We are a Christian Network that promotes Christian books through press releases, social networking, blog showcases, and charities, including the orphans in Nepal and Wakulla Correctional.
Don't forget to check out the free books on the site - right column following book trailers.
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
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
“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
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
“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.
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
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
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
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?”
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
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?”
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?”
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,
“Sounds like the
crew jumped ship,” Timothy offered.
“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
“I suppose I should
be going,” said Timothy.
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.
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.