Wind Rider – Chapter 3

Comarin the hermit rocked back and forth on his heels. He rubbed the pouch containing his last pieces of root between two bony fingers.

“Not much hope really, I guess,” he muttered to himself. “No sense wasting these others if that one didn’t work. Besides, you never know when I might need em myself. Not that I’d begrudge it to you, of course.”

The old man squinted in the candlelight and bent down close to the sleeping woman’s face.

“Your name is Daesha.” He smiled. “Pretty name. Yes, and it is you isn’t it?” With one finger he brushed the woman’s hair out of her too familiar face. “I haven’t been out there alone that long, you know. I’m not all that mad, not yet. But what can I do? You need the deeproot and I haven’t got it. No way of getting it either.”

Comarin picked his stick up from where it lay beside him and jammed it into the dirt floor of the hut. It jittered under his weight as he hauled himself up. He crossed the room, refilled the wooden bowl with water from the basin and soaked the cloth again. The river water was so cool against Daesha’s hot brow that she gave a little moan and turned her head away from his touch.

“Shh. Yes, I don’t blame you.” He wiped gently, almost lovingly at her face. “What do you see, I wonder? Can’t say I don’t envy you just a little bit.”

Comarin cocked his head and listened intently. There was no sound other than the wind that nightly blew through the canyon, but the old man shook his head as though he disagreed with what it said.

“I’m old. Not right in the head, you know. What would I be able to do?” He pondered a moment more. “It will come down to the boy, I suppose. He seems a puny young thing.”

__________________________________________________________

You have reached the end of the sample chapters.
Enjoy the preview?

Buy it on Amazon

Wind Rider – Chapter 2

The Canyon Seer

The Hermit lived down the canyon along a narrow crease that broke the western wall. The distance took little more than an hour to walk. At Dareth’s pace he covered the space in half that time, nearly dashing his head on a rock when he slipped in the river at its shallow crossing. Once the defile where the hermit lived came into view, he moved with more caution.

People in the village thought that the hermit lived in a cave along the defile, and why shouldn’t they? Few of them ever ventured even this far from the village and those who did would never consider peeking behind the large stone that blocked most of the defile from view. Dareth had peeked, of course. He had seen the patchwork shack nestled under a shallow awning of rock on a number of occasions. He never bothered to correct his fellow villagers about the cave. To do so would only invite disapproving looks and he had enough of that already.

“So what does Lorvin know of the madman?” Dareth asked himself as he crept closer to the stone. He saw the old man now and again in his wanderings. There was never anything fascinating about the sightings. He’d seen the old man gathering fruit, collecting water from the river, carrying a trapped rabbit back to his secluded hovel. Once in a while he saw the hermit gazing down at the village from a hillside to the south. But the man never came closer than that. Dareth could feel his heart thrumming as he pressed himself against the cool shade of the stone. Mundane as his actions seemed, the man captivated Dareth. He had tried on several occasions to question his mother about the mysterious figure, but she would only smile and say, “He’s a harmless old fool who isn’t quite like the rest of us.”

But the man knew things, that was what Lorvin had said. What things? Where had he learned them? Dareth thought he knew the answer. The hermit came from somewhere up there, outside of the canyon. This idea alone mesmerized the young man. But even if Dareth could ever have mustered the temerity to approach the hermit before, the old man always disappeared as soon as he noticed company. The hermit’s message was clear. He did not like the villagers and he did not want to be disturbed.

“So what makes Lorvin think that he will help?” Dareth asked himself as he chanced a look around the edge of the boulder. The shack hunkered against the rock wall not more than a hundred paces up the defile, obscured even in plain sight. If a man wanted to remain secluded, this looked like the perfect place to be. The shack was a ragged affair. The roof missed small patches of it’s drooping thatch. The walls, built mostly of weaved branches over a log frame, showed disrepair as well. Patched holes did little to reveal any details of the dwelling’s interior. The canyon wind worked at a few strips of clothing that swung on a line between the side of the shack and the gnarled branch of a nearby tree.

Dareth inspected the area carefully. Nothing else moved about the shack and no sound other than wind carried to his ears. Nothing to be worried about. Still, he hesitated before revealing himself. The hermit was mad, everyone had always said so. And the thought of approaching a mad man hardly inspired confidence. But it had to be done. Dareth took a breath and was on the point of stepping into the open and marching up to the shack when a voice spun him around with a startled leap.

“What do you want?” The man Dareth had been looking for stood not five paces behind him, glaring down a long, crooked nose.

“I’m sorry. You frightened me.” Dareth tried to smile but the hermit’s thick brows remained tightly knit together.

“Serves you right. You haven’t got any business here. Do I come sneaking into your village?”

Dareth stared at the man, blinking furiously. He worked to remember the things he had planned to say.

“I’m sorry. But I had to come and see you. It’s my mother. She has fallen ill and no one knows what to do about it.”

“So why are you bothering me with this?” The hermit pushed past Dareth and trudged toward his shack, thumping a thick, wooden staff into the packed earth at each step. “Get out of here. I don’t have time to help you with your problems. Don’t I have enough of my own?”

Dareth allowed himself to be shoved aside and watched the old man’s back as he retreated. But suddenly a determination took hold of him. This man had to help his mother. If he did not, then she would probably die. The time for shyness and indecision would have to come later.

“Wait.” Dareth’s shout stopped the old man at his doorstep and he shot a look of irritation over his shoulder.

“I need your help. My mother is dying and Lorvin says you’re the only one who has any chance of helping her.”

The hermit turned about and looked closely at the young man for a moment. “Your mother?”

“Yes.”

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Dareth. My mother is Daesha.”

“Daesha?” The man narrowed his eyes. “Daesha, Daesha, Daesha…” He leaned all of his weight on the stick in his hand and stared as if trying to make something out in the young man’s face. “You are her son?”

“Yes. She was hurt in the shake this morning. The medicine man says that he doesn’t even know what’s wrong with her. But he says that you know things, that you may be able to figure out a way to help her.”

The hermit continued to stare at Dareth well after he had finished speaking. He appeared to be considering the matter and Dareth felt a surge of hope work its way up into his throat. But the cold look that finally crept into the hermit’s eyes did more to answer the plea than his words could do.

“Get out of here, boy. I leave you people alone and you leave me alone. That’s how it has always been. No sense changing things. Now I’m going to go inside and you’re going to leave. And don’t come back here. I’m busy. I’m always busy.”

With that the hermit turned on his heel and stomped into his shack, yanking the curtain back in place once he was inside. The tap of his stick still thumped rhythmically from within.

Dareth froze in an instant of dread. Lorvin had been perfectly clear. There was nothing he could do. It was the hermit or no one. A tear collected in the corner of Dareth’s eye. He thought of trying to drag the old fool but, bent and frail as the man appeared to be, he frightened Dareth.

“Why won’t you help?” Dareth called out. “What have we done to you that you stay out here all by yourself?”

“I said get out of here,” came the reply from within.

“I’m not,” Dareth shouted, suddenly knowing the truth of his words. If this man was Daesha’s only hope then, by the wings of the seer, Dareth would not leave this place alone. “I’m staying right here.” He sat down on the ground and folded his arms stubbornly. “I have nowhere to go. If you’re not going to help my mother then I have no one to go to anyway.”

There was no response from the hut.

“Please!”

A few rapid thumps echoed out of the shack and the curtain was thrust aside. A rock, nearly the size of a man’s fist came whizzing out of the dark opening. The stone was well placed and would have struck Dareth full on the head if he hadn’t seen it coming and scrambled to one side.

“I said get out of here. I’m no medicine man. And I don’t want to have anything to do with any of you. If your medicine man can’t fix her then there is little that I could do for her anyway. Now I have more stones in here and I don’t think you’ll be able to dodge all of them. If she’s bleeding, bandage her up, if she has a broken bone, set it. That’s all the help I can give you. Now go home.”

“If only I knew what to bandage,” Dareth said. “But the medicine man can find nothing wrong with her. She lays in the hut and moans and moans but there is nothing to heal. She is burning up though and we have no idea what to do.”

There was no response from the hut at first. Then, slowly the curtain was drawn aside again and the hermit tottered back into view.

“You say there is no damage to her body?” Curiosity peaked his tone. Dareth did not know what to make of the sudden reversal, but he saw a glimmer of hope so he followed it.

“Nothing, she lies in fever and moans things that no one can understand.”

“When did this happen?”

“It was during the shake.”

The hermit hobbled back toward Dareth. There was a gleam in his eye and he moved as swiftly as his bent leg would carry him. “Where was this. Did anyone see?”

“I was there. I was herding some stray cattle up the canyon toward the village. My mother doesn’t like me to be up that way and she came after me. That’s when the shake hit. At first it was small, but then the earth shook violently. It was hard to stay on my feet. The ground broke apart between us. I was still far away but my mother was right there near the crack. She nearly fell in. There was so much dust and smoke in the air that it was hard to see her at first, but when I found her, she was lying on her back, staring up into the sky. I got her back to the village but nothing has changed.”

By the time Dareth finished explaining, the hermit stood beside him again. An odd light shone in his eyes where the angry indifference had been only moments before.

“The smoke you saw, it was red, was it not?”

“Red?”

“Yes, the smoke.” The man bent his eyes close to Dareth and he could smell the hermit’s stale breath in his face. “Was the smoke red?”

Dareth stammered. There had been so much dust in the air. He had been so worried for his mother. He remembered telling Lorvin of the smoke and he had indeed described it as red.

“Yes. Yes, I think it was red. What does that mean?”

The hermit did not answer. Instead he wheeled about and raced as quickly as he could back into the shack. This time Dareth had no intention of letting the man go. He followed close behind but didn’t even make the doorway before the hermit dashed through it again, an old leather pouch clutched tightly in his hand.

“Let’s go.”

“You’re going to help?”

The hermit looked at the boy. His eyes now showed a measure of concern that had not been there before.

“I am going to try. I can promise you nothing.” He then turned and began to hobble toward the entrance to his little cleft. Dareth kept close on his heels.

“You know what’s wrong with her then?”

“I do.”

The old man did not offer any further explanation. Despite his limp, he moved swiftly. Dareth had difficulty keeping up.

“Well what is it, then?”

“Call it poison.”

Dareth wrinkled his brow. “What do you mean? Is it poison or isn’t it?”

“Not exactly, but you can call it that.”

The rest of the journey was spent in silence. Dareth did not quite know what else to ask and the hermit did not offer up any information himself. They moved quickly and the grass huts of the village came into view less than an hour later.

“Lorvin has her in his hut.” Dareth ran forward, leading the way through the collection of squat, dwellings, every one of which looked exactly the same. They reached the medicine man’s large hut but not before the hermit’s mysterious presence prompted a number of worried looks from passer’s by. Dareth pulled the leather flap from in front of the doorway and a meager bit of candlelight spilled out onto the grass at their feet. The hermit had to duck his head to enter the small opening.

Inside the air was very close. Lorvin crouched in front of a still form lying on a straw mat. The medicine man removed a dampened cloth from Daesha’s brow and dipped it into a bowl beside him, then looked up when Dareth entered.

“Did he come?” Lorvin asked, before seeing the scrawny frame of the hermit crowd in, behind the young man.

“I did.” The hermit gazed at the prostrate figure before him.

Dareth stepped aside to allow the old man room to pass but the hermit made no attempt to approach Daesha. The area within the hut was not cramped and, though Lorvin’s ample form took up much of the space beside the mat, there was more than enough room for the old man to inspect the patient.

“What are you going to do?” Dareth asked.

The hermit still did not say anything, though Lorvin too looked on him with the same questioning glance. At length he straightened his bent form and focused his eyes as if coming out of some reverie. He hurried forward and knelt down beside the still form, fumbling for the pouch he had brought.

“You two get out.”

Lorvin got up to go but Dareth protested.

“No. I want to be here.”

“Dareth,” Lorvin reached for the his arm. “Perhaps it would be best.”

“No.” Dareth snatched his arm away. “I want to know what’s wrong.”

“Headstrong boy.” Lorvin’s voice was thick with scolding. “Won’t you ever learn? Why did you have to be so near the canyon wall? She never would have gone after you if…”

“I have changed my mind.” the hermit’s voice rang with measured coolness. “The boy must stay with me. But you get out.” Without looking at Lorvin, the old man pointed a bony finger at the doorway.

Lorvin hesitated only a moment, then bowed his head and stepped out into the growing darkness.

A lone candle sputtered on the nearby table. Two others sat idly next to it. These the old man now lit from the first. He carried one back with him to the mat, knelt down and held it close to Daesha’s sweat-soaked brow. He turned and put his ear to her mouth listening and feeling for her breath. It came in fits and starts, at once shallow, and then almost panting.

“Keep up with the cloth, boy. It will help with the fever at least.”

Dareth took up the rag and dipped it into the cool water that sat in the bowl beside him. Gently he wiped his mother’s brow. She had a painful looking scrape on her left cheek and he dabbed at that too. Other abrasions covered her arms and legs, a bruise on her left thigh had turned purple, but none of it explained her condition.

“What is it? What has happened to her?”

The old man struggled to untie the leather strap that held his pouch closed. “You said that when the hole opened up, red smoke billowed up out of the ground.”

“It was hard to see. There was a lot of dust in the air and things were still moving about quite a bit… but yes, I’m sure of it.”

“Yes, yes.” The old man alternately nodded and then shook his head. “No doubt. But how strong? You see, that is the real question.”

Finally he managed to pull the strap free from the pouch. He tumbled it over onto the blanket covering Daesha’s stomach. The contents consisted of three small bits of dried plant, each about the length of Dareth’s pinky and of a pale purple in color.

“What is that?” Dareth asked

“Root, of course. It’s root. But will it be strong enough? That I don’t know.” The hermit plucked two of the roots up and put them back in his pouch. “We’ll save those. If one doesn’t do it then the rest won’t help. Get me a fresh cup of water.”

Dareth did as he was told, grabbing up a wooden cup and dipping it into the basin of water near the door. He carried it back to his mother’s side while the old man broke the remaining root into smaller pieces.

“Not the strongest, that’s for sure. Not bad but still, if it was deeproot we’d know. Of course that could kill her too.”

“Wait.” Dareth grabbed the man’s hand. “Is this stuff dangerous?” His voice sounded nearly frantic to his own ears.

The old man looked intently at Dareth for a moment. His creased face appeared to soften. He gently pulled his hand free of Dareth’s grasp and continued his work.

“Dareth,” the hermit said. “Your name is Dareth.”

“Yes.”

“You know, Dareth, I am not from around here.”

“I didn’t think you were.”

“And this root, you can’t find it around here either. This is all I have left.” He looked at the crumbled bits of plant matter in his palm almost lovingly.

“Not that I have much use for it around here. Still, sometimes..” He stared down at his open hand, lost again in his thoughts.

“But you said this could kill my mother?”

“Hmm? Oh, no. Nothing to worry about. It will either wake her or it won’t.”

“It will wake her? So she’s sleeping?”

“Sleeping? Well, yes you could say that. Alright, lift her head.”

Dareth slid his hand beneath his mother’s neck and raised her head as the hermit placed the tiny crumbs of plant between her lips. Dareth then put the cup to her lips. At first he thought she would not drink, but she did so from habit and the medicine went down with barely a cough. He watched, hoping that her eyes would flutter open immediately, but knowing that would probably not happen.

“What now?”

“We wait.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes but Dareth could scarcely keep still.

“Would it help to go up to the Seer? People don’t go up to the statue much anymore, but if it could help.”

The old man chuckled and shook his head. “You can go if you like, but it’s the root or nothing. No amount of praying is going to help. either way it will be a while before we know.”

“I think I’ll go anyway.”

The hermit waved a hand dismissively. “Be my guest. We aren’t going anywhere.”

Dareth looked again for a long moment at his mother. Nothing had changed. Her head still rolled back and forth and occasionally a soft moan would pass her lips. He wondered briefly at the trust he was placing in this stranger, but there was no one else. Quickly he turned and brushed through the curtain. The night outside hit his cheeks with its chill. Fires dotted the village and kept the darkness at a comfortable distance. He walked alone toward the outskirts of the village, again toward that massive pile of earth that rose up a thousand feet into the sky.

He couldn’t remain in that small hut anymore. Lorvin’s words still scratched at his mind and he couldn’t help the guilt that flooded in along with them. If only he had kept clear of the outer path. Always reckless. That was the problem, and now look what he’d caused. Daesha had not been hit by a falling stone but perhaps something worse. And what did it matter? If he’d been where he should have then she would be alright.

He picked his way out past the last of the huts and strode up the path that ran along the wheat field toward the canyon wall. The cliff face swept back at this point and a pair of outcroppings protected the flat section of earth below from falling debris, even when the tremors knocked gravel loose from high above. Doubtless that was why the gods of the past had chosen that spot to place their Seer.

Dareth watched the statue loom larger before his eyes as he approached. Even in the darkness it was easy to pick out the tremendous height of the thing. Carved from the living rock of the canyon wall, the statue rose thirty feet into the air. A broad, round base took the place of legs and supported a torso that started thick and tapered toward the middle. The stone then broadened as it reached up to support a spherical stone, perfectly smooth. No face adorned the head of this mammoth figure. Its only other features were the broad, flat wings that jutted out at right angles from the shoulders where arms might otherwise have been.

Dareth climbed to the little plateau and knelt before the Seer. He placed his forehead in the dirt and begged his wish to the statue.

“Make it alright. Bring her spirit back.” His lips moved, though no sound escaped as he repeated his prayer over again.

The circle about the base of the statue, once kept meticulous, was now choked with weeds and dirt. People did not come here anymore. Lorvin came on occasion to seek for those messages of impending danger that once came from the totem. Things had been quiet for so many years. The one time that disaster had struck, the Seer had remained silent. Twenty three people died in the slide that killed Dareth’s father. That catastrophe ensured the old shrines fate. The Seer had failed to warn them.

Dareth’s eyes began to ache. Then tears spilled into the dust and a heavy sob wracked his frame. He rocked back onto his heels and wiped the dirty streaks off his face. He had spent his life without a father, was he doomed to live without a mother now as well?

“What will I do?” He spoke more to himself than to the totem. “I’ll never go near the cliffs again. That I swear.”

Even as he said this, Dareth knew that his oath was worthless. If only the world above didn’t tease at the edges of his imagination so. If only he didn’t feel so penned in there on the canyon floor. In places, groves of apple, ash and willow peppered the waving grasses. The river gurgled, gently down the middle of the gorge and animals of every kind gathered at its banks. This paradise stretched for miles and miles in both directions. Yet only a couple of miles separated the two piles of earth from one another. Those towering bluffs told a very long story, with their broad bands of varying hues. Each spoke a different tale of what had come before and they would always draw Dareth back. No one else shared his admiration. Kadnee sometimes feigned appreciation, but then Dareth would begin to wonder out loud about what lay at the top.

“The sky, you fool,” she would say. “It’s right there. Can’t you see?”

Dareth stared again at the bald face of the Seer and frowned. It would be easier, he had always thought, to glean an ounce of comfort from the idol if eyes looked back into his from that blank face, even though they be only cold stone. Whoever had crafted the statue so many ages ago had little more imagination than the canyon’s inhabitants today, though none of them would ever think of crafting anything that favored beauty over a utilitarian purpose.

As mundane as the carving was in appearance, there was much to wonder about it. Dareth often imagined taking the Seer’s call. It was not unheard of, though it had never happened as far as he could remember. Every child knew there was a chance that one day the cryptic message from the Seer would come bearing only his name. When that day came the child belonged to the Seer. He was left at the base of the statue and from there, whisked away forever to no one knew where. The tale frightened most children into behaving. But for Dareth, it only piqued his curiosity.

Dareth’s mind turned back to his mother. At one time the Seer protected the people of the canyon. It warned them of the flooding river. It warned them of fire and drought. The Seer told them when to fear the shakes but there had been no warning about today just as there had been none eighteen years ago. So how could Dareth draw even a meager bit of hope from the icy stone figure?

Dareth stood up and turned his steps back toward the village. He had gained little from his trip, save for a small distraction. He could not stay away from the hut any longer.

“Perhaps enough time has passed,” he said. “Perhaps the madman’s plants have done their work.” But the churning in his gut tried to convince him otherwise.

Begin Chapter 3

Wind Rider – Chapter 1

Midmorning lit a clear sky above the floor of the canyon. A strange calm hung over the narrow band of sweeping fields and apple groves. The river padded calmly down the center of the gorge, mimicking its twists and turns for as far as it wandered. With all of this spread out before Dareth’s eyes, the low rumble of a tremor, buried deep in the earth, hardly made him take notice.

The young man huddled against the wind in his knee-length, leather jerkin and glanced up at the rim of the canyon. Even a small tremor could start rocks raining down on his head. The three cows he pushed along the seldom-used track skittered further away from the danger.

“Too close,” he thought to himself. “If mother knew I was using this track…”

It was much faster this way. The other trail lay further toward the center of the canyon, safely away from falling stones, but it meandered through fields of high grass, wandering around thickets and brambles. Dareth much preferred the faster route. It was not as dangerous as all that. No one had been injured up there for as long as he had been alive. That was not so strange, as he was the only one who traveled this path with any regularity and that only when he felt certain his mother wouldn’t find out.

Nothing significant fell from above. A fine dusting of sand and gravel cascaded down along the perimeter of the mighty wall. It landed harmlessly at the cliff’s base, adding to eons of earth piled up in a steep slope against the weathered rock. Most of the time that was all the tremors brought on, and yet the villagers stayed clear.

“Nothing to worry about.” He spoke the words to bolster his own confidence.

As he moved to push the cattle on their way, Dareth’s eye picked out a large wooden post that grew up out of the sandy slope about a hundred yards away. The wood was plain and cracked from weather and age. Dareth did not need to stand in front of it now to see the names scratched into its surface, the only decoration this memorial marker bore. He had looked upon it enough times. He had stood before it, tracing the symbols that signified his father’s name, only one of twenty three names scrawled over the wind-worn surface. Looking at that grim reminder of a past catastrophe, it was easy to see why no one frequented this pathway any longer. The rock slide that had killed Dareth’s father and so many others took place before his birth. He knew little of the accident or of his father. His mother always grew silent on the subject whenever he broached it, and it was never brought up by anyone else. The other villagers seemed content leaving such things in the past.

Another low rumble echoed from far off and from deep down. This time a fist sized stone accompanied the rain of dust. It thunked into the sand and rolled down to rest a few feet from Dareth’s leather moccasin. This time the young man heeded the warning. Waving his staff, he drove the beasts off of the path. They trampled the shrubs at the trails edge and waded off into the grass that littered the hillside. The stiff breeze that blew constantly through the canyon whipped Dareth’s dark hair back from his face. He was thin, perhaps even frail looking, though one would never think it seeing the boundless energy that poured from his wiry limbs. Perhaps he was smaller than others of seventeen years, but his spirit made up for such deficiencies.

“We’ll just have to move faster going this way,” he said to the cattle as if they had voiced argument over their new path.

His eyes wandered again to the canyon’s rim but his face displayed more awe than fear. He often used the path’s convenience as an excuse. In truth the place drew him simply by the sheer power of its presence, by the mystery of what lay above, beyond those endless, impassable cliff walls. Yes, tremors happened all the time and stones fell all the time too, but as long as one were careful…

A cow bellowed as another tremor set the landscape in motion. This time Dareth felt it deep in his groin. Genuine alarm touched his face. The shift and rattle of rocks echoed down from above, though nothing fell but another thick haze of dust.

“Haya.” Dareth waved the cows in the direction of the river. It twisted and gurgled nearly a mile off but he only needed to get far enough inland to avoid being crushed. It would take several more minutes to reach the new cattle route, even if the beasts decided to cooperate. At least that path was sure to be in the clear. The last thing Dareth wanted to do was to prove his mother right by going and getting himself killed.

He saw the break in the high grasses that signified the trail. At that same moment, a voice echoed off the rocks from behind him. He looked back in confusion. Who could be coming from that direction? No one ever came that way. He had tried many times to convince Kadnee to accompany him on his secret travels but she always renewed her promise to go the next time whenever he asked her. Besides, this voice lacked Kadnee’s sweet lilt. This voice held authority. This voice held ire. It was Daesha’s angry call that reverberated like one of those tremors over the canyon floor.

“Mother?” Dareth craned his neck and then saw her marching into the wind, her simple, tan dress plastered against her form.

“I’m sorry,” he called. “I was just heading away…”

“I’ve told you so many times, Dareth!” Her voice covered the distance easily.

Dareth turned back to head in her direction but she waved him off.

“You just stay put. I’m coming. You’re not a man yet, Dareth, not by the rules of the village. And as long as you’re not then you’ll still do what I say.”

He sighed and dropped his head, mostly to hide a grin. This was not a new litany, and it was about as far as she ever really went toward scolding him. It wasn’t much, but among the docile people of the village, it gave his beautiful mother a reputation of being fiery. No surprise to anyone that Dareth had turned out the way he did, reckless, inquisitive.

He suppressed another smile. He had no time to worry about what the others thought of him. Kadnee thought well enough of him at least. Still, he marveled that no one shared his curiosity. How could they stare up at the vast, blue ceiling that stretched from wall to wall and not wonder what lay beyond. The problem was that they never did stare up. Their eyes were always firmly aimed at the ground and that made no sense. The birds went beyond the canyon walls all the time. He saw them. So there must be something out there, but he alone seemed to care much about it.

As Daesha approached, Dareth expected to hear a small torrent of words to accompany those he had already endured. But all words and thoughts ceased in an instant when the next shake hit the canyon floor. No far off tremor this time, but instead a full-throated roar.

“No,” Dareth began to cry out. But before the word could leave his lips, a powerful force smacked him to the ground. Tremors happened often, but shakes, never, not like this.

A shudder that began in the earth raced through Dareth’s body. A grinding from beneath the surface mixed with the discordant crunch of stone hitting stone high above. He managed to get to his knees and peer through a growing veil of dust. It was difficult to pierce the haze but finally he glimpsed his mother a short distance away, rising from where she had fallen. Daesha raced away from the danger at her back. Her eyes bulged in terror but she kept them locked on her son.

Before he realized it, Dareth was on his feet, racing toward her. He didn’t think about what he could do to help if he reached her. The earth pitched back and forth and sent him staggering along until the groaning from below erupted like a clap of thunder.

The ground before Daesha tore in half. The part where she stood bucked and sent her sprawling. She tumbled and screamed, landing in a heap only inches from the four foot wide rent that opened up in the grassy earth. Dust and rock sprayed into the air, while a thick, reddish haze belched up out of the crack. The shake knocked Dareth into the grass again. He sprawled on his face, still more than thirty feet away from where his mother now lay. He tried to rise twice without success as the bucking ground refused to let him go.

Then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, the shake ended. The earth quieted its rumbling, leaving only the cracking sound of falling rocks, then even that subsided into the sliding rattle of pebbles.

Dareth regained his feet and staggered toward the ugly sinkhole that now marred the waving grassland. His mother lay motionless at its brink on the other side. The opening stretched for at least a hundred yards and Dareth picked his way carefully along its length looking for somewhere to cross over it. Steam rose from the churned soil that filled the bottom of the gap. He was hesitant to traverse it, but soon found a place where he could leap across without trouble.

“Mother,” Dareth cried, rushing to her when he reached the other side.

He knelt down next to her still form. She lay on her side with one arm hanging out over the edge of the crack. Dareth turned her toward him and brushed her tangled, black hair out of her face. He stared into the hole. It was not deep, but it was filled with the debris that had so recently been the surface of the field. Had it been any closer, Daesha would be buried at the bottom.

“Mother?” Dareth looked into her face but her eyes were closed. A number of scrapes and bruises covered her body. Dust and gravel fell away from her hair as Dareth turned her cheek toward him. He put his ear to her mouth and felt her breath touch his cheek.

“Open your eyes.” The young man’s voice rose in pitch. She was alive but she would not respond.

“You’ll be alright. Please be alright.”

Dareth grabbed her hand between his own and rubbed it hard, suddenly she tossed her head to the side and he looked up, hope starting on his face. But Daesha still did not open her eyes. She moaned and seemed to say something that Dareth could not make out.

“What? What is it, mother? Are you alright?”

No reply.

Dareth made a quick decision. Taking hold of her arm, he pulled Daesha up and slung her over his shoulder. He was not big, but he was strong and she was no larger than he. Rising to his feet, he staggered along the opening in the ground. He had to travel quite a distance before he managed to cross back to the other side where the cattle had regrouped after the shake and now grazed over the grass as if nothing had happened. As carefully as he could, Dareth laid his mother over the back of one of the animals. The beast complained at first, but Dareth was insistent and soon it grudgingly allowed the burden.

With that he snatched up his fallen stick and waved it at the cattle, driving them toward the river and the village that lay near its banks. She was not dead, Dareth knew. In fact, if he didn’t know any better, he would almost have said that she was sleeping peacefully. He couldn’t be sure what he should do, but he knew that the village medicine man, Lorvin, would probably have the answers.

~~~ | ~~~

Kadnee carried a bucket in each hand. Both were so filled with river water that they sloshed their contents over her leather moccasins as she walked. She had few advantages, being the daughter of the medicine man. Getting out of mundane, daily chores was not one of them. She grumbled over her wet shoes as she reached the basin outside of Lorvin’s hut. She poured the remaining contents of her buckets into the basin and sighed. There would be at least two more trips before the basin was full. She turned to retrace her steps, then her father’s voice stopped her from within the hut.

“Kadnee?” the medicine man called.

“Yes, father?”

Lorvin brushed aside the curtain hanging across the door of the big hut. He occupied the largest of the grass and wattle structures in the village, though it was no more spectacular than any of the others. Its size was strictly utilitarian. As the leader of the village, Lorvin held council in his hut. Therefore it needed to accommodate all of the elder members of the village comfortably.

“Are you nearly done with that, Kadnee?”

“Not yet, father.”

Lorvin frowned and rubbed his thick belly. “There are still a number of things to be done this afternoon. I suppose you’re thinking only of traipsing off somewhere with that young man.” Lorvin let his jowls droop at mention of Dareth.

“Some of these things could keep till tomorrow. We were thinking of heading up the canyon a little way this afternoon,” she admitted.

Lorvin huffed and shook his head. “You’re going to find yourself in trouble one of these days, following him around on his wild jaunts.”

“Is that what you call them?” Kadnee smiled despite her father’s reddening face. Then she gave him one of those looks that only worked for a daughter on her father.

Lorvin wrinkled his brow, but waved a hand in dismissal as he turned back toward the hut.

“At the least you could finish filling the basin. And watch you don’t get yourself hurt.”

“I will, father. Dareth wouldn’t let anything happen to me.”

Lorvin didn’t hear the last of her words. He had already disappeared back inside the hut. Kadnee smiled at her small victory. She picked up her buckets and turned back toward the river. As she did, she felt another familiar rumble in the ground beneath her. She hardly slackened her pace. Such tremors were nothing strange. There had been several of them on her way up from the river on this last trip. But what came next, there was nothing normal about that.

Without warning, the ground beneath Kadnee heaved, knocking her to her knees. Her buckets went flying and she grabbed at the grass as the only thing she could find for support. A rumbling grew up out of the ground stronger than any she had ever experienced in her life.

“Kadnee.” Lorvin staggered out of the hut along with three of the village elders. All of them fell to their knees as the earth threatened to toss them about like leaves in the wind. It would not let them up for several moments, during which time little could be heard over the din of the quake.

“Kadnee, are you alright?” She caught the words faintly.

The girl was terrified. But before she could formulate a response, the shaking subsided and everything became still again. She peered, through settling dust, at her father and the others. Lorvin kicked aside a patch of wattle, fallen from over the door. He slowly rose and brushed the dust from his jerkin. His broad chest rose and fell in a frantic rhythm.

“Kadnee.”

“I’m right here, father.” She sat up and waved to him. “I’m alright.”

Lorvin hurried over and helped her to her feet. He inspected her carefully to make sure she was not injured, then he turned back to the others.

“Go and check on everyone. Make sure no one is hurt.”

Kadnee caught her breath and sat down in the grass again, not quite sure yet of her own feet.

“I’ve never felt a shake like that,” she said.

“There has not been one like that since before you were born.”

“Do you think it’s over?”

Lorvin didn’t answer right away. He looked about him for a moment as if expecting something else.

“I think it is. There will probably be a few more tremors now, but nothing that we’re not used to. Come, will you be able to help check on everyone?” Lorvin turned to go. “Perhaps you should start with your friend, Dareth. No trip down the canyon today after all.”

Kadnee frowned and kicked at the dirt with her toe. Her father never wasted time with trifles. Now that the worst shake of her life was over, it was time to get back to business. She headed toward the opposite end of the village where the earth began to slope gently toward the distant canyon wall. Around her, familiar faces stood talking together in low tones or inspecting their homes for damage. Worry quickened her steps. She knew Dareth was out wrangling stray cattle. She had no doubt he would be up near the cliff face and that was a dangerous place to be even with the usual shakes that rattled the canyon floor, to say nothing about the violent tremor that had just occurred.

Kadnee picked her way through the village. There was little within it that could sustain damage. She had barely made it outside of its perimeter when she caught sight of Dareth moving down the hill toward her. She clapped with joy at the sight of him driving the cows ahead. She bounded out to meet him with a smile on her face, but when she got close enough to make out his own sharp features, the smile died on her lips. Dareth’s eyes held consternation and fear.

“Dareth,” She called out as she continued to approach. “Can you believe that shake? Is everything alright?” Then she saw the figure draped over the back of the lead animal.

“Oh no.” Kadnee rushed forward. “Daesha. What happened?”

Dareth’s face was streaked with tears. He pushed the beasts along relentlessly.

“I was up near the cliff when the shake hit,” he said. “She knew she’d find me there. She came after me. I’ve got to get her to your father.

“Come, I know where to find him.”

~~~ | ~~~

Dareth struggled to get his mother through the door of Lorvin’s hut while Kadnee ran to fetch her father. He laid her down on a straw mat in the corner and covered her with a thick blanket.

Just as he finished getting her settled down, Lorvin pulled the curtain aside. The medicine man crossed quickly to the prostrate form and knelt down beside her. He placed a hand on her forehead and inspected her arms and the bruise on her cheek.

“How did this happen?” Lorvin asked. “Where was she?”

Dareth stared at the bare earth of the hut, unable to look the man in the face.

“I was bringing the stray cattle back toward the river. I took the path near the cliff face. she came after me.”

Lorvin did not respond to this admission. The silence spoke much louder of his disapproval than words would have done. Dareth was saved from whatever he might have eventually said as Kadnee rushed in at that moment, breaking Lorvin’s glare.

“Is she going to be alright? Can you help her, father?”

“Shh.” Lorvin turned away from Dareth and fell to a closer inspection of his patient. “Get me that basin from the table over there.” He pointed to the other side of the room.

Dareth moved to comply immediately. He placed the basin and a cloth next to his mother. Lorvin soaked the cloth in the cool water and wiped the dust from Daesha’s face. He continued to bathe her arms and legs, wiping away dirt and blood from the numerous scratches, prodding gently at her flesh. After several minutes he looked up at Dareth. His eyes showed confusion.

“You should both go. There is nothing you can do to help right now, but stay close. I will come and get you if I need you or if there is any change.”

“I want to stay,” Dareth said.

“I can understand that, Dareth. You can remain right outside if you like, but for now, I want you to leave me with her. Kadnee,” Lorvin waved his daughter toward the doorway. “Keep Dareth company outside please.”

Kadnee took Dareth’s hand and he grudgingly followed her out of the hut. They sat down on a stone bench near the central fire pit. Dareth stared at the ground for a long time. He could feel Kadnee’s eyes on him and he knew that she wanted to speak. But he also knew that she would not do so as long as his tears kept him from facing her.

When he had managed to gain control of himself, he glanced at her and shook his head. “She has told me so many times, and I never listen.”

“It isn’t your fault, Dareth,” Kadnee said. “You couldn’t know that a shake like that was going to hit.”

“It doesn’t matter. Even small shakes are dangerous up there. I’m always looking for trouble. Why can’t I just keep safe like everyone else?”

“Because it isn’t you. You’re different, Dareth. You’ve talked about what it might be like up there on the top for so long that you even have me wondering. Nobody else seems to care much, but you can’t help it.”

“It was the scariest thing I ever saw.” Dareth looked back at the wall of the canyon. “A hole opened up in the ground. She nearly fell into it.”

“A hole?”

Dareth nodded. “A giant hole. Part of the ground just fell in on itself. Dust and red smoke flew into the air, and when it cleared away, there she was, lying right at the edge. She was almost swallowed up.”

“But she didn’t fall in.” Kadnee insisted. She’s with my father and I’m sure that he will be able to heal her.”

“I hope so,” he said. “I really hope so.”

They sat there without speaking for a long time. To Dareth it seemed like forever. But eventually Lorvin emerged from the hut. At sight of the man, Dareth leapt up and rushed forward.

“Is she alright?”

The look on Lorvin’s face was difficult to read. Dareth could see nothing positive in it, but neither did the man appear as if all was lost. More than anything, his expression still held mostly confusion.

“I don’t quite understand,” Lorvin said. “Her injuries seem to be minor. She has a bruise on her cheek but it is nothing that should cause her to be unconscious like this. What was she struck with?”

“I don’t know,” Dareth replied. “I mean, there were rocks and debris falling from the cliff, but it was the hole that opened up in the ground that caused her to fall.”

“A hole?”

“Yes. During the shake a crack opened up in the ground. I was knocked down and there was so much dust and this red smoke. I couldn’t really tell….”

“What are you saying?” Lorvin snapped, startling Dareth.

“I could not see what was happening. There was just too much going on.”

“But what is it you said about the dust and the smoke? Red smoke?”

“Yes,” Dareth said. “I think so.”

Lorvin stroked his chin. He cast his eyes toward the ground. Dareth was not sure if he should continue with his narration or not, so he simply waited for some cue from the man. Without another word Lorvin turned and stalked back into the hut, leaving Kadnee and Dareth alone again.

“What do you suppose that was all about,” Kadnee asked.

Dareth shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“My father is hardly a mysterious man, but that smoke thing really seemed to throw him.”

They sat again for a long time. People passed by now and again, looking toward the medicine man’s hut with genuine concern. It was clear that news of Daesha’s plight had circulated around the village. Several offered words of comfort to Dareth, but most scooted away quickly. It was no secret to him that most people in the village found him odd.

Another hour crawled away before Lorvin emerged the second time. The first thing he did was send someone to retrieve the village elders, then he approached Dareth and Kadnee.

Dareth looked up expectantly, hoping the man would have some answers this time.

Lorvin thought for a moment before he spoke, choosing his words carefully. “She is not in danger of dying, at least not now.”

“So she will be alright?” Kadnee asked.

“That I don’t know. Her body is fine. She has a few injuries but they are not serious. It is her mind that is sick.”

“What do you mean?” Dareth asked.

“The red smoke. It can make your mind sick.”

“But you can fix it,” Kadnee said. “Can’t you?”

“I’m afraid I cannot. I don’t understand it. I have never seen this. I only know of the smoke because your great-grandfather told me of it, Kadnee. That was long ago and I hardly even remember it. I do know that she could remain this way or, if she does wake, she could end up with a mind sick that will never go away. No matter what, it will not be good.”

“No,” Dareth shouted. “You must be able to do something. You are the medicine man. You need to make her better.”

“I can’t do it, Dareth. I can bandage wounds. I can birth a child, cool a fever or ease the pain of a burn. But this, I have no experience with. No one in the village does.”

“Then what do we do?” Kadnee asked.

Lorvin scratched his head and looked intently at Dareth.

“There is one thing.”

“What?” Dareth asked. “What is it?”

“The hermit.”

Dareth stared at the medicine man in confusion. “The hermit? You mean the madman that lives down the canyon? What about him?”

“Yes, he’s crazy, it’s true. But he knows things. He may know what to do.”

Dareth did not wait long enough to hear anything else that Lorvin might have to say. He turned and bolted for the edge of the village.

“Dareth,” Kadnee shouted after him. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to find him.”

“But he’s never come to the village before.”

“Just stay with my mother. One way or another I’ll get the hermit down here. I promise that”

Read Chapter 2