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|The world is suffering the greatest draught in centuries and Dyran, Cyryn and Amyli are sent to the Temple of Gaia to find out if it's ever going to rain...||
A single drop of water landed with a soft ‘thud’ on the dry soil, leaving a small damp, dark crater in the dust. Another drop soon followed, and another one, and within seconds the air was filled with the soft hiss of raindrops on dust and dry leaves. The dry soil eagerly sucked in the water, the roots of plants and trees drank like they had never drunk before, animals bathed in the all-abundant flood of water.
Softly, in the background, came the sound of splashing footsteps, barely audible at first in the ever-increasing heavy noise of the rain. But slowly the footsteps became louder, until a steady rhythm could be heard; thud-thud, thud-thud, thud-thud. The sound of running footsteps, running as if they were never going to stop.
And as the rain continued to fall, and shrouded everything in a grey haze, a shadow appeared far off, growing taller, more distinct. And all the while the footsteps ran on, running, running, running, until the shadow became a silhouet of a man, running, arms flung out, head thrust back, reveling in the streaming rain.
But then, in an instant, he was gone, disappeared into the rain’s grey mists, and the footsteps slowly died with him. The rain went on for a few minutes; then diminished, drop by drop, until the last few droplets fell in the pools of rainwater that had formed, leaving small circles that expanded, expanded – and then disappeared, like the rain.
And in the muddy ground, the imprint of a foot of a man running in the rain, running for the rain, running with the rain. The imprint of the foot of a man who was rain.
I. Council’s Decision
‘The Rainrunner’s nothing but a myth.’
Karlya leaned against the windowsill, staring outside. Staring at the dusty fields, at the dying crops. At the villagers carrying water to the fields to try and keep their crops alive. The wind swept up the dust, blew it around in circles, and against the window. She briefly closed her eyes and let her head rest against the glass. In just a few years, everything would be buried in the dust, she knew, if rain didn’t come soon. But for old Tom to suggest the Rainrunner…
She sighed and turned around to face the Council.
‘The Rainrunner’s just a myth,’ she repeated. ‘There is absolutely no evidence that he has ever existed, or that his magic is even possible.’
‘The Rainrunner is one of the Old Gods,’ Tom said with a deviant gleam in his old, creamy eyes. ‘Just like Gaia. If she exists, than so must he.’
Karlya shook her head, exhausted. So many years as a Priestess of Gaia in this village, and still she couldn’t get it in their heads that Gaia was the only Goddess that had ever existed.
‘The Old Gods are just as much legends as the Rainrunner,’ she said. ‘As much as people may have prayed to them, as many followers they may have had, all they were is stories cooked up by money- and power-eager so-called priests for their own benefit.’ She saw Tom was going to protest and lifted a hand to motion him to silence.
‘And even if the Rainrunner had ever existed,’ she continued, ‘his powers are definitely magical, not natural. And if there’s anything legends have taught us, it’s that magic often causes more damage than it repairs. The world has her own rythym; we humans are not allowed to meddle in it. Whatever reason Gaia has for this draught, she will need for it to rain before long, and then it will rain. All we can do is wait.’
‘That is not enough, Karlya,’ Mertlonn, the Head of the Council said. ‘We need rain to survive. We cannot wait forever.’ He got up from his chair, walked towards her and grabbed her hands.
‘If there’s anything you know, anything you can do… tell us.’
‘I can only pray,’ Karlya said. ‘I can only strengthen Gaia with my strength.’ As are all priests of Gaia doing these days, she thought. ‘But I do not know when Gaia will let it rain. I cannot see into Her future.’
‘Then we are lost,’ Tresslin, Mertlonn’s wife, said sadly, and hugged her eight year old daughter Kis tightly. A murmur spread through the Council; ripples and whispers of uncertainty, fear and despair. Karlya looked at them; and at her own son, who was staring at her with something of disappointment in his eyes. She closed her eyes and sent a short prayer for wisdom to Gaia, then took a deep breath.
‘But I know someone who might be able to foretell the coming of the rains,’ she said, against better judgement.
‘Who?’ Mertlonn demanded.
‘His name is Dravon, a High Priest of Gaia. No one knows Gaia better than him; if anyone is privileged to foresee the rain, it is him. But,’ she raised her voice over the increased murmurs, ‘he lives at the Temple in Newwyn Valley, to the far west. It takes at least three months to travel there. The rain might come before any delegation reaches him.’ Or we might all be dead, her morbid mind added. Please, Gaia, let the rains come before then.
‘It seems it is our best option,’ Mertlonn said. ‘As it is, we can survive for a few months with the water from the river, but if the rains do not come before the river runs completely dry…’
‘We could move away…’ Amyli suggested, but was cut off by various Council members.
‘There’s nowhere we can go that isn’t affected by the draught as well.’
‘And even if it isn’t, it will be before long.’
‘So a delegation to Newwyn Valley…’
‘But who to send?’
‘I can’t go, I have to attend my fields…’
‘My father needs me to take care of him…’
‘My children, I can’t leave them alone…’
‘Will you go?’ Mertlonn asked Karlya, and she looked up, distracted from her own fears and worries.
‘What? No, I must stay here,’ she said once she realised what it was he had asked. ‘I must stay and pray for the village. I will write a letter which should ensure the delegation entrance to the Temple and to an audience with Dravon, but that is all I can do…’
‘I will go,’ a youthful voice interrupted her, and her heart dropped to see her son standing in the middle of the room, his eyes resolved, his mind made up.
‘Dyran, don’t…’ she said but knew it was no use.
‘I have to do this, mother,’ Dyran said. ‘I have to do something. I can’t just sit here and wait for the rains to come – or us to die.’ She saw he wanted her blessing in this, wanted her to tell him he was doing the right thing, that she was proud of him for doing it.
‘I know, Dyran,’ she said. ‘I know… But please be careful.’ He nodded, quiet, but she could see the relieved smile in his eyes.
‘Who else would be willing to go?’ Mertlonn asked the Council. ‘Surely we cannot send Dyran alone.’
‘I’ll go,’ said Cyryn, the village’s smith said, standing up. ‘The Goddess knows I won’t be of much use here.’
‘I’ll go too,’ Amyli said. ‘You men need a good tracker to stay on the right path.’
‘Very well,’ he said. ‘Dyran, Cyryn and Amyli will go to the Temple. I suggest you pack light. We will give you as much water as we can spare. Don’t spoil it, you don’t know where you’ll find fresh water.’
‘I will explain the route tomorrow,’ Karlya said. ‘I might even have an old map you may take with you.’
The three travellers-to be looked at each other, realising this would probably be the greatest adventure any of them would ever have, and that, now, they couldn’t go back. They had to reach the Temple before the lack of water proved lethal to their people. Dyran swallowed hard and stole a look at his mother. She had said there was probably nothing to be done but wait, but he couldn’t accept that. There had to be something that could be done. Even if it was something as far-fetched as Tom’s Rainrunner.
After all, it did sound like the perfect solution. Didn’t it?
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