Authors: Spencer Johnson
Chronicles of Den’dra: A Land Torn
Published by Spencer Johnson at Amazon.com
Copyright 2013 Spencer Johnson
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This is a work of fiction. As such, any resemblance to persons, living or dead, real events, locations, or organizations is purely coincidental and unintentional.
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Child of Time
The sun was high overhead in a clear blue sky. There would normally have been a few fluffy clouds marring the azure canvas but today there were none. Skeln wondered if that meant there would be no rain for the next few days. He shaded his eyes to look at the two V shaped horizons that the valley granted access to. The blue canopy faded until it was almost white before disappearing behind the distant mountains. To the west a crook in the valley hid the plains from sight. Skeln was thankful for the light breeze that played up the valley as he returned to the task at hand.
The weeds were not so bad today. Skeln had spent the last week cleaning them out of the patch he and his father called a garden. He had plans for some potatoes in the corner with some carrots along the other side. He hoped to get a good enough harvest of potatoes to be able to have a supply through the winter. Food was difficult to come by without coin and his father lacked coin.
Urake wasn’t a gambler or anything of the like. It was only that his chosen profession was not a lucrative one. It was not easy to make one’s living as a goldsmith and jeweler. If Urake had been situated in a larger city or as a traveling merchant it would have been a different story. As it was, rarely did anyone have the need for Urake’s art in this village. In times past he had done a small business in wedding bands and jewelry repairs but now he was no more than an outcast. The initial novelty of having a goldsmith in the village wore off and the villagers had not gotten over treating him like a stranger despite his fourteen years in the village.
Skeln on the other hand had grown up in the community and was more or less accepted. He had subsidized the money sack since he had been old enough to do anything anyone was willing to pay to get done. Still it was an empty sack frequently. Neither Urake nor Skeln were given to frivolities but still the basic needs of sustenance and clothing consumed the carefully earned coppers. The last gold had long since been spent many a season ago.
A factor in this decline had been when Urake had dabbled in brewing to supplement his waning income. The rumor spread like wildfire that the man drank most of his product. The gold smith business rapidly dried up as the rumor took root. Nere was to be found a man or woman willing to entrust a grain of gold let alone a jewel in the hands of a drunk.
Skeln stood with one hand full of weeds and his cultivating tool in the other hand. It was not made like a proper garden tool with a metal earth working edge. This one Skeln had constructed himself out of twine and sturdy pieces of wood. It wasn’t much to look at but it broke up the clods better than one could by hand.
He spied movement down the road that led towards the village. Turning to get a better look Skeln stiffened. He immediately moved to the far corner of the plot and bent back to work. The object of his alarm soon arrived at the gate. Akeli wasn’t a bad looking girl but through her golden looks she had already gotten three boys from the village beaten to within an inch of their lives. The girl had a high estimate of her beauty and would ply her wiles on every boy that had the misfortune of meeting her.
She was only a year older than Skeln making her fifteen but he feared that he had caught her eye lately. She seemed to think his heritage something romantically mysterious. Skeln himself didn’t know hardly anything of his ancestry beyond Urake. The man never mentioned Skeln’s mother or his own past.
Skeln had dodged into alleys and behind hedges every time he had seen her coming. She seemed to think his rejection of her advances was a part of some game and had only intensified her attempts at trapping him alone in a secluded corner. What she saw in him, Skeln was at a loss to guess.
Yesterday had been a close shave when he had been trapped between her and the angry dog that was tethered behind the saddler’s house. He had decided that it was safer to brave a dog bite than to risk her touch. Surprising the dog had ignored him and Akeli had been stymied but the surly brute. Despite his torn clothes and dirt smeared countenance she was not becoming dissuaded like a normal girl should have. She was somewhat simple. He father must have passed the trait on to her.
The local blacksmith was known to fly into a rage anytime that he heard a boy had been seen with his daughter. Determined that they were all untrustworthy and out to steal his precious Akeli’s innocence the man had nearly killed her three previous suitors. The first two had been willing and may have posed a threat but the third had been a victim of Akeli’s actions and her misguided belief that there was something there that wasn’t. After that time all the boys and young men had left a wide berth around the girl that no amount of good looks were likely to bridge.
Desperate for attention Akeli had set her sights on Skeln. She must have thought that he would fall all over himself when a pretty girl batted her long dark eyelashes in his direction. He had no illusions to the fact that he would fare no better with her father than the last three to have crossed her. The fact that he was the son of the village drunk did little to increase his trustworthy standing should the blacksmith ever hear that he had been seen with Akeli.
Isn’t it a wonderful day today?” Skeln contemplated ignoring the pleasantry and continuing the task of pulling the endless weeds. He straightened up after changing his mind a moment later. Massaging his lower back and stretching he thought. The last boy was still walking with the help of a crutch after he had met his accident. His mistake had been telling Akeli that he didn’t like her. She had flown home in tears and sobbed the whole story of her broken heart on her father’s shoulder.
It is nice if you don’t have to work in the sun.” Skeln shaded his eyes and scanned the horizons for a hint on a cloud. “I hope it rains in the next few days.”
I don’t want it to rain. I want it to stay like this all the time.” Akeli wrinkled her nose at the idea of her azure skies clouding and storming. Skeln bent back down and began pulling weeds before he answered.
If it rains I won’t have to carry water for my garden.” Skeln would have bolted over the fence in the opposite direction when he had seen her to avoid this conversation. If it hadn’t been for the briar patch adorned with cruel sharp thorns.
Alright, for you I will let it rain.” Skeln almost braved the briars when Akeli opened the gate and stepped into the plot. Only twenty feet of fresh dirt now separated them.
Won’t you come over here so we can talk?” Skeln glanced over and thanked the heavens. Akeli wore a dainty pair of shoes that must have cost her father a month’s wages. There was no way that they would survive the trip through the mass of earth that Skeln had just finished working.
I have to finish working up the garden so I can get it planted.” He finally thought of an excuse that prevented the requested journey.
Why do you even need a garden anyways? They are so dirty.” Akeli sneered at what she considered work for lesser people than those of her lofty station.
So I can grow food for this winter so we don’t have to buy any.” The tiresome conversation was grating at Skeln’s nerves.
If your father got a real job then you could just buy everything you need like my father.” Skeln winced at the unintended insult. He was about to respond when he heard footsteps on the path. Skeln apprehensively looked to see if it was the blacksmith that approached but was rewarded with the sight of a slight boy only ten or so.
Papa wants to know where you are.” Akeli turned in disgust at her younger brother’s interruption.
Tell him that I am only talking to Skeln and that I will be home soon.” Skeln stiffened and made a mental to avoid dead ends and to run the next time that he saw the blacksmith. Mosn cast a curious glance at Skeln before responding.
I will tell Papa that you will be home real soon. I won’t tell him that you are talking to Skeln or he won’t let you out of the house for a week at least.” Mosn then cast a smile at Skeln and dodged his sister’s clutching hand. Akeli gave up and began smoothing her dress as she watched the boy trot down the path toward town. Skeln was thankful that Mosn had not inherited his father’s simple mind. The boy was more intelligent than he looked but didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He knew how to manipulate his father and sister and had honed the skill to a fine edge.
Impertinent child. He simply don’t understand adult things.” Skeln refrained from commenting on Akeli’s observation. “I'm sorry to have to leave like this but I need to go home and make sure Mosn doesn’t spread any vicious rumors. Children can be so cruel can’t they?” Skeln had to admire the boy’s subtle trick. Not only was Akeli’s father expecting her home soon but she was going to be trying to prevent her father from finding out about her communication with Skeln. He hoped that the threat of imprisonment would be enough to discourage any further attempts at communication.
I got to finish this garden.” Skeln didn’t want to leave any parting comments that Akeli might construe as encouragement. To encourage her speedy departure he threw a clump of weeds near her feet then apologized for the “accident”.
That’s alright.” Akeli looked the plot over with a critical eye before turning to leave. “I suppose I will see you around the village then.” With her parting comment she walked through the gate and down the path. Skeln breathed a sigh of relief and returned to work.
The day had been spent and Skeln was ravenous when he returned to the house he called home. It was propped up on one side and looked about to fall over in a stiff breeze but it was sturdier than it looked. It kept the worse of the weather out and most of the heat in. It leaked in a few spots and had drafts that could smother a candle but it was home. Skeln had spent his life here. Urake had built the house himself after showing up with the infant he called Skeln. Lack of funds was the only real problem that the house suffered from.
Skeln could already smell the stew before he opened the door. Urake was leaning over the pot that hung over the fireplace. Urake may have the reputation of a drunk but he was not a bad cook. The ways he had managed to make the meager provisions into edible dishes was beyond Skeln’s comprehension.
How is the garden plot coming along?” Urake stopped stirring as Skeln entered the room.
I almost have all of it worked up. I should be able to start planting tomorrow.”
I have another keg that can be sold. It should get us enough coin for seed.” Urake began ladling the stew into a bowl. After filling the bowl and handing it to Skeln he settled into a seat across the table.
Won’t you have any?”
I already had a bowl before you arrived.” Skeln scowled at the pot before Urake picked it up and replaced it near the fire. There was a line where the top of the soup had been before Skeln’s bowl had been taken out. There was only enough of a drop to accommodate the one bowl. Skeln suspected that Urake had lied about having eaten or at least had only eaten a few mouthfuls. It was something that Skeln had caught the man on several times before. He had always made excuses about the supply of food being too meager to feed more than Skeln or that he had eaten earlier.
Akeli came by today and wanted to talk.”
You had best stay away from that girl. She is not good news. Remember that last three boys she got involved with?”
You don’t need to remind me. I got rid of her as fast as I could but it was only when her brother came that she left.” Skeln paused between bites to explain.
Just stay away from her in the future.” Urake ended the conversation and gave the stew a couple more stirs before slipping through the partition that separated the dining room from the bedroom. Skeln was left with only the fire as company. After eating another bowlful of soup and cleaning out the last bit, he took the pot to the stream that passed near the house.
Washing the eating utensils and the pot in the icy cold water and scouring the last traces out with sand left the pot as good as new. Skeln looked up at the darkening sky as the first few stars were appearing. Down the valley a little could be seen the lights in the windows of the village houses. He washed the dirt off his feet and tried to scrub the oil out of his hair. The dirt smudges mostly came off but several proved resistant to the cold water. If it had been earlier in the evening Skeln would have walked to the pool that was formed by a fallen log across the stream. The pool was a short distance up the valley and was secluded enough that he could strip down and get properly cleaned.
There was not much that could be done for his clothes. They had acquired a permanent earth colored stain and were beginning to come apart at the seams. He feared that washing them would remove the dirt that was holding them together. Skeln had been saving coppers from odd jobs in the hopes of at least getting enough cloth to make some more soon.
Urake’s clothes were in nearly the same condition. After being ostracized for the drunk he wasn't, Urake had given up. His shirt and pants were the same shade of brown as his tattered cloak. They gave one the impression that they held together by force of habit but that they could change their mind at any time.