“Listen! Can you hear the rhythm?” Silan whispered to her sister as she straightened from her raspberry harvesting. Her gaze searched the horizon for the source of the rhythmic beat but it was useless. She couldn’t see beyond the trees but she still knew what was approaching. “Marinet! Listen!” she begged.
Marinet was not listening. The Gardener was providing a bountiful harvest of all crops and wild offerings this autumn. Marinet hummed happily as she picked beans in the garden neighbouring the raspberry bushes that erupted chaotically from the woods. She was lost in her thoughts. She hummed the latest melody composed by the Exalted, the most revered composer of all time. It was not a melody one remember easily, as it was so new, but Marinet possessed a talent when it came to music. She could recall each note of each song asked of her. The chill of damp evenings, huddled on pillows as the winds blew, was made bearable by the familiarity of Marinet’s pure tones. Word of her talent spread by way of the nomads and each morning Silan worried it would be her last day with her sister before Marinet would leave to follow her calling. She would become a nomad and share her songs with the settlements as the Exalted had done before her. The council of the Tenths was already predicting the loss of the settlements’ most beautiful songstress. In the meantime, the bean picking and humming absorbed all of Marinet’s attention.
Silan dreamed of following her sister, but her own calling was still undecided. Thirteen summers had passed since she was born into the settlement and she felt quite content to stay. She could not imagine leaving home. She did love storytelling though, and it would suffer without her older sister’s musical accompaniment.
Marinet’s humming morphed into words and Silan lost track of the distant rhythm emanating from deep within the forests. She couldn’t help focusing on Marinet’s singing.
“Il siminan ma, etal il calsa tenen,” Marinet sang in the Iminanlan language. Born of the fair river, child of the strong farmer. The notes of the haunting song blew away with a sharp gust of wind. Silan’s cropped, sandy hair ruffled and settled. In the sudden quiet, Marinet looked up from her handful of beans, her long, dark braid falling over her shoulder. She turned to Silan and whispered, “Do you hear that?”
Silan rolled her violet eyes at her sister. She shuddered in the breeze and pulled her fringed, wool shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“I’ve been hearing it all day. Ivarin raiders.” Out of instinct, she kept her voice low.
“And I thought my ears were good.”
“Let’s just finish. It’s still miles away and the Tenths would have heard it by now too. The wind has shifted.”
Anxious that their life at the cabin could be taken away, the beat of the March lay a feeling of dread deep within Silan. It’s rhythmic, constant beat haunted her. Marinet lowered her head and continued her bean harvest but she stayed quiet. Silan walked over the sheep shorn grass to the quilts drying on a line. Her hand rested on a quilt momentarily as she gauged whether or not it was dry enough to take down. Her heart aching and her breath shallow in her chest, Silan surveyed the yard. The autumn season had arrived and it was a cool day. Surrounded by tall poplar and birch trees, the yard was a hideaway behind the cabin she shared with her sister. The cabin was a simple log construction left to them by their parents who disappeared in a raid many years earlier. At the time, Marinet and Silan chose to share the cabin and rebuild their lives with the help of the community. The girls were given what the needed in exchange for evenings of Marinet’s singing and Silan’s storytelling. Their gardens provided all of their vegetables and a small orchard beyond the fence provided apples, cherries and pears. Now almost grown, the girls felt that they had their own purpose in the settlement but they remembered the loss with pain.
That particular raid on Bethesda Settlement was enough to fire Silan’s imagination and provide her with pictures that were very likely worse than what was actually happening. From the relative safety of the cabin, Silan and Marinet were put in charge of taking care of each other. They heard wails and crying coming from the centre of the settlement but no more than that. They stayed inside the cabin the entire day, despite the warm sunshine and lovely breeze that belied what was happening. The girls cooked dinner and ate in silence, waiting for the footfalls of either their parents or the raiders. They weren’t sure which.
It wasn’t until the sun set behind the trees and the fireflies appeared in the yard that Silan started to really worry. She no longer heard sounds from the settlement and to her, that either meant all was well or everyone was dead. They changed for bed and crawled beneath the covers.
When morning came, knocking on their door awoke them from what little sleep they had managed. Wondering why their parents would knock, Silan ran to the door in excitement and was greeted by Bethesda and the other Tenths, looking extremely solemn.
This wouldn’t be the first raid they had survived but Silan feared they would not be so lucky if it were to happen again. She wondered if their settlement was the target or a neighbouring one. She worked the dry quilts off the line and folded them tightly against her chest. Holding them so, she treaded up the rickety porch stairs and through the door. The cabin was one room with two beds against the back wall. Sparse furnishings surrounded the hearth in the corner and a small food preparation area followed a sidewall lined with curtained windows. It was cozy, full of warm red and brown tones and lacking unnecessary decorations apart from bunches of dried chrysanthemums and snapdragons that hung in bouquets above the counters.
Silan stomped the dirt from her sandals on the front verandah and walked in. She dropped the quilts in a heap on her bed and quickly took two from the pile. She spread both of them neatly over Marinet’s bed, smoothing the rumples with her hands. She did the same with her own bed. Soon the nights would be warm enough for one quilt each but the evening winds still help spring’s chill.
Marinet kicked the door open with the side of her foot. Silan turned to smile as the door flung wide to reveal her sister loaded down with one basket of tomatoes and one basket of beans.
“We’re so lucky to live where we can harvest all year, don’t you think?” Silan asked.
“Yes, it’s definitely been a blessing. I wonder what they do in the settlements further north?”
“I would guess more preserving is done.”
“You’re probably right. Seems like so much more work though. Why wouldn’t they move here?”
“I think it’s just what they’re used to,” answered Marinet. “I feel like cocooning, Silan. Let’s stay inside for the rest of the evening.”
Silan sat on a freshly made bed. “We can’t let the March affect us. I still have kindling to collect for tonight’s fire. We can do it together. Leave the thought of the raids to those who can do something about them.”
“I just feel like curling up in bed and reading a book.”
“And awaiting your doom?” Silan sighed. She felt the same but someone in the room needed to be optimistic.
“No,” Marinet sighed.
“That’s what it sounds like to me. Come with me. Let’s get that wood.”
Marinet walked to the windows and set her baskets on the counter. Silan could feel her sister’s frustration however, she needed to keep busy. She knew huddling in the cabin would do neither of them any good. Their long, straight skirts swept the floor on the way out and the side ***** provided ease of movement as they ran down the stairs.
An east wind pulled at the orchard trees. Despite the warm sun, it was an unsettling omen for the nomads and guards who would soon be flocking in defense of the settlement. Rain was coming.
The sisters hustled but there was no need for urgency. Silan felt an urge to complete the daily chores and although she kept calm for Marinet’s sake, she too felt a need to just sit by a warm fire as night approached. It was strange to feel both and anxiety built within her stomach.
Just past the orchard, on the edge of the deep forest, they stooped to gather sticks and small branches the wind untangled from the trees. They never ventured far into the Fenisaft, or forest-hold, for fear of the unknown. There were countless legends of beings who dwelled among the trees that neither Silan nor Marinet wished to cross, least of all Fenmisa, Song of the Fenisaft. The stories they heard as children were on both their minds whenever they needed to step foot in the forest. It seemed silly to be wary of childhood fears but the world was no longer safe. Nature was protective and had ways of ensuring its survival.
“Do you ever dream, Silan, of what you will be doing in later years?” Marinet asked as she sorted through wet and dry kindling.
Silan looked up. “Of course I do. Don’t you?”
“I do but on days like this, I don’t see what the point is.”
“What do you dream?”
“That the Exalted will ask Bethesda if he can take me as an apprentice. I want to learn to write music and sing as he does.”
Silan smiled. “And be as famous?”
“It is a dream, remember?”
“I know, Marinet. Try not to worry. Keep dreaming. We’ll get through this.” This time Silan’s smile didn’t feel sincere. She too wondered if a raid would end their lives as it had their parents. What would be left of the settlement? Silan knew the people could not uphold moral if the raids continued. Where would they go?
It was possible that the Ivarin raiders were headed toward Cornelius Settlement. It lay further east. Settlements to the south and east were raided far more often because the Ivarin rarely ventured so close to the Fenisaft. The Ivarin were brutes. The biggest men they could round up were sent on the March to raid Iminanlan settlements all over. They were ruthless and could not understand the Iminanlan way of life. In the eyes of the Ivarin, the Iminanlan people were underlings, not capable of the stature and progress of their own, much more advanced, culture centred around the city of Calsa Ninma.
Silan remembered well her learning in school. The Ivarin strove to rebuild their world as it once was, with no care of their surroundings and that nature that allowed them to live in peace. They secured themselves in a stronghold barricaded several miles up a mountain, with a view of the world that anyone would envy. Only trails of smoke mixed with soot and exhaust pointed to human occupation. A high, intimidating wall of stone surrounded the entire mountain, preventing those without permission to enter or leave.
The peace-loving Iminanlan were now simply in the way of the Ivarin’s advancing technology and culture. The settlements were placed in various locations where the Ivarin could have developed more strongholds, dug mines and planted crops that would feed their entire population. As it was, the Ivarin were without enough food adn were quickly running out of resources despite their technological progress. The Iminanlan were a larger race. There was quite simply more of them. The settlements were scattered but well defended for the most part.
Silan remembered her father whispering to her mother that it wouldn’t be long before the Ivarin became desperate and sent out larger raiding parties to capture entire settlements and claim them for their own. They would grow tired of having to deal with the Iminanlan. Despite the numbers, the Ivarin had dangerous weapons, guns and cannons that could easily defeat any Iminanlan archer or swordsman. Thus far, they had chose not to use them. Their only interest was in resources, but the ways of the Ivarin were no longer predictable.
Silan and Marinet feared the Ivarin but now that their parents were among the victims, the girls also held a deep hatred, one that was slowly eroding those fears.