeling of sadness.
“We cannot go any nearer,” Dayn said at last. “It is believed there
are barriers that can kill a man with just a touch.”
“I agreed and told him some of what I had heard. It was believed
there were ways of making the waves in the air behave that unless you
were one of the Aligned your mind would become unbalanced: and
that there were Guards trained in hunting persons. Who had weapons,
light-guns that burned the body at distance. Some, I said, even have
weapons that can shatter the bones with sound. A person need’s a
pass to go there. They need the Seal to enter beyond those strange
walls.”
And so we sat. We were two pilgrims looking at the citadel that
would forever be beyond our reach: two pilgrims on a path that would
never find an end. The road beneath our feet had been taken away.
We were silent.
“How does one get the Seal?” Dayn then asked.
“I have heard a person needs great wealth,” I answered. “A person
needs a patron or must be born in the city. You must be one of the
Aligned. You must swear allegiance to The Shining Ones.
I turned to Dayn.
“That is something we of the gathering, of the outlands, the field
and forest will never have. We are the Un-Aligned. We are the fallen
and must forever live from the old things, what is left-about. Our plight
is to be always outside.”
“I have heard that said too,” answered Dayn. “The older-ones still
speak bitterly.”
We sat then and said nothing. We sat and watched as the light fell,
as dark and heavy clouds moved west. The sky grew turquoise and
beams of light reached up from the distant shape of Caersten. And I
said nothing.

We left the hill and walked back to the clearing. I felt sorry to leave
our view of the city. I felt by no longer looking I was also turning my
back on its existence. I could understand this. As an out-person I would
never be allowed entry through its portals. The older-ones in the
gathering were never slow to voice their hostility. They looked on in-
persons as their masters, yet hated them and despised their manner of
living. I often thought of this and wondered what they knew of these
lives. And I concluded – little. When I asked they would mutter beneath
their breaths of deceit and arrogance and how all in-persons looked
down upon honest folk. The Aligned considered those who lived on left-
abouts to be inferior.
In the clearing we set up our tent. It did not take long, and though a
little ramshackle it sufficed. We gathered kindling and soon we had a
fire. We sat before it, tired from our walking and heated water in a
blackened tin pot. Though the sun had set and the forest was
shadowed, though the trees creaked I remained alert. My eyes
scanned the dark beyond the fire and I listened. Then I heard it: the
snap of a twig. I looked to Dayn and quietly asked if he had also heard
it. We sat still, our breaths fogging in the cool evening air. I could
sense Dayn’s tension and knew my own and quietly reached out and
opening the canvas bag took out the handgun. Looking to Dayn and
signalling to him to be quiet I clicked the safety catch off. His eyes
moved quickly around. They covered the trees, the scrub and then
returned to me. I understood. He moved his head slightly and indicated
with his chin that indeed something, or some person was moving in the
trees just ahead of us.
Again there was a snap: a heavy footfall. Someone was flitting
quickly from tree to tree, as though using the dark of the trunks for
concealment. A strange fear came over me. I grasped the gun tighter
and motioned to Dayn that we should try and conceal ourselves in the
bush and scrub behind us. There we could wait and see if whoever was
there would show themselves.
The minutes passed. My heart thumped and I listened to the ticking
of my old watch. Then there was a sudden movement. I heard steps,
heard something crashing through the undergrowth and coming
toward us. I could not see Dayn and though I was certain he heard the
same sounds as I, I was not sure of his reaction and so I determined I
would act and act alone and spring forward and challenge this person. I
was on the point of leaping when suddenly a fierce light seemed to
open up in front of me. A circle that was white and shone and confused
me. I could not see. My eyes winced and I raised my arm to protect
them and in doing stumbled somewhat. Then I heard a girl’s voice.
“An out-person. A boy. And with a primitive firearm.”
“Stand back or I will shoot,” I called out. “I am skilled in gun-use. I
can shoot a deer from distance or a moving fox. I am not afraid to use
it.”
“Sure you are not,” the voice replied. “But I wear body-armour and
the light blinds you. Even if you hit your aim cannot be good. Stand so I
may see you.”
My heart clenched. With such talk I was sure I spoke with an in-
person.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “Why should I stand?”
There was a scuffle from my left and Dayn whistled low.
“Arün what is this light? I cannot see. Who do you speak with?”
The girl purred as Dayn’s face suddenly appeared close to mine,
shadowed and anxious and he too shielded his eyes from the light.
“Two boy out-persons. This turns-over excellent.”
“What do you want from you us?” demanded Dayn. “We were not
near the city. We have not wronged. Let us be free.”
“Correct you were not near the city. I saw you look longingly
though,” answered the voice. “If your friend puts aside his gun I will
not finish you. Then I will turn down the light and you will see me. You
will be surprised. I wish only to talk. We will spend time together.”
“Why should I lay down my weapon,” I called out. “How do we know
you will not harm us?”
“I can harm you now. It is easy. I do not want to. I want to talk.”
What she said was true. I could not see to take proper aim and if I
fired and missed, this in-girl would have the advantage because of her
light. Slowly I placed the gun on the ground before me.
“Good,” she said.
She stepped from the shadows and up to the fire. I saw a girl about
my own age, dressed as though in a dark shell, with a tight head
garment and shining band across her eyes. She held a weapon in her
hand, a compact thing that emitted a red line of light. The torch she
had shone came not from her hand but from the said of her head. I was
cautious.
“What do you want to talk about?” I asked.
“May I sit with you by the fire?”
I stood and gestured to her to take a place. Then I bent down and
picked up the handgun and slipped it into the pocket of my breeches.
She sat quickly, crossing her legs and looking about her. Dayn offered
her some of the tea we had been brewing but she refused. She
examined everything, touching and turning, peering into the tent and
making no secret of her curiosity. I felt ashamed of our things, of their
poverty, of their roughness but she seemed pleased. Dayn was
nervous and whispered to me that we should leave, we could run when
she was not looking and perhaps elude her among the dark trunks and
tangled undergrowth. Yet I was tired and wanted to sleep, wanted the
warmth of fire.
So we sat quietly. The moon rose slowly through the trees. It was a
new moon and when I said it was in the sign of harvesting she looked
at me curiously.
“Out-persons believe in witchcraft it is said. Now I hear you evoke
the moon. Do you wish to cast a spell upon me?”
“Do not be foolish,” I answered. “We do not believe in these things.
That is simply in-person lies. Perhaps in the cities you see so little of
the natural world you fear it and see in it dark and strange things. It is
less powerful than you imagine.”
“I am sorry. I wished you would cast a spell. I am curious to know of
magic. It is forbidden to us.”
Again we were silent: Dayn and I and this girl of the in-world. Then I
asked.
“What is your name in-person?”
She looked at me quizzically. Her eyes were defiant in the flickering
light.
“I am called Emzin. That is how you should address me.”
“So Emzin,” I continued, “why are you here in the out-world and
intent on being with us?”
She was quiet for a few moments.
“I am curious as to how you live. You are lesser-things to us. Some
even call you the hang-backs. I am now in my eighteenth year. Next
sun-passing I will give myself to my pathway. I will be betrothed. He
has been chosen for me. Before that I would like to be wild and dark-
doing.”
“And you come to us?” I responded. “You think we are dark-doing?”
“Hang-backs are all dark-doing. It is why we are not permitted
contact.”
I was about to protest this when Dayn interrupted me.
“And what sort of dark-doing do you wish for?” he asked.
She looked at him and a strange smile crossed her lips. Even in her
body-armour, with the curious head-garment she wore, her eyes
partially concealed by the shining band, I could see she was attractive.
“Dark-doing that is forbidden in the city. Except before one’s
betrothal. Then we are permitted a wild-time.”
I could sense Dayn’s growing interest, so I asked.
“Tell us of the Betrothal.”
“It is simple,” she replied. “When we are twelve years our codes are
read. The Reading determines are social standing. Our Carers place us
on the register. Then we are assigned a life-partner. Between eighteen
years and twenty-one we are permitted a time of looseness. At twenty-
one we become one with the partner and begin our life-work; our
service to community.”
“Your Carers are your parents,” I asked.
“Yes.”
“Do they know you are here?”
“If they choose.”
“I do not understand,” Dayn said. “How if they choose?”
She pulled aside a piece of body armour and pointed to a device
that grew as if beneath her skin. It glowed green in the dark.
“It is my Seal,” she exclaimed. “They can know my exact position.
They can speak to me and tell me of their wishes and if I should be
with them.”
“You do not have much privacy,” I said, “out-persons do not have
such restraints. We go where we want. Only necessity makes us tell
our whereabouts. We do not need such devices. We have heart. We
are not afraid.”
In the dance of the flames her eyes flashed darkly.
“I am not afraid. I am armed and can call on Help if needed. It is you
who are afraid. You are afraid of Alignment. Afraid of the excellence of
the in-world.”
I snorted. Then I brought out my tobacco and herb and began to
roll. I was going to offer her some when she stood suddenly. And in the
dark, the amber of the fire, the smoke and rustling trees, she began to
remove her body armour. She shed it as a snake sheds it skin,
dropping it to the ground about her feet. Then, standing in some tight
kind of garment that seemed bound to her body, she began to remove
it also: until she stood before us naked. A young woman, with short
even hair and demanding eyes, with full, firm breasts and her sex soft
and inviting to our eyes.
“Would you like to sex with me?”
“Which of us do you mean?” Dayn asked hoarsely.
“Both if you wish,” she replied. “But you will be enough. I am well
trained and can give pleasure. I want to know lust before I must
connect and be one.”

That night, the fire low and the trees creaking, I lay in the tent and
listened as they had their pleasure. The space was not great and their
cries, their moans and laughs tore at me. I do not say I was not also
inflamed and tempted. Yet something wiser held me back. Some pride.
I could not let myself be a plaything of this in-girl. I could not say
where it would lead.
When Dayn and her were finished, when they were spent we all lay
together beneath the rough woollen blankets and she spoke. She
spoke not to us, but as if to the night air itself. She told us of her life.
How she believed the codes were the result of karma. It was The Great
One who determined the deserving and the undeserving. The Great
One channelled through The Shining Ones who when they appeared
before the citizens, spoke with a clear voice. He promised hope and
joy, they provided comfort. And she told of Caersten and its great
thoroughfares. Of its towers and perfect life: the domes and
waterways, the temples and academies. She continued in this way
until I felt my eyes close, felt sleep come up on me, until I drifted away
and then woke, the dawn grey and misty about us. And it was Dayn
who was already moving about. He was searching through my canvas
bag, looking anxiously over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” I whispered fiercely.
He turned, his eyes glazed and angry. He put his finger to his
mouth.
“I am looking for the gun. Where have you hidden it?”
“Why,” I asked, reaching out and grasping his arm.”
“Her,” he said, shaking his arm free and pointing at Emzin. “Her.
She is a serpent. Let us kill her. No-one will know.”
She turned and stretched out a bare arm. I held my breath but she
did not wake.
“Kill her? Why kill her? She has done us no harm.”
“She is corrupt. She is an in-person. We do not have trade with that
sort. Let us be done with her.”

We left the tent quickly and quietly that dawn. I pulled Dayn with
me, clamping my hand about his mouth until we were far from the
forest. The gun that had all the time been in the pocket of my breeches
I held against his side until we could speak without fear of waking the
girl and have her follow us. Then I said.
“To have killed her you would have had to kill me first. Murder is not
something friends permit to come between them.”
Then we walked back along the highway as we had come.

The room is quiet. It is now the dead of night. A full moon shines
and bathes the bed in pale light. My brothers and sisters sleep. I lie
under the woollen blanket and think.
“You did right Arün,” grandfather said. “You were wise. It is one of
the things we in the Gathering must hold on to. We recognise right
from wrong. We have loyalty and fellow feeling.”
I think of Dayn that evening as we neared the Gathering. Shaking
with anger, then crying bitter tears. He knelt as we came to the
eastern edge of the Great Forest.
“You will not tell my kin?” he begged.
“I will say nothing,” I answered, walking on past him.
Copyright © Peter Millington 2009

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