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Allow For Inflation

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Maewen took the train to Dropthwaite -- a day trip, that was all, with Dad's pocket money -- but it wasn't anything like the secluded glade off the green road as she remembered. The moment Maewen was off the train she was almost overwhelmed by tourist shops, postcards with glossy pictures of the spring and wonderfully illustrated picture books explaining with enthusiasm all sorts of interesting facts about the witch Cennoreth. Maewen even flipped through one morosely, skimming some fussy passage about Weaver legends in connection with the Spellcoats, and how the connection was tenuous at best, since Tanaqui was plainly a real person.

Whatever sort of person she was, Maewen was at a loss to find her glade without the aid of Moril's cwidder, so after a few hours she bought a bit of treacle from one of the shops and took the train back down to Kernsburgh in time to have dinner with Dad.

"That bomb expert," she tried, "do you know what his name was?"

But Dad only said, glancing up at her across the table, "Wend had his number, but I'm afraid Wend's also turned in his resignation. I'm sure there's a directory somewhere, though."

"No," Maewen said, "it's not important."

Her fourteenth birthday was right before the start of the autumn term, so Maewen celebrated first with Dad and his endless secretaries and then again when she arrived home. Aunt Liss made her a cake and Mum gave her a small sculpture of a horse. It was all very nice and Maewen did feel a lot older than she had on her thirteenth birthday.

At school she took chemistry rather than physics, which was something of a relief; she wasn't sure she'd be able to face Mr. Loviath again after Hestefan. She had some friends, and was terribly relieved to discover that she didn't have any real difficulty relating to them. They didn't really want to hear about her summer, though, after they discovered that being at Tannoreth Palace meant meeting a lot of boring old portraits instead of meeting the Queen or other appropriately palatial things.

Midsummer again: year one, went the count in Maewen's head. Dad was caught up in the tourist season but some decent pleading got Aunt Liss's permission to go down to Kernsburgh just for the day again. Maewen hoped it wouldn't become a sort of tradition, but had the feeling Mitt meant to stick to his word. So she wandered around Kernsburgh as though she wasn't looking for anything in particular, and didn't fool herself, and probably didn't fool Mitt either, but she didn't see him.

She felt less dejected than she might have. She didn't really examine it at first, having failed twice at finding Mitt and not feeling too bad about it; then it occurred to her that really no matter what else it was simply a question of waiting. Mitt had named a palace after her; Mitt had made sure to promise, in roundabout Mitt fashion, to come back to her eventually, two years or four. She didn't have to worry about disappointment, only time.

Somewhere back at school it came to Maewen that perhaps she should be bothered by that after all. Two hundred years old, she would sometimes think, and even when she shoved that from her mind -- two hundred, and I'm fifteen -- she remembered that Mitt was two hundred now and would be three hundred later, and a thousand, and she would --

But that was the question, wasn't it.

There was a boy at school that year. His name was Rith Tanner; he looked rather like Kialan and nothing at all like Mitt, and sometime around Midwinter out behind the school he kissed her. Maewen almost said something very stupid like oh but I shouldn't, you see, I'm waiting for someone before it came to her that this might be part of her own little war, or part of that inflation Mitt was talking about, so she kissed Rith Tanner back and allowed herself to enjoy it. It amounted to nothing, of course, since Maewen wanted to be fair to him and whenever she closed her eyes she thought of Mitt instead. She didn't even have to imagine how it would feel to have her arms wrapped around him, and her memory didn't feel much like being in Rith's arms at all.

Two years: Maewen tried Dropthwaite, and Kernsburgh, avoided Aunt Liss's puzzled glances when she returned and read an entire book she'd found on the reign of King Amil in the giftshop at Dad's museum.

The Midsummer before Maewen's seventeenth birthday, she didn't go anywhere. She just rode one of Aunt Liss's horses up in the wonderful cold mountain air, with the northern sea glittering in the far distance beyond the Aden, and felt a peculiar thrill in her heart. Up here things like age and time didn't matter so much, and Maewen felt it almost like a sudden revelation, but despite it, Mitt didn't appear. She didn't expect him to. Four years, she supposed, was a very good amount of time to allow for inflation.

Nearly eighteen, out of her last year of school and on the brink of trying to really figure out her short life, Maewen took the train down to Dropthwaite once more. This time she didn't wander through the tourist traps looking for something without knowing what it was; this time she tried to call up that feeling she'd found in the mountains near home, walked right out of the town and down to the small stream trickling past the train station, tried to call up another feeling too, like she'd felt when she'd stared in terror and awe at the ghostly great River four years ago and two hundred years ago and what felt like only a minute ago, too.

Mitt sat down next to her on the bank of the ghostly River.

"Hi," Maewen said, not looking at him; not yet. She could see his lanky hair out of the corner of her eye, and see that he was wearing that funny leather jacket. After a moment she held out a hand and he took it, warm and knuckly and real, and she breathed out a shivery sort of sigh.

"I thought," Mitt said, sounding exactly like he always had, a little awkward, determined, cheerful, "I thought I shouldn't just let you rush into it. I mean. There was Biffa, and there was -- and there will be --"

"And I'm not Undying," Maewen added swiftly, squeezing his hand and still staring out at the grassy embankment. "Or I don't think I am. It doesn't happen often."

"No," Mitt agreed, squeezing back.

"There was Rith Tanner," Maewen offered. "And it might get awful and impossible if it was forever, wouldn't it? Always seeing the same old faces?" She did turn to look at him then, his same old face full of cautious hope. "I don't think I care," she said. "I think it's wonderful, oh Mitt, you named the palace after me and you waited for two hundred years, I didn't mind waiting for four, I --"

"Good," Mitt said, laughing; they were both laughing, "Good," and Maewen leaned in and kissed him.

So the war was finally finished; it was all rebuilt and Maewen felt she would be all right, even if it wasn't forever.