Ch 4

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CHAPTER 4                               Highsun 45 circa 1893

The noonday sun beat its intense heat down upon the small village of Ember Rock.  Vapors leached up from the cracked clay trail which led to the expansive, untamed forest to the southwest.   The great Twin Peak Mountains towered across the northern horizon of the town offering no shade at this time of day.  The village sat safely nestled in a nook of the mountain range.  A few oaks shared space with the pines, dogwoods, and sycamores along the outskirts leading into the dense forest. 

The Bardawin children ran about the grass clearing playing silly games.  All four sets of them were twins with only the youngest sons being identical.  The other children of the village were in the forest playing in the shade.  Margaret Bardawin would never let hers venture farther than she could see.  Her husband Karl was about the forest collecting wood for the next winter.  Though more than often than not he would end up with his lifetime comrade and fellow miscreant Biert near the brook, where they would spend the afternoon fishing and talking of old times. 

The apothecary, Madame Helen, sat in her rocking chair under a shade tree. Her stark white hair stood in contrast against her brown leathery skin.  Occasionally she would wipe her brow with an old blue handkerchief she never went without.  Master Philip crawled about the roof of the Kiniling’s, patching where the last storm had torn away some of the thatch. 

Kenaraa watched the children play a moment while she caught her breath from hoisting the heavy bucket up from the well.  The heat made every turn of the crank laborious.  The children ran past her giggling and teasing each other.  Those youthful days were not something she could look back upon fondly.  The few moments of blissful childhood she did have were always shadowed by the memories of the men around her preparing for war.  A foreigner to this region her stature was much different than the folks in this village.  Where she was tall and sleek of frame, with hair black as coal and piercing emerald green eyes, most of these folk were squatter and sported curly blonde hair with deep brown eyes. 

Taking a deep breath she refocused from the momentary respite and unhitched the lock holding the bucket.  The wheel creaked as she began working the old gears.  She leaned over to hoist the bucket out after it crested over the grey stone.  There in the distance, she saw a small smudge on the horizon.  Dust and waves of heat obscured the rider from this range.  The trail was well worn and a straight path for less than half a league before it made its first turn.  She dismissed the thought of it being a newcomer.  It was more likely to be a farmer come to barter his goods, since it had been over a year since the last visitor.  She filled the pitchers and took a swallow from the tin mug left next to the stones. She hoisted the two pitchers onto her shoulders using the carrying pole and headed toward her small wood cottage.  Like all the others dwellings in the village it was quaint with a thatch roof and small logs bound together with vines and rusty nails.  A mud brick chimney jutted out of the top billowing out puffs of white smoke.  Its size was adequate for a lone woman.    

Something made her feel uneasy as she moved across the village square.   Heavy hooves beat at the ground from behind her.  Kenaraa turned.  Her heart sank as the armored horse slowed to a trot.  On top of the massive snorting beast was a man adorned in glistening steel plates that overlapped themselves.  The armor shifted with the man’s movements as he swayed on top of his mount.  A large wooden shaft strapped to his back lead to a long chain hanging down to a heavy spiked ball cuddled in a leather niche.  At his side a blade as long as a man’s arm and almost as wide bounced against his leg.  Billowing from his back a cloak embroidered with a roaring black lion on a field the color of dried blood.  She watched as the man trotted past disregarding his surroundings, focusing on the only solid structure in town the Glowing Anvil Tavern.  Three stories in height carved from the mountain face itself.  It stood out from the rest of the village like a giant oak in the midst of scrublings.  The soldier halted the beast in front of the stone pillars.  He dismounted.  Dust spurted from under his weight as he landed on the dry clay courtyard.  He slid the haft of the heavy flail into a leather strap on the saddle.  The horse pawed at the ground until the rider reached into the saddlebag retrieving an apple for it.  He tied the reigns off to the bar hoisted between two of the four stone columns facing the tavern.  He lifted his helm revealing twisted black hair that hung down to his shoulders.  His face reminded her of a hawk, sleek with a pointed nose.  Kenaraa watched as he entered the tavern and disappeared.  She caught herself staring along with all the children and some of the other village folk that had gathered as well.  Murmurs arose through the village and she thought best to get back to her chores.  Her stomach tightened as she thought of the armed soldier.  It took all her concentration to force her mind from running scenarios of past events.   

Kenaraa wiped the sweat away after pouring the water into the black iron stew pot.  She sat down in a chair next to the table where she had various vegetables strewn about.  Her hair was frazzled from being in the heat for so long.  Untying the silk ribbon holding her hair into a loose bun, she let her hair down.  She used her brush and counted a hundred strokes.  She didn’t mind the extra work she had to put into her hair as it had finally reached the middle of her back.   The brush pulled at the tangles. She reminisced how Madame Helen had to cut most of it off when she arrived here three seasons ago.   Upon being discovered, her hair had been infested with briars and insects from the month long exile running through the forest. She was covered in cuts and bruises, a real torn mess.  The most striking moment of the whole experience that day was the smiling face of William.  He had watched her patiently until she awoke from sleep inside that ancient hollow oak just a few hundred yards from town.  His light brown hair was so unkempt back then, covering his eyes like the unruly fur of those northern mountain dogs.  He had wiped her tear-stained face clean with a soft wool cloth and some cool water he had drawn from the nearby brook.  “Good morning missus, are you lost?”  His voice was so soft with concern while he had knelt beside her.  Even though she returned his friendly gesture by screaming, he held steadfast until she reverted back into deep sobs.  His strong arms scooped her up out of that hollowed tree and carried her into the village.  Interrupting her moment of remembrance a sharp pain shot up through her side into her belly. She doubled over and held her stomach, every dry heave threatening to bring out the bile welling up inside her.  She pulled her black hair out of her face and sunk to the floor.  Her body convulsed as she tried to fight the feeling back.  After a few moments the pain abated and she stared at the floor.  “No not again.  Why are they getting worse?”  Kenaraa asked herself.   The pains started over a year ago, and so far she was able to keep them secret.   She knew her sixteenth year was approaching and soon she would be considered a young adult.  She had to keep up the appearance of independence to keep all the well meant intentions of checking on her away.  It would be difficult to keep her secret if someone decided to move her in to watch over her as a child.

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