Secrets of the Lore Keepers – Angela J. Ford

THE CRACK of thunder shattered the peaceful melody of birdsong. I dropped the basket of green herbs on the wooden table and dashed to the open window. Flinging back the white curtains, I stuck my head out and sniffed, inhaling a faint whiff of water and the vague, bitter spice of electricity. A jagged streak of lightning pierced the evening sky and my eyes went wide as saucers. I drew my head back inside and whirled, skirts flying. “Maraini! Hurry! Get the lanterns, there’s a storm tonight!” I hollered at my sister. Twisting my curls in a messy bun on top of my head, I lunged for the jars, almost tripping over the chicken that fluttered in the kitchen. Curses. I’d brought her inside to mend her torn wing. She’d escaped the henhouse and run into the paws of a fox. I’d meant to take her back to the henhouse, but I had forgotten. Now stray feathers dotted the floor, along with dust and dirt tracked in during my trips to and from the barn and garden. The table was covered with baskets of herbs, clothes that needed mending, and a pile of books. I sighed and tapped my foot with impatience. The house needed a proper cleaning, but I had no time, and Maraini was too deep in her ink and paper to bother with it.

Stories and numbers were all that were in her head, and had always been, even before we took over the family business. “Maraini!” I shouted again, tossing a blanket over one shoulder and placing the basket of jars by the door. “Calm down, Rae, I’m coming,” she said in her smooth tone, as slow and deep as molasses. She appeared in the doorway, the picture of perfection while I hopped up and down, tugging on first one boot and then the other. “Let’s go!” I wrenched open the front door and snatched up the jars. “You have the lanterns?” Maraini laughed and shook her head, black braids flying. “I have everything, except the rain slickers. We’ll catch cold out there if we don’t cover up.” “Ugh,” I groaned, halfway out the door and in the dried mud. Dust kicked up under my feet, for the ground was almost barren from lack of water.

“Who cares, it’s the first rain this month and we can catch lightning! Lightning! Our luck as turned, you hear!” I danced away, basket tucked under one arm as I twirled outside of our front step. “Are you daft?” Maraini scolded as she pulled the door shut tight and hooked her arm through mine. She’d tossed a scarf over her head and hitched her skirts up with one hand. The lantern and two long poles were slung over her back. “Our luck has never turned bad, just because you don’t have all the unique items to sell at market doesn’t mean we have bad luck.” “Oh posh.” I waved my finger in her face as best I could, since we walked side by side. “Just because you look at numbers all day doesn’t mean you know what luck is.” Lightning lit up the sky enough for me to see the frown on my sister’s brown face. “We have plenty of money, if that’s what you mean.

” I gave an exasperated sigh. “Life isn’t all about money, what’s the fun in counting coin? Experience is what it’s all about, now come on. We don’t know how long the storm will last. I’ll race you to the meadow.” I tugged my arm free and took off running while Maraini laughed. But I heard her pounding footsteps behind me and knew she enjoyed our risky gallivants as much as I did. Five years, Maraini and I had run the family business. I was only a year younger than her, but full of vibrant life and energy, for pouring myself into the work helped me forget what happened. When I was only twenty, and Maraini, twenty-one, our parents left to travel and take a break from the busy life they’d led. They set us up young, and while we had wealth stored away—sacks of gold hidden in a secret hole near the garden—I still recalled their parting with remorse.

They left the land, and had been killed. Whether by outlaws or the dangerous creatures that dwelled in the wildwood, we did not know. We continued to run the family business without their guidance. For we had a reputation to keep in the nearby village, Capern, which bordered the enchanted wildwood. The wildwood was a place full of secrets, a place Maraini and I had been warned to stay away from all our lives. I was curious about it, but after what happened our parents, the spark of curiosity and the yearning for adventure died. Besides, we had our hands full with the farm animals, the garden, plus the wondrous remedies and potions we could create out of herbs and roots. Once we reached the middle of the meadow, a flat area with no trees about, we stopped, pulses thumping, to push the poles into the ground. No small feat since I’d forgotten the shovel, and the ground hadn’t been watered in weeks. I cursed, Maraini laughed and scolded, but finally we were ready, with the jars hooked on the end.

Maraini grabbed my hand, like we were five years old again, catching lightning with Papa for the first time. “Now stand back,” she whispered, fingers squeezing tight. I couldn’t help but bounce on my toes as I watched the sky. Maraini shook her head. “You never stand still, do you?” “I can’t!” I squeaked. “It’s too exciting. We haven’t had lightning in forever!” “Three months,” Maraini grumbled at my exaggeration. “Whatever.” I bumped her shoulder. “What a treat for market day, they always sell the highest.

What do you think people use them for?” Maraini went still, too still. “Lightning is dangerous, and those who buy it often carry weapons. I assume they are dangerous people who use it for dangerous things.” “Lighten up.” I giggled. “And don’t say dangerous again, you’ve used it three times in one sentence.” Maraini frowned for half a second before breaking into a smile. She could never stay peeved with me for long. A rumble of thunder shook the ground, and Maraini yanked me back. “The next one,” she whispered, her voice shaking with excitement.

Sure enough, lightning lit up the sky and sizzled up the poles, diving into our jars. “Now!” I shouted as soon as it dissipated. We leaped forward as one, spots of lightning still danced in my eyes as we capped lids on the jars and replaced them. I held mine up, a smile splitting my face, as always, awed at being able to capture lightning in a jar. Maraini shielded her face and pointed across the meadow. “Rae?” her voice was low with concern. “What’s that?” I followed her finger. In the shadows a shape lay on the ground, a shape I was sure hadn’t been there before. Without waiting for a response, I took off running toward it, for there was something odd about the way it sprawled in a helpless heap. “Careful!” Maraini shouted.

“It’s okay,” I tossed back over my shoulder, holding up the jar of lightning. “If it’s a wild beast, I have this and if it’s something else. ” Maraini caught up with me. “Don’t be foolish,” she cautioned. “You know that trouble comes with the storm.” It was an old superstition, but that was not why I slowed my pace. My stomach clenched and my thoughts flew back to the woman, Sasha, who’d appeared in the market months ago. She’d touched my arm, her words shadowed with an omen: A storm is coming. And with the storm will come a change. Make sure your heart is open to it.

A shiver went down my spine at the memory, although there had been many storms since there. Still, it was an admonition to let go of my impulsiveness, slow down, use my head more and my mouth less. My fingers itched to return to the lightning rods as another boom of thunder rocked the meadow. The black storm clouds did nothing to further display the hump that lay in the grass, but when another burst of lightning broke across the sky, eerily lighting it up for mere seconds, I saw the hump clearly. My hand flew to my throat, and I gasped. It was a man, or at least what looked like a man. He lay headlong on his stomach, as though he’d been crawling and his strength finally gave out. In the quick blink of an instance I saw one of his hands was curled around grass, and the other was under him, pressed against his stomach where a patch of darkness spread. Blood? I swallowed hard. “Maraini, we have to help him!” “But—” came Maraini’s budding protest.

“I know, I know,” I interrupted and stepped closer to him. “We know nothing about this stranger and he could be dangerous. But I don’t think he’s dead, just wounded, and with our potions we always help those with wounds and ailments. Besides, I have the lightning jar.” I held it up, casting a thin light over her face. Maraini’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll go for the wagon, but, Rae, be careful and stand back. If he wakes, he might not be kind.” I nodded, and she ran toward the barn. Although now the trip across the meadow back to our farm seemed so far.

Despite her warning, I turned my attention back to the man and my heartbeat quickened. Sure, there were plenty of unmarried men in the village and surrounding farmlands. During market days I enjoyed flirting with them. But none had caught my eye, or made me want to leave my cozy home and have babies. Something inside me longed for more, much more, and I still wondered who or what had killed my parents. Part of me hoped it was all a big mistake, and they’d come striding through the door, laughing and smiling. Honestly, I knew better. An unsettling fear kept me at home, because my parents had left the land, and leaving the land brought about their death. Besides, it was easy to lose myself in the farm’s work and bury my grief with responsibilities, no matter how haphazardly I carried them out. Slowly, I knelt in the dry grass and placed the jar of lightning by my side.

It gave off a tiny halo of light, just enough to allow me to scrutinize the man. He wore his hair long, past his shoulders, and it was a tangled mess of snarls and bramble. A slight smile came to my lips. Often how my hair looked at the end of a busy day. Some of it had slipped over his cheek, although his arm, which had come up to grasp the grass, covered most of his face. I frowned as I studied his clothes. Leather, well made. A long-sleeved shirt covered his arms, and over it was a leather jerkin. The arm I could see had a gauntlet on it, embedded with swirling designs. I studied them, questions rising.

His pants were dark and his boots black and muddy. Studying his clothing led me to assume he was a well-todo man. And if he was, why was he here? Wounded? Another glint of lightning lit up the meadow. I saw a glimmer, just underneath him and swallowed hard as I stood up and backed away. A knife. He had a knife. The handle lay under him, but the blade was partly exposed. As I looked at it a deep foreboding came over me, like a black shadow of night. I twisted to face the farm, hoping Maraini was on her way with the horse and wagon. Soft and steady drops of rain pitter-pattered down upon the carpeted grass, determined to soak it through and feed the hungry plants.

I lifted my face to it, relishing the drops on my lips. My body stilled, for nature had a way of soothing my need to rush everywhere and accomplish task after task as fast as possible. The shadow disappeared, taking my fear with it. I knelt again and placed my hand on the man’s shoulder. He was still warm, and I felt his chest rise and fall. I wanted to turn him over, to study his face, but I recognized the need to wait for my sister. “Hello, stranger,” I whispered. “My name is Rae, and you’ve stumbled across the farm which belongs to my sister, Maraini, and I. We are Lore Keepers and we will use our knowledge to heal you and send you on our way again. You have come to a house of faith and fortune; all we ask in return is for your silence.


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