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"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 concern?"

"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 last spring?"

"I have."

"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 eternally?

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 ... sprinted away.

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 disappeared.

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 surmountable.

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 her confusion.

"Follow you?" She shook her head, rejecting the notion. "I did not follow you."

"Is that so?"

"Mmmm," she answered, hastily gulping a mouthful of bread, "I was following the... trail."

"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."

"No doubt."

"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 truth."

"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 follow me?"

"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 here... ."

"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 thing?"

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 ago."

"But the wall runs for miles."

"How do you know?"

"My grandfather..."

"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!"


"And what?"

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 soiled clothing.

"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 fable."

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... .


"What, now?"

"Look up, slowly, carefully."


"Do it, Cameron." Cursing mildly, he did as told. "Do you see them?" she whispered.

"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!"

"Further across."

"If I reach across any further, I will end this foolishness here and now."

"Stop complaining."

"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 words.

"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 leave-taking?"

"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."