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Given how they had met, it was no surprise that some of Terrill’s curiosity ran to matters of death. How often did Vushlu processions come to the beach where Honnu lived? Did Vushla come there from all over, or only from the region Terrill came from? Did anyone get to the shoreline and refuse to go in? Did anyone stand up and declare they would recover, that they weren’t dying after all?
Honnu was embarrassed not to know more of the answers. He had never known where the groups came from. He had never seen someone turn around and go home again. He had never seen anyone refuse to wade in, and then die on the beach. Though he had seen bodies of those who died on the journey. That got tricky: the family and friends could hardly carry the body into the water, lacking proper protective gear. A couple of times recently, now that Honnu was old enough, he had been drafted into the burial party. He had been just as glad to be wearing his gloves, so that he didn’t have to touch the dead flesh with his hands.
That tale brought more questions. “Haven’t you ever gotten wet, at all?”
Well, yes. All the young Vushla did, sooner or later, dared by their friends or daring on their own. In his case, his brothers had egged him on; but he had waited until they were busy to sneak off to the water’s edge. Careless, maybe, but he preferred the risk to having them see his reaction if he flinched.
“What was it like?”
Like nothing, at first. No more than if he had spit on his own hand. Less than that, at first, where the spray hit his armor. But after a few moments, there was a tingling. Like what sparkle would feel like, if one could feel it. . . .
Sometimes Terrill asked about Weesah. During one rest stop, he asked, “Have you ever seen a group of Weesah show up, or a mixed group with the Weesah dying?”
“No, never. I think they have some other way. But I don’t know what.”
Terrill glanced around for the peddler, but he was out of sight, rearranging something in the wagon. “Don’t you wonder what happens?”
“I suppose, now that you mention it.” And Honnu wasn’t sure Terrill would work up the nerve to ask the peddler.
Well, Honnu didn’t mind.
He walked over to the back of the wagon and called up, “Need any help?”
The peddler stuck his head out. “Not just now. I’ll need something from the pair of you soon enough, I’m sure.” Then, with that shrewd look Honnu had seen many times by now, he added, “But might there be something you’re needing, or wanting, from me?”
Honnu tried for his most earnest expression. “Not exactly. It’s more about what you might need from us. Not that I’m expecting it. But we’re your crew now. We should know what to do if —” How to put it? “If anything happens to you. Suddenly. If you should . . . where would we take you? Would we need to get to the ocean, as soon as we could?”
“Oh, lad, I think you know better than that. You’ve seen Weesah come and go on wagons, but you’ve never seen one show up in a wagon, have you?”
Honnu’s fingers went warm, and he fought the urge to retract them into his armor. The peddler beckoned to Terrill. “Come on, then. You may as well hear this.”
Terrill shuffled over, his fingers retracted almost all the way. The peddler slapped him lightly on the back. “It’s all right. Got to ask questions.” He nodded toward Honnu. “That’s how you learn, isn’t it? You two want to know how Weesah die. Only natural. Well, here it is. When we feel our time coming, we climb. Well, we ride, unless we live close enough to climb on foot. We go to high places. Up in the mountains I’ve told you about.”
Honnu opened his face plates, agreeing; so did Terrill, who had heard about mountains by now, if not so often as Honnu had.
“Or if we can’t get to the mountains, we find the tallest tree we can. Either way, we need some place out in the open, where the wind can reach us. That’s important.
“And then — then, we just reach our arms out wide, to welcome the wind; and as soon as we die, the wind blows us away. As dust.” He paused and tilted his large head to one side. “I’ve seen it twice. I’d have to call it pretty. You see how our skin catches the light?” He pointed to the shiny bits of skin on his arm. “It’s like that, except all the bits, on all sides. We blow away, shining in the sun.”
Terrill finally found the nerve to speak up. “And that’s only — I mean, how does the wind feel the rest of the time? Before the time comes?”
The peddler shifted a bit from side to side. “It feels good, lad. It feels, well, fine.” He gazed off into the distance for a moment, smiling a little. Then he shook himself as if shedding something and pointed to the wagon. “Now let’s have the two of you get in there and help me sort things out, before we get to the next town. I’ll want the goods that sell best to be nice and handy.”