Guys, it’s only three(ish) days until the homeschool convention! Once again, this year I’ll be selling my books at our Generation Rising booth. There have been meetings, errand-runnings, and eagerly-waiting-for-book-stock-ings (I’m still waiting for some XD).
(There are some pictures on Generation Rising’s Instagram and Facebook pages, FYI…)
In honor of the convention coming up and my new bookbaby The Night Archers releasing last week, here’s the first chapter. Enjoy! 😀
Chapter One: Storming
Curls of wood fell away from his knife as a spoon took shape in his hands. It would be large enough to stir a pot of soup for the whole family and sturdy to last a few seasons to come. The young man smoothed away the loose sawdust, then bit his knife into the wood again.
“Gavynn-Gavynn!” a sing-song voice called, and he looked up from his work.
He laughed at the little girl dancing in the line of children waiting at the well and raised a hand to wave. “I see you, Rosie.”
She grinned at him and turned away, light-colored braids seeming to skip with mirth and impatience.
Gavynn shifted on the cottage doorstep and held his project up to the light. It was nearly perfect. Just a little more work, and it would be ready for sanding and oiling.
A strong breeze tore across the square, whipping at the children’s clothes and ruffling their wheat-colored hair. Another gust followed on its heels and scattered his wood leavings out into the grass.
He squinted up at the sky and quickly rose to his feet, sheathing his knife. “Rosie,” he beckoned to her but kept his eyes on the shadows that hung low brushing the top of the keep. “Rosie, come inside. There’s a storm almost ready to hit.”
She skipped over to him and slumped her shoulders, but he teased a grin out of her the next moment. “I’ll fill your bucket for you if you set up the blanket house with Maire.”
She shoved the bucket into his hands and entered the house, sing-songing for her sister.
Gavynn left the shelter of the cottage doorway and joined the line of children. He pushed his limp, dark hair off his forehead, conscious of the curious looks directed his way. Smiling ruefully to himself, he met their gazes, grateful they at least didn’t ask any questions.
The line inched forward as the neighbor girl, one of the blacksmith’s children, scrambled away from the well with her little brother at her heels. Gavynn stretched and looked over the heads, then caught a glimpse of someone he knew.
Farren. She was close in size to the children but nearer in age to him, and she drew her cloak tightly about herself, shuddering in the wind.
A heavy raindrop splashed on his forehead, then another, and shrieks of surprise came from the line. A few children broke away toward their homes, but the majority huddled together, blinking and squealing at the rain that fell faster and harder with every second.
Gavynn shook his head and pushed his way to the front of the line. Taking a bucket from the first child, he quickly filled it and sent him on his way, ready for the next one before anyone else knew what was happening. He hurried to fill as many as possible, but a flash of light and a rumble from the woods caused him to drop the bucket.
“Everyone home, now! This storm is more than just rain.”
The children scattered in every direction, and he watched them go through the downpour.
“Gavynn?” A slender hand clutched at his sleeve, and Farren stared up at him with wide, unseeing eyes.
“I’m here.” He covered her hand with his own. “Let’s get you inside.” He draped his soaking cloak across her shoulders and guided her, head down, up the emptied street.
Day had turned dark as dusk, and a coldness slipped into his bones. Here and there, a glow escaped the shutters of the houses, and he fixed his eyes on their guiding lights. They passed the keep and the empty stables, and Gavynn reminded himself not to look for what he knew wouldn’t be there. A gray horse, strong and alert; his horse, at least when he had trained with the cavalry. Thunder echoed off the stones beneath their feet, and he tightened his arm around Farren’s shoulders.
“Gavynn?” Her voice was little more than a whisper under the wind. “Are we almost there?”
Gavynn lifted his head into the rain and scanned the street. Just up ahead, a cottage door was wide open to the storm and a woman stood silhouetted in it.
His answer came in a gulping breath as he guided Farren forward. “We’re there.”
Farren’s mother let out a cry of relief and rushed out into the rain to take her daughter, gesturing for him to follow them into the house. Gavynn looked out into the black rain that rushed down the street in little rivers then again at the warm, inviting house. He shook his head. He was needed at home.
With a whispered prayer, he plunged into the storm, bending his body against the wind and hugging his arms against himself. Water rushed across the cobblestones, seeping into his boots and turning the ground into a slippery mess. He took one step, then another, then the next. Terror pushed at the edges of his memory. The darkness seemed to reach out, desiring to crush him in its grasp.
“It’s just a storm. Just rain, wind, and thunder. I’m far, far away from the sea.” He hugged his arms tightly around his body. “I’m safe. I just need to get home.”
The cottage was just down the street, past the smithy and the neighbor’s dwelling. A cry broke into his thoughts, and he lifted his head, eyes focusing on the little girl who stood in the open doorway of the nearest cottage.
The thatch roof had collapsed inward on one end and more threatened to fall with every second. He ran forward and guided her trembling body away from the cottage. Moments later, a woman burst from the house, carrying her young son in her arms and calling frantically.
“She’s here,” Gavynn answered. “Go. Up the street to my house. They’ll let you in.”
The woman drew Aelie to herself, but she glanced back toward the house, torn. “Caelan’s still in there.”
Gavynn nodded grimly. “I’ll get him.”
Rain poured in from the open roof of the cottage, and Gavynn peered through it into the dark recesses of the dwelling. “Caelan? Caelan, are you in here?”
“Back here!” A voice called.
“What are you doing?” Gavynn spluttered, venturing closer.
“Trying to stop it!” The tall boy pushed up on the sagging thatch with a board in an effort to support it.
A creaking noise rippled across the remaining timbers.
“It’s too late. Get out now. You’re mad!”
“And you’re a coward!”
Gavynn felt a familiar anger, but he reached out and jerked the boy away from his work just as a sagging beam fell. Caelan gasped and didn’t resist as Gavynn pulled him out the door and up the street to his own cottage. He pounded on the door, and it opened immediately.
“Gavynn!” His stepmother’s eyes went wide and she stepped aside to let them in. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, Anwen. I’m all right, I think.”
He barred the door against the storm.
Copyright 2019 Kate Willis