Did a good job chipping away at my deficit. As long as I stay within shooting distance I don't really have any worries about finishing on time. Like Spike, I just need one good day.
Richard had left the inner ladder down. Tilly was so stunned she stopped jogging and just stared at it. She bypassed the bell – since she certainly didn't have to ring it now, why was Richard such an idiot? - and climbed up the rope ladder. At the top of the wall, she got one quick glimpse of Richard hastily stashing something in the parapet of the eastern guard station, shoving a loose stone back in place. Tilly hauled up the ladder, rolling it neatly, so that it could be dropped cleanly and without a snag.
“Please don't tell Silas,” Richard babbled out immediately. Then he saw her face. Tilly didn't know what it looked like, but she knew what it felt like, and had no doubt she looked like some avenging fury bearing down on him.
“You idiot!” she snapped back. “You stupid, lazy, piss-headed idiot!” While Richard was still fluttering his hands about in the air like a damn pigeon, Tilly pushed past him and pried aside the loose stone.
She ignored him, which wasn't hard, since Richard was one scrawny bastard, and pulled out a rolled-up bunch of slick papers. “What the hell?” she asked of no one as she unrolled the papers and stared at the image of a voluptuous woman on the cover. The woman was barely dressed, and there was colored stuff painted all over her face. She looked ridiculous.
Tilly looked up at Richard. He was basically the color of a tomato. His mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. She flipped through the weird, slick pages, which were thin and brittle. The not-really-a-book had been sewn together it looked like a couple times now, whatever binding that had once held it intact having fallen apart long ago. A few of the pages had been ripped, corners and edges missing, but enough remained to make it clear what this odd book was.
“You pervert,” she whispered, but more in admiration than in judgment. How come she never knew the Guards had a book of pictures of naked women! Though she had never seen women that looked like this before, all hairless and perfect, skin all flat and smooth as though they didn't have muscles. How could anyone have breasts that big that didn't hang down? All the women had breasts that just stuck straight out. Tilly hefted one of her own breasts in comparison, and it definitely did not point out at a ninety degree angle from her chest.
She looked up to see Richard just staring at her. He had to be at least twenty-five, but Tilly would have bet a whole week's worth of eggs that he was a virgin. He'd probably never even seen a woman's breast before – not in the flesh, so to speak. Tilly felt sorry for him, but that was no reason for him to forget to pull up the inner ladder, or to not be paying attention to his watch.
“Please don't tell Silas,” he whispered again. He had reason to be terrified. Either of his offenses – leaving the ladder down, or reading with his back to the horizon – could be punished with a switching. And that would be Silas being generous. But doing both at the same time? Tilly shuddered to think.
“I'm not a rat,” she said, shoving the naked lady book back into his hands. Richard fumbled it, like it was hot and he didn't want to get burned. “But if you don't want anyone to tattle to Silas about the fact that you're an incompetent, scatterbrained fool, then do your goddamned job.” Richard blanched, and Tilly felt a swell of pride at thoroughly terrifying him. She gently patted the top of his head.
“Now grab the board,” she ordered, and then she unrolled the outer rope ladder.
“Where's your partner?” Richard asked. Well, hell. He wasn't a total dunce after all.
“Going out solo today.”
Richard just stood there, still holding his dirty book. Then slowly, slowly, he shook his head. “Tilly, I can't send you out alone. No one's supposed to go Outside alone.” If Richard didn't have perfect vision, there's no way he'd be a Guard. Based on the condescending and paternalistic tone in his voice, though, he would have made a great instructor.
“Yeah, I know that,” she said. She had already wasted too much time on top of the wall. Not that ten or fifteen minutes would make any difference in practical terms, but having a job and not being able to do it was always like to drive Tilly absolutely crazy. “But Ingrid's sent me out special today, so just lower me down already, Rich.”
Richard stood there, sort of gnawing on his lower lip. Tilly was getting ready to draw an arrow when he sighed, put the book aside, and walked over to the station proper. It was just a shingled roof supported on four brick pillars, with heavy canvas curtains that could be raised and lowered, enough for some protection from the weather. Inside the Guards kept their long-range weapons: bows and arrows, of course, but also javelins, throwing knives, and slings next to piles of rocks. There'd once been two catapults, one east and one north, but Tilly couldn't remember either ever working. Richard came out of the station with the ditch board; the rope wasn't coiled and tied neatly to the board, but trailed after him instead. Tilly might have to talk to Silas, all things considered.
“I'm just saying, I'm not comfortable with this.” Richard hefted the board up to the top of the parapet.
“And that's why you stay in here and I go out there,” Tilly said with a grin. Then she clambered up to the top of the parapet herself, and without a pause, she climbed down the rope ladder. There was just a foot of ground at the base of the wall for her to stand before the steep incline of the ditch.
Calling it 'the ditch' made it sound less impressive than it was. A moat as deep as the wall was high, it encircled the entire city. It had to be dug out periodically, as rains eroded the sides and filled in the bottom, but that wasn't so bad a job. Tilly liked any job that let her feel like she was actually doing something. She never slept better than when she collapsed into her rack exhausted, muscles aching and trembling, knowing that she had really accomplished something that day.
If it had just been a ditch, Tilly would have slid down the inner side of the ditch and hauled herself up the other. But it wasn't just a ditch. A dry or even a wet moat would slow the Outsiders down some, but it certainly wouldn't stop them. What would stop them was sticking up from all angles at the bottom of the ditch: spikes. Iron spikes, steel spikes, charred wooden spikes; long and short, thick and thin; all sharpened to dangerous and hopefully lethal points.
Richard carefully lowered the board, dangling from the long rope. Once it was within her reach, Tilly grabbed the board and bridged the gap between the edges of the ditch. The end of the board not attached to the rope went snug against the wall, and before Tilly stepped across she checked to make sure that Richard had a secure hold on the rope.
“Good hunting,” he called down. Then he checked the horizon, not needing to squint at all. The bastard did have the best eyes in the city. “You're clear.”
Tilly walked across.
As always, while the Guard on the wall pulled on the rope to pull the board back up, flush against the wall, Tilly just stood for a moment. She breathed the air, which always smelled different on this side. She stretched, rolling her shoulders, standing on her tip-toes. And she smiled.
The rest of the city might fear the Outside. They might tell the children stories of how horrible it was, filled with even more monsters than just the Outsiders. And they might never set foot outside the wall for as long as they lived. But Outside was the only place Tilly felt truly alive.