Jacob's Ladder - Part 1

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Jacob's Ladder

Chapter 1

Every man steals his life. A little here, a little there. Some of it given, most of it taken. He wears himself like a coat of many patches, fraying at the edges, in constant repair. While we shore up one belief, we let go another. We are the stories we tell to ourselves. Nothing more.

The plough cut a straight line, turning the sod, leaving in its wake broken earth, and an offering of torn worms for the gulls. To create we destroy.

"Sails! Sails!"

Jac looked up, fixing his eyes upon the headland. A small figure came tearing down the path, weaving between wind-stunted gorse. "Sails, Da!"

Smoothed wooden handles slipped from callused hands. The ox, Mortum, plodded on as the ploughshare left its furrow.

"Sails!"

He glanced to where the farmhouse stood across a patchwork of fields, black against the pasture beyond. Ten bleak winters had weathered the timbers grey and the recent snows had barely released their grip. But in this moment of rare sunshine the thatch turned to silver and gold.

"Sails..." Milo came panting across the field, fear and excitement lighting his face in equal measures. Jac felt only fear. Sails on the West Sea always meant trouble.

"Fishing boats?" Jac asked. Sometimes a boat from Durnsport would venture this far, though the drowned cities were said to sour the waters and make for strange catches.

"Square sails, Da! Lots of them!"

"Tell your Ma to bring the sword, then run to the village. Let everyone know. Brone first if you can find him, but don't delay."

Milo heaved a breath, nodded and took off running toward the house. For a moment Jac watched his retreat. Eight seemed too young to learn true fear but Jac had been younger when his lesson came. He sighed and started toward the headland. Some things a man had to see for himself.

The wind on the high ground blew cold and relentless. The old ways had it that Ymnir exhaled the west wind from the gates of the frozen hell and that summer was just the giant pausing to draw breath.

Cresting the last rise Jac looked to where the land fell suddenly away and the sea rolled out to the horizon. And on that rippled expanse, amid the sparkles and the white-flecked waves, the rectangular sails of Sverland raiders. Jac stood a moment, counting. Ten ships. One would have been too many.

Catalin met him as he hurried back down to the field. She held the sword before her in two hands, and little Baya trailed behind her clutching a stick.

"It's not..." Catalin held his eyes.

"It is. We need to clear the village."

"But they'll take everything." She looked beautiful in the sunshine, her hair bound tight in a golden plait, a flour smudge on her cheekbone.

"If we stay they'll take us too."

Jac reached for the sword, and hesitated, his fingers inches from the hilt. No one else in the village had a weapon. They had tools that might serve. Wood axes, butcher knives, pitchforks, but nothing save this length of rusting iron had been forged for battle. He gritted his teeth and made to take it.

"Why would you, Jacob Summer?" Catalin stepped back, moving the hilt out of reach. "You've no notion how to use such a thing. And who will they throw a spear at first? The only man with a sword!"

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