The Balance of Hope

Also by This Author The Gathering The Balance of Hope A Colder Sun* The Band of Ward

* forthcoming

The Balance of Hope
The Band of Ward
Book Two

Timothy David Walker

RNU Press 2010

© 2010 Timothy David Walker No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the author. Book Design & Layout by David Edwards (RNU Press) Cover Art Credit: © Teemu Koskinen Interior Art Credit: © Christine J. Buckley First published by RNU Press 555 Mapleview Drive West Barrie, ON, L4N 8W2 www.rnupress.com

ISBN: 978-0-9864879-6-5 This book is printed on acid-free paper. This book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this book are purely Fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

For my wife The calming eye of the hurricane

Praise for The Gathering
“Endearing, sympathetic and compelling, to be remembered among children’s classics such as Charlottes Web ........ add this writer to the stable of authors!” -Mike Gagnon, Writer and Founder of Open Book Press

“ Imaginative and original” -Key Porter Books

 -scribd.com “ The Band of Ward is a complete success!”
-Matt Miller, The Reluctant Reader

Contents
1. The Time of Change 2. Fear Stumbles North 1 15 27 45 47 57 75 87 101 119 129 143 153 169 181 199 213 233

3. The Taking of Odman 5. The Cubs Journey

4. The Arrival of The Cool Season 6. The Strongest of The Grey Ones 7. And You Will Find It 8. Planting The Seeds of Fate 10. Onward East

9. Mother and The Three Stones

11. Mr. Malgi Thickblade’s Pursuit 13. Following The Rats

12. The Descending Duck and The Sleepless Owl 14. Meetings of The Partnership 15. The Stones of The Greens 16. Butterflies and The Great Toads 18. Deep Within The Willow

17. The Unexpected Coming of War

W

The Time of Change

hispers drift on the air . . . the cool season is near. All breeds of animals big and small were preparing for the change. But the change seemed different and the air smelled of fear. Across the heart of the land the Coldmare River flowed loud and strong. Its waters were cold and its current was fierce. Crossing its path was Swift the Great. This time of the season it was less dangerous due to the lack of flying steel although it still struck fear in its crossers regardless. The forests of the land still stood green but the color was changing. Soon the leaves would become golden brown and then fall to the ground below to settle in forever rest. The winds that would push in from the north were most likely to quicken this result. The ponds of the west were much too cold now for wildlife to swim in freely and the coming winds were causing the waters to dance rough and unwelcoming. The geese of the northlands rang out their familiar calls as they made their way due south to the lands where they all met after their long migration. It was a call that spread for miles reminding all of the coming of the cool season. The old barn of the yard was still as the breeze washed over it whistling through the many holes that covered its outside. The large front doors sat ajar as they swayed slightly back and forth with a tiny continuous creak. It was early morning and even the rooster was still asleep; with his reasoning that it was too cold to rise before the sun. The first to break the peace -1-

The Balance of Hope
was Bernice, the golden lab. She stuck her head slowly out of the old barn’s large door and peeked about the lifeless yard. A sudden yawn came upon her as she stepped out into the chilly air. Her breath danced before her for a moment and then vanished. The air was already cold enough that each breath did the same dance. Bernice looked to the far south and saw that the sky was a frosty orange and it looked as though it was going to be a clear day which meant that the sun may help to warm things up. Bernice began to walk toward the east side of the yard until she reached the edge of the fields. She looked out into the dying grasses and took a deep breath. The fields were full of long strings of fog that moved about at a slow pace and left gaps that showed glimpses beyond it. The lab wanted to leave. She wanted to run east as fast as she could. She wanted to run like the wind and find what she desired most which was to see the ones she loved again. It had already seemed to have been forever and the pain was becoming too much to bare. Bernice took a slow step into the grass of the fields feeling the cold dampness, then another. Soon she stood amongst the remaining drifts of fog as the grass felt uncomfortable under her paws . . . cold and dying like her soul. “Go to the fence if you so desire dear lab,” a shrill voice said startling her most suddenly. “You will not make it far, not now.” Bernice turned and eyed whoever it was that had startled her out of deep thought so early in the morning. It was the yard’s so called earliest riser. It was Morchester, the rooster. He stood as tall as he could for the fact that he was a short rooster when compared to most. He stuck out his chest and clawed at the ground; as the crown atop his head flopped about. His feathers were a deep golden red and his legs a bright yellow. He -2—

The Time of Change
was quite strong for his size but had thought deep down that he was much stronger. He strutted up to Bernice kicking his feet back as clumps of mud and grass flew about. “The way is blocked now is what I meant, dear lab. No one comes in and no one gets out. You see what I mean dear?” The rooster added with a stern tone. “Blocked?” Bernice said raising a brow, “All that separates the fields from the wild is a fence which I am quite capable of passing,” she added as she prepared to continue east. “Oh yes dear, the fence is quite passable but just how do you figure you will pass the barbed wire that the farmer placed there just the other evening,” Morchester said crossing his wings at the front of his expanded chest. Bernice glanced back at the rooster with a look of fear and sorrow. She then looked back to the fields which were now clear as the sun was in full view to the south and the last of the fog had vanished, “Barbed wire, it cannot be true! Why would the farmer do such a thing?” she replied. It was true what the rooster had told Dear Bernice. The farmer had put up thick, sharp barbed wire two nights ago. The Horse Lords had seen it being done and had mentioned it to the bull, which leaked to the cows who told the chickens and then of course late the next evening was spilled to a rooster named Morchester. The farmer was tired of the unwelcome guests that had been showing up and figured if he put up the thick, sharp barbed wire then they would no longer come around hence no one gets in and no one gets out. The rooster walked up beside the lab and stared off into the fields which were now baring the sound of thumping hooves off in the distance. He looked up at the eyes of the beautiful lab and then gave a smile of pity. “I know why you toil in much sorrow dear lab,” the rooster -3—

The Balance of Hope
said with a more soothing voice. “The very thought of no one coming back in scares you but yard animals are smart. You know that better than all others.” Bernice sniffled and still did not look away from the far off unknown. No animal could get out and no animal could get in . . . or back in where they belonged. She turned and started back toward the yard with her head low. Cloud shadowed the ground darkening the feelings of hope as Morchester expanded his chest and let out his early morning call. The yard seemed slow amidst the drab morning and with the cloud came the chill of the season. Bernice walked up to the barn and sat by the doors which hung open almost completely. She looked over at the small shelter of Kezwick the pig and managed a smile. Cob webs covered the leather flap that hung in the small entrance and the old steel bowl sat dormant and dry as a bone. The pig was gone, as was the two she loved most. She felt alone drowning in a deepening sorrow. A few yard animals walked past but did not look her in the eye they only looked to the ground that sat before them. She wished to run. She imagined bursting through the fence, through the thick, sharp barbed wire and finding the two she loved most waiting on the other side. She imagined Ward and Peller smiling and then embracing her tightly. Her memory was fading quickly as time was not on her side. The very thought regarding the safety of the others was driving her to run to the fence and see for herself if the way was truly blocked, if it was, her pain would surly grow . . . so she sat wondering and she remembered back to when she convinced the warthog. * * * Before the warthog left with the pig: Bernice entered the old barn in a rage that boiled deep -4—

The Time of Change
within her. It was caused by the selfishness of Marvel the Warthog. No animal had stomped into the deep, dark corner of the barn where he dwells in a long time but at the moment the lab felt no fear to do so. The dark consumed her sight and her pace slowed she looked about in the pitch black only seeing a gleam of light that shone down from the ceiling of the barn. There was a sudden snort of disapproval and Bernice stepped back slightly. The memories of the ones she loved then shadowed her sudden doubt and she walked further ahead until the deep breathing seemed only a foot away. “One visitor this evening was one too many,” the warthog said in a deeply troubled voice, “stay in your own dwelling of he old barn if you know what is good for you lab.” Bernice shivered slightly but she could not tell if it was fear or if it was rage, so she used it for rage. “Selfish beast you are! You should be ashamed!” Marvel jumped up on all fours as the gleam of fading light bounced off his tusks. He stood face to face with Bernice as she felt the blast of hot air splash against her snout steaming from the warthog’s mouth and nostrils. Bernice did not flinch but quivered slightly. The warthog then turned back and laid down in the dark once more. “You are no match for me lab and if you are here on behalf of the pig then I will give you but the same answer I gave him,” Marvel said. “I no longer leave on fool ventures.” “Fool ventures!!” Bernice hissed in a sharp whisper. “It is the venture of fools who will decide the fate of many others!” The warthog was quiet and only the sound of his low raspy breathing filled the air. Bernice stewed in her anger unable to leave her spot. She grinded her teeth as she stared at the lump of shadowed disgruntlement that lay in a pile in the dark corner, “Stay then if you must hog but you will only live so long -5—

The Balance of Hope
and when the day comes of your judgment the last event you will remember will be the one on this day . . . letting down what you fought for so long ago.” Marvel did not answer. Bernice stood still trying to catch her breath as the anger she had released left her winded. The warthog rose with a grunt. Bernice stepped back and looked behind her with a quick glance to check how close the door was. “Do you see me in this pale gleam of light lab?” Marvel said as one eye was visible within the dusty ray of light before him. “I have seen what death looks like and I am one of the remaining that was part of why all is free of burden now. Do not ever accuse me of letting others down.” Bernice searched for solace in calming her emotion. The eye of the warthog sat dormant waiting for an answer. She looked into the eye deeply and saw a glimpse of goodness, a glimmer of hope. “I know of your deeds lord Marvel, we all do, and I would never question them. All I ask is that you help Master Kezwick by seeing him safely to meet with the others. He can not go alone and you are well aware of that fact,” Bernice pleaded with a tone of respect. The warthog looked to the floor as the light faded away. In the dark the two of them stood silent and the lab would not leave her spot until an answer was given. There was a loud snort and then the sound of Marvel’s hooves moving all about. Then the movement stopped and the answer came. “Sleep now lab and in the morning your small friend will be gone . . . as will I.” Bernice slowly started back and then without a word slipped away off to her dwelling within the old barn. The warthog sat and stared at the darkness for a brief moment and then after -6—

The Time of Change
his pondering he would inform the yard pig named Kezwick of his intention. * * * It had been Dear Bernice who had convinced the warthog to go with Master Kezwick. She thought only of the pig’s well being as she even felt somewhat worried for the safety of Marvel. As she dwelled in sorrow Morchester walked up slowly kicking at the gravel that was all around them. “I have heard word around the yard that the sons of Geez the Old are planning some kind of counsel, probably just meaningless gossip,” the rooster said seeming to be scrambling for conversation. “I have nothing to discuss with the cats. Since the old cat passed away the loft has been stuck in an odd limbo. In my opinion I believe they should be watched closely,” Bernice muttered softly. “I see. You look as though you wish to run now dear. Do you wish to leave?” Morchester inquired while looking in the same direction as she was. Bernice paused for a moment staring endlessly, “Yes,” she then whispered quietly, “I do.” * * * Geez Jr. roamed about the loft as rays of clouded sunlight caused his whiskers to glisten. He mumbled to himself over and over again . . . worry was weighing on the cats and they were still quite shaken by the death of their father. The secret that Geez Gap had found out he had already spilt to his younger brother and the two of them toiled in thought over it. The paws of Jr. tapped lightly on the old wood planks that made up the floor of the loft while into the dim light walked a tired faced Gap. He looked as though he had aged extremely. Without much sleep there was a deep anger that was begin-7—

The Balance of Hope
ning to stir within. His eyes were dark and drab. He passed Jr. without a word slightly bumping him on the way by. He gazed upon the spot where their father had laid for many years helplessly. He then stepped toward it slowly. The mumbling of Jr. stopped as he suddenly caught sight of what his brother was doing. Both cats knew the rules of the loft. The far spot off toward the back of the loft, where the sunlight shines and a soft bed of straw lye was the spot where their father was for almost his entire life. He had taken the spot after his father before him passed. Now the bed lye vacant after the passing of Geez the Old, whatever cat chose to sit in the straw now would become the new head master of the loft and Gap was but only two steps away. Jr. stared speechless and frozen. He would not try, for he could not, not now. Gap stepped softly onto the straw as he adjusted his paws moving them all about. He could smell the scent of his father upon the straw and he breathed out slowly as he sat. With his eyes still shut Gap lowered his head in respect to their father while Jr. did the same. Gap then brought his head back up opening his eyes at the same time. He looked directly at his brother and his eyes seemed to stir with a sudden wisdom and strength. Jr. smiled a half smile and lowered his head in respect to his brother Geez Gap. He then ran to the large opening at the front of the loft that looked out upon the yard; “GAP IS THE NEW LOFT MASTER!” he yelled out as it echoed into the fields. All the yard animals going about their tasks stopped for a moment looking up at the loft. Some talked in secret about it while others did not care. Back many ages ago it was a big event when a new cat was named head master of the loft. But times had changed and the cat’s power was dwindling. -8—

The Time of Change
Jr. turned back and ran up to his brother’s side, he bowed and Gap nodded nobly. “I know of the stones whereabouts as do you and now the time has come. The cats will rise to power again and the stone is the key!” Gap bantered as his brother listened intently. “A new day has come my brother and the time of change is at hand.” * * * Bernice heard the announcement from the high opening to the loft and shook her head. Morchester looked up to the loft with a tilted brow before he spoke. “The one I hoped not to see as head master of the loft . . . now, Gap will have power.” Bernice stood up steadfast and started toward the east fields. Morchester followed quickly stumbling slightly trying to catch up. A look had come across her face that boiled in anger. The rooster caught up to her struggling to keep pace. “Where are you going dear lab?” he asked tripping about. Bernice glanced back at Morchester and walked a quicker pace. The rooster then fell and called out to the lab who kept moving. “You can not leave!! The way is blocked!!!!” This fell upon deaf ears. There was no hesitation as Bernice stepped through the fields and began to make her way toward the east fence. The Horse Lords were nowhere in sight at the time so she began to run swiftly. The worry and fear drove her to run without tiring. The wilted grasses and weeds beneath each step gushed as the small hills of the fields seemed to carry her at an even faster pace. It was a few leagues to the fence and at the speed she was traveling she would be there in no time. The cool damp air pushed back her ears as she clinched her teeth tightly running up hill and down hill. Her hind legs began to tire as she was now far out into the fields. Bernice stopped for a moment trying to catch her breath. Looking all about she saw nothing but -9—

The Balance of Hope
open fields. She sniffed the air and perked up her ears. The air smelled of dying plant life and a cool north breeze. The only sounds that she heard were distant bird calls and the ongoing whistle of the wind that gave her a chill. Bernice then looked back. The yard was but a dark mass that sat dormant and it reminded her of when she and Master Kezwick had made their long journey home from the south. She pondered the thought for a moment and forgot about her surroundings briefly. “I do hope you are well Kezwick,” she whispered into the cool breeze. The sun was high but the thick white clouds still shadowed it from warming the land. Bernice pushed on in hopes that the weather would not turn ill. What would she do if and when she reached the fence? What if it was as Morchester had said it was? And if she could pass then where would she go? But only when she reached the fence would all these questions truly be answered. The ground trembled under Bernice as she proceeded at a tired pace. The Horse Lords were on the move giving off their familiar scent upon the breeze. It was possible that she was out of their scouting range for now but they would eventually search the entire length of the fields. She quickened her pace again as to the east a shape took form. The dying grasses became thicker the further she went and it slowed her progress often. It caused her to stumble and trip in spots almost falling flat on her face. The large mass ahead was indeed the east fence. At this point it was too difficult to tell if it was truly covered in thick, sharp barbed wire. Again the lab began to run. An unexplainable strength returned as she raced toward the fence and the sight of the fence may have been the reason behind her second wind. Over one last small hill she charged before slowing to almost a stop. She tried desperately not to look at - 10 —

The Time of Change
the fence as she approached it. It was as though she wanted the outcome to be a surprise . . . like waiting for happiness only to find disaster. A second before she was able to see the truth for herself a loud pounding of heavy hooves came up behind her. Bernice jumped and turned to face the sound baring her teeth. Standing before her with a long shimmering mane and a tail that almost touched the ground was one of the many Horse Lords. It let out a thunderous bellow that caused the lab to lose her hearing momentarily. The horse then raised its front hooves high in the air and then down again, its eyes glimmered of youth and strength. “You are one from the yard,” the beast asked with a low strong voice. Bernice relaxed her nerves and answered, “Yes, I am Dear Bernice the golden lab.” “Lab you say? Have I not seen you before?” the horse replied with puzzlement. “I believe not, I have never ventured out this way before. I have seen so many Horse Lords in the past from a distance that I would not be able to tell the difference between you or any other,” Bernice said trying not to sound disrespectful. The horse stood still for a moment looking deep into the eyes of the lab, “You know that it is not safe for you to be roaming the fields, even in the daytime.” “I understand that but I only came to see the truth for myself,” Bernice responded while glancing about the field to see if any other Horse Lords were nearby, “Where are all the others?” “I am the youngest of the scouts and also the fastest. I scout the furthest lengths of the fields and then bring word back to the Master Manes. It is a great honor,” the young horse said. - 11 —

The Balance of Hope
“My name is Copper.” “Well I am honored to meet you great Horse Lord Copper.” Copper looked back far into the fields in the direction of the yard, he stomped his hooves into the dying weeds and earth. Bernice had still not checked the fence as she stared up at the magnificent beast that stood before her. Copper was the smallest of the scouts but to the lab he was truly enormous. Deep down Bernice wanted to take the last few steps to witness the truth of the east fence but she would drag it out as long as possible. “If any of the Elder Horse Lords find you out here they will surely bring you burden. You must return to the yard before any others find you roaming about the fields,” Copper said still keeping a scouting eye about. Bernice took a deep breath and then turned to see what shape the fence was truly in. She gasped for air and exhaled a horrific cry that could have been heard for miles. The ‘already’ high fence was at least ten feet higher. It sparkled in the faint gleams of sun that managed to seep through the clouds. The razor sharp barbed wire was woven together so tightly that not even a fly could slip past its wrath. From the very bottom of the fence up to the point of the barbed wires end it stood . . . thick . . . and deadly sharp to the touch. Bernice continued to cry out as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Quiet down now dear lab . . . the other scouts will hear your screams,” Copper said in a sharp whisper. “I care not great horse for my hopes are now but nothing,” Bernice answered. She turned and began to wander toward the yard in a careless wary sorrow. “Wait!” Copper shouted suddenly, “I have seen you before. You traveled this way some time ago and you had a small pig - 12 —

The Time of Change
with you.” Bernice stopped and laughed for a moment, “He did not even tell me that he was leaving that morn,” she said sounding choked up. “He came back sometime later with ill news.” Bernice turned toward the horse as her eyes swelled with tears, “It is Master Ward you saw so long ago and the pig was Lord Kezwick. They are gone now and after what I have seen standing before me I fear they will not return.” Copper would try to calm Dear Bernice but the sorrow was too much. Her strength would vanish along with her hope. The young Horse Lord would return Bernice to the yard upon his back before the sun would drop out of sight in the north later that evening. —

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