Flash Fiction: Walls of the World (1159 words)

“Why?” He rounded the corner with a quick hop step so that he was ahead of her again, walking backward to talk to her again.

Osanne held in a smile. Ciro was never graceful, a little too abrupt in all his movements, but his backward steps jerked and his heels skidded against the carpet on almost every stride.

She had to slow a little, to keep from treading on his toes. Hesitating into her next step, she simply shortened her stride and folded her hands in front of her. Her skirts whispered a little softer on the carpet. The sunlight draping through the windows played a little longer in her hair. She didn’t much mind that he had cut her pace, but she kept walking, moving him steadily down the long, straight hall.

“Why would you give them the ships they asked for?” Ciro asked. As usual, he held her gaze earnestly, eager to know, eager to understand. He was the only historian she knew who didn’t reserve the look for inked and yellowed pages. More often than not, he gave it to people, and ignored the books entirely.

He was not Osanne’s favorite historian.

But he was foreign, and that excuse had held well enough to explain his too-tight breeches, and too-long coat.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Osanne returned, slow, and quiet, mouth still twisted lightly to one side.

“That’s not a reason,” Ciro said. “That’s just a lack of reason against.”

Osanne continued her deliberate steps, held his eyes steadily. “I’m a Clan Lady,” she said. “I don’t need a reason.”

Ciro glanced to the side then. He looked to the long line of windows, down to the end of the halll, nervous in an instant, as if he had just remembered where he was.

This was her manse. The white stone of the walls had been set on top of each other twelve generations before. The walls were hung with paintings of conquerors and victories from long before that. Gauzy curtains waved in the breeze floating through the window. Thick carpets softened her every step. High ceilings arched over her head, lined in silver, painted and beautiful, lit by chandeliers that shone pretty as starlight, steady as the sun.

The dress she wore was silk and damask, cut and remade from gowns her great-grandmother had worn on the throne. Her hair was pinned back with sapphires and pearls, her fingers gilded in gold, the points of her shoes tipped in silver, all of which had belonged to her family for an age.

This was her island, and on it, she never had to raise her voice to call a dozen people to her side who would follow any order she gave. A poet had once claimed, in twelve line rhyming verse, that the sun itself stepped off its path when she asked it to. No one had ever accused him of exaggeration.

And here he stood in front of her.

Ciro had learned not to actually stop her, after the last time. Now, he seemed to realize that slowing her was not perfectly safe either.

“You must have a reason,” he murmured.

Osanne gave him a full, sharp smile. “You thought you might try giving me commands now?”

He stuttered on his next breath. She took a small step to the side and passed him.

“But why?” he repeated. He started after her, ran the first step, and slowed again before he risked treading on her whispering skirts. “Why would you send men and women into waters that even legend says have never been touched?”

“Legends also say there’s a continent hidden in the mist there,” Osanne said. “And that the Agelesses in the deep will sing songs that wreck the very beams of a ship if they come too far. And that the Suns take their baths a little farther than that, and boil the ocean in its bed.” She glanced at him over her shoulder. “I like the old stories. Maybe I want to see for myself.”

His expression dulled a little in disbelief. “That’s a great risk to take for curiosity.”

“My people were all raised on the wild ocean,” she told him blithely. “We know when to press forward and when to turn back. The risk is not so great.”

She heard him open his mouth, take a breath in, and she rounded on him, stopped dead in the middle of the hall.

“Please,” she said, not sharply, but it was an abrupt enough word on its own.

Ciro shut his mouth, swallowed.

“You can make a guess, at least,” she said. “And not start the course so early, and make me run so far for you.”

He looked down, then up, took a breath in, opened his mouth, but didn’t let it out.

Osanne sighed to herself. “I own the western edge of the known world,” she supplied, starting him off.

Ciro nodded. “And you would like a better connection to the mainland.”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Call it a family quest.”

“The family quest always meant going to war for it before,” Ciro said uneasily.

“Yes,” she agreed again. Osanne smiled to herself, almost allowed herself a laugh. “And who do you think I should go to war with? The south is held by the Nemos, the east by the Lindein, and the north… The Kuros have those waters so firmly beneath them, you might just as well call them the sky. And besides…” She half-turned, ready to continue down the hall, but held his eye a moment longer. “I like my islands. I don’t want any others.”

She continued on her way, and Ciro let her pass through her first few steps before he started to follow.

“Wouldn’t it be easier, then, to draw treaties, look for the swiftest channels to the east and the kings you already know are striking deals?” he asked. He hesitated. “The kings you already know exist?”

“We’re too far from the east,” she said simply. “We’ll never be able to reach that coast as quickly or as frequently as the other clans.”

“Then–”

“But we’re doing it,” she told him.

He went silent. She smiled, thinking of the way his eyebrows must be crinkling together.

“I have several of the Lords under me in talks already, and we’re building faster ships, and we’re charting every inch of the water to see what paths run the fastest,” she told him.

Ciro came to a slow and stuttering stop, and didn’t move again even when he saw her walk on without care.

“Then why send your expedition to the unknown west?” he asked.

Osanne smiled to herself. “Because I am a Clan Lady,” she said. She didn’t turn her head, just raised her voice a little to let it echo back along the walls. “And you still don’t know what that means.”

Her Lords could work inside the world as they found it.

Osanne never would.

The first line of this piece was used as part of the Legal Theft Project. Unfortunately, the thief assigned to use it, never did, so I took up the challenge in her place. Better late than never, better done by someone than no one.

The original piece this line was taken from can be found here, written by my friend, Bek.

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