We reached Threewall in the early morning. There hadn’t been anywhere for us to sleep that night so we had kept wading and walking and now we were all very tired and grumpy. On top of that, despite the many times we had washed ourself in the last twenty fours hours, we kept getting that hint of other people’s... shit. Not pleasant.
We gave our hammock roll, that was tied round our shoulders, a tug to try to stop it rubbing so badly. At least the water levels were getting lower.
At last, out of the rain and mist and dark, we came to dry land and climbed out of the water and up onto the rocks at the foot of a high wall.
“Left or right?” Stamford asked. We shrugged. Who knew? We were badly off course, lost in fact. None of us had been here before. “Left then? We saw lights that way a couple of hours ago.”
“Mugs?” asked Brentford.
“Oh hope so,” we muttered with a mix of sarcasm and vengeful anger. The others laughed but still looked nervous; we were close to the wall where it felt safer to say such things, but only a little bit.
In the Wetlands you did not last long on your own. Among the Wetlanders we had our families and our clans. For those outside of the clans, well, they were either in the gangs of raiding Mugs or had joined one of the cults, but no one survived alone.
We scrambled over wet rock until we noticed that there was often a thin strip of flat ground running along the very foot of the wall. We moved onto this narrow path and our speed picked up after that.
It helped that after hours of wading through water our legs now felt like they were light as a feather and that we could walk forever.
We walked through the morning. The rain stopped sometimes, leaving a light mist floating around us. It was warm, as ever. To the south-east we could see the glow of the sun through the clouds.
The walls themselves were made of concrete, very rough to the hand. Every few steps there would be a thin join running vertically up where the sections were fitted together. It was amazing to think that Toplanders could do this while we lived in treehouses, shacks and tents, but then none of us knew much about Toplanders. It was not like they came travelling south to see us and if any Wetters got in to Topland we never heard from them again: they never came back out.
In the early afternoon we started to hear noises in the distance: the shouts of sailors and fishing folk, the calls of duck and geese and swan and finally, as the gate came into sight, the arguing and shouting of the traders.
“Are we really going to try this? To try and break in?”
“That’s the plan.” We replied. But we were just as nervous. In a couple of hours we would probably be dead. We all would be. But on the other hand, we had been a couple of hours from death our entire life. That was why we were trying to get into Topland in the first place: for a better, safer, life.
We had been given an idea of what to expect but the gate was much worse than we had been told. For a start it was not at ground level, it was a good four or five metres up the wall, a long low slit about a metre high and twenty metres across in four sections. The Wetters had built a ramshackle ramp of stone and rotten wood up the wall so they could deal with the traders inside. Goods were being passed in and out of the gate with a great deal of shouting and pulling. One Wetlander even fell off the ramp when a trader had let go of whatever they had been passing through the wall. And for every Wetter at the gate at the top of the ramp there were double that queuing up behind and many more on the rocks below, in boats or walking to and from the gate through the shallow water.
We could not actually see a Toplander through all the Wetters, maybe a brief hand or an arm, but no faces. We wondered if they looked different.
There were a lot of Wetters around us now as we moved through the crowds, they were resting on rocks and in boats preparing to set off back to wherever, or maybe planning on staying the night, preferring to stay close to the relative safety of the Gate compared with the risk of travelling south with valuables that could tempt the Mugs.
We cleared a space close to the Gate and sat down.
“Well?” whispered Brentford. “What now?”
“We’re not sure this is even the right Gate,” said Cam looking round. “It sounded bigger than this, the way Alne described it anyway.”
Alne was our clan leader and had sent us on this mission north. We had always had suspicions about the ‘mission’ and it had gone spectacularly badly so far. Eight of us had set out nearly a week before, sailing north, trying to avoid the normal routes and yet only us four had made it.
But, we were here now.
We sat waiting for the right moment: just before the sun set, before the Toplanders locked down the Gate for the night.
We nibbled nervously on the last of our food then, as the sun went down a bell started ringing: it was the ten minute warning, time for the last trades. There was a rush for the gate.
We got up and began pushing through the crowd, holding our sacks in front of us, their heavy liquid weight helping us force the crowds out the way. Finally we got to just behind some Wetters actually talking to a Trader. They were shouting to each other, arguing over the price of oysters. It was strange hearing the selfish ‘I’ and, by the sound of it, said by a Wetlander. We glanced over at Brentford who was already preparing the fuse. We knelt down and did the same.
The Wetter in front stopped talking and then shouted agreement and the trade went ahead. A sack went in, a small wooden box was passed out. The Wetter checked the contents of the box and started to turn, as did the Trader inside. We stood up, pushed forward and heaved the two bombs onto the lip of the gate and with the rope tied round our wrists pushed the bombs as far as we could into the gate.
Alne had made us promise that we would shout a warning first.
“Bomb!” we shouted. The Traders heard and started to run, we were already ducking down under the lip of the gate and pulling back hard on the trigger ropes.
Stamford, who had been behind Brentford was still standing, trying to see what was going on, not realising we had already launched the bombs. Other Wetters, more used to the constant attempts on the gates were diving out the way.
We leapt over Brentford and managed to pull Stamford down just before we heard the roar of the twin bombs going off.
Even as the flames still curled round the lips of the Gate we were up and rolling through the hole. Brentford rolled through beside us. We could see dozens more scrambling though the gap.
Then we heard the steel shutters coming down slicing through Wetters still trying to get in. We rolled out the other side and down onto a stone floor where barrels and boxes lay broken and on fire around us.
In the twilight we could see buildings below, real stone buildings and beyond them another much lower wall, over which, in the increasing dark, we could just make out the dry earth of Scotland.
People were running out of the building, guns were being fired, alarms were sounding.
We stood up and ran one way, Brentford and the others ran in the opposite direction.