"He looked at Linnet, smiling as sweetly as though she had offered to buy the man's shop. 'Tell me,' said the shopkeeper, 'what caused you to leave your barony?'"
Linnet is trouble. Everyone agrees about that. Driven from her native barony, she arrives at Goldhollow in hopes of beginning a new life, only to discover that she cannot escape her past.
As Linnet is drawn into memories of a dark young man she once knew, she must deal in the present with a boy who is headed toward danger, as well as a child-like baron who may force her to betray her past.
This novella on love and disabilities can be read on its own or as part of Darkling Plain, a collection of fantasy tales about young people in times of conflict.
This is a reissue of an older story.
Crows mocked her in the trees as she grubbed under the fallen trunk for the piece of house-wood she wanted. It had been a good house, before the tree fell on it; the quality of the wood attested to that. She wondered for a moment, with bitter irony, what its rich owner would have thought if he had known how she would make use of his leavings.
The crisp leaves under her knees crackled as she shifted her position, straining to pull out the plank. Her hand caught at one unvarnished edge, and she gave a yelp as several splinters drove into her palm. With a sigh, she sat back on her haunches, plucked out the splinters, and sucked at her hand as she surveyed the valley below her.
Like black fish entering the broad entrance to a river, men and horses still poured into the valley from the mountain pass below the rising sun. Pulling her cloak further closed against the soft autumn wind, Linnet stared at the relatively tiny force that was meant to protect the town above her. If she had been any other woman, her thoughts would have been on the women and girls huddled behind the town walls, whose lives would end in slavery or death if the army below failed in its task. As it was, though, all that she could think as she reached down once more toward the plank was, "All those dark boys who will never grow to be golden."
Several minutes later she extracted the plank from its grave, but she saw that it was hardly worth the effort, for the plank was cracked in the middle. Stubbornly refusing to acknowledge her failure, she rose wearily to her feet and began to stagger toward the wood-pile with her find. It was then that she saw the man.
He was leaning against one of the wild apple trees nearby, with his cloak tossed back to reveal the scarlet clothes beneath. Fine gold along the edging matched the color of his hair, which shone like sun-gilded water. His body was slender and youthful, and his eyes held a blue brighter than the mid-morning sky. They sparkled now with laughter.
When he spoke, it was with the accent she had heard many times in recent days. "Fair maiden," he said, "you seem somewhat burdened with your labor. Might I assist you in finishing your task, and then, perhaps, escort you to a place of greater leisure where, if your favor extends so far—"
"You can save the rest of that speech." With an effort, Linnet turned and cast the plank onto the pile before her, then stood breathless for a moment, trying to calculate how many days it would take her to gather the remaining wood.
"Ah." The man, whom she was no longer facing, seemed more amused than before. "You have heard this approach on a previous occasion, I believe."
"On more than one occasion. The answer is no."
"Perhaps if I were to approach your father in the proper fashion . .."
"Go right ahead." Linnet pointed toward a fenced area further down the hill. "You'll find him there."
"Ah," the man repeated. He came over to stand beside her, and she saw that his expression was now properly grave. "A soldier, perhaps?"
"That's the trade which all the men in our barony lay claim to these days—those who are alive."
The man nodded, continuing to stare down the hillside with his sparkling blue eyes. Then he looked her way suddenly, and as though he had indeed received a proper introduction from her father, he said, "My name is Golden."
Linnet was wondering whether, if she wielded a plank against him, this gadfly would leave her alone, but she said with all the politeness her parents had taught her, "I am Linnet."
Golden took the hand she offered him, but his gaze never left her face as he slowly raised her hand and kissed the back of her fingers in a manner that made her body tingle. "Well, fair maiden," he said. "I am deeply sorry to hear of— You are a fair maiden, aren't you? I'm not wasting my time on someone's wife, am I? Not that I'm above that sort of courting if the pickings are lean."
Linnet laughed then, turning her back on the cemetery below. "Fair and sixteen, as the song goes," she replied. "And you?"
"Nineteen and golden, as the same song says." The young man offered her a sweeping bow.
"Is your name really Golden?"
"It's what the girls call me, anyway. I think it's quite apt, don't you?"
"As long as one doesn't look under the surface," Linnet remarked dryly, and she walked past him to the remains of the fallen house.
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Right or Right.