Chapter 3

12th February 2017

Copyright © 2017 - Christopher Brosnan (Pen name: C. D. Brosnan)

 

Date: Rest-day, 10.2.840

 

Altaria had awoken to the sound of a flock of small birds chirping in the garden. She was laying on her side and facing towards an open casement window within its white wooden frame on her modest bedroom’s grey garden-side wall. With her right hand, Altaria visored her blue eyes from the gaze of the rising summer sun and combed back her golden-blonde hair behind her ears.

 

She caught a glimpse of the marble sundial in the garden through her bedroom window and saw that it was early in the morning. Although she was so used to the early hours that she could tell that it was very early in the morning without any need for the sundial. But for her it was not early, nor late. It was the right time for her to wake up and start another long day. Just like every other day. She was a young lady with heavy responsibility for her tender age of eighteen years. This responsibility was met by an industrious and preoccupied nature since the death of her mother, and her father’s crippling injury when she was a young child. This weight on her shoulders grew heavier since her three brothers had left home to fight in the ongoing war against the Malachonian alliance. When she was not tending to crops or caring for the animals on the Herders’ farm, she attended temple services once a week, and looked after her poorly father. Her leisure time was spent with equally productive tasks. She would visit the library in Havengarde, the capital city of Springhaven, to read classic Springrish literature and non-fictional texts on varied topics.

 

Altaria quickly but unhurriedly placed her bare feet onto the grey stone floor of her room. She was wearing only a knee-length brown dress. She walked over to her small and humbly adorned wardrobe then removed from her small collection of garments, shoes and accessories; a beige linen tunic, dark-brown leather belt, a pair of dark-brown trousers, a pair of unlaced ankle-high suede boots, and a folded, white towel. With the shoes, belt, tunic, trousers and towel in her arms, Altaria grabbed a small pouch and silver neck chain with a circular blue-eye pendant from her dresser table then left her room. She headed down the hallway that was decorated in the same colour scheme as her room; grey with some wooden features like the rest of the small house. She passed through the back door and into the farm and gardens of the Herder family, to begin her working activities. Although, on this particular day, the rest-day, and the day after that was known the divine-day, she did not go to the market in the Havengarde city centre. She was working only on the farm for the rest of the day.

Altaria was kissed by the sun of the hot summer’s day as she entered the garden. With her towel, tunic, belt, pouch, trousers, necklace and shoes still in hand, she headed for the bathing tent at the end of a stone pathway. The tent was built to conceal the bather and the large, round porcelain tub within. The tub was supplied with water by a system of pipes connected to a hot spring on the Herder family’s farm. The hot spring provided a continuous and natural source of hot water. She approached the large sky-blue tent and pulled back the flap on the entrance before proceeding inside and closing it behind herself. Altaria stood before the white porcelain tub and removed her dress. She immersed her supple and tender but voluptuous and womanly body into the hot, steamy water that was scented with lavender.

Altaria returned to the house, dressed in a beige tunic and a pair of dark-brown suede boots and trousers that were held up by a dark brown belt. She joined her father in the kitchen. He was sitting down at the table as she began frying omelettes in a pan held in a bracket sitting above a pile of steaming, red-hot coals in a large, porcelain cauldron. Altaria was apprehensive. She had something to tell her father, but did not know how she would tell him or how he would take it.

 

As they sat down to breakfast, Altaria and her father did not say a word to one another. They ate together in a comfortable silence, save the tapping and scraping of their spoons on their bowls. Despite the comfort they both enjoyed in the silence, Altaria chose to break it. ‘Dad, I was thinking about later this year.’ Her father said nothing. He stopped eating and looked at her with a mix of apprehension and the guilt-inducing stare of a disappointed parent. ‘I want to go to the Grenbeck Healing College. I have already been offered a place for this year’s autumn.’ She continued looking at him as he remained silent for a moment.

‘But you can’t leave – not now,’ he replied. Those words, though Altaria expected to hear them, were not what she wanted to hear and were no less hurtful and crushing than if she expected otherwise. ‘I just need you here, there’s nobody else here to help me and look after the farm.’ Indeed there was nobody else; Altaria was all her father had left. All three of her brothers were away fighting in an ongoing war and her mother died when they were all still young children. Frederic could not be expected to look after himself with full independence. He was frail and weak, appearing more so as time progressed. He spoke to Altaria with an authoritative voice, but looked at her with a sympathy-seeking and guilt-inducing expression. It was a look which made her more compliant than any tone of voice or threats from anybody ever could.

‘Well how about the next term?’ Altaria asked as she was passively haggling for a deal with her father.

‘But I will still not have anybody here to help me. Justinian, Althalos and Hadrian are all away who knows where, and as things are going it looks like they’ll be away for a very long time. There’s nobody else but you to help me out.’ Altaria’s facial expression, framed by her long, golden-blonde hair, and the look in her deep-blue eyes spoke volumes. It spoke of disappointment, hopelessness, and disillusionment. All because she knew things were still going to be the same for her, the same routine all day and everyday, from that moment onwards. Frederic had one of his seldom moments of guilt, though mild it was. ‘I tell you what,’ Altaria looked up with a sense of new hope for it only to be shattered, ‘if we make and sell enough this year and the year after, maybe we can make enough money so I can hire some farm workers and a carer, then you can leave if you want to.’

‘Like that will happen,’ Altaria muttered in a tone of sarcasm soaked in bitter hopelessness.

‘Altaria! Now you listen to me-‘

‘Besides, I’ve been offered a place for this year and I may not get a chance again.’ She paused. ‘It was hard enough to be accepted this time around.’

‘I’m sorry Altaria, but you must understand I need you here. There’s nobody else.’

‘Yes, I understand.’ Altaria let down her futile defences. She and Frederic sat in silence as they continued to eat their breakfasts. But it was done in an awkward silence unlike that of comfort that preceded the brief and disappointing conversation. The tapping and scraping of spoons was unbearable.

‘Have you cleaned out Fieloor’s den yet?’ Frederic asked in a feeble attempt to destroy the awkwardness that was sitting at the table with them.

‘No. I will do it now.’ Altaria replied as she hurriedly got up from her seat to walk out of the room, only having half-finished her meal.

‘Aren’t you going to finish your breakfast?’

 

Altaria left the house and walked towards the barn on the far side of the small farm. The bright summer rays of heat and light kissed her hair and the back of her neck. The tunic she was wearing did little to help her tolerate the heat.

The large, cracked door of Fieloor’s barn creaked as Altaria pushed it open. The barn was lit only by rays of sunlight that entered through its opened door and two small windows. The floor was covered in hay that was scattered all over. Fieloor was laying on a large pile of hay in the corner. He was a light green, broadly built, muscular dragon. His eyes were coloured with the orange of the eye of a fire. Despite his seemingly menacing appearance, Fieloor was a loyal and longtime companion to, and member of, the Herder family. For many generations since he was a hatchling, he was in the care of the Herder family. Altaria grabbed a broom that was leaning up against the wall and beside the door. She swept the floor of the barn around Fieloor as he remained asleep. His eyes were closed and his head rested on his tail that was curled around his body. His wings were blanketing his back. As she swept the floor there was no sound to keep her company but the growling snores of the sleeping dragon in the corner of the barn. Altaria ruminated on her current situation. Was it wrong for her to want to go away, leaving her father to care for himself? Could he even cope without her? Was he wrong for wanting to keep her there? If her mother were still here, would she allow her to go? If her brothers were home, would she still not be allowed to go? Would she ever have the chance to escape her monotonous life and make something more of her existence? Would her brothers ever be back home? Were they even still alive? Would her father’s condition improve or worsen? Did he even have long left to remain alive? What were the two red pin-shaped marks on his neck, swelling and growing deeper and more pronounced with every passing day as he appeared to become weaker and more frail with every night of sleep? Would she soon be alone?

 

Date: Rest-day, 40.2.830

 

Hadrian had been fighting in the war for four years, and Althalos and Justinian were approaching ten years old. Altaria was twelve years old. She was now the oldest sibling at home and had to wear the lead tunic of responsibilities that she had inherited from her older brother. She was tending to the crops and feeding the animals throughout the day as a routine. Althalos and Justinian would do what they could to feel that they were helpful and Altaria would playfully humour them in their good intentions. Frederic hobbled out through the front door of the house, always leaning on his cane after each step. He approached Altaria, Althalos and Justinian with a warm and loving, fatherly smile that glowed in the sunlight. Althalos and Justinian were picking berries while Altaria planted some new seeds in a row of recently harvested compost beds opposite the berry bushes. Fieloor was protectively following Altaria, Althalos, and Justinian at a distance throughout the day.

‘Hello,’ Frederic joyously said to his children.

‘Daddy!’ Althalos and Justinian excitedly dropped the berries and rushed to hug Frederic.

Frederic laughed as he just managed to keep his balance when their hugs leaned into him. He reached one arm around them while leaning on his cane with the other. Altaria thinly smiled as she glanced over to see the joy on their faces. Fieloor huddled up to her and rubbed his snout on her shoulder. She placed her hand on it. ‘So what have you done today?’ Frederic whimsically asked the two boys.

‘We picked some berries,’ Althalos said.

‘Helped Altaria clean Fieloor’s barn,’ Justinian added.

‘And we swept along the path.’

‘Good boys, helping your sister with all this hard work she’s doing, you deser-‘ Frederic stopped talking as he noticed a black wagon being pulled by two black stallions that were thundering into the farm through the front entrance. He lost some colour from his face and looked on in dread at the black wagon. He looked on in pure terror.

‘Dad? What’s wrong?’ Altaria asked with grave concern. ‘Who is that?’

‘Oh, nobody, dear. Altaria, listen to me.’ He did not move his sight away from the wagon that had just then pulled into the farm, until its doors opened.

‘Please, Dad, what’s wrong? Who is that?’

‘Nothing.’ He darted his eyes to meet Altaria’s and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling them towards himself to ensure she would look at him. Fieloor let out a high pitched shriek of anxiety. ‘Look at me. Now you take your brothers into the house through the back door and do not leave until I say so. Lock the door behind you.’

‘But Da-‘

‘No buts, Altaria! Now go, quickly.’ He let go of her shoulders. ‘I love you, all of you.’ He kissed Altaria on the cheek then rushed forward to meet with the strange man who stepped out of the wagon. He was tall and thin. He had black hair and a pale face, with an angular jawline. He was dressed entirely in black, wearing a tricorne hat, long coat, trousers, tunic and boots. Frederic turned to Fieloor. ‘Fieloor, go to the barn, now.’ The dragon obediently followed Frederic’s command with only the slightest of hesitation. But when Fieloor returned to the barn, from a distance he continued to watch and carefully listen to the meeting between Frederic and the strange, black-clad man. He was scrutinising their meeting incase he would be needed. As Altaria was walking with Althalos and Justinian towards the back door of the house, she too caught a glimpse of the strange man. Altaria entered the house and spied on her father and the visitor through the semi-blinded windows while her brothers were playing with their toys.

‘Good morning, Mr Miprave,’ Frederic said as he was hobbling forward, with a tone that signified that he was attempting to cover up fear, and failing.

‘Good morning, Mr Herder. I trust you know why I am here.’ The man spoke with a sadistic smile while removing his hat.

‘Yes, I do,’ Frederic admitted in shame and with mildly suppressed fear.

‘Well? You won’t keep me waiting, will you?’

‘Well,’ Frederic was terrified. His unsolicited visitor knew this – and loved it. ‘There’s been a little problem.’

‘A problem?’ Miprave stepped forward and sharply pulled back one side of his coat to show the fingers of his left hand fiddling with the hilt of his sword while it was encased in its scabbard. He slyly smiled.

‘Yes, Mr Miprave. Our last harvest has not been the best, just enough for us to eat and barely enough more to sell.’

‘Lady Gertra’s womanly fickleness is no concern of mine. Whether she makes the weather work in your favour or not is none of my concern.’ He paused, and looked at Frederic, deeply into his eyes. ‘But what is my concern is borrowers not paying me back when due.’

‘I am paying you back. It’s just taking some time to keep up with our agreed repayment terms, with all due respect, sir.’

‘Do you know of the capital trade?’

‘Not much.’

‘Care for me to explain it?’

‘Okay, sir.’

‘Men, investors,’ he gestured to himself, ‘buy “shares” in a business, the proprietor of said business is then obliged to divide the profits of the business amongst these investors, now known as “shareholders.” The amount they get each would depend on the “shares” they own.’

‘I understand.’

‘Good.’ Mr Miprave tightly wrapped his arm around Frederic’s shoulder. It was a chilling and falsely friendly gesture. Frederic could feel the man’s cold fingers swipe past his neck. ‘Now you wouldn’t want to not pay your due dividends to your shareholders, would you?’

‘No.’

‘Good. Now, how much did I invest in your business, Mr Herder?’

‘One-hundred and ninety thousand credits,’ he admitted with some hopeless embarrassment.

‘And how much did you invest?’ he asked.

‘Ten thousand.’ He slowly pressed his hand to his eyebrows.

‘So that would make me, a ninety-five percent shareholder – until you pay me back what I invested, plus interest.’

‘No, please, me and my children need the little income we now have from this place just to live. I will do anything you ask, please just don’t take my income away.’

Mr Miprave was no longer paying attention to him. Altaria caught his eye. She was now standing in front of the house and clutching at a dragon plush toy. ‘Why, hello young lady. And who might this young beauty be?’

Frederic looked to Altaria, and hastily turned back to Mr Miprave in alarm. ‘That-that’s my daughter,’ Frederic hastily replied and turned around to Altaria. ‘Altaria. I told you stay inside. Now go inside with your brothers!’

‘What is going on, Dad?’

‘Altaria, this is not your battle. Now go back inside.’ She did not move and he shouted. ‘Now!’

She slowly went back into the house with an anxious expression on her face as she stared back at the strange man and tightly hugged the dragon plush toy in a feeble ploy to ease her nerves. When she closed the front door behind herself, the man spoke again. ‘Very pretty girl.’ Frederic was dangerously close to lashing out at Miprave with lethal fury. But he held back out of fear. ‘Just like her mother,’ Miprave said with a sly half-smile.

‘Get off my property, now!’ Frederic growled.

‘Your property?’ he laughed. ‘My money paid for this place. My money created everything here. Those bushes, all these crops, that tree, that house, those cows, those two horses, those goats, those sheep, those hens.’ He leaned in to whisper into Frederic’s ear. ‘And it helped you get your wife.’

‘You leave her out of this.’

Miprave laughed and walked towards his wagon. ‘Mr. Herder, I am feeling generous. I will give you two weeks to pay what you currently owe me.’

‘What do I owe now?’

He stopped at the wagon door and turned around to face Frederic. ‘One-hundred and fifty thousand credits in total – although I want only ten thousand within the next two weeks.’

‘B-but I have no way of making that in time.’

‘Remember Mary.’ He paused. ‘We wouldn’t want similar to happen again, would we?’ Mr. Miprave asked with a sly, sadistic smile as he looked back towards the house. He walked back towards Frederic, and when he was beside him he leant his lips towards Frederic’s ears and whispered. ‘Pay your debts, Mr Herder.’ He then said no more and just stepped into his wagon and darted away onto the main roads.

Frederic had a lucky fortnight. He did not manage to make enough to look after himself and his family while having ten thousand credits left over to pay Mr Miprave what he had requested. But he did manage to accrue enough money to look after his family and pay eight-thousand credits to Mr Miprave. This was accepted by Mr Miprave, although he then decided to add four-thousand credits to the bill of what Frederic still owed to him.

 

Back to: Rest-day, 10.2.840

 

At the end of a long day, Altaria undressed and changed into her brown sleeping dress. As the sun was setting she ruminated deeply on the questions she asked herself earlier in the day while working. When night was present and the sky was the colour of a dark navy-blue with the moon and speckled starlight on the otherwise pitch-black sky, she pulled the cloth away that was covering the glow-fly lamp on her bedside table. The glow-flies illuminated the room as they flew around inside the jar. She then walked over to her bookshelf and grabbed a copy of Journey Across the Central Continent. As she sat down and read through the book, she thought of how she would love to see the places it described some day. Thornhok and Redwood; with their vast meadows and forests, and the cities and towns built within them, Hendooria; a natural paradise, and the heart of great literature, music, art and drama, and Grenbeck; the Reenian centre for academic culture and higher thought. She read this book for a few hours with the most devout attention. Always craving more knowledge, she was never satisfied with what she already knew. She had an unusual interest in the language, history, wildlife, and culture of all that was from outside Springhaven. By midnight, she had read through to the middle of the book. She decided she was ready to sleep so covered the glow-fly lamp and dozed off as the glow-flies’ luminescence was darkened.

 

Please comment your thoughts below and read Chapter 4 of The Altarian Saga: The Maiden of Springhaven next week. Or you can buy the full Kindle ebook from any Amazon store (links below).

 

Copyright © 2017 - Christopher Brosnan (Pen name: C. D. Brosnan)

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