A Shepherd's Tale


Ellis Acton Bell

Hello fellow bards and fellow patrons of this site, I've long been a fan but never thought my writings would fit in. So I'll hope you like my shepherd's tale, there's a little violence, and a little star grabbing (sex) but its over-all a very cute story, that's just the way we do things on my little island New Avalon-I mean we're all terribly cute. Really. This story is about one of our greatest heroes of the big war and her hometown Chocolate Bayou. So I'll also thank St. Tori the Warrior, and St. Sarah of the sheep, and St. Elton too and hope they bless this little story.

Also I'd like to thank my dear wife Anhelica, and all my mates (those clever little witches) at the University of Her Sovereign Majesty of the Fiery Heart.

This story is dedicated also to those long gone, those forgotten, those far from forgotten, those missing from our lives for now or forever...to the faithfully departed, the candle is always lit in our hearts.

Blessed Be.


Part One:

Shepherd's Moon

Chapter one: On Chocolate Bayou

The old brass belled alarm clock began to rattle on the bed table; a mahogany brown hand appeared and smothered the bells. The clock began to buzz vibrating until a deft thumb flicked the side switch and stilled the contraption.

The red brown hand disappeared under a sighing blue quilt that parted and Skip Fairchild greeted the predawn that glowed the windows of her small room.

"Morning, morning," she called and heard Rose outside impatient about getting out into the pasturelands for the day.

"Coming, Rose dear, coming," Skip climbed out of bed and stretched the sleeveless shift she wore bunched up at the small of her back then straightened as she stepped across the wooden floor to splash water on her face from the basin at the painted iron vanity.

She grinned at herself and fussed with her dark brown curls for a minute then reaching for the metal tube of lavender cream and squeezing a bit out for her face and hands. She reached for her toothbrush and made a quick go at them, when she was done she grinned at herself, then made a face.

Skip Fairchild was nearly one and twenty years, and she feared that she would spend her entire life with a round baby-cherub face. She had brown eyes with a silvery sheen along with other features prevalent of the Fairchild clan; a flat nose a high brow.

She groaned softly she would have to worry another time about her face; right now she was late. Skip dressed in tan baggies (roomy dungarees), a shirt and suspenders, heavy brown boots, and her green jacket. She fit her wool cap over her curls; it was an heirloom passed on to her by her Papa that he got from his Momma. The cap got longer as the years went on each owner fixing the raveling hem with their own colour of thread, adding their own stitch design and had to be folded up or else it would cover her who face. Her own stitch was bright red crosshatch.

Her home was a little stone cottage with a kitchen, a tiny parlor, and two bedrooms one had belonged to her parents, the other to her and her brothers Ash, and Travvie long gone off to the mainland to seek fabulous fortunes. Her parents had passed eight years before when a fever had come through the small town of Chocolate Bayou.

She went to the kitchen and brewed up some tea then prepared herself a luncheon for later, several pieces of sliced bread spread thick with yellow pepper jam with a layer of cheese, rolled up and tied with red vine, and a few spread thick with apple jam, cinnamon likewise rolled up and tied. She dumped her lunch in a lambskin sack.

Skip fixed a cup of tea and barely cooked an egg so she could sop it up with toast. Her breakfast done she went to the foyer, said a quick prayer at the altar, lit some short candles before the pictures of Pa and Ma and the boys then grabbed her staff and headed out the door.

She walked the stone pathway to the fence ring where the lammies crowded gazing out at the rolling green hill ready to go out and graze. Rose trotted around the ring bleating at them for order she stopped so Skip could pet her then went about her business. Rose was sleeker, and fleeter than the rest of the flock she was the betcher, the herder sheep who helped to keep the others in line. She wore a leather collar with a brass tag with her name and owner engraved on it, her wool was always kept trim, her hooves were painted with liquid brass about every month.

"A fine job, Rose," Skip called to her and she trotted on bleating her head held high. Her partner was Sophie a little plumper than Rose but just as much the betcher she was older though and experience kept her calm, cool and collected at all times.

"Hello fine lady," Skip told her and checked her teeth they were going very fast and she didn't know what she would do without old Sophie. She sighed and let her go, then opened the front gate of the ring.

Her flock had the letter F dyed in brown in their wool beneath they were branded FC the same Fairchild brand for over one hundred years.

Skip whistled and Lightning a blue-gray mare came out of the barn nickering a good morning, like Sophie she wasn't the youngest thing on the farm but she was sturdy and experienced. She petted her muzzle before throwing up the shepherd's saddle and tucking her lunch in a saddlebag.

"Cripes my fiddle," Skip dashed back to the house and emerged with a leather bound book, and a fiddle case both went on the saddle along with herself.

"Alright ladies and gents," she said following the line of lammies out to the fields guiding them with her staff, they were all white with golden heads and legs, white horns and feet.

"Lammies on. Lammies on," she called to Rose and Sophie who herded anyone on who decided to stop and graze too early.

The morning light would be short-lived she could see a spring rain on it's way from the pest.

"And me without me brelly," she said glumly.

Chocolate Bayou was made up of acres and acres of pasture land dotted with clumps of trees, and carved by bayous one long, deep one nearly running an entire ring around the town called Chocolate because the water was always a muddy brown unless a large rain had fallen then the water looked like tea.

This was the end of the rainy season so every bayou was filled to the brim.

Skip and her herd crossed Trotter's bridge that straddled Trotter's Bayou and stopped her train an hour later to graze, she walked through them stopping to check the lammies for ticks, broken hooves which she would paint with adhesive, and teeth were most important, a lammie with bad teeth would behave to feed on grass paste, and there was a strain in Fairchild sheep for bad teeth.

Old Sophie got the pastes that she smacked on gratefully if there was a bit of onion mixed in. She got finicky sometimes and just wanted onions that were bad on her stomach and she's do on a smear.

The rain started up just before noon and Skip had an early lunch out in the wet before everything got too soggy eating her pepper jam rolls.

"Heya Skip,"

She looked to see her best mate Patty Hallson on her big red horse Toothy she rode down the hill. Patty was much taller than Skip and as dark as the bayou their town was named for.

"Little Skip," she announced again and played a tune on her flute, "Some music this after noon?"

"A-course Patty," Skip grinned and went to Lightning for her fiddle case.

They walked to the sloping road that hugged the hill toward it's peak called Shepherd's Point.

"And Baby Lenny?" Skip asked, "How does she like being a citizen of New Avalon?"

"Just fine I suppose," Patty smiled, "She cried all night though."

Skip nodded,

"If only new babies were like new sheep."

Patty roared a laugh and slapped Skip on the back,

"If only- if only," she smiled, "Rita takes good care of her, she's wanted a baby for so long."

"Yeah," Skip agreed, "Couldn't have happened to a better pair, and growing up on Little Avalon is better than the mainland."

Patty spat,

"Poor Rita's sister is having a time there on the main land, she just couldn't take care of baby Lenny."

Strains of music drifted down from Shepherd's point; a tuft of short grass shaded by a clump of trees.

Flighty Walkerson met them half way she was an immigrant from the Crounsten a country on the opposite continent of the ocean she had the famous small, close-set eyes of the Crouns (hers were a sparkling green) and had a little of the accent, both Skip found quite endearing.

Flighty was a short shepherdess with shoulder length dark hair whose baggies always looked baggier than everyone else's, she played the great-horn which she kept wrapped around her at all times.

"Young Skip," she greeted her quite out of breath, she was not much older but like everyone else she called her young.

"Friend Flighty," Skip grinned, "How has the day treated you so far?"

"Fine blessed be-blessed be" Flighty walked with them the rest of the way,

"Patty you bring any blacksap?"

The tall shepherdess laughed,

"Little Flighty you're the biggest jick this side of New Avalon," she handed over her flask and Flighty took a sip.

"Easy-easy," Patty rescued the flask, "Or else you'll curl up under the shade and sleep till nightfall and we'll have to run the woods all night with torches gathering your lammies."

Flighty narrowed her eyes playfully, and they nearly disappeared,

"I see I'll never live that down, I see," she declared.

Patty handed the flask to Skip, who took a small sip and choked,

"Aww, you've made it too strong," she coughed.

Patty rolled her eyes,

"Babes you two are, babes."

Lillie Schmelchild was the last member of their quartet she waited at one of the four pieces of fallen log under the clump of lamb-trees on Shepherd's Point. Lillie was the oldest of them, and nearly as tall as Patty she kept her graying red hair in two long ropes that fell down her back.

"Young Skip," she called and played some notes on her squeeze organ.

It was much dryer under the thick trees. They all sat down and began to play some lighthearted tunes, despite the wet weather

Just eight years ago they were her papa's mates, and he fiddled with them. When he and Mama died she was not sure she would get on with them so well but in Chocolate Bayou if someone was friend with a Fairchild they were friends with the whole clan, the same went for Walkersons, Schmelchilds, and Hallsons.

Shepherds were always expected to be accomplished musicians as if taking care of a great brood of lammies was an easy job with plenty of time to learn music. They were the most respected and requested quartet on Chocolate Bayou one of their favourite tunes being an upbeat Counst song called Book of Age which Flighty had taught them, she would sing the words in her home language.

The song was not so popular because the Mainland was at war with Counsten. New Avalon was independent and stayed away from such conflicts but the Mainland had convinced several thousand to sign up five years before, none of whom had been seen since.

They played a couple of songs then parted, returning to their flocks. Patty walked Skip back to her field, just above the horizon they watched a big crane something rarely seen on Chocolate Bayou, it was groaning stacking sections of metal poles alternating red and white being welded together by men on a tall scaffolding.

"A strange thing," Patty said shading her eyes from the rain she peered up at the tower.

"Looks to be a radio tower," Skip, guessed.

"Oh yeah," Patty agreed, "Why would someone need such a thing on Chocolate Bayou?"

Skip shrugged,

"A bit of modernization to our little hamlet."

"We got the wire," Patty said, speaking of the lone wire that connected the few phones on Chocolate Bayou.

Skip surveyed her flock, they all looked well and good.

"You'll be at the Lucky Ram tonight?" Patty asked.

"For a minute," Skip said, "I'm to sup with Nessa and the kids."

Patty raised her eyebrows,

"You've been going over there a lot."

"Hard times," Skip said, "With Fox gone to the war and all the little ones to care for."

"Hard times never come to New Avalon for too long," Patty said, "What my Papa always said...you like Nessa Rothchild, you like her kids too."

"Sure I do," Skip said, "Nice enough, and they have no Papa for now."

"But when the war's out," Patty said, "Fox'll come home."

"S'been five years," Skip said, "Lots of men dead, just been too long for him."

"Does, Nessa think so?" Patty asked.

Skip looked away.

"You're young Fairchild," Patty said, "You've lost your folks, you brothers-"
"And I've done fine, the world hasn't leveled or nothing like that," Skip said, "Is it so bad to want a family of my own?"

Patty nodded thoughtfully grabbing Toothy's reigns,

"A family of your own, not Fox Rothchild's."

She mounted,

"I'll see ya ‘round Fairchild."

Skip watched her gallop away and sighed, Rose and then Sophie came to nuzzle her hands.

"Good girls," she cooed to them, she reached into her pocket and removed a worn collar and brought it to Rose's muzzle.

"Time to look for Shine," she said, "Come girl."

She herded her sheep closer to the woods doing Rose's job so she could sniff out the lost lammie Shine. Skip got anxious as they neared the woods Shine had been missing for a week, he was a young lammie a near-ripe ram who was supposed to be Rose's mate.

They usually were social creatures unless they were sick, very sick. Just a few days before he went missing Shine had gotten rat-bit, and as much as Skip tended the wound she feared he had gone wilden, a disease that made the lambs go insane and become as vicious as wild dogs.

She prayed to St. Sarah of the Shepherds that he would not get too loose and bite anyone else's sheep or even one of the Fairchild flock.

She and Rose went into the woods both anxious, the lammie letting out short high-pitched bleats and Skip murmuring for her to calm.

The canopy of trees blocked out the gray sky, and the rainwater, the forest floor was damp but not wet.

Rose began to whine and Skip saw that she had found a sickly yellow pile of dropping that belonged to a dying sheep.

"Shine" Skip called to break the silence though it was most likely the lammie would run than respond to her voice, but if he smelled Rose he'd come.

"Shine-boy, here Shiny," she called her voice shaky, she heard a heavy rustle behind her and turned to see a patch of undergrowth not too far away rustle. Rose began to whine excitedly, giving off short bleats of alarm.

Skip removed a bunch of wax paper from her pocket and unfolded it to reveal an apple, rotting soft a bit the way sheep liked them.

Shine appeared his hooves split, his wool tore out in patches by brambles, his nose was cut and bleeding. Skip watching him lower his horned head and toss it as if it were hard to hold up. She had heard plenty of stories about wilden sheep but had never seen it for herself, the docile, warm look in Shine's eyes had been replaced by madness, his eyes rolled around in his head of their own will and the whites were as red as the blood that flowed from his nose, and white ribbons of foam flowed from his muzzle.

She took a step closer,

"Easy-easy," she whispered, "Thatta boy Shine come on."

Shine took a step forward then bucked his back legs out and jumped forward and gave a strangled cry.

Skip stepped back, startled, tears stung her eyes as she held out the apple.

Shine cocked his head in a minute twitch and backed away as if part of him new what that apple was all about, but the wilden part of him spoke of hunger.

He bleated angrily at them and Rose answered with a whine.

He charged for his mate roaring, Skip stepped in between them and Shine stopped half a foot away from her.

"Back now," she demanded her voice betraying her fear, "Get on back Shine, bad boy."

Shine bleated angrily she dropped the apple and stepped away slowly then nudged the fruit with her foot. The lammie stared at her his nostrils flickering at the scent of the apple then he bent and snatched it up crunching noisily until the whole thing was gone.

He gave an angry bleat for more stamped forward.

Skip stepped away quickly her foot catching on some brambles she gave a startled scream and fell on her ass.

Shine lowered his head and charged she raised her foot to fend him off but her kept coming she tried to punch his nose like Papa had taught her but the diseased sheep clamped down on her fist.

She screamed and kicked him in the nose, Shine let go and stamped away he stopped and let out a pained howl, a lammie scream. Skip covered her ears and let out a sob.

Shine trotted on a bit then his legs collapsed and he fell to the ground twitching.

"Goddess help me," Skip got to her feet slowly tucking her hand into her jacket without looking at it, she called to Rose driving her out of the woods in a run.

"On lammie, on" she mewled.

Out in the pasture Sophie heard their alarmed approach, she bleated at Rose who Skip was sure bleated back something like;

"The crazy girl has gone and got herself wilden bitten."

The betchers jumped into action as Skip mounted Lightning, the trip home was agony. She noticed Flighty's flock and stopped her own to run for aid. The smile on her friend's face wore away when she saw the pained look on Skip's face.

"Skip Fairchild what's happened?" she asked.

She jumped from Lightning falling to her knees once she hit the ground.

"Skip?" Flighty came to her putting two cool hands to either side of her face,


"Bitten," she said, "bitten."

"By what?" Flighty asked her face paled.

"Shine. Shine," Skip said and removed her fist from her jacket.

"Goddess," Flighty exclaimed as they inspected the hand, the skin was broken in the pattern of Shine's teeth, the rest were angry red marks.

Skip also saw a lot of black spots, then she realized she was about to faint.

"St. Sarah help me," she said looking up at Flight, just behind her friend's head was the red and white tower, and a man on it welding. She moaned and lost consciousness.

~ e. a. b. ~

"Skip, Skip, she's awake," Lillie announced and Skip could see their faces, Patty, Flighty, Lillie and her wife Gertie, she could also see Doc. Hawthornson.

"Am I wilden?" she asked.

Patty and Flighty laughed.

The Doc looked solemn,

"No skip you ain't," he said, "Lucky you passed out after you found Flighty, any poison that got in you I've knocked out."

"You damned fool!" Lillie's voice boomed, "Could have gotten yourself killed like that...didn't your papa teach you nothin'? You don't go after wilden lammies alone."

Gertie put a hand on her wife's shoulder she was much shorted than Lillie with brown hair and round eyes,

"Now Lil, let the girl rest."

"Don't rest too easy," Lillie warned, "If you were just a bit younger I'd take you out back and spank you."

Flighty and Patty laughed.

Skip began to cry.

"Now look!" Gertie was furious, "All of you out of here so Doc can talk to the girl before she makes herself sick."

When they were all gone Doc Hawthornson helped her into a sitting position and gave her a hankie and told her to dry her face.

"You're alright Fairchild," he said gently but sternly, he was a kindly looking man with brown hair and graying brows.

She dried her eyes then took a look around, they were at Lillie's house and she was in their bed she could see them beyond the door at the mantel holding out bowls in which Gertie dished soup.

"Now I won't go into telling you how reckless and foolish you were," The Doc said, "You'll get enough of that young Fairchild, so I'll tell you to take it easy these next few days, take your time when you're out with the sheep, get plenty to eat and drink. No blacksap. I bandaged that arm up good for you, come to me every day to get it looked at and cleaned."

He stood and patted her hand and be careful out there.

"Thanks Doc," she said holding out her hand, "I owe you."

He shrugged and smiled, giving a wink before leaving.

A minute later Flighty brought in a bowl of soup,

"How you feel Skip?"

"Just fine for a foolish girl," she said the soup was full of chicken and veggies, Skip dug in seriously hunger.

"Just a mistake," Flighty said, "Why didn't you tell me at least, I would have helped you."

Skip shrugged,

"I was so scared when Shine got rat-bit, I took care of the wound and it looked healed, then he got away."

Flighty nodded,

"We always call on each other for advice Skip, Patty calls on Lillie, and Lillie calls on Patty and I call on them both."

"I handled it myself," Skip said, "It went very fine."

Flighty gave a doubtful look.

"I was ashamed," Skip said, "That I let him get away, I didn't want to lose a sheep to rat-bite I figured if it would turn out that he was ok then there would be nothing to worry-"

Flighty brushed the side of her face with her hand stopping her speech; it was a surprisingly tender gesture,

"Just listen Skip we're all mates, just remember that when you feel ashamed of anything...right?"

"Right," Skip said quietly.

"Finish your soup," Flighty nodded and was gracious enough to leave her alone.

Skip finished her soup, she remembered that she was to be having supper with Nessa and climbed out of the bed herself they had stripped her and dressed her in an oversized shift. She went to the door and poked her head out,

"Miss Gertie, where are my clothes please ma'am?"

Lillie appeared,

"Too wet to be of any good, Flighty's off fetching some things for you," she came in to the room Patty behind her.

Skip gulped they looked as if they meant business.

"Now. Now," she said in her defense, "Can the lectures wait until tomorrow?"

"No," Patty said, "This ain't about sheep, it's about why you're rushing out of here half-wounded."

Skip frowned,

"I ain't wounded," she raised her hand, "Barely hurts."

"You'll only get yourself heart broken over Nessa Rothchild," Lillie said.

Skip ignored them,

"I wonder what's taking Flighty so long."

"We sent her to town for medicine too," Patty said, "She really likes you Skip, really and it hurts her to see you chasing something you can't have."

"Listen up," Skip said proud of the new power in her voice, "Just because I'm younger than the rest of you doesn't mean you can tell me who to love."

Lillie rolled her eyes,

"Spoken like a true young pup."

Patty nodded in agreement,

"It's bad enough for us being women, more being the way we are, now people on the Bayou are nice, so is all the people of this island of ours, but they'll only accept so much."

"Ayeah," Lillie said, "I don't know what the saints have planned putting the four of us together as shepherds at this place and time but I know part of the reason is for us to look out for each other, to understand each other, the older for the younger, the younger for the older. If you saw me about to ride straight off a cliff you'd show some concern, try your damnedest to stop me-"

"Ness is not a cliff," Skip said.

"She's a lonely woman," Patty said, "With children who see you as a big playmate, and they are all waiting for a man to return and blessed he be if he doesn't come home but they'll all have to take up with another man."

"Why?" Skip asked, "I can care for them too."

"That's just the way it is," Lillie said softly putting a hand on Skip's shoulder, "There is a family out there waiting for you, if a woman has the right set of mind she'll see how kind you are and love you."

Patty smiled at Lillie,

"We both had our run around woman searching, it can be heart breaking, and poor Flighty the Couns just don't approve so she had to leave and come to a foreign land, you're just starting out Fairchild."

Skip frowned she was not listening, she didn't have to if she didn't want to, she was one and twenty years old, she ran her own sheep ranch more heads than Lillie and Patty had, all by herself.

"Fine," she said simply and again, "Fine."

"Cheer up," Lillie said satisfied.

"Yeah," Patty said gruffly, "You want some blacksap?"

"No thanks," she said sullenly.

Patty and Lillie exchanged looks,

"Well we'll go to the Lucky Ram, hear some music, some stories."

"I'll go home and rest if you don't mind," Skip said.

"Suit yourself," Lillie said she turned to Patty, "Just wait till Baby Lenny gets older she'll put you through all this hell over again."

Patty laughed and gave her a shove.

A baby, Skip thought, that's what they think of me, a very old baby, well I'll handle my own affairs.

Flighty returned out of breath ready to go to the tavern, they dropped Skip off at home and she watched them go, then she rushed to her vanity and brushed out her hair, wiped her face and fixed her clothes.

She went to the kitchen and pulled a pink box from the pantry and ran back out to Lighting and tore down the opposite road to town towards Nessa Rothchild's house.

It was past suppertime and she hoped Nessa had not waited but figured she would not with the children and their appetites.

She opened the door to her cottage looking disheveled she was hard yellow woman with long black as night hair; she was a couple of years older than Skip.

"Skip," she gave a small smile and hugged her around the neck.

She leaned into her a bit having never received such contact from anyone she had such strong feelings for.

"I've heard all sorts of crazy things," she said pulling her inside and inspecting her hand.

"I just got bit that's all," Skip said.

The children gathered around all the spitting images of their mother.

"Was it a wilddog?" Kenny asked he was the baby at four.

"Was it a bandit?" Zora asked she was six.

"Is that a cake in the box?" Mattie asked she was seven.

She laughed,

"No. No. Yes."

Kenny and Zora looked confused, Mattie cheered.

"Skip's had a hard day, let her sit," Nessa said putting her right by the hearth.

She bustled about getting her some supper while Skip showed off the cake,

"Jelly cake," she said, "Strawberry."

"My favourite," Mattie said taking the cake to the table.

"You'll spoil them," Nessa brought her a plate of lukewarm mutton, bread, and corn on the cob.

As she ate the children told her of all their adventures that day, there had been a fire and the kid down the rode and got spanked right in front of everyone for playing with matches and burning down the outhouse.

"His papa said he could have blown them all sky high, cause shit's a mighty explosive, like bomb gas it is," Kenny said.

"Boy what language?" Nessa asked as Skip laughed and coughed sucking a kernel of corn up into her nose.

The kids all laughed.

"Ok cake then bed," Nessa exclaimed taking Skip's plate and giving her a mischievous look.

The cake was served and a mess was made, Skip was given three sticky kisses and had to promise that she would take them fishing on the Seventh Day, then the children were ushered off to bed.

"Skip you had me so worried," Nessa said sitting across from her and switching on the old radio,

"Someone said you'd been ravished by a wilden sheep, and someone else said that one had spooked your horse and you'd been thrown."

"I'm fine," Skip assured her, "How are you?

"As good as can be," she held up her hands which were dyed a dark blue, "Working, trying to keep up with these kids."

Since her husband was a away and the vouchers from the mainland had stopped coming in two years ago Nessa had had to take a job at the dye factory, colouring wool, her hands took on whatever shade she worked with that day.

Nessa quickly hid her hands, she was self-conscious of them, before the war had taken some of the men only single women or those with drunkard husbands worked the dye factory. Nessa's husband Fox had been the butcher and made good money before he had gone off to fight, now their home had fallen into disrepair.

I'd take care of you Nessa, better than he ever could, the kids could go to school like I did instead of learning a trade, and you'd never have to hide your hands.

The weekly broadcast of the New Avalon news came on and the two of them sighed, Nessa for her missing husband, Skip for what she was beginning to fear could never be.

In Island news the main land was making promises to begin sending vouchers to families whose heads had gone to war, a band of heavy rain was making its way across the island but the rainy season was certainly over, Bitty McPherson the orator was making her way across the island speaking out against the war making an unexpected stop in the small hamlet of Chocolate Bayou a quoted comment said that McPherson believed the common man should find his voice and speak out against the war, and the price of wool had gone up thirty cents.

Just as Her Sovereign Majesty the Priestess of New Avalon was about to speak Nessa switched off the radio.

"What does she know anyway, just an old conjure witch," she grumbled standing.

"Nessa," Skip was shocked, she stood, "Her Sovereign protects us, she's the direct voice of the Goddess Herself.

"Some job she's done of protecting us then," Nessa said, "Letting Fox get carried off to war."

"She's only doing her part--" Skip began but Nessa began to sob.

"Fox, my Fox, what if he doesn't come home, what if he's somewhere dead?"

"What will you do?" Skip asked.

Nessa sighed,

"I don't know."

"I'd take care of you Nessa, and the kids..." Skip's voice trembled, there was so much more she wanted to say,

"I promise...I love all of you Nessa," she reached out her hand shyly.

Nessa backed away,

"Such things you say Skip Fairchild," she shook her head, "Such things."

"I know you think I'm too young," Skip said taking a breath, "I work hard-"

"I think you should go," Nessa said.

"What?" Skip asked.

"I said go, Skip," Nessa turned away, "Please."

She sucked in air, unsure of what to do, holding her like she had always dreamed comforting her, but she felt more comfortable with leaving.

Skip rode into to town to the tavern where everyone who did not own a radio gathered to listen to the news. She went to the usual table where she sat with her mates, Lillie and Flighty were there, Patty gone to relieve Rita of her duties with Baby Lenny.

"Well good you could make it, you look rested," Lillie said.

"I am," Skip said.

"Good," Flighty smiled drunk, "You look well."

She didn't feel well but she ordered another round of blacksap beer though they weren't finished with what they had.

Lillie smiled all was forgiven.

"What of the news?" Skip asked.

And she leaned over to tell her.

~ e. a. b. ~

Chapter two: Bitty McPherson

The sun was barely up but Skip had been about for several hours cleaning up Rose, the Mid-Summer festival was coming up, one week of dancing, drinking, and revelry, just the thing to get her mind off Nessa Rothchild.

Rose stood still while her wool was shaved down neat and trim but she wasn't harvested, her undercoat was wiry and nearly pure white, contrasting with her golden head. Skip painted her hooves with liquid bronze and burnished them with minute blasts of a flare-torch so Rose wouldn't feel any of the heat. Skips hand still hurt a bit but she worked through the pain.

"You'll win first place at the show again," Skip winked, she had raised Rose herself and trained her with the help of Papa.

"What a fine lady," she cooed at the lammie and tied a green ribbon and gold plated medal, last year's first prize around her neck.

"Heya, Skip," Patty called from outside the barn.

She ran out because it was too early for a visit,

"What is it?"

"There's been a bludgeoning," she said, "Over at Tim Pendleson's."

Skip frowned,

"He doesn't keep sheep,"

"Yeah he keeps pigs but about a dozen of them were shredded to ribbons," Patty turned her red horse Toothy and took off up the road.

Skip quickly saddled Lightning and rode after her as fast as her old mare could carry her.

A bunch had gathered at Pendleson's pig farm, the animals were all anxious, as well as the people, there as Lillie and Flighty who lived on the next plot over.

"Was is a wolf?" she asked aloud feeling especially short among the crowd of mostly men. Patty looked them in the eye and asked the question again.

Skip gasped when she saw the bloody mess in the pigpen, there were streaks of red, and shiny entrails and dull bones mixed up in the mud and excrement.

"Awful," Flighty turned away, "Looks like a wolf, prints too big to be a dog."

"Didn't Pendleson hear nothing?" Skip asked.

"The old drunken jick," Lillie scoffed, "he wouldn't have heard the war in his own backyard."

Skip shivered,

"What kind of wolf could eat twelve pigs in one sitting?"

Lillie frowned,

"You're right Skip, there ain't much remains but tripe and bones."

"More than one?" Patty asked, it was true there were wolves in the woods, but very few, certainly not a pack.

"Some could have banded together," Lillie said.

Someone overhearing them spoke up,

"You women may know about sheep but you don't know about wolves, we hunt them so they won't become a pack, they keep to their territories and come together to mate."

"Well it looks differently, Amoschild," Patty said, "Looks like you got a pack."

"She's right," Doc Hawthornson said, "Gotta be more than two to haul off so much meat in their collective bellies."

Pendleson appeared with a wheel barrel full of cross bows,

"However many there are they won't be a match for us," he said as the men lined up to grab one.

Skip went to grab one but Patty grabbed the back of her shirt,

"Don't even think about it Fairchild," she said.

"Aren't you going to hunt?" Skip asked.

"No," Patty dragged her away from the crowd, the men laughed.

"That's one thing we don't do," Lillie said following, "We'll just look out for signs of wolves nearing too close to the lammies."

Flighty listened closely and nodded.

"So we leave the hunting to the men?" Skip asked.

"A hunt like that is bad news," Lillie said, "They run out there, get drunk, and end up shooting each other instead of wolves."

"Will there still be a pre-show tonight?" Skip asked.

"Don't worry," Patty smiled, "There will, I hope you're ready for Jilla and Willa old Lillie Schmelchild."

Lillie have her a shove,

"Only if you're ready for Sun and Moon."

"I hope you're both ready for Hurst and Stalla," Flighty grinned proudly and they all looked at her in shock,

"I've been training them all year morning and evening, I even built a basket, they will do me proud."

"You sneak," Lillie shook her hand, then it was Patty's turn.

"You chariot racers," Skip rolled her eyes, "Good luck Flighty, you'll need it with these two."

Flighty blushed fiercely,

"Perhaps my size will give me so leeway."

Lillie and Patty looked worried.

They parted ways the morning was growing later and there was a lot to do before the afternoon. Skip searched the old bark and found Papa's crossbow, it was a small inconspicuous model with a saddle strap. She herded the sheep out as usual pausing to keep Rose's hooves clean.

She stopped to check the horizon for the tower, it looked to be done, there was a little building just below it and there was always some man inside, they were from the Main land what was all she knew.

Everyone was too busy looking forward to the festivities to wonder about the tower anymore. There would first be the pre-show, and the chariot races, and this year Bitty McPherson would be there to speak against the war. A lot of the citizens of Chocolate Bayou did not want the orator to come they did not want to think about the war at such a time as the Mid-Summer festival. There would be more excitement in the air when the news of a roaming wolf pack got around.

Skip made her rounds checking the sheep for ticks and rat bite she found a lammie named Kitty just about to give birth. In just a few minutes she burst with a new ram.

Skip held him up presenting him to St. Sarah and Papa who probably looked down from heaven and smiled.

She carried the new sheep home and gave him back to Kitty, then went inside and gussied up a bit, in clean baggies, and a blue corduroy jacket and a blue cap. She went back out got Rose and they headed towards town on White Stone road, named because it was lined with white stones to lead the way at night.

On the way in she saw Nessa and stopped to talk to her.

"Heya," she said.

"Heya," was Nessa's reply.

"How's every little thing?" Skip asked dismounting Lightning.

"Just fine," she said and smiled brightly, "I got a letter from Fox, he's still alive."

"That's great," Skip said.

"Is that Rose?" Nessa asked petting the sheep tied to the saddle horn by a long leash, "She's beautiful."

Skip grinned, watching her pet Rose with blue hands, Goddess she loved those hands.

"Skip," she said standing, "I'm glad that you would be so chivalrous to say what you said the other night, but Fox will come back to me, I'm sure you'll find someone special some day, you're sweet."

"Thank you Nessa," Skip gave a short bow of her head, "Will you be bringing the kids out tonight?"

She smiled,

"Do you think I could keep them away from a chariot race?"

Skip watched her go her heart suddenly heavy in her chest she got back on Lightning.

"Come along Rose,"

Just out of town the festival tents were set up out in the field was a line of chariots and the racers were haltering their rams.

Rose found Flighty and her rams Hurst and Stalla, they looked strong almost as big as Flighty if they could stand on their hind legs. Their curled horns were painted with bronze and burnished in stripes.

Rose bleated at Stalla who pushed out air and stamped then gave a little whinny.

"I think they like each other," Flighty said in greeting.

"Ayeah," Skip said, "They look good."

"Might get us placed you think?" Flighty asked and winked.

"You might win," Skip said and winked back.

"I just might," she said.

The mayor of Chocolate Bayou Robin Starkschild appeared to talk to her she was a great, broad breasted woman with a birdlike look, sharp beady eyes and a pointy nose.

"Young Walkerson," she smiled petting Rose absentmindedly, "And is this Skip Farichild? I swear you never age dear."

Skip blushed and left them, she found a vendor selling blackstrap beer and ordered a pint. She took a long pull Pendleson came by and grinned at Rose,

"Now that is a pretty sheep little girl, but I don't know about your friends, racing rams is a man's sport."

"We'll see Mr. Pendleson," Skip said and went back to the field on the way she saw Rita and Baby Lenny who had just learned to walk, she wiggled in her new mother's arms determined to get loose and test her new skill over new terrain.

Rita was a lovely slender woman with straw coloured hair, she smiled when she saw Skip and hugged her good.

"Well, well, it's a stranger," she said.

"You'll make Patty awful jealous hugging strangers," Skip said.

Rita laughed,

"You damned charmer you. How's the hand?"

"Much better," Skip said.

"You scared Patty that day, she and Lillie act tough driving rams and all like great men but they are old softies deep down," Rita said, Baby Lenny had climbed down and now had Rose by the ear saying, "Lammie, Lammie."

Skip startled,

"She talks good."

"Of course she's a Laurelson, that's what we do best, cause we get an early start," Rita laughed.

"Come on," Rita said hefting the baby up, "You're bothering a prize winning sheep my dear, old Rose will certainly win again."

"I hope so," Skip said grabbing one of Baby Lenny's ruddy cheeks, the girl grinned.

The Chariots were manned and ready she could see Lillie, and Patty among them there were three male shepherds, and Flighty who waved manically at Skip.

"On your mark," Mayor Starkschild announced, "Get set. Go!"

The racers lurched into a start Lillie taking the lead followed by Belv Amoschild, then a fellow by the name of Carrolson and Vics Hawthornson brother of The Doc was after him next was Patty then Flighty.

Rita went off to tend to the baby calling a hasty goodbye over her shoulder as she went. Skip turned to look down the road, the racers were getting smaller and smaller as they neared the loop.

"I see the festivities have begun," A throaty voice said.

Skip turned to see a lovely red head with a sheaf of papers covered in a bubbly scrawl.

"Ayeah," she said quietly.

"That your lamb?" she asked, the red head had a cultured lilt Skip had only heard on the radio and seen in those movie picture shows that came into town every so often.

"Ayeah," she answered.

The red head smiled,

"Interesting language you have here on Chocolate Bayou."

Skip gave a little smile,

"Her name is Rose" she gave the leash a little wiggle.

"Very stunning animal" she said, "Very."

Skip flushed and nodded, a thousand Roses were not as beautiful as the woman talking to her, she was dressed in a long brown skirt with a matching jacket wide brimmed hat all with a thin black stripes that crissed and crossed like a tartan, underneath the jacket was a blouse with a ruffled collar. She looked like a starlet.

"I'm Bitty McPherson, what's your name Little One?" she asked.

Skip frowned a little but remembered her manners she was talking to a great speaker after all,

"I'm Skip Fairchild, and I'm one and twenty."

The woman's eyebrows went up and she grinned,

"Of course madam you must pardon me. What's your secret my dear you look like you're barely out of school."

"I'm a fiddler, we don't age like everyone else," Skip answered.

"Is that so?" Bitty asked.

"Is," Skip answered, "'A legend about it round these parts."

"Yes St. Elton, he loved his dear friend so much when he was turned into wood by the gorgon Fatu that the goddess allowed him to carve a fiddle from it and he strung it with his own hair" Bitty recited, "That's a little known one...you'd have to be a fiddler to know it, but I see you won't be making any music tonight," she pointed to Skip's hand still bandaged but not as bad as the week before.

"Not so bad anymore," Skip looked away, "Got bitten by a wilden sheep."

"Wilden you say?" Bitty asked, "How interesting, you must explain to me, I'm writing a book you see about New Avalon our last history volume was over a hundred years ago, I must write about Chocolate Bayou."

"That would be fine," Skip nodded she remembered the race and looked up to see that the racers had finished the loop and were returning and Flighty was in the lead.

She let out a whoop,

"Come on Flighty," she yelled startling Rose who bleated excitedly.

She glanced at Bitty to see she was scribbling madly.

On the road leading back into town Flighty was goading Hurst and Stalla, they were charging forward their legs high like horses, they looked stunning, and Flighty had such a fiercely determined look on her face.

She crossed the finish line and Mayor Starkschild announced that the winner of the Mid-Summer race was Flighty Walkerson.

Coming in second was young Hawthornson, then Lillie then Amoschild, then Carrolson, and finally Patty looking very perturbed.

~ e. a. b. ~

Flighty drank proudly from her loving cup clutching it by the handles looking like a child using a grown-up's cup.

Everyone cheered, it seemed the whole town had crowded into the Lucky Ram

"You're a real sneak," Patty grinned, "I swear-I swear."

"Well some things you just have to do on your own. Am I right Skip?" Flighty asked.

Skip grinned.

"So we're playing tonight?" Flighty asked, her seeing the fiddle case in her lap.

"I need to play," she said, "I do."

She looked up and saw Bitty McPherson with the mayor.

Patty went to fetch the instruments from her wagon and Skip began to warm up.

"See that old wilden hand of yours is back in motion," someone commented wryly.

"Play young Skip, play," Pendleson said, already drunk off his ass he elbowed his boisterous companion,

"You leave young Skip be and let her play by the Goddess."

She played something slow deliberately drawing out each note, then playing fast. Everyone whooped and called for more, by then Lillie and Patty and Flighty joined in and they played a jaunty song that had everyone dancing in no time.

It felt like she had not played in months.

They paused for refreshments after an hour straight of playing music.

Flighty passed her loving cup for Skip to drink out of and they laughed.

"Well who's this coming?" Lillie leaned across their table, "Don't look!" she said as they all were about to do just that.

"That's Bitty McPherson," she said, "She's a hot dish that one, that red hair."

Flighty blushed and looked over at Skip who averted her eyes.

"Hello ladies, hello Skip," Bitty said.

"Miss McPherson," she gave a little smile but she wanted to grin big looking at the surprised looks on her friend's faces.

"Please, call me Bitty," she said, "All of you. I met your friend Skip earlier today, she's promised to tell me all she knows about shepherding."

"I don't know as much as Patty and Lillie here, and even Flighty," Skip said introducing them all.

"You're much too modest," Bitty said, "May I steal her for a moment?"

"Sure yeah," Patty said grinning.

Lillie didn't look too pleased.

"You have the most charming little hamlet here Skip," Bitty said walking them out of the Lucky Ram.

"But I suppose traveling all over is much better," Skip said, "Where are you from anyway."

She smiled and her voice changed,

"Why I come from Affinity's Point there on the coast."

Skip laughed because she sounded suddenly like on of those good old down home girls.

"Aye Ms. Fairchild," Bitty smiled, "Still not as enchanting as Chocolate Bayou a-course, the Goddess hasn't set down a prettier place."

Skip told her everything then, they found a quiet place near the town temple a bench just beyond the cemetery grounds. She told Bitty the old stories her Papa used to tell her, the tales of the Saints, and the mortal heroes who were forgotten or held high in history, and she scribbled by the torch lights that burned throughout the night for the Mid-Summer week.

"Tomorrow we honor the faithfully departed," Skip said looking out at the cemetery,

"We all light blue candles at the graves and the whole place is lit up."

"You'll have to keep me away with a fat stick Skip," Bitty smiled, "C'mon I've kept you away from your friends too long."

"Naw, I got to fetch Rose and Lightning and get going," Skip said, Bitty walked with her to the make shift stables, a colourful tent made up of dyed rags sewn together.

"Off we are girl," Skip said mounting Lightning.

Bitty watched she held out her hand, and she took it but to her surprise the woman hopped behind her in the saddle.

"You're a sweet thing Skip Fairchild," she kissed her ear, "I want to see what you see whilst I'm here on Chocolate Bayou, it's a short stay so I want to drown myself here if for only a minute."

"Oh, alright then," Skip murmured.

Bitty laughed softly in her ear then clicked her teeth, she could feel her squeeze her thighs to get Lightning going, the horse obeyed.

They said nothing on the ride down the winding road of White Stone. At home Skip showed Bitty around the barn, the sheep resting in their ring-pens. She watched her unsaddle Lightning and lead rose in.

They walked to the house and Skip showed her around, she grew increasingly nervous, distracted by the beautiful woman.

"These are the back rooms," she found herself standing in the tiny hall, Bitty next to her.

"Has no one ever kissed you before, Skip?" she asked.


"It's very frustrating to see such a sweet thing like yourself left by the wayside of love," and she kissed Skip softly pulling at her lips with her own.

"Hmm," she said and stepped back.

Skip's eyes had fallen shut, and she opened them quickly,

"I uhh, um."

Bitty laughed and took her hand pulling her into the room, onto the bed, she pulled off her blue jacket, and in turn her own brown one.

She pulled Skip's suspenders off her shoulders then unbuttoned her shirt a bit and pressed close against her kissing the side of her mouth, then her ear again.

Then she stepped away again, this time Skip grabbed for her and Bitty giggled, she peeled out of her own blouse, and took off her skirt. Skip went for her again and Bitty giggled, she had the silkiest looking under things she had ever seen and under normal circumstances she would have been embarrassed.

Bitty sat on the bed and Skip stepped closer to her fearing she would try to get away again and she would have to chase the giggling half naked woman her desire growing heavy inside her weighing her down while the other woman used hers as wings to fly.

Bitty pulled Skip on top of her, kissing her neck before moving to her lips.

"Touch me Skip," she said, "You have the loveliest hands."

She did and thought she would die the other woman was so soft, so warm when she touched her just between her breasts she could feel the warmth of her, and her heart beat through the silky white under thing.

Bitty pulled at Skip's shirt until they managed to maneuver it off, her lips closed around one of her nipples causing Skip to gasp.

With her hands she explored the woman's body like a map seeing the curvy roads of her hips, the hills of her breasts, and the sloping canyon between her thighs, the forest plain of her sex. Skip kissed her there and tasted the heat, what the rain might have tasted falling on to parched earth, falling until every dried bayou was filled and flowing like the channel she discovered between Bitty's legs.

She arced her back gracefully accepting the attentions Skip gave her, her fingers tangled into her curls. The air rushed from Bitty's lungs and she moaned like a storm.

"Skip," she whispered, "Skip you lovely thing, kiss me."

She did and thought she would die when Bitty's fingers traveled her map, and found her bayou filled and overflowing.

~ e. a. b. ~

Skip hummed Book of Age to herself as she readied to herd the sheep out to pasture. Bitty came out of the house dressed in baggies and suspenders, her red hair tied back.

"Do I look like a shepherd?" she asked.

"You do," Skip nodded, "A right pretty one."

Bitty blushed and came to give her a kiss, she would be leaving that night after her speech, and Skip was not so sad to see her go, even after what they shared. She felt very grown-up having a one-night stand and thought she should act accordingly.

They rode into the pastures and Skip tried to go on with her regular routine but she felt something bubbling inside her, she wanted to run through the fields fiddling like made and singing.

Instead she explained to Bitty how the betchers worked to keep the other sheep in line.

"Do you know anything of the war?" Skip asked.

"Only that three-thousand of our boys are gone off without a trace," Bitty's cheeks coloured in anger,

"That the Mainland government is pressuring us for more."

"I didn't know that," Skip said.

"No they make sure the news spreads slow here on the island," Bitty said.

Skip pointed up at the horizon,

"They built some kind of tower there."

Bitty looked, she squinted,

"Don't trust it as far as you can push it Skip."

She nodded.

"Mainland women are starting to go out," Bitty said seriously, "To fight, they got all this amazon propaganda. Promise me you won't get pulled into that shit, Skip."

"I promise," Skip said solemnly.

"So tell me," Bitty said slyly, "What girls around here do you like?"

Skip blushed and shrugged,

"Not girls exactly."

"Not boys neither," Bitty laughed, "Yeah you strike me as one who'd like older women...Who is she? You naughty girl...Is she handfastened?"

"Sort of," Skip said, "He's off to war, and she's having such a tough time, with three kids too."

Bitty sighed,

"So young Fairchild wants to be a Papa, a king of the hearth."

Skip frowned,

"You're poking fun."

"Of course I am," Bitty took her hand, "What happened?"

"Well she used to invite me to dinner and all, I tried to be her confidant but all I could think of was how much better for her I could be," she looked away, "I suppose I wasn't such a good friend."

"Of course you were," Bitty said.

"I told her how I felt," Skip said, "That I would be there for her if her husband did not return and she told me to go away...anyway she got a letter from him so he's alive."

"Hmm," Bitty said, "You're better off Skip, three kids is a lot of responsibility, and you deserve a fresh girl, I mean one who's fallen just off the tree, she'll appreciate you."

Skip rolled her eyes,

"Next you'll be telling me to handfasten with Flighty Walkerson."

"She seems like a nice girl," Bitty said thoughtfully, "Why'd you rule her out."

"I just don't like people telling me who I should love," Skip said.

"You're young of course you don't," Bitty laughed she gave her a deep kiss like the one they had shared the night before.

In the late morning she rode her into town and quickly galloped up to Shepherd's point.

"Well look what the lammie dragged in," Patty grinned.

Flightly looked very pale but smiled weakly.

"How is the morning treating ya'll" Skip said.

"Good," Lillie said, "Flighty drank to much."

"And you look like you've grabbed a star," Patty laughed she patted an empty log beside her

"Now come and tell us all about it."

Skip blushed.

"You know better than to think there are secrets on Chocolate Bayou," Lillie said sternly, "Everyone's talking about how you two went off last night."

"I...it..." Skip stammered, "It was very nice."

Patty howled.

Flighty looked sick.

"That woman ought to be ashamed of herself," Lillie said, "Seducing young girls, probably has a string of them from here across the Mainland."

"I don't want to talk about it," Skip sat down, "Cripes, I forgot my fiddle."

"You had a lot on your mind," Lillie said and finally burst out laughing, "Little Skip what shall I do with you, growing up so fast and all."

Patty howled.

Flighty excused herself.

Skip figured it was best for life to return to normal as soon as possible, she went back out and finished her short day, then went home to prepare for the honoring of the faithfully departed.

She rummaged around the house trying to remember where she had put the honor candles and found the four of them, two blue ones for Mama and Papa who were dead, and two yellow ones for Travvie and Ash who were not dead as far she new.

When the sun had set she lit the candles and placed them on a candelabra and took to the road on foot, she saw other figures and the glow of tiny flames in the distance as everyone walked to the cemetery.

There would be a lot of yellow candles that year, just like last, Skip hoped her brother had not been fool enough to join in the war.

The yellow candles were left at the front gate of the cemetery, Skip saw Nessa and the kids there, she was crying and they were comforting her the best they could.

Skip placed Tevvie and Ash's candles at the gate quickly and went to Mama and Papa's head stones. She told them all about the year, the bludgeoning and the men out hunting wolves, she told them that Flighty won the race, and how pretty Rose still looked.

She finally said goodbye to them and went to the Lucky Ram, there was a somber note in the air and people wanted music. Skip barely got a quarter of a pint into her before she was called to fiddle. People wanted to be cheered.

"Song," they chanted, "Song. Song. Song."

"Alright, alright," Patty stood on a chair and shouted, "Let us play a song first that has become unpopular, a happy song that no one wants to hear because they blame our three thousand missing boys on it," she folded her arms, "Now how can you blame our troubles on an imported song?"

There were a couple of dissatisfied whoops but there were mostly cheers.

"Oh just play the Croun song already," Pendleson said, "Go on Patty."

Patty jumped down and picked up her flute.

Skip stood with her fiddle ready she looked across the room and saw Bitty and winked at her.

"Sing it then Flighty," Lillie said, "Sing Book of Ages."

Flighty grinned and burst into song, singing low at first then blasting off on her horn.

Then the rest of them began to play and kept playing when Flighty began to sing again. Everyone in the Lucky Ram clapped in unison and dancing broke out.

When the song was over there was a great cheer.

"Now, now," Patty said, "Now for a speech from the lovely Ms. Bitty McPherson."

Everyone cheered again and there were some raucous whistles that made Skip blush.

Tonight she wore a light green skirt and jacket she looked stunning. There was no stage in the Lucky Ram so a table was pushed into a corner. Bitty stood on top and waited for the cheers and whistles to go down.

"That democracy there on the Mainland wants you to think that war is appropriate, that we need war in order to have peace in this world--" she began as the boos and jeers fainted.

"This war began fifteen years ago," she said shaking her fists, "Fifteen years, there are children who can't ever remember talk of war, and five years ago they took three-thousand of our boys and no one's heard hide nor hair of ‘em since."

She shrugged.

"What does the Mainland tell us?" she asked, "To wait? To allow wives to raise children on their own sweat while the price of everything rises?"

"Hell no," Pendleson yelled.

And there was a chorus of cursing.

Skip watched Bitty as she enthralled the crowd with her voice, luring them with her beauty then filling their heads with ideas, a drive to want to change things.

When Bitty was done there was a round of cheering, two men helped her from the table and kissed her hands as though she were a priestess.

Skip found her self standing and walking across the room.

Bitty smiled,

"Let's get out of here."

Skip smiled back,


Outside the moon was as full, a bright yellow like a candle flame in the distance.

"Look at that," Bitty said pointing to the sky.

"It's like the Goddess has lit her own flame of mourning," Skip said.

Bitty grabbed her hand and pulled her close,

"Why Skip Fairchild, there's a little poet deep down in there," she pointed towards her heart.

"Ayeah," Skip replied, and they laughed.

"You're going to be alright dear," Bitty said, "Just stay away from that girl with all the kids, and that a person can do plenty of heroic things but if they're night right in here--" she pointed to Skips heart again, "Or here," she placed a finger at the side of Skip's temple,

"Then they're no better at the end of the day, they may as well have spent their time caring for sheep they'd be doing much more good in the end."

Skip nodded.

"Now kiss me," Bitty grinned.

She did and when they parted she wanted to cry,

"You taught me so much in a little more than a day than I've ever learned."

"And you're the sweetest lover I've ever come across, the sweetest person," she sighed,

"Don't you change one bit Skip Fairchild," Bitty kissed her cheek.

"Oh?" she said, "But I already have."

They shared their last kiss and she escorted Bitty back to the tavern and started home. Skip sighed, then she cried a bit, she was not such a grown up because she feared she was just a bit in love with Bitty McPherson.

~ e. a. b. ~

Chapter three: Blood Roses

Skip trotted quickly through the settling darkness on the stone lined road to town. Rose walked ahead of her a bit; they had forgone the leash to make her look more obedient.

"Cripes," she said out loud, "I'll be late for my own funeral fooling with sheep." She whistled Book of Age to herself, it had been a trying day, a sheep named Cake had given birth to two new lammies but had complications, she lost a lot of blood and Skip had to call in The Doc to look at her. Then Lightning had thrown two shoes, one after the other and had to be left at home.

During the course of the day Rose had gotten a nice grassy streak down her side, not to mentions gags from some wild berries. Skip had to wait for her stomach to settle before taking her prize lammie out for judging.

Up on the road Rose had stopped dead in her tracks.

"On lammie, on," Skip said walking right past her, she turned after a few paces,

"Now what's wrong with you?"

Rose gave out a short bleat.

"You're not going to gag again," Skip said, "Cripes, you'll ruin us for sure dear Rose."

She stooped to put her arms around the sheep's neck,

"You'll be alright girl."

The sheep bleated in alarm and bucked stamping a bronze hoof into Skip's thigh and bumping her chin with her head.

Skip stood slowly staring into the darkness she could see nothing but a clump of trees a bit in the distance,

"Come along lammie, you're giving me the spooks now."

She recalled stories of ghosts being seen before and days after the night of the faithfully departed massing.

Rose walked with her a bit up the road, bleating again and turning doing a little jog in place.

"Wha--?" Skip turned to see a form on the road behind them, just as tall as a man but with a hunched, hulking shape. Her first thought was of a wolf, but this thing was too big, the head was too massive.

It growled.

"Rose on!" Skip commanded and the sheep baaed and skittered up the road.

The thing on the road watched, and she could hear low growls coming from it.

She turned herself and ran up the road after the clips and clops of Rose's hooves, she closed in on the sheep, running next to her, feeling her bushy wool against her legs like they were out in the pastures.

"Rose on!" Skip roared, out of the corner of her eye she saw the dark shape closing in fast.

The thing slammed into her hard, Skip flew a few paces then fell and rolled.

She had heard a sheep scream only once before and that had been poor Shine. There was a minute silence, and then she could hear the raw pull of just dead meat, and on the road what ever had killed Rose was feasting on her.

Skip stood on shaky legs she snatched up one of the white stones on the road,

"Cripes, you bastard," she threw the rock at the creature it flinched but stayed bent over Rose.

Skip roared and threw another stone hard enough to make the demon yelp.

It growled a warning at her.

"I'll be damned," she said and threw another rock.

The creature leaped at her knocking her over, roaring right in her face, its eyes glowing in the moonlight.

It was no wolf, the muzzle was short the ears were too wide.

Skip screamed and scrambled backwards, right into Rose's carcass. She climbed to her feet and ran calling for help.

"Hind," she yelped once she caught site of the town and the tents, "Hind."

People murmured and pointed at her approach.

"What is it young Skip?" a man she knew by the name of Morrison asked.

"It killed Rose," she gasped, "Ran us down on the road and killed her."

"Wolf," Morrison bellowed and the men came half-drunk with their crossbows.

"No," Skip said, "S'not a wolf, tis a hind, a big thing it is, I saw it with my own eyes."

"S'alright little girl," Hawthornson's nephew sighed, "Calm yourself."

"It was a hind, I swear-I swear," Skip insisted.

"Yeah and so is Fatu the gorgon," someone laughed.

Skip looked around for a friendly face,

They think I'm mad, she thought to herself.

"What's going on here," Lillie asked, Gertie right behind her.

"Girl says a hind attacked her and killed her sheep," Hawthornson said, "Girl can't hold her blacksap."

Skip was furious then,

"I haven't been drinking."

"Ayeah that's right," Pendleson said, "Her vice is Bitty McPhereson."

"You rotty old man," Skip said bowling right into him and pushing him to the ground the crossbow he clutched let loose it's arrow which buried itself in a wagon wheel.

"Now Skip," Gertie pulled her up, "What's all this?"

"I saw a hind, or it was a very big wolf, big as a man, he ate Rose," she yelled.

"The girl's gone cold mad," Pendleson said as he was helped to his feet.

"She's frightened can't you see?" Lillie said to them, "Just back off and go after the thing whatever it is."

The men rushed off.

Skip shivered.

"Poor babe," Gertie hugged her to her bosom, "You're safe now a-course."

"It was hind I swear," she said quietly, "and now poor Rose is dead."

"Maybe you're mistaken," Gertie said.

Skip stared out at the road, and shook her head slowly.

~ e. a. b. ~

For her second malady of the season they had taken her to Patty and Rita's house, they had a spare bed in a spare room meant for the baby, but they moved the crib to their own room, all so a good eye could be kept on young Skip Fairchild.

For a whole day she sat at their hearth, bouncing the baby on her lap while listening to Rita prattle. She sewed a nice new cap for herself and an exact replica for Lenny who bawled whenever someone tried to take it off her little head.

By the second day she was bored out of her mind, she was allowed outside, Rita made her take baby Lenny along.

Baby Lenny was never allowed to toddle as far as the third fence post.

Skip had to admit that the rest was nice, the day turned out to be nice and sunny. Rose would have loved a day like this she would have run around streaking her white wool with grass stains.

"Heya Skip," Flighty called from the road her black mare Bach walking behind her.

Baby Lenny bounced and waved her little hands she liked company especially their horses.

Skip sighed, every one in town was sure she'd gone mad, she was sure even her friends did.

"Well hello Flighty," Rita appeared laying a hand on Skip's shoulder.

"How's the noon treatin' ya Rita?" Flighty asked pausing to pick up Lenny to let her pet Bach's neck.

"Just fine," Rita said.

"How're things in the pastures?" Skip asked hastily.

"Good," Flighty handed the baby to Rita, "I came to take ya for a ride Skip."

"Oh," she said, "I supposed that'll be fine with my warden here."

Rita laughed,

"Go on Skip."

She jumped on Bach's back with a gusto that made her friends laugh.

"Someone's been cooped up too long," Flighty said tugging the horse's reigns walking back out towards the road.

Skip waved good-bye to Lenny who cried to go along.

"She's adorable," Flighty said.

"She is for a minute," Skip said, "She thinks of me as a playmate she can boss around."

Flighty laughed and nothing else was said as they continued up the road.

Skip sighed a lot and her companion whistled Book of Age.

She watched the back of her head, Flighty was nice enough, and Skip had always thought her beady little green eyes were cute.

"You think I'm nuts don't you?" Skip asked.

"No Skip," Flighty said, "I think you were very scared, and you'd been dealing with other things maybe you couldn't handle."

She frowned,

"You mean my folks?"

Flighty raised her brow, and shrugged,

"I won't pretend to know what happened with you and that woman--"

"That woman?" Skip asked, "You mean Bitty?"

"Don't take it wrong Skip," she said, "Please, just hear me out."

She opened her mouth to protest, but let Flighty speak.

"There was a lot of talk, a lot of speculation that you were so heart-broken over Nessa you let yourself be seduced by some rolling stone," she said a breeze stirred her black hair.

"A lot of speculation huh?" Skip asked, "I can guess, you, Patty and Lillie, well cripes to the lot of you...I saw a hind, Rose's death, Nessa nor Bitty have a thing to do about it," she began to stalk up the road further away from Patty's house.

"Skip wait," Flighty called.

"In fact," Skip said over her shoulder then turned back to the road, "I wish Bitty were here right now she understood me, she would have believed me, she wouldn't think me mad."

"No one thinks that," Flighty caught up to her.

"Sure you do," Skip narrowed her eyes.


"Then tell me what happened to Rose," she said.

"Skip there was nothing left of her," Flighty said reaching into the pocket of her coat and bringing out Rose's medal,

"Her bronze hooves, some bloody wool and bones, but nothing else."

Skip felt her chest hitch and she began to cry, she turned away and continued up the road.

"Where you going Skip?" Flighty called.

"Home," she said.

"You know Rita will kill me if I come back without you," she said.

"Sounds like you have a problem," Skip yelled.

"Don't be such a babe," Flighty said catching up to her and grabbing her hand, there was a note of anger in her voice, she had never heard before.

"You know I'm deathly sick of that," Skip said taking her hand back, "I'm too young to run my place, too young know who to love, too young to grab the stars with a woman who's leaving town the next day."

"So its true," Flighty said.

"Of course, she was beautiful, I'm young, damn yeah it's true," Skip ran up the road, she ran all the way home.

She fell in front of the pictures of her family and lit their candles. She then ran to the sitting room and the bookshelf, she pulled down a slim volume entitled, Myths and Legends of New Avalon.

She flipped around until the word hind caught her,

"A familiar of the demoness, Fatu the Gorgon," Skip read aloud, "In legend the evil sister of the Goddess sends her hind out to terrorize the country side by night, busying them while worse evil settles. The hero of the coming troubled times kills the hind as Heraekles did before the great flood, and St. Tori before she battled the invading armies."

"Hmm," she said thinking aloud, "No bloody hero to save me and Rose."

She went outside to the pen to count heads, then she went through them checking for rat-bites and ticks they had been feeding on oats and dry grass, someone had been setting the food out for them.

Skip check the supplies and saw that she was indeed low, it was too late to take the sheep out to graze, but it wasn't too late to go into town.

She shuddered at the thought but a shepherd had to do what a shepherd had to do. First she looked through her newest sheep, Kitty's babe was a bit older but one of Cake's babies was already as big, the other was quite runty.

"Tell you what runty," Skip picked up the tiny one, "I'll give you a chance."

The runt whined to be away from her mother.

"C'mon now," she took the runt with her and hitched Lightning to the little wagon and they rode up White Stone road to town.

She went right to the dry good store, not stopping at the Lucky Ram, old Reese Kingschild was helping some other shepherd.

"Morning then Mr. Kingschild," she announced.

"Same to you young Fairchild, you look well rested," he said.

Skip nodded she was carrying the whining little sheep under her arm. She fed her a sugar cube and little runty shut up.

"What you need Fairchild?" the shop keep asked.

"Some bales of dry grass, oats, vitamins, and whole bunch of formula," she said.

"For that one?" Kingschild asked, "You're better off grinding that one for a nice luncheon meat."

"She'll be fine," Skip said with the utmost confidence, "She'll be my new betcher."

The other men laughed,

"A cat could eat in one gulp," one of them laughed.

Skip shot them a look but other wise ignored them, she helped Kingschild load the wagon then went about her way.

She rode back to White Stone road and it seemed her trip to town would not be as bad as she figured until she ran into old Pendleson.

"Ayeah," he grinned malevolently, "Young Skip, I see you're out and about."

"Ayeah, Pendleson," she said, "Thank the goddess."

"Be careful on that road, there's hinds about," he said and lurched on already nearly drunk.

"Jick," she furrowed her brow and went home.

As she approached the pen she noticed Toothy,

"Cripes," she said to herself.

"Well there you are," Lillie said on her own horse, Bee.

"I went to town," she said simply, "Needed some supplies."

Patty appeared, and sighed,

"You had us worried, Flighty's in hysterics."

"You needn't worry about me," Skip said jumping off the wagon, "I can handle things myself, I am not a raving lunatic."

"No you're just an insensitive lout" Lillie said, "Talking to Flighty the way you did."

"You hurt her feelings, Skip," Patty said, "Again."

"And what about my feelings?" Skip asked trying to remember ever hurting Flighty besides that afternoon."

"She really cares for you," Lillie said, "More than she should."

"I have work to do," Skip said.

"You know what your problem is," Lillie grabbed her arm, "You don't care about nobody but ya-self, you think you have to be so thick headed in order for people to see you as an adult and you end up acting no better than a babe."

"You can't accuse me of such things," Skip told her trying to struggle out of her grip,

"You can't."

"I am," Lillie said letting her go, "Wake up little girl or you'll be seeing hinds in the shadows all your life."

Skip stalked away from them into the ring among the sheep until she heard them leave. She unloaded the wagon, then gathered a bunch of wood, and soaked it all in kerosene. She made fire torches out of grass, rags, and more kerosene, she stuck them all around the ring and lit a bonfire.

By nightfall her place was as bright as day. She didn't need some fancy hero to protect her from the hind.

Sometime during the night she chuckled out loud to herself, finally convinced that she had gone mad.

~ e. a. b. ~

Motorcars are a rare thing on Chocolate Bayou and the sound of purring engines awakened Skip with a start from her troubled sleep against the fence post, the little runt curled up at her feet.

Her sheep stamped and cooed quietly, the runt whined.

"Hush now," she told them and walked across to the fire, she threw a great log on it, and then went to the end of the drive.

She could see the cars, she had not seen so many in her life, five their torches cutting through the night like sabers, and she could make out cycles something she had only seen in picture shows.

The entire group turned down her drive decisively.

Skip squinted in the darkness, since seeing the hind she did not trust her own eyes, a heavy feeling in her stomach like something hardening.

The cycles pulled ahead of the cars they stopped a few feet away from her, the riders dismounted, they were soldiers dressed all in black, with heavy black boots, and little red hats.

They shouted at her in a strange language and pointed big black guns with blades fixed on the end.

Skip raised her hands.

The cars stopped and a dozen dark clothed figures got out, when they stepped in front of the torches she could see that they all were soldiers or dressed in long black jackets with red stripes on their shoulders.

One of them said something and the soldiers stood statue straight with the guns at their sides.

The same figure walked up to Skip,

"What is this here?"

"I...umm, I" she stammered.

"Can't you talk?" the interrogator was a woman taller than Patty even with black hair framing her face, and glowing eyes of a light colour, she wore a red tie with a glowing symbol on it.

"Wolves," Skip managed, "I'm keeping watch for wolves."

The woman barked something in her strange language and the soldiers ran to the bonfire and began to kick dirt on it and inspecting the pen. The sheep baaed nervously.

Skip moved to turn but the woman grabbed her and looked her over, inspected her with a shrewd eye.

"You're a sheep herder," she said eyeing the runt chewing at her pant leg, "Why is no one else keeping watch for wolves."

Her heart skipped a beat when she placed the accent, it sounded like Flighty's but thicker, the woman was a Crouns.

"Umm, they're not as vigilant I suppose," she said.

The woman barked something else and everyone looked to her even the soldiers, she was in charge, Skip was frightened but impressed.

"You have guessed where I'm from," she smirked.

Skip said nothing in reply.

"Where is your pa-pa?" she asked.

"Dead," she answered quickly, surprised at how quickly that word came from her lips.

"You're the head of this place?" she asked.

Skip nodded.

The woman snapped her fingers and one of the other officers brought a sheaf of papers,

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Skip Fairchild," she answered and quickly stooped down to pick up the runt.

The woman flipped through the papers and grumbled something in Crouns-speak then called to one of the officers a fat squat man with specs, the both of them looked through the sheaf.

"You lie to me girl," the woman said.

"Oh no, Skip, that's me," she stammered.

"I have a list of every citizen in this town," she pointed to the sheaf of papers in the officer's hand.

He said something.

The woman smirked,

"Leslianne Fairchild," she said, "That is your name."

Skip nodded though it had been years since she was called by her given name, she had nearly forgotten.

"Ayeah," she said looking away some men were poking through her sheep pushing through them roughly searching.

"Interesting," the woman said.

"Could you tell them not to spook the sheep," Skip said suddenly.

She lifted an eyebrow in reply but she ordered them to leave the pen, the others began to climb back into the cars.

"Go to bed little one," the woman said turning, "You've cause enough trouble for one night."

"You've taken us," she blurted.

The woman turned back around,

"Yes little one," she said.

"You can't," Skip shouted taking a step forward, "You just can't."

The woman stopped in her tracks and said something that made the others laugh,

"Life will go on as normal here in your town," she said coolly.

"Rot it will," Skip said frowned, "You've brought war on us."

The woman stepped forward her cool demeanor wavering

"Your little island is the biggest piece of land in between Crounsten and Amertia, you mainland, it was they who did not inform your people of the struggle for Avalon, it is them who will bring war if they try to capture the island."

Skip slowly shook her head and watched them all climb into their autos and drive away.

~ e. a. b. ~

Lightning grunted in great gulps of air, she was too old to be pushed so, Skip stopped her in front of Patty's and they trotted up the drive. She paused not sure if her friend would believe her, but she just didn't want to be alone.

The runt whined, as they ran to Patty's door.

Skip knocked a little and waited.

"Is that you, Fairchild?" she asked opening the door, "What is it?"

"Crouns," she said as if she did not believe it herself, "A whole lot in motorcars and cycles...I tried to call but the phone lines won't work."

"Skip, I'll kill you," Patty said dragging her in by the collar.

"They came right up to me I had lit a great fire to scare off the hind and I guess they came to investigate," Skip quickly explained.

A lamp flickered on and Rita came from the back rubbing her eyes like a child stirred too early,

"Skip, are you ok?"

"She says the Crouns have come," Patty said, alarm in her voice, she went to check the telephone, her lips tightened in to a straight line when she got no dial tone.

"They, well one said that the Mainland and Crounsten have been fighting for New Avalon for a time, they never told us that," Skip said.

"No," Patty sighed sitting down, "But a lot of us had figured it, especially when Bitty McPherson appeared on the scene, Amertia don't want us to come under the dictatorship, our own government is awful weak Skip."

"Goddess and her Sovereign help us," Rita said, disappearing in the back.

Patty put a hand on Skip's shoulder, and smiled at her runt,

"I'm glad you were up and about."

She felt redeemed and gave a bit of a smile.

Rita returned with baggies and a jacket for Patty who quickly donned them, she put on her boots and kissed her wife.

"Damn you be careful," she said to Patty.

"Where we going?" Skip asked when they were outside the door,

"I'm going to Lillie's, you go to get Flighty, take your time and be careful," Patty went to the barn for Toothy and Skip took off.

"Sorry little runt," she said to the lammie pressed into her jacket, they crossed Trotter's bridge and over Shepherd's Point. On a clear morning halfway down the hill she could see Flighty's house one of the biggest and newest on the bayou. Patty said that she had come from Crounsten with money.

Skip got that heavy feeling in her stomach when she saw autos and their lights halfway down the hill at Flighty's house.

She stopped Lightning and jumped to the ground, she took the runt out of her jacket and lay her across the saddle.

"Stay," she said, and ran to Flighty's there was a clump of trees real close to the house and she hid in their shadows.

She could see soldiers guarding the autos, smoking and talking to each other.

Skip dared not get any closer, like some wild creature familiar with the deeds of man she did not like the look of guns, and she was sure most of the people on Chocolate Bayou and on Little Avalon would be properly intimidated.

She surveyed the house and saw that Flighty's lights were on and she swallowed so loud she startled herself. Her friend was a Crouns, and now here was the enemy at her house in the dead of night.

If Flighty had fled from her motherland how had she been found? Or had the Crouns known the whole time where she was because they had sent her.

Skip had to get closer, she left the safety of the trees and made a wide circle around the house, even the back was guarded. She continued around the property until she neared the sheep pen.

She climbed over the low fence and unhooked the gate, the lammie were stubborn it was night time, certainly not grazing time.

"On lammies. On," she whispered harshly.

The betcher Fussy baaed loudly at her angrily determined that Skip was a trouble- maker.

"Shh, fine lady, I'm not a rustler," Skip told her, "I need a diversion. On lammie."

Fussy stamped her feet as if sensing the urgency in her voice; she began to get the sheep moving.

"That's right," Skip said, "On lammies."

There was a shout and several soldiers came running shinning torches, she quickly leaped out of the ring and dashed to a shed.

The soldiers began to chase the sheep calling out in alarm.

Skip watched the house one of the soldiers went in and came out followed by Flighty and the tall woman.

The Crouns shepherd went to run after the sheep but the tall woman grabbed her arm and looked around suspiciously. She gave an order and the soldiers began shinning their torches all around the yard, coming her way.

"Cripes," Skip yelped and hugged the back of the shed.

She could hear their heavy, booted feet coming her way. She hit the ground curling her self into a ball.

The soldiers walked right past her and back around, she could hear the sheep calling out, confused.

Gunshots rang out and Skip could feel the hair on the back of her neck rise, and for some strange reason she thought of Bitty and she shivered.

"I know you're out there."

She made out the voice of the dark woman, the officer,

"I have dogs to come sniff you out, maybe chew you to pieces.

Skip stood, her hands in the air like the crooks in picture shows and marched around the side of the shed.

"Don't shoot," she called, torchlight burned her eyes.

"Skip?" Flighty asked.

"Fairchild," the tall woman stomped across the yard and grabbed the front of her shirt,

"Who in Tartarus are you girl?"

"I'm not afraid of you," Skip said, "You're nothing but a big bully, the people of New Avalon will never--"

She was shoved to the ground and kicked in the side, she had never been hit before, it actually didn't hurt but then she recalled her first horse back riding lesson and falling off, it didn't hurt much either till the next morning.

"Commander," Flighty said, "Please."

The officer barked something at her and Flighty stood at attention like one of the soldiers she asked her a question in their language.

"She's only a girl," Flighty said, "A very stubborn girl."

"Well this girl had just destroyed your cover, you are once again one of us, I don't see how you ever identified with these weak, stupid people," the woman called Commander said, she picked Skip up setting her on her feet,

"Tell me girl, how would you like to learn your friend has betrayed you? Would your ignorant people still call her a citizen or will they hate her?"

Skip looked away and Commander grabbed her face and forced her to look at Flighty,

"Look at her she is a bloody Crouns, she had brought war on your heads."

Something was not right, Flighty looked distressed as if she wished this were all a bad dream.

"I thought you said it was Ameritia who would bring war on us, I doubt this is all Flighty's fault."

"Why are you here?" Flighty asked.

"I ran to tell Patty, she told me to call on you, she's waiting at Lillie's," Skip explained.

"They aren't suspicious of me?" she asked.

"No Flighty, we aren't that kind of people," Skip said, "Is it true? Are you a Crouns warrior?"

The Commander laughed,

"She is little girl, she is my worthless twin sister, a disappointment to her entire home land, once Second Seat Commander she is nothing but a spy."

"I don't see the resemblance," Skip said simply.

"Well you see I was the stronger one, even in our mother's womb, I am sure your sheep have weak ones that are of no use, that are drowned at birth," the Commander answered.

"I meant that she actually has a heart," Skip said boldly.

The Commander laughed,

"I'm going to have fun with this one, she an be my example to the others, I will have obedience."

"Skip, do you trust me?" Flighty asked.

"I..." she began, "Yes."

"You know I will let nothing happen to anyone here on the bayou," Flighty said.

Skip nodded.

She turned to the Commander,

"Let me ride with her I will convince them not to do whatever it is they plan to do, Skip will help me."

"And if she is lying?" the dark woman asked.

"Then I will accept my fate at her hands," Flighty said.

She laughed, and she said something in their language that made Flighty bow her head. The Commander turned to Skip,

"My sister trusts a complete foreign stranger with her life, it will be interesting to see how your people treat her when my army marches through the street, and our planes fly over head."

"Let's go Skip," Flighty went to get her horse.

They both rode to Lighting at the base of the hill.

"We will tell them that there was a patrol out and we had to hide," Flighty explained.

"What is your name?" Skip asked.

"Asterme," she answered, "Ess Ess Commander Asterme Walker, at least that was my name...now it is Flighty Walkerson."

"You're a spy," Skip said.

"I'm a shepherd," she said simply, "A citizen of Chocolate Bayou."

~ e. a. b. ~

"You two gave us a scare," Lillie said opening the door she shook Flighty's hand and grabbed Skip into a hug.

"There was a patrol on the road, we hid," Flighty explained.

"Good job," Patty said shaking her hand, she looked at Skip, "Poor thing, I shouldn't have sent you out, you look scared half to death."

Flighty looked dazed, she said nothing as they gathered in front of the fire with Gertie who put a teacup in each of their hands.

"What are we to do?" she was the first to speak.

"We keep our heads," Lillie said, "If they wanted to hurt us they would have by now."

"They have cars and guns, we wouldn't stand a chance," Patty said.

"They don't see us as a threat," Flighty spoke up, "Or else they would have come in shooting."

Skip shivered.

"Are you scared Flighty?" Lillie said.

"I've never been frightened in my life," she said, "My people cannot seem to live with extreme authority, its as if they believe they won't be good decent people unless there is someone to tell them what to do, and when and where to do it...my country is a prison and the only way to be free is to become a criminal."

"And you," Skip said, "Are you a criminal?"

"Ayeah," Flighty said and she hated her then, "If I was to say I love you as a sweetheart back in Crounsten the both of us could be dragged out in the streets, stoned if we were lucky, worse would be the prison camps where we would be raped, and beaten daily...they call it rehabilitation."

"Goddess help us," Gertie said.

"Ayeah," Lillie and Patty said.

"So we just let them come here and boss and bully us?" Skip asked disgusted.

"Don't start that," Patty said, "You do just as you're told."

"And wait for Amertia to start fighting the Crouns in the street?" Skip asked staring coldly at Flighty.

"That Bitty McPherson put a lot of shit into your head," Lillie said, "The Crouns will gladly beat it out of you child."

Skip put down her cup and stalked out of the house.

She went out to Lillie's ring, to the sheep, she heard footsteps behind her,

"Please Skip," Flighty said, "Don't be angry with me."

"They sent you here didn't they?" she asked.

Flighty stood next to her, close,

"Yes, but I hoped they would win the war before things having to come to this, I hoped I could live out my days here on the bayou, peacefully, and I hoped that you would love me...I was only fooling myself."

They were silent for a few minutes.

"I was sent here as punishment, I have always been trouble to my family, I took things too lightly, even my love of girls," Flighty laughed at her past naïvetÈ,

"I hid it, that's just the way things were, then I loved one girl too much, a trouble maker like myself who spoke out against the way things were...she was taken to the prison camp she died in less than a week...I found this out a year later," Flighty sighed heavily,

"This was all our Empress's doing, she's my mother Skip, she is like your High Priestess, she makes the rules for Crounsten to follow, she decides the punishments, she is responsible for those awful camps."

She hung her head and began to cry,

"My sister saved my life, I was to die, to be executed, but she came up with the idea of sending me to New Avalon."

Skip touched her friend's head softly,

"I'm scared Flighty. What if things get very bad?"

"I won't let that happen, even if I have to put my old uniform on I won't let anyone be hurt," Flighty sniffed straightening and putting a hand to the side of Skip's face,

"Especially you."

"I'll keep your secret," Skip told her Flighty hugged her.

"Thank you," she whispered, "New Avalon is my home now, you, Patty and Lillie are my family."

Skip kissed her cheek it was soft, and fuzzy like a ripe peach

Lillie moved her head and their lips met.

Their kiss was tentative at first, as if the Commander would step from the shadows shinning her torch and shooting her gun, Skip pulled her closer when she was sure they were safe in the darkness.

They started when someone did speak:

"Well look at you two," Patty said.

"When's the handfastening?" Lillie hooted, "I hope I'm invited."

Skip couldn't help but grin, Flighty gave a nervous tug at her hand that she had clutched when they kissed.

"I don't think they're finished," Patty said slinking off.

"Oh pardon us," Lillie said.

Flighty giggled,

"Skip," she whispered, "I feel like I can do anything now, like I've been blessed by an angel."

"You're very brave Flighty, I wish I could be as brave as you," she said.

"You are," she said, "You stood up to Commander Ahnke Walker, the Crounsten Deliverer."

"The Deliverer?" Skip asked, "Is she a prophet."

"No she is the deliverer of justice," Flighty said, "Crounsten justice."

~ e. a. b. ~

To be continued in part two

I'd like to have the second half out in a week or so....feel free to call me up to prod me along at EllisABell@hotmail.com threaten my immortal soul to Tartarus if I don't harry along.


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