Rosemary's Quest by Aurora Springer by Aurora Springer - Read Online

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Rosemary's Quest - Aurora Springer

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Chapter 1

BLOOD RED TENDRILS of smoke crept over the mountains in an omen of the Demon Kafkad’s dominion.

Perched on the tree branch overlooking the valley, Rosemary stared at the gloomy horizon. She frowned. The shadows seemed closer than the last time she had climbed this hill. She imagined the ruddy clouds were the fingers of Kafkad, reaching out towards Peliore. An icy chill ran down her spine and Rosemary shuddered. Was she the only one who could see the shadows of the Demon King? She feared that Kafkad was preparing to invade her homeland.

From the height of her tree branch on the hill, she overlooked the whole extent of the country. The fertile pastures of Peliore stretched from the Black Mountains of Kafkad’s realm to the foothills of the peaks on the horizon.

The shadows had covered the lands to the east of the Peliore for many years before Rosemary was born. The murky clouds had swept onto their neighboring country slowly and inexorably. Now, no one knew exactly when the Demon King had emerged. These days, people feared Kafkad and his evil powers. The Demon King ruled the Shadowed Lands, where the somber clouds shut out the light of the sun. Kafkad’s black magic produced the clouds. He had built a strong fortress to the east of the Rift Mountains, now renamed the Black Mountains. His gloomy clouds spilled over their peaks into the western lands. 

Rosemary lived on her family’s farm outside the small village of Twyford. Everybody in Twyford feared the Demon King. Yet, they had lived so long in sight of the Shadows that they had grown accustomed to his presence in the distance. No one imagined that Kafkad would venture into their homelands.

For as long as she could remember, the Shadow had troubled Rosemary. Her grandmother, Elwyn, was a witch with the second sight. She had a premonition of Kafkad’s invasion and persuaded her husband, Dulac, to flee across the Black Mountains and find a new home. Rosemary had inherited some of Elwyn’s powers, but her magic talents were faint and erratic.

Rosemary missed her grandmother. Elwyn had taught her simple magic tricks and illusions. Elwyn had promised that Rosemary’s talents would grow stronger with time and she would learn how to control them. Rosemary was not sure that she wanted such strange powers. She had few friends among the villagers. Even the children were suspicious of the reputed witch-child and refused to play with her. She was a solitary child of necessity. 

Pursing her lips in regret, Rosemary slipped from the branch and dropped to the ground. She had to return to the farmhouse and finish her chores before the evening meal. Her parents were not unkind to her. But, since her grandparents had died there was no one who could really understand her gifts.

A slim girl with long chestnut hair and green eyes, Rosemary had roamed the countryside alone from an early age. She knew the name of every animal. When she ran over the moorlands, even the strongest and swiftest of the village children could not catch her. They claimed she used magic to confuse them, but she knew it was no conscious spell. 

When she arrived at the back door, her mother called out, Rosemary, where have you been? The cows are waiting to be milked and you still have to feed the hens.

I’ll do my chores right away, Rosemary said. She fetched the bucket from the kitchen and stepped into the barn to milk the cows. The barn was warm with the smell of the animals. The two horses and five cows were in their stalls, chomping on the hay.

Her brother, Barry, was in the barn tossing fodder to the horses.

You’re late as usual, he remarked without rancor. Barry was sober-minded and diligent. His chief desire was to tend their farm on the banks of the Lonely River. He griped, Rosemary, you’re late again. I suppose you were lazing about and staring at the Shadow.

Shivering, Rosemary said, The Shadow creeps nearer every day. Our farm is the closest to the Black Mountains. I’m afraid we’ll be the first to endure Kafkad’s shadow.

Barry dismissed her worries about the distant, mythical king. Don’t be such a fusspot, Rosemary. I’m sure there’s a natural explanation for those gloomy clouds. Maybe it is the temperature on the other side of the mountain. Anyway, what would Kafkad want with the likes of us? 

The Demon King has ambitions to rule every land, Rosemary said. She sighed. Barry would never believe her warnings until the army of Kafkad marched into their fields, she thought uncharitably.

She sat on the stool by the spotted cow, Betsy, and pulled streams of milk from the udder. Their cows produced plenty of milk to drink and make into butter and cheese. When Barry had finished with the horses, he came and helped with the milking. He was a good farmer.

When Rosemary had finished her chores, she washed before the evening meal. The family sat around the wooden table in the kitchen and piled potatoes and stew on their plates.

Her mother brought up the old complaint. She griped, You should get married, Rosemary, and settle into your own home. You are almost eighteen, already two years older than most girls when they wed. By now, I should have grandchildren to hug.

Mother, no one has asked to marry me, she said in her standard response. No one wants a half-witch as a wife.

Her father, a soft-spoken man, added, The villagers are afraid of magic. Not everyone is. I’ve heard the nobility in the City of Caspior might accept brides who are tainted with witch blood. They enjoy novelty. 

The City of Caspior is many miles away, Barry retorted. Why would any of its wealthy young men travel to a poor village at the borders of Peliore in search of a bride? Rosemary should settle down to her chores on the farm and stop running through the woods like a wild animal.

Would the soldiers of Caspior come to fight against the Shadow? Rosemary asked.

No. We can look for no help from Caspior, her father said. If the Demon King conquered our lands, the princes would lose the goods and tribute we owe to Caspior. We have little of value here. Why should the princes care about this remote corner of their realm?

The Shadow stretches over the entire mountain range. I’ve read that the City Caspior lies close to the northern end of the Black Mountains. The city will be threatened when the Shadow spreads into Peliore, Rosemary said.

We have good lands for farming, Barry argued. Why should we leave because of a rumor?

Rosemary objected, Grandma Elwyn and Grandpa Dulac fled from their homelands to escape the Demon King.

It’s true, her mother said, nodding in agreement. My mother, Elwyn, had the second sight. She had a premonition about the Shadow. She smiled at Rosemary. "Elwyn claimed you shared her witch