Authors: John H. Carroll
Tags: #romance, #tragedy, #fantasy, #war, #druid, #ryallon
A sense of timelessness and magic filled the
glade. The pain in Rain’s side lessened and her shoulders relaxed.
Jacob leaned toward Rain. “There’s magic here. I’m sure of it.”
Rain nodded slowly. “I can feel it caressing
my skin. My stomach doesn’t hurt as bad anymore. It feels like the
trees are sheltering us.”
“Yeah. I feel safer here than in the walls of
Lord Greffen’s castle.” Jacob walked forward slowly. Every step was
taken with care not to disturb anything.
“We’re welcome here. I can feel it.” Rain let
go of his hand and ran to the falls. The water glistened in her
cupped hands and tasted divine when she drank it.
“It feels like we are, but my ma always told
me to avoid magical places, saying they’re dangerous.” Jacob looked
up at the trees with worry etched across his masculine
“Verna says that there are magical places all
over the world and each of them is a treasure.” Rain watched a
cheerful bee buzz away from an orange flower. She sniffed the
abandoned blossom. The fragrance was heavenly. “As long as we show
respect and do nothing to harm it, we’ll be safe.”
“Who’s Verna?” Jacob was standing at the base
of a tree, peering up at the branches.
“Verna’s my best friend. She knows more about
the forest than anyone.” Rain moved to another flower, pink like
Jacob took off his jacket and sat against the
tree trunk between two large roots rising out of the ground. “Well,
if she knows more about the forest than anyone, then we’ll treat
your glade with respect.”
“My glade?” Rain turned to him.
“Yes. A magical glade for a magical woman.”
He smiled and rested his arms on his bent knees.
“I’m not magical!” Rain protested in alarm.
“I promise I don’t know magic.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Jacob shook his
head. “Your smile makes the day brighter. Your hand in mine makes
my skin tingle. When I held you in my arms, I wanted to protect you
forever. You’re the most magical woman I’ve ever met, Rain.”
Rain blushed and hid her face in her hands.
His words overwhelmed her. She decided to ignore them and leaned
over another flower instead. A butterfly landed on her hand, much
to her surprise. Rain lifted it for Jacob to see.
“I’ve never seen an orange and purple
butterfly like that. It’s large too,” he said.
The butterfly fluttered away. Rain stretched
her hand out after it. Her side and belly protested violently,
sending pain shooting throughout her body. “Aaiighh!” She wrapped
her arms around herself and fell to her knees.
Jacob was there instantly. He put a powerful
arm around her shoulders and the other behind her legs. With a
swift motion, he lifted her.
Rain buried her face into his chest again. A
moment later, he was sitting between the roots with her in his lap.
She curled up against his shirt to soak in the warmth of his skin
underneath. In no time at all, Rain was asleep.
“Good morning, Rain. It’s time to wake
Jacob’s voice broke into her consciousness.
She lifted her head and looked around in confusion. “Huh?”
“It’s morning. We need to make our way back
to Cothbern. Plus, my legs are asleep.” Jacob vigorously rubbed her
back to help wake her.
Rain scrambled to her feet and looked around
at the glade. Mist had settled in, obscuring the trees in the
morning light. Her stomach and side protested the movement. She
groaned and clutched them.
“Easy now.” Jacob got to his feet and stood
beside her. “Let me look at that.”
“No. It’s alright. I’m just a little stiff,”
Rain fibbed as she moved to the creek. “Is it really morning?”
He came up next to her and cupped his hands
in the tumbling water to get a drink. “Yes, you slept hard through
the night and didn’t even wake up when I had to move.”
Rain splashed icy water on her face, the
shock waking her a little more. She stood and looked at Jacob as he
stood with her. “Did you sleep?”
“Enough. Mostly I just enjoyed the feel of
you in my arms. Your hair smells nice. What was in that soap?” He
reached out to touch her hair.
Rain blushed and looked down at her feet as
she enjoyed the feel of his fingers running through her tresses.
The compliments were confusing her and the realization that she had
spent the night in a man’s arms made her nervous. “It was
blackberries with some herbs from the forest. Verna makes it.”
“I like it.” He ran his hand down her
shoulder and arm before taking her hand. “Shall we go?”
She squeezed his hand and smiled shyly,
meeting his eyes only for an instant. Then she let him lead her out
of the glade.
They said little as they walked back to the
pool. Once there, Jacob stopped and kissed her hand. “Shall I take
Rain blushed and shook her head. “I’m going
to go help Verna today.”
“Alright.” Jacob frowned and looked down the
“Is something the matter?”
“If my sergeant sees you . . .” Jacob ran
fingers through his hair, a gesture that seemed habit.
“. . . You’ll be in trouble?” Rain studied
his curly hair, damp from the mist.
“No . . . He’s a little mean spirited. He’ll
probably tease you and might even . . .” Jacob shook his head. “I
don’t know. Not everyone in the world is nice.”
Rain put a hand on her side, remembering how
the mayor had treated her. “I’m just a worthless peasant girl. I
understand how he’ll treat me, but I don’t want to go through it,
so it’s fine if we don’t go into the village together.”
Jacob dropped to his knees and squeezed her
arms. “You are not worthless! Don’t you ever say that!”
The angered passion in his voice surprised
Rain, and scared her a little. “I’m sorry.”
“No.” He shook his head in frustration and
loosened his grip. “Don’t be sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Jacob stood and gently cupped her cheeks with his hands. “You are
not worthless. You are magnificent. Your voice is sweeter than the
birds singing and your body is . . . Well . . . It feels really
warm and nice.” He released her and spun on his heels.
Rain stood still as Jacob strode to the edge
of the pool and ran both hands through his hair. The young
soldier’s intensity was overwhelming.
He spun back around. “I know my words are
clumsy, but I really feel that way deep in my heart.” Jacob paused.
“May I visit you again?”
“Yes.” The word flew out of her mouth before
she had time to think about it. Rain didn’t understand her
feelings, but definitely wanted to see him again.
“Really?” He stepped back in surprise. Then
he dashed forward, picked her up and spun her around in a
Rain froze in alarm, wondering if he was
going to hurt her. He set her down gently and did another spin all
on his own. She tried to take a step back but he grabbed her
“You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever
met.” Then he kissed her on the lips.
It only lasted an instant, but that instant
was a blast that altered all the colors of the world.
He stepped back and studied her stunned face.
“I don’t know when I’ll get back here again, but I swear I’ll come
back.” Then he turned and ran down the hill alongside the creek,
headed toward the village.
Rain lifted fingers to touch her lips. The
sensation of his lips touching hers lingered there. She still felt
enveloped by his warmth.
After a moment, she looked around. The pond
remained the same, as did the trees and grass. Birds sang and
animals rustled the bushes as usual, but everything
different, more vibrant, more alive.
“I must tell Verna about this.” The sound of
her own voice made Rain jump. She blushed and looked around to see
if anyone had heard. Then she dashed to the path. Her belly
protested, forcing her to a walk.
She looked in the direction of home. The path
was empty. Her father was likely in a drunken sleep. Rain
remembered that she hadn’t done any planting yet and promised
herself that she would spend time working on the small garden area
in front of their house when she was able.
At the road, Rain went south to another trail
that would take her around the village. She didn’t want to risk
running into Jacob’s sergeant or the mayor. Before long, she
reached Verna’s house.
Verna didn’t come out to meet her when she
knocked on the door, so Rain went inside. Multihued hair peeked out
from the blankets on the bed, much to Rain’s surprise. Verna
normally woke with the sun.
Rain sidestepped empty plates and bowls on
the floor to sit on the bed. “Verna?” There was no answer, so Rain
gently shook her. “Verna, are you alright?”
“Hmmm?” Verna turned over and looked at Rain.
She rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Food?”
“You’re hungry?” Rain stood up and looked at
the cupboard. Its doors hung open, revealing that Verna had already
raided half of it.
“Food.” It was a command more than a
Rain took one look at her friend’s hungry
eyes and dashed to the cupboard. She found a bag of dried fruits
and another of flatbread. When she brought them to Verna, the woman
narrowed her eyes, but began eating. Rain dashed back to find more,
wondering why her friend was upset.
After Verna ate some two-day-old bread and
half a wheel of cheese, she seemed to be doing better. She sipped
some of the cinnamon tea Rain made. “Healing makes me very hungry
and tired. I hope I didn’t upset you.” Verna set the cup in her lap
and smiled at Rain.
“I was just confused, that’s all.” Rain
smiled back. “Where did you learn to heal like that?”
Verna took another sip and looked out the
window without answering. After a moment, she asked, “Do you
promise to keep it a secret?”
The idea of a secret thrilled Rain. She sat
cross-legged on the bed and muffled an involuntary groan of pain at
the movement. “Yes. I’ll never tell anyone.”
“I know. I trust you.” Verna looked out the
window again. “I’m a Druid.”
Rain gasped. “But Druids live in the forest,
Verna raised an eyebrow. “We
the forest, not the village.”
“We are?” Rain thought about the walk from
Cothbern to Verna’s house. It wasn’t long, but it was definitely
farther than any other house. Verna’s was the only one not made of
pink granite too. “I guess it is. But you live in a house, not in a
tree or something.”
Verna narrowed her eyes. “Do you honestly
think Druids live in trees?”
“Well . . . yes?” Rain blushed.
Pealing laughter burst forth. “How
delightful. I suppose a few do, but most of us live in various
houses that are made from the gifts that nature gave us.” She
gestured at the walls. “The earth gave me sand and clay with which
to build this house and the trees gave me the shingles and branches
for the roof. Others make similar homes, or use things from their
surroundings. We even have villages, believe it or not.”
Rain listened in fascination. “Wow. I’ve
never met a Druid before.”
Verna raised her eyebrow again. It was
getting a lot of exercise.
“I mean besides you.” A thought occurred to
Rain. “Can I become a Druid?”
Verna looked at her sadly. “I
could, but I’ve already looked deep within your eyes and the
ability is not there.” She put a comforting hand on Rain’s.
“Oh.” Rain stared at the hands, but only for
a moment. “Thank you for telling me. I promise not to tell anyone
“Thank you. You’re my best friend if that’s
any consolation.” Verna squeezed her hand and smiled again.
“It is. You’re
best friend too.”
Rain reached over and gave her a hug, grunting involuntarily as the
motion pulled on her stomach.
“Now why don’t you show me where you hurt.
You’ve been wincing the entire time you’ve been here.” She tapped
Rain’s nose. “Don’t you dare try to hide it from me.”
Rain stood and lifted her dress. The
dark-blue bruising was beginning to turn sickly-brown around the
Verna gasped and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Who did this to you?” She began pushing on it with her fingers.
Rain gasped in pain at each touch. Verna shook her head in disgust.
“The bruising is bad, but I don’t think anything inside is
permanently damaged. Who did this, Rain?”
“When I left here the other night, I wasn’t
paying attention and walked into the mayor’s back.” Rain didn’t
look Verna in the eye. “He knocked me down and kicked me.” In a
near-whisper she said, “I deserve it for being so clumsy.”
Verna gripped her chin in a strong hand and
forced Rain to look into her furious eyes. “You listen to me.
You’re not clumsy and
deserves to be kicked. Is that
Rain didn’t answer, but she couldn’t move her
head to escape Verna’s gaze.
“Is that clear?!”
“Yes, Verna,” Rain said. “I’m sorry.”
Verna released her chin. “You have nothing to
be sorry for, but you’re not allowed to ever say you deserve abuse,
because you don’t.”
“Yes, Verna.” Rain dropped her gaze back to
Verna put her hands on her hips and stared at
the younger woman. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with
you. You’re too wonderful to let wilt in your father’s miserable
care.” She paused for a moment. “Did you say this happened the
other night? Did I sleep through all of a day?”
“Yes, and two nights.” Rain lifted her head,
grateful to be off the subject of her bruise. “You must have been
“Yes, yes I was. The healing takes so much
out of me.” Verna shook out her hair and headed outside, leaving
Rain to follow. “Once this mist burns off, it looks like it’ll be a
warm day.” She turned to Rain. “And what will you be doing