The High Queen Sorceress (complete)
Author: jessicaw

Chapter 3
chapter 3

In the summer the king’s men would come. Gorden had nothing left to give them. The land had been bled dry. He looked sorrowfully around at the dried up farm and withered crops. The cow was starving to death and he could see all of her ribs. There was no more milk, she had nothing to produce it with. They had killed the chickens to feed themselves, the couple they did not were carried off by wolves. The house was falling apart. It was old. The stones that many years ago had been a rich red color had faded and dimmed. They were a dull brown now. Brown and falling apart, they too like the cow were on their last legs. They clung to each other, trying hard as they might not to turn to dust. He couldn’t afford to fix them and  heaven knows there was nothing he had on hand to use. The roof was falling apart too. The fine ceramic shingles had cracked with their years, weather beaten and pecked at by the birds. They fell to the ground around the house without notice, sending sharp fragments through the air. Gorden rubbed his face apprehensively as he looked at them. There was a long thin scar there, where a tile had hit him last winter.           

  Brown. Everything was brown. The house, the cow the fields, his crops. The roof. It was all brown. So was he. His clothes blended perfectly with the dust. His face and hair were covered in a thick layer of dirt. There was no water to wash it off. Water he thought, he was so thirsty. He licked his lips longingly at the thought of a cold drink of water. What he wouldn’t give for just one sip…                                    

The door creaked open as if moaning with the effort. It was an old door. It used to be black. It was brown now. Everything was brown now. A head popped out followed by a thin woman in a long, comely brown dress. Her hair was brown, it used to be blond. Gorden looked at her and blinked. She stared at him and folded her arms across her stomach. She leaned against the frame of the house. It moaned in objection, but settled down after a second. She continued to stare at him but said nothing. She was a modest woman. She had a thin, angular face with pale blue eyes and a small smattering of freckles across her cheeks. Her hands were thin and worn from working long hours each day. She was skinny, too skinny. They hadn’t eaten in three days. He could hear her stomach rumble. It made him feel sick.                                                                              

   He was the man; it was his job to provide. He looked out at his dead crops. He had failed her. Because of him she would starve, starve like the cow. He thought about their three daughters. Which one would the king’s men take as payment for his taxes that he did not have? The thought made him sick, but as he stared back into his wife’s pale eyes, he wondered how bad it might really be. She would be taken to the palace and fed. She would have clean clothes and a warm bed. There would be no leaking roof and she would not go hungry. Pab, he thought. They would give him Pab. She was the youngest. They would protect her. He opened his mouth to tell his wife but she beat him to it.                                 

“You will not be taking any child of mine from their home. We will starve before we give that monster our prized possessions.” “Mada’ he stammered. “You don’t understand. The king will take care of her. It will be hard for all of us to see her go, but just think. The burden on us will be lighter and she will be provided for. I know I have failed you, please allow me to at least save our girls.” She stood tall, her hands on her hips. “I’ll be having none of that. The king is a self righteous man. You know the worth of a woman there. I’ll not be sending our daughter somewhere so terrible that a man might beat her just because he views her lower. We have not raised our girls to bow down just because a person is a male. I’ll not be responsible for the murder of my babes in such a manner.”                       

 Gorden hadn’t thought about it like that. The king was a pompous man. He viewed women as dirt. None of his girls would back down when wrongly accused. Unfortunately that was the custom in the king’s land; lay all your problems on a woman. They will pay for your crimes. He looked at Mada. She stared at him with the same smile less, expressionless face. She had concern in her eyes. His heart twitched with pain. It was all his fault. Almost as if reading his thoughts, he chin jutted out as she lifted her head. “You cannot control the weather Gorden,” She said. Her expression softening just a little. “The rains have not come because the king is being punished for his sins. What the gods have failed to realize though, is how much they hurt us and how little they hurt him. If you take the cow for slaughter, maybe we will have enough coin to give the king.”

She started to turn and leave. Gorden could feel the anger boil inside of him. He hated the king and the cow was his. “Then what!” He shouted at her back. When the cow is gone and the coins are gone and the king comes again, then what will we do?” She turned to face him, her face hard as stone. “Then he kills us and our sprits go with the Gods.”  

 Gorden was shocked. He stood ridged as she went back into the house, the door moaning its objections the whole way. As she shut it firmly behind her, a shingle fell from the roof. Gorden jumped back in a panic, his hands coming up to protect his face as it bounced harmlessly on the dirt. It didn’t break. How come it didn’t break? He stepped over to it cautiously, running his fingers across his chest in prayer as he squatted down to examine it. It was a whole shingle, it was not cracked or weather beaten. It was red, as red as the day he had laid them. His face wrinkled in confusion and worry. It lay there, un-touched and perfect, it had fallen against the house and was leaning ever so slightly against the crumbling stones of the wall. It was strange. Gorden didn’t like strange things. He was superstitious. Most of the country folk around there were. They were outlaws, allowed to live there only because of the money they brought to the king. They did not agree with the idea that women were dirt. The people who lived around him viewed women as equals; as they should be. They kept out of the king’s business, and so long as they did and paid their taxes, they were left alone.                                                                              

Something pushed him and he fell face first into the house. His heart began to race, he scrambled to turn around. He had no knife. As he turned around, the thing’s hot breath was on him. He could feel the way it breathed. This was no man. It was a monster. He was going to die. All his life he had been taught that monsters are not real, but he knew they were, they just had to be. He was superstitious for good reason. He was sure of that.           

As he turned to face the beast, two large round black eyes stared him hard in the face. It pushed it’s snout against his neck and licked him. Relief flooded through his bones and suddenly he felt very weak. The creature let out a loud MOO and Gorden giggled. “Well, what would you have us do cow?” He asked her. She nuzzled her head against his shirt sniffing at the cloth. She was looking for food. Sorrow flooded back though his veins. The cow was dying. That was his fault too. He wouldn’t sell her. He loved her too much. He wouldn’t kill her either. He knew it made Mada angry. Here was food for his family but he would not allow them to take it.   

 He ran his fingers across his face and through his hair to straighten it out. “Forgive me’ he whispered into the sky, “Forgive me for all my sins.” He watched the clouds roll across the sky. The cow, finally satisfied that there was no food to be had sauntered off a few steps and watched him with large, expressionless eyes. 

Gorden picked up the roof shingle and headed inside. The door moaning in agony as he went through it. He placed the shingle on the counter. It stood out like a sore thumb. Just like everything outside of the house, everything inside of the house was brown too.                                                                  

There wasn’t much in the house, a small pantry he had built with nothing but a couple of old tin cups and a wooden spoon in it, and a place to cook, they hadn’t cooked anything in a week. Other than that there was an old, worn down table with three crooked chairs around it. The other chairs had been broken down and used for firewood in the winter to keep them from freezing. There were several blankets on the floor in the corner. Except for a doll that lay on the blankets and his family, there was nothing else in the house. They had sold it all off to pay their debts or pay for food.           

Mada’s eyes went immediately to the tile. “What’s that?” She asked, eyeing it suspiciously. “A roof tile” Gorden said flatly. He knew that wasn’t a good enough answer, but he just didn’t care. “I know that” she shot back, the poison dripping from her tongue. “Why isn’t it broken and brown like the rest of them?” Her voice came out in a hiss. He knew she was afraid of it. “I don’t know why, it fell off the roof and it didn’t break.” “It didn’t break!” Her voice was incredulous. He knew she was afraid of it. They all were, they were superstitious people, very superstitious.     

“Get rid of it!” She screamed. Pab jumped and hid behind her sisters. Gorden looked over at them. They were all shaking. Mada noticed them too and lowered her voice. “Get rid of it” she said, her voice like ice. Gorden stared at her. “What do you think it is, I have to know if I’m to be rid of it properly?”  “It’s an omen” She hissed. “Are you sure?” his face creased in worry. “The Gods are anger with us” She said, the hiss of her voice turning into a whine. “Bury it far away from here. Bury it deep so that it cannot be found” 

 Fear swept through Gorden. He grabbed the curtain off the pantry door and wrapped the shingle in it. Tucking it into the waist of his pants, he turned to face the girls. “Not a word of this to another living soul” he warned. The girls nodded, their faces drained and their eyes huge.                                 

They were thin girls, the lot of them. They looked so much like their mother. The two oldest ones both with their blond hair, well, it used to be blonde.  Now it was brown from the dirt that resided in it. They had the same angular face as their mother. Both of them had eyes the color of their father, dark brown. That was the only feature of his they had.

Pab was different. She had brown hair, even caked in dirt, it was still the dark brown color of her father’s he could see it. She was a little thicker than her sisters and her jaw a bit more square. She had her mother’s eyes. The pale blue was gorgeous against her white skin and dark locks. He sighed. Even at nine, she was a pretty little thing. She would make a man a good wife one day, if she lasted that long.          

Pab watched him from behind the safety of her sisters. Her big blue eyes were riveted on his waist line. She stared at the place where he had put the tile with such intensity he felt as if she was burning into his soul. “Pab” he said. She looked up and the fire from her gaze vanished. “Take good care of your mother and sisters while I am gone. I will be back before the sun sets tomorrow.” “Yes father” She managed in a shy, sheepish voice.                

He gave his wife one more imploring look but her gaze was hard. She had made up her mind. He knew she was right, but he was scared to leave his family. “Do not kill my cow.” He warned. She stared back at him, hands folded across her chest in their usual fashion. “That cow is going to be the death of us.” He smiled a small smile. “Do not sell her either.” A small, wicked smile came to her lips. “Get out of my head” She joked. “I think there is a small shovel in the barn still, no one has use for shovels now that the ground is so hard.” He gave her a quick kiss and headed for the door. Since they had no food and he had only what he wore, there was no need to get ready to leave; all he needed was the shovel.    

Pab stopped him as it inched open. “Papa, papa you didn’t say good bye.” Her eyes were big and a little wet. “I won’t be gone long sweet heart” he said, sweeping her against him. She wrapped her thin arms around his neck. “I know papa, but I feel like something bad is going to happen.”  Gorden pulled her off of him and stared into her pale eyes. His face was creased in angry lines. “Now don’t go on listening to the rambling of an old starved woman. Hunger can do powerful things to a man.” Mada rolled her eyes and let out a large sigh of disagreement. “Come on Pab, there is work to be done. Father will be home tomorrow.”  Pab gave her father one last kiss and released her grip around his neck. Gorden stood and reached for the door. He took one last look at his family and with loud objections from the door, swung it open.                 

The barn hadn’t been used in weeks, not since the wolves had eaten the last of their chickens. It was covered in dirt and dust. It was brown, like everything else. It smelled of rot. Gorden blinked and rubbed the dust out of his eyes. The air was thick and it was hot in the barn. The cow walked up behind him and let out a long moo. Gorden jumped and turned to face her. She blinked at him and mooed again. “I have no food for you.” He said. He was ashamed. 

She ignored him and wandered in. She was a strange cow, not stupid like the chickens. He watched her. The wolves had eaten the chickens when they could have had a whole cow. But the wolves never went after the cow. She stayed outside of the house. She didn’t like the barn. She was an easy target for hungry wolves, but they didn’t want her. She never went in the barn. Gorden watched her as she walked around, nudging things with her big black nose. How strange he thought, as he watched her walk around. She must be that desperate to look for food in the barn. She never went in the barn. 

He didn’t see the shovel. He looked around, but he could not find the shovel. It had to be somewhere. The cow nudged an old sack and it fell aside. There was a long stick under the sack. ‘The shovel” Gorden thought. He moved towards it. The cow stood and patiently watched him. He gave her a look of curiosity. A strange cow indeed. He picked up the shovel, dirt and dust fluttering into the air. The cow blinked and Gorden fell into a sneezing fit. He closed his eyes against the dust and when the sneezing had finally subsided, he could hear movement. He opened his eyes. The cow was eating something.

Gorden tried to make her move. She would not budge. He peered around her great head. It was grass. Greener than anything he had seen in a long time. It was lush too, as if there had been a great rain storm. There wasn’t much of it, a small patch maybe just a couple of inches thick. Before he could think to do anything about it, it was gone. The cow looked up at him and blinked. He stared back at her in disbelief. Grass; real grass, growing without water, in a barn! He looked back at the ground and realized it was wet. The ground was wet! Dark with the stain of the liquid. He grabbed the shovel and dug at the spot, hope flooded through his bones. Water! The shovel hit something solid. As he brought it back up with the ground, it was dry. The top layer, the wet dirt was nothing but a thin strip. The ground underneath was as dry as a bone and the shovel would not easily dig farther. His heart sank. He fell to the ground and stared at the scratch he had made. “How?” he asked himself. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. There was no reasonable explanation. There was nothing to explain it, the ground was completely dry everywhere else. He slumped against the ground, the shovel still in his hand. The cow put her face in his and mooed. Her breath stank. He rubbed her nose. “At least one of us got something to eat” He said quietly.   

He got to his feet and dusted himself off. It was no use, his pants were still brown, they hadn’t been their original grey color in weeks. The cow watched him intently as he picked up the shovel and walked towards the door. He wanted to get away from the barn and the strange wet ground where perfect grass has been only moments before. She stood in the shade of the barn and watched him walk off. He strode out a couple of paces and motioned for her to follow. She stood where she was and watched him. She wasn’t leaving the barn. He stared at her for a minute, his eyes sweeping the brown fur. It used to be white. Now it was brown, and her black spots were browner. What a funny looking cow. “Alright” He sighed and left her where she stood. She watched him go. When he was about one hundred yards from her, she mooed at him once. He turned back to look at her. She blinked then turned and walked back into the barn. She wanted more grass. What a strange thing. She never went into the barn. Shivers ran down his spine.

Gorden picked his way through the field; the ground was flat and devoid of life. There were stickers on the ground that he had to be careful to avoid, his shoes were already thin and falling apart, he couldn’t risk tearing them on the sharp little pods. Other than that a pebble here and there nothing else besides the dirt made up the terrain. The grass was dead and brown, what little of it there was. The dirt stirred at his feet, there was nothing to hold it to the ground. He thought about the cow and the grass and the tile. He felt cold even in the heat of the day. It was peculiar and strange. Omens of things to come. His skin crawled. 

 As night approached, he had reached the hills; he was a far distance from his home. His feet hurt and his mouth was dry. He felt as though his skin was going to peel off. He wished it would, then all the dirt would go with it and he would be free from the burden of it. The ground became a little softer as it became wavier. Grass, yellow grass sprung up here and there. It wasn’t much; but bits of it were still green. It was sparse and not enough for a proper meal, however, Gorden couldn’t help but think that he should have brought the cow. At least she could have eaten something.    

Finally, he found a place where the ground was soft, not too soft, but not hard as stone like his farm. He took the shovel and began to dig a hole. The going was tough, but at least it was do-able. He ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth; it stuck several times, too dry to pass smoothly.  He worked on the hole for a good hour or so. The sky was almost black now. His muscles aced and his stomach growled intensely with displeasure. At last he was happy with the size of the hole. He took the tile from his waist line and dropped it in. As he began scooping the dirt back in, a voice came from behind him                 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He jumped. His blood ran cold. A thin, scrawny old man with a voice like honey came forward. Gorden brandished the shovel suspiciously. “Who are you?” He demanded. The man stopped in front of him. He wasn’t that old, he was just that thin. “I am me and you are you. Names do not matter and I do not wish mine to be known.” He stared at Gorden for a few seconds. The air was thin. Everything was dead silent. Gorden opened his mouth but the other stopped him. “You are burying a message, yes?” “I am burying an omen sent to destroy my family.” He replied. The man cackled. “You are a country outlaw, yes?” Gorden’s face burned. “I am a noble man, dedicated to my family and servant only to myself.” “But you still pay the king’s taxes, yes?” Gorden stammered, his temper was quickly ignited. “Yes” he said. “Then you serve the king and let your family die for him.” “Not for him, because of him!” The words ripped from his throat in a fury.  The man stood his ground and waited calmly for Gorden to regain his composure. “You still pay the king’s taxes, you are no outlaw. You are a small pest causing little damage to the majesty. He profits off of you and lets you suffer as you do to pay for not following his ruling. He is too pre-occupied to come after you and your kind. You are on the border between his lands and the lands of the free. If he came after you and your fellow countrymen, war would break out. The king knows he will surely lose, so he sits and abides his time. He grows stronger still and one day; he will come and take whatever may be left of you. The ones who do not starve or die from illness, that is. The King of the free will attack him then, he will send his whole army for what the king will do to your women. The King you know will not send his whole army. They will defeat the free king. He will fall, and when he does, the world will belong to your king. To join him will be a blessing, to be a woman will be worse than hell. To be a man against him will bring certain torture, long drawn out torture that will end only in death."

Gorden stared in disbelief. He did not know what to say. His stomach, sensing his loss for words, stepped in and let out a loud grumble, he could not silence it. The man paused, then pulled a small leather bag from behind his back. He opened it and pulled out a small flat loaf of bread. Gorden’s stomach growled louder. The man broke off a large chunk and held it out to him. He took a step back, eyeing the bread suspiciously. The man shrugged and bit a chunk off the piece in his other hand. “It is good food” he said, in between mouthfuls. “I cannot force you to take it. If you wish to starve to death, that is your business."      

“How do I know that the piece you offer to me is not going to kill me?” The other looked and him and threw his head back in laughter. Gorden didn’t see what was so funny. The sky was almost completely black now and he could barely make out the man’s face, but he was sure his face was red from laughing so hard. Gorden could hear the man fumbling for something as he continued to chuckle. He brandished his shovel protectively and began to slowly back away. He was a superstitious man and he did not want to be caught up in this man’s voodoo.    

A loud pop filled the air, followed by red and gold flecks of light. The man had lit a fire. He set the burning branch down on a small pile of dry grass. It ignited immediately, contained by the dirt that surrounded the grass. When the man looked a Gorden, he began laughing again. “If I wanted you dead, I would not have interrupted you from burying that omen. The gods will strike you down once it is fully covered and you walk away. Omens are not signs of evil when delivered to good people. Rejecting them, however, is an offence to the Gods, one they do not take lightly.”

Gorden’s breath caught in his throat. The man held out the bread again as his stomach rumbled its displeasure. He took the bread, afraid of what the man said and so hungry that the thought of it killing him no longer mattered. He stared at it for a minute. It was puffy, not as puffy as yeast bread, but not completely flat either. It was good quality bread; he hadn’t had good quality anything in a long, long time. The man sat down on the ground, folded his legs underneath him and stretched his hands out behind his back. Leaning on them, he looked up and watched Gorden as he stared at the bread.   

Finally, slowly, Gorden put the food to his lips and took a small bite. The sensation of food in his mouth was incredible. He relished in the texture of it. It had little flavor to it and was quite dry, but it was the best thing he had eaten in his entire life, it was so incredibly satisfying. Without realizing it, Gorden began eagerly stuffing the rest of the bread into his mouth. The man sat and watched him intently as he stuffed the last bite into his cheek. It was so good, now he knew how the cow felt when she found the grass, why he couldn’t get her to move away.        

 When he had finished, the man looked at him. “What omen did the Gods send you?” He asked. Gorden blinked down at the man. “Its none of your business.” The old man blinked back up at him. I give you bread and save you from making a grave mistake and all I ask in return is for a tiny bit of information and you tell me it is none of my business?” The man looked hurt. He let his shoulders slink back as the bald head limped forward. “A roof tile. A red, un-unbroken roof tile.” Gorden said after thinking over the things the man had said. 

The man gasped a little and dove for the hole, ripping the tile from the ground. He held it in his shaking hands, the firelight danced across his face and reflected off of the large whites of his eyes. He looked to Gorden. “Sit down” He said sharply. “What else has been going on?” Gorden, still standing, looked down at the man, anger rising steadily at his tone. Nothing, my wife and my children starve. There is no rain, no food and no money. 

 “No, no, no! That’s not what I mean! What else, what strange happenings have you seen?” “Nothing!” Gorden shouted indignantly. But then he remembered the grass and the cow.  He thought to keep it to himself, but he was so afraid “Well,” He began, sinking slowly to the ground, “there was grass and wet dirt in my barn. My cow, she does not go in there but today she did, and she wouldn’t come back out.”    

“You have a cow?” He asked; his tone harsh and odd. Gorden didn’t like the tone. “Yes I have a cow. Lots of people have cows. They are legal, even for outlaws.” He snapped. “No,’ The man shook his head. “Lots of people used to have cows, but they have killed or sold them so that they might not starve. Your cow produces for you? She is worth the extra strain on your family?” He gave him a quizzical look and leaned in close waiting for the answer, his tunic hanging off of his skeleton as he did. Gorden could see every one of the man’s ribs. “Well, no, she doesn’t produce anything, not anymore… but she was a gift and I cannot so easily remove her burden from my life.” “A gift” The man echoed. “A gift so valuable that you would let her meat go to waste as she and your family both die?” Gorden looked at the man, his face was calm but had a strange under tone to it. “She is special” “why?” “I don’t know, she just is, I cannot explain it.” “How did she come to your being?” Gorden could feel his temper rise. This stranger had no right to question his personal life so. “A man.” “A man?” “Yes” “what kind of man? How did you meet him?” Gorden cast a wary eye on the stranger. He was about to get up and leave. A thought came over him, perhaps this man knew why there was grass growing in his barn, maybe he was trying to help. Reluctantly, he recounted the story of the man and the cow. “An old man came to me about six years ago. His hair was white and his face was creased with wrinkles, he had a long white beard and a hard, weather beaten look about him. He needed shelter for the night. I allowed him to stay in the barn against my wife’s wishes. He had a cow with him. She gave birth in the night. In the morning, he thanked me for our hospitality, though he had nothing to pay me with, he was so grateful to be out of the elements and have a warm meal that he gave me the calf, he said he was taking the mother to slaughter so that he might feed his family with the money she gave. The calf would have brought him more, he had intended to sell it too, but gave it instead to me. It was valuable to him. It meant some of his lively hood. He asked only that I raise it and take care of it no matter how bad times got. I was not to kill or sell it. I gave him my word. After that night, we never saw him again.” The other man rocked back on his feet, scrutinizing and digesting the story as he stared at the flames. The crackling of the fire filled Gorden’s thoughts. What did this man care where his cow had come from. “I must see this cow” He said at last, there was a decisive tone in his voice as he stood up. We will go to your home in the morning and you will show her to me. Gorden began to object. He did not like the man and he did not like being told what was to be done on his property, let alone what he was to do. “No one is to touch her, I will not give you my cow, you shall not lay a finger on her.” The man looked to him and laughed.” I want to see your cow; I do not want your cow.

 Gorden stared at the man as he grabbed a blanket out of his tiny pack. He was too thin to have much food with him, but the sheet wrapped around his body was almost completely white, dirty only where he had sat on the ground. He thought to himself. It wouldn’t hurt to let him see the cow. He would keep the shovel close and knock him out if he tried to hurt the cow. The man wrapped the blanket around his body and lay down by the fire. “In the morning, you will take me to see your cow. We will see if she has found any more grass. You will keep this with you until we do.” He handed the tile back to Gorden and closed his eyes. The fire was burning low, it had almost burnt itself out. Gorden had no blanket so he lay as close to the dying flames as he dared. His stomach, although still empty, had stopped growling. His head spun with everything that had happened that day. He let the thoughts of it all wash through him as he stared up at the night sky.  He was afraid of the omens. It was crazy talk to tell someone the Gods had chosen them. He would be hung for dealing in the affairs of other worlds. Hung. They would murder the cow and drag his wife and daughters to slavery. He couldn’t bear the thought of it. “One more thing” The man whispered. “Yes” Gorden looked at him quizzically. “Do you know what the color of red means?” He asked. “It means love” He replied. “No” The old man corrected. “the color red means power.” The man rolled over and turned his back to the flames. “What does that have to do with me?” Gorden whispered, fear sinking into his voice. The man did not answer, he was fast asleep.

 

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