The Founders by Holly Barbo by Holly Barbo - Read Online

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The Founders - Holly Barbo

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since.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my sisters: Sally Zobel for being my reader/pre-editor as well as giving me plot feedback, and Diane Bagley for working through the second level of edits. Their help was invaluable.

DESCRIPTION

There are no monsters on Ose. People can be monstrous enough.

Disaster strikes the beautiful world of Ose. Marisily is one of the Sages who can help heal the planet when nuclear winter pushes the civilization back to the brink of destruction. Only she doesn’t know her own powers yet.

It is survival of the fittest as vicious outlaws destroy all that remains, kidnapping, enslaving and killing those weaker than themselves.

With a bounty on her head, alone and betrayed by her own father, can a young woman find the strength and wisdom necessary to rally the good people of Ose and rebuild their culture?

Chapter 1

The Weaver

Marisily woke abruptly. The night was completely dark as both moons, Cear and Luna, had set. She could hear the sound of the nearby Cascade River but it didn’t soothe her as it usually did. All of her senses were fully alert as if someone had screamed. She lay there a moment trying to figure out what had awakened her. Leaning on one elbow, Marisily listened hard. The house was still, yet the hair on her arms and the back of her neck were standing up with alarm; there was a tense knot in the pit of her stomach. The sense of foreboding was a low thrum going through her body with each heartbeat.

Marisily carefully scrutinized the familiar surroundings of her room searching for the source of what had woken her. The small space seemed to be as it had always been, simple, with no fancy touches or possessions. Without making a sound, Marisily got out of bed and, kneeling beside it, folded back the small rag rug her mother had made for her many years ago. She ran her fingers over the floor board it covered, skimming the edges until she felt the small knothole. Carefully, she lifted the board and touched the contents hidden beneath it with shaky fingers. She didn’t understand why, but knowing that no one had found the secret hiding place eased her anxiety somewhat.

What was it that had awakened her? She rubbed her arms and kneaded the spot where the insistent tension seemed to be concentrated. What was wrong? She shook her head at the thought. There were plenty of things that weren’t right.

Marisily’s nineteenth birthday had been a week ago. It seemed that as she got older there was more tension at home, though it had never been easy or light-hearted. She had been born during the time of hardship, a term her father, Jed, and his friends used to speak of the climate change that had occurred after the asteroid hit the planet. Life had been hard, but she knew no other reality.

They had been relatively lucky, as Jed’s occupation as a weaver was fairly secure. The water-powered loom was a wonderful piece of equipment, and though flax and grass-based threads were scarce, wool and animal fibers were still available. Jed had work, and it was enough to barter for what they needed. They didn’t have a lot, but it was adequate, in part because Marisily’s mother, Sari, worked hard to guarantee they had sufficient food and that their home ran smoothly. When Marisily was young, Sari made sure that her daughter learned her lessons as she worked in the home. Because the child was very smart, she absorbed whatever her mother taught her and learned beyond that herself. Marisily always had chores to do and earned her keep helping her mother cook and clean. Now that she was grown, her world was filled with adult concerns.

As a child, Marisily was always sent out into the woods to find edible greens. On these occasions she began to secretly gather other flora, lichens or berries, which she would use to experiment with for making dyes. She had a knack for discovering new plants that were native to Ose but unknown to the experienced herbalists from Earth, and she came up with some interesting colors and intensities of dyes. Marisily kept a record in a secret journal; she drew each plant, listed the conditions in which it grew and the color it produced.

Her mother had caught her once, dipping fabric scraps her father had thrown away into her concoctions. It was one of the few times her mother had been truly angry with her, and she had boxed Marisily’s ears. Her father wasn’t interested in non-traditional herbs or dyes. If it wasn’t on the list of plants from Earth, then he considered it unstable and not to be used. His reputation was at stake. If he learned that she was wasting her time by stepping outside of his accepted practices, he would be enraged. It was bad enough that she had disgraced him by being a girl, but to jeopardize his reputation by messing with inferior dyes? That wasn’t to be borne!

Marisily understood the danger her curiosity had put her in and stopped her active experiments, but she couldn’t stop her mind from questioning or her fingers from rubbing the leaves or lichen between them as she searched for edibles in the woods.

Jed had planned to have sons to train up as weavers and keep the power loom in the family, but Sari was unable to have any more children, the healer had said. She had tried hard to please her husband, but all other pregnancies after Marisily had ended in miscarriages. There had been so many that her health had been affected. Now the years of hard life had taken their toll, and she was frail and looked much older than her age. Marisily had taken on more of the household duties to help out. After all, women were only good for caring for men in all ways. They were not made to have any other skill. They were to be obedient and silent, and were to cook and clean. That was what Jed and his friends believed, and Sari and Marisily heard it often.

The problem, as Jed saw it, was that in order to get a son to pass his trade and the wonderful loom to, he would need a new wife. The more he thought on it, the more he realized that Sari and Marisily had no value to him and were, in fact, burdens. He couldn’t find a positive reason to have them around. Sari had lost her attractiveness when her health failed, and though Marisily’s looks were pleasant, with her big blue eyes and long hair the color of corn silk, she had no value if he couldn’t find a use for her. If he married his daughter to a fellow weaver, the loom would change hands. It wouldn’t be in his family, and that would be unacceptable.

Marisily and Sari were unaware of his thoughts. All they knew was that he seemed quieter, more irritable and quicker to fly into a rage. Marisily was now doing almost eighty percent of all of the household tasks, as well as searching the woods and river’s edge for edibles to supplement their diet. The women were not allowed into the loom workshop unless Jed called them in to clean, and then he would stay and watch while they did the job. Marisily had always been fascinated by the loom and the beautiful fabric her father made, but she had learned early on not to show her interest. It simply wasn’t healthy.

It had been a long, cold winter and Sari had grown much weaker. She had developed a nasty cough that rattled in her chest. Because there had been illness at the founder city, Morraton, Marisily was very careful to wash her hands often as a preventative measure whenever she had to go there for supplies. Lately, Sari had been able to go to bed earlier than usual because Jed had taken to visiting friends in the evening. His mood had been irascible, and the two women breathed a sigh of relief each time he left.

By March, most of the preserves Marisily had put aside in the pantry were exhausted. She was worried about her mother and began to take time to search the woods and stream for plants that could give her mother vitamins and nutrients. She came back from one of her excursions and brewed her mother some tea.

Mother, try this. I put just a bit of our dried wild peppermint with it. You need to build up your strength.

Sari gave her daughter a wan smile. I’m sure it will help. Getting old is not for the faint of heart. I didn’t plan on being so weak. It’s a surprise to me.

Marisily could see Sari knew what she was trying to do for her. Her mother appreciated the effort but knew that she was living on diminishing time. It was a shock that she was dealing with as well as could be expected. It didn’t seem like such a long time ago when Sari had been young and beautiful. Then she had plenty of energy, and it clearly hadn’t occurred to her that she would grow old quickly and that life would be so filled with aches and pains.

Marisily knew her mother’s married life had been a disappointment, too. When she had met and married Jed, he had been strong and full of plans for their life together. Sari had enjoyed the thought of a large family but that hadn’t been the way it had turned out, though she had surely tried. Jed faulted her for wrecking his plans. Now he could barely be civil. Sari was grateful for his absence in the evenings, though both women suspected that there was more to it than playing games of chance and having some brew with his friends. Sometimes he came back with a slight scent of flowers on his clothes. He had always been a lusty man, but he hadn’t bothered Sari for months, for which she was appreciative. Her energy was so limited, and he had stopped being a tender lover a couple of miscarriages ago.

One frigid night late in the month, when Jed came home, rather than falling asleep in a stupor as was his usual habit, he decided he wanted some extra attention.

Sari, your loving husband is home! he said as he entered their bedroom.

Marisily was awakened by her father’s loud voice and the sound of slaps. He was calling her mother names and berating her. After a while, she could hear the bed thumping against the wall and more raised voices. She put her pillow over her ears and tried to go back to sleep. Within minutes, all she could hear was the murmur of her father’s lowered voice. Knowing how weak her mother was, she was relieved that her father would allow her mother to rest. She discovered how wrong she was when, a brief time later, Jed’s voice became loud and demanding. Marisily couldn’t avoid hearing repeated cracks as her mother was hit, her cries of pain mixed with the hacking cough, followed by more rhythmic sounds. The pattern was repeated several times during the night.

When dawn came, Marisily got up and started the fire to cook breakfast. Her father came down the stairs with a sleepy satisfaction. He sat down with a grunt as she placed his cereal in front of him. Jed ate in silence and watched his daughter with a speculative calculation that made her feel uneasy. She was relieved when he went to his workshop. It was unnerving being around him lately. As soon as she could hear the loom, she ran up to her parents’ bedroom and knocked on the door.

Mother, are you all right? Can I bring you anything? There was no answer. Marisily knocked again a little louder, and still there was no reply. She listened for the loom, and hearing it working, she gently opened the door and gasped at what she saw.

Sari was sprawled across the bed. Her nightgown was ripped and barely covering her. She had multiple bruises from her back to her thighs and on her arms and face. The window was open and the air in the room was frigid. Marisily rushed to her mother’s side and covered her with the quilt. She closed the window, pulled more blankets out of the chest and piled warm layers on her chilled and unresponsive body.

A voice from behind her made her jump and cry out.

Jed said, A woman’s duty is to obey her husband’s commands. Learn that well, daughter. You’re here at my indulgence. You are worth nothing beyond that. Tend to your mother.

As he turned to go, Marisily said in a low voice, And the open window was to give her fresh air so she could feel better?

He turned slowly and gave her a long look. I don’t like your tone. You are too smart to sass me so I will assume, just this once, that you are simply asking a question. Though understand you have no right to interrogate a man. The answer is that the room smelled so I aired it out. He shrugged then turned and left her. A minute later she heard the loom start again. In her shock earlier, she hadn’t noticed the silence.

Marisily gently washed her mother and put salve on her injuries. Dressing her in a warm night gown, she piled on a few more blankets. Her mother was still not responding. There was a loud rattling wheeze with each breath Sari took. That didn’t sound at all good. Marisily had to leave her to do the chores. It wouldn’t do her mother any good if she angered her father enough that he threw her out of the house. She quickly did the chores and prepared the lunch. Especially now, she couldn’t deviate from her daily pattern. She sensed that her father had plans for her and didn’t know how much time she had. Now she understood the source of the feeling of impending danger that had never quite left her.

Upon returning, she saw that her father was sitting and eating his lunch. How is your mother?

Marisily was careful with her tone as she quietly answered, She isn’t well.

He watched her face for a moment. Sit down and eat. You can check on her after I go back to the shop.

She kept her eyes lowered and did as she was told. As soon as Jed left, she flew up the stairs and into her parents’ bedroom. Her mother was feverish; she shivered almost uncontrollably and her skin was clammy. By late afternoon, the rattle was worse than ever and Marisily could hear it from down the hall. She knew that her mother was too weak to recover, yet she did what she could and spooned herbal tea past her lips. Most, if not all of it, dribbled right back out. Knowing her father would be watching her movements, she forced herself to go outside to put the kitchen scraps in the compost pile and collect some things from the root cellar.

Sari worsened as the day wore on. She was too weak to fight off the effects of the abuse and the fever at the same time. Marisily was at her mother’s side when she died. She closed her mother’s eyes and wrapped her in a clean sheet. Then she sat at her mother’s side and rocked back and forth as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Eventually, her sobbing breaths quieted and she wiped her cheeks.

Dazed, Marisily resumed her duties. She had made a stew in the afternoon, with the thought that the broth would be nourishing for her mother. Now she served it to her father for dinner. Jed came in from his workroom and started eating when Marisily quietly said, Mother’s dead. I have prepared her for burial.

Jed gave his daughter a long look before he answered. Marisily sensed he was considering saying something that she wouldn’t like and she steeled herself for it, but when he spoke all he said was, I am sorry to hear that. She was a good wife. The only thing she didn’t do was give me a son. I’ll move her body to the workshop before I go out tonight.

He scooped another piece of meat from the stew and chewed thoughtfully. Daughter, I don’t think I can continue to support you. I will give you a choice. Rory, the herder, needs a wife. He’s a friend of mine. I don’t believe he has ever cleaned his place, and though he is eight years older than me, he is lusty enough to keep you busy. I think he could take you to wife tomorrow. Or you could leave. It makes no difference to me. As your father, I don’t need to give you a choice, but since I’m grieving the loss of your mother, I will be generous. If you are still here tomorrow morning, I’ll know your decision is to wed. He finished his meal and pushed back from the table. I am going into Morraton to meet with friends. I’ll bring my new wife home after I bury Sari tomorrow.

Jed put on his heavy coat and he smiled to himself as the door closed behind him.

Marisily guessed what he would be thinking. He probably didn’t believe she had enough warm clothing to survive. He thought she would either set out tonight and freeze to death or stay and leave with Rory tomorrow. It wouldn’t make any difference to him. She would be gone either way.

Marisily cleared the table, giving her father time to go down the trail to town, keeping an eye on the window until he disappeared from sight. There was no way she was going to remain. Angry at her father’s offhand comments, total insensitivity and arrogance, she was also fully aware of her danger.

She had been very lucky that her father had given her a choice. All this time, she had been thinking about where she would go. There was a place that she had seen several years before. At the time, Jed had been gone on a journey to obtain yarns spun in Osily. Sari and Marisily had ranged miles from the cabin picking berries. They had separated, to cover more area. Marisily thought hard about where that place was. They had meandered through the foothills during that gathering trip.

She brought out her coat and put on all of her warmest clothes, as well as a few things of her mother’s. Her father would never allow her to leave with anything he deemed his property, and that included everything in their home. Marisily knelt by her bed, rolled back the rug and removed the floorboard. She pulled out a heavy, knitted hat, scarf and gloves that she had made for her mother’s upcoming birthday and donned them. Her mother would be happy that she was using the gift to survive. Quickly, Marisily emptied her secret cubbyhole of her journal and other small treasures. Gathering what she could carry that she felt her father wouldn’t miss, Marisily stepped outside and disappeared from her childhood home. She had no intention of ever coming back.

Chapter 2

Taking the Realm’s Temperature

Johan paused by his desk in his study in Aerie. The sun was setting beyond the mountain range, casting a golden glow over the white peaks. That was the only thing warm about the vista. He turned and wearily ran his hand through his short blond hair. He was a citizen of Ose now, but you could see his Nordic heritage in build and facial structure. He looked down at the blank book which was open to the first page. So much had happened in the last eighty years since the colonists had made Ose their home. Somehow in that time it hadn’t occurred to him to record events for posterity. Their descendants, if there were any, would need to understand. All the information the future Great Ones would have to go on in a crisis was in the library. It was long overdue that he add his contribution to the Ancients’ Archives.

He sat down, and picking up his stylus, started to record the events that had happened since that day when Ose’s calendar had started, in April, year 00.

Aerie — March, 80

We arrived on this beautiful planet on 4/01/00. A mix of citizens formerly from Earth and representing several races from that planet met and conferenced on the ship before disembarking near the city sites. I was chosen by the founding colonists to be the leader of the realm. That didn’t make me a king, but more like the Chairman of the Board, with all of the mayors under my coordination. The colonists were briefed as to what needed to be done right away. Getting the geothermal power source up and running at each of the five city sites was of premium importance. A second team was to put in crops, while a third completed the work on the honeycombed cliff faces of the cities.

Once those tasks were well underway, greenhouses were set up, using the solar and geothermal warmth and the steam byproduct to nourish more edible and herbal seedlings. Guilds formed, and small guild houses were established within every city. Each province had specialties due to their natural resources. Every citizen was employed by a guild and thus had status and a livelihood. It was a very good beginning.

Those of us who had psychic abilities were quiet about them. The Ancients’ label for us was Sage. We were aware that we would age at a different rate than others and had developed a plan to handle it when it came up. It certainly didn’t need to be addressed in the beginning. We understood that Ose needed our presence to be stable and that there was a natural schedule for a new sage to be born to keep that necessary count. We realized that for a while there may be more sages than necessary, due to the natural accrual schedule happening at the same time as the original sage population was slowly aging. The Ancients had done what they could to balance this. We had some older sages as well as young ones.

Everything was working well. The cities and the guilds were well established. We had laws that most respected and banishment to Obsidian Island for the murderers, the incorrigible compound offenders, repeat offenders, rapists, and violent abusers. The rest of the punishments involved shame, community service and loss of status in varying degrees. Everybody had an occupation and a respected rank through their guild.

Then the unexpected happened. A very small asteroid struck the planet beyond the west border of the back lands, at the edge of the ocean. The resultant debris rained down and started forest fires. Our cloud cover increased because of the smoke and dust. It could have been worse, but the result has been thirty-two years of hardship. Our herds that had begun to thrive were greatly diminished. This was due to the much longer winters and shorter growing seasons, which resulted in less fodder. I’m incredibly grateful for the hot houses because they have saved us. The solar power isn’t as effective with our cloud layer, but the geothermal energy has provided warmth for the plants, and the wind and water power have given us light from our battery-enhanced glow stones. We are lucky in that we still have four seasons, though they haven’t been as distinct as they used to be.

It is our societal structure that has received the greatest harm. Everything has been reduced to survival. Mostly, our people are simply enduring. The food supply is slim. Herbal treatments for ailments also have been impacted. People are sick, cold and hungry. The guild system that worked so well has been incredibly weakened due to lack of supplies or importance in the face of keeping one’s family alive. We have lost a number of our citizens all over the realm, regulars as well as sages. We sages have a stronger immune system so are not as affected by disease, but we can still starve, freeze or be killed.

Education has also suffered, and most of a generation has just the barest rudimentary knowledge and is ignorant of science, tradition and our society’s fundamentals. That means that many are vulnerable to lies, superstition and rumors. Some citizens have fallen back on old patriarchal and parochial beliefs. This has unbalanced our guild structures, which gave all citizens status through their talents and work. Because of this, women have not been as accepted as workers outside of the home. Our sage population has taken to disguising their age and moving to abandoned homes in different provinces where they might not be recognized. Now is not the time to explain that we don’t know why we haven’t aged. The planet is affecting us strangely.

The good news is that the cloud cover seems to be lessening, but it will take time to get back what we have lost. Meanwhile, there are gangs of thieves and small, armed bands that are causing havoc around the realm. They have taken power by the unethical means of using thuggery and are going to be very reluctant to give it up. These problems need to be addressed.

Johan sat back and rubbed his eyes. Like everyone else, he had spent the last thirty-two years working hard to survive, struggling to keep Kunscap alive. Yet his focus had been too small. There was a special room in Aerie that only he had access to. It used more of his energy than he liked to expend at this time, but it was necessary in order to get the information he needed.

He strode down the hall from his study to the large doors of solid labradorite. He paused as a hidden mechanism scanned his palm for the sage DNA and for the medallion of office he wore. The handle-less doors opened for him and closed after he entered. He walked over to the massive table that dominated the room. The surface was an extremely accurate map of the realm. He could see that the forests that had burned in the asteroid impact were now