He woke to the light and the warmth of a fire on the beach. The chill of the ocean was thick in the air and carried with it a stench of fish and salt that seemed to coat the inside of his nose and throat with a thick lamina. Abbott coughed, coughed again, wiped the spittle from his beard, and then looked around himself. He had an immediate and striking feeling that he had forgotten something. Something just beyond his waking grasp.
The child sat across from him, her face brightening at his coming to but looking nonetheless forlorn in orange glow through the licking flames. The two canvas sacks were in the sand at a safe distance from the fire. And what else had they? The child and the two canvas sacks were all he had when he left the camp two days ago. They had nothing else; there was nothing to be forgotten. Nothing save the flames.
He sat bolt upright in an instant, leaned forward onto his knees and began dropping handfuls of sand onto the fire. He could not snuff the source of light quickly enough.
"Child, help me!"
He glanced at her sidelong and saw a tiny, frail face filled with fear or sadness. With nothing more to do about her at this terrible moment, he began scooping as much as could fit in two palms and throwing it onto the flames. He began to sweat with the effort by the time the flames were gone and he continued labouring until so was the smoke. Minutes later the flames were only a memory but the fire remained inside him.
"You will be the death of us both, child."
Again only a frightened glance was returned to him. There were tears in her eyes now.
"A fire?" He waited for an answer but got none.
"Why would--a fire?" he questioned insistently. "A fire?"
"I healed you--" a pause, then: "but you were still shivering."
"You healed me?" Scorn was in his voice and on his face and the child winced away from him. He clenched his teeth. The nature of children could be maddening. "Do you not know what you are?"
The child did not answer nor look at him. She only stared into the sand as if it were central to all of this, either oblivious to or in denial of it all. "Child," he said, quite sternly. She continued to stare at the sand but cocked her head slightly; she was listening.
Of course, things must be black and white with children. Actions must be linked with consequences of either certain salvation or imminent doom. Anything else and they thought chances could be taken. But she must not fear him and that is what he has brought onto her. He unclenched his teeth, softened his voice, and hardened his words. "You've beckoned the Grigory. Death will come. As certain as sunrise death will come."
She studied the sand closely.
"It is coming. I hope not to us."
The ocean was equal to the sky in its blackness when they set out again. The child had been in tears since his insistence that even now some chariot whose only dark occupant cast terror into the most fearless of men was hastening toward them. The few sounds she did utter were of the whimpering sort, until, as children often do when feeling scolded and unloved, she prodded for loving attention. For something to make her feel valued once more. He knew that was her intention; he knew it for reasons he wanted not to envisage. After significant progress in their journey despite the unwelcoming, harsh terrain, what she finally said was: "You asked me something before. My answer is that no, I do not know what I am. I do not know why people always treat me special. I was told once that I am destined to die. That is all."
"Who told you that?"
"A nursemaid whispered it to me long ago. It is my earliest memory."
"I am not aware of any part of the legend involving your death, child. But If Bardolf omitted from you your own significance, I can only follow his example. I will tell you, though, that there was never such a thing as destiny. Things happen only when some influence stimulates its surroundings. Your legend is not a predetermined fate, but a foresighted intuition that will rely only on your choices and actions. People die not when fate wishes them to or when they are destined to. People die when they are able to. And that is the truth, child."
She slowed her pace, and he stopped when he noticed her falling behind him. She was smiling again, looking at him eagerly, and it was obvious that something inside her was straining for release.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Will you call me something other than child?"
It was a peculiar thing. Had everyone always referred to her simply as 'child'? As far as his memory could take him they had, and that was even true of the Proprietor.
"Have you something else I should be calling you?"
She uttered no response.
"Do you have a name?"
She shook her head. "Everyone has always called me child, as far back as I can remember. My nursemaid once called me something else but I can no longer remember it."
"What child has no name?" he asked, a question to himself more than her.
"You should not be. Here: what would you like to be called?"
"I always liked the name Aerico. I do not know what it means but it sounds pretty."
"How would you like if I called you, say--Aethelu? That is a pretty name, and you would not be sharing it with terrible demons of disease."
"Is what what it means? Demons?"
"That is what they are. Diseased demons that frolic through towns, both moral and immoral, spreading decay and horrific ailments."
"Something else then. I also like Jolecia. That was the name of my mother. I never knew her, but Bardolf told me she was magically beautiful."
Her tone had grown steadily more sorrowful through each word she had spoke.
"I like it--and you answered to it. It is now your name, if you wish it to be."
"Really? Do you think I look like my name should be Jolecia?"
"No other name would be appropriate. It's beautiful. Very suitable to a young girl like you."
"I am not so young. I am already eight."
"Then it is very suitable to an aging hag like you."
She punched him in the gut then. It was more evidence of her growing attachment to him than any hug may have been at the time. He put an arm around her and began walking, having no fancy to begin boxing a young girl of eight years whilst being pursued by fierce and deadly horsemen.
"We should go, Jolecia. Let us put as much of this land as we can behind us before sunrise."
"Then we will rest?"
"Then we will rest."