Another historical one-off!
She could see the city from here, on the hill facing downwards. She could see its gate, down the road from where they were some distance, the belltower of the Temple of All Gods, built to provide a meeting place. She could see the tall obelisk not far from there, white against the grey of the city’s stone. From up here, Amy could see most of the city, being as it was downhill from them, nearer the lake at the bottom of the waterfall. Building a city downhill seemed silly to her, but she supposed the cliffs made attack from the west difficult anyway.
Amy could also see the armies camped outside the city at intervals, just far enough from each other. She could see the Hound Company and the Flame Company, their standards clear even at this distance, and the Lord Bedriel’s army and the fighters of the Lady of the Morning. There looked to be eleven different armies already here, and the Crab Company wasn’t the last to arrive, she knew. Amy didn’t pretend to know about everything in the world, but the total number of soldiers, of commanders, of gods who were coming to this summit was at least twice if not more of what was gathered so far.
She just hoped that the peace summit did what it was supposed to do. She was tired of war. They all were. But Amy was selfish, and she wanted the war over less for the war’s sake and more for what it was doing to her brother.
Aaron was getting older and older with every battle he was forced to fight in. Forced to kill in. He was powerful—gods, but he was powerful—and that was useful in war. She wanted it to end before he forgot how to smile.
Or before the Web killed him.
Aaron was smiling right now, talking to Seth as they marched, waving his hands around as he told some elaborate story. The metal bracelet he wore, engraved with a spider and a number, glinted dully in the sunlight. Little Klaus was with them too, listening attentively to every word, though they paid him little heed. Amy wished Aaron would spend more time talking to that kid before he rushed off and got himself killed in his haste to prove that he could be useful too. Klaus was gifted but all he wanted was Aaron’s approval; it was painfully obvious.
Up at the head of the column, the fire god they all called Lord Matchstick was talking seriously with their leader, General Othello. They were probably deciding where to camp, and Amy figured Othello would have rather figured that out without Matchstick’s interference. Of all the gods who commanded his army, the fire god was the only one who seemed to care what they did when they weren’t fighting his enemies. It had always been Amy’s impression that he didn’t even really have enemies, that he was just going along with the whole thing to make the rest of the cadre of gods happy. She’d never been able to shake the feeling that he had something else he was interested in.
Amy wasn’t all that interested in where they camped, as long as she could sit down for a while. The march here had been particularly arduous, partially due to the terrain and partially because of the speed with which Othello had marched them, to make sure they reached this summit on time. He didn’t want to be left out of whatever peace accord ended up being struck, and neither did the Crab Company’s gods.
Hopefully, the gods would leave and stay in the city. Their presence put Amy on edge, just like it did for everyone else who used the Web. She always felt like blood was going to start flowing when they were around, and she knew they made Aaron nervous too.
Amy just avoided stepping on a loose stone that might have sent her for a tumble when she heard something in the air. Music, someone singing. It wasn’t a marching song, wasn’t an army song. And it wasn’t coming from anywhere in their ranks, the voice high and feminine, the song rolling and joyful.
Looking around for its source, Amy realized that nobody else could hear the song either. Not a single person but her was reacting to it, and it was loud enough to be heard by everyone. It was coming from the north, just over a hill that blocked Amy’s view.
Probably she should tell someone she was going, but Amy didn’t. She veered off the road, taking the hill at a jog. Nobody commented on her leaving the ranks; spiders came and went as they pleased and nobody interfered with them. At least this damn bracelet on her arm was useful for something.
It was a mark of status, a badge of honour, to wear this. They were all told that. It was just like a rank pin on a general, a crown on a king. Amy had always found it more like a manacle than anything else. A chain keeping them tied to war forever.
At the top of the hill, Amy looked down, saw a grassy field blooming with wildflowers that struck her as out of place. And the signing was coming from that field, from the young woman who was there, dancing, her white dress swirling around her as she did. Any couldn’t understand a word of the song; after a moment she realized it was in the old language. But despite that she understood the meaning behind it. Joy, sweetness, a reunion of lovers.
The singer was beautiful in an ethereal way, dancing like she was floating over the grass. It was inhuman—something Amy knew how to recognize. This was a god dancing in the field.
She should have turned back, right then as soon as she recognized that. She should have gone back to the ranks, reported to general and let that be the end of it. There were all kinds of gods around for the summit, so it probably meant nothing that she was here, dancing outside of the town. But Amy had a strange feeling that wasn’t the whole story.
She moved down the hill, listening to the god’s song. This had to be the Maiden of Spring, who made music at the end of the winter, danced outside and laughed. She was a god of joy and music. One of the few gods who was well-known and not for violent or dangerous reasons. And she wasn’t, as far as Amy knew, participating in the war.
Amy must have taken a step too close, because suddenly the maiden looked up at her, the song fading away, ceasing in her dance. She locked eyes with Amy and for a long moment they stood there, looking at each other. Then the Maiden smiled. “Hello,” she said, voice clear as the sun. It suddenly seemed brighter, warmer, all around them.
“Hello.” Amy stopped walking, not sure if it was appropriate to get any closer. Not sure it was a good idea to get any closer. “I’m sorry to interrupt. I heard you singing.” Amy couldn’t hear much else at the moment, though the singing was gone. The march of the army, the clatter of weapons and armour, the whinnying of horses, the chatter, all of it was gone.
“Did you?” The Maiden gave her a funny look, but only for a moment. She twirled in place, looking out into the distance. “Did you like it?”
“It was beautiful.”
“That’s so kind of you. I was singing for my love. I’m finally going to be able to see him again.”
“That’s good.” Amy nodded, supposing that the Maiden’s love must be another god. “He must be coming to the summit.”
“Yes, I’m sure he is. He’s been gone ever so long, and I’ve missed him. But he’ll be coming here, I know it. The big meeting is all to talk to him, so I know he’ll come. He wouldn’t want to disappoint everyone.” A pretty frown crossed the Maiden’s face for a moment. “He wouldn’t keep me waiting, not any longer.”
The summit was to discuss a cessation of hostilities, as far as Amy knew. The Maiden’s lover must be one of the gods who had picked the original fight that had started this damnable war. She glanced down the hill at the city, suddenly struck with a feeling that something huge was looming inside it. “Has it been a long time since you’ve seen him?”
“A long time,” the Maiden agreed, nodding solemnly. “He went away, but I waited for him, this whole time. And now he’s coming back.” She folded her hands together and sighed in something that looked like bliss.
“I’m happy for you, then.”
“Thank you so much. You’re very kind. And very pretty, as well,” the Maiden said, now looking at Amy appraisingly. “Oh, you’re so pretty! You must have someone you love too, don’t you? Tell me you do.”
Amy felt oddly bad. “Sorry,” she said, trying to smile, “I don’t.”
“Surely someone must love you, though!”
“I have a brother, and friends.”
Amy chuckled. “There’s a boy who loves me. But my brother is in love with him, and I couldn’t do that to him.” She wasn’t interested in Seth anyway. She wasn’t really interested in anyone, even in the abstract way that it seemed to be assumed that everyone should be. Amy was fine with that. Sex seemed gross, and relationships and marriage seemed like too much work. She was fine having none of those things.
“That’s very noble of you,” the Maiden said, as if it were a sacrifice Amy was making. “I’m sure someday you’ll find someone who makes you happy too.”
“I’ll be happy once the war ends and takes my brother and my friends out of danger.”
The Maiden nodded, looking off into the distance again. “A selfless thing to worry about. You must think me foolish. Thinking only of myself and him when so many have died.”
Amy shook her head. She hadn’t meant to hurt the Maiden’s feelings. First of all, that was dangerous, and second, she seemed perfectly nice. “No, I don’t think that at all. I don’t think we have it in us to worry about the whole world, so we worry about the people we care about. It’s the only way not to go insane.”
The Maiden nodded, a tear glistening prettily in the corner of her eye. “He worries about the whole world,” she said quietly. She turned back to Amy. “You are very kind.”
“You said that already.”
“I know. But you are. What’s your name?”
“I’m Amy.” She resisted, just barely, the urge to give rank and company as well. The Maiden didn’t seem like she’d care about that.
“Hello, Amy. My name is Meryan.”
Amy blinked. Gods didn’t tell anyone their names, not their real names. Names were powerful, and dangerous. Just knowing a god’s name was said to be a death sentence. But there was no threat, no danger, that Amy could feel from this woman. “Hello, Meryan.” Amy smiled at her. “It was nice to meet you.”
“And you as well. You’re a soldier, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You’re here for the meeting as well, then.” Meryan nodded to herself. “I believe something momentous is going to happen, don’t you?”
Amy didn’t answer for a moment, looking back down at the city. She’d felt for a while, as they’d grown closer and closer, that something was going to change. The war. The world, maybe. Their lives. “I do,” she agreed.
The only problem was, Amy wasn’t sure it was going to be a good change, and she wasn’t sure why, when all signs pointed towards the war ending in a few days. Sometimes, sometimes Amy had the worst feeling that it was the world that was about to end. But that was ridiculous, and Amy knew better than to worry about the whole world.
“You should go,” the Maiden told her, looking to the city for the first time. “Your friends will worry that you’ve disappeared.”
They probably would, if she was gone much longer. “Do you want to come with me?” she asked, on impulse. She didn’t think it was a good idea to leave the Maiden alone. “I can walk with you to the city.”
“No, that’s all right. I believe I’ll stay out here and sing a while longer. But I’ll see you there, Amy, in the city. That’s a promise.”
“Okay.” Amy nodded, made to leave. “I’ll see you there, Meryan.”
“I’m glad you heard my song. I think you and I could be friends, don’t you?”
Amy wasn’t sure a human and a god could be friends. But she nodded. “Yes, I do, Meryan. I was glad to meet you too. I’ll see you soon.”
“Be safe, Amy.”
The signing resumed as Amy turned to face the city, heading downhill at an angle that would take her back to the road. The song this time sounded a little sadder to Amy’s ears.
Other sound came back into the world as Amy left the god’s presence; the army wasn’t that far off. Amy made her way towards them, but the whole way down she couldn’t take her eyes off the city, its walls and buildings. The city where it would all come to an end. She had a mounting feeling that something bad was going to happen, maybe something terrible, at this peace summit.
With a song in her head and a god at her back, Amy went to rejoin her friends, thinking more and more that they probably shouldn’t have come to the city called Thunder’s Falls.