The poetry hung in my mind as we made our silent way through the last of the Pass. The only words that had taken the field since we set out again had been Solange’s, as she mused the worm was probably sleeping off the whistle. The rest of the numb steps I’d taken had been in total silence.
I wanted to pick apart what Flare had said, and found the words impenetrable. Poetry was just a different animal compared to the things my father wrote, and the poetry I’d had the most experience looking at was my own poetry. Knowing all the answers when I looked at the poem again didn’t do wonders for helping me look at it well.
I could tell that Flare had said she’d traveled a lot, but I’d already known that. How else would she have amassed the wealth of knowledge she hoarded from town to town? I could tell that Flare wanted to sleep somewhere, but what had she meant by it? Why the stars? Why nestle the lines in between those questions?
I wanted to ask her, but I could already picture questions about my own poetry. Why wouldn’t you want to avoid getting hit? I didn’t know how to answer that, I didn’t have the words to really explain it. Who hit you? I knew how to answer that one, but answering it was the last thing I wanted to do. What and why and where and when and all the questions I could think of just made me want to go back home and stare at my little piece of amber.
Right now fear of the worm held my tongue, but I could tell that as soon as we’d left the Pass the questions would simply pick up the slack. Asking the witch who unflinchingly stared down monsters idle questions was a terrifying prospect, worse if it invited reprisal.
It didn’t stop my thoughts from vibrating with her words, though. Maybe if Solange came with us all the way to the next town, I could ask what she thought of it at some point. Asking Solange was less terrifying in just about every way. It was hard to be scared of someone who was a font of bubbly smiles in any starlight. Flare was company that made me curious constantly, but Solange felt much more like company.
I wasn’t sure if that meant I would actually ask her, though. I’d known people who I’d thought felt like company before. Besides, I would somehow need to ask Solange when Flare wasn’t around to hear my prying, and until we reached the next town I would be sticking close to stay in the witch-stone’s light.
The pass opened up in front of us. There were no trees as far as the eye could see. Instead, small frozen bushes stood out against the gravel and scattered stones that glinted in the starlight. The hills fell off as the terrain stretched away, turning to a horizon of plain and pure nothingness.
I shivered at tbe exposure. There had always been mountains and trees around me in the wilderness. With none of them to block my view, I could see how much nothingness we still had yet to cross. Nothingness full of monsters. There was no destination in sight, obvious or otherwise. No lights in the distance beyond starlight.
“Thank you for bringing us,” Flare said.
“Anytime. Come back whenever you like,” Solange said.
I looked up at her. Then I said, “So, you won’t be coming with us to the next town?”
Solange shook her head, and her upper body along with it. “I should get back home. I don’t want to leave the eels alone for too long.”
I looked down at the ground. No chance to ask about the poetry, as it went. Then, because I wanted to be sure, I asked, “Are you sure?”
Flare said, quietly, “They’ll be fine a day or two.”
Solange didn’t say anything.
Flare said, “I’m sure you could get supplies you can’t get by Liar’s Mint, anyway.”
Solange didn’t say anything, but her hands began to make idle motions at her side. “I’m not sure,” she said.
“It’s a lot quieter when you’re not here,” I offered.
Solange looked me in the eyes. Then she looked at Flare, and her hands moved a little faster. Finally, she said, “I haven’t had a break in a while, honestly.”
Flare and I both smiled
“I haven’t been too far this way, honestly,” Solange said as we began to walk. “How far do we need to go?”
“Not too far,” Flare said. “We can stay in town for a short while, once we arrive, and you’ll still be back in time.”
“Good,” Solange said, and enthusiasm began to creep back into her voice. “So, tell me about this town we’re heading to, then.”
“We’ll get there soon,” Flare said.
Solange had only gotten halfway through a complaint before Flare relented. “I can tell you a little, though.”
Flare began to speak. She didn’t say much, giving a little background on what the town looked like, and what the town was run like, but Solange managed to keep Flare’s speech going with well-timed prompts anytime Flare lost steam. Solange even managed to keep Flare continuing for long enough to carry the conversation to our eventual campsite, where Flare stoked a witch-stone fire.
Oddly, when we made camp, Flare didn’t immediately dive into her bedroll. Instead, she sat on top of it. Solange, emerging from her coat in the golden firelight, went to sit next to her. I crawled inside mine.
“I’m not really tired, yet,” Solange said.
Flare poked the fire with a long metal poker. I’d never seen her use it before.
“What was it like the last time you arrived?” Solange asked.
Flare stared into the fire. Then she stared up at the sky. Then she looked at me, curled up inside my bedroll.
“Well, it’s a long story,” she began.