Perdita joined Unless and Until in the morning for breakfast.
“I’m heading out today,” she said, “You two have been great. It’s been good to be here and see you, but it is time to keep moving. I’m thinking West.”
“It has been wonderful to see you, and we can’t thank you enough for all your trouble with our trunk. And your lovely painting.”
“It was fun. The painting was, and don’t worry about the trunk, I have the cart for my pack anyway. And you’re going to let me help clean up this morning, because I’m leaving.”
The three of them cleared the breakfast things and tidied the kitchen. Perdita collected her pack and they all gathered in the front yard for goodbye. She tossed the pack in the cart, patted each of them on the back, said, “See you sometime, maybe I’ll write.”
Then, before either Unless or Until could say anything, Perdita was out the gate and headed down the road.
Unless and Until watched her until a bend in the road hid her from view. Unless looked around the yard, considered whether more work was needed keeping back the vines, and concluded that it would be fine to wait a few more days.
Until said, “I have received a note from my cousin Any. When, the old timer, is ill and they need help nursing.”
Unless asked, “Is it serious?”
“Well, When is so old, and they has taken a chill they can’t shake off. Any can’t look after them alone.”
Unless was unhappy at the thought of several days without Until, but agreed that it was the right thing to do.
Until packed some changes of clothes and some jars of strong broth that would be good for feeding an invalid and departed, wondering if Any and When had seen the Spring parade when it passed by the track that lead up into the hills where they lived.
After a few hours alone, pacing and fidgeting, Unless decided to go hunting. The time alone would be unbearable otherwise. That evening, they were settled down in a small camp near the lake, chewing dried meat and looking up at the skies. The moon was full and Unless could see the clouds piling up against each other. They thought of the next picture on the easel and the marvelous clawed creature that seemed to be roaring with consternation at just such a massing of evening clouds.
Unless made an experimental roar, imagining that they was one of the huge flying creatures in the paintings. What wonderful things would be possible. The wind picked up, carrying a hint of moisture. It would rain in a day or two. In the meantime, Unless had time to enjoy the evening out, to admire the clouds, and to imagine the far reaches of the sky. Unless settled into their bedroll, listening intently to the wind. They heard a nightbird whistling in the distance.
It did not rain the next day, nor the next, and Unless was very successful hunting. They broke camp and set off home with several plump pheasants and a couple of rabbits. Until had not returned when Unless arrived late that afternoon. They put away their hunting gear, bathed, and ate cold roast standing in the kitchen. The rain arrived with enough wind to remind Unless of their imaginings the first night of their hunting trip.
Trying to keep busy to pass the time, Unless spent the next day preparing all of the game for smoking or roasting. With another day past and Until still absent, Unless went back to working on the vines in the front yard. When that did not fill the time, Unless weeded the back garden.
At last, Until returned. They arrived home late the next day, tired but satisfied, and reported that When was on the mend and that Any was well recovered from the exhaustion of trying to nurse such a bad chill.
Unless was pleased to have Until home and insisted they come in and rest. Unless also insisted on cooking supper and Until was happy to accept. They ate roast pheasant and discussed Until’s cousins, how the nursing had gone, and how good it was to be home.
Unless suggested they take their glasses of wine into the front room, because they had an idea about the next picture. Until was delighted. Also, Until had been considering the next picture at odd moments while they were nursing When and helping Any, and Until had not reached any insights about it.
They stood in front of the picture.
“That huge lion is roaring at the edge of the sky,” said Unless.
“We never went to the edge of the sky, did we?” asked Until.
“No, it is just what a giant flying creature might do. Go looking for the edge of the sky.”
“Ah,” said Until, “But why roar at it?”
“The edge of the sky might not be interesting to a giant flying creature. Think about the ocean – all the interesting things are away from the edge.”
Until had to think about that for a while but agreed, all the while wondering how Unless had conceived such a story.
“My hunting trip was successful, and the story came to me as clouds piled up in the evening sky just like those. And there was beautiful music, just as there should be at the edge of the sky, music of wind and a night bird. Listen.” Unless whistled and sang the tune and sounds they heard the first night of the hunting trip.
Until was enchanted. They had been very tired, and hoping to go right to sleep after supper. Somehow the sound of Unless’s song washed away the tiredness, and Until was sorry not to have seen the clouds piling up against the evening sky, and sorry not to have heard the bird singing in the night wind.
They drank their wine and admired the picture.
“Is that enough to say about this picture?” asked Unless.
“Certainly,” said Until, “A wonderful story. And,” they went on more hesitantly, “it would be wonderful to have the picture hang in my room. Would that be alright?”
“Of course!” said Unless happily, who felt certain it was as much their story as the picture itself that had caused Until to express this wish.
They took the picture upstairs and hung it in Until’s room. Unless, full of good cheer, insisted that Until go to bed and let Unless do all the cleaning. So they did. Until was surprised not to fall asleep immediately, as tired as they was. Instead they drifted for almost an hour, picturing Unless as a giant flying creature at the edge of the sky, roaring indignation. Until sighed happily, and slept at last.