Freebie Mondays: A Year Without Summer (Story 3 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: A Year Without Summer (Story 3 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: a year without summer. This following ties in with my Dream Things True Duology.
. . .

Strakath Jesto stood for a moment just beyond the massive doors that led inside the temple, his head titled skyward to catch the last dying rays of sunlight. Unlike the sunsets of his childhood, these thin rays of illumination felt feeble and fragile as they clung to the mountains lining the distance.

It had been a month since he felt the full warmth and brightness of what he thought of as proper day, and the chill that seemed to hang over the rest of the world had now penetrated the depths of the divine valley, causing the usually verdant grass to gray and wither.

The priest drew a deep breath, allowing the chill air to fill his lungs, hoping the harsh chill would restore some kind of clarity to his fevered mind, but he received no such blessing. He exhaled, whispered the prayers that had sustained him through these last few days, and finally turned to disappear inside the temple.

Warmth waited for him inside the great hall. Fires burned in every hearth sustained by thick logs chopped not more than a fortnight ago in preparation for the gathering. Acolytes scurried among the council’s participants, providing drinks, charcoal sticks and fresh squares of parchment. Some diverted to check on the fires, prodding them to make sure the shape of the logs kept the flames burning like a wall of light and warmth.

They would need the illumination as much as the heat.

Candles were set at regular intervals along the long, wide table where the council members gathered. The flames flickered in response to every sigh, though their source had been set far enough back that no one would knock a candle over and risk setting fire to their precious determinations.

The fate of a world rested on the decisions they made here. The least they could do was keep an accurate record.

The old priest cleared his throat and several of the faces bent over parchments or the remains of recent meals shot upward. There was a general shifting of weight in chairs and straightening of postures as everyone gave the head of the council their attention.

“We have waited the agreed amount of time. I see no signs that warmth or spring intend to return to the valley anytime soon.”

It was a grim pronouncement indeed – not the one the council’s participants had been hoping to hear. Gazes shot across the table like thrown daggers, and several short sharp gestures were concealed behind coughs or shifting of chairs.

Strakath suspected that several deals had already been struck behind closed doors between meetings, and the shadow alliances would soon begin to reveal themselves as deliberations turned from determining causes to dealing with problems.

“I assume you have made the usual appeals to Kothar and Asherah?” the prim and proper Tsuna Honshana demanded from her position near the far side of the table. She was a formidable old scholar, more a proponent of the arcane arts than the church generally approved of, but desperate times were going to make for a lot of grand changes, and it was clear Tsuna intended to push her luck.

“I would wager that each of us has in our own way,” Strakath replied, his tone calm. He could not let anyone think this woman had riled him – least of all her. He would lose control over the discussion. And cooler heads must be allowed to prevail just this once, or their world might never recover. “But you know as well as I do that neither will answer. The Lord and Lady made clear their intentions when they lifted away to their new haven with the rest of their siblings.

“We are on our own.” Strakath let his eyes travel the table, pausing to regard each of the council’s participants one at a time, hoping to drive these words home. “We must find a way to survive until the sun returns.”

The members of this venerable council, each advisor to a different ruler or chieftain once again allowed their gazes to shift back and forth, perhaps trying to determine the effect these words had on each of their fellows.

“We are already two weeks past the regular start of planting season,” Om Nizkaret, a representative from the plains region of Nywor lamented while spreading his palms across the table in front of him. “At this rate, even if we are able to coax something from the soil in the near future, we won’t have enough time to reap the harvest before the winter is again upon us. Unless you believe the entire pattern of seasons intends to shift?”

Om cast a somewhat hopeful glance between Strakath and Tsuna, but each of them shook their head in turn.

“It is impossible to tell when this strange imbalance may pass,” Strakath admitted. “Though perhaps we should have anticipated that the disappearance of the gods would throw our realm into some form of chaos. But my study of the natural forces under Lord Kothar before his departure suggests that the world will not simply pick up where it left off when the imbalance fades. It will resume from wherever it is in the cycle.”

“My studies suggest the same,” Tsuna admitted. It had been clear from the start of these meetings she hoped her arcane practices would offer insights the church’s divine mages lacked, but Strakath felt no satisfaction that her efforts had proved fruitless.

He would have given anything to reverse this lack of weather shift, even adopt practices that, until recently, had been deemed blasphemous by the gods.

“If the imbalance fades during the winter, we should expect spring to return after the season finishes,” Tsuna went on as though she were lecturing to a group of students.

“But if the imbalance persists during the next spring?” Om demanded nervously.

Tsuna sighed. “Then we may miss a second growing season.”

This pronouncement set off a chain reaction of angry exclamations. The predominant sentiment was anger as advisors demanded to know how kings and chiefs would feed what were soon to be starving people. But Strakath quickly brought his palm down upon the table, creating a loud enough crack to return the room to silence.

In the periphery of his vision, firelight danced within the hearths, casting eerily long shadows across the floor beyond the council table. The ceilings were high here and vaulted, so every little sound carried. Strakath imagined the gods lurking among the rafters, their invisible faces judging each of the council’s participants as they shared their sentiments.

How would they judge him, he wondered? He had already proven willing to abandon the teachings they laid before him when he invited Tsuna and several of her fellow arcanists to the meeting.

But a beleaguered people needed to do whatever was necessary to survive. And if war was to truly be behind them, they must accept every positive effort, no matter how it would have been viewed in the months leading up to the gods’ departure.

“The first truth we must accept here today is that not a single one of us can control the weather. If that were possible, our problems would have been solved a week ago.” And Tsuna had tried. With all their might, she and their followers had attempted to use their arcane power to push the clouds from the sky and pull vitality back into the fertile grasses of the valley.

Strakath too had put all the might of the gathered priests into prayer for days on end. That was why he proclaimed the need to rely on those surrounding him. If the gods were going to give him an answer, they would have.

The affairs of mortals must now be managed by mortals, Kothar-wa-Khasis proclaimed to his high priest during their final conversation with each other.

It was difficult for a man who had spent his entire life at study beneath the direct tutelage of a divine being to turn his eyes elsewhere, but he hoped some of the wisdom his master had granted him would serve the people of his world now.

“Our first priority is to make sure that the people affected by this shift can eat,” a man by the name of Thezo-ren declared. He was soft spoken, despite his muscular physique and gruff demeanor. He had passed most of these meetings in silence; he hadn’t even spoken during the uproar about the potential loss of a second growing season.

“Do you have any suggestions?” Tsuna prompted when no one else spoke.

Her plan, Strakath knew, had been to use her magic to coax crops from the earth. But even on a small scale, this drained a massive amount of energy from her, so it would not provide a wide-spread or long-term solution.

Thezo-ren shrugged. “I suggest that each kingdom look to their skills and resources. The mighty hunters of clan Vesald, for example, will be happy to share the meat from their hunts with those who do not have easy access to such supplies.”

A murmur crossed the table at this as people began to consider the problem from the new perspective.

“Those of us who raise herds could probably provide similar services,” a woman by the name of Amberjill interjected, though she held up one hand as all eyes turned in her direction. “We must be careful not to cull the herds too thinly, however, or we will be in trouble when the lean growing years pass.”

“There are other sources of food as yet unconsidered,” a man by the name of Lord Deadtide announced. “The kingdom of Onroth sits along the coast. We are mighty good sailors. Now that we have no war to fight, we might be able to turn our skills toward fishing. If enough boats can reap the fruits of the oceans, the wealth might easily be shared.”

“Iryant lies as far south as it is possible to travel,” Tsuna mused. This was her own homeland, though she did not actually serve as the kingdom’s representative for this meeting. “It is possible that the warmth might provide the ability to grow some limited number of crops if we can provide the land with enough water and nutrients to keep it fertile.”

For the first time in two weeks, Strakath began to relax. He feared this portion of the meeting would be devoted to squabbling as those who possessed resources in the wake of the dreadful war squirreled them away and refused to share.

Perhaps the departure of the gods had a more profound effect upon the world and its inhabitants than Strakath previously imagined. Where before loyalties had been divided and individuals had been unwilling to consider the plights of others, now the varied citizens of the many sprawling kingdoms that made up their continent had put aside their differences to assist each other with crisis.

“Corvala breeds some of the world’s best horses,” Om mused. “I am certain I could convince our king to help with the shifting of supplies between nations. In fact, our central location will mean that most resources have to pass through our territory to reach their end destinations at some point in time.”

“The remains of the stockpiles for each kingdom should be tallied,” Lord Deadtide suggested. “That way each kingdom can manage its remaining resources efficiently and seek aid accordingly.”

“But what do we do if summer never returns?” Om asked into the silence that followed Lord Deadtide’s suggestion.

Again, everyone shifted in their chairs and cast furtive glances across the table. Many of the representatives tried to keep their expressions neutral, but few of them were actually diplomats and many faces revealed trepidation.

“I am certain the gods will not allow their creation to fall to ruin,” Strakath proclaimed when no one else offered an answer. “I find it hard to believe that they spent so many long years fighting to keep us safe only allow disaster to swallow us.”

This was the central focus of his prayers each evening as the thin sun slipped behind the cloud-choked horizon. That the departure of the gods did not equate to abandonment. That they would still govern the forces that were beyond mortals’ ability to control.

Perhaps this was even the last of their tests, a trial sent to determine whether or not their creations were worthy of redemption after so many of them sided with their brother the betrayer.

“Indeed,” Tsuna replied from the far side of the table. Her agreement offered weight to Strakath’s words, a relief despite his surprise. But she shot him a sharp look, and a hint of a grin played across her lips. “It could also be that they have already left the means of salvation in our hands. Now that my scholars are allowed to study the natural forces that allow magic to work, we may yet be able to unravel the mystery of what keeps the sun at bay.”

Strakath’s lips twitched, and he forced them into a thin line so that his displeasure would not be immediately obvious. It might be that the battered people of his world were ready and willing to work together during times of crisis, but he wondered how long it would be before they were back at each other’s throats, arguing over the right path forward.

May it be beyond the scope of my lifetime. Though he did hope his old bones would sustain him at least long enough to see the return of summer.

“I believe our next course of action is to receive approval from the rulers that wish to participate in this new trade network,” Strakath declared when the chatter quieted of its own accord. “Let each send their chosen representative back here with the authority to made decisions on their behalf and we will begin the organization required to deliver our world from this darkness.”

A series of nods flowed like a wave across the table. Then Tsuna placed her palms against the polished wood and pushed to her feet, signifying the end of the meeting.

Strakath waited until all the other participants filed back to their rooms before he rose and helped the temple servants to snuff the candles and bank the fires. As darkness devoured the last pockets of light aside from the warm glow of the hearths, he said a silent prayer that this new spirit of cooperation would hold, though he expected to be very busy mediating between bruised egos for the next few months.

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