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Prologues & Promises
Thu Oct 26, 2006 17:02 (XFF:

~Five Years Ago~

“Just a little further…” The sound of her friend’s feet scrapping across the rocks above her head made her grunt with effort and frustration as she pulled herself up the rope, and used her own feet to propel herself up the wall of the cave. Orlan was there, smiling down at her with amusement as he held the rope with one hand while keeping another on the knot that held it cinched around his waist. “Your face is a little red, Wil. Having a hard time of it?” She managed to pull herself up another arm’s length before letting out a breath that was aimed at blowing her hair out of her eyes. Had she not been so strained for each said breath, she would have given the man laughing at her a piece of her mind, but as it was, she held her tongue until she could reach the top of the summit.

Finally she arrived at the top and Orlan lent a hand to pull her over the lip of the stone that jutted out from the face of the cave. Once she had both feet firmly planted on the ground she looked over the edge, seeing how far they had both managed to climb. It seemed that this cavern had been carved out of the Mountains of Mist hundreds of years ago by the River Sharia. This was not the first forgotten piece of geography that the two of them had discovered together; Wiley and Orlan loved to explore the land around their native city of Amador. The view from their rocky balacony afforded them a sight of the grand room that they now found themselves in, and the light from Orlan’s lamp illuminated the ground water that leaked from the land above them across the ceiling and to the stalactites and stalagmites around as well as below their heads.

The young man to her left gave a low whistle, impressed that they had climbed so far. “I’ll bet there hasn’t been anyone in this cave for an Age.” The cave was completely barren with the exception of the lichen that grew on the walls and the constant dripping down the rust-colored walls. They had been looking for a place to play Guards and Thieves, and it seemed that this abandoned place was the perfect spot to make believe what they would never be allowed to in the streets of the city. The Hand of the Light would put an end to their sport and see the two them before a Questioner, no matter what their age. “My only question is—how are we going to get down?” He looked at her through the dark curls that were constantly in his eyes. Even at the age of fifteen, the innocence in his brown eyes could make him look only ten summers old, or less.

Wiley, who was only one season his junior, was the one he looked to for decisions and choices to be made. The two of them had been in a deep friendship for many years, nearly forsaking all others as a result of this bond. While he looked to her for an answer, she circled the small landing until she found a seat, precariously balancing one leg over the side with her foot dangling. “You’re the one who wanted to climb up here, remember? We’ll have to climb down, I suppose. You can go first again—that way if I fall, I’ll have a nice soft place to land.” She smiled up at him sarcastically for a moment before digging into the bag she had strung around her shoulders. In it she had packed a light lunch for the two of them with the anticipation that they would both be late for dinner again tonight.

Once he had chosen a spot for his own arse, Orlan sat down facing his friend and began gnawing at his share of the crusty bread. Had the baker caught the two of them nipping it from the window while it cooled yesterday morning when they snuck around the side of his shop, they would both be wearing the brand of a thief. Of course stealing it had been Wiley’s idea. She was more rogue than girl, and his father had warned him to keep away from her. Even now as he sat across from her, watching her take turns biting into an apple, and then a hunk of cheese, she looked a little wild or feral with her dark curls hanging limply around her face and shoulders, while her equally dark eyes looked at what she was eating instead of at him. Wiley had always eaten as if each meal would be her last, but he had never gained the courage to ask why. Despite years of knowing one another, much of her past was still a mystery to him. Just you stay away from that girl, you hear? She’s trouble with a capital T. Keep a friendship with her, and you’ll be swinging beside her at the gallows. Even the memory of the gravity in his father’s voice gave him a shiver.

While they ate their small meal the two of them remained quiet. It was a comfortable silence only punctuated by the sound of water hitting rocks and the gentle echo that it created. Finally Wiley finished eating and dusted her hands together to rid herself of crumbs before running them across the pant legs of the trousers she had borrowed from Orlan. Her dresses weren’t suited for adventures and she would not be allowed to leave her house in anything else. Every time the two of them went out she would have to borrow a pair of trousers and a shirt if she could not find one else ware. But with the budding maturity of her form, it seemed that her gender would refuse to be silent, and the front of the borrowed shirts began to grow ever tighter across her breast. Soon she would have too many curves to fit into his clothing; that is, until he became a man as well and the rest of his body caught up with his gangly arms and legs.

“Well,” Gracefully she pulled her leg up from the side of the cliff-like edge before uncurling her other limb to find her feet again. “I suppose we should get to work,” she noted seriously before placing her hands on her hips and taking the rope from off the floor. “We won’t get down any quicker if we just sit here.” She turned around to find a place to loop the end of the rope over in order to secure a firm anchor for the two of them. Finding no real place to tie the rope around, she frowned and turned back toward Orlan, perplexed. “How did you get up here, anyway?” He had made it to the top of the cave wall while she was still looking for handholds in the face of the rock. He had a great amount of upper body strength that she lacked, though her envy for it was evident when he gave a shrug and sly smile. Wiley did not enjoy being outdone by anyone, and her best friend was her greatest competitor.

“Alright then, I’ll climb down the rope, and you can shimmy back down the cave like a Fade in the dark. How’s that?” What little light there was in the cave played across her features making her annoyance with him change into age and give him a brief glimpse of how she would look once she became a woman. He smiled for a moment before blood filled his face and made his ears grow hot. He covered the blush quickly by climbing to his feet and helping her find a way to secure the rope in the rocks. Wiley may have forgotten that she was a girl, even when she was around him, but Orlan hadn’t yet given up the notion that she was female. He was growing more and more aware of the changes in their bodies, and more than once he had cut their playtime short with an excuse that he had forgotten chores at home and would be birched if he did not get there right away. Wilimina Darwish had no idea of the changes that were coming over her friend with increasing swiftness.

When they had made sure the rope was secure, Wiley checked her bag to be sure that flap that covered the top was closed. She wouldn’t be able to explain rust colored stains on the dress inside to her mother without giving herself away, and she did not desire another lecture. On her knees she backed slowly across the rock until her feet were hanging over the edge. “Don’t let me fall,” she said to Orlan who was now squatting in front of her and holding the cord of rope for her to take. “I won’t,” he said as she wrapped her hands around it and continued to back up until her legs were over the side and she lay on her stomach with only her arms to keep her fixed to the landing.

“Wait,” Orlan stopped her just as she was about to slip off the place in front of him and begin her decent. Wiley barely had time to meet his eyes before he was leaning on his hands and pressing his face to hers. Their lips made contact in a brief, awkward, but not unpleasant meeting. When her friend pulled away, Wiley frowned in confusion and continued down the rope.

It was nearly a year before they spoke of the incident, but neither of them forgot it for any of the days in between.

Three Years Later…

The wind was so cold and strong that it stung her eyes, making them tear. There in the quiet of the room where they were keeping him, it was easy to pretend that the air that was coming through the open windows was the only reason her face was wet. She had been strong up to this point, and people were counting on her to remain stoic without a hint of weakness or misery. A storm was blowing in, yet another from the Mountains of Mist. Already the houses were buried in snow so deep that men and women alike had began to don britches and heavy boots. With each breath that she released air misted around her face. Even though it was the middle of winter, there was no fire on the hearth, or any candles lit around the room. The only light that allowed her to see him was that of the full moon outside, and even it would be gone soon to be replaced by a heatless sun.

The other mourners had left long ago, and even in their absence she refused to give up her vigil over Orlan’s body or her emotional barrier that kept her from breaking down and shedding all her tears. She couldn’t understand why the Creator had taken him, only that she would miss him. He had been the only person she had ever cared about, and that had truly cared about her.

“I’m sorry that you’re gone,” she repeated again to the silence. “But I promise to finish what you couldn’t, alright? You know I will, don’t you, Orie?” It was a nickname that she had given him, but they had abandoned in their childhood. Now that he was a man, it would have embarrassed him to be called that by anyone other than her. “I will.” She promised again.

Time was growing short. If she did not leave now, she would not make the boat that she had hired this morning to take her away from Amadicia. That had been the only time she had been away from his side since his death. His burial had been delayed because she had refused to let him be put into the ground just yet, but now she knew he was not coming back, and she had decided it was time she move on physically and emotionally. A glance to the moon was confirmation that she needed to be going, so she shouldered her pack and leaned over him once more.

“Maybe I will see you when the Wheel turns again, friend.” She placed a banded hand onto his forehead to smooth back his hair before placing a kiss to his pale lips. This was only the third time that they had met, and as she turned away, she committed it to memory as the last.


Short author's note: her name is pronounced WHY-LEE.

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