Eight hundred years I’ve been here, separated from the outside. Every day, I gaze through the wall of ice to the tree covered mountain beyond, and wonder: how is it that no-one knows the ice- and myself- are here?
Travellers and merchants regularly drive past in their wagons, but they never even spare it a glance. Of course, any horses and livestock they have with them all give the ice as wide a berth as their masters will allow, but the humans pay them no attention except to encourage them onwards.
Sometimes I think I understand, for though my original and current form is human, I have lived the lives of many species in between. It was only as my first human life closed to an end and my form quite unexpectedly changed into a beast- an arctic fox, I think- did I see this icy wall for what it truly is. Layer upon layer of hardened Shadow Water, barely an inch thick, yet as resistant as ice of eight feet.
The curious thing: Shadow Water is never of natural origin. It is always drawn up by those who seek it, and those who seek it have not once revealed themselves. In any case, who raised it isn’t important. Now, why it was raised, that’s the real question. But no matter how long I ponder it, I can’t come up with an answer. The Shadow Water encloses nothing but a few rocks, petrified trees and a large, vacant cave (which, I confess, I have lived in for several centuries. I know, I know, there aren’t any predators here and the temperature is constant, but the cave has a rather ‘homey’ feel).
I straighten up sharply; the ground beyond the wall crunches as someone hurries over the ice covered flora. It’s midwinter out there, and though I can’t tell exactly how cold it is, for nothing, not even a breeze permeates the Shadow Water, it’s clear that the conditions outside are in no way ideal for the young boy scurrying towards me. Barefoot and dressed in rags, I have to wonder how the sorry creature survived the distance between here and the village. Curiously, he isn’t shivering. In fact, he seems to be ignoring the weather completely.
Now he’s a few feet away. I wait for him to crash into the Shadow Water, but he doesn’t. Instead, he stops, raises his head as though to examine the sheer scale of it, and smiles. What’s with this kid? You’re not telling me that, after all this time, someone can actually see it?
The boy places his hand flat on the Water. It hisses, and a boy-sized hole appears in it. He steps through; I stare at him.
He stares back, taking in every detail of my slim, naked body (when you live alone for as long as I have, the modesty of normal humans seems foolish). He laughs, and gasping for breath, says, ‘You’re really here! I was afraid you might have perished long ago, before I had a chance to retrieve you!’ His jubilation is so great that he starts dancing around in a circle.
‘Forgive my interruption,’ I say, slightly irritated by his loudness in my normally quiet enclosure, ‘but may I ask just one thing? Who the hell are you?’
The laughter dies on his lips. ‘You don’t know? I thought they explained everything when they brought you here.’
‘Brought me here? I remember being hit on the head, bound and gagged, and then waking up here with the Shadow Water fully formed and cutting me off from everything. It was a long time ago, mind, but I know there were certainly no explanations,’ I reply bitterly.
‘Oh. That wasn’t quite how I’d planned it at all. Perhaps I should start from the beginning. I am your master, Phin, and I had you brought here to protect you. The Shadow Water was for your benefit, I never meant for it to cut you off from the world— at least not for this long.’
‘Yes, eight hundred years is rather a long time,’ I say sourly. ‘And what do you mean, you’re my ‘master’? I’m no servant, kid.’
‘Guardian, then. And I’m no child. I’m what’s known as a Rememberer; so are you.’ He notices me shiver and turns back to the hole he made in the Water. He runs his hand down it and it seals shut again like a zipper. I goggle at him.
‘A Rememberer? You do realise that I have no idea what that means? And if you are my…guardian, then why did you leave me here for so long?’
‘Well, firstly, a Rememberer is a being who lives through the ages, taking many different forms and keeping watch over the world to try and prevent mistakes being repeated. There aren’t many of us. Including myself and my own master, you’re the only other. You were so young back then and living so close to the war zone that I had to keep you safe. It was only supposed to be for a few weeks, while we helped negotiate a treaty between the nations. But I was captured instead, a slave until the final descendant of my imprisoner died.’
My mind is spinning; I have to sit down. How can he possibly think that I can just take this all in, after so many years of silence? ‘Even if I am a Rememberer…I’ve been trapped in here, unable to see the world. What possible use can I be to you?’
‘Are you joking? You must have been staring through this Water every day for centuries. You can see the mountains, the town, what travellers come and go, any diseases that ravage the flora and fauna— the knowledge you’ve built up must be substantial. Far more than I have gained in that period. So, will you come with me out into the world? We do need you.’
He holds his hand out to me. After all these years, I can finally leave this place. I look around, and then back at him. I take it.