These characters are fictional. Any resemblance to any actual people, living or dead is purely coincidental and should not be inferred.

Hope's Child.

Chapter one: Into the rain.

By Rose Williams.

Lynra watched the rain fall on the muddy road and run into the gutters. She had watched as the rain had washed the road, then turned it into rivulets. She had watched since after first meal as the clouds had gathered and obscured the morning sun. It was getting close to the time when the sun would be shinning directly into the window. Lynra got up from her seat. It was time for her to meet her teacher and she had to sneak out to do it.

Lynra liked the rain, and she didn't mind going out in it. But her mother had ideas; and Lynra did need to leave. Lynra's mother was a small, fair woman. She didn't look strong, but she had an indomitable will and was as stubborn as the Village rock. She had a stronger than usual aversion to her child going into the forest during the rain. Even the other parents were sometimes surprised by Katalyn's conviction. Although it was raining, and despite the fear tales told about the forest, Lynra had to go.

While Katalyn did whatever it was she did on Saturday mornings, Lynra tried to make good her escape. She walked quietly and purposely towards the front door. Katalyn knew her daughter's habits well, and appeared just as Lynra was opening the door.

"And where are you going now?" she asked.

She wasn't angry, just resigned, which Lynra found harder to deal with.

"I have to go into the forest," Lynra said.

"And why does a twelve year old girl have to go into the forest in the pouring rain?"

It was an old debate and Lynra had never been able tell her mother. She didn't understand her mother's reservations but she knew what she wanted to do wouldn't make things easier.

Gladrel came into the room before Lynra had to think of an answer. Seeing Lynra and Katalyn facing each other off in front of the door she knew immediately what it had to be.

"Let her go to, Katalyn. She can't come to any harm, really, she can't."

Lynra looked up at the other woman. Gladrel usually backed Katalyn up on everything, especially when it came to Lynra. She was an imposing woman; Lynra wasn't one to argue with her. The girl was very pleased she didn't have to.

Katalyn wasn't surprised that Gladrel stepped in. She turned to face her.

"You don't know what could…" she began.

"Yes, I do," Gladrel interrupted softly. "I was there, too. I'm here now. Remember that."

Katalyn nodded, but she was unconvinced. "It could still…"

"No," Gladrel's tone was sharper now.

This was an old argument, too; Katalyn sighed heavily. Gladrel gathered her in a hug and waved Lynra out the door.

"Take your coat," Katalyn managed to say before she buried her head in Gladrel's shoulder.

Gladrel held the now sobbing woman closer. Lynra struggled into her coat as she slipped out the door.

The rain was still heavy. Lynra had to skip several puddles up the road to the forest. The forest was much older than the village at its edge and the canopy was dense enough to keep most of the rain off once Lynra was inside.

The sounds changed, too. Everything was quieter and more musical in the forest, as if the trees were singing to each other. Remembering the strange tales told about the forest Lynra decided that it wasn't unlikely. The forest was supposed to be haunted by the spirits of the dead Wisards. No bandit or robber made it out of the forest and only rarely an adult. Some said they were trapped, others that they had found the door to paradise. Children, it seemed, were unaffected and Lynra had always felt welcome in the forest.

She followed the path as it lead through the trees. She pushed her hood back but didn't look around, even the strange plants and ferns along the path had become familiar over the past year.

The path quickly came to an old clearing. There were no trees but the grass and bracken were long. On the far side of the clearing a man sat on a fallen log. He was an old man in a dusty green cloak. He seemed to have grown out of the log he was sitting on. Lynra pushed her way through the undergrowth and bowed to the old man.

"Teacher," she said, "How goes the day for you?"

"Well, thankyou, Lynra. And for you?"

Lynra grimaced and shrugged her shoulders. "Mother," she explained.

"Yes, I can imagine," was all he said.

Lynra was struck again, as she had been occasionally that she knew the man from somewhere else.

"Who are you?" she asked quietly.

"Who are you?" he returned.

"I am Lynra."

"Who is Lynra?"

"Me," she said, a little angry.

"Very well," he said, "I am me."

Lynra sighed. She'd been trapped by own temper again.

"You will do better next time," he offered as consolation. "Meanwhile, come with me."

He rose suddenly and set off at a cracking pace along a path that hadn't been there before.

Lynra was surprised enough to have to run in order to catch up. They never went anywhere. He would bring whatever he needed to the clearing and teach her anything from history to natural law and sometimes whatever he knew of Healing. As Lynra followed in her Teacher's wake she tried to think of where they were going? why? and how the path had simply appeared out of nowhere?

The antics of the forest were not new to Lynra. On fine days the children of the Village often ventured in to play hide-and-seek or questing games. There were Village tales about secret treasures and palaces in the forest, unchecked despite the fact that no one had ever found any evidence of even a shack. Fear tales about Wisards and weird enchantments in the forest were told on dark nights when there wasn't a moon.

To Lynra the forest was merely a large collection of trees. She had always followed the same path to and from the clearing. She had also collected herbs and roots from around the clearing's edge, and she knew there was no other path.

This new path was wide and straight. It was also quite steep. Lynra struggled to follow her Teacher. His stride up the path belied his age. He stoped at the crest of the hill to wait for her to catch up. Lynra stopped beside him, and was going to complain. Then she saw what was in front of her and gaped.

The hill was hollow. Nestled in on the close side was a long hall. Her Teacher lead Lynra down the steep ridge path to the clearing on the other side of the building. Lynra noticed that the rain had stopped when she noticed that the ground here was muddy, unlike in the forest. She looked up, but the sky was still grey.

Her teacher seemed oblivious to it all. He concentrated on knocking hard on the panelled doors. Light footsteps ran towards them and the door was opened by a dark haired woman.