Chapter 1 (Everin)

Waking up was the best and worst part of the day for Everin. Before he opened his eyes, he felt the warm embrace of his woven blanket and the gentle cushioning of his thin, straw mattress. This was as good as it got – the lead weights of sleep were slowly lifting themselves off his arms and legs, and his fuzzy thoughts had not yet sharpened into focus. Everin took a deep breath and slowly exhaled the cool morning air. He was comfortable in the bed where he lay, but he felt well-rested at the same time. In another moment or two, he would be ready to climb out from underneath his blanket and face the day.

Then, as rays of sunlight began to shine through the dirty window and come into focus, Everin’s mind snapped out of its torpor. His memories came flooding back. He opened his eyes and stared blankly at the interior of the stone hut. In an instant, Everin remembered exactly where he was and what had happened to him. The energy drained from his limbs. Any motivation he’d had to get up and leave the room vanished. The only thing he wanted to do was go back to sleep and never awaken. This was the worst part of Everin’s day. His memories came flooding back and jerked him out of his bliss like a bucket of ice water had been poured on his face. He’d gone through this cycle every morning for nearly a year now, but the sting of the trauma still felt fresh every time Everin awoke and reminded himself that he was an orphan now.

“Everin Thornwood, you better be out of bed and ready to get to work!” A female voice called from beyond the wooden door.

“I’m coming, Margoline!” Everin called out in reply.

He closed his eyes and shuddered. With a monumental effort, he grabbed a wad of his cheap, scratchy blanket and heaved it off his body. Everin swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat there for a moment. This morning had been worse than usual. Probably because the anniversary of the night that everything changed was soon approaching. Everin took a deep breath and stared at the rough floorboards. He wasn’t going to cry this morning. It had been several months since the last time Margoline had caught him with tears in his eyes, and it was now almost a year since the murder of Everin’s parents.

Everin shook his head and put a hand to his face – no tears. He caught sight of the long thin scar on his forearm, and he sighed as he stood up. While his current living situation was temporary, the pale line on his skin would be there to remind him of that night for the rest of his life. Everin didn’t have to move far to reach the doorway. His room was really nothing more than a glorified closet with a wooden bed frame thrown inside. He opened the door and entered the kitchen. Margoline was standing before a wooden bowl, mixing it with a long spoon.

Margoline Weaver was short woman with long, messy hair that was beginning to gray. She was old, but not as old as most women were when they became widows. She wasn’t frail either. Her sleeves were rolled up, so Everin could see the muscles bulge on her thick forearms as she stirred the bowl. Since her husband’s death, running the family farm had been her job. Pulling weeds and tilling soil for hours under the hot sun hadn’t allowed her frame to become thin and frail.

“I made you some breakfast,” Margoline said as Everin entered. Her tone was flat and expressionless. She placed a bowl of porridge on the small wooden table and slid it towards Everin.

“Thank you, Margoline.”

He replied in a voice that was just as stripped of feeling.

Everin looked down at the meal before him with indifference. The supplies of food they’d saved for the winter were dwindling. Most meals these days consisted of watery porridge or withered vegetables from the last of the stores in the basement.

Margoline sat down at the end of the table with her own bowl and began to eat. Everin sat and began to force the food down. He wasn’t hungry. He didn’t feel like eating. Honestly, he didn’t feel like doing anything, but he knew that if he didn’t eat now, he would regret it later in the day. So Everin forced himself to swallow the bland porridge. Margoline and Everin ate in silence, neither of them looking up from their plates. When the meal was finished, Everin wordlessly gathered and washed the dishes.

Margoline stood up and declared, “I’m visiting the tailor today. Everin, I need the east field to be cleared of weeds by tonight. It’s almost planting season.”

For the first time that day, emotion crossed the boy’s face. “The whole field? I can’t do all that by myself in a day!”

The old woman’s face instantly twisted from a vacant expression to a scowl. “Don’t argue with me Everin! The only reason I took you in after your parents died was because I needed another hand on the farm. If you can’t do that, then you have no reason to stay here.”

Everin let his shoulders slump. Margoline’s strict and sometimes unfair demands used to enrage him. After several months, they’d just become another weight that pulled him down and drained his energy.

“Fine. I’ll take care of it,” he said.

Margoline nodded. “Good. I’ll be back at sunset.”

With that, she left the small stone hut, leaving Everin to get to work.

The winter months were finally coming to an end over Greenshadow Village. Leaves were beginning to appear on the bare branches of trees, and the days were beginning to warm. Everin inhaled the chill morning air as he trudged outside. He knew that by midday, the weather would be fairly pleasant – not that something as minimal as nice weather could hope to make him feel better.

He examined the east field that lay just outside the small hut where he and Margoline lived. It was a midsized plot of land surrounded by a low wooden fence. As the woman had said, there were already weeds spreading over the soil, even though the last snowfall of the season had been just two weeks ago. Everin swung the wooden handle of a gardening hoe, and the dull metal blade dug into the dirt. He uprooted the first of the pesky green plants and tossed it aside.

As Everin continued to work, he let his focus drift from the task of weeding the field. His mind didn’t wander – Everin had learned many months ago that if he let that happen, his thoughts would invariably drift back to the sorrow and shame that had ruled his life for nearly a year now. Instead, he let his mind go numb. Not so numb that he could forget what happened. Sometimes, he’d catch himself forgetting about his misery or even coming close to being happy. That would then cause him to feel guilty about forgetting, and he’d end up feeling worse as his self-hatred festered within him. So, he settled for a steady, aching numbness. Not forgetting what happened but pushing it deep into the recesses of his mind. In this stupor, the boy slowly made his way up and down the lengths of the field.

Several hours later, his work was interrupted.

“Everin! Hey!”

He snapped his head up and looked towards the voice. A girl was running towards the fence. She had bright blue eyes and long auburn hair that flowed behind her. She reached the wooden fence and carefully stepped over it to approach Everin. He saw that she carried a small woven basket in one arm.

She reached him, and Everin turned his attention from the weeds to face her.

“Hi Cora,” he said.

“I saw that you’re working by yourself today, so I thought I’d stop by to see how you were doing.” She gave him a friendly smile and reached into the basket. “I brought you a biscuit. My father made extra today.”

She offered the warm biscuit to Everin, and he accepted it.

“Thanks,” he replied quietly.

She frowned. “Is today one of the bad days?”

They both knew that every day was a bad day for Everin, but he understood what she meant.

Is this day especially bad?

“I guess so,” he mumbled.

Cora set down her basket and wrapped Everin in a tight hug.

“I’m sorry.” She paused and then added, “Do you think it’s because you’re coming up on the anniversary of…” she trailed off, and the words hung in the air.

He gave a weak shrug. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

“Do you want to talk? My father doesn’t expect me to be back for a while longer.”

Everin shook his head.

Cora waited for him to elaborate, but when the boy was silent, she nodded and released her embrace.

“Okay, I’ll head back,” she said. She reached into her basket and removed a transparent bottle filled with clear liquid.

“Here. Take some water before I go. I’ll refill it at the well.”

Everin thanked her and opened the lid to the canteen that hung at his waist. Just like Cora’s bottle, his canteen was made of hardglass – the transparent, lightweight material that could be recovered at the ancient ruins. As Cora filled Everin’s canteen with water, she spoke.

“You remember that King Valen’s royal procession is coming next week?”

Everin nodded, and Cora looked at him expectantly.

“You’re still planning on watching it with me, right?”

Everin leaned back slightly. “I’m not sure…” he started to say.

“Come on, Everin,” she begged. “The royal procession only passes through our village once every five years. It’ll be fun! We’ll get to see the soldiers and maybe even one of the king’s angels.”

Everin raised his eyebrows, a skeptical expression on his face. “Don’t tell me you like King Valen now,” he said.

Cora rolled her eyes. “Hey, just because I want to see the royal procession doesn’t mean I agree with what the king has been doing. Everin, it won’t hurt to take a few hours to try to enjoy yourself. Maybe you’ll actually have some fun.”

 “I don’t know…” Everin began.

“Please? Will you do it for me? You don’t have to stay the whole time, just come with me for a little bit. It worries me to see you like this, Everin. I know you’re going through a hard time, but it’s not going to help if you never leave Margoline’s hut. Just come with me to the welcoming ceremony. If you want to leave after that, you can go. Deal?”

For the longest time, Everin didn’t respond. Finally, he cleared his throat and managed to say, “Deal.”

Cora grinned and hugged him one last time before she turned to leave. She’d taken a few steps back the way she’d come before Everin called out “Cora?”

“Yes?” She turned and looked back at the boy.

“Thanks.”

She gave him one more smile. “Of course. I’ll see you at the welcoming ceremony!”

The girl stepped over the wooden fence and gave Everin a parting wave as she left. Everin raised a hand in her direction and turned his attention back to the weeds underfoot. As he resumed the mechanical motion of jamming the hoe into the earth and overturning the tough green plants, he thought about what Cora had said. She was right, he knew. It wasn’t healthy to work in the fields all day and shut himself in his closet all night. However, Margoline kept him busy most days, and honestly, he just didn’t have the desire to do anything other than lie in his bed and replay the actions of that night over and over in his mind.

That night.

Everin caught his mind drifting into that dark place. Not yet, he told himself. It’s too early in the day to be thinking about those things. Everin continued to work and let the thoughts wash out his head, reverting back to his blank and emotionless state. He made steady progress as he worked across the field. Soon, the sun hung low in the sky, and a purple sunset with hazy green streaks washed over the countryside. The stories claimed that sunsets used to be orange, but the weapons of the old gods had permanently stained the sky during their last battle. Everin wasn’t sure he believed that. Sunsets were purple and green because sunsets had always been that way. Even beings as powerful as the old gods couldn’t change something as permanent as the evening sky.

When it was too dark to work any longer, Everin returned the hoe to the shed and entered the hut. He hadn’t weeded the entire field, but he’d come close. Margoline wouldn’t be too upset with him for that. Everin prepared a small meal for himself and the bitter old woman, who’d arrived just before nightfall.

As soon as he’d finished forcing himself to eat, Everin stumbled into his room and fell onto his bed. While remembering the pain of his new life every morning was the worst part of Everin’s day, falling to sleep was almost as bad. He blew out the lone candle by his bedside, and images, words, and all sorts of painful memories from the darkest part of his mind emerged and made themselves at home in the empty room.

Everin’s eyes were closed, but that fateful night and the mess that had become his life afterwards replayed itself over and over underneath his eyelids. Finally, after his mind could take no more of this self-inflicted pain, it shut itself down. Everin fell asleep, ready to begin the cycle again the next day.

Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-2-everin/

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