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River Child

By Trina Solet

Copyright © 2017 by Trina Solet

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locales or actual events is entirely coincidental.

River Child

Gay Fantasy Romance

Trina Solet

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 1

Strange things went on along the river in these parts. It had been that way since the days when Talisbury was but a hamlet. No one knew what that glow was that came over the river at night. Since he was a child, Will yearned to see it up close. When he was small, he was forbidden to go near the river after sunset, and he didn't dare disobey.

Will was old enough now for his father and his grandmother to be telling him to pick out a girl to marry. For some reason no girl he ever saw had caught his eye, captured his heart or stirred any feelings lower down. But if his elders though him old enough to marry, that meant he was a grown man and childish rules couldn't hold him any more.

The rule wasn't only for children though. Not even full grown men and women dared to approach the river after dark. In daylight hours, fishermen could be seen casting their lines and their nets into its waters. Boats and barges ferried goods up and down the river in daytime, but not at night. Everyone knew not to travel these waters after darkness fell.

The River Eleth was enchanted and much feared. Strange things happened on its shores after nightfall. Shapes rose out of the silvery fog and inhuman voices sounded. The voices enticed people to come closer and apparitions pulled them under.

The unfortunate ones who drowned in River Eleth had to be buried far from the village under a pile of heavy stones so they would not arise and spread their curse. Will's own grandfather was drowned and buried far away, where no one could visit his grave. That's how much the river's curse was feared.

It was said that if anyone so much as walked by the river in the nighttime, they would take on its curse. Until that night, Will had only risked visiting the river in the evening and in the early dawn hours. He never saw any apparitions during those in-between times. Tonight it was his twentieth birthday, and he was brave enough to go to the river when he knew it had to well past midnight.

He sneaked out of the cottage while his father slept in one room and his sister and grandmother slept in the other. As he tiptoed his way out of doors, his grandmother was a special concern. She was a light sleeper, and if she knew where he was headed... He didn't want to think about that.

No one had a horror of the river like his grandmother did. Her feeling might more rightly be called hate. The river had taken a young child from her and then her husband not long after. That left her to raise Will's father alone. Will's grandmother even blamed the death of Will's mother on River Eleth, though she died giving birth to his sister, Sally. After losing so many, Grandmother Iris would not countenance what Will was doing. That's why he could not let her hear him as he made his way outside.

Tonight, Will was in luck as he tiptoed through the cottage. The floorboards did not creak so much as to give him away. Then his grandmother started snoring and that covered any little bit of noise he made.

He managed to open and close the front door without rousing a soul and then he was off to make his way through the sleeping village of Talisbury. He let the hedges and the blackberry bushes hide him along the village lanes until he reached the forest. On a moonless night like this, he had to have the lamp to light his way, but he dared not use it until he was hidden by the thick woods.

In the blackness of the forest, he uncovered the lamp and turned up the flame. The trees stood tall all around him, their shadows wavering with the shifting of the lamplight. The forest creatures made incessant noises that drove him on faster. He left the forest almost at a run, but slowed to catch his breath now that he was looking out over the hillocks.

Apart from the sound of air rushing in and out of his own lungs, he only heard the cowbells in the pastures and the whistling of the wind. He surveyed the way ahead. The quickest path to the river made for the most difficult climb, but Will took it anyway. He wanted to get there quick, before he was discovered.

As he set out, he was a point of light moving over the rolling green that had gone black under the moonless, night sky. Here he would be very visible, but there shouldn't be anyone about to see him. It would not be good for the villagers to know that he had gone to the river.

Drunk Tim was shunned after he was discovered on the bank of the river as morning came. Too much drink had led him to wander, he knew not where, and then to fall asleep where he shouldn't. He said he had strange dreams after that night and that was only more cause for everyone to turn on him and call him cursed.

Will didn't follow the custom and tried to get some stories out of the unfortunate man, but it was no good. Poor Tim had learned his lesson and would speak of his river adventure no more. His reticence was too late to do him much good. The villagers would not abide him among them, and he was driven out of the village.

Slowed by the lantern he carried, Will climbed the rocky ridge of Stoop Hill and then took a rest as he looked down on the river up ahead. It would be his first and last glimpse for a while. Once he went down the hill, the river would be gone from sight until the trees thinned out and he reached its marshy edge.

The trees growing between the hill and the river were of the strange, misshapen sort, sometimes leaning over dangerously, other times looking like they had been split down the middle. Many of them were overgrown with vines. Sometimes there was only a dead tree underneath, and the vine was the only living thing that remained.

These trees and thorny bushes stood in the way, and Will couldn't catch sight of the river until he had cleared them. When the last of the growth was behind him, he saw the mist as it rose among the reeds. The river was obscured, but he could hear it rushing by.

As he went closer, the ground turned soft and the air thick. Stepping cautiously, Will turned his lamp low again. His eyes wide with curiosity and fright, he went toward the river. The sound of the water filled his ears and the dull mist took on a shine. Its silvery glow dazzled his eyes in the deep darkness of a moonless night. It was beautiful but impenetrable to his sight.

He went closer, hoping to see more. There might be a shape or a voice calling, that's what he came to see. Nothing appeared from the mist, only the glow that shone into his eyes.

Judging the distance to the riverbank wasn't easy in the darkness, but he dared not get any nearer. He didn't want to be lured in and dragged under. But he had seen nothing. He had no tale to tell. He couldn't leave yet.

Too afraid to go closer to the edge, he moved up the riverbank. That's when he saw it. Something moved in the tall reeds. The stalks rustled and a small voice made a complaining sound.

Will took a step forward. His foot was on the edge where the soft ground gave way to the mud of the low part of the riverbank. The reeds rustled more turbulently, and a frightened noise came from there once again.

Will took another step. His feet made deep impressions in the mud. The reeds had gone quiet. They grew thick and Will couldn't see what creature was hiding there. Taking yet another step, he was now close enough to touch the stalks. Holding his breath, he reached out and parted them.

Standing in the midst of the reeds was a small boy of about three years of age. He was wet and timorous with fright. He looked up at Will with such sad eyes that he couldn't help but give the child his hand. The little boy took it. His small hand was cold and shivering. Will tried to encourage him to come out of the reeds, but the boy only made those pitiful noises. Will bent down and tried to pick him up. He couldn't budge him.

Looking down he saw that his feet were in the water and the muck. Crouching down, Will stuck his hand in the water. He wanted to see if the child's feet had snagged on something.

At first his hands couldn't find the child's feet at all. There was nothing for him to touch but water. A shiver ran through him then he felt them. Right there under his hand were two small feet, toes wriggling in the mud. Will laughed with relief and looked at the little boy. He looked happier too. Now when Will took the child in his arms, he could pick him up with ease.

After he had freed him, Will tried to set him on his feet, but the child would not have it. He clung to Will's neck and cried out rather than allow himself to be placed on his own feet on the wet ground.

"It's too muddy here anyhow," Will said and took the child further from the wet riverbank.

As he did, he noticed that the boy's gray eyes stayed on the river. He looked sad and said the word "Momma."

Looking toward the river, Will wondered if the child's mother might not be on the far side somewhere. With the mist hanging over the water, he could see nothing of the other riverbank. He did not know if the child was lost or if he had been abandoned here.

More fearful about the danger of the river now that the boy was with him, Will could not tarry. He had to take the helpless child away from there. He hurried off. The whole time Will glanced around, trying to catch sight of anyone else who might be connected to this boy. No one was in sight.

Once they were among the strange trees of the river valley, the boy allowed Will to set him down. He didn't stand on his feet but only sat down on the ground. At least now Will could get a better look at him. First thing he noticed was that the boy wore only a cloth sack that had mostly rotted away. That wouldn't do. Will took off the vest he wore and then his shirt. He put the shirt on the boy and then put the vest back on himself.

"That might keep you warm until I get you home," Will said and the boy looked at him curiously.

"What is your name, child?" Will asked but the child said nothing. "My name is Will. How about giving me your name? What do people call you?"

The boy still said nothing. It couldn't be that he didn't know his own name.

"Where is you mother and father, or any of your own people? Do you know?" Will asked.

The boy made no sign that he understood the question much less knew the answer.

Will tried again. "Where's your momma? Your kin?"

Now the boy raised his hand and pointed toward the river. Will wondered if his people might not be on the other side, but the boy seemed to be pointing straight at the river, not beyond it. Fearing the worst, Will didn't ask him anything more. He could find out where the boy belonged in the morning. Someone in the village might know him.

Now that they would be heading back, Will turned up the lamp. As he did, the boy shied away from it and clung to Will's arm. "I'll turn it down. It's small now. It should not frighten you," Will said but the boy still looked at the flame mistrustfully.

Since the boy could not or would not stand much less walk, Will picked him up to carry him. That was best anyway. The boy was still very cold though he didn't seem to suffer from it. He did not shiver any longer and seemed perfectly content in Will's arms.

It was slow going on the way back. With the boy to carry, Will had to take the long way over the hillocks. In the woods, he had to slow down as well. He could hardly see with the lamp turned so low, but the boy grew unhappy if he tried to turn up the flame.

They made it through without mishap though Will did trip a time or two on the tree roots. Coming out of the woods, they were very near the village now. Instead of being relieved, Will was now filled with trepidation.

Thinking back to what happened to old Tim, the drunk, Will worried. Those who were touched by the enchanted river were thought to carry its curse. After he was found asleep by the river, poor Tim was shunned and finally driven from the village as rocks were thrown at him to make him leave. Everyone said that he was bringing the village bad luck and would blight them all. If Will told the people of his village where he found this child, they might not wish to have the boy among them. They might cast out even a child this small.

Instead of continuing ahead, Will sat down behind a hedge at the outskirts of the village. As the boy sat in his lap, Will looked at him closely. He thought the child might still be wet, but his hair was dry, and there was no other sign on him that he had been near the river. In fact for a child who had been standing in the muddy banks, he was dry and also very clean.

That was a bit odd but a lucky thing. No one should be able to tell where this child came from. Will rubbed the child's light brown hair to make sure it truly was dry, and it was.

In the meantime, he explained himself to the boy. "I'll be telling a fib or two when we go into the village. I pride myself on being an honest lad, but my people aren't too fond of that river back there. I don't want them to know that I found you there, at night especially. I'll tell them I heard you crying in the woods, and that's where I found you. It's for the best," Will assured the boy, but like before the child only stared at him without a word.

Dawn was breaking by the time Will carried the boy into the village. The village folk were all building up their fires after letting them die down in the night. Only a few fires were going in earnest judging by the way the chimneys were smoking.

It was still early enough to avoid being seen by anyone before they got to the cottage. Though he saw a few early risers moving around in their own courtyards, they were busy with their morning chores and did not notice Will and the boy sneak past their hedges.

Soon enough they were in sight of the ivy covered fence and the simple wooden gate that would let them into the courtyard of his own family's cottage. Will felt little in the way of relief. Though he got the boy safely home, Will knew their troubles might only be beginning.

He was especially worried on seeing the one who was the first to rise as always in their house. There was Grandma Iris stationed at the front door like a sentry that stood in their way. Her hands on her hips, she regarded the yard like a queen might look upon her domain, the chickens, the bits of greenery and the bare patches of dirt.

Then she got busy sweeping up the front stoop. Will went up to the front gate, but his grandmother didn't see him. She was turned away talking to Sally, who was still dallying somewhere indoors.

Will leaned in to whisper to the boy. "That's my grandmother, Grandma Iris. She's strict." They could hear proof of it as she asked Sally if she wanted to sleep the whole day away.

"It's still nearly dark," Sally complained, her high voice reaching them from inside the house.

"It's the same bickering every morning," Will told the boy, who looked on curiously. His eyes went from the chickens pecking at the dirt to his grandmother shaking her head. Her long gray hair was twisted into a neat bun. She had her apron on over her simple, black dress, in every way she looked ready to begin the work of the day.

Will called to his grandmother and took the boy past the gate. The wood gate clattered shut behind him as he presented the boy to Grandma Iris. "I got a visitor here. Found him in the woods, heard him crying," Will told her.

Setting aside her broom, Will's grandmother only stared at him for a moment then turned her narrowed eyes to the boy. As she looked at the boy very closely, her wrinkled brow creased even more deeply. Will hoped that the boy would not be frightened.

"What were you doing in the woods at such a wicked hour?" Will's grandmother asked.

"I found myself awake and it was too early for breakfast. I went wandering about and thought I might pick some mushrooms. You know how father and I are partial to them. I found the boy instead though," Will said, embellishing his lie.

Grandmother seemed about to say something else, but then Sally poked her head out the door. She only had one of her blond braids done and was working on the other as she came over to stand at Grandmother's elbow. Sally was ten and far too inquisitive.

"Why have you got a baby with you, Will?" Sally asked while Grandmother called to his father to come out and see their visitor.

"I wouldn't say he is a baby," Will said. "I found this little boy alone in the woods." Then he had to repeat the story to his father as well, and there it was, he had lied to all in his family.

They all came over and clustered around the boy. Each of them spoke to the child and questioned him about who he was and where he came from, but he had no words for them.

"And what happened to his clothes that he wears yours?" Sally wanted to know.

"They must have torn in the forest, where he was lost for more than a little while by the look of him," Will said.

"Mrs. Simons will have some clothes. Her Thomas grew something awful over the past summer," Sally said and made a face. She was no admirer of young Thomas who was always sticking out his tongue at her. "His old clothes will be no good to Thomas. I can go and see what of his old things Mrs. Simmons has got to spare."

After Grandmother gave her permission, Sally ran off down the road to seek clothes for the boy. While she was gone, Will's father tried speaking to the boy again as did his grandmother. He gave no answer.

Sally soon came back from her errand with a small pair of britches that were patched at the knees and two simple shirts that were mended here and there. Will put them against the boy's small form. "These will do."

Taking him inside the cottage, Will put the clothes on him and got his own shirt back. He got the boy to stand for a bit, but he didn't trust he could stay on his feet. Not wanting to rouse any suspicion, Will picked him up as he went out again.

Right away, Sally came over to them, and she insisted on knowing the boy's name. She was quite stern that he should tell her. Not getting any sort of reply, she began saying every name she knew to see if the boy would answer to any of them.

Grandma Iris soon had enough of that. "Can't expect that little one to tell his life story on an empty stomach. That child must be hungry and we haven't got porridge cooking yet," she said and took Sally by the hand. She dragged her inside to help her make breakfast.

Sally went unwillingly, looking back at the little newcomer and waving. Sally was only a child herself. She would have much rather stayed to play with the little boy not gone to cook with Grandma Iris. That left Will to speak to his father about the child he had found and what was to be done with him.

Will had already thought of one thing he might do. "I want to take this little one around the village and inquire if anybody knows him or where he could have come from." If the questioning of their neighbors did not reveal where the boy belonged, Will had to make a plan for that eventuality as well. "Until his kin are found, I hoped we might keep him with us," Will said, beseeching his father with his eyes.

"Sure we can," his father said right away and smiled at the child. "The Bartons have eight children and they manage. And even with this one, we're well short of that."

"After we have breakfasted, I'll take him around," Will said then he turned to the boy. "We'll go feed the chickens, but watch out for Betsy. She's a feisty one."

When Will got the boy out of sight at the back of the house, where the chicken coop was, he set him down to see if he might stand on his own feet. Will held on to his tiny hands, which felt cool in his grip. The boy wobbled but couldn't take a single step.

That was no good. A child his age would surely be able to walk. That he could not walk was not damning on its own, but Will didn't want anything to cause his grandmother to grow suspicious of the boy. On no account would she allow the boy to stay if she discovered that he was found by the river at night.

Will rubbed the boy's hands to warm them. He then carried him while tossing the bits of bread crust and grain to the chickens. He pointed out old Betsy among the other hens so that he might be wary of her.

"Betsy is that brown and white one, and she has a real bad temper. She'll peck you if you let her."

The boy stared at Betsy, but showed no concern. He was well out of her reach as long as Will held him.

The chickens were fed and then it was time for the family to sit down to breakfast. Sally wanted the little boy to sit by her on the bench. Will was hesitant but decided it was all right as long he sat on the other side of him. A steaming bowl of porridge was placed in front of each of them.

They all dug in, but not the boy. Will encouraged him to eat and even brought a spoonful of porridge to his mouth to no avail. The boy only stared at the spoon then he looked up at Will. That was the look of someone who doesn't know what food is for. No. That couldn't be.

"Is my porridge not to his liking?" Grandmother Iris asked.

"That can't be, Mother," Will's father said. He knew his mother and how quick she was to take offense if her cooking was disparaged.

"I bet he's sad on account of being lost and away from his kin," Will said and patted the boy on the head.

His father nodded with ready understanding. "If he won't speak either, it's to be expected. When he's properly hungry, he'll be glad to eat. We'll try him at the midday meal and see how he likes your grandmother's stew. He'll have some of that for sure." Will's father winked at Will and Sally. They all knew how proud their grandmother was of her stew.

Father and Sally took the child not eating as a sign of sadness and a passing thing, but Grandmother frowned at the boy so darkly that Will hurried to get him away from the table and take him around the village to be seen and perhaps recognized.

Uneasy under his grandmother's suspicious gaze, Will was breathing easier as soon as he got the boy out of the cottage. The air was cool while the sun peeked from behind thick, white clouds. Walking along the village lanes, Will showed off the lad to everyone he saw, but none recognized him.

Kathy Poole did give them some sweets when they stood at her gate, and Will asked her to look at the child.

"He is such a quiet boy. I hope he will not have to be apart from his kin for too much longer," she said as she patted the child on the head.

She was a kind girl of marriageable age. More than once Grandmother hinted to Will that he should court her. To him she was only a nice girl. She did not stir his heart. So far, no girl had.

It wasn't anything he wanted to dwell on. He had this child to think of. Will thought he might have better luck with the merchants and tradesmen of the village, especially ones that plied their wares or their skills to other villages and even across the river.

Will spoke to them each in turn, but not one of them had seen the boy before or knew of a family he might belong to. Catching sight of some men going to the fields, Will called out to them and waved. He overtook them and had them look at the boy, but they did not know who he might belong to.

"Not to worry. There would be more villagers going about their tasks," Will told the boy as he held him in his arms.

The boy did not reply but he looked at Will as he spoke. His expression was tranquil. In it Will saw neither understanding nor confusion.

"Let us speak to some more folk," Will told him.

Standing on the side of the road that the villagers used to go to and fro, Will said a good morn to anyone he saw and asked, "Have you seen this boy before? Do you perhaps know who his kin might be?"

Every time the answer was no or a shake of the head.

"I'm sure someone will know you by and by," Will reassured the boy, but he did not seem troubled in the least.

It was while he lingered by the road that Will caught sight of Russ Mullins. Some people called him the mountain man because he lived up in Stony Hills above Acorn Ridge. He only came down to the village from time to time to do work or for provisions and to barter.

A strapping, dark haired fellow, he was a few years older than Will. He had no living kin or wife or children of his own. Though the village girls made eyes at him, it was as if he did not see them.

With the forbidding air he had about him, Russ was not friendly with any in the village, and Will did not know anyone who had spoken more than two words to the man. Even when Russ had done work for his father, Will did not dare to be friendly with him.

Usually Will would not approach such a daunting figure as this man, but on behalf of the boy, he went up to him. "If you wouldn't mind having a look at this here boy... Have you ever seen him before by any chance?" Will stammered a little. Speaking to Russ Mullins made him jittery. It was unlike being around anyone else, and Will did not know what to make of the feeling low in his gut.

After spending a long moment with his dark blue eyes fastened on Will's lighter, blue ones, Russ turned to examine the boy. He smiled at the child but answered Will's question with a shake of his head.

"I'm sorry to say I can't be of help to you," he said, his voice deep but pleasant somehow.

"Don't trouble yourself about it. No one else I've asked knew him either," Will said.

"Is he lost then? Does he not know where he came from?" Russ asked.

Will didn't want to answer too many questions about the boy as they would inevitably lead to lies. But there was one or two true things he might say. "He hasn't spoken as of yet except to call for his momma. I don't even know his name."

"A good boy like him, I'm sure someone will be by to claim him," Russ spoke the words of reassurance to the boy and gave him another smile.

The smile made Will's heart leap in his chest though he did not know why. Maybe he was surprised to hear the big, rough looking man speaking kindly and reassuring the child so. When Russ turned to him again, he caught Will smiling at him rather foolishly.

"Thank you for stopping to have a look at him. I hope we aren't keeping you," Will said to cover his unease.

"I only came for a sack of flour and maybe to see if there is any work to be had," Russ told him but he did not seem in any rush to walk away.

"I know that the hay in my father's field is just about dry. He'll be bringing it in today. He said he smelled rain on the eastern wind, so he'll want to hurry and get that done. I'll be helping him so I don't know if another pair of hands will be needed. But others are sure to have work they want done if rain is on its way," Will told him.

"That's good to know. Thank you," Russ said, and this time when he smiled, the smile was for Will.

He went off and Will looked after him for too long while his chest grew tight. For some reason he couldn't take his eyes off the man until he was out of sight. Then Will found he had to take a very deep breath. Had he stopped breathing? His heart certainly was beating too fast.

When he turned to the boy, he saw a curious expression on his face. Had he acted so strangely even this little one had noticed it? Oh, well. Will always was a little strange. Why else would he have gone to the river last night? He was glad he did though. Otherwise he would not have found this boy.

Seeing that no one was about at the moment, Will set him down to see if he could stand on his own feet better than he could before. Keeping his arms outstretched toward the boy in fear that he might fall, Will watched him closely. The boy stood better this time.

With Will's encouragement, he even took a few wobbling steps. As he did, the boy looked down at his legs as if he was only now starting to understand what they were for. Will took a few steps back but kept his arms out to catch him if he should lose his footing. The boy came right to him though he was far from steady on his feet.

"Your legs work all right now," Will said. He let him walk around a bit more, but he still carried him the rest of the way home because his gait was more like that of a child that has only now learned to walk. Will did not want anyone to ask to many questions about the boy lest they ferret out that he had been found by the river's edge.

That worry was foremost on his mind, but Will still found his thoughts returning to Russ Mullins. He might be frightening to some, but Will thought he might just be a very fine man indeed.

Such admiration he had for Russ that he found himself grinning at the mere remembrance of him. If only Will admired any lass half as much, he would have been married by now for sure.


After speaking with Will Galen, Russ went on his way reluctantly. He wished to remain with Will, speak to him more, look at him until he had his fill of those pretty, blue eyes. Usually, he would have torn himself away more quickly and easily, but this time was different.

Something touched his heart when he saw the young man with that little boy in his arms. It was a sweet sight for sure with Will being so caring toward the little one. It made Russ think back to the forgotten days of his own childhood when he knew such kindness. Those days were murky and far away. It was easier to recall the days that came after, when he only knew rough treatment and no sign of tenderness.

But even all by himself, that young man could stir Russ's heart. Before now, Russ had only glimpsed the golden haired lad named Will Galen. He had noticed him then quickly averted his eyes. His grandfather used to say, "The accursed sun wouldn't shine so bright if it was meant to be looked upon by mere mortal fools." Will did not shine that bright, but the effect of looking at him was like that of being burned.

That's why Russ had never taken a good look at the lad before today. Even when Russ did work for the elder Galen, he avoided being near his son.

Seen up close, Will was even more fetching. Broad shouldered and slim, he stood at chin level with Russ. Not many people reached higher than that when they stood next to him.

Will's eyes were bright blue like the sky on a clear, summer's day. His hair curled around his handsome face. His lips smiled like pure sunshine. But more than his good looks, Will had a way about him that made Russ want to keep talking with him though idle chatter was one of his least favorite things.

Russ had no need of idle talk and that was just as well since he spent most of his days alone. That's how he liked it. He could breathe freely up in the hills where few ventured. The rough terrain and bandits kept most people away, but Russ liked it just fine.

All his life, human company had only brought him trouble. It might not have been that way when his parents were alive, but he didn't remember those days very well. They were wrapped in a haze that his eyes could no longer penetrate.

When it came to those long ago times with his mother and father, the only thing that would break through to him now and then was a yearning for something warm and unnamable. Just now when he was speaking to Will, Russ had felt the same familiar need. It was like something deep inside him wanted to tear out of him as it longed to reach out to another. Was it his heart? But why now when it had lain quiet in his chest for all these years, wanting for nothing and no one.

Taken with him at first sight, Russ had been reticent around Will, afraid to reveal how the beautiful young man set his desires aflame. Today being so near the handsome lad had set his heart beating too fast and hard. His chest hurt from wanting what he knew he could not have, and he could hardly keep his wits about him.

Now that he had gone a ways from them, Russ didn't know what to make of Will or that child he held in his arms. The little boy's eyes in particular seemed strange. At first Russ had taken them to be blue, but on closer look, they shone with a silvery glow. He had never seen any like them.

Though Russ wondered at the child, Will was at ease with his charge, like he saw nothing strange about the boy at all. As for the boy, he had his little arms around Will's neck and looked upon him with an open and trusting countenance. If Russ didn't know better, he would think he was Will's own child and no one else's.

Chapter 2

By the time Will got home, his father had already gone to the fields. He found his grandmother wrapping two canteens with her stew together with two fat hunks of bread for him and his father. Two more bowls of stew were set on the table. One was for Sally, the other for the boy.

Will sat down at the table with him though he worried that the boy might not eat again. All the while his grandmother was urging Will to go and join his father in the field and leave the boy to her care. But Will did not dare to do it.

He stayed and tried to get the boy to eat. It was as Will feared. As before, the boy did not take even a single bite despite Will's encouragement.

"It's good. Try just a bit. You'll like it," Will reassured him.

More than not taking the spoonful, the boy drew back every time the stew was offered to him.

Grandmother Iris did not fail to notice this. "He still won't eat," Grandmother said, her voice ominous. "What sort of child does not eat?"

Will wanted to make the excuse that the child might be unwell, but that would only cause his grandmother to want to poke and prod him. That would not do.

As his grandmother glowered at the boy, Will spoke up hastily. "He did eat a little earlier on when we were going around the village. He had some sugared walnuts, and the sweets might have spoiled his appetite," Will lied. "Kathy Poole gave them to the boy." In truth she had given Will the walnuts, but the child did not have any. He was glad enough to take one and look at it the way another child might look at a pebble. Will had two of the walnuts just to show him they were good. The boy watched him eat, but he did not put the sweets anywhere near his mouth.

That was twice now that Will told outright lies to his family concerning this boy he had found. But he felt in his heart that he had to protect him. Being truthful had always been important to Will, but now the boy was more important by far.

"I'll share some of my food with him. He's sure to get hungry later," Will assured his grandmother as he stood up from the table with the boy in his arms.

"You mean to take him along?" his grandmother asked, not liking the idea.

"Sure, it will be good for him to be out of doors," Will said. He got ready to take his father's and his own portion of stew with him. He showed the two bundles to the child. "We'll be taking this to my father. And this one is for you and me to share," he told the boy.

"You need not take the boy. He can stay here with me," Grandmother Iris said in a voice that Will was loath to contradict.

This one time he had to though. "I want to show him how we bind the hay. Everyone should know how to do that." On no account did Will want to leave the child in his grandmother's care, for her to question and examine.

"I want to go too," Sally said as she rushed to gobble up her stew. Grandmother was about to say no, but Will spoke up on her behalf.

"She can be of help. Father was worried about the coming rain and I am getting a late start. We can use every pair of hands," Will said. His grandmother would have less reason to keep the boy at home if Sally was allowed to go.

"If the baby can go, I should be allowed too," Sally said and stood up from the table to take her bowl to be washed.

Though she gave them a curt nod in agreement, Grandma Iris was clearly not happy to have the boy out of her sight. She eyed him as they left, frowning at him the whole time she walked with them to the gate.

As for Sally, she would not stop calling him a baby.

"He might be little, but he is not a baby," Will told her while they went through the village at a brisk pace.

"You carry him around all the time like a baby," she said as she pointed to Will doing just that.

"He isn't himself yet. Here, I'll let him walk a bit," Will said and set the boy down on the path that led out of the village and into the fields.

"All right then. He can walk," Sally allowed as she watched him take several steps that were more or less steady. "But he can't talk so he's still a baby."

Will couldn't argue with her on that count since the boy had not said a single word since he had called for his momma by the river's edge. "Oh, Sally," was all Will could say to his obstinate little sister.

As they went to the fields, Will let the boy walk on his own some more. He did fine, and Sally only noticed that he was a little slow. For a small boy like him, that would not be unusual, though Will would swear that his gait had improved since only this morning.

Sally did not seem mistrustful of the boy, but Will didn't know how to alley his grandmother's mistrust. Since her little daughter and her husband had both been drowned, Grandmother harbored a deep animosity toward River Eleth or anything that touched it. She would not even eat any fish that were caught in the river though everyone knew that if fish were caught in the daytime, there was no harm in eating them. When it came to the subject of the accursed river that took her loved ones from her, she could not be reasoned with. That meant that she could never discover where the boy was found.

While Will was lost in his worries, they had arrived at the filed. The boy had walked the whole way and already his step was quicker and more assured. Will pointed out the field to him while Sally rushed ahead to greet their father.

The field had been mowed several days ago and the grass was left to dry. Now it lay yellow and ready to be bundled up. A cart stood by. The skinny nag that would pull it was loosely tethered and allowed to graze nearby.

Father was raking the hay into mounds while another man was stooped over next to him so that Will could not recognize him at first. The man was gathering the hay and tying it into bundles. He straightened to his full height and Will's heart skipped several beats at the sight of him. To his surprise, Will realized that the man was Russ.

Will went straight over to him with the boy walking alongside him.

"Have you found the little one's kin?" Russ asked on seeing the two of them hand in hand.

"I've had no luck as yet," Will said and Russ frowned slightly.

"We'll be glad to have the poor lost lamb until his kin can be found," his father said as he came to join them.

"I told your father that it was your doing that I came by," Russ said.

"And we're glad to have him as well. For a big man, he has nimble fingers," his father said as he took the food Will had delivered for him.

"If I had known you would be here, I would have brought more stew," Will said to Russ.

"I brought my own provisions. So don't fret," Russ told him. He got his satchel and took out some hard looking biscuits and cheese for his midday meal.

He and Will's father sat down in the shade of a copse of trees while Sally rushed off to fill a jug with fresh water from the stream. Remembering how he said that he would feed the boy some of his stew, Will decided he would not eat with them. In truth, he could not be sure that the boy would eat even now.

If Will ate while the others were occupied with work, he could say that the boy had some food even if he didn't. He was ashamed to be planning his lies now, but he was afraid that it would be necessary. For the life of him he didn't know why, but Will just didn't believe that the boy would eat. It wasn't natural, but Will was less bothered by his strangeness than by what his grandmother or his father might think.

While Russ and his father ate, Will took Sally and the boy to show them how the bundles of hay were to be made secure. He tied one bundle then watched Sally struggle to do the same. Her bundle was sure to fall apart before it was even loaded into the cart.

"Do it right, Sally, or it will not hold together," he scolded her and then watched her stick out her tongue at him.

He helped her with the next bundle and her skill improved. Leaving her to work alone, Will showed the boy the cord they used for the tying.

"As you can see, this isn't proper rope. We have too many bundles to cut up a good length of rope for them. A bale is too big for our needs. See this cord was woven from strong grass. Me, Grandmother Iris and Sally made it. It's wiry stuff but not as dear as proper rope. It won't break before this hay is needed," Will explained to the boy.

The boy took a length of string and played with it the way a much younger child might. No wonder Sally called him a baby. The boy was content to sit by quietly and watch Will as he worked.

A little later they sent Sally for more water and Russ and Will worked side by side. Will's heart quickened at the nearness of the man. Russ's sleeves were rolled up, exposing muscular arms. Because of him, Will's fingers turned clumsy, though Russ wasn't as deft as he had been before either.

Sally was back with water and they all had some except for the boy. Not only would he not have any, when Sally offered him a cupful, the boy ran from her and came to hide behind Will.

"Why, he acts as if I will poison him," Sally said, her feelings hurt.

"I'm sure a thing like that would never occur to him," Will said.

He took the cup for himself and drank it down. Once the water was all gone, the boy showed no more fear. Will knew that people sometimes feared the waters of a river or a lake, more so in these parts with the dangers of Eleth. But he had never heard of a soul that feared as little water as fit in a cup.

Now that he had discovered one more strange thing about the boy, Will had one more thing to hide. If his grandmother saw how he acted just now, her suspicions would only grow. Even Russ was staring at the boy.

Will could not read the nature of his look. When Sally went off to give water to their father, Will bit his lip then took a deep breath. Turning unaccountably brave, he asked Russ, "What troubles you about the boy?" He said this even though he did not wish to speak too much about the child and increase any budding suspicions. Still, he wanted to know Russ's thoughts as they had a measure of solitude at the moment. Sally had stayed to help their father, so Will and Russ worked alone.

"It pains me to think that he might never see his kin again," Russ said, surprising Will. He was sure the man would speak about how odd he was, not show such touching concern for him.

Seeing the sorrow in his dark blue eyes, Will wanted to put his mind at ease without delay. "He will not be alone in this world no matter what. If his family is not found, I will take care of him," he assured Russ.

"How long will your father let you keep the boy?" Russ wondered.

"Father is a kind man. I'm sure he will let him stay," Will said, but he wasn't as certain as he made out to be. The strangeness of this boy made him worry that he might be shunned as others have been who were touched by the river at night. He didn't know how long he could keep all of his oddities a secret.

Chapter 3

As evening neared, the hay was all bound and ready for loading. Will's father stood on the cart while Russ and Will handed the bundles up to him. After working all day, Russ was overheated and he took his shirt off. Now Will hardly knew where to look. At every stray glance at the well-built man, Will's breath caught in his throat. Russ's muscles strained each time he reached and lifted up the bundles of hay.

Will looked away from that beautiful sight and stared at another. The sun sank lower in a reddening sky. It turned their skin and hair coppery and shone out of their eyes. But not the boy's. His eyes did not take on the golden glow of the sunset. They stubbornly held on to their silver sheen even when he stared straight at the setting sun.

The cart was loaded. The skinny nag hitched to it. Father had washed up at the stream and was ready to take the reins. While Will and Russ were still washing up at the stream, Sally stood with the boy far from the water. Every time she tried to lead him closer, he would run from her.

"Leave him be, Sally," Will told her.

"He has to wash up too," she insisted.

"He already did. Just take a look at his hands," Will told her. It was a lie, but he had seen for himself that the boy's hands did not have a speck of dirt on them. How that was possible, he didn't know, but it was so nonetheless.

Because she had tried to pull him toward the stream several times, the boy would not let Sally take his hand even just to look at it. Seeing her try to catch hold of him, Russ laughed. The sound of his laugh, big and throaty, filled Will's heart with unaccountable gladness.

While they washed up, stripped to the waist, Will had done his best not to stare at the man. Whenever he saw his wet and muscled body, the thumping of his heart grew too loud and the tingling low in his belly became too strong. Being so near him, he could hardly think, but one thing did occur to him.

"Sally, why don't you go with father in the cart? Me and the boy will follow behind as soon as I'm washed up," he told her.

Sally did not argue and Will breathed a sigh of relief. Russ noticed and grinned at him. Will didn't know why, but his smile made him blush. Each smile was a surprise for one thing. Russ was known to be taciturn to a fault.

"I didn't even know you smiled much less laughed," Will teased him.

"I don't often get to see how it is when one has a family. And little sisters are a lot more like tyrants than I realized," Russ said good-naturedly.

"Sally gets that from our grandmother. She rules us with an iron fist," Will said. Mentioning his grandmother made him look over at the boy. He was still staying well back from the banks of the stream. "She has not been as welcoming of the boy as I would have liked."

"I suppose she doesn't like to have another mouth to feed," Russ said.

"If only it were so," Will mumbled to himself. It was quite the opposite. How Will wished the boy had taken even one bite of food so he could truthfully tell his grandmother that he had eaten. Once again, he would have to lie.

As it got late, Russ had to start heading for the hills. Will didn't want to say goodbye to him yet. In the scant light of evening, climbing the rocky paths might be dangerous. That was good enough reason to invite Russ home with them.

"You could come and have supper with us and sleep over too. It's late to be making your way up the hill," Will said, growing hopeful and nervous at the prospect.

"I know those footpaths. I don't mind traveling them night or day. I'll be safe enough, but thank you for the kind offer," Russ told him and went on his way.

Watching him set off, Will waved at him and wondered at the sense of heavy disappointment that he would not be staying with them. Russ waved in return, but Will noticed that the boy only stared. Will showed him how to wave and then he had to get him to stop as well.

As he and the boy went along home, Will thought about what he had told Russ. He stopped and lowered himself so he was eye to eye with the child. "I meant what I said to Russ. I'll be taking care of you for as long as you need. If we can't find your kid, you can stay with me and mine," Will told him.

As he listened, the child's eyes were bright as if on the verge of a smile but no smile came. At least it seemed to Will that he understood him.

Going on foot, Will and the boy arrived back at the cottage just in time for Will to help unload the cart. That's when he found that his father agreed to pay Russ with a bushel of potatoes when it was time to dig them up. Will made note of it in their ledger and smiled at the certainty of seeing him again.

Once the unloading was done, it was almost time for supper. As Will took the boy inside, the cottage was filled with the smell of cooking. Will looked over at him wondering if he might be tempted to eat.

"I'll help the boy wash up for supper," Grandmother offered and reached for the boy's hand.

"He won't let you," Sally said just as the boy drew away from her.

"We washed up already," Will said, lying once again.

Sally could not contradict him, but she still had something to say. "The baby would not go near the water, and he would not show me his hands to prove them clean."

"We washed up," Will lied and glared at her though she had done nothing wrong.

Without Will noticing, his grandmother had come close. He turned to find her grabbing hold of the boy's hands faster than he could draw them away. And now he saw that she was turning over the boy's hands to check them. They were clean so she found no proof of Will's lie, but she still looked at them strangely.

"His hands are cold and there's not even a speck of dirt under his little fingernails," she noted. "How can any child's hands be so clean?" She frowned at the boy as if being clean was a fault and not a virtue.

"I cleaned them out with a twig, and he didn't do any digging in the dirt that I know of," Will said to her, trying to make light of what she said.

His grandmother saw no jest in it. She stared at the boy hard.

"Come along," Will said to the boy and placed a hand on top of his head. His head felt cool as well. All this time Will had paid no mind to how cool the child felt even as he carried him, but to his grandmother such a thing was sure to be alarming. "Let us go and see if the chickens have any eggs for us, and feed them some scraps," Will said though his real aim was to get away from any more questioning.

Taking the wooden bowl with scraps in it with one hand and the boy's hand with the other, Will led him outside. Though he only meant to keep him from his grandmother's scrutiny, in the end, they did get two eggs out of it.

Now Will was worried about what would happen at suppertime. Before they went in, Will stopped and got on one knee in front of the boy. "At supper, I want you to have a little food. Just a little bit so that grandmother will see you eating and not be so cross with us."

The boy made no sign that he understood, and Will sighed. There was nothing to be done about it. The boy would eat or he would not, it was out of Will's hands.

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