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Stones of Revenge: The Awakening, Chapter 1, Part 1

CHAPTER 1

The young man whistled and a team of oxen began to move forward once more. These large animals lurched forward and snorted, their forked hooves stamping hard into the dry earth kicking up clouds of bellowing dust. The must from the dirt wafted into the lad’s nostrils as he maneuvered the weather beaten plow through the dirt. The uneven, rocky ground caused him to stumble often. It wasn’t long before his mind began to drift in the usual way it did when he was forced to work on his uncle’s land. In a week, he would be turning twenty, but birthdays usually weren’t made much of in his family. For some reason this one felt different. He could not quite understand why he felt this way. He thought perhaps it could be due to the reoccurring dream he had been having.

Much of the dream eluded the young man, but he could recall a field of grass surrounded by an enveloping darkness. He could remember a lone, sinister hooded figure glaring at him from a distance. And he could only vaguely recollect some horrifying feeling of being burned alive by a deep mist. He would awaken to find both him and the bed soaked in sweat. It seemed that at least once a week this same dream continued to jostle him out of his bed.

The young man began to think about it again as he guided the plow through the dirt, sweat beading upon his brow from the merciless sun. He remembered that it had seemed so much more vivid this time. He looked ahead and saw the turn he was going to force the two oxen to make. Fatigue was already setting in after this long day in the fields. He waited until the right moment allowing the two animals to pull the metal through the rough dirt. The animals crossed the line of the field, and the lad pulled back on the yoke against their strength. Suddenly, they brayed loudly and came to a halt. The young man heard a loud crack, and the leather strap connecting the oxen to the plow flew past his bronze colored head whipping him in the process. Picking himself up from the half-plowed field, a copper taste settled on his tongue. He spat and spots of red liquid spray the ground. Wiping his mouth, he walked around to the front of the plow. As he stepped closer toward the animals, he noticed a frayed piece of leather trailing from the harness surrounding the left ox.

“Broken again,” he muttered. He wrapped the leather strap around his tanned arm and looked toward the sun. The work in these fields had sculpted his body, his shoulders and arms well chiseled from the constant guiding of the oxen. He was tall with light brown hair that matched his skin and his face held the look of a boy not yet a man. When he turned to walk towards the barn, he looked down at the broken piece of leather and shook his head. “Uncle is not going to be happy, Octavius.”

The barn stood tall overlooking the south side of the farm. It was one of the sturdiest barns in the county when it was built, but after years of weathering and time, the barn began to show its age. The north side was patched over with new planks of wood to cover up a hole one of the horses kicked in years ago. Along the west side was a pair of blackened wood panels from a lightning fire three years earlier. Uncle Mordecai had been quick on his feet and extinguished the fire with quick resolve. The rest of the barn still had a tough, noble look about it much like the Lord who owned it.

According to the storytellers, Lord Malchus was a rarity in a time when Lords and Ladies treated their tenants no better than slaves. He inherited his title from his father who had inherited it from his father and so on for as long as the histories had been recorded. Malchus had been taught as a young boy that every life was precious, even those of the people who were placed under his authority, and since God saw fit to give him authority, Malchus seemed to wield it with caution and reverence. In doing so, he treated his tenants as near equals to himself. He never taxed them more than what their due was, and also gave generously to reward their loyalty. Twice a year, he would hold a festival to celebrate the harvest. If Malchus had been Sovereign, the realm would be one full of loyal, prosperous, free men. The young man had never met Lord Malchus, but all this he had learned from the passing merchants and bards who came to the harvest festivals. They exchanged information for a price, and the lad often sat near the crowds to overhear their stories.

As the young man entered the barn, a horse snickered alerting Mordecai of his presence. He turned around with a sneer.

“Octavius snapped his harness again,” he said dryly holding out the piece of leather.

“We just replaced it earlier this year!” said Mordecai.

He snatched the broken leather from the lad’s hand taking a long gaze at the cut on his lip which still bled. He turned it over in his hand as though he were trying to incinerate it with his powerful, dark eyes. After a long while he looked up. “Well, I don’t know if it’s really worth fixing again, but we need to get the crops planted this week. The weather has already begun to change, and rain will be coming soon. If we don’t get those seeds planted–”

“Before the first rain, we might as well never plant them,” the young man broke in finishing the phrase he had heard time and again. “I know, uncle.”

“Well, no sense in replacing it today; the day’s almost finished. How about you pen up the oxen then go ahead and start supper. I’ll finish up here.”

The young man strode back out into the fading sunlight relieved at how well his uncle had taken the news. He looked across the half-plowed field and watched as the sun began its slow descent toward the horizon’s edge. He knew dusk would be coming in a few hours. The view of the farm near sunset always enthralled him. It made him feel as though his soul was at rest. He would often find himself watching the shadows lengthen across the fields as he pondered what it must be like in other parts of the world. Though he loved the farm, he had always longed to travel about and see the many parts of the kingdom and beyond. What lay outside the bounds of the kingdom? Has anyone mapped it yet? The young man pondered.

He moved slowly towards the low stone wall that encircled the farm without realizing. He was being drawn to it and the outside world. He kept his eyes fixed on the sun in the west. The trees which stood just outside the stone wall created a barrier for any passerby to see onto the farm, but the lad knew that there were certain spots within the wall of leaves that allowed him to peer out onto the hills of grass beyond the borders of their land. As he neared the wall, the aroma of dry leaves floated on the breeze. The sun disappeared behind the trees casting a cool shadow on his face. He finally realized that he was no longer adhering to his duties, but at the moment it did not matter to him. He was following his longing to take in the scene. He walked beside the wall looking for his secret gazing spot among the trees. He stopped to admire the low light dancing on the golden hills. An easy breeze blew making the grass wave in the sun. In the distance he could see the hills give way to a massive range of mountains they called simply the Western Mountains. Camsbury lay in a valley surrounded by vast mountains to the west, north, and east. Their soaring peaks were beginning to veil the orange glow of the sun.

“Landon! Have you penned the oxen yet?” a cry came from over his left shoulder breaking him of his trance.

“I’m on my way now.”

He took one last long look at the sun that dipped behind the purple crest and breathed in the freedom then he turned his back on the majesty of the sunset. Glancing at the fields, Landon gazed upon the dry earth he had only partially plowed. A drought had settled in over the region for months now, and it was taking its toll upon the farm. He and Mordecai knew the drought was the real reason for the broken harness, but they were convinced rain was coming. Mordecai’s weather journals indicated a rain within the next three days, which put pressure on the two of them to repair the harness and finish their work. If they plowed the field in time, they would corner the market when it came to selling goods. A trip to town was sure to take one day out of the equation. That left two days to plow and plant. There should be enough time, but there was no room for error. The field always took one day to plow and one day to plant. But if the rains came early, their window of opportunity would be lost.

Landon reached the plow and unbuckled the rest of the harness from the two animals. The broken strap snagged on a piece of metal as the two oxen tried to emerge from beneath the yoke. They pulled against the metal tightening the leather. He had already received one cut from this thing; he really didn’t want another. As the brutes struggled to get free, a piece of the leather snapped off causing Landon to flinch. Luckily, this also loosened the knot around the jagged metal, and he was able to completely remove the strap. The reigns rattled as the two beasts shook themselves free and trotted towards their pen. Landon shakily walked behind them guiding when needed. As soon as they were well inside the fence, Landon locked the gate, and turned towards the farmhouse to wash up.

Part 2

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