Until Talmar arrives, with his stories of far-away places and his own secret mission.
Those secrets collide on the Icknield Way, where innocence is lost and dreams are shattered.
And where one woman’s determination will create a landmark that stands to this day, and whose origins are shrouded in legend…
Formats: ebook $2.99
Genre/s: urban fantasy
Length: short story
Available from your favourite retailer here.
Lian was out on the hill tending the sheep when the stranger strode into view along the Icknield Way.
It was the beginning of winter, when the cold air bit into the cheeks and nose and the fingers felt chilled and clumsy. The grass was thick and green, recovering now from the unusually warm and dry summer, and more rain clouds teased at the edges of the sky. The sun itself was nearing the horizon, its light losing the scant warmth it had given during the day.
Lian had taken the flock up onto the fell alongside the Way. The fell was part of her uncle’s farm, and Lian had learned in the years she’d lived here to pasture the sheep in different places each day to let the grass grow back. Since her accident almost a year ago now she’d also learned to take a stool with her, and a cushion she had made from scraps of cloth and discarded wool on which to rest her foot.
The Icknield Way followed the ridge line of the chalk hills, winding out of sight in both directions. South, Lian knew, was Gathering, where her uncle Bron would take his eldest sons in spring and autumn to trade cloth spun by Lian and her aunt and girl cousins. He would swap it for things the small farm needed, like the new iron plough he’d brought home last autumn. From where she sat she could see her eldest cousin Ferran out in the fields turning the soil for the winter crops, while her youngest cousin Ramela followed behind with a basket, searching for rocks thrown up by the plough’s blades.
Her place on the hill, hidden for the moment by several sheep, also gave her an uninterrupted view of the stranger on the Way.
At first she thought he might be a trader of some kind, but no horse paced beside him and he pulled no hand-wagon. Instead he strode out confidently, a pack on his back and a travelling staff in his hand. Then, as he drew closer, she saw the longbow slung across his shoulder and the sheath of a long dagger swinging from his belt.
A hunter then. Uncle Bron would be pleased. There was a pack of wild boar in the nearby swathe of wildwood which foraged in the farm’s vegetable gardens, and in the fields when the wheat and barley were shooting. The red deer sometimes ventured close too, and Uncle Bron’s and Ferran’s bows were not large or strong enough to manage a kill. And there were none now in their small farmhold with the skill to craft a more powerful bow.
Then the man saw her, and even at that distance she thought she saw him startle. He lifted his hand, looked at it for a second, then raised it in greeting before turning off the Way and striding toward her. Lian tied a swift knot in her thread to prevent it from unravelling and set her drop spindle into her basket. She reached for her cane and pushed herself up from the stool, not wanting to meet this stranger at a disadvantage. She hissed as her left foot took her weight, but managed to keep her face smooth. The foot would be invisible beneath her long woollen skirt, and hopefully he would take her cane for a crop she used with the sheep.
She’d learned early not to appear weak before others. The years after her parents had died and before Uncle Bron had taken her in had been full of fear and abuse, and she had vowed to herself she would never suffer so again.
And neither would Gara.