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Tayna's Dawn Excerpt

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Tayna’s Dawn

Written by Marie Daley

Book 1 of The Adventures of Ryes and Garth



Tair of House Clenons looked at his reflection in his desk screen, changing it to reflective mode. He clearly was of the noble class with his definite feline cast to his features; the commoners’ features were far more plain and easy to distinguish as the Royals decreed centuries ago. He stood a little over two full measures tall and was lean and well-muscled as he kept himself in good physical condition. It was more than just pride that he kept in shape; he wanted to be ready in case the tides turned and physical action would be required to protect his home, life and family. He felt he should be constantly prepared and so had an isolated home which was well armed and defended, too. His weak Dreamer Talent gave him no clues to work with to further hone is preparations. He felt he couldn’t abandon Kahmarr with the rest of his family here. He’d have to stay and fight. He looked back to his reflection.

His ears were neat and rounded at the top, covered with his body fur and dyed with dark stripes and white stripes to accent his own natural medium brown fur color. He thought they looked dashing, even if he wasn’t seeking a new mate. And his dark gold eyes practically sparkled. His nose was properly flattened but not too wide, nor too low a dip. And his upper lip split was even and neat when he grimaced at himself as he smiled. He looked at his claws, which he always kept sheathed, as was proper. He extended them to ensure that they were all properly sharpened with no splitting to indicate new growth. His hair was long, neat and swept back. He kept it secured at the base of his neck with a bejeweled filigreed clasp to keep it out of his face and out of the way. Overall he approved of himself and yet knew he still yearned for something more. He had no idea what that more might contain. He dialed back his screen to get back to work. He had reviewed the schedules for shipments of his share of the family mercantile business and found no flaws. He just started delving into the captains’ reports to see if any new troubles were brewing. His brows knit as he saw what was being voiced and yet left unsaid in the reports before him.

“Da?” a very familiar voice sounded from the door into his office, as she peeked her head around it, her curling flame-red hair spilled down towards the floor in a careless cascade. Tair was surprised but smiled, his heart lightened by this unexpected visit. He blanked his screen and stood up to quickly cross the large room to pull his oldest daughter into the room and into his arms.

“I have missed you so much, Tyra!” he exclaimed. She clung to him for a long moment, as if clinging for dear life itself. This alarmed him, but unless she opened up to him from within, he was not going to barge in to further abuse her using his Talent. The rest of his former wife’s family had their way too freely with her for years already; he wouldn’t add to her burdens. It was so much for a young one to bear. She would have to open up to him from within first.

“Come and let us sit and chat for a bit,” he offered instead. She surrendered to his urging and let him lead her over to his comfy chairs and settee near the floor-to-ceiling windows. The garden outside was in full bloom, presenting an astounding vista which drew her eyes for a few heartbeats; the sweet smells of the blooms drifting in through the open windows. This was the garden where he had watched over her as she explored the outside world for the first time. She had grasped at the bright flowers and seemingly unable to decide what she wanted to do with them once she’d crushed them in her tiny hands. Echoes of her loving laughter still filled his mind. He saw memories appeared to cross her sight too, and then she blinked, sighed and turned back to him as she took her seat. He gave her a nod and a small smile, sitting down next to her on the settee.

“I saw Elofin. Did you know it won’t be long now before his Talent will open up?” she asked, mischief in her eyes as she diverted his questions. He frowned, wondering at her moods today. She was outright mercurial.

“He has been tested several times now and the Catalysts have all said he is Talentless. That is why he was given to me to raise.” he replied, closely watching her. The gleam of mischief fled her eyes as she leaned towards him, placing her delicate hand upon his wrist.

“You MUST send him away from Kahmarr, Da! His mind and spirit are in great danger. And he must NEVER return!” There were flashes of anger in the depth of her emerald eyes, which surprised him. “My own Catalyst Talent has told me the truth; just a few moments ago,” she insisted. “I do not care what any other Catalyst might claim. Can you guess why?” she queried. He frowned for a few moments then a horrible thought came to light and a shock ran through him as it clarified.

“He has Empath!” he breathed out in surprise. She smiled sadly in response as she nodded agreement. “Kahmarr will kill him!”

“Whenever I must come home, I keep my own Empath Talent locked down tight. Kahmarr is cruel, grasping and a destroyer. That is why I felt his budding Talent so strongly. It echoed my own – soul to soul. I can awaken it in him, but not here, not on Kahmarr.” He sighed in relief, knowing she had never been cruel to anyone. It was why he had always been driven to protect his first daughter every chance he got.

“So, you did not come all this way to talk about Elofin, since you didn’t know he was an Empath until today. What troubles your heart my beautiful Tyra? How can your ol’ Da brandish his sword in your service?” he teased. That brought out a warmer smile, lighting her eyes once more, but still sadness shadowed her face. His heart went out to her, wanting to know what troubled her so greatly.

“Word has gotten out that I am a Talent of One and now the great houses are vying to lay claim to me in any way they each can, before the Crown is officially informed and can decide the rest of my life. Somehow, Grandmother has decided that it is time I marry,” she told him, then paused as her voice caught, unable to pass a lump in her throat. He took her hand in his, noting her claws were halfway out – a sure sign of her great distress.

A Talent of One was extremely rare and was an occurrence in the bloodlines once every twenty thousand years. It wasn’t that she had one really strong Talent. She actually had been born with all fourteen Talents. In Tyra’s case, none of her Talents were very strong, but still the potential for her to pass this unique genetic make-up on to her children made her invaluable and someone to be treasured. If the Families had their way, she would spend the rest of her life caged and out of everyone’s reach, but whomever the Crown felt worthy to see her, or speak with her.

“You are barely sixteen years old!” he declared, his anger rising. “You should be deciding what to wear at the next party, not your wedding!” She suddenly threw herself into his arms and the floodgate of tears she’d been holding back opened. She cried out her heart to him. He held her wondering what he could truly do to protect her from the other side of her family? It wasn’t like he was powerless. His own family’s status even set closer to the crown than his former wife’s, but he didn’t want his family elders meddling further in her life, either! He pulled back to look into her emerald eyes, once again.

“He is OLD Da; ANCIENT!” she sobbed. “Why would Grandmother ever pick such an arrogant, self-involved, creepy, old….” He saw she struggled for more fitting descriptive words, without drawing from common, offensive slang.

“I get the idea. Who is this fell ancient ancestor Lin has chosen for your first mate?”

“Walmuss of House Oftirrin,” she replied, wiping at her tears in distress. He gave her his pocket kerchief and she flashed a brief twitch which might have once been a smile in gratitude. It was like lead hit his stomach upon realizing whom she spoke of as her chosen mate. He could not believe his ears!

“He is as old as your Great-Grandmother! What is going through Lin’s mind? You are only a child! It has to be part of some agreement between the two houses!” He knew Walmuss would use and abuse her horribly! He suddenly stood up; feeling a need for immediate action and not knowing what he needed to do first. “Who would know you came here?” he suddenly asked, turning to look at her.

“Mother is a strong Dreamer,” she stated with a lop-sided smile, “remember? But she was the one who suggested I had not walked in your gardens in years.” She seemed to gain strength by seeing him ready to take action. He wouldn’t disappoint her now!

“He cannot be my first Da, please!” He stopped and frowned, knowing Mada was a willing conspirator seemed to ignite his own courage, as the rest of a daring plan instantly crystalized.

“Since we already have a family emergency and need to evacuate Elofin from Kahmarr, I would like to invite you to accompany me upon The Margiiti? Then you can help open up his Talent and coach him best in its use,” he suggested.

“It would be my honor to lend a hand to save Elofin,” she formerly replied, smiling so that her eyes lit up from within, once again. “He is my half-brother, after all. Family First!” He smiled as he returned to his desk to get things set into motion. It was his own family moto.

“Da, where do we go now?” she asked, after they had finally freed the ship from Victory Starport. She set her helmet into a storage compartment, followed by her gloves. She’d change into a ship suit soon and stow the rest of her space suit disguise later. Elofin went back to his own cabin to change. He’d been charged by the thought of heading out on a voyage instead of having to go to class and had been a willing conspirator. “Grandmother Lin will find us eventually,” she pointed out. He grimaced with a nod of understanding.

“Normally I would agree, but if we’re going to put you beyond her and Walmuss’ reach, we’ll need help.” He sighed and was suddenly reluctant to reveal his plans, which in hindsight seemed inadequate. She nodded her agreement, puzzled.

“And?” she pressed, spreading her hands in invitation as Mada liked to do at times.

“We’re heading out to a lightly colonized world named Tayna,” he finally told her. Her brows knit, as it seemed she didn’t understand his reasons, nor reluctance to speak about it. “First, to see if Elofin could be accepted into a Forester program. It will give him a new life on a new world with potential for him to build a solid future. Then we will see if you can be hidden away for a few years in cold sleep by an order of women established by Doran of House Forental. They have a hidden encampment where she serves out her sentence for a serious crime. Lin would never find you there and Walmuss would never be allowed to make his claim on you.” She nodded, smiling, and closed her eyes. She was still for several long heartbeats, but finally she opened them and smiled for him. He sighed in relief.

“Not the most ideal environment, but yes, I will be safe from them there,” she finally agreed. Inwardly a chill held her heart captive at the scenes she had just glimpsed of her future thanks to her Visionary Talent. “Elofin will have a good long life and will be serving the Crown Prince,” she told him with a happy smile. She stepped closer and threw her arms around him, snuggling close. “I will miss you, Da.”

“It will be a short goodbye. We’ll be together again soon and I should have my family ready to help protect you from Lin and her plans by then,” he assured her. She nodded her head at this in agreement.

“By the time I leave Doran’s company, Grandmother Lin will no longer have the power to direct my life,” she stated confidently, thinking it was the best way to assure her father as tears started up, again.

“Do not cry, Tyra. It will all work out,” he said, trying to comfort her. He gave her a handkerchief to use. She grasped it and nodded against his chest, then pulled back.

“They are happy tears, Da! I am going to find my one and only there and he will have a good heart which is filled with lots of love for me and our family.” He signed in relief and gave her a hug.

“He had better be a man I would approve of for my daughter,” he told her. She laughed and nodded her head, still crying.

“He will be,” she assured him.

He never knew they were also tears she cried because she now knew she would never see her father, nor mother again in this life. Sometimes Talents could be a curse as well as a blessing.

A Sedate Life

Chapter 1

“Truly Ryes, you must know Rowan will be fine. He’ll be looked after by both Tanns and her daughter, Tennan. He will be Fine!” Rinna of House Itten pressed emphatically. “In fact Tennan can move into our room and stay here with Rowan, so she’ll be able to take care of both of yours grandfather. Trust her. She’s been taking care of her siblings for years; she can handle him.”

Ryes was sure it would give Tennan a break from her mother and the chaos she knew sometimes reined in that house for a bit, but was still uncomfortable with the thought of leaving his side. And she truly did not know her cousin enough to trust her with his care. She was younger. Would she make the right decisions if something happened? She felt torn within; wanting to reach some decision where she knew her own true needs would be best met, too. She closed her eyes for a moment as a shudder coursed through her frame as if it was an icy draft coming from the gates of the Demons’ Realm itself! Myriad visions filled her head and for a few moments she was lost in them. Then suddenly it was as if she knew where she needed to be for her life to be true. It was nothing she could wrap her fingers around, but still the feeling was strong and sure.

“I don’t know what it is, but I can’t go with you this year, Grandmother Rinna,” she finally stated, opening her emerald green eyes, squarely meeting Rinna’s brown ones. It looked like Rinna was again wishing she had the Mind Voice Talent, as she strove to look deeper into her soul. Even if they weren’t related by blood, she felt such a deep kinship with her that she might as well have been her grandmother in truth. Rinna knew her mind and heart almost as well as Rowan.

“You’re getting close and it’s scaring all of us. I’ve seen him watch you, as if his madness has you confused with your mother. It’s no longer safe for you here, child!” The naked fear in her eyes somehow comforted Ryes in an odd fashion. Her courage crystalized and she knew she was the one to set her own life’s course. And she would not run off to hide. She knew within that she needed to face this challenge squarely.

“I have the forest and he’ll never be my match in my own element. I’ll be fine, Grandmother. He’ll never catch me there! Please trust me in knowing this one thing very well.” They suddenly wrapped each other in their arms, trying to find an anchor where their hearts felt safe and secure once again.

“You don’t think he’d try to hold Rowan as a hostage against you?” she whispered tensely, then kissed her ear.

“That would destroy Tanns’ trust in him, and so his own home. I don’t see him doing that,” she whispered in return, tears now running down her cheeks. “And if he harmed Rowan, I’d find a way to make him pay dearly for it. He’s terrorized the Village long enough. He’s tried to frighten me and it has not worked since I was a child.” Rinna pulled back to look into Ryes’ eyes once again.

“This is not your burden. Leave this one to the Elders, at least,” she started, but Ryes made a scoffing sound at hearing it and shook her head in denial.

“The Elders have let him rampage for what? Two decades? No, it’ll have to be the men of my own generation who’ll have to make him stop. He’s getting old and someone will finally put an end to his murdering ways. I only pray to Ricmon that it will be sooner rather than later,” she teased at the end, smiling again. It was their traditional game to name their favorite deities for the situations they were discussing. Usually they each picked a different one to counter the other.

“Better make it Aletagga, the god of wild good fortune, instead,” she finally laughed out, tears in her eyes too. “If you change your mind, just take a few things, mount Honey and ask her to carry you out to us. Follow the road east or south and you will find us my Sweetling.” Ryes stepped back, letting go with a lot of reluctance.

“I’ll just have to get used to the sedate pace of life we have here when you’re gone, once again,” she returned, spreading her hands helplessly. “Not many villagers come all the way out here to bother us. We’ll be fine.”

“What about your follower friend?” she asked, her eyes glinting with hidden secrets whenever she mentioned him.

“He won’t bother me. He just likes to keep tabs on what I’m doing at times,” she shook her head, reminded again of Garth’s more frequent presence in the last few months. “I don’t feel any harm from him,” she assured Rinna. She laughed at this, nodding in agreement.

“I meant, if you come out to meet us, either leave him to help with Rowan, or bring him along. We can always use a strong back and a quick mind. It seems to me that he has wanted to look out for you for years, but you just don’t know how to let him,” she returned. Ryes shook her head again, grinning mischievously as she bit her lower lip. “It’s all right child, time will play out its dance for you both. Now one last kiss goodbye as it seems Darman’s ready to roll out.” They hugged and kissed and cried over each other one more time before breaking free so the Caravaners could begin their annual journey.

Ryes ran beside the slowly moving van for a while, waving goodbye once again, before they took the road heading east. Twenty-two vans passed her as she stood beside the road, each occupant granting her their farewells and blessings as they passed. She turned back for home, feeling lonely for a moment, yet feeling there was something in the air. This year’s departure seemed very different. How was she going to fit back into the slow life which was Matlowe Village’s norm once again? She craved so much more.

The orange-red light of Tayna's setting sun glinted brightly off the metal tip of the spear Ryes held in her hand. Her gaze traveled from the sun's rays in the west toward the ancient ruins to the north. They appeared as a thin, dark line, almost beyond the far horizon at this high advantage. A brightly tipped needle of a spire above it reflected its light back to her. It was where her father, brothers and sister were said to have died so violently under Korman's brutal claws. Her grandfather could still recount the tale of her mother's escape in a chilling narrative, with herself a tiny, helpless infant. Her mother died in a pool of her own blood here in the Village as her grandfather fought to save her life. Now Old Korman watched her with hooded eyes whenever he was near. She was sure he was making plans for her, as he tried before with her mother.

“NEVER!” Ryes vowed, with a low growl in her voice. She stood up to descend the tall peak, north of Matlowe Village. She slung her laden hunting bag over her shoulder, turning for home. When she reached the bottom she was surprised as Garth stepped forward. He offered her his hand, claws retracted, palm up. Ryes looked up to his face as she hesitated, feeling uncertain, then crossed his palm with her own - a sign of accepted friendship. Her heart was beating rapidly as she blushed.

This was the first time anyone had met her here at this time of day and Garth was not alone. The villagers, who were out with her today on their special hunt, were all here too! She’d thought they’d gone on to their own homes. There were questions in their eyes and for the first time she was embarrassed by her daydreaming. Was it vengeance she wanted, or an escape from this Village? Shyly she lowered her eyes.

"I usually bid my father and siblings a goodnight at this time of day," she explained, suddenly feeling very precarious and wanting to be clear with him and the others. Garth gave her a nod in understanding. She recalled him watching her go through this ritual from time-to-time through the years and saw he understood it now. He must have been curious before.

“Thank you for all your time and teaching today,” Garth replied, then looked to the others around them, a silent goad. “Your wisdom will not be forgotten.” He smiled genuinely, looking down into her emerald eyes. She blushed more deeply. She smiled in return, the light of her inner happiness showing in her eyes. She saw patience and more in his golden ones. She couldn’t believe she was the hope for survival of the entire Village in this time of famine. She had never been given the chance of friendship with the villagers her age, until now. She hoped it would hold true after this current crisis. Garth stepped back and the remaining members of the hunting party came forward to offer their hands in friendship too. Her pounding heart kept her rooted to the spot in amazement.

“Thanks for the help,” a tall young man she thought was named Torr said, as he stared down at her. She wanted to laugh at the silly expression he wore. Seeing the merry look in her eyes, his smile grew wider and he gave her a wink then stepped aside.

“I’ll tell my mother that she doesn’t know you at all,” Maren stated with a smile, too. She knew her younger cousin, yet had never spent any actual time in his company before today. He had turned out to be a surprisingly fun person, who seemed to care for her after all. She sighed and gave him a return smile and nod, along with a murmured thanks. Aunt Tanns ignored her unless she needed help with gathering herbs or medicinal plants. She usually faced a cold reception in her home, so stayed away. The rest of her cousins took a queue from their mother and shunned her also. She barely knew any of them. It was partly why she was loathe to leave Rowan in Tennan’s care.

The other hunters gathered around her were also mostly strangers, even if each and every face was familiar. She was unsure of some names, but each offered her their hands and made small comments and thanks. It’d been a good day’s hunt with everyone bearing very full bags. A surge of loneliness she was unable to suppress rose up in her heart. All the years of living apart crashed down upon her, almost drowning her.

The hate had long been culled by the love of Tara of House Itten, who taught her when she was young that the pent up hate she then fostered harmed only her and not anyone else. She helped her come to terms with it and let it all go. Still, she never took the further steps Tara always encouraged – to make friends with the villagers – if she had then… Perhaps the belonging she had come to know today could have been hers all along? It caught at her and she was reluctant to part company, but it was getting late and her grandfather would be worried. So, she said her goodbyes and turned towards the Village, quickly trotting ahead of the larger group. A rising tide of conflicting emotions swelled within her heart as tears threatened to blind her eyes.

“She wasn’t the farga we grew up believing her to be,” Sabin commented to Garth as they walked a much slower pace. He smiled in response; his eyes glued to her lithe form until she dropped down into the Village proper.

“I’m sore everywhere! Does she always have to be on the run? I thought she’d never give us a moment’s rest,” Maren complained, as he caught up to his friends and rolled his shoulders to emphasize the aches.

“But the hunt was GOOD!” Ardis practically shouted, as she picked up her steps so she could pace the men. She walked next to Sabin. Her face betrayed her inner turmoil as she glanced over to see Garth’s infatuation with Ryes.

“Yes, it was good,” Garth agreed, glancing over to the others walking with him. “Karr’s going to love this day’s surprise. I’m glad we finally took your mother’s advice, Maren. We should have asked for Ryes’ help long ago.” He gave Maren a smile and got a chuckle in response.

“My mom’s been after us to do so for the last few weeks. I can finally go home and not face her anger,” he admitted. “Actually it was Grandfather who insisted she push us to ask Ryes. I heard them talking about it yesterday. I really knew so little about her before today. She’s shy, but kinda fun.”

“Yeah, let’s talk about that! You were hoarding her attention all day long,” Torr complained. “We were lucky to get a few moments with her at any given time.”

“You were all scaring her!” Maren quipped back, laughing as he told them what she’d admitted to him earlier. “She stuck near me because she knew I was a safe, if a mostly unknown, person for her to be around,” he boasted. The men gaped at him in surprise; a look of disbelief in their eyes.

“What do you expect?” Ardis demanded in disgust. “You men were practically falling all over her every chance you got. She’s lived alone with Rowan since she was born and as I recall, didn’t quite a few of you pull mean tricks on her when we were all little? That’s why she’s avoided us for years! She figured it was the best way to get out of a beating. And you expect her to trust you now?” she challenged them, humor and fire in her brown eyes.

“You were giving her plenty of mean looks yourself,” Shadd scolded after having caught up and hearing the conversation. “There were so many things she was trying to explain… It’s going to take me years to learn it all!” she declared, then sighed, “I only hope she’ll hunt with us after the way everyone was behaving both today and from the past. I used to tease her too, but only because the older kids were doing it. Back then I didn’t really understand it all.”

“I’ll go talk with her,” Maren volunteered. He understood. He knew it wasn’t that Ryes hadn’t noted their overtures today, but that she hadn’t known what to do about them; so she had stayed as close to him as she could, at all times. Other than the young cubs, she avoided the villagers for years. “I seem to recall doing nothing myself, when some of you cornered her one rainy afternoon in the old deserted part of the Village. She was beat up and it was weeks in healing back up. Grandfather kept her at home for months. And it was all over a toy flyer that one of the caravaners gave her. I’ve got a lot to answer for, myself,” he admitted. He saw those near him hung their heads as they appeared to recall their own dark deeds of the past. Garth sighed and Maren recalled he had been the one holding her down that day.

“I’ll go with you, as I have much to apologize for, too. I can only hope she’ll forgive us and continue teaching us her hunting ways,” he stated. “I can’t believe how well she knows the forest and all the plants and animals. It’s almost as if she were a Forester from out of the old stories.”

“I have that cape of marl fur,” Sabin offered, appearing to get an idea. Torr raised an eyebrow and scoffed in surprise. “She’s saved lives here today,” he asserted, glaring at Torr as he thumped his bulging hunting bag. “It’s well worth my sister’s life any day.”

“That’s true. Maybe a gift for all the trouble we’ve been to her for so long? Do you think she’ll accept it, or throw it back in your face?” Ardis challenged. Shadd nodded in agreement.

“Would a gift like that be too obvious?” she voiced, crowding closer to the others.

“She’s not that type of person. She probably wouldn’t know what to do with a gift from one of us. If she hadn’t already forgiven us all long ago, she would’ve never taken us out today,” Maren asserted. “She has no idea what to do with so many people focusing on her. Give her time. I’m sure she’ll learn to trust us and may become a true friend.” Garth smiled at this, giving him a nod.

“I have something I’d like to give her, too,” he added in afterthought. Maren immediately thought of the second beltknife Garth had spent two years perfecting. It was exactly like the one he carried, only smaller and daintier. He had once told him that he intended it as a gift for his first mate. And he knew that Garth wanted Ryes since they were early teeners and had spoken to him and Sabin about her for years.

“How about after dinner tonight, we pay a short visit to a hut near the river? After all, I do know the way, even in the dark.” Maren asked them. Sabin and Garth immediately gave him handsigns in agreement.

“Sounds good to me,” Torr agreed. Ardis and Shadd nodded their consents to go.

Maren smiled at this, seeing it was going to be a good gathering for a visit. He knew he had to ask his sister and mother a few questions about why they treated Ryes the way they usually did. Ryes deserved better treatment from her own family! Whenever there was need, they would send her out to gather the plants, roots or other things required, so they could make the medicines. She did her duties as quickly as possible, in all kinds of weather. Rarely did he remember them thanking her for her help. And he recalled on one stormy day when they didn’t even invite her in to dry off or get warm, even though her teeth were clattering with a deep chill. Surely she was due some compassion and he was going to make sure it started now; even if he were the only one in the household to extend it to Ryes.

Matlowe Village with its mud-plastered brick huts always seemed to harbor a harsh life for the few people still living here. With the nearby densely wooded hills providing little open flat land to cultivate, the people learned to live off of the Village terraced gardens and the small livestock animals they raised. Life was always said to be short. Ryes lived by the river, but since the quickest way home was through the Village today, it was the way her feet took her. She rarely gave any of the buildings, or people, a glance, keeping her gaze to the ground before her flying feet.

“Ryes! Ryes!” She heard a high-pitched cry rise up from behind her, as she took the path toward her home. So she stopped for them, with a smile upon her face, as she turned around to see them running towards her. These were the villagers she was happy to spend her time with most days. Several of the young cubs caught up to her quickly – an air of childish pride and delight about them.

“You really showed them how to hunt today? Didn’t you?” Lixi asked breathlessly. The others chimed in their questions, wanting to be heard too. Ryes smiled down at her youthful enthusiasm.

“I tried to, Lixi. I hope they listened.” She playfully ruffled the child’s short honey-colored hair.

“I caught a fish today! It was this BIG!” Jons boasted, spacing her hands out to demonstrate how enormous it had been. “My mom was real proud and said I’ll make a fine huntress one day. An’ I did it, just like to you tol’ me.” There was pride in her eyes which couldn’t be denied. Rand tugged on her arm, demanding attention as well.

“That’s great news, Jons,” Ryes agreed as she knelt down to hug them, laying her spear on the ground beside her. They crowded in close, trying to all hug her back at once. She laughed merrily at their antics and showered each with the attention he, or she, craved. Few villagers gave them such attention. The animals and gardens needed tending most of the day, as well as the other daily chores. So, this handful of cubs were the bright spot of her life. Ryes gladly showed them small things they could learn like fishing or gathering wild berries, tuber roots and other foods. This way they could feel like they were helping their families too. And if she had plenty to share out of her own hunts, she would give them food to munch on or take home. And she was teaching them how to read and write, to reinforce the lessons they were being given by the Village elders. These young ones had become the young siblings she would never know.

Then Sela’s voice was heard calling out for Lixi. Ryes looked up and found herself caught up in a moment of uncertainty, noticing how many faces looked out from the huts at her and the cubs. She wasn’t sure if there was approval, or not, on the faces nearby. She was afraid to look too closely.

“Better go home before you catch trouble,” Ryes warned them all in a low voice with a gentle smile upon her lips. Uneasiness arose in her as she knelt by her spear and watched them run off, happily greeting their parents. The villagers rarely paid her much notice. This sudden attention caused the hair at the nape of her neck to rise.

“See you tomorrow,” Rand promised as she hugged her one more time before running off. She veered towards the other hunters, who had just entered the Village and appeared to be discussing something vigorously.

“That’s a promise,” Ryes shouted back. Rand gave her a glance and a raised hand before running up to the tallest hunter, Torr, asking to be picked up. Ryes chuckled as she picked up her spear, stood up, and pretended not to see the villagers as she continued on her path. The last several springs had seen the birth of many cubs. Their mothers were protective, but also accepted their friendship with her, as if she were their accepted day-time caretaker for the youngsters. She thought it was because she took every effort to keep the cubs safe while they tended the gardens, or cooked or cleaned. This sudden notice made her wonder and she turned back to see some villagers were still watching. As the voices of the hunting party were raised in greetings to their families, she turned away. At least they’d bring some good news tonight from a very successful hunt. The entire Village would be happier with full stomachs. She hoped…

As she resumed walking home, she passed the hut where her father, aunt and grandparents lived long ago. It’d been the place where her mother died too. It was dark, falling apart and very sad looking. She didn’t dare set foot inside it now, as she’d be afraid the roof might fall in upon her. When she was young, she used to dream of coming back to repair it for when she was older and would want to establish her own home. Now she might have to come and pull it down so none of the young ones would get hurt exploring it. This one and several others nearby. There were plenty of homes in Matlowe, but with the population declining, more were being left uninhabited each year. There were all kinds of stories being told to explain why it was happening, but Ryes firmly blamed Korman and the way he strove to destroy families. He was the village curse.

Korman wanted all the women of Matlowe to answer his needs and his needs alone. And once he made the cubs, he refused to help nurture them. He seemed to believe it was the responsibility of the mothers to provide the food, too. With no true father to provide for the cubs, it usually fell to the siblings of the mothers to help out. But Ryes did note that few of the younger cubs bore the look of Korman. She bet several young couples managed to evade his notice and were getting away with it. She hoped it was true. She’d never allow him near her! She sighed as she thought of the young men who paid her such close attention today. If it hadn’t been for her cousin at her side, she would’ve been too nervous to teach anyone any hunting skills. There was still so much she needed to go over with all of them as she had barely covered a few of the basics today!

Distracted by her musings, she didn’t see Old Korman standing in her way where the path narrowed going between two larger, crumbling buildings, until too late. Her nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed to slits, but she was determined to keep her temper under control this time. His heavy sour odor filled the small alleyway making her uneasy. Korman was known for his violent outbursts and fierce temper which had taken many lives of the villagers in the past. She noted his face was unreadable. There was an unspoken war between them. She feared the old murderer, but still held her ground. She was determined to never show her fear to him, which is why she continued on this path in spite of the danger. Her mother escaped him and publicly embarrassed him, with herself the lone, living proof. She would have given anything to ask her how she found the courage to do it all.

Ryes’ anxiety grew as she approached his commanding bulk, but her own stubbornness kept her feet moving forward. She felt as if she were treading on a knife’s edge. It was more than his size which disturbed her. He always watched her and usually turned up nearby to stare at her whenever she was in the Village. It annoyed her at the very least, but there was little she could do about it. She tried to duck past him, when his hand shot out and grabbed the top of her shoulder. His fingers and sharp claws dug in painfully, bringing a silent snarl to her face. Her rage was evident as she met his cold mad eyes.

“You time is near and I am ready,” he growled out roughly, looking unimpressed. “You’ll be mine and no others.” His eyes pierced her with their cold insane light.

“I’m my mother’s daughter and I choose my own mates,” she hissed back; a chill rising within her to match her hot anger. Korman’s own anger started to show on his face as he shook her violently against the wall of one of the buildings, digging his claws in cruelly.

“Then you’ll suffer her fate!” he declared and suddenly threw her hard against the crumbling wall, releasing her. He stalked past Ryes, the incident settled in his mind. She was sure he was thinking it would only be a matter of time.

Ryes stood ridged, silently snarling at his retreating form. She gripped her spear in both hands, aching to hurl it after him, but she would never sink down to his level and be a cold murderer. Finally, she turned away and took a deep breath. A sudden shudder gave her body a little release from the tension. She shrugged her shoulders and winced as the heavy bag thumped against her back. The shoulder he gripped hurt sharply; even through the haze of her remaining rage. It would need tending, and with that would come the questions. It’d been such a wonderful day up to now.

Rowan was sitting outside his home next to the Yuri River, taking a break from his weaving. He thought about the lateness of the hour and there was still no sign of his granddaughter. There were times when she’d stay out to watch an insect weave a web, or a special flower slowly bloom, so there was nothing to worry about yet. She’d return soon and regale him with her new adventures. For now, it was good to sit outside, resting his back and letting his mind wander its many paths of thought.

Rowan knew he was getting old. He finally came to the point in his life where he could no longer deny it. It wasn’t just the presence of a vigorous granddaughter to dote on him constantly, nor the scores of young cubs, who sought him out for his tales of old, while their mothers were busy with chores; it came from within. A knowing that no matter how warm the blankets, nor how bright the fire, there was a chill settling into his bones. If it weren’t for Ryes and Tanns, he would’ve left with one of the Caravans long ago to seek a quieter place to die – if such existed on Tayna. Or at least to finally meet the other peoples who lived upon Tayna, too. To be the explorer he had imagined himself to be in his youth! There were times when he so envied Darman and Rinna and the chances they had to explore the world.

A storm cloud’s shadow passed across his thoughts and Rowan looked up in surprise. He immediately spied the cause of the thought-storm. Ryes was approaching with an obviously full hunting bag and an even more definite anger. He knew she had many of the Talents of the ancients, but no real power as they were said to have. Living with her from infancy had made him sensitive to her moods.

“Now what could’ve set her off?” he muttered to himself. He knew she usually had a tolerant nature, but was coming into her full maturity and was actually temperamental lately. He looked up again as she stopped in front of him. He was startled when he saw blood seeping through her tunic at the shoulder. This had been no ordinary hunt!

“Korman,” Ryes answered the question in his eyes. “He let me know his plans for me.” With these words, the last of her anger drained away. She finally let her shoulders droop as she ducked past Rowan into the house. He stood and followed her in. She heaved the heavy sack up on the table, and sat down in a chair abruptly, next to it. She grounded the butt of the spear into the rug and leaned her head heavily upon her one arm and the shaft of her spear. A small sob welled up as she fought back tears.

Rowan’s surprise turned to a frown as he went to fetch their medicines and clean bandaging cloths from a wall cupboard. Picking up a small knife from his loom, a bottle of water and clay bowl from the sideboard, he finally felt ready to begin to unravel this newest problem Ryes brought him. He let go a long breath, as well as the last of his anger with her. What had she done to provoke him now? He set everything down on the table and sorted it out to begin.

“So, what did Korman say?” he asked, as he undid the lacing at the shoulder seem with his knife. Ryes sat up straight at his silent urging, so he could see her shoulder better.

“He told me that I’m to become one of his whores,” she replied with a catch in her voice.

“And what did you say to that?” Rowan coaxed as he examined the claw marks. He knew Ryes well enough to know how she answered. He wanted to distract her as he washed out the painful gashes. Korman had been serious indeed!

“Owww!” Ryes exclaimed, pulling away, and then relaxed again as she caught her grandfather’s glare and let him finish his ministrations. “I said the wrong thing. I reminded him I was Tyra’s daughter,” she breathed out. Rowan grimaced at that. He knew Korman wouldn’t need to be reminded! Ryes was the mirror image of Tyra, in many ways. She only lacked Tyra’s ages-weary depth in her eyes.

It hadn’t been easy for either of them when both of Ryes’ parents were killed and he was forced to care for and raise the tiny infant. Most men would’ve given the cub over to the nearest female relative, but Rowan had just lost his own wife, Jana, and needed Ryes’ company as much as she needed him. And it didn’t help that his only daughter, Tanns, had taken in Korman as her mate and he suspected that since he had killed Ryes’ parents, he would not hesitate to kill her, too, even if she was an infant. The other villagers were outraged at first. So, he relocated to an old home near the river bank. It was a home which used to belong to his own grandparents. The other nearby dwellings were well kept but only used in the winter, when the caravaners stayed in Matlowe; away from the winter snows. And sometimes, on a moonlit night, he thought he could see Jana’s face upon the river’s water, smiling up at him. It brought him a feeling of peace and he felt closer to her here. Even if they lived mostly apart from the Village, it had been a good life for them both. He focused upon her torn shoulder and worked to stanch the bleeding.

“Maren! What’s in your bag?” Tennan questioned as he came into the house and set his hunting bag down on the dinner table. He grinned widely in response; his eyes full of mischief.

“Something wonderful!” he replied, baiting his sister. She closed her mouth and glared at him for a moment before turning away.

“It’s full of rocks again, isn’t it?” she accused as she picked up their youngest sister, Rowis, and perch her on her hip, then turned back to her brother. Her fury melted to shock as Maren had pulled out roots, a large hunk of meat he had just unwrapped, and his bag still appeared to be almost three-quarters full. His grin broadened as he held the meat out to her.

“How do you want this cooked?” he teased with a merry light in his eyes. “Salted, smoked, or in a stew pot?”

“Ohhhhh Maren!” she breathed out, astonished, “How about all three? There’s enough here to feed us well for a week!” She put down Rowis and pushed forward, to look closer. “Where did you get it all?”

“We were out hunting today. We came across a huge buck with an impressive rack and pulled it down pretty well,” he boasted as he set it aside. Tennan snatched it up quickly and turned for the kitchen.

“Ryes took you out today, didn’t she?” she quipped in return. She went for the big knife to pare out the portions for the meals she was already planning in her head.

“Tenn,” Rowis protested, but was pushed aside by Karis as he crowded her with his arms filled with the tubers.

“Tars, would you please come and get Rowis?” she called out as she put down her knife and helped unload the tubers before Karis dropped them. “Thanks Karis,” she said as she smiled, seeing the joy on his face. “Would you like some fried tubers tonight?” He nodded enthusiastically then ran back to the main room to see what else was being unpacked by his older brother.

“Yes, we were all out with Ryes today on the hunt,” Maren stated as he walked in with a half dozen large eggs in his hands. “I finally got to know her a little for the first time in my life.”

“And?” she replied as she took out a large bowl to contain the eggs. He saw she could feel he had more to say from the tone in his voice. He knew she was doubting him and not sure if this was a good thing, or not, coming from him.

“She’s not a farga. She’s a decent person and a bit shy around everyone, and she has a good heart,” he told her, letting her take the eggs and place them safely into the bowl.

“All this from one day of hunting?” she replied with a bit of a bite in her tone. Maren struggled to keep a rein on his temper, but it was everything he had to not slam his fist down on the counter in response.

“Yes, all in one day. We need to start treating her as a member of our family, as she truly is after all. It’s not her fault Korman’s been stalking her practically her entire life. I think that’s the reason mother hates her so much. We don’t need to hate her, nor treat her as anything but our only cousin. She deserves better than that from all of us,” he asserted in a controlled voice. He was NOT going to be like their father, he vowed to himself. Tennan stopped and stared at him, looking into his eyes.

“Why? Really, why?” she pressed, wanting to hear his truth. He let out a pent up breath, slowly.

“Because we can be better than our parents and see the world in a better light,” he replied. He picked up Rowis as Tars and Karis stood listening to them now. “We don’t need to be cruel to each other just because we can create some unreasonable scenarios in our heads. We need to live in the world around us and just get along better with each other.”

“Why?” Rowis mimicked her older sister, giggling.

“Because we want a better future for all of us,” he replied, finally smiling again. “And Ryes should be a part of our future, too.” Tennan turned away from him again to work on the night’s meal, but she seemed to be thinking over his words.

Later, feeling much better with her shoulder cleaned and bandaged and freshly washed with clean clothes on, Ryes sat over dinner telling her grandfather about the unusual time she’d had this day.

“I didn’t know most of the people of the Village were going hungry,” she stated, accusing him. Rowan met her eyes, which were filled with new interest. She noted his own bright amber eyes were filled with curiosity.

“What? You barely know the names of half of the people in the Village. Since when would you notice whether they were well fed, or not?” he demanded sharply in return. She squirmed uncomfortably under his glare. Then let out a long sigh.

It was true. She’d never shown much interest before. She went her own way, having her own ideas about hunting and nature. She rarely returned with an empty sack and didn’t have to hunt as often as the others. She was different. She had no real family other than her grandfather and they lived far from the rest. Most left her alone now, which suited Ryes fine for she liked being alone with only her own thoughts to trouble her. And it kept her from being beaten for being different, as happened many times when she was small. At least the caravaners never treated her that way! When they were here for the winter months, it was a time of joy for her. It was as if her real village had returned. She was a part of their families with lots of siblings to talk to, play games with or learn new things. Exploring the world with them was always fun and filled with a sense of adventure. But they wouldn’t be back until late in the fall. She missed them all so very much! Then she noted her grandfather was still waiting for her to continue.

“Today on my way out to hunt, I was stopped by some of the villagers,” she began again, as she picked uneasily at her remaining food. “I just didn’t know their hunts had been so poor lately. I’m sorry,” she apologized, looking up at Rowan again. He nodded, seeming to accept her apology.

“What did they want from you?” he prompted, as he reached for his leather-covered mug. She knew he usually took a portion of her hunts and turned them over to Tanns for her family as well as others in need. The two of them could never eat all the food she gathered. Aside from putting some things by for the winter months, Rowan thought it was a good way to be sure the food was used before going bad. With this year’s hunts turning out so poor and Ryes still finding plenty, Maren told her his mother had insisted they approach her and ask for her help. She saw it meant them swallowing their pride, but they seemed sincere so she decided to spend her day teaching them a few new things about hunting. Ryes smiled at the memory of her conversations with Maren earlier, when they were tracking, or taking a break.

“They wanted me to teach them my ways of hunting. It was such a surprise! And from the way they looked, how could I refuse?” Ryes paused thoughtfully, pain in her eyes at the memory. “They appeared so pitiful.” Her eyes met Rowan’s; sure he must’ve known about some of this already; he looked too smug. “I never realized how much you taught me, or how much I’ve learned since by watching the ways the plants and animals live,” she continued. Rowan smiled gently at a memory of his own.

“Part of what I taught you came from what your mother taught me.” He paused for a moment as he gave a small shake of his head. “Tyra taught us all many things.” Ryes thought a moment on how much Tyra was esteemed by Rowan and her Aunt Tanns. All the things she knew and could do still haunted Ryes. She wanted to have a mother of her own for so long and found it difficult living with a ghost of the perfect one. She just wasn’t her mother; nowhere as perfect as she’d been.

“Anyway,” Ryes sighed with a smile. “Teaching that group today was an experience. It was like looking after a bunch of overgrown cubs! They did the craziest things! Stealth? A herd of moss eaters in mating season couldn’t make more noise. Was I ever that bad?” Ryes asked, picking up the last piece of stew with her spoon. There was a glint of mischief in her eyes as she asked the question.

“Worse,” he assured her with a chuckle.

“I think they accepted me as a part of their circle when we pulled down an old two-prong buck.” Ryes lifted her mug to drain it, hesitating. She ventured thoughtfully, “I never realized there were so many bachelors here. There were a few who watched everything I did too closely. It was embarrassing!” Rowan threw back his head and roared with laughter. She looked at him with a lopsided grin.

“My little cubling has finally grown up. She’s noticing the young men!” he declared. She blushed furiously as Rowan patted her good shoulder. “Don’t fret. It was bound to happen to you someday,” he assured her with a broad smile.

“How could I help but notice them? Some were practically trying to walk in my shoes with me! And some of the huntresses didn’t appreciate the attention they gave me, either,” she assured him. “They weren’t so bad and I wish I could’ve spent some time with the women – away from the men. I have a thousand questions and I’d like a fresh point of view.” Rowan closed his mouth in surprise, a shocked look in his eyes. Ryes realized that he probably thought they were closer than that, but she didn’t know of a way to explain it all to him. Much less ask him things that she felt could only be voiced young woman to woman. And she wanted to talk with someone more her age, as opposed to Grandmother Rinna. None of the caravaner’s younger women who were her age had been with the vans this year to winter in Matlowe. She’d felt so frustrated.

Just then there was a polite scratching at their doorpost. A frown flitted across both their faces as they looked to each other inquiringly. Few people came calling to their home this time of year. Most villagers stayed home indoors at night with their families. Ryes stood with her hand ready to her beltknife, as Rowan went to answer the door. They usually had the curtain across it on a nicer evening like tonight, only closing the door when they went to bed, so whoever was out there probably heard their discussion, too. Aunt Tanns or Maren sent out on an errand would’ve only come inside without any announcement, so this had to be someone else. Rowan pulled the curtain aside.

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