Friday, March 28, 2014

A Taste of Friday First Chapters with William Burt and The Greenstones


BOOK IV in the “King of the Trees” series

By William D. Burt

© 2003 by William D. Burt. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
Cover by Terri L. Lahr.
Illustrations by Becky Miller and Terri L. Lahr.
Packaged by WinePress Publishing, P.O. Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022. The views expressed or implied in this work do not necessarily reflect those of WinePress Publishing. The author is ultimately responsible for the design, content and editorial accuracy of this work.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any way by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior permission of the copyright holder, except as provided by USA copyright law.
All Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
ISBN 1-57921-671-4
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2003105406

For all who long for love.

“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b (NASB)


 dozen butter rolls, you say? Coming right up. Pardon my fingers; they’re a bit greasy. That’ll be five gilders. Oh, please close the door, won’t you? The snow blows in, and that’s bad for rising bread. No, I’ve never seen a colder Yuletide, either. Dall? Dall! Drat that boy; he’s never around when I need him. At times, having an apprentice is more trouble than it’s worth. Still, he’s just a lad. I must remember to buy him a toy dragon for Yuletide. He loves dragons. The woodcarvers here in Beechtown turn out some fair imitations, but they’re nothing like the real thing, believe me. Dall won’t know the difference, bless him.
I was once like him—blind as a bat and bitter at the world. By all rights, I should have drowned or hanged or fallen prey to the dragon long ere now. Dall! Where are you? I’ll have to knead out the bread myself. Yes, it’s tiring work, but I’ve got good hands, smooth and strong, and they do my bidding well. Nowadays, I need several more pairs. I did once, you know—not hands, but something better. That was in my Greenie days. Still and all, my eyes—and Gaelathane—were well worth the trade.
What’s that? You haven’t heard about the dragon and the green men? It’s quite a tale. Most folks think I made it up. The brewery boys know better. Have a mug of mulled cider while I tell you my story. You might say I owe my life to . . . Hoppy.

Chapter 1: Hoppy

 am afraid your father isn’t coming back.”
Merryn jumped up, overturning a metal pan filled with curling quince peelings. They poured out like faded yellow rose petals, the color of her mother Milly’s wispy hair. A plump woman with a pinched face, Milly was cutting up the cellar’s last few shriveled quinces into a pot that plop-plopped on the stove, steaming the windows and filling the roomy kitchen with a spicy aroma.
“Why not?” Merryn asked. “Doesn’t he love us anymore?” Tears fell from Milly’s red-rimmed eyes into the pot. “No, Hoppy, it’s not that. Something’s happened to him. He should have returned from his river voyage weeks ago.”
Merryn blinked back her own tears. It seemed ages since Beechtown’s brewmaster had found her wandering wounded and witless in a hop field. Hoppy, he had called her until he and his wife settled on “Merryn” as more dignified, but the nickname had stuck. “Hoppy” she would always be to her family and friends, although the townsfolk preferred a crueler version.
She plopped back on the floor and began chewing a quince peeling. In March, her father Hamlin had left for the North Country with a boatload of ale. Ordinarily, the trip took about a week. He always returned from his travels with knickknacks for Merryn and her brother Emory, such as wooden soldiers, sailboats, spin-tops and shiny porcelain dolls with eyes that blinked.
Now March had bowed to April, and no barge or boat had yet brought news of Hamlin son of Harmon from upriver. To ease the waiting, Merryn had busied herself with errands at the brewery. All the same, she often awoke mornings to a damp pillow. Each night, she saw her handsome, hazel-eyed father stepping onto the dock, his arms open to greet her. As she ran to him, though, he vanished like the Foamwater’s fogs after a summer’s sunrise.
Merryn’s mother was stirring the bubbling quince sauce with an old wooden spoon. “There’s no sense moping about the house and eating those quince peelings,” she said huskily. “Here—” She fished in her apron pocket and handed Merryn a couple of shiny copper coins. “Take these and buy us some rye bread. The darker the better. I suspect Baker Wornick is lacing the white loaves with sawdust again, just to pinch a few gilders. I threw a loaf on the fire yesterday and it burned like a stick of wood.”
“But Mother—” Merryn protested.
“No ‘buts,’” said Milly firmly. “Just cover yourself well, and don’t dilly-dally. You’ll be back in less time than it takes Old Tom to drain his pint of ale.” Old Tom was a one-eyed carpenter fond of spirits, pipe-smoking and darts, in that order. Rumor had it that he also supplied Baker Wornick with alder sawdust.
Sighing, Merryn took down her red long-sleeved smock and blue scarf from the clothes tree in the hallway. After arranging the smock and scarf to cover her arms, neck and face, she studied herself in the hall mirror to be sure only her eyes were showing. Then she slipped out the back door and followed the pebbled path bordering the garden, where only a few hardy kale plants had survived the winter. Merryn could hardly wait for warmer weather to arrive, when she would plunge her arms into the black earth, bringing out cabbages and cucumbers; onions and radishes; sunflowers and squash. “If Hoppy can’t grow it, then it’s not worth growing,” Hamlin had often boasted, and it was true. Everyone knew Merryn had a green thumb. Perhaps if that was all she had, people would learn in time to accept her.
Her father’s brewery stood at the back beside a stream-cut ravine, soaking up the wan April sunshine. She loved the yeasty smell that sweated out of the rambling, slate-roofed building, although she couldn’t understand why anyone would drink the bitter stuff fermenting in the wooden vats inside. Skirting the brewery, she nimbly climbed down into the ravine.
One of the last wild, wooded refuges left in bustling Beechtown, this secluded valley with its alder-lined stream was Merryn’s private retreat from the world’s prying eyes. Here in birdsinging, rock-rimmed solitude, she could bare her sun-starved skin to the open air without fear of ridicule.
Removing her scarf and rolling up her sleeves, she gazed into the stream, whose kindly waters washed away all her imperfections, leaving only a sweet, rippling face hung with brown curls. Then a necklace of water weeds swirled up, spoiling the fairytale reflection. Framed in green, her face still looked oddly right.
Beside the stream sat Merryn’s saddle-topped “sitting rock.” Under its base in a natural cavity lay her most precious possession. She was about to remove it when a twig snapped and the undergrowth rustled. “Is that you, Emory?” she called out.
Wearing a sheepish grin under his mop of wheat-colored hair, her younger brother emerged from the bushes. At least, she assumed he was younger. Not even Merryn knew how old she was. As nearly as anyone could guess, she was a rather tall eleven or twelve to Emory’s very short nine. She felt much older.
“Thought I’d find you here,” he said. “Will you buy me something sweet at the bakery?” He stared at her exposed neck and arms, and she self-consciously rearranged her scarf and smock to cover them. Even here, it seemed, she had no privacy.
“Oh, very well,” she said. “Please don’t tell Mum I was down here. She thinks I dawdle enough as it is. She doesn’t understand what it’s like being me. You understand, don’t you, Emory?”
Emory gazed at her with wide, blank blue eyes. Then he ambled back the way he had come. Merryn felt a pang of compassion for him. He had endured much for her sake. None of his friends would come near his home, and the older boys often taunted him on her account. A tear coursed down her cheek.
Quietly creeping up the ravine, she reached the stream’s source, a spring gurgling cheerfully out of a rockfall. Merryn clambered over the boulders, straightened her scarf and shift and darted between two old brick houses bordering the square. Though the spring market was still weeks away, men were already at work sprucing up the place. Cutting across the square, Merryn had Baker’s Street in sight when she heard shouts.
“Hey, Scabby! Wait for us! We want to talk with you!”
Merryn broke into a run, but before she could escape, her tormentors swiftly surrounded her. Their ringleader, a swaggering ne’er-do-well named Ort, stepped up to her and jabbed her stomach with a stick. She gasped in pain and doubled over.
“Just as ugly as ever,” Ort sneered, his upper lip curling under a broken nose. “I’m surprised yer keepers let you out of the house. What happened? Did you break all yer mama’s mirrors looking into them and now ye’re gonna have to buy her new ones?” The other boys snickered and elbowed one other.
“Leave me alone,” said Merryn sullenly. Her eyes scoured the square, but no one seemed to notice her plight.
“You’re sick, Scabby,” Ort said, hooding his flinty eyes. “You should lie down.” He shoved Merryn backward just as another boy dropped to his hands and knees behind her.
Losing her balance, Merryn fell back and cracked her head on the cobbles. Fuzzy stars floated before her eyes. She had hardly caught her breath when the boys began kicking her in the face and ribs and beating her with sticks. She curled into a ball.
Whack! Slap! Merryn braced herself for the next blow, but it never came. She lowered her arms and opened a slitted eye. A pair of mud- spattered, green-cloaked legs stood before her. The legs squatted and a young man’s pleasant face peered at her. “Those rascals are gone now. May I help you up?”
Merryn numbly nodded and took her rescuer’s proffered arm. Once on her feet, she realized her scarf had been torn off in the scuffle. Never had she appeared in public without it. Burning with shame, she covered her face and neck with both hands.
“I believe this is yours,” said the young man. He picked up a filthy rag that had been ground into the cobbles and handed it to her. After all that she had endured, the sight of her trampled scarf was too much to bear, and Merryn burst into tears.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier,” the stranger said. “For some reason, Beechtown has more than its share of street toughs. I’ve run afoul of them myself once or twice. Are you hurt?”
Merryn wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “No, I—I’m fine,” she lied. Her body ached all over from the beating. “Thank you for helping me. What is your name, if I may ask?”
“Timothy,” replied the stranger with a smile. “My parents live south of town. Why were those boys kicking you just now?”
“They don’t like my looks,” Merryn said miserably, her eyes flooding again. “Nobody does. That’s why I cover myself.” As she tied the tattered scarf around her head, Timothy regarded her with a mixture of amusement and sympathy. Then he gently removed the scarf, rolled it up and dropped it into her hand.
“I think you look better without it,” he said.
Merryn stared at him, hardly believing what she had heard. Most people recoiled in disgust from her uncovered face. Then her gaze flitted around the square. Except for the workmen, it was vacant. “What happened to those bullies?” she asked.
Timothy drew back his cloak. A short sword in a jeweled scabbard was strapped to his hip. “They won’t come around here again for a while,” he said. “I gave them the flat of my sword.” He burst out laughing. “Let’s go visit some shops. I’m hungry!”
Ignoring the frank stares and scowls of passers-by, Merryn took Timothy to the bakery, where she bought two loaves of dark rye and some gingerbread for Emory. Timothy settled on a bag of sticky buns, which he shared with Merryn.
As the portly, flour-dusted baker bagged up their purchases, he remarked, “Have you heard the latest news on the river?”
Timothy stopped chewing on a bun. “What news?”
Wornick leaned over the counter, his sweat-limp hair plastered down. “Yesterday, a boat floated into town w’ nary a soul aboard. Some vittles was missin’—spuds, bacon and mutton—but all the clothes and valuables was left. It ain’t th’ first time, either.”
“Sounds like the crew jumped ship,” Timothy offered.
Wornick snorted. “With all their supper laid out? There was leaves everywhere, too. Nobody knows what to make of it.”
Thanking the baker, the pair returned to the square, where the sun-warmed cobbles were steaming like stony buns straight from the oven. Then a stiff wind sprang up and the daylight dimmed as ominous gray clouds streamed down from the Tartellans.
“I suppose I should be going,” said Timothy.
“Please don’t!” Merryn begged him. She trembled. Could she trust this young man with his easy manner and ready sword? “I want to show you something,” she ended lamely.
“Really? What’s that?” Timothy asked, arching an eyebrow.
“It’s a secret. That’s why I have to show you.” Without waiting for Timothy’s answer, Merryn dragged him down into the dell to her sitting rock and reached under it. Her treasure was gone.

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