Wynne Blackthorne trudged along the muddy dirt road, the wind blowing her hair back from her face and the bright spring sun beating down on her. It was a fine morning. Birds chirped merrily at the rising sun and the sky was a marvelous, cloudless blue. Some children were taking advantage of the beautiful day and playing together by the side of the road. But Wynne seemed oblivious to it all. She hurried along, a scowl on her face and a large earthenware pot tucked under her arm, which she was hauling along with difficulty.
Wynne was in a rather morose mood, and her face reflected it. It wasn’t that she disliked having company — in fact, it was one of the few interesting things that ever happened, and she was always eager to have someone to talk to, and indeed have something to distract her from her usual daily chores. No, it wasn’t that she disliked having company, but she disliked all the sorts of things that preparing for company entailed. Being a girl, and being sixteen years old, Wynne was capable of doing all the cooking and cleaning and uncountable other chores that needed to be done, but not old enough, nor of the right gender, to garner any respect for it.
And that was what she and her mother had been quarreling about. They didn’t often quarrel, for Wynne knew it was improper for a girl to disrespect her mother, and she also knew that she never won any argument thus started. But today, Wynne had been so irritated that she had not been able to stop herself, and she had so desperately wanted for her mother to see things from her point of view. Needless to say, Wynne had quickly been shut up by her father, but not before her mother had delivered the cutting remark that they ought to marry her off to the next man that came along merely to end the trouble, and that Wynne was far too old not to at least be betrothed by now anyway.
Although Wynne knew that this was an empty threat, said solely out of spite, it had gotten Wynne thinking about the inevitably approaching shadow of marriage and that always got her into a morose mood.
Wynne hefted the pot farther up on her hip as she rounded the corner and the water pump came into view. There were already a couple of women there chatting and swapping rumors as they filled their pots, so Wynne stood behind them waiting quietly for her turn.
Wynne knew both of the women, by face if not by name, as they both lived in Eastcorner as well, not too far from where Wynne’s family lived. They both stopped talking as they spotted Wynne, and she guessed they must have been gossiping about something or other they didn’t wish her to hear.
One of the women turned to Wynne and said with a gap-toothed smile, “So, I hear you’ve got family coming down, cousin of your mother, I thought.”
“Her brother,” said Wynne trying to wipe away her scowl and conceal her irritation. “And his son.”
“Yes, that’s what I heard,” said the woman, starting to use the pump as the other woman finished filling her pot. “And I also heard that he’s a commander, from Westgate.”
“He’s just a lieutenant, actually and he’s from Center Stone, not Westgate,” said Wynne letting just a trace of her annoyance show through her tone of voice. The woman did not seem to notice, however and rambled on.
“Does he work on the Wall? Oh, I’ll bet he gets to go out of the city all the time. Has he ever taken you out of Stonewall?”
“No, he hasn’t,” said Wynne wishing the woman would pump a little faster and finish filling up her pot. Just as she had it filled to the brim however, she took up a clay ewer that Wynne had not noticed by her feet, and she began to fill that as well.
“I’ve been out of the city just once and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she continued. “There’s a great forest right outside the city, but of course you’d never know. Trees everywhere. And there’s grass, and flowers, all just growing naturally right out of the ground; and birds and animals, some that have never been in a city before I imagine. And the smell! Oh, the smell — that I’ll never forget. It’s so fresh and clean, not like the city air we have here. It fills your lungs and makes you feel alive! Child, you haven’t really breathed till you’ve been out there.”
The woman finished filling the ewer, but Wynne did not even notice; her imagination was painting fantastic landscapes of wonderful colors and nature inside her head.
“Well, you enjoy your visit, I’m sure your uncle has loads of stories to tell about wars and the king and the places he’s been. I wish my brother had a job on the wall. Hmph! But no, he’s a useless lout just like the rest of them — only ever stops by to taste my cooking I expect.”
The woman picked up both her containers, grunting with their combined weight.
“Have a good one, dearie. If I stay any longer I’ll be too late to make lunch.” And she and her friend turned and set off down the road and the many buildings soon hid them from sight.
Wynne stepped forward, set her pot below the tap, and began to work the pump, her mind somewhat tranquilized by the vision of hills and wildflowers. Wynne had always wanted to know what lay outside the walls of Stonewall. She had never seen anything outside the Wall; in fact, she had only been outside of Westgate a couple of times, and she had never really been able to picture what was out there.
Wynne listened to the receding voices of the two women as they carried water home through the winding streets and alleyways. She wasn’t especially sorry to see the woman go, but she had been fascinated by her account. Forests, she had said. Trees and trees and grass and all sorts of things just growing up out of the ground. The closest thing to that Wynne had ever seen were the orchards by the farms; but of course those were all carefully cultivated and arranged in rows and groves. She wondered what a real forest was like. Was it dangerous, beautiful, wild? Did many animals live there? Were there really rivers of fresh water? Perhaps her uncle Antony would know something about it, and perhaps, if she were lucky, he’d tell her about it.
As for war stories, Wynne wouldn’t mind hearing some of them as well, but for the fact that she doubted her uncle would have any. He had been lieutenant for only five years, and wouldn’t have seen any fighting being stationed on top of the Wall.
Wynne finished filling her pot with water. She heaved the now much heavier pot off the ground and began the short walk back to her house.