--Chapter Nineteen: Five Days Later

The first snow of the season had come overnight. It was just a light dusting, and this came already late in the winter.

Isa liked the snow; it was the wind of winter she could not stand, and fortunately, there had not been much of that this year. Snow, when it came without wind, was peaceful. If she watched the sun come up over the whitened plains in the distance, she would see the ground gleam like a diamond. It was one of her favorite things about winter, and Isa would not miss it if at all possible. This morning was no exception.

Isa had a very warm woolen coat and a few pairs of warm pants and gloves for days in freezing temperatures, so she put these on very early and went outside. She walked east along the Windmill Road until she reached the top of a small hill. From here, she could look out on the countryside for a few kilometers into the distance. The sun would rise in about half an hour; a band of indigo had just begun to creep up on the eastern horizon.

She yawned and brushed the snow off a rock to the side of the road. Then she sat on this rock—it was about the right size for her to do so—and waited. There was something surreal in the whole experience, she thought. The air lay stagnant, the land silent to the point where her breath was the only thing she could hear. Snow had stopped falling hours ago, and the clouds had departed, leaving the sky a perfectly dark blue. Isa imagined that she was inside a marble, looking out—that sky could be made of glass, she thought. The stars, which were out in abundance this morning, could be reflections of light off a glossy but uneven sheen. And she may not have been able to tell, but when she looked up at that clear, cold sky, she may have been looking out on an entire world. She mused, There were many people from places east, west, north and south... so why not up, too? How would one ever know?

Maybe someday, if she were lucky, someone from that world beyond would come down on his or her way to somewhere else... and stop by The Windmill Road during the journey and have a drink or two at the tavern...

What types of stories would a person like that tell?

Time went on, and to Isa, the chill in the air only added to the calm of the atmosphere. It made her hold her coat in closer to her body, but it would not, she determined, be enough to make her catch a cold. Once the sun had risen, she would get a hot cup of tea back at the tavern.

As she continued to wait, she thought (as she often had over the course of the last few days) about Asmir. He had taken her advice and spoke with Roth about using a horse liniment to help his face heal. He already looked much better for it, too. The only part of him Isa was convinced would never heal fully was his voice—though for all she knew, maybe that too would only be a matter of time.

Asmir and the townspeople spent most of the time these days during his visit by trading stories. Asmir learned about the trade routes that went through The Windmill Road, the seasonal patterns of visitors, and some of the ways of simple country life. Meanwhile, he described his home town in detail, then described his family and friends... by the time he had finished, practically his whole life story, or the main events in it, at least, were all out in the open. Most interesting to the villages were the stories of his trips to Incria, the great city of the Aren Country Northeast. It was hard for Isa to imagine that city, even when he painted such a vivid picture of it, she thought; for one thing, she could scarcely envision a wall so large it could surround an area over a hundred times larger than her town. And within that wall, which stretched upward above every building in the city except the enormous clock at its center, more than a thousand people lived. Now that Incria stood victorious and its highest general (a man by the name of Kelshin) had declared himself king, there were plans in the making for a palace to be built. This would necessitate whole sections of the wall to be torn down and rebuilt later, in a larger perimeter, around the new edifice.

The part that confused Isa the most was how Asmir could talk about such things as if they were commonplace, trivial, and even to be taken for granted. To her it sounded like he said nonchalantly, “Yeah, it’s a big wall... but all you have to do is tear down part of it and build it up again. It’s not big deal.”

Well, maybe it was not a big deal to people who lived in that city. Then again, maybe some of the things Isa took for granted, such as the vast countryside now before her, would seem unbelievable to a city resident. All this land, she mused, would make for a very large yard in the city, indeed.

Simple country life...

Isa repeated the concept to herself and knew it was true. For people living on farms, there were very real hardships to overcome every year, but for a tavern waitress? Her life never met with any trials or tribulations that amounted to more than being out of ingredients for the meal of the day. Aside from the one day when she saw war firsthand, she was so far away from what anyone might consider to be the real problems of the world. And this was, for the most part, fine with her. So what if the rest of the world, more or less, went on without her and did not care? She knew she was not in any position to change the world or save it from itself. The ones who could do that (or, more correctly, the humans among them) were born far east of The Windmill Road. They lived in privilege and surrounded themselves with power. Now with Desdon defeated once and for all, only one man apparently wielded that type of power in all the East. Now that he had it, Isa wondered, how would he use it? She might never know the answer to that... though she had a hunch that she would find out sooner or later thanks to travelers’ stories...

A breeze blew across Isa’s face and brought her out of her thoughts and back to reality for the moment. The sun was about to come up. Lighter and lighter blues lined the sky in front of her, and the first sign of yellow appeared then over the next hill. Isa knew enough about the sun not to look at it directly, but when it came, its brilliance astounded her nonetheless. One second, the land was dark, and the next, it glowed, each snowflake on the ground reflecting the cold but piercing light of the morning. The temperature did not change, but Isa felt somewhat warmed anyway—until the wind picked up in an instant and reminded her of her earlier thought: getting a hot cup of tea at the tavern. She would get to that in a minute, she now decided; most of the hill in front of her still lay in shadow, and she wanted to see things get just a little lighter...

About half an hour later, she found herself shivering. At that point, she stood up and turned to go back into the village. When she was halfway there, she looked back and saw the whitened road go over the hill, where a silhouette of a rock jutted from the ground to the side of the path. That rock, where she sat to watch the winter sunrise, was the very farthest she had ever wandered from her home.