Authors: John H. Carroll
Tags: #romance, #tragedy, #fantasy, #war, #druid, #ryallon
Published by John H. Carroll at
Copyright 2011 John H. Carroll
Cover Copyright 2011 John H. Carroll
Cover photography by Tracy Carroll
This story is dedicated to those who believe
war is a waste of loved ones
Rain opened her
eyes as morning rays peeked through cracks in the eaves next to her
straw bed. She stretched and brushed off a spider that had begun
spinning a web between her and the ceiling. Judging from cool air
coming through the cracks, it was another misty spring morning.
Her corner loft was barely big enough for the
pitiable bed and a chest holding clothes and the few things
precious to her. She looked over the side. It was dark and the only
sound was that of her father snoring in the single room of their
small, stone house.
A curse word she wasn’t supposed to know came
out of her mouth when she sat up and bonked her head against a
ceiling beam. Rain knew it was there, but every once in a while she
knocked her head on it. Straw from the ceiling fell into the back
of her sleeveless, brown robe, making her itch.
The spider must have chomped her leg before
working on its web. She scratched at the bite before changing into
her patchwork dress. It only came down to her knees, showing more
leg than was proper, but she didn’t have material to make a longer
one. A belt and pouch finished the outfit.
Rain climbed down the rickety ladder from her
loft and slipped past her father’s unconscious body on her way to
the front door. Cheap mead and body odor mingled to create a stench
that made her gag. He had placed the leather coverings over the
windows upon coming home in the early morning hours, which trapped
the smell. Rain would open them up in a futile attempt to freshen
the air after he went to work that afternoon.
The door’s rusted hinges protested at having
to open. Rain watched to see if her father would react as she
closed it, but he was oblivious to his surroundings. She slipped
into the mist and made her way down the dirt path away from her
The path was muddy from spring showers, so
she moved to the edge. Rain enjoyed the feel of grass under her
bare feet anyway, though she watched to make certain she wouldn’t
startle a snake or step on an anthill.
Rain and her father lived outside the village
of Cothbern in the Greffen Province. The Kingdom of Paruth had a
history of land squabbles and infighting, but nobody wanted to take
Lord Greffen’s land because there was little of value other than
some copper mines and a quarry. The mountains were steep while
Grendia Forest was thick and enchanted. Hunters and woodcutters
were more likely to disappear than to be successful in their
Rain stopped and stretched with her arms
toward the sky. She wasn’t tall, but liked to pretend she could
reach the tops of the trees. A purple flower nearby had just
blossomed and she leaned over to breathe in its sweet aroma. “Oh,
you’re so beautiful. You’ll attract countless butterflies.”
As she continued on her way, Rain took a
small wooden comb from her pocket and began working tangles out of
her long, honey-brown hair.
I will definitely have to bathe
she thought to herself. By the time she reached Old Ulga
Tumo’s house, the tangles were out and the sun was beginning to
burn off the mist.
Old Ulga Tumo had grey hair and a stooped
back. She was sweeping her porch with a straw broom when Rain
opened the gate of the whitewashed picket fence. Ulga’s voice
cracked with age. “Hello there, Rain. So lovely to see you.”
“Hello, Ulga. How are you this fine morning?”
Rain made her way up the stone path, which was lined with sprouts
of flowers and herbs poking through the fertile ground.
“This mist is making my bones ache.” She put
a hand on her hip and tried to straighten. “You’ll help me plant
the peas in the garden this morning, won’t you, lass?”
“Of course, Ulga. You take care of your
back.” Rain gave her a welcoming kiss on the cheek.
Ulga waggled a leathery finger. “My back has
carried me for eighty years. That’s more than anyone else can say,
twice as much as our good Lord Greffen.” She put her hands on her
hips. “Now get inside. There’s porridge in the pot and a loaf of
bread in the basket. Gardening can wait until you eat.”
“Yes, Ulga.” Rain went inside, grabbed a bowl
of porridge and tore off a piece of bread before sitting at the
dining table. She knew better than to argue with the old woman.
She glanced around the tidy house while
filling her belly. Pots and pans lined the wall behind a wooden
worktable near a fire pit. There were two cupboards and even a
couch. Ulga Tumo had two rooms besides the common area. Her
children and grandchildren had lived there before going off on
their own. The amazing woman had outlived all of her children and
many of the grandchildren too. Now she lived alone.
Rain washed the bowl and spoon before heading
to the back. Ulga had made her way around the porch and was leaning
on the broom before finishing. Rain held a hand out. “I can finish
sweeping for you, Ulga. You sit down and let me have the
Ulga pulled the broom away. “You’ll not take
my livelihood from me. I can still sweep, it just takes me a
while.” She waggled her finger. “You should know better.”
“Sorry, Ulga.” Rain hung her head.
“Don’t you worry about it. The seeds are in
the basket.” She began sweeping again. “When you’re done, there’ll
be lunch for you.”
“Yes, Ulga.” Rain grabbed the basket and the
hoe. She worked quickly and was done by midday.
“You do good work, Rain,” Ulga said as the
young woman sat and ate cheese with more bread. “Here are three
coppers for you. I want you to have them.” Ulga put the coppers on
the table. She waggled a finger, as she was so good at doing.
“Don’t you dare let your wastrel of a father know about them.
They’re for you.”
Rain stared at them with wide eyes. “Ulga, I
can’t accept these.” She ran a finger over the metal, smooth from
years of wear. “I’ve never had money before.”
“Nonsense. It’s not a lot, but I don’t have
any need for them. Perhaps you’ll be able to earn a few more and
get material for a wedding dress.”
“A wedding dress?” Rain looked at the old
woman in confusion. “Nobody would want to marry me. There are many
more desirable women.” She dropped her dirty hands in her lap and
stared at them. “I’m just a skinny peasant girl with nothing to her
name except a drunken father.”
Ulga patted her shoulder. “Nonsense. You’re a
fine-looking girl with amber eyes that shine like the sun. Any man
would be lucky to marry you.” She grabbed the coppers with her
age-mottled hands, put them in Rain’s hand and closed the fingers
around them. “Go on now. Keep these safe. Be back in three days and
I’ll have more work for you.”
“Yes, Ulga.” Rain gave her a kiss on the
cheek and headed out through the gate. There was a copse of trees
to the left of the path and she squirreled her way into them. Once
certain no one else was near, Rain opened her hand and stared at
The worn copper glinted in the sun. She
looked up at the clear sky. The air was growing warmer and sweat
trickled down her back from all the work she had done. Rain ignored
it as she examined the coins. There was a figure of a person on the
front of the coins while the back had a mountain and tree. One coin
was newer than the rest, probably showing the current king. Rain
thought he looked magnificent. It was hard to tell who was on the
As she made her way past the thick trunks and
leafy plants to the path, Rain tucked the coins into her pouch, the
safest place she could put them.
The path came out on a muddy road through the
forest. To the right, it ended over a mile south at a granite
quarry where Rain’s father worked. Rain turned north, where it
passed through Cothbern and then to the town of Seyten where Lord
Greffen’s keep was. Rain had never been to Seyten, though her
father had a few times. He said it wasn’t anything special. He said
that about everything.
Perhaps she would visit there soon. There was
no reason for her to stay in Cothbern. Most of the men in Paruth
died at an early age in war. Women weren’t allowed to fight. In
fact, they weren’t considered much good for anything. Rain
considered leaving the country for adventure, but it was a
frightening prospect. She just couldn’t think of anything else to
do with her life.
“Hello, Rain!” The voice of Tonia Holn
startled Rain as she walked toward the village. “Will you watch my
little ones tomorrow?” The young woman stood at the door of her
house with a three-year-old son at her feet and six-month-old
daughter swaddled in her arms. “I’m going to help Gina sew Lady
Greffen’s new dress. It’ll pay Gina’s taxes for a whole year.”
“Of course, Tonia. I’ll be here shortly after
sunrise.” Rain waved at the boy, Rober. He smiled and waved
“You can have breakfast and lunch. I don’t
have much else to give,” Tonia said with a look of worry.
“That would be wonderful and very generous of
you.” Rain would also tidy up the house and do anything else to
help the young mother. Tonia’s husband was conscripted into the
king’s army and hadn’t been home since before the birth of their
daughter. Two meals were more than enough compensation.