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The Wistful and the Good, Chapter 32
A Walk in the Rain
Attor, clueless about what has passed between Elswyth and Leif, and seeing that Lief has no one he can talk to, has ordered Elswyth to keep him company. Get caught up using the archive.
Leif noticed Elswyth coming towards him across the hall. When it became clear that she meant to speak to him, he put his knife and whetstone away and walked toward the door, plunging out into the mist without hat or cloak. He started to make his way down toward the beach, where the ship would offer a small degree of protection from the weather. He turned when he realized that she was following him. She kept coming toward him, so he turned and walked on. She fell in behind him, keeping a distance of several yards. He continued at the same pace, and she behind him, until they came to the edge of the sea. There they paused, neither looking at each other or speaking. There was only a few yards of sea visible before it faded into the enveloping mist. All sounds but the waves were hushed by the mist. The waves were muted also, but what sound of them remained seemed to pervade the air with a gentle roar like the slumberous breathing of some unimaginable great beast. They stood together on the sea’s edge, yards apart, soaked with the dew coalescing on their skin and clothes, relishing its damp chill.
Then Elswyth turned and began to walk north along the sea’s edge. After a moment, Leif followed. He took a course a little more inland and hurried a little, until he was walking in parallel with her, a dozen yards off her larboard beam, keeping pace, but never trimming his sail to intercept.
They passed the ship thus, unnoted by the man on watch, huddled under his sealskins, and passed on down the beach, in silent distant company, growing colder and wetter as they went, until the pleasure of it faded into an oblivion, into a small grey world defined and given direction only by the line formed by sand and sea, each alone except for the constant beacon that kept pace beside them.
They walked on like this for half an hour or more until they reached the end of the beach, where the rocks intruded into the sea, impassable except at low tide. Elswyth began a long turn inland, and Leif, understanding the required maneuver without the need to speak or look for any signal, walked on a few feet further before he turned toward the sea, so that even in the turn they kept their distance. Her pace slackened until he had completed his turn and drawn up on his parallel course. Then she resumed her cruising speed, and he matched it, until, sodden and footsore, they came again to the ship, and there he stopped, letting her sail on alone, back toward the hall, with not a word spoken or a glance exchanged.
But, moments before her form would have been swallowed up in the mist, she turned and came back towards him, violating the zone of neutrality they had observed until then, but still stopping a few feet away. Her usually buoyant hair was plastered flat to her skull and her spring-flower complexion and autumn-berry lips were washed almost white. She was shivering.
“I told Drefan about the books,” she said. “I didn’t mean to. We were arguing and he asked why you were camped on our beach so long. I was angry with him and I didn’t think before I spoke.”
He looked at her in silence. The shame and hope he saw in her face made him want to weep. He felt neither anger nor dread. Why had he not kissed her last night, when she invited him to? There was no harm she could do him that he would not bear. He only wished to enfold her, to take the anguish from her heart, to champion her against all the world.
“He was bound to ask that question,” he said. “He is to be your husband. You were bound to tell him the truth.”
“You did nothing wrong.”
“Yes I did. Not that, maybe. But other things. I am sorry about all of it.”
“Don’t be. There has been no harm done yet. Tomorrow Heorot may come with the gold, and I can sail away without loss.”
“Without loss?” she asked him.
“With no less than I came with,” he said, with a shrug.
“No harm done,” she said. Tears would have been superfluous in the mist.
She paused a second, almost as if in the end she would come to him.
“Father says you need a sister,” she said.
“I have two sisters,” he said, puzzled.
“I should have told him that.”
She turned and walked away, making her way slowly to the village.
As Elswyth was passing the hall on her way to the sleeping house to change her sodden clothes, a large figure loomed out of the mist. Eric had been hunched under the slope of the hall roof, trying to keep a little dry while keeping watch.
“It won’t do, Princess,” he said.
“Go swivel, Eric,” she said.
“It’s not my swiving I worry about.”
“Well you can sure as hell stop worrying about mine.”
“When I see him leave and you follow?”
“None of your swiving business.”
“My swiving life if your father finds out.”
“Shows what you know. Father sent me. He thinks Leif needs a sister.”
“Your father is a swiving idiot.”
“I know. But I’m not. And I’m still a swiving virgin, so swivel out of my swiving way.”
“Make sure you swiving stay that way.”
“Mind your own swiving business.”
Still Eric did not move, so she walked around him. He did not move to block her way again, but turned where he stood to watch her walk away toward the sleeping house. When she was gone, he cursed under his breath, and set out for the beach in search of Leif.
In the sleeping house, Elswyth dried herself with her lambskin and climbed into bed, quaking with sorrow.
Next Chapter: 33 Musical Chairs (coming next week)
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