Excerpt for Err by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Err

By Lindsey Tanner





Text copyright 2018 Lindsey Tanner

Distributed by Smashwords

All Rights Reserved



Acknowledgements



A special thank you to my friends and family, who read this book first, and to my classmates at USF who encouraged me to publish it.



To my grandmother, who taught me to read.



Chapter 1


Winter sunlight filtered through the dusty window onto the woman holding her sleeping newborn son. His tiny left arm hung out of the soft blanket he was wrapped in while a different, older woman inspected his hand.

“What was his name again, dearie?”

“Err. Short for Erron.”

“Very nice.” The old woman smiled and supported the baby’s hand in her own. The wooden rocking chair creaked as the mother leaned forward to see.

“River, must be the Purple River, and a path here,” muttered the old woman, tracing the lines on his fragile palm with her long fingernails. “Big forest,” she pointed to the top of his hand. The mother nodded, interested. The woman continued. “Winding road; rarely traveled. Leads to…” her voice trailed off into a whisper.

“Leads to what?” asked the mother, growing concerned. The woman squinted at the hand for a long time. Then she looked up.

“The Carmestrians.”



Chapter 2


“‘How do I get myself into these messes?” Err sprinted through the cold woods surrounding the village. The sun glowed orange on the distant horizon, and his breath fogged in front of him as he gasped in sharp lungfuls of air. He skidded to a halt and glanced behind him. He could still hear them coming. He turned and climbed a nearby tree. He was small for his twelve years, but he was fast. The sharp branches of the tree seemed to reach out to snag his ragged tan coat but he forged ahead.

Six other boys stomped through the scarlet fall leaves that carpeted the forest floor and looked up at him. One of them laughed as he looked up at Err in the tree. “Err, Err, up in the air,” he sang.

The oldest, most muscular of the group shouted, “Come on down, Mountain Boy, we won’t hurt you too bad!”

“No,” Err answered from the tree. “I think I like it better up here, thanks.”

“You’d best not follow that Map of yours; it’ll lead you into trouble.”

“I know that, Torrin, you’ve told me before.”

“Well he can tell you again, Mountain Boy,” said a short, weasel-faced boy. “Not even one of the people who’s been to the Carmestrian Mountains ever came back, includin’ yer dad!”

“Yeah!” hollered another boy. “It was his own fault for going missing!”

Err slowly slid his hand into the pocket of his brown pants and grasped the handle of his pocketknife. “I wouldn’t talk about my dad if I were you.”

“Oh, come on,” said the tallest boy in the gang. “Let’s go back to the village and swipe some bacon from the butcher while he’s not lookin’.” They tromped out of the forest. Err relaxed his grip on the knife and pulled his hand out of his pocket. All the Maps in the world and he had to be stuck with the most dangerous. He sighed and slid down the trunk of the tree to the ground. He picked a gold leaf off of his cap, turned toward the village and started walking. Some of the members of the village would be starting their Journeys tonight, and he didn’t want to miss it.

The last faint twinkling of sunlight disappeared when Err arrived at the village. The little town-and it was very little, only about fifty families lived there- was laid out like a crooked wagon wheel: dirt roads meandered from the center of the village to the forest surrounding it, with most of the shops planted in the center, and the houses nearer the edge. Only two roads led all the way out of the village and into the forest. One went to the nearest city, and the other went to the mountain range, not that Err had ever been to either of those places. Visitors were few, and always passed through quickly. They never stopped to examine the stocky wooden cabins made by hand, or the advisors’ stone council chamber, or the lone two-story building that housed the leader’s family. The town was, for the most part, self-sufficient. Gardens and a few fields provided vegetables and grain, and hunting provided clothing and meat. The river and forest gave water and fuel for their fires. Occasionally someone would cart a load of vegetables to one of the bigger towns far away, and return with the few supplies they could not make themselves, like needles, metals, and cloth.

Dust swirled around Err’s feet as he walked. It had been an unusually dry autumn, and was an equally dry winter. He looked to his right once he passed the houses. Torrin and the other boys had succeeded in stealing from the butcher, and the man busily paced outside his shop’s front door waving his cleaver. His heavy shoes thudded on the wooden steps and he scowled. The man was usually nice enough. Sometimes he even gave Err spare bits of meat that was still good, but too old to sell. Err took whatever food he could get.

Err smiled at the woman next door to him. She gave him a half-hearted wave. He continued walking past the healer’s hut and the advisors’ council chamber to the center of the village where most of the villagers sat around a crackling bonfire. Men and women conversed while children played a short distance away. They were not required to come, but many of them did anyway to show their support. Those who didn’t were closing their shops, out hunting, or cooking dinner for their families. Err plopped down next to a tall man with dark hair and penetrating eyes –the leader of their village –and waited for the Ceremony to begin. He did not have to wait long.

An elderly woman across from him stood up and surveyed the audience from across the fire. They waited. She lifted her hands. Four people sitting in front of her did the same. Slowly, she stepped sideways around them, closer to the fire; her dark coat swishing out behind her, mirroring her silvery waist-length hair. She paused and lowered her hands. The firelight twinkled for a moment on a golden clasp on the glove she wore on her left hand.

“Welcome,” she said. She began circling the fire. She moved with leisure and grace, as if through water.  “Welcome, one and all, to the Ceremony of the Way. These young people,” she gestured with her gloved hand, “are about to embark on great Journeys with the Maps they were given before birth. Many of us here have already completed our Journeys, and have returned with wisdom and experience.” She nodded at a group of older villagers sitting close to the fire, who nodded back. “Some have not yet had the chance.” Here she met Err’s eyes, and those of a few children sitting in their mothers’ laps. “From the beginning of our history, since the first Map appeared, we have forged new paths, broadened our frontiers, battled elements, wilderness, and sometimes ourselves.

“But we always have a choice.” She finished her circle and stopped in front of the four travelers again. She now looked each of them in the eye and spoke directly to them. “Do you choose to depart from the village and follow your Maps to your destinies?”

“Yes,” they chorused.

“You go separate ways, but I hope you all find what you are searching for.”

As they stood to leave, everyone around the bonfire lifted their left hands. Maps of all kinds shone golden in the light of the fire, depicting places far and near, deserts, valleys, mountains, forests, and even the village itself. The gleaming lines raced across their palms like mercury, tracing shapes, symbols, and paths that sometimes ran straight and sometimes looped back upon themselves. The travelers lifted their hands in return, and then departed, their silhouettes shrinking, and fading into the distance.

Err stood and let the crowd sweep him away towards his home on the northern outskirts of the village. His mother stood on the doorstep of their house, and he greeted her with a hug and went to his room. As he lay down to sleep that night, he studied his hand. The lines twisted and turned, entwined and parted in an erratic path toward a cluster of triangles –the symbol of the mountains. Legends and rumors swirled around them. He had heard the stories the old villagers were fond of telling since he was very small. Cautions about were always woven into the tales, meant to scare the children into keeping away from the area. Err had always felt that they were directed more to him than to anyone else. His Map was common knowledge; everyone’s was, except for the chief healer’s. It was natural for them to want to protect him. But what mysterious thing dwelled in those mountains? He closed his eyes and pulled the cover tight around him. Maybe someday he would find out.



Chapter 3


A short, balding, middle-aged man jogged up the main road to the village leader’s home and pounded on the door. It was just after dawn, and the man leaned against the door frame to catch his breath. The leader, a dark-haired man of thirty-five, with a few premature wrinkles around his eyes, opened the door. His face broke into a smile at the sight of his old friend.

“Merrick, welcome back!”

“No time for that, Torrel,” wheezed Merrick. “The army—it’s coming.”

Torrel’s face fell. “But we are not part of the war.”

“You think that matters to them?” asked Merrick, still panting. “It’s an army. They need food and supplies, and to make sure their enemies don’t use the village as a base.”

“No,” said Torrel, after some thought. “No, this shall not happen. Come, we must visit Arrona.”

“The healer?” asked Merrick, incredulously, as the leader strode past him. “What’s she going to do?”

“She is the most widely traveled of all of us. She may know more about this than we do.”

Err often wondered why the healer wore a glove. He imagined that something must have happened to her Map, or worse, she was born without one. No one in the village had been born without a Map in over a hundred years. He had heard stories of people living in a kind of limbo because they had no Map to guide them. No Ceremony, no Journey, and no destiny awaited them. So when he glanced through the window of her cozy straw-colored hut on his way to the butcher’s and saw her removing the dark-colored glove from her hand, he had to stop.

She had company. The leader was there, and a man Err did not recognize. He crept carefully into the wilted flowerbed under the window, and the man turned. Err ducked amid the dead flowers, his coat catching on a thorn on a dried-out rosebush. He knew he should leave now, before anyone saw him, but his curiosity refused to let him go. A strong, crisp wind picked up, and he clutched his coat tighter around himself. The sparse brown leaves of an ancient, gnarled tree growing right beside the house rustled. That gave Err an idea. Swift as a cat, he climbed the tree and crawled onto the roof. Grasping the rough wooden shingles tightly, he inched closer to the chimney until he sat beside it. Luckily, the healer hadn’t lit a fire in the fireplace. He leaned over it, his hands gripping the stones around the chimney’s opening. Just as he thought. He could hear every word.

“The army? What are they doing here?” The healer sat in a rocking chair near the fireplace. A wooden bookshelf leaned against the wall, laden with books, wrinkled paper scrolls, and many jars of wild herbs and flowers that Arrona had gathered herself. A table with two cushioned chairs resided in the corner, topped with a blown glass vase of yellow blossoms. Merrick rested on a footstool next to the window and scanned the area outside every few minutes. A painting of tall beige buildings decked in colorful cloth hung on a string above him. Matching ones rested above the door and on the mantle of the fireplace. Firewood stood in a pyramid in the corner, with cast iron pots and pans on a low shelf beside them. A wide assortment of objects adorned the rest of her mantle: seashells, wooden tops, miniscule woven baskets stuffed with cloths the same colors as the ones in the paintings.

Torrel paced the clean swept floor, deep in thought.

“I don’t know,” said Merrick. “”But they’re coming. I overheard their troops talking about it when I passed through the town square two weeks ago. I only wish I could have gotten here faster. They’ll be here in a few days.”

“But why here?” Torrel pounded his fist on the table, making the vase rattle. “Why now?”

“Because we’re closest and winter’s coming,” replied Merrick. “It’s strategic. They need food and supplies. Plus, both armies want land, or so I hear. That’s all they’re after; that’s why they’re fighting. The one who takes the most land will have a bigger kingdom to rule over, and we’re in the middle of the area they’re fighting over right now. If we don’t surrender to them quietly, they’ll take the village by force.”

“Do you believe this, Arrona?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Merrick has never given either of us cause to doubt his word. We must be prepared.”

“Prepared? Prepared how?” Torrel rounded on her. “This village is a peaceful one. We haven’t seen a war in years. How can we prepare for this?”

“Patience, Torrel,” said Arrona. “I believe I may have a solution. You know I have travelled widely. Along my travels I have heard many stories, one of which strikes me as being… different than the rest. This one may, in fact, be true.”

“And what is the story?” asked Merrick.

“Legend has it that somewhere there is hidden a weapon. A weapon so powerful it can wipe out both sides of the war, if the wielder so desired. But I warn you,” she added, sharply, “you cannot find it. Only those with the Map for the place can go there.”

“Where?” breathed Torrel. “Where is it?”

“See for yourself.” She held out her left hand, palm up. “The Carmestrian Mountains.”

Err nearly fell off the roof. He took several deep breaths. “The Carmestrians,” he muttered shakily. “So that’s her Map.” He could hardly believe it. Why hadn’t she ever told him? It certainly would have made his life easier, knowing he wasn’t alone. And she was going there by herself. Grown men had ventured into the mountains and never returned, and she was, what, seventy? Eighty? She could never survive there… at least, not alone. He shimmied back to the tree and climbed down. He needed advice.

Torrin walked to the advisors’ chamber alone. His coat collar slapped him in the face as a sudden gust of wind blew. Something was wrong: he could feel it. He had what felt like a rock in his stomach that refused to move, and a faint headache. Not to mention the shakiness, as if everything was made of paper and ready to tear. He’d had this feeling before, just before the drought five years ago, and he’d learned to trust it.

From his upstairs window that morning, Torrin watched his father leave, accompanied by a man Torrin did not recognize. As his father turned to close the door, Torrin caught his expression. He had seldom seen him so worried. And now his mother sent him on this errand. She never summoned the advisors for a meeting herself except in emergencies. He gathered the advisors and instructed them to report to the leader’s house. They nodded out of respect, as always when he spoke to them, and left. Torrin still felt anxious. He hoped it was nothing, but his intuition disagreed.



Chapter 4


Err’s grandfather listened as Err recounted what he had heard from the roof of the healer’s hut. They sat on old, rickety wooden chairs around the table in the grandfather’s leaky one-room cottage. He had opened the window, and light reflected off the myriad weapons scattered across the room. The extensive collection did not stop at mere swords and shields, although plenty of them decorated the floor and walls. Several suits of armor, spears, maces, and other bits of metal that Err could not identify littered the floor and made walking difficult.

“Aye. That’s quite a decision you’ve got there.”

“But what should I do?”

Err’s grandfather leaned back in the chair and laced his fingers over his thin stomach. “That’s not for me to decide. Your Journey is your own.”

“But you’ve always given me advice before, Grandpa. Why not now?”

His grandfather laughed. “That is my advice, lad. Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll take it, but I don’t know what it means.”

“You will, lad, you will. In the meantime, you can help me hunker down. There’s a war that might be coming our way and I don’t want to be caught unprepared.” Err stood and helped his grandfather out of his chair. As they walked behind the house, out to the tiny vegetable garden with an even tinier wooden fence around it, he thought about the advice. My Journey is my own…

“Do you know anything about the army that’s coming?” Err asked when they were outside.

Err’s grandfather knelt down in the garden next to a row of potatoes. “Not much,” he said. “Would you hand me that trowel?”

Err took the whole bucket full of tools off the rusty nail that attached it to the side of the house. He brought it to his grandfather and knelt across from him. “What do you know? I mean, who are they, and what they’re doing this close to us? We’re so far away from all the bigger towns.”

“Well,” his grandfather said as he began to dig, “I know they’ve been around for a while, though not around these parts. I’ve heard talk of the kingdoms on either side of us warring since I was a boy. The ones with Maps for those places brought back stories. Of course, some of them never came back at all. They might have been killed or caught as spies. Or not. No one knows what happened to them.”

Err shivered. He plucked a trowel out of the bucket and dug radishes out of the row next to him.

“Of course,” said his grandfather, “it doesn’t help that we live on the border between the two. It would probably be more of a symbolic thing if one of them took our village. They wouldn’t have much trouble.” He straightened up and peered around him at the wooden cabins and cottages. “One well-placed fire and the whole village would turn to ash.”

“Can they do that?” asked Err.

“Oh, yeah, they have torches to throw and arrows to shoot fire at us. It wouldn’t be any trouble at all. Not to mention we have no wall around us like the other towns do. They’re protected. This place was not built to be a fortress.”

“Then, if something did happen, we’d have to leave?”

“Well, we’d be ordered to, I’m sure.”

“And we don’t have anyone to protect us, either,” added Err. “We aren’t trained to fight, and there aren’t that many of us. So, where would we go?”

“Probably south. I’ve heard tell they’d come from the east and the west if we ever were invaded, and the mountains are to the north. I don’t know how far they’d follow us, or even if they’d bother to. In any case, the village would be destroyed.”

They dug up carrots and potatoes in silence for a few moments. Then the grandfather said, “Don’t let it worry you. They’ll probably go right past us. They’re so used to the big cities, they’ll march right through and not even notice we’re here.”

That drew a smile from Err, but it did not untie the knot that squirmed in his stomach.

As he always did when something happened in the village, Torrin eavesdropped. His father’s conversation with his advisors could be heard from the top of the staircase. They spoke softly; usually he could hear them better. He only caught bits and pieces.

“...will be here...few days...prepare.”

An advisor mumbled something and Torrin’s father answered. “Not if...keep moving...get here before...”

Frustration mounted in Torrin and he tiptoed down the stairs, holding on to the banister for balance and to lessen the weight on the boards beneath him. He tried not to make them squeak, but they had been there for so long, through countless generations of leaders, it was inevitable. His mother was out at the moment, and his father was too engrossed in the conversation to hear any noise, so he felt relatively safe. Nevertheless, he stopped in the middle of the stairs before the hallway so that no one would see him and so that he could make a quick escape, if necessary.

“Arrona will leave for the mountains in a few hours,” said his father. “We should begin preparations for departure in case she does not return. I will send out spies to report where the armies are located.”

Armies? Were they being invaded? Torrin felt the blood drain from his face. Larger towns several days away had been targeted before, but Torrin always thought theirs was safe. They had no real resources to speak of, as far as he knew, and they were so small, he thought it would be pointless for anyone to try and conquer them. He knelt down and leaned closer until his face was pressed against the railing.

“If she does return, we may decide differently, but until then, round up the healers and tell them to pack their belongings, especially their books. You must all do the same. Your knowledge is too valuable to lose, and we may need it in the town we evacuate to. We will make every effort to keep our people together, but I cannot guarantee that will happen.”

“What will we tell them, the truth?” asked an advisor.

“To the healers, yes, but do not mention it to the people. I do not want them to panic, and it will be for nothing if Arrona returns in time.”

“What was it that she went to get, again?” an advisor asked, his low, gravelly voice echoing through the kitchen.

“Something that will help us,” said Torrel. “She is going to retrieve an object that should protect us if we are invaded.”

“What is it?”

“A weapon.”

“What kind?”

He did not answer immediately. Torrin heard something scratching, like someone sliding their shoe across a floor.

“It is a sword.”

“We have swords here,” said another advisor, in softer, higher-pitched voice. Why can’t we defend our land ourselves?”


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