I don’t want to give away much of the gist of my world or my story (or stories), but I’m willing to drop some hints.
The back-story is the whole history and prehistory of this world, thousands of years of recorded history plus unfathomable years of prehistory, all those millennia multiplied by millennia, from before any civilizations devised ways to leave records, all the way back to the dawn of time.
At the point where we are first drawn into the story the protagonist has found an unusual object tucked away among his belongings. It tickles a memory in the back of his mind but he cannot quite remember when he stored this object or whether he even indeed was the one to have stored it. Most certainly he did not remember where the object came from.
Time passes and the unusual object is again nearly forgotten until it and its owner become the focus of conflict as others discover the object and hear the protagonist’s explanation of what he finally remembers of its origin. Incredibly this one small, unusual object with no particularly threatening characteristics in the hands of one inconsequential individual becomes the catalyst initiating events which both reveal mysteries and unravel conventions long held without question.
As these mysteries are debated and many conventions which had been taken for granted for generations are mercilessly questioned, conflicts become more critical. Battle lines are drawn. Old alliances are broken and new ones are formed. Rivalries and antagonisms long forgotten are rekindled to levels of heat and hatred none living thought they would ever see. It appears the long period of peace experienced between and within the realms could soon erupt into deadly conflict.
What is this object? Where did it come from? Why is the existence of this object so controversial? What long buried mysteries and controversies has it brought back to the surface? How could it motivate civilizations long at peace to once more erupt in conflict? How did the protagonist come into possession of it?
Daniel Sprand woke to the usual sound of his father getting some kindling out of the bin. Every morning the cook stove needed to be started right along with the heating stove in the center of the house. Marlin Sprand, Daniel’s father, was the faithful fire starter in their home and was as efficient at it as anyone could imagine. Daniel was secretly thankful his father had not delegated the job to him. After all, he was the oldest, but Marlin seemed to enjoy the task and had given Daniel plenty of other responsibilities.
Daniel looked across the room to see if his brother was awake. Sure enough, as usual, Jason was still wrapped snuggly in his blankets and oblivious to the noises of the awakening house. Oh, well, thought Daniel. Jason will be roused one way or another within minutes so the two of them could head out to the barn to start the morning chores.
Daniel wished he could stay under the covers until the heat from the stoves warmed the room but he knew he and his brother would get a gentle tongue lashing from their father if they weren’t down the ladder by the time the heating stove was getting started.
Daniel and Jason’s father was as fine a man as any either boy knew. Neither of them would ever want to trade fathers with any soul who ever lived. Any tongue lashing their father gave them was always willingly accepted and responded to as appropriate. Both young men relished their father’s approval.
Daniel threw off his covers and threw on his cloak as quickly as he could to avoid the instant chill he would get in the cold room. He thought he could almost see his breath. As he slipped his feet into the warm indoor cloth slippers his sister, Terranee, had sewed for him, he could hear her move from her room to the ladder as she headed down to the main room below.
It was time for the sleeping brother to leave the land of dreams and join the waking world, so Daniel walked the few steps to Jason’s bed and gave him a gentle but solid shake of his right shoulder, which was pointed at the ceiling as he lay with his softly breathing face to the wall.
“And so we bring your sorry brain to wakefulness on another frosty day on the Sprand farm,” Daniel said.
“Eh,” was the only response from Jason as he rolled to his back and slowly opened his bleary eyes. After several long seconds the usual groggy question came next forth from his mouth “Morning, already?” immediately followed by the also traditional, wide yawn,
“Nhaw,” replied Daniel. “It’s still the middle of the night and I thought I’d intentionally rob myself of my needed rest just so I could wake you up to ask if you were dreaming. Kidding, of course,” he continued as he turned and headed for the door to the ladder-way. “Yes, it’s morning, time to head out.”
Jason was just getting his hands above the blankets as Daniel started down the ladder. “What’s it like out there?”
By now Daniel was halfway down the ladder. He spoke a little loudly back up the ladder, “How would I know until I look outside?” There was not a window to the outside in their room, only a shuttered, insulated opening for escape in case of fire. Glass windows were expensive and the house was much easier to keep warm with the insulated shutters their father had installed. “Have a look for yourself when you get down here,” Daniel finished speaking toward the top of the ladder, not even sure if his brother could hear him any longer. He was at the bottom of the ladder by this time. He turned to see his sister changing from her own indoor slippers to her outdoor boots. “Good morning,” she said seemingly to her boots, since she didn’t look up. “Ready for another day of snow and ice?”
Daniel replied, “Good morning to you as well. It doesn’t look that bad out there. What’s your rush to brave the elements?”
TL explained, “It’s still cold in here and Father is going to need more good solid firewood sooner rather than later. I plan to keep warm carrying wood until it gets warmed up in here. And, besides, I’m going to deal with last night’s chamber pots while they are still cold and not yet smelly.”
Jason’s feet appeared at the top of the ladder. “I made it through the night without any trip outside,” He said as his head followed the rest of his body down the ladder and into the room, though three feet above everyone else’s heads. “But I need to get out there, NOW!”
“Also, don’t come back in without grabbing and armload of wood,” Marlin suggested. “And wash your hands. I don’t care how cold the water is.” Their father had spoken the words between puffs on the glowing embers to get the smoking kindling to actually catch fire.
“Hold on!” exclaimed Terrane. “Don’t you dare go out there with your indoor slippers!” bringing Jason to an embarrassed halt. In obvious discomfort, he switched his footwear, shoving his feet into his boots and trudging out without lacing them up. It didn’t seem to matter to him now what the weather was. He just needed to relieve himself. He disappeared around the corner of the house with his bootlaces and left coat sleeve flapping.
Daniel was taking the time to assess the weather as he felt a blast of air colder than that in the room. He could sense a bit of heat from the cook stove as his father replaced the metal lid with the coiled handle. Marlin then turned and headed toward the heat stove while Daniel walked to the tiny glass window. There was a glow in the southeastern sky, enough for him to tell there was no new snow overnight and there was a promise of sunshine today. Sometimes a clear day would be colder but he hoped today would be one of those winter days when the sun could actually warm one’s face. Some members in the family were becoming a little short-tempered after several days of overcast skies.
Without turning around Daniel asked, “Papa, do you want us to give the cows grain today or just hay, again?”
“We better give them some grain. I suspect it’s going to turn colder though the day.” This put a dent in Daniel’s hopes for a warm, sunny winter day. He knew his father was implying grain would help keep their five milk cows warm if the temperature dropped further. In turn the body heat from the cows helped the chickens keep from freezing. The dog and the cats just buried themselves under the hay in the mow.
Chantelle, the mother of the family came out of the one bedroom on the main floor. “I guess I get to initiate the outhouse for the day.” She lamented. “There’s nothing like a cold morning ‘sit-down’ to bring a body to wakefulness for the day.”
“Sure there is something like it and much more pleasant, a hot cup of kveena,” Marlin said as he poked a hole in thin layer of ice in the water bucket and ladled water into the kveena pot.”
Chantelle started working on changing her footwear as she offered, “Yes, Dear, you’ve got that right. I’ll grind the beans when I get back. The water won’t be anywhere near boiling for a while.” She reached for her cloak and turned to Daniel just as Jarnel came back in and headed toward the wash basin. “Daniel,” she addressed her son. “Good thing you moved the wash basin next to the heat stove last night. I just heard your father crack ice in the drinking water bucket. Thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.”
Daniel grinned and said “I’m not so sure I was all that thoughtful. I just hate to hear Jason whining about putting cold hands in cold gloves before we head out to the barn.”
Jason made a good natured snarling sound at Daniel then said, “I still reserve the right to whine but thanks for moving the wash stand. This really is nice washing in water that doesn’t sting with cold.”
Daniel turned from the window and smiled condescendingly back at his brother and gave a little growl of his own. “Well, brother, it’s not like it’s all that long before you wrap your cold, stinging hands around those nice warm teats.”
Jarnel countered, “But only after I have to pick up those ice cold milk pails.”
As he stepped from the window over to switch to his boots Daniel scolded Jarnel, “I don’t think you feel any cold through you mittens from those skinny metal handles on the milk pails. You just want to make it sound more painful than it is so sister might feel sorry for you. Besides, half the pails have wooden handles.”
“And you always grab those first!” Jason pointed out.
“That’s enough of bantering in here.” Marlin chided. “Get yourselves out to the barn and let’s get the chores out of the way so we all can have breakfast. Just push the manure aside for now so it’s well away from the milk. Hopefully the gals won’t crap while you’re milking. We’ve been lucky lately. We’ll fork the mess out when it’s lighter out.”
The boys were reluctant to open the door any time soon so Jason came up with one more question for their father. “Do we need to throw the hay down now or can we just give them grain before we milk.”
“Just grain is fine,” Marlin answered. “You can throw down hay after.” After a quick moment of thought he continued, “It’s probably better to wait on the hay and straw this time of the year anyway. The dust doesn’t settle quickly enough and you start milking sooner than when the gals come in from outside. We want to do all we can to ensure there won’t be any getting into the milk. We don’t want our neighbors to take less of our milk. We depend on trading with both the Congers and Quillans. It would be just as easy for them to get milk from the Siamons.”
The Quillans have a mill and oxen to power it. In exchange for milk, eggs and some of Chantelle’s baked goods Master Zel Quillan ground the flour she used for her baking. The Congers raised pigs and in exchange for the Sprand’s eggs and milk provided some lard and bacon. It was a nice arrangement for all, and Siamons wouldn’t mind having the arrangement for themselves, truth be told.
Finally, the boys ran out of excuses to remain in the house, so they opened the door, quickly jumped outside and Daniel held the door mostly closed but still ajar as their mother strode quickly up the path, returning to the relative warmth of the house.
As he held the door open for her Daniel asked, “Is that steam I see coming through the moon hole?”
She mimicked slapping his face as she snapped, “Hush your mouth, you wicked boy!”
As he was pulling the door shut behind her he tossed back at her, “I was just asking a question. I can’t see quite as well as this cold air is making my eyes water.” She kicked the door shut even as he was pulling it.
The boys headed toward the barn, careful how they stepped across the slick spots where the well-worn path over the snow had melted and refroze to solid patches of ice.
Daniel said, “We should bring out some ashes and spread some on these slick spots. We might get lucky and it won’t snow over them for a few days.”
Jason lamented, “It would help us keep from breaking our butts slipping but you know how Mother will complain.”
Daniel relied, “Yes, but I’d much rather endure the pain of heat from her over the ashes coming in on our boots than the pain of bruises landing wrong on this ice. Let’s do the ashes today.”
“Oh, now I understand where that black and blue on your hip came from. I thought maybe old Nell kicked you again.” Jason teased. Daniel cheeks turned red giving evidence Jason’s suspicion was accurate.
The two entered the barn to five sets of big cow eyes looking at them. “We are desperate for food,” the cows seemed to be pleading.
“You start scooping these old bovines some grain while I scrape this stink down to the end,” Daniel directed.” Then I’ll get the pails so your mittens won’t need to touch those bitterly cold, evil pail handles.”
“Funny, funny,” groused Jason. ”Maybe your mittens are just thicker than mine.”
The two boys stopped their banter as they went to work on the pre-milking chores and didn’t speak much until they settled into the rhythm of actually milking the cows. Just as they started discussing whose stomach was rumbling more in anticipation of breakfast, their father entered the barn.
“Jason,” he announced, “You owe your sister an armload, with interest, since you forgot to grab any wood on your way back into the house.”
“Sorry,” Jason apologized, “But Mother didn’t remember either.”
“Don’t apologize to me,” Marlin corrected. “It’s your sister who is going to need to make another trip before breakfast while we’re milking. And your mother, of course, sent me out to get the armload she had promised.” He looked up at the barn rafters and puzzled, “I really don’t know how she always seems to get me to do things like that.”
“Must be her cooking,” the boys chimed in unison.
“More like her baking,” their father laughed.
“Or maybe it could be…” started Daniel.
“Don’t go there if you want to only see the woodshed for fetching wood. You’re still not too big for some pain on your bottom side.”
Daniel whimpered unconvincingly, “But I was only going to say…”
“You know that I know what you were aching so say and you also know that kind of humor is not allowed anywhere on this farm, not even near the back end of a defecating cow.”
“Yes, sir,” Daniel relented. “I’m sorry. I’ll behave myself.”
“Good man,” his father encouraged.
Moving on two his second cow as his father pulled his three-legged stool to old Nell, the cow he almost always milked himself, the oldest cow in the barn and mother of two of the others, Jason asked, “Are we going to take the sled and the horses to worship today?”
“No,” the boy’s father responded as he began to take off his mittens. He grabbed a milk bucket, one with a cold metal handle, and continued, “There’s not even a breeze today and when the sun gets up it will only be slightly below freezing.” He wrapped his hand around a teat and aimed for the bucket. “We can walk. The congers butchered yesterday but we don’t need any lard this morning and they won’t need any milk. We’ll let the milk sit in the stoop where it will cool and stay cool to be delivered this afternoon.” He smiled contentedly, “One thing you can say for winter, it makes somethings about running a dairy farm just a little easier.”
“Do the Quillans want us to skim off the cream for them today?” asked DL.
“I hope not,” replied ML. “I wasn’t planning on taking the time, being Worship Day and all. Elwin didn’t say he wanted anything other than the usual when we were talking yesterday afternoon at Zable’s.”
Zable’s was the ale house were many of the men congregated in the afternoon, especially on the day before worship to catch up on the news of the area. Some loitered too long, much to the chagrin of their older children and wives who ended up doing the men’s share of the chores in their absence. But it was the slow season and in most cases the wives got their revenge by demanding the men scrounge up their own cold supper when they finally returned home. Few married men stayed out late enough to jeopardize worship day morning chores.
Mal finished with Nell and headed out of the barn with steaming milk pail in hand. He seemed to be preoccupied with some thought as he said nothing to the boys on his way out.
The boys went on with finishing the milking. They were nearly to the door of the barn, bracing for the cold blast when they would open the door again, when they hear the clatter of hooves and a scream. They nearly dropped their milk pails in their rush to open the barn door and see what was happening. Fortunately they had the sense to set the pails aside without dumping the contents.
Daniel reached the door first and pulled it open, to see their sister being swept up into the arms of a huge man in furs on a huge war horse. Jason shoved his way past the dazed Daniel but he also stood transfixed, unable to fathom what he was seeing.
The boys did not remain unmoving for long, with Daniel in the lead they ran toward their sister in her plight. However, they were at a distance but their father was not, for he came from the wood shed with an ax in hand. Marlin rushed the man crushing a thrashing Terrane against his furs. It was a futile attempt at rescue because another giant of a man on another huge warhorse intercepted Marlin and thrust a sword at him. He dropped to the ground and the ax skidded across a patch of ice in front of the first war horse.
Without a thought of his own safety, Daniel never broke stride as he saw his father fall. He bellowed a “Noooooooooo!” that sounded much like a war cry. He grabbed the ax in one hand and was swinging it toward the left leg of the man holding his sister even as he skidded across the ice patch.
It was the last thing he remembered. He regained consciousness with pain in his head he could never have imagined. He felt like his skull was split and his brain had been shoved into his eyeballs. As he attempted to open his eyes, they both immediately filled with stinging tears. If he could see anything it was as though he was looking up from the bottom of a clear pond.
But Daniel could hear voices.
“I think he’s coming around.” It sounded like his mother.
“Ffff-ahh-the-her?” Daniel stammered through lips that felt like they had been frozen and then pressed to a hot iron.
He heard a voice he recognized but couldn’t connect with a name right then. “Your father is hurt but he will be alright in time. He will recover.”
Daniel then heard his father’s voice, although it took him a moment to recognize it as his father’s voice. It was weak. He had never heard his father’s voice as weak, except maybe when his father was sick and even then it was still stronger than what Daniel heard now.
“Daniel…son…I need…you to…go after…your…sister. .
And with that both of them rested.
“Good thing the raiders rode off before Jarnel had a chance to get himself bashed in the head.”
“Yes,” Chantelle admitted, “They are both totally devoted to their father. I’m so…so…angry…proud of them, but I really don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it. They could’ve been killed!”
“It is truly a blessing neither of them were more injured or killed,” said the healer, Dennis. “I’m amazed Marlin had chainmail under his cloak.”
“I knew…this…day…would…c…c…ome,” whispered Mal.
“Shush,” said Terrane. “Rest, you need to rest.”
And he did. Leaving Terrane and Dennis wondering what he meant. This day would come, why… and how?
Chapter 2 Who Goes and Who Stays
“But Father,” Jason reasoned, “If we wait for Daniel to recover the raiders will have a huge head start. We’ll never catch them. The trail will be cold.”
It was the morning following the raid on the Sprand farm. Jason had been urging his injured father ever since he had come in from a long morning milking. The evening before a neighbor came to help with the chores but on this morning he was on his own. Neighbors had their own chores and it would have been difficult for them to deal with their own livestock on time and help Jason as well.
Mal had regained some strength and was sitting up. “Please let me think, Son. There’s more to this than you know and I need to sort it out in my own head before I can make a decision.”
“Well, tell me!” Jason exclaimed as he jumped to his feet. “Maybe I can help you think through it if I just knew more of what you know.”
“Wha…Wha…What is…is it?” Daniel had slept through it all. He strained to lift his head to see who was in the room.
“Don’t worry, Daniel,” cautioned Chantelle. “Your brother and father are discussing who to send after your sister. You rest now. You need to rest.”
“Mother, right. Rest, must…” he stammered, settled his head back into the pillow, closed his eyes with a wince.
“There, he’s out again,” Chantelle sighed. “Mal, I don’t see how you could possibly think this boy could ride anywhere anytime soon.”
“Sheena, my wife,” said her husband, “he has shown by his courage he is no longer a boy, he is a man. I believe you are right but I want to be sure.” He paused for a long moment and said, “I also believe Jason has shown himself to be a man as well, and I am beginning to think he is the one to go after Terrane. There is much which needs to be explained and if I could ignore the pain in my ribs long enough to clear my head I might know where to start.”
Sheena shifted her look of concern from her son back to her husband, “I want you to rest to clear your head and take this up when you are stronger.”
“Again, Dear, you have wisdom, but it’s not as much weariness as pain. I predict my entire left side will be black and blue for weeks. I’m amazed I have no broken ribs. It’s hard to breath.”