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The Promise of Rain

“A black day,” said the old woman, stirring the pot over the smoky fire.

There was nothing to say to this. It was such an obvious remark that Kyla couldn’t even summon a proper response. She stared down at her hands, at the dirt beneath her fingernails that repeated washings could not remove.

“Ye’ll be leaving soon,” the woman continued. Outside the mouth of the cave a goat bleated in the darkness once, then again.

“Yes,” Kyla said.

“They’ll be looking fer ye.” The woman, Lorna, banged the wooden spoon against the rim of the pot.

“I know.”

But Kyla couldn’t ‘t seem to do much right now. Her hands lay open and lax in her lap, fingers curled upward. Her skin seemed very white to her; they could have been a ghost’s hands. She remembered how her mother used to pamper her own hands, rubbing them with special creams each night, keeping her own white skin so smooth and perfect.

Kyla’s hands were cut and blistered right now, unused to labor still.

“I’ll go before they come,” she said.

“Aye.” Lorna had been her uncle’s chatelaine for many years. But the modest manor was gone now. Tonight Lorna was just another of the homeless, the ragged remnants of a clan that would be living inside these rocky hills for a good while to come, Kyla supposed. The entire village had been burned to the ground.

The cave was damp and cold, but then again, so the manor house had been as well. Lorna banged the spoon again for emphasis. “Yer father’s people will take ye.”

“I’ll go,” Kyla repeated.

“It’s fer the best.”

Again, another statement for which she could think of no reply. Was it for the best? She had no idea. Would the English chase her still? Did she matter to them now that Alister and Malcolm were dead? Would they persecute this clan further to flush her out?

Such heavy questions. She wished she had some answers for once.

The fire threw a dull light that gleamed against the gold hilt of the dagger Kyla had tucked into the sash at her waist. She had buried Alister without it. It had been their mother’s, a jeweled thing with a dangerously sharp blade. Kyla didn’t think either of them would mind if she kept it.

The goat bleated again, and a new shape stooped to enter the cave. It was Colin, ancient Colin, come to tell her to go. Kyla stood.

The night air was clear and sharp; it felt painfully good to take a deep breath. Malcolm’s stallion was remarkably uninjured from the battle, surely the only thing left so. He lowered his great, sleek head to her as she approached. Kyla ran her hand down his nose, then stroked his neck. An all-black horse, she thought with some amusement. How fitting the outlaw’s daughter would ride a black horse.

The circle of people around her were specters in the moonless night; distant, proud people who had reluctantly taken her in with her brother, and now were thankfully seeing them both gone.

It wasn’t a personal dislike, Kyla knew. It was simply that they could not afford to house someone with such a price on her head.

“Thank you,” Kyla said. “Thank you all. I’m sorry.”

The stallion turned and the people parted for her to pass. There were no good-byes to follow her. The only sound to be heard was the steady clip-clop of the horse’s hooves in the dirt as she guided him south toward the English border.

Excerpted from The Promise of Rain by Shana Abé. Copyright © 1998 by Shana Abé. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.