Fantasy Fiction posted August 25, 2018

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
A fantasy, coming of age story

The Gatherer: Chapter 1

by LynnetteOK

Ranold woke up with the sun glaring into his eyes. He was alone in the house. The silence wrapped around him like a blanket, warm and soothing. His parents had left for work much earlier. Since Ranold had only passed 16 season-cycles, he was expected, even encouraged, to get all the sleep he needed.
Ranold pulled his sun clothes on mechanically. His mind was racing with the thoughts that monopolized all his waking hours. He had pulled on the customary top signifying he had not yet Become, and his pants without realizing it. The thoughts in his head, the pressure of time passing felt ready to explode at any moment. His time of Becoming was almost upon him. The ceremony would take place when the moon was fat, and his childhood would be officially over.

At his Becoming ceremony, he was expected to announce what life-work he had chosen. Before reaching the time of Becoming, the betweens helped with any jobs that interested them. In that way, they were able to find out which work they enjoyed and had a talent for.

Some people loved the hunt and, therefore, became hunters. They patiently waited and watched at the water hole until their prey was in range. They threw their spears with skill and accuracy, providing meat for the whole village. Hunters were honored almost as much as Elders. When a carcass was brought into the village, others went to work on it. The slaughterers, the spear makers, and the tanners' skills were all needed. The slaughterer cut the meat into sections, the spear maker took the bones, and the tanner took the skin. Next the skin went to the stitchers to be made into warm coats and blankets.

Some people didn't like to deal with the death of an animal. Many worked the gardens, growing vegetables and roots. Others stored things so they could be eaten when the cold season came. Some grew lancint, others spun it, and still others wove it into cloth for clothing. Ranold's father, Jemas, was known as the most skillful weaver in the village.

There were people who cooked and baked and others who were happy keeping the village clean. Some were healers. Others chose to bury the bodies of the ones who went on to the Final Becoming, considering it an honor to help send them on. There was work for everyone, and all were able to do work they enjoyed.

Everyone made time for fun as well. People expressed their individual creativity by growing flowers, painting, writing, singing, and dancing. Some just played.

When a Between announced their choice for a life-work at the ceremony, they began doing it the next day. Unless the Council of Elders prohibited it, which Ranold had never seen happen. If, however, one had not made a decision by their time of Becoming, the Council made them gatherers. The belief was that if one couldn't choose a life-work for themselves, they must be lazy, stupid, or both.

This brought great shame and sorrow to the family of the gatherer. Gatherers were banished from the village and lived in the dark forest. Even the hunters, considered the bravest ones in the village, shuddered at the thought of going into the forest. Gatherers sometimes brought berries, seasoning plants, and medicinal herbs to the village. They left them in an opening near the main gate. Gatherers were also not allowed to have life-mates. The Council didn't want them to breed more like them. Once a gatherer was sent out, they weren't seen again.

Ranold had helped with many different life-works. He truly wanted to find the one for him, but none of them intrigued him at all. Ranold wasn't lazy or stupid. The forest was the only thing that interested him. In the tall stone wall surrounding the village, he had found a hole about the size of a small allowe shell. He spent hours looking through it and wondering. What did the forest smell like? What did it feel like? How did the gatherers know what to bring to the village? Why was being a gatherer a shameful thing when the things they brought were so useful? What made them vanish? The questions kept coming.

The forest didn't look scary to Ranold. He saw beauty in it. He watched the leaves dance on the trees when the wind blew. He watched the sun make wonderful designs on the ground as it shined into the dance. The ground looked cool and soft. Ranold wanted to go to the forest more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. But only gatherers went to the forest. For Ranold to go, he would have to give up everyone and everything. This was the most important decision he'd ever make, and he was running out of time to make it.

When a Between had their ceremony and became a Full one, they were free to take a life-mate if they chose. Ranold had definitely chosen. Every time he saw Tirre his heart began to pound and his palms started sweating. Tirre's fiery red hair and green eyes reminded him of the forest. She had happy holes in her cheeks when she smiled or laughed that Ranold loved. So he made it a point to make her smile as often as he could. He once had a dream about Tirre that still made him blush when he thought about it. Tirre seemed to have decided her life-work. She loved to cook. She often smelled like stew or fresh bread. If Ranold went into the forest he would be giving up any hope of making Tirre his life-mate.

He had considered going to the Council of Elders and asking for an exception. Maybe, because he was choosing to be a gatherer instead of being forced into it, they would let him have a life-mate. The members of the Council were ones who had lived at least 50 season-cycles. They were believed to have great wisdom. Ranold was sure they did, but he doubted they had great mercy or compassion. What could they know about the passion of love or the overwhelming draw of the forest? He was breaking tradition. Nobody had chosen to become a gatherer since the time of memories began.

Ranold also had to consider what would happen to his parents. They would be shamed because of him. People would whisper when they walked by, saying this was the result of not being trained properly. When a woman held a new one inside, it was customary for the couple to go stay for a while with another family with young ones. In that way, they would be prepared to be parents. Whenever Ranold's mother, Lasi, discovered she was holding a new one, the only family with room for them was one who only had a new one themselves. Lasi and Jemas had worked hard to overcome that stigma for Ranold. If he became a gatherer, all their efforts would have been in vain.

Ranold wanted to do what he should, what wouldn't hurt or shame anyone. But he couldn't escape the forest's pull.

Leaving his dwelling, Ranold decided to go to his secret spot near the watering hole. He didn't want to face his friends today. He couldn't stand listening to them talking about how excited they were about the ceremony of Becoming. He didn't want to hear how happy they were to begin their life-work. He couldn't fake it today. His heart was too heavy. He needed fresh air, and to be alone so he could think. Going to his secret spot often helped clear his head. It wasn't the forest, but at least it was away from the village. There, all was seen including, Ranold often imagined, his very thoughts.

Ranold passed through the center of the village to get to his spot. He could have gone along the wall, but that would have taken a lot longer. He made his way past homes and people he had know since birth, but he saw things differently today. He noticed the deep purple of the alencia pitch that covered the walls and tops of the dwellings. He watched a flapp run by, all three of its legs going full speed and its golden quill feathers flashing as its sides flapped with its panting. He caught a glimpse of a slide's eyes popping up from the red grass as it slithered along. Ranold really saw the multitude of colors that shown from the allowe shells people used to carry water when they had been outgrown. All of these things he passed every day, but today he really looked at them. The familiarity usually made him feel safe and secure, but today they were part of the painful choice he had to make. Did these creatures exist in the forest? Ranold thought they probably did, but the people he knew and loved didn't.

When he reached the path leading to the water hole, Ranold realized he was being followed. He heard footsteps, but when he stopped to listen, they stopped as well. He didn't want anyone else to know where his secret spot was. He continued on, listening cautiously, until the path curved. Once around the curve, he stepped off the path and ducked under a blue leaf bush, crouching in its shadow. The mud on the path showed two small feet. Ranold jumped from his hiding place, expecting it to be one of the young ones. They loved to follow the Betweens around. But, before he could yell at them to get back to the village, he realized it was Tirre. She wore a look of concern on her face.

"Tirre! What are you doing here? Why are you following me?"

"I saw you leave your dwelling, and you looked distressed. I wanted to see if I could do something to help, you know?"

Ranold looked down at her small feet covered with mud, "Nobody can help me, okay? Just go celebrate with the others."

"How do you know?" Tirre asked him. "Who have you asked?"

Ranold realized she had a point. He'd been afraid to talk to anyone about his problem. Tirre was offering to help and she was the one he wanted for a life-mate. He might be able to trust her.

"You have to promise me you won't tell anyone at all what I tell you, okay?"

Tirre looked indignant, "You know I won't! I didn't tell when you ate all the redshines for the pies, did I?"

Ranold looked up at her and saw a hint of the happy holes in her cheeks. Yes, he did trust her. Besides, keeping his feelings inside, dealing with them alone was driving him mad. He led her to his secret spot and slowly he stammered out his longing to be a gatherer, to be in the forest. He explained his concerns about how the Council of Elders would react and the shame he would cause his parents. He told her everything except his fear of not having a life-mate. That would be too much after telling her he wanted to be a gatherer.

When he had said all he could say, he sat silently squishing mud between his toes. His heart pounded so hard in his chest he was sure Tirre could hear it. His palms were sweating but didn't wipe them for fear Tirre would see how badly his hands were shaking. It felt like he sat there for hours, afraid to look up at her.

Finally, in a small voice, Tirre asked, "Ranold, will you always love me, no matter what?"

Ranold sat in shock. Had he been that obvious? She still spent time with him even though she knew? That could mean...He looked up at her and she turned away. But, in the split second their eyes had met, he saw it. He now had another weight to put on his scale.

"Yes," he said softly. "No matter what."

She turned back to face him and he saw tears rolling down her cheeks where the happy holes had been. For a moment Ranold was certain there was no more air because he couldn't breathe. Why was she crying? Did she not want him to love her? Was it about his confession that he wanted to be a gatherer? What should he do?

Ranold thought he couldn't get more confused, but he was wrong. Tirre threw her arms around his neck and sobbed into his chest. His head turned to mush. Clumsily, he put his arms around her. He prayed fervently for an idea of what he should say or do. The gods chose not to answer.

He knew he should say something, even though every bit of saliva in his mouth had somehow been replaced with lansint.

"Tirre, what did I do wrong? Why are you crying like this? Whatever I said or did, I'm sorry!"

Only when she pulled back to look at him did Ranold realize how much he didn't want her to. It felt wonderful to have her in his arms. The only thing that had ever felt this right was the forest and that was forbidden just like this was. He loosened his hold so he could look into her face. The tears and sadness he saw made his heart hurt. He tried to wipe away her tears, but they fell more quickly than he could wipe.

Finally Tirre spoke, "The forest calls to me as well. I've been terrified someone would find out, especially you. I was afraid of what you'd think of me if you knew."

Just a short time earlier, Ranold had believed no answer to his dilemma existed. Now the answer stood in front of him in all her beauty.

"It's okay Tirre!" He tried to control the excitement in his voice, "We'll go to the Council of Elders and tell them we want to be gatherers together, as life-mates. They can't call us both crazy. We can make this work!"

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Ranold wanted to pull them back. Tirre hadn't said she wanted to be his life-mate. She had probably meant love as a friend. She had cried on his chest only out of relief that someone understood her longing for the forest. He had stuck his foot in his mouth for sure. Thank the gods he was barefoot.

"Do you really think they'd let us?" Tirre asked.

Ranold stared at her. Realizing his mouth was gaping open, he closed it. She hadn't laughed at him. She wanted to be his life-mate!

He laughed, "There's only one way to find out. We need to go see the Council of Elders."

He jumped up ready to run to the Council dwelling. His excitement gave him the speed of a flapp.

Tirre put her hand on his arm, "Hold on! We can't just go running into the Council dwelling and blurt all this out. We need a plan, you know?"

Ranold stopped. He looked into those green eyes he loved so much. Learning that she loved him had sent all reason running from his mind. As if that wasn't enough of a miracle, she wanted to go to the forest with him! Shock had relieved him of all his common sense.

"Okay," he admitted. "You're right. So how should we do this? Should we talk to the Elders first or our parents? Or should we just go, just head for the forest? What do you think will work best?"

Ranold's face turned hot and red as he realized how he sounded. He was making about as much sense as an allowe!

Tirre smiled at him, the happy holes once more on her cheeks. "Let's take a bit of time to figure it out, you know? I don't want to hurt my mother any more than I have to, and I know you don't want to hurt your parents either."

Ranold felt a wave of fear run through him. What if Tirre changed her mind? No, she was just being sensible, another one of the things he loved about her. He thanked the gods the babbling stayed in his head this time instead of pouring out of his mouth again. Ranold realized the happy holes were gone and tears were falling down Tirre's cheeks again. Girls were so confusing!

"What's wrong?" he asked her.

Tirre sniffled, "I'm scared. I want to do this the right way, I just don't know what that is."

Ranold took her hand in his. She wiped her face and straightened her shoulders. He saw the determination shining through her eyes and it gave him strength.

"We'll figure it out," he said. "We'll find a way to make them hear us. We'll only run if they don't leave us a choice, okay?"

Tirre nodded. The happy holes were still gone, but no more tears were falling. They sat together silently for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. Ranold was trying to wrap his head around all that had happened this morning. Everything had changed. Tirre loved him! He didn't have to choose between her and his dreams. They would follow them together.

Ranold broke the silence, "We should probably head back. Let's plan to meet back here tomorrow at about the same time. We'll put our ideas together and come up with a plan, okay?"

They clasped hands furtively for a moment, then Tirre began walking up the path. Young ones were coming and she gently herded them back toward the village, scolding them for coming too near the water. She didn't look back.

Ranold waited a few minutes, then began his walk back to the village. He realized he was exhausted. Though it was not yet high-sun, he went back to his dwelling and fell across his bed. Sleep took him immediately.

Story of the Month contest entry

This is the first chapter of a book I've been working on for a long time. There's a lot more of it written. This is the first time I've shown it publicly. I'd truly appreciate honest feedback.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by Photopeb at

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