"You know what I think of this fool's errand," John repeated for the fifth
time that morning.
"Indeed I do," Cameron replied, yanking fiercely at a leather strap.
"S'blood! why could his father not accept his decision? Why must he stand
about bleating like an old she-goat?
In the corner, feet planted firmly apart, gnarled hands resting atop a
twisted staff, Cameron's grandfather sat, defiant. "You would not hold a
stag hound back from exploring a tempting scent?"
"I would if I had any love for the young pup knowing the trail might lead
to the den of a bear."
The elder's eyes twinkled appreciatively. "And if you confined the
creature to an enclosure where he lay, day after day, head on paws, muzzle
pointed in the direction of his longing, what would happen to the spirit of
your 'young pup', eh?"
"You forget," Cameron interrupted, "that I am not an accursed mongrel, but
a man!" Cameron returned to his preparations, though there was little
adjustment necessary in so modest a wallet.
"My intention was not to offend, lad, but merely to..." he opened a
massive hand, hoping to pluck the words which evaded him from the air.
"...In any case, what sort of father would I be if I did not voice my
"To that question," Cameron responded huffily, "there is no reply, as there
is meant to be none." Grandfather chortled quietly and Cameron turned to
him smiling, pleased to have retorted so shrewdly, his father, however,
simply stood staring into his beard. Stroking it thoughtfully, the big man
questioned "You have remembered the fine wool mantle, the one traded for
"And the leather jerkin. The one which..."
"I have, and the fine, woollen doublet... 'for it grows cold in the hills at
this time of year'...and a stout pair of boots and a blanket, and the good
Lord knows what else."
"Then nothing remains to be said."
"Well then, I had best be going." Cameron had meant this to sound
cheerful, confident, manly, but the words had come out cracked and to cover
his irritation, he stomped aggressively across to his grandfather and thrust
out his hand. The old man took it shakily, secretly cursing that weakness
made him appear a doddering old fool in the eyes of his fine, young grandson.
"God smile upon your journey," he growled, hoping to disguise the emotion
which threatened to shame him.
"May it be so," Cameron replied, stooping to kiss a sunken cheek. He then
turned to confront his father, seeming a young pup indeed before his
mightily girthed sire. Uncertain how to take his leave, Cameron stood
shuffling nervously, but his father would stomach no awkwardness and stepped
forward to embrace him.
"You'd not go without my benison, surely? Much good may it bring you."
Releasing his only child reluctantly, he then hurried over to the fireplace,
stooping to poke savagely at the brightly burning logs. Cameron turned and
left, shutting the door behind him with a sigh.
"If you had not spoken of it," John commented quietly, "perhaps he would
not be going."
"Perhaps," the old man agreed, but then added sagely, "but I think it would
have been one thing or t'other." To this, the silhouetted figure failed to
reply, though the grieving set of the shoulders spoke louder than words.
It was a glorious spring day on which Cameron's long legs strode out in the
direction of his destiny. It felt good to be young in a world which was
celebrating dawning life. Cameron whistled, not because he had forgotten
his home, but simply because he was too delighted by the prospect of
adventure to view his leave taking with despondency. In any case, he'd be
back soon enough. What was a few days absence when time stretched out
Load swaying pleasantly, boots kicking out rhythmically, Cameron's thoughts
flitted about him like swifts as he opened his senses to the crisp smells
and bright sights around him. Perhaps that explained his failure to
immediately register that something was amiss.
The jaunty whistle disappeared an hour's walk or so from Cloverdale being
replaced by ragged snatches of half-remembered songs. Cameron found it
disturbing that his mind could not grasp hold of a single tune, though
normally his recall was excellent. It was unaccountable and irritating.
Like a pebble lodged in a shoe, it detracted from his enjoyment. Thus it
was that he broke his journey and settled to partake of the midday meal
before the sun had reached its zenith.
Munching on the good, fresh loaf his father had baked that morning,
Cameron's mind wandered erratically over the morning's journeying. Nothing
unusual presented itself, except possibly...his mouth swung open suddenly,
revealing partly chewed pulp. Eyes narrowing, he spat in disgusted
realization, then twisted around with disbelief on his face.
"You can come out now." The circle of foliage declared its innocence.
"There is no further need for pretence." Still no response except the
twittering of birds. "Right!" Cameron leapt angrily to his feet, thrust
the loaf into his wallet, slung his belongings over a shoulder and ...
With a squeak of dismay, the crouched girl sprang instantly to her feet.
Through thrashing bracken and lashing weeds, the wild pursuit began.
Leaving the track, they plunged into the wood. Though heart pounded, thighs
burned and thwacked limbs cried out, she followed unhesitatingly. Bursting
into a clearing she failed to catch sight of a running figure and she
dropped to the ground in dismay.
No! she resolved clenching her fists, she would not resort to womanish
tears. She would regain control over her heaving body, rest a little, then
track the ingrate down. If worse came to worse...
"You never could beat me in a race, Gwennie," a sober voice informed her.
Through hair come adrift, she spied him peripherally, standing arms folded.
Removing a dampened ribbon, she re-tied her willful locks with exaggerated
care, rose to her feet and stepped haughtily into the undergrowth. She
hadn't walked far when Cameron appeared trotting beside her.
"Where do you think you are going?"
"Back to the village, of course."
"Then I suggest you head east," he stopped, pointed in a bored manner,
yawned and sat at the base of a tree, " as for me, I intend to resume my meal."
Gwendolyn swallowed her humiliation, lowered her head and began to walk in
the direction indicated. All around her the trunks of trees stretched
upwards shielding the sky. It was impossible to tell east from west without
the aid of the sun. Nervously, she glanced over her shoulder - he had
Panic became a flapping bird within her chest. "He's only trying to
frighten me," she told her agitated heart and resolved to continue. "Go
back," her reason urged, but her pride was stronger and grew more triumphant
as the trees thinned and she began to realize that the wood was
When she stepped out blinking into the open and located the track that led
home, she broke into a grin.
"You surprise me," a voice interrupted her joy. "I thought you would run
screaming through the woods, and that I would be forced to accompany a
hysterical female home."
"Do not interrupt your journey for me."
"I have no intention of doing so."
"In that case, you had best be gone," the young woman spat out.
"No doubt, but there is still the matter of my meal. Errr, would you care
to join me?" Raising an eyebrow in charming inquiry, Gwendolyn weighed the
demands of her empty stomach against that of her pride - her stomach won.
At first they sat in silence, chewing appreciatively on crusty hunks.
Cameron, however, was not one to remain silent for long.
"Why did you follow me?"
Gwendolyn blushed and wished her hair loose again so that it might screen
"Follow you?" She shook her head, rejecting the notion. "I did not follow
"Is that so?"
"Mmmm," she answered, hastily gulping a mouthful of bread, "I was following
"Truly?" Cameron's sarcasm was not lost on the girl, but she chose to
ignore it "and pray, where were you headed?"
Gwendolyn took another enormous bite and chewed frantically searching for
an answer. "I thought to visit my aunt in...River Bend." It was the
furthest village she could call to mind."
"You have no aunt."
"Not so, she is...married to a tinker and...their child is soon to arrive,
she...sent for me, being in need of a woman's help at such a crucial time."
"Cod's wallop. To begin with, River Bend lies on the other side of those
hills. As for "being in need of a woman's help," what sane creature would
summon an inexperienced, half-grown waif such as yourself to aid in the
delivery of a child." Cheeks aflame, Gwendolyn made to rise, but Cameron
seized her wrist, so she kicked out at him instead. In the end he had to
sit on the furious girl who squirmed and thrashed and tried desperately to
bite. Eventually, when she'd exhausted herself, he allowed her sit up, but
continued to hold her wrist.
"I can tell when you are lying, you know."
"Is that so? How?"
"I would rather not say."
"I hate you."
"I want to go home."
"I don't think that's wise."
"Because I do not believe it safe to return?" Gently, the young man pushed
up a sleeve revealing numerous blotches, some black, some red, other yellowing.
Gwendolyn's eyes had narrowed to pinpricks "You knew?"
"No. Not till this moment. Not till your wild cat struggles uncovered the
"I am so ashamed," she whimpered.
"Why? Because your mother's husband beats you?"
"No. Yes. I... am not certain."
"Gwennie," the young man lifted her hands from her face, "why did you
"Because I remembered as children we..." she began, but could not continue.
The small fire crackled merrily sending orange sparks spitting into the
darkness. Gwendolyn sat staring into its depths. "Burning her eyes out,"
Cameron reflected as he added a precious pinch of salt to the stew. She had
removed the ribbon used to subdue her troublesome hair and allowed it to
fall freely, "like a fall of dark water," Cameron observed, then shuddered
for no particular reason.
Behind them loomed what they had travelled so far to see. It towered above
them shouldering back the gloom. Camped at its base, the two adolescents
cast fearsome shadows against its grey surface.
"Would you permit me the honour of serving you first?" Cameron joked,
trying to dispel the evil mood.
"No," Gwen replied, waving the bowl away, "you risked your life obtaining
it, you eat first."
Cameron shrugged, "It was hardly a risk, that old she-bear had not fully
awakened from her winter slumber"
"You must think me a simpleton. Everyone knows that a bear is most
dangerous when first roused from sleep. The wonder is that you managed to
leave the scene of her kill, alive."
Cameron shrugged again, "I always was fleet of foot." Gwendolyn declined
to answer, concentrating instead on the steaming bowl cupped in her hand.
When finished, she sighed, "If I could have guessed our journey would end
"It was not I who demanded your company."
Gwendolyn ignored this observation, choosing instead to lean back and stare
upwards at the soaring edifice. "Who could have built such a monstrous
Cameron wriggled forward, charged with enthusiasm. "No-one knows for
certain. Some claim a race of giants, others an ancient warrior king, still
others that the wall was fashioned by a great wizard to protect a magical land."
"What utter nonsense."
"How do you explain the wall"s existence then, oh, Enlightened One?"
"Perhaps it forms part of a great church, the roof of which collapsed aeons
"But the wall runs for miles."
"How do you know?"
"Your grandfather," Gwendolyn snorted, "is an old man whose mind wanders."
"My grandfather," Cameron repeated through clenched teeth, "journeyed here
when a young man..."
"And...," he continued, exasperated, "he climbed the wall!"
Gwendolyn rolled her eyes, "What did he see?"
The young man frowned, "I don't know."
"There must be a way up," Cameron insisted, wiping torn hands onto already
"It is cleverly concealed, then."
Gwendolyn surveyed the rising structure, sceptically. Not a chink nor
fissure blemished its masterly construction. Worse, as the sculpted blocks
rose higher, the wall developed a lean, so that a climber skilled enough to
somehow assail the unconquerable base, would remain defeated by the
impossible lip formed at the summit. "I begin to believe in your wizard"s
Cameron slumped to the ground. Gwendolyn sat beside him passing pieces of
broken biscuit. "There must be a way. There simply must be." Handing him
the last piece, she repositioned herself so that she leaned comfortably,
half-closed her eyes, and resigned herself to his obstinacy. The sun fell
warm upon her face. A tiny movement flickered in the corner of her eye,
rousing her. Gwendolyn smiled, somebody else was enjoying the heat.
Another movement, a few feet to the left, then another above it, then... .
"Look up, slowly, carefully."
"Do it, Cameron." Cursing mildly, he did as told. "Do you see them?" she
"All I see is the wall stretching to eternity."
"Half-close your eyes. Now do you see them?"
"Idiot," Gwendolyn cried out.
Time lapsed slowly. Gwendolyn found herself hard pressed to suppress the
youth sitting beside her. He literally quivered with excitement. With each
passing moment, more and more of the tiny creatures poked inquisitive noses
from their homes, stayed to enjoy the warmth or scurried away to visit
neighbors. The wall swarmed with reptiles of all sizes. The finger-length
versions they ignored, what captured their concentration was the occasional,
comparatively dragon-sized variety. When a sufficient number of these had
revealed their lairs, Gwendolyn and Cameron rose, eyes still fixed.
"The first hole is a little high," Gwendolyn calculated, "but if you climb
on my back, you should reach it."
"Strange that nothing is visible from the ground."
"Not so strange, really. The stones are tapered - even a fist-sized hole
would become invisible when viewed from below."
Now that the moment had arrived, Cameron's excitement transformed into
nervousness. "Do you think you can support me?"
"A skinny runt like you?" Thus challenged, he scrambled upon her bent
form. Gwendolyn groaned but refused to complain when he roughly grazed her
cheek. For an agonizing moment, he hesitated, then the torture ceased and
the ascent began.
"To the left!"
"Where? There's nothing there!"
"If I reach across any further, I will end this foolishness here
"I am not complaining, I am pointing out a very real possibility."
Gwendolyn ignored the repartee and focussed on the next handhold. Should
Cameron successfully gain this, it would be the last; the wall would be
crested. Climbing the wall was madness, but somehow she had become infected
with the curiosity of what lay beyond.
"That's it. That's it!"
A second ago he had been clinging, spider-like, limbs shaking with strain;
now of his body rapidly disappeared, dragged clumsily over the terrifying lip.
"Cameron? Cameron!" A red, exhausted face revealed itself. "Oh,
Cameron!" Gwendolyn skipped a little, "What can you see?"
Disgusted amazement scowled down, "Give me..... leave to..... catch my
breath." The face disappeared. Gwendolyn restrained herself, wringing her
hands to contain her impatience. "He should be there. He's teasing me.
Oh!" He had returned, white faced, solemn, silent. With wide eyes, she
watched his descent.
"I don't understand," Gwendolyn murmured.
"No? It is plain to me. The wall is a jest."
"But what lies beyond?"
"But what does it mean?"
"It means nothing! An old man's laughter at the expense of youth."
"But why would he send you on this fool's errand?" Cameron winced at her
"Perhaps to cure me of adventurous dreams. If so, he has succeeded."
"No, I cannot believe that. What did he tell you that inspired your
"That what I would see would determine my future." Cameron spat then
stared at the ground, noting the busy ants, bitterly reflecting that they
well understood their purpose in life. "If we set out immediately, we
should reach Cloverdale in three days, that is, if nothing unexpected
occurs." Glancing up, he was startled to find the girl gone.
There she was, skirts tucked immodestly into bloomers, attempting to scale
the wall. Cameron strode over angrily, "What madness is this?" Wrenching
her from its surface, he shook her as if he hoped to dislodge her insanity.
"I have to climb the wall." Again, he shook her furiously. He pleaded,
reasoned, cajoled. Eventually, he let her go.
"Devil take her," Cameron snarled at a scampering squirrel as he stomped in
the direction of home. "Be on my heels before dark, whimpering like a
whipped dog. If she does not fall to her death." The thought made him turn
around, but the wall was out of sight, obscured by trees. "Devil take her,"
he repeated, trying to reignite his prior fury, "she is no responsibility of
mine." Again he halted. Had he heard something? Was it? Could it be?
No, it was impossible! Cameron felt the hairs on his neck lift themselves
like those of an frightened cat. Just for the briefest of moments, he could
have sworn he had heard her voice come lifting over the tree tops -
"Cammmeronnn...Ohhh, Cameron, it is soooo beauuutifullll."