Children of the Sky 

Excerpt

Prologue

Northern Year, 1383. Nineteenth day of Has, eleventh month of the solar year.

A youth sat by the side of an empty dirt road, his eyes down. The sun was slightly beyond its zenith, slowly pushing its way to the western horizon as the bright moon Galeta barely shone in the east. There was a slight pre-winter breeze that blew through the air, and the boy's midnight hair, smooth as silk and tied in a low ponytail that reached just beyond his shoulders, fluffed as the wind batted it. A bulging burlap sack rested by his side.

"There y'are."

The youth raised his head, and the flash of the sun revealed a set of striking, gleaming, brilliant green eyes. He focused on the shorter girl who approached from down the road. She held a basket against her chest.

"Mmm." Lucas smiled slightly. "Y'r late, Sabrina."

Sabrina raised an eyebrow above an equally brilliant green eye. "What was that?"

Lucas picked up his sack and stood. "I've been here awhile," he answered as he brushed off his pants.

Sabrina scowled. "Yeah, yeah. Y'don't have t'deal with girl lovin' field hands like I do."

Lucas smiled. "Y'r right in that. I hope y'didn't feel th' need t'hurt anyone like last time."

"Don't waste y'r time worryin' - they'll heal. Did y'get everythin'?"

Lucas nodded and slung his bag over his shoulder. "Everythin'. An' you?"

Sabrina swayed the varied herbs in her basket. "Took me a while, but yeah." She shook her head. "Robert's a fool t'pay so much for this stuff. Food tastes fine without it."

Lucas shrugged. "We've also lived on berries an' rainwater when Robert's never gone a day without meat," he answered, kicking a rock down the road with one boot-clad foot. "But we'd better get movin'. Th' sun's travelin'."

Sabrina brushed a strand of tied-up midnight hair from her face. "Right," she replied, and the two of them, side by side, began their short walk back to the village of Halarky.

*****

Robert of Halarky was not a good man. Perhaps it was because he had grown up in a well-off family and was used to ordering people around, perhaps it was a reflection of the unscrupulous way he earned money through the smuggling market - whatever the case, he was a rude, unkind individual with a tendency to drink heavily despite how reckless it made him. Even sober, when his tempter flared he was vicious and cruel. His throbbing face went red; his yellow teeth gritted from between his thick, spit-flecked lips.

"That bleedin' cat!"

The feline in question meowed and jumped from the counter. Robert grabbed a nearby copper pot and threw it; it smashed into a low cabinet just behind the fleeing cat and sent splinters flying. The man snarled and whipped to the cowering maid behind him.

"Y'useless girl!" He grabbed her arm. "'Ow many bloody times d'I'ave t'tell y't'kill that scrapin' animal?"

The maid, Flora, covered her head with her arms. "I keep shooin' it," she squeaked. "I dunno where it comes from. I didn't see it come in."

"Are y'blind?"

"I was c-cookin', sir." Flora choked back a sob. "Please don't 'urt me!"

A sudden thought seemed to strike Robert, and his face darkened. "M'fence," he growled as he released her. "If that cat scratched up m'fence again ..."

"Please, sir." Flora blinked back tears. "D-don't get mad. I'll fix whatever-"

"D'y'know 'ow much money I put in that fence?" he roared. He stormed out of the kitchen. Flora ran after him and gripped the back of his shirt.

"Please!" she begged. "If th' cat did anythin', I'll-"

"Get a beatin' like y'never seen!" Robert furiously ripped from her hold. "Maybe that'll teach y't'keep animals out!"

Flora's crystalline blue eyes widened in terror. "No!" she screamed, falling to the floor and throwing her arms around his legs. Tears of fear ran down her cheeks. "Sir, please! I'll do anythin' if y'don't 'urt me!"

Robert kicked back. His huge foot crashed into her shoulder and knocked her to the floor.

"Useless female." Robert stomped through his front room and threw open the door to the outside. "I'll teach y'a lesson," he muttered as he marched out. "I don't play games."

It suddenly grew cold.

Robert scowled. "What?" he exclaimed, gripping his arms. The air carried the bite of a freezing winter night, not the cool caress of a calm fall evening. The breeze was laced with frost.

Robert shivered and cursed. "Staliktis protect me," he hissed as he began the walk to his back fence. "It wasn't cold t'day. What th' blazes is-"

A fierce wind whipped at him, and the man's shirt ruffled violently. Robert began a fluent stream of curses, but was cut short as another wind slapped him in the face. Liquid rolled from his nose.

"Bloody wind!" Robert hurried back inside and shoved the door shut behind him. Rubbing his arms, he glared down at the maid on the floor. "Y'r bleedin' lucky I don't fancy goin' out there," he snapped. "When th' cold calms, I'm checkin' that fence. Cerkin 'elp y'if th' wood carries a mark." With that, Robert stormed up the stairs to his room. The slam of the door echoed through the empty house.

Flora sniffed and sat up. She clutched her hurt shoulder and settled a confused gaze on the front door.

"Cold?" she whispered. She got to her feet. "It was nice t'day."

The slim maid walked to the door and pushed it open. Sure enough, the breeze that greeted her was mild. She stepped outside. The temperature was cool, but pleasant.

Flora didn't hesitate to grip her skirts and run to the back of the house. It was all but certain that the stray cat had once again clawed at Robert's prized fence; the smooth, light-colored wood was far too tempting for scratch-hungry felines As she approached the back yard, she slid to a stop. Her eyes widened.

"Luc's?"

Lucas, kneeled by a post in the fence, looked up. He smiled. "Hey, Flora," he said as he wrapped one hand around the wood. He did it quickly, but not before Flora's gaze caught the long, deep scratches in the post he covered with his palm.

Flora's eyes filled with tears. "Staliktis save me," she breathed, falling to her knees beside him. "That cat clawed at th' wood again!"

Lucas reached up and brushed the tears from her cheeks. "No, he didn't," he said. "I was checkin' for that. Th' fence's fine."

Flora pointed to the wood. "But I saw-"

"It's fine, Flora." Lucas calmly stared into her eyes. "Don't worry."

Flora was about to protest when Sabrina appeared by her side. "Poor thing," the dark-haired girl said with a sigh, holding out a hand. "Did Robert make y'cry again?"

Flora sniffed and rubbed her eyes. "I was just scared," she murmured as she let Sabrina help her up. "With th' fence scratched again-"

"Th' fence isn't scratched." Sabrina put an arm around the older girl's waist and gently led the maid away. "Relax. I got y'somethin' while shoppin' t'day."

Flora swallowed as she and Sabrina made their way back to the house. Still obviously uneasy, Flora turned her head just as Lucas took his hand from the post.

The wood was unscathed. Where Flora's eyes had fallen on scratches there was nothing - the post was smooth and unmarred. She blinked.

Lucas looked at her. She gave him a curious, questioning look, but she received the only answer she ever received from the green-eyed boy; nothing more than his gentle, assuring smile.

And, in the early evening heavens, the Great Star Staliktis glittered brightly.

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These pages, Children of the Sky, and all related previews, excerpts, pictures, etc. are Copyright © Lianne Sentar, September 2000 unless otherwise stated. Illustrations and cover art for Children of the Sky and copies of said art used on this website are Copyright © Amethist, September 2000.