Freebie Mondays: Pieces of the Past – Kiona and the Grove

Freebie Mondays: Pieces of the Past – Kiona and the Grove

My husband runs a Dungeons and Dragons game on Twitch every Tuesday that has come to be known as Winds of Chaos. Due to my work schedule (and load), I’ve been unable to participate as a regular player (though I have done a cameo and hope to do more in the future). As a writer, I can, however, participate in other ways! I decided to help the players in the campaign (who are all good friends of mine) bring key moments in their characters’ past to life. As an added bonus, it makes a great writing exercise for me!

First up is Kiona. She is a wild magic sorcerer who started out as a human. But every time she rolls a number that ends in 0 on the wild magic chart, she changes race. Kiona is played by the fabulous Flutterdye! Her request was for a moment of bonding when Kiona first arrived at the home of her adoptive family. This particular grove has already played a role in the campaign as well!
. . .

This ain’t my home.

To reinforce the thought, Kinoa kicked a pebble with all the strength her small body could muster and watched with satisfaction as it bounced and skipped across the packed earth outside the barn. The scents of straw and moisture assaulted her nose, which she wrinkled as something even more foul drifted from the open door of the barn.

She was expected to enter within the next half hour and muck the stalls, a job that made her palms hurt, her fingers ache, and her stomach turn. Animals were cute and all, but she would rather not have to clean up their messes. She would rather not have to clean up anyone’s messes except her own.

Why’d Mama have to go and leave me here?

Kiona clenched her little fists at her sides, driving her nails into the newly forming calluses on her palms, but a quick glance around the courtyard revealed no more convenient stones for kicking. She decided to  use her last few precious moments before she was called into the barn searching for her last stone so that she could kick it again. But she quickly lost interest in the stone, her mind on other things.

Where is Mama now?

Still knocking on doors, Kiona imagined, though maybe not the same doors she had been knocking on a week or a month ago. Her mama had always been moving door to door, greeting the occupants of every house with a smile before she delivered her charming sales pitch. Kiona didn’t know what she was selling, but she always believed her mama was going to find her fortunes one day. Then the two of them would live in one of houses in one of the rows in the village yonder, and maybe they would answer the door for another smiling saleswoman.

As far as Kiona knew, that was the way the world was supposed to work. She certainly didn’t think she was supposed to get dumped on a stupid farm to clean a stupid barn and be taunted by stupid Terron, the man who seemed to own it all.

He acted like he owned her too, and that was the part that made Kiona maddest of all.

Kiona’s foot found something hard in the grass. She shifted too late to keep it from digging into the ball of her foot, and a small yelp slipped from her throat when the mass slipped, pulling her foot out from under her. A soft thud followed, and Kiona lay dazed, staring up at a blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds, wondering how she ended up in this position.

Had things really been so bad before? Had her mama really been so displeased about her presence? Did she take up too much time? Too much space? Did she ask too many questions?

Heaving a loud sigh, Kiona momentarily gave in, accepting her location as inevitable, from the farm to the soft patch of grass she found herself laying in. It wasn’t so bad, really, the ranch house. Sure it creaked in the middle of the night, making it sound like ghostly creatures roamed the halls. But it was warm; there was that. And she had a bed all to herself. And she didn’t have to spend the whole day mucking out the barn. When she wasn’t working, there were plenty of wide open spaces for her to make use of. And maybe, if she was lucky, she might one day make friends with one of the horses.

As soon as she convinced one of them to let her ride it, she could escape this place, ride off into the great unknown… maybe even find her mama.

“Kiona!” the sharp crack of Terron Simms filled the air followed by a muttered, “Where has that girl gotten off to now?”

With a soft groan, Kiona summoned the energy to roll onto her side and push herself off the ground. If she didn’t answer Terron’s summons, he would send that horrible Bertie after her, and he was the last person she wanted to deal with.

For a moment, she wished the soft ground beneath her palms would open up and swallow her, carrying her far away from this strange, hateful place. Then she glanced up and a distant swish of movement caught her eyes.

Kiona froze, wondering if she had disturbed some creature lurking nearby, a rabbit maybe, or a squirrel. But when the flutter came again, it was high over her head, near the tops of the distant trees. There came a distant snap and a faint ruffle of feathers, and Kiona realized the object of her fascination was a bird that had recently taken flight.

On a whim, she decided to follow it. Terron Simms could wait. Neither the horses nor their messes were going anywhere, and Kiona was in no rush to grind her aching hands against the handle of a shovel. There was something warm about the stand of trees just a little way ahead of her, something inviting. It was almost as if the leaves on the swaying tree branches seemed to whisper, come to me, we can set you free.

The bird was gone by the time she reached the base of the first tree. But when Kiona set her hand against the rough bark, she heard the loud caw of a second bird, and slipped into the cool shadows to see if she could catch sight of it. All around her, the world was alive with sound, from the swaying of the grass and leaves to the chirp of insects and the answering call of distant birds.

She wished that she could stay in this little grove all day, maybe all night too. Maybe if she could find a way into one of the tall trees she could hide and Terron Simms wouldn’t be able to find her.

Behind her rose another call, a human call. It was muffled, but she guessed it was Terron trying to summon her again, perhaps annoyed by her late arrival.

She should answer. More than that, she should trot back down to the barn entry and present herself for chores.

But she didn’t. She wanted just one more minute among the trees, a stolen minute just for herself. So she slipped her hand from the tree trunk and slunk forward, setting each foot with care that she didn’t make a sound.

A twig snapped.

Kiona looked down, but there was nothing beneath her feet that could have created such a dry crunch.

“Kiona?”

The sound of her name set every tiny hair on Kiona’s body standing upright. She turned slowly toward the source of the voice, expecting to see a furry monster with long teeth and dripping fangs extending sharp claws in her direction.

But the thing waiting behind her was only a human. And not just any human, Ricca Roshard, Terron’s wife.

Kiona’s cheeks caught fire. She was in trouble now! What if Ricca thought she was trying to run away? What would Terron say when his wife dragged her back down to the barn to report her truancy? Maybe she should spin on her heel and make a break for it. She could dart and dodge behind the trees to hide her trail. And if no one saw which direction she ultimately went-

“What are you doing out here?” Ricca asked, her tone curious rather than angry.

Kiona blinked, uncertain how to respond to the kindness in Ricca’s voice. “Oh… Uh, I thought I saw a bird,” she replied, pointing skyward.

“I see.” Ricca smiled. “Fond of our feathery friends, are you?”

Kiona blinked again. She had never considered herself particularly fond of birds, but she was more than willing to say yes if it got her out of trouble. She nodded, feeling her way through the unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation, all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Any moment now, Ricca would take her by the ear and drag her back to the barn, she just knew it!

But Ricca kept her distance. She laughed lightly, the sound something like birdsong to Kiona’s homesick ears, and she found herself relaxing despite her uncertainty.

“Did you know,” Ricca mused as she turned to glance at the tree tops, “if you feed ravens regularly they will be so grateful, they will bring you gifts?”

“What kind of gifts?” Kiona asked, her voice breathless with wonder.

“Shiny ones,” Ricca replied as she turned her focus back to Kiona. “Little pieces of metal men have forgotten about. Or shining glass beads that have been ground into the dirt. Anything they thing might catch your fancy, they’ll scoop it up with their beaks and deliver it right into your hands.” She mimed holding out her palm, then closing her hand into a fist to illustrate her point. Then she laughed again.

“What do you think of your new home, Kiona?” she asked. Somehow, while she had been talking, she managed to cross the space between them so her tall form loomed over the small girl.

Kiona cringed, but she didn’t want to tell Ricca the truth when the woman had just been nice to her. I hate it! she screamed into the vaults of her mind. The horses smell bad, and Terron yells at me all the time!

“Is it really that bad?” Ricca asked, sounding disappointed. She must have seen something on Kiona’s young face that gave her away.

“I guess not,” Kiona replied, hanging her head. She felt bad for making Ricca sad, but the statement was still somewhat begrudgingly dragged from her lips. This ain’t my home, she repeated silently, and it ain’t never gunna be!

Ricca set a gentle hand on her shoulder. Her hand was warm, comfortable and welcoming, just as the trees had been. “I keep tellin’ Terron he can’t keep you at work all day,” Ricca said with an exasperated sigh. “Kids need time to run and play. To pursue something that makes them happy.”

Yeah! Kiona thought, wishing she could stomp her little foot and shake her little fist to emphasize the point. Somehow, though she couldn’t begin to imagine how, Ricca seemed to understand.

“I’ll tell you what,” Ricca squeezed Kiona’s shoulder gently, “after you finish work today, let’s come back here with some birdseed and see if we can’t feed some ravens. It will take a couple weeks, but, if we’re patient, we might make a few new friends.”

Kiona’s heart soared. If Ricca said it, and if Ricca came with her, there was no way Terron could say no! He’d have to let her keep coming back too, so long as Ricca kept her word.

But something about Ricca’s soft tone and the welcoming sway of the trees surrounding them made Kiona think she would keep her promise. She was different from Terron and Bertie, softer, gentler… more like her mama.

A lump rose in the back of Kiona’s throat. It was painful to swallow against it, so she didn’t try to speak, she merely nodded and hoped it expressed how grateful and excited she was.

Someone was yelling in the distance again – Terron no doubt – and the sound shattered the spell cast by Ricca’s kindness and the tranquility of their surroundings. But as Ricca walked back with her to explain her tardiness to her husband, Kiona did not experience the anticipated twang of anxiety that had often accompanied her trips to the barn.

There was something for her here, something more than just shoveling muck from barn stalls. Ricca seemed nice. And so did the grove. It could be their place, special if not secret, and neither Terron nor Bertie would be able to take away anything she and Ricca did there.

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