Ok so the first part of this chapter didn't change in the book but in the middle part of it I change it a little bit so here it is. And this chapter is for AlvaBlueFyre for updating on my story so thank you it makes me happy that someone read this story even though I'm bad at grammars and sentences.
Chapter 2. Sheba and Althea
Rowan was panting when he reached the cool house. Trembling, he climbed the ladder and took two of the oldest cheeses from their shelf. The cool house was packed with cheeses, vats of smooth white milk curd, and churns of butter. Plenty for everyone. But not for long, if new supplies did not replace the old.
He left the cool house and hurried toward the orchard beyond which lay Sheba's hut. He could hear the sound of the crowd still assembled in the market square and was glad he didn't have to pass them on his way. As he reached the outskirts of the village, he thought about what Val had said. Stumbling slightly in the ragged grass, he began moving through the hoopberry trees, dodging the twisted, hanging branches. He thought about Sefton, his father.
Sefton had come home from the market late one night, just after Annad was born, to find his house burning. A log had rolled from the fire and set the ground floor on fire. Flames were licking the staircase, and the house was filled with smoke. Sefton had shouted for help, and then leaped up the burning stairs. He had pulled the unconscious Jiller and the new baby from their beds and carried them down to safety. Then, as the flames burned higher and hotter, je threw a blanket around his head and went back into the house—for Rowan, in the attic. No one could stop him, they said later, though the heat and smoke beat everyone else back. Even the giant millers, Val and Ellis. Even Strong Jonn, Sefton's friend.
They saw Sefton at the attic window, with Rowan in his arms. They saw him fling the window open, and heard him cry out. They rushed to catch what he threw to them—his son, screaming in terror, wrapped tightly in the rug from his bed. And then they heard a crash and saw the roof fall in and the flames leap and roar. Strong Jonn, cradling Rowan in his huge arms, gave a shout of grief. Sefton had saved his family. But he had gone from them, forever.
Rowan grew up knowing his father had died to save him. He knew, too, that although they never said so openly, many people in the village of Rin felt that the exchange had not been fair one. The villagers were farmers and traders now, but they were descended from great warriors. And in their time, when Rin was threatened, many of the older ones had fought to defend it. The War of the Plains was alive in their memories and recorded in dozens of volumes in the house of books. The people of Rin were proud of their tradition of courage.
At an early age every village child learned to run, climb, jump, swim—and fight. Rowan had trained with the others, but he had never been good at anything. Had had always been small for his age. He had always been shy. And since the night of the fire he had been even quieter and more nervous than before. Val was right, he thought. He would never be the man his father was. And neither would he have the strength of his mother, who since his father's death had worked even harder, plowing the wheat fields with Star, planting and gathering the crop, taking it to the mill.
Rowan had been given the job of herding the bukshah because it was easy. Tending the big, gentle beasts needed no strong arm or great courage. Only once, year ago had a keeper of the bukshah come to grief. And the mine shaft into which she had fallen trying to save a wandering calf had been closed in long ago. A much smaller child than Rowan could have done the work. But he was allowed to remain with his beasts, and for this he was grateful.
The bukshah loved him and knew his voice. They would look at him with their soft brown eyes and nuzzle his hand when he was sad, as if they knew his troubles. In return he tried to make their lives comfortable, learning to cure their ills, treating their cuts and bruises as his mother treated his, combing burrs and prickles form their woolly coats. When the winter snows blew in the valley, he would bring the old and weak to shelter, for he knew that the freezing winds could kill them, and he could not bear to lose even one. In spring, he would run and play with the calves and carry them handfuls of new peas he stole from the gardens when no one was looking.
Rowan listened. He could hear the beasts now in their filed nearby, rumbling and snuffling to one another as the sun began to dip behind the Mountain. He wished he was with them, instead of tripping over his own feat in the orchard with his arms full of smelly cheeses and his head full of shameful fears.
He scrambled through the fence that marked the orchard boundary, his steps slowed as he saw light flickering from Sheba's hut. Despite the coolness of the evening air, her door was open, and gigantic shadows wavered and crept on the strange, pale grass that grew before it. He began to tremble again as he approached.
Two of Bree and Hanna's children had once told him that Sheba could turn you into fat slug if she chose. They pointed to the slugs that they were picking from the cabbage leaves. "These were all people, once," they said. "Look—that's our uncle Arthal there. We know him by the spot on his forehead. He gave the Witch a rotten tomato in a bag he traded for bellyache medicine. One rotten tomato in a bag of twenty. And that's what she did to him. Good-bye, Uncle Arthal. Hello, Uncle Slug. Want to give him a kiss?" They had pushed the writhing creature up to Rowan's mouth and hooted after him as he ran away.
As for Althea they say that she freezes people into stone just by glaring at them. And they say that she can curse people with bad luck for the rest of their lives if she was insulted.
Rowan knew they had been teasing him. He knew it, really. But sometimes in bed at night, or if a bukshah strayed and he had to go near Sheba's hut to catch it, children's story would come back to him, and he would remember the slow, fat slug with the spot on its forehead, and the people that is turned into stone and he would shudder by it.
Voices drifted out to meet him as he trod softly among the shadows on the grass. Strong Jonn and Marlie. And another voice cracked and low. Sheba.
"The stream flows down from the mountaintop, above the cloud," she was saying. "Under the earth Mountain, to the very top, my fine friends. And none knows the secret way but Sheba and Althea!" Her mocking laugh rang out.
Rowan thought of putting the cheeses down on the doorstep and running home. But as he stepped a shadow jump up and that makes him jump up nervously and a twig snapped under his toe of his boot.
"At last!" Strong Jonn's head popped out the door. He put his arm behind Rowan's back and propelled him inside. "The boy with the cheeses. Our gift to you, Sheba," he said heartily. "In trade for your knowledge of the way."
The old woman sitting by the fire sniffed the air and smacked her lips with a greedy sound. "The cheeses!" she gloated. Then she frowned, and her eyes narrowed. "Bring them here," she ordered. "Closer, boy."
"Easy Grandmother," said a voice from the shadow in the corner of the room. "Don't scare the boy too much." The people in the hut except Sheba were startled by the appearance of Althea. They didn't know that she was in the hut all along.
Then she moves out of the shadow toward Sheba her bell choker tinkling. "You know what will happen next now Grandmother now that they have arrived," Althea said softly to Sheba.
"Yes, yes, I know, I already seen it," said Sheba. "Now don't order me around! I want my cheeses!"
Althea nodded her head and said, "Very well." She then turned her dark violet eyes toward Rowan. "Please give her the cheeses you have in your back, Rowan of the Bukshah. She is an impatient one."
Rowan hesitated. Marlie, beside him, gave him little push. His feet felt like stones after staring in the eyes of Althea. He then remembered the story about the people turning in stones just by staring at her. He feels that just what happen to him although he is still not a stone. He forced his feet forward, a step at a time.
"What are you hiding?" snapped Sheba, haft rising from her chair. "I say closer, boy! Come here and put these famous cheeses in my lap. For how do I know that I am not being cheated? Fobbed off with second-class goods?"
"They are the best we have, Sheba," said Marlie. "Rowan chose them himself, from the highest shelf in the cool house. You will like them."
"So you say." Sheba scowled as she hunched her shoulders and stared at Rowan. In the firelight her eyes looked red. Her forehead was bound with a purple rag, and her hair hung like thin gray tails around her face. She smelled of ash and dust, old cloth and bitter herbs. While Althea look like a shadow hovering behind Sheba. She smelled of wood and fresh flower yet there is a mysterious smell that hovers around her that Rowan could not place. Rowan reached Sheba's chair, place the round cheeses on her lap, and backed swiftly away, holding his breath, trying not to look at her.
"You should really calm that temper of your Grandmother," Althea said without emotions. "You are scary the boy."
Sheba just waves her off and lost interest in Rowan. She was prodding the cheeses with her bony fingers, sniffing them one by one. Rowan hugged himself and shuddered, sheltering behind the tall figure of Marlie form those terrible red eyes. What if he had chosen badly? What if the cheeses were no good after all? What if Sheba thought he was trying to trick her?
The old woman looked up. "They are good," she pronounced. "As good as you said they would be Jonn of the Orchard."
"Naturally." Strong Jonn bowed to her.
"Now, Sheba," said Marlie firmly. "Will you tell us what we wish to know?"
"Ah, brave Marlie!" Sheba giggled unpleasantly. She took some sticks from a basket beside her and threw them on the fire. It flared up as the sticks caught alight, and the shadows danced on her face and Althea as she turned back to them. Althea was still looking at them, mostly Rowan, with the emotionless eyes of hers. "Brave as you weave your cloth safe at home and dream of glory. But how brave will you be on the Mountain? The Mountain has ways of taming big brave girls like Marlie, if they are so foolish as to try their strength against it. It has ways . . . so many ways . . . as you will discover."
Rowan felt Marlie stiffen and saw her cheek begin to burn red. "We do not need your warnings, Sheba," she said in a level voice.
"And Jonn! Strong Jonn, keeper of the trees! Fine, tall man!" jeered the old woman, ignoring her. "Now you come here to ask me favors. But what were you but a raggedy, bare-bottomed little boy like all the rest once upon a time, crying for your mama when Sheba passed by?" She bared her long brown teeth at him in a hideous grin. "The Mountain will not test your strength, Jonn. It will destroy it. As it has destroyed the strength of men with twice your courage. You will twist and blubber like a baby in the grip of the Mountain. But the Mountain will not let you go."
There was a moment's silence. Rowan was rigid with horror.
Strong Jonn laughed. Then he planted his hands on his hips and addressed the old woman sternly. "Quit your tales, Sheba!" he said. "They are wasted on me and Marlie. The boy Rowan is the only one to fear them here. You should not think us so foolish as to follow his example. Look, you have scared him half to death, poor skinny little rabbit. And he picked you such excellent cheeses, too! You should beg his pardon."
Althea smirked and a twinkle of mischief was on her eye. "You should fear what my Grandmother tells you," she said. "Because if you don't then it's your death that will be waiting for you on the Mountain. If Rowan is the only one that has fear of it then he is the one with the sense around here. And we do beg him to forgive us."
Sheba went on grinning, but her eyes shone scarlet. "Laugh, then, Jonn of the Orchard," she sneered. "As my granddaughter just says if the boy is the only one afraid, he is the only one of you with sense. It would do you no harm to be guided by him!"
Althea then walked to the basket that was beside Sheba and reached down. Then she says again, "And so indeed, we must beg his pardon." Then, fast as a striking snake, she threw a stick straight at Marlie, who yelled and jumped aside in her fright, leaving Rowan to take the full blow of the flying wood.
Rowan stumbled back and nearly fell, the stick clutched in his hand and blood beginning to drip from a gash in his forehead. Strong Jonn exclaimed in anger and stepped forward with clenched fists.
"A gift from Grandmother and me," Althea said as the old woman snarled."We do beg your pardon, Rowan of the Bukshah," said Althea softly her bell tinkling as he bow to him for forgiveness. Rowan never once thought that Althea would bow to him for forgiveness. His fear to her slightly weathered.
"Sheba, Althea, you go too far!" thundered Strong Jonn.
Sheba and Althea looked at each other for a moment reading each other's eyes then looked at them again. Sheba curved her lips. "Do we now?" she said "Well then, perhaps this meeting should be ended."
"Not until you have told us what we came to hear," cried Marlie. She glanced at Rowan, cowering in the shadows. "And quickly! The boy's forehead must be attended to."
"It's only a scratch," said Sheba placidly. "But still, I grow weary. I am tired of your childishness. I will tell you what you need to know. As far as I am able. Wait."
"Be careful, Grandmother," Althea said. "You know what would happen if you push yourself too hard to see what needs to be see." Sheba just nodded at her that says she understood very well.
She then lay back in her chair in her chair and half closed her eyes. Her hands stroked the cheeses in her lap as though they were cats. Althea was looking at her with slight concern showing in her eyes. She was still standing beside Sheba's basket. Then the fire glowed. Sheba began to drone and mumble to herself. For a long time they could make no sense of her words. And then at last she spoke clearly.
"Seven heart the journey make.
Seven ways the heart will break.
Bravest heart will carry on following the shadow that guides
The music of this shadow will help the seven hearts
When sleep is death and hope is gone.
Look in the fiery jaws of fear
And see the answer white and clear,
Then throw away all thoughts of home,
For only then your quest is done."
Sheba's eyelids fluttered, and her eyes opened. For a moment she stared blankly at Jonn, Marlie, and Rowan, as though wondering why they were there, then her expression sharpened, and she waved her hand at them impatiently. She no longer looked like a witch. Just a tired, crabby old woman.
"Go now," she said. "I can tell you no more."
"But the way, Sheba. The way we must go," urged Marlie. "You have told us nothing!"
"Have I not? Well, we will see. Perhaps you will feel differently by and by. Now leave me in peace." Sheba's chin sank to her chest, and she was silent. They waited, but she did not raise her head again. After a while she began to snore.
"She is asleep," whispered Rowan.
"Yes, she is," Althea said softly. "Now you must go. She tell you enough of what you need to know. Everything that she say to you people are not what it seems as well as everything else." As she was saying this she was looking at Rowan who jumps at her eyes. "Everything and anything is not always as it seems."
"In any case, there is nothing more for us here. We must go back. The others have waited long enough for us," said Strong Jonn.
They left the hut and began to hurry toward the village, Althea looking at them as they left.
"And we return empty-handed!" exclaimed Marlie. "With Rowan bleeding. Rowan, I cannot forgive myself for stepping aside and leaving you to be struck. I was taken by surprise.'
"They intended Rowan to suffer," said Strong Jonn grimly. "They were punishing me for laughing at them and telling her to beg his pardon. The fault is mine."
Rowan, trotting along beside them through the orchard, was feeling dizzy and faint, but whether this was because of the cut on his forehead or simply the terror he had felt in Sheba's cottage, he did not know. Her horrible warning whirled around in his head, and her strange, droning chant seemed to have been burned into his brain as well as Althea's warning about everything Sheba says. He could not forget it. "Seven hearts the journey make. Seven ways the hearts will break." He found himself repeating it under his breath, beating time against his leg with the stick he still held in his hand. "Bravest heart will carry on/ when sleep is death and hope is gone."
"Put it out of your mind, boy Rowan," said Strong Jonn uneasily. "Look ahead—the village lights. You will soon be home with you mother." He exchange glances with Marlie. "And what she will say to me for bringing him home in this state . . ." he added in an undertone.
Rowan then heard a sweet melody of a flute coming from the Sheba's hut and wondered who was playing as he continue to walk with the others back in the village. The melody was smoothing sweet and helps him take out the warning that keeps repeating on his head. It also calms him down of his fear that he felt toward Sheba's hut. He then turned to Jonn and Marlie to see if they are hearing the flute melody but they seem not to hear it. He then looked back at the hut then looked back at the path again.
After they left Althea went to the shadow corner where her things were ready and pack. She would need all of it to help the people that are going to the Mountain. She then picks them up and put on the table near her grandmother. Althea then sits down and grabs her flute under the table, where she hides it, and starts to play a melody to calm her grandmother's dreams
She know after her vision her grandmother will always have a nightmare after what she seen. The only thing that could calm the dreams down is the music she plays in either her violin or her flute.
She then played a sweet melody that will help her and Rowan, although he is far away. If she wants to she can let everyone hear her melody but she does not wish so. She only let Sheba and the bukshah hear her melodies but now she let Rowan hear it so his nerves can be calm down for the journey tomorrow.
She then stops playing and said to herself, "I hope that we have a safe journey ahead even though the Mountain will be raft on us." She then continues playing.
So what do you guys think? Is it better now? Please update soon to tell me what you guys think.