next…

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.

 

 

 

 

It begins…

Brana placed one last stone on the large pile in front of her before she rubbed her arm across her forehead to brush an escaped tendril of hair out of her face. “I have done all I could. Would I could have done more.” She turned her face up toward the sky to let the rain run down her face; it made tracks through the grime just as tears might have done. When Lyal started to whine, she looked down at her son’s dear companion. “I know, Lyal, I wish he was here, too.” She stopped talking when she felt rather than heard someone walk up behind her. Her eyes steadily on her dark red guard dog, she relaxed when he yawned. “I am done here, Ewen.”

Her husband’s brother coughed and stepped closer to the cairn. “I would have helped,you know?” He continued when he saw her nod. “You are entitled to half of Graeme’s possessions. I don’t need the house. I can tend both fields.” His voice took on a wheedling tone. “My wife would love to have you stay.”

“Aileen is sweet and it is kind of you to offer.” Brana chewed on her lip and crouched down to scratch Lyal’s ears. “Your boys will love being able to split the land, just as you and Graeme did.” Her voice cracked as she mentioned her now deceased husband.

“Then what will you do?” Ewen crossed his arms and shrugged helplessly. “You know I am not one to ask the laird to make you remarry. If you leave, I have no way to prevent someone else from making you do just that.”

Brana chuckled and looked up at him. “Give me his knife.”

Ewen blinked. “Do you mean Graeme’s knife?” He pulled the item in question from a sheath at his waist. It was a finely crafted seven inch blade with an intricately carved handle. “I am guessing you mean this one our da gave him when he married you?”

Brana nodded. “Your da gave you one as well, if I remember correctly, so you won’t miss this one?”

“No, I won’t miss it.” Ewen shrugged again, worked the sheath free from his waist, replaced the blade into it and handed both parts to his brother’s widow. “If any of us live to see the boys marry off, they will have new blades.” He glared at the rain that began to fall more heavily. “We best be heading home until this storm passes.”

“I remember a story from my childhood.” Brana coughed to clear a lump in her throat. “Before the troubles began, a woman was free if her husband, father, or master gave her a blade of her own.” Untying the cord that cinched her dress at her waist, she slipped it into a hole in the sheath. Once she retied the cord, she bloused her dress over the belt, leaving the last four inches of the sheath visible. She met her brother’s gaze. “By your leave, I am now free.”

Ewen sighed heavily. “You are now free. But won’t you wait until tomorrow?”

Brana shook her head. “This storm will pass. There is no danger in those clouds, just water.” She smiled as Ewen glanced nervously at her. “Do you think I could be married to him all these years and not learn a thing or two about weather? It is you who will be missing us, come summer and you worry about the rain.”

Ewen changed the subject. “Where will you go?”

“There is a farm house a half-day’s walk from here. It is not so late I cannot make it. I tended the woman when she gave birth to her youngest. I think she will see clear to give me some hospitality.” She laughed. “I may be too cursed to stay in the house, but Lyal and I can make do in a barn.”

“You are not cursed.” Ewen started to protest.

“What else do you call a widow who has buried all four of her children?” Brana snorted. “I will hope for kindness on the way until I can reach Isla’s ranch. I should be there in three or four days, if the weather holds.” She smiled as she glanced up at the rain, teasing him again about his lack of weather sense.  She kept her face turned up as she let more rain wash the last of the dirt from her face. With a deep sigh, she collected up her daughter’s citole in its case and the bag she had made of her husband’s cloak. “Hold these?” She handed them to her brother in law.

“At least come back and get a cart.” Ewen tried again to change her mind.

Brana shook her head and shook out the cloak on which her meager belongings had rested. Once it was settled about her, she took back the carry sack and instrument and slung one on each shoulder. Tapping her leg, she called to Lyal, who was quickly on his feet beside her. Brana held her arms open. “Give me a kinsman’s kiss to see me on my way?”

Ewen reluctantly leaned forward, hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Come back and remember you are always welcome here.”

Brana nodded. “Come on, Lyal. Let us begin.” She turned her face south, and without another glance at her family , living or dead, she began her journey.

And here, my friends, is the problem

As soon as I decide I will completely rewrite the story – I find I have a struggle with changing my heroine’s name. But if I don’t change her name, then the people who read the first version will think this is that version and… I probably shouldn’t worry about it because so few read the first version ha.

So I convince myself to just do the edits. Except then I think of this or that new idea that I really like – and wonder how much it would change the fundamental outcome of the story. Maybe I should just write some of the new stuff and keep some of the old stuff and see what happens.

But none of it matters, because well, I am talking to myself. I find social media to be stressful and full of vitriol, or else it is already over run with so many would be authors that there is no way to get my little story seen.

So I suppose I should (as my father would say) shit or get off the pot. Time to write some of this stuff and if I enjoy it keep going and if I don’t then let it go.

Continuing to think of this as a conversation, however, seems to be an exercise in futility.  But if you are one who has stumbled upon my site, do say hello and let me know.

Thanks!

Maryanne