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Loss and sacrifice, p.1
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       Loss and Sacrifice, p.1

           Andrew Day
 
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Loss and Sacrifice
Loss and Sacrifice

  By Andrew Day

  Copyright 2014 Andrew Day

  Thank you for your support.

  Contents:

  Loyalty

  Of Memories Lost

  To Die in the Spring

  Also by the Author

  Loyalty

  The sky overhead was grey and cloudy as Zachery looked grimly at the soil of his field. It was rich and fertile, yet for some reason refused to yield any crop of any kind. If nothing grew soon, he didn’t know what he was to do. Even his daughter Danniella was losing her normally optimistic demeanour.

  The past few years had not been good for them. The long winter had finally claimed his wife of many years. Both he and Danniella had taken the blow hard, and had little time in which to mourn their loss. The fields needed to be tended and the crops to be taken care of. Only now, the ground refused to grow anything but worms and lice.

  Zachery sighed and turned back to the house where Danniella stood waiting expectantly. She was only fourteen, but Zachery feared the hardships they had endured were already draining her beyond recovery. He would have no choice but to try his luck and begin planting again.

  As the day wore on, Zachery ploughed his field for what seemed like the hundredth time. In his eyes even Galahad the trusty plough horse had grown tired of such menial tasks. Over the drone of flies and mosquitoes, Zachery heard the far off clip clop of hooves and sighed.

  Lord Guyye, the Lich Lord of Zachery’s farm, always had the habit of turning up unexpectedly. Zachery went to the gate to meet him and found Danniella already there.

  “And the planting? Does it go well?” Guyye was asking. His expensive clothes and pompous expression gave no false impressions of his heritage.

  “Of course,” Danniella lied, and Zachery swelled with pride.

  “Danniella, go tend to Galahad,” Zachery told her.

  “I can plough the field. I know how.”

  “All right,” Zachery said with a smile. “But don’t be too rough. Galahad doesn’t like that.”

  “I know, father.”

  Zachery and Guyye watched her walk off.

  “She has grown quite a bit,” said Guyye.

  “Yes,” replied Zachery.

  “She is becoming quite a young woman.”

  Zachery didn’t like the way he had said that. “What brings you down here at this time, My Lord?” he asked.

  “I have heard that you were having trouble getting your fields to grow,” Guyye answered. “I wanted to know if such vicious rumours had any merit. I do not wish to believe my best farmer has been having trouble, not when he has the most rich and fertile land for miles.”

  Zachery did not know how to answer. “I’m afraid things aren’t as well as they would seem.”

  Guyye raised an eyebrow. “Your daughter insisted everything is growing perfectly,” he said accusingly.

  “My daughter has inherited her mother’s gift of exaggeration,” Zachery replied.

  “Then you have not yet succeeded in growing crops as I have ordered?”

  “No, My Lord. For some reason the ground won’t grow anything,” Zachery said.

  “That is not acceptable,” snapped Guyye. “You are already late with your tithes.”

  “There isn’t much else I can do but plant and wait, My Lord,” Zachery argued. “If there is anything else I can do...”

  He regretted saying that the moment the words came from his mouth.

  “Really?” said Guyye interested. “Anything.”

  Zachery did not answer.

  “Well, then,” Guyye began. “As you know, my eldest son has recently come of age.”

  “My congratulations.”

  “Yes,” Guyye said dismissively. “At any rate, if he is too someday inherit my estate, he will need to be married. If your daughter were to agree to become his wife, I am sure we could come to some arrangement on the matter of your... reluctant fields.”

  Zachery did not even have to think of his reply. “I am sorry my lord, but my daughter will not be marrying anyone.”

  “Oh no?” Guyye said angrily. “Well, I do not think you have properly acknowledged the situation you are in. Because I was so abrupt in my offer, I will allow you some time to reconsider your choices. However, if you have not come to your senses, or in the least, manage to coax some form of life from this pitiful strip of dirt, then I will find a farmer who will.”

  “I will grow my harvest, and there will be more than enough to go around. Leave my daughter out of this.”

  “We shall see,” snorted Guyye. “Good day, farmer.” And with that he turned and stormed back to his carriage.

  Zachery stood and watched his lord depart, wondering to himself why the Gods wished to impart onto him so much loss. First they had taken his wife, now they wished to take his daughter. Was there to be no end to the suffering?

  Solemnly he turned and walked back to the field, where Danniella was neatly ploughing the earth. She looked up in worry at his approach.

  “Is something wrong?” she asked in concern.

  “No,” Zachery replied quickly. He did not wish to worry her more than was necessary. “Everything will be all right. I promise.”

  Almost a week passed, and still the crops refused to grow. Zachery was at his wits end. What else was there to do?

  Danniella was busy feeding the pigs when the Hooded Man first arrived, appearing as if from nowhere. Danniella had turned and jumped in surprised as she found herself facing a enormous black horse reined to a grubby wagon constructed from rotten, foul smelling wood.

  The man who sat atop the wagon wore a long, black cloak, the hood pulled upwards to hide his features. The hands that held the reigns of the wagon were thin and skeletal, fingers unnaturally long and the nails sharp and black.

  As Danniella cried out in surprise, the man turned and regarded her thoughtfully. He held a finger to the front of his face. “Shh,” he said softly. “Hush child. I did not mean to frighten you.”

  His face was nothing but a shadow, but his gaze chilled her to the bone. Summing up all her courage, Danniella demanded, “What do you want?”

  “I am here to speak to the owner of this farm,” the man said slowly, his voice low and gentle. “Your father I believe.”

  “What do you wish to speak to him about?” asked Danniella. The man held up a hand to silence her.

  “Such impatience,” he tutted. “That would give away the surprise. Run along and fetch your father. I will not wait here forever.”

  Danneilla rushed to the fields and told Zachery of the Hooded Man. When they both arrived back, the man had dismounted and was feeding his horse.

  “Who are you and what are you doing on my land?” Zachery demanded.

  The man turned and stared at him. “There is no need to be aggressive,” he said. “I have come only to help you from your current predicament.”

  Zachery looked at the wagon that was heavily laden with goods. A thick cloth covered the contents from view. “We aren’t in need of a salesman, thank you,” he explained.

  “Of course not,” said the man, taking something from his cloak and feeding it to his horse. “But I am not a salesman. Rather, I feel that I will become a close friend to you in this time of need.”

  “Whatever it is that you’re selling, we don’t need it. Please leave.”

  “What I have is not for sale. I offer it in a simple exchange.” In the dark recesses of his hood, Danniella thought she saw the man smile.

  Zachery looked at the man in annoyance. “In exchange for what?”

  Danniella tried to object. “Father...” she started.

  The man held up one weathered hand to silence her. “As I have said, there is no need to fear me. I offer n
othing but assistance.” Suddenly he bent double and was racked by a fit of foul coughing, as though his lungs were rotting to pieces. “Can I at least count on the kindness that one offers an old man weary from his journey?” he asked painfully.

  “Of course,” Zachery said. Despite his appearance, he could not help but feel pity for the man.

  Danniella did not share her father’s feelings. She did not trust the man in the least. “Father, we shouldn’t invite strangers into our home.”

  “Danniella, we may be poor but we still have our sense of courtesy,” Zachery chided his daughter. He turned to the man. “Please follow us.”

  Again Danniella swore the man smiled. “Your kindness to me will not be forgotten,” he said.

  The man sat at their old table, his face still obscured by his thick hood. Danniella poured him a cup of weak tea as her father talked.

  “Who are you, stranger, and why have you come here?” Zachery asked.

  “As I have explained, I have come to seek the owner of this farm and offer him an exchange,” the man answered.

  “Then surely you seek Lord Guyye, the owner of all the land in these parts...”

  The man snorted loudly. “If I wanted to deal with some self-titled lord I would have become a pig farmer myself,” he snapped and spat unceremoniously on the
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