Sunday, September 7, 2008


CHAPTER TWO: Visiting Home

A cold September wind rushed through the quiet valley where the Wright homestead sat calm in the face of impending winter. Terra Wright stumbled up the last few feet of a steep hill until she could finally see the site of her childhood. A grin stretched across her face and she laughed aloud. It had been almost seventeen months since her last visit home and she had began to wonder if she would ever return. Yet, here she stood, looking down at the buildings and pastures that had been her home for twelve years.

“Mom! Grandpa! Michallai!” She could not contain the yell of greeting.

The wind snatched her words and drown them out, but this did not dampen her mood. She felt almost radiant with happiness. She would see her loved one and enjoy three days of heaven.

“I’m home!” She yelled down into the valley.

She waited another moment, watching for any movement outside the buildings, as she caught her breath and then she was running down the hill. It was only a short quarter mile to the first building - her Grandfather’s barn - and she sprinted the entire way. Reaching the barn she peeked inside the open door, it was empty. She paused, leaning against the doorway and then another jolt of adrenaline fueled energy sent her down the path to the main house.

No one knew that she was coming. Terra had wanted to surprise them, but now she regretted not sending a letter ahead. What if the men had gone off on a hunting trip? What if the women were out picking herbs? The thought of missing out on seeing even one of her much loved family members made her anxious.

“Mom? Dad?” She called as she reached the front door of her parent’s home.

The door was unlocked, so at least she knew someone would be there to greet her. There were low voices coming from the kitchen. Terra felt her heart jump as she recognized her mother’s soft tones.

“Mom!” She screamed, unable to contain her excitement.

There was a crash from the other room and Terra ran. She saw her mother standing over a shattered glass bowl, her Grandfather sitting on a stool by the counter. Terra gathered her mother up in a tight hug.

“Surprise!” She said, her voice muffled by her mother’s shoulder.

“Surprise is correct.” Her grandfather commented good naturedly. “I thought you wouldn’t be here for another month.”

Terra finally released her mother, hugging her grandfather before replying. “The Queen let me leave to visit early. She is expecting the baby in day now and once the Prince is born there will be no chance for me to come.”

“I see.” The old man nodded.

“So, it is to be a son then? The entire kingdom is filled with every kind of rumor regarding the Queen’s pregnancy.” Gioderva said.

Terra gave her mother a peck on the cheek and picked a golden apple out of a basket of fruit on the table. She took a bite, famished from her long walk from the castle.

“Yes. Well, that’s what the physician is predicting, at least. No one can know for sure.”

Terra looked around the room. She remembered learning how to bake cookies in that room. The fifteen year old smiled at the memory. The apple was quickly eaten and she took another.

“Your father and cousin are out getting fire wood. They should be back in time for dinner.” Her mother said.

Grandfather Darryke stood to his feet. “Until then you can help me in the barn. I’m just finishing up a new painting. If you want, of course.”

Terra grinned. She loved spending time with her grandfather. He always had a story to go with his many paintings. Although they did not bring in a lot of money, he painted out of love of the art. Terra unsung her journey bag from her shoulder and motioned towards the ceiling.

“I just have to unpack my things, but I can meet you out there.”

Her grandfather nodded. “You’ll like this new painting, Terra. It’s for Michallai’s birthday.”

“Oh! That is tomorrow.” Terra slapped her forehead. “In all the excitement at the castle I totally forgot. I didn‘t bring him anything. Ugh.”

Gioderva chuckled. “You are present enough. He will be overjoyed to see you.”

Terra frowned. “I guess.”

The teenager took a last bite of her second apple and threw the core into a wooden scrap bin. She turned to her grandfather.

“I’ll be out there in a few minutes.”

“Then I will wait for you out in the barn.” He said, moving towards the door.

She turned and hurried up the stairs to her second story room. It felt so good to see her old, pink bed spread with the hand embroidered flowers. She remembered watching her mother slave over the blanket, a present for her eleventh birthday, all those years ago. She sighed and threw her bag onto the bed. Breathing deep she took in the smell of cooking food, dust and old wood. It felt so good to be home again.

Two years had went by since she had last stood in the small room. The shelves were covered in a film of dust, but she did not see that. All that she could see were the hand carved dolls with their small, fancy dresses that she had helped her mother sew. So many memories were tied up in the room it was almost overwhelming. This happened every year when she returned after long months at the palace.

The Queen was nice enough, but some days it was like there was another person inside the royal mother. It was like a split personality that only surfaced on rare occasions. Terra had learned to fear it. The Queen could be a little demanding on a good day, but when this second side came out there was no telling where her temper would go or what she would need done. Terra was just glad to be away from the stress of the castle. The other servants were another problem. After her initial training as handmaiden, Terra had been shunned by all of the girl’s working in the palace. She knew that it was because of her predecessor, Sarah Gardner. The older girl had spread many awful rumors about Terra and her family.

To be away from all of it meant perfect bliss. If only for the three short days she was allowed to stay. The Queen would have agreed to longer if it had not been for the lateness of her pregnancy. The baby was already a week overdue and when it finally did come there would be the naming ceremony. Terra wondered why her country was so passionate about tradition and ceremony, personally she had always thought it was a little ridiculous.

A choosing ceremony, a naming ceremony, a birthing ceremony; she shook her head. To her, family was more important than traditions. She had wondered why the Queen would spend her first days with her baby in the public eye when she could just as easy dismiss the old traditions. After all, she was Queen of an entire nation.

As much as she would love to sit on her bed and stare out the window to the horizon of familiar foothills, Terra knew that her grandfather was waiting for her in the barn. His painting studio was set up next to her father’s leather work station. It made for some interesting tack on occasion. The teenager smiled as she remembered a particularly colorful saddle that had emerged from her grandfather’s room. Her father had sold it for over one hundred silver pieces.

“Terra, be sure to come inside in time to help me with dinner.” Her mother called out to her as she skipped down the stairs.

“Yes, mother.” She shouted back as she breezed through the door and back down the path leading to the barn.

Terra entered the barn and breathed deep. She could distinguish many the many familiar smells, old wood, horses, dry hay and molded straw. It was a medley that had come to mean home for her over the years. At the palace when she became too homesick to stand, all she needed to do was walk into the stables. The smell alone would trigger many happy memories of time in her grandfather’s barn helping the old man, hearing stories and talking.

“Grandpa.” She called.

“I’m back here, Terra.” His answer floated into the corridor from a converted tack room half-way down the aisle between stalls. It was just the right size for an art studio, enough room for all of his equipment, but not too spacious. She loved to help him with his art.

The red head hurried into the work room and found him sitting on a tall stool in front of a canvas stand. The painting was turned away from her so she could only see a partial view of the picture that he was creating. It appeared to be of the sea. Grandpa Darryke patted his knee.

“Come here for a moment. I would like to show you what I have been working on.”

Terra obediently complied. Once settled down on his lap she turned her gaze to the picture. It was of an ocean. In fact, it looked exactly like he had described his hometown so many times, Smalliae. A great jutting rock stuck out from the water causing waves to crash angrily against it. The painting seemed almost alive and Terra let herself imagine she could see the tide ripple and twist.

She smiled and leaned back against her grandfather’s chest taking in the picture and thinking of all the times she had wished to see the great ocean.

“It’s beautiful. I wonder if I’ll ever get to go there.” She thought aloud.

Terra reached forward to touch a fingertip to a dry section of the picture. The young girl wondered what it would be like to swim in that water. So blue and clear and warmed by the bright sun. Grandpa Dryyke sighed softly.

“Maybe after the war is over, you will be able to make the journey.”

Terra looked up at the old man. “What? Grindale isn’t at war.” She pointed out.

Terra wondered if her grandfather was getting too old, after all. He was obviously wrong about there being a war. Terra worked at the palace and if anyone would have heard news about a war it would be the servants at the palace.

Her grandfather stroked his beard reflectively. He seemed deep in thought and for a moment did not say anything. Then he put his hands on her shoulders and turned her so that she could look at him fully.

“You are still young. You do not yet fully understand.” Grandpa Dryyke wrapped his arms around her in a loose hug. “War has been weighing heavily on this country and our neighbors for many long years. All of the signs are there if you understand where to look. Neither they nor us will admit it though.

A tenuous peace is still in place, though it is in writing only. Last month a raid of our western border was executed by the Hillendale special forces. I fear that the future might lead to more outright attacks.”

Terra’s brow wrinkled as her young mind tried to understand all of the things her grandfather said. She trusted him above any other, but war was a big word and even if she was young Terra felt a fear at the mention of something so terrible.

“How do you know? How do you know that the raiders were from Hillendale? How do you know there’s a war?” She asked.

The teenager looked up earnestly into his wise brown eyes. The old man smiled sadly and brushed her long bangs behind one of her ears. A knowing light shone in his eyes.

“It will be alright, Terra. I did not mean to frighten you.”

“But how do you know?” The red head pressed.

He shook his head and pushed her gently off his lap before reaching out to cover his painting with a white cloth. He stood, old bones creaking and groaning under the strain of age, and motioned for Terra to follow him as he walked out of the workroom.

“Maybe being in doors was not such a good idea.” He said with forced cheerfulness, changing the subject. “Perhaps we should help your mother after all.”

Terra wanted to ask again, but when grandpa Dryyke would not meet her inquisitive gaze she decided not to press the matter further. If he did not want to tell her then he would not and she knew there was nothing that she could do to stop it. He would never do anything to hurt her and so she decided to put the questions of war out of her mind.

As they exited into the sunlight Terra leaned her head against his side, hugging him tightly around the waist as they walked towards the house.

“I really missed you this year, Grandpa.” She admitted.

“I missed you too, Terra.”

“And that was a really great painting. I just know that Michallai will love it.” She beamed a smile up at him.

“Thank you, it has been a most enjoyable project.”

When they entered the house it was to the greeting of not just her mother but Michallai and her father as well.

“They returned moments after you left the house.” Gioderva explained as Terra exchanged enthusiastic hugs with the two men.

Michallai was a year younger than Terra, but already he was turning into a hardened farmer. His body tanned and muscled from working every day in the fields and orchards. Terra punched the blue eyed blond lightly on the shoulder.

“You could lift an ox with those biceps.” She joked.

“I don’t know about an ox.” Michallai replied with a mischievous grin. “But I know that I can lift you.”

With that he lunged in her direction and effortlessly swung her off her feet and into his arms.

“Michallai!” Terra shrieked in surprise. “Put me down!”

He laughed. “Only after you’ve told me all about your year so far.” He threatened in mock severity. “Then I’ll let you go.”

“Hmph.” Terra’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Alright, you want all the juicy gossip, you got it.”

She rolled her eyes when he immediately released her, his eyes bright with excitement. Although the two cousins were close in age they were radically different in almost all other areas, but that had not stopped them from becoming best friends. Michallai was closer than a brother to her and she was like an older sister to him. Terra took his hand in hers and pulled him towards the stairs.

“Come on, I’ll tell you everything that you want to know.”

Michallai’s grin grew broader. “You said it.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon laughing and talking to make up for all of the months they had been separated. As her best friend, Terra knew that she could talk about anything with Michallai. The things that her grandfather had said earlier in the barn still bothered her and so she decided to see what he thought about it.

“Have you ever heard of any Grindalle raids?” She asked him after a brief lull in their conversation.

She sat crossed legged on her bedroom floor and he lay on his back, reclining on the bed. Michallai was silent for a moment.

“I don’t know what you’re asking. Everyone’s heard of the raids. The Grindalle special forces used to prey on the southern regions of the country.”

“That’s not what I meant. Have you heard of any new raids.” Terra clarified.

The boy turned onto his stomach so that he could face Terra. “I might’ve.”


He nodded.

“Yeah. When I went to the village with your dad a few weeks ago one of the men there mentioned some farms were ransacked and burned. It was a few counties over so I haven’t thought about it much, but it could have been Grindalle forces. In the old stories they used to burn the houses, right?”

“Yes, they did.”

Terra felt a growing concern for her family. If grandfather Dryyke was right then a war could mean an attack on their farm. The Wright land was only two hundred miles from the borders between Grindalle and Hindalle, it would be directly in the path of any enemy army. She shuddered at the thought.

Michallai sensed her mood and swung his legs over the side of the bed, moving closer to her so that he could lay a hand on her shoulder. The girl’s blue eyes were clouded with worry.

“Everything will be alright, Terra, you’ll see.” He said.

She looked up at him. “I hope you’re right.”

As the sun set on her first day home Terra let herself forget the idea of war. She would ask around once she returned to the castle. Until then she would enjoy every last moment at home with her best friend.


The next day as evening replaced the early day hours Terra heard the approach of a horse, the clip, clop of it’s hooves on the gravel road outside loud enough for her to through her open window. Brow furrowed, Terra looked curiously outside and saw an old soldier pull his horse to a quick stop directly in front of the house door.

Gioderva walked into view, she talked with the man for a moment and he handed her a folded piece of paper. Then the man turned his horse and rode away as quickly as he had arrived, a cloud of dust trailing after him.

“Who was that?” Terra called down to her mother.

Gioderva turned tearful eyes upward to see her daughter leaning out her bedroom window. “Come downstairs and I’ll give this to you.” She held the paper aloft.

Terra was worried. Her mother was not a woman who cried easily. It must be something terrible, she thought. Pattering down the stairs she met her mother in the living room area. Two couches and a wooden rocking chair were places around a low table. Terra perched on the edge of a couch arm as she opened the paper her mother handed her with unsteady hands.

“Mother, what did that man say to you?” She asked as she unfolded the paper.

It was a message from the palace that held the Queen’s seal in red wax at the bottom. It read: The Queen has given birth to a healthy baby boy. Due to this, and the coming naming ceremony, she is recalling you back to the castle three days ahead of schedule.

Terra felt as if her heart had stopped beating. Her breaths came in great gasps and it was only minutes later that she realized she was sobbing. She felt her mother’s arms come around her in a tight hug. Terra clung on to her mother for support.

One week a year, that was all of the time she had with her family. It was those visits that kept her going during the long months in between and now she was being forced to cut her visit short. Her shoulders shook with each heart wrenching sob.

“What’s going on?” Michallai’s concerned voice broke through her grief.

“Your cousin just got a message from the palace. They need her back in two days.” Gioderva answered for Terra.

Michallai took a seat on the couch beside his cousin and rubbed circles on her back. He knew how much his friend needed these days away from the palace. It hurt him just as much as he knew it was hurting her right then.

“I’m sorry, Terra.” He said softly.

“It-it’s a-a-awful!” She stuttered between heavy sobs.

“I know, but at least we got to see each other for a little bit, right?”

She nodded tearfully.

“And I’ll be going to the palace for the naming ceremony. I know that it’s difficult, but everything will be okay, I promise.” He continued soothingly. “I got my birthday wish. You were able to make it here. Even if it wasn’t for the whole week.”

Terra moved her arm to include Michallai in the hug she shared with her mother. His words helped to sooth the anger and hurt that filled her heart. She knew that it would be harder than ever to walk away from her childhood home, but Michallai was right, they would see each other at the naming ceremony. It was a tradition for local people to gather outside the castle walls during the ceremony. Some came from farther and camped out, sometimes for weeks, just to witness the historic event.

“I’m going to miss you, still.” She said, her voice thick with emotion.

“We’ll miss you too, cousin.” Michallai squeezed a little tighter to emphasize his words. “But it’ll be alright.”