Brana jumped as the sky brightened around her. A crackling sound accompanied the flash, and both were followed by a loud crash and the smell of burning grass. Lyal growled before dashing up the hill to Brana’s right.
“Lyal!” Brana’s voice cracked as she feared she lost the last remaining member of her family. The woman ran after the curly haired setter, struggling to keep her balance on the uneven terrain. “Lyal!” she called again. A second crash of lightning startled her and she stumbled. Her hand struck a large boulder that towered over her head. She pulled herself to her feet, and steadied herself against the solid stone, feeling for the citole case. She breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed intact. Her husband’s cloak was soaked, which she knew meant no dry clothes for her whenever she did reach the farm house. She blinked at another bright flash, and kept her right shoulder against the boulder as she made her way farther up the hill. She doubted the dog could hear her voice through the storm, but she called out a third time, “Lyal?”
She felt rather than saw a break in the boulder on the side of the large stone. She turned toward it, and saw a pair of eyes glittering at her. The whining voice assured her it was her companion and not some wild creature lying in wait. “Oh,Lyal, did you find us a safe place to ride out the storm?” A second wave of relief came over her as she knelt down beside the dog, and removed the carry sack and instrument case from her shoulders. “I am so sorry I brought you out in this!” She hugged the dog and dropped her head onto his wet and matted fur. Her voice shook as she laughed at herself. “It’s almost like the storm is mirroring the upheaval inside me.” She pulled her head back and settled down on the dry gravel that made the floor of her hollow. She couldn’t quite call it a cave; she doubted there was room enough for her to stretch out. It was deep enough to shelter her and Lyal, and give them a little break from the storm and that was good enough.
The rain continued to fall, but the lightning seemed to subside into the distance. The pair watched as the water ran down the hill past their little grotto and left them alone. “So, what do we do, Lyal? I’ve been wrong twice today. I thought the rain would be light and the farmhouse closer. It is too late in the day to go back to Ewan’s, but I don’t think there is room for us to rest here overnight.” She took off her cape and wrung it out. “There is no dry wood for a fire, and everything I own is soaked through. I suppose if it is still light after the storm passes we will have to try for Dorcas’ place.” The dog cocked his head to one side, watching her as she spoke. “Did I forget to say thank you for saving my life?” She reached over and scratched behind his ears. His lips parted and his tongue lolled out as he turned his head from side to side to make sure she got both ears. “I could have been crispy if one of those bolts had caught me.”
The rain finally subsided to a light drizzle. “What do you think, Lyal, shall we continue on or head back?” Brana was unsure how she thought she would know which direction the dog would prefer. To her astonishment, however, it seemed the dog understood. He found his feet and bounded out of the grotto and into the rain. He gave one laughing look back at his new mistress before he turned down hill and headed toward the road. “Wait for me!” Brana called after. As she picked up her belongings and resettled them on her shoulders, she wondered if she would spend most of her time chasing after that dog.
She stepped out of the makeshift cave gingerly, unsure of her footing on the wet hillside. Carefully, she made her way down toward the road. She saw Lyal standing about three quarters of the way down, rather than waiting for her at the road. Looking past the dog, she saw several oddly shaped items. One could be a person, but the other was larger, longer, shorter and bulkier. Rather than call out to Lyal, Brana kept working her way down to the growling beast.
As she drew nearer to the road, she could see the second object was a cart much like the one she used to take her vegetables to market. It was waist high, with two large wooden wheels and two poles that extended toward the front for pulling. The first figure was a man, and he seemed to be addressing someone sitting among the items in the cart.
“Excuse me,” Brana called out. She did not want to seem to be eavesdropping and she feared the man had no idea she was there. “Is everything all right down there?”
The man whirled to face her, one hand on his waist. “And where did you come from?”
“Sorry,” Brana held up both of her hands to show they were empty. “Quiet, Lyal. Sit and be polite.” The curly haired setter obeyed, but Brana could see the hackles were still up on his neck. “We got caught in the rain and sheltered up the hill there,” she turned and pointed back at her boulder, “There is a small cave and we waited out the storm there.”
The man seemed to relax, and as his hand came away from his waist, Brana could see his face was friendlier than she had first believed. “You are t’ lucky ones. We could find no shelter, so we plugged along. T’ere is not much but mud t’ be walking t’rough, and t’ cart bogged down many a time. I am afraid Lona here got pretty mucky as well. We are just hoping t’ find a place to stay dry for t’ night.”
Brana took a step toward the man, and then hesitated. “What do you think, Lyal, can we trust him?” She muttered to the dog under her breath.
The russet canine stood now that he had been given permission, and continued down the hill. He sniffed in the direction of the man, paused, and then sniffed again. Finally, he closed the distance between them with a trot and nosed all over the man’s feet.
Taking that as an affirmative answer, Brana followed. “I know of a farm house, I do not believe it is far from here. I have never known the family to with hold hospitality.” As she reached the road, she held out a hand, “I am Brana.”
“Bronna?” Her name sounded different in his accent, and she wondered where the man and his daughter had come from. “I am Rhys. T’is here is Lona. I do farrier work, when one has need. Just afraid t’ere is not much need up t’ nort’ of here.”
“I have to agree with you,” Brana sighed. “We bartered the use of plow horses for our farm, and there were not many we could bargain with. Do you and your daughter expect to have better luck farther south?”
Rhys nodded. “I expect t’ border lands may be able t’ use my skill. Not many in the bogs want t’eir ponies shoed, but always till now I been able t’ find work up t’ farms way.”
“You were sayin’ t’ere may be a farm house?” A quiet voice interrupted.
Brana turned to look at the girl in the cart for the first time. She nodded and tried to smile in an encouraging way. “I admit I thought I would have arrived by now, and were it not for the lack of other roads, i would think I made a wrong turn after finding that boulder I have never noticed before. Then again, I have always traveled this way in haste.”
“Why in haste?” The girl climbed down out of the cart and walked up to Brana. The girl was almost as tall as Brana’s shoulder, but her face looked young.
“When I get called, someone is birthing or dying.” Brana continued to smile, “It is nice to meet you, Lona.”
The blonde haired girl curtseyed as best she could given the muddy gravel road. “T’is nice t’ meet you, Bronna.” She smiled back at the woman, although it was both a more genuine smile and a more timid one.
Rhys cleared his throat. “Well, if all t’ introductions are done, might we go lookin’ for t’at farm house? I would take a stable or a grain barn at t’is rate.”
Brana laughed, “We might have to hole up in an out building anyway and meet our hosts in the morning if we do not arrive before the sun sets. Let us be off.”
Lyal seemed content to turn his nose south and lead the way. Brana followed, with Lona beside her and Rhys, pulling his cart, took up the rear. They were a motley looking bunch, but Brana was grateful for the company.