Hallie: "Spring Rains"
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
Welcome back! As it is the next quarter in the year, it's time for my newest short snippet for my upcoming debut, Cities of Smoke and Starlight!
This quarter's snippet/short story is from Hallie's perspective. In the main story, she's a scholar at the University who doesn't know when to shut up. Bless her heart. Therefore, I take you back about seven years prior to the main story to one of Hallie's most cherished memories!
DISCLAIMER: As my novel is unpublished as of this posting, the events, names, and so on are subject to change once it is. Also, the artwork in the aesthetic is not my own and is used for inspiration purposes only. If you are one of the artists appearing here and would like your work removed, please contact me here.
Without further ado, happy reading!
8 May 4493
The damp, earthy scent filled Hallie Walker’s entire being. As she held the front door of her father’s inn open, the sweet rain sprinkled her face with the promise of a warmer season to come lingering in each drop. Winters on the edge of the Narden Range were long and snow-ridden, but they were worth the new spring waiting just around the corner. It was Hallie’s favorite season, and she longed for days of honeysuckles and the tangy taste of her mother’s mazelberry jam.
“Hals, you’ll catch your death out there,” her mother’s voice rang from the inn’s dining room where she swept fallen scraps from the midday meal. “You only have two hours to clean before those city guests arrive.”
Hallie sighed and turned around, pushing wet hair from her eyes. “But it’s the first rain of the season! Can’t I just enjoy it for five more minutes? I can clean after.”
“Hallie Gwen,” her mother said as she leaned the broom against one table and crossed her arms. “I don’t understand why, at fourteen, you still want to play in the rain.”
“Because it’s the first one of spring!”
“Which is the perfect time to clean.”
“Fine.” Hallie shut the door with a snap and grumbled under her breath as she trudged past her mother, who resumed her sweeping.
She wouldn’t understand. Her mother never did, but it wasn’t worth a fight.
Hallie had just begun to climb the stairs, worn leather boots and all, when a screech sounded from the dining hall, chased by raucous laughter. She stumbled back down and peeked around the doorframe.
A boy with hair the color of roasted chestnuts and soft golden-brown eyes grinned up at her mother. Jack, Hallie’s twin. “Sorry, Ma. Pa wanted the stables cleaned, but I didn’t realize I’d bring it all in with me!”
From her vantage point, Hallie could just make out the dark, clumpy tracks marring the inn’s nearly spotless floor. She hid her own laughter behind her hand as Jack got an earful.
“That’s because you don’t stop to think. Now, you’re stuck in here with me cleaning up all that muck. And you’d better do it fast while it’s still wet.” Her mother’s hands were on her hips, but they were quick to grab Jack’s ear as he tried to escape back out the door. “Not gonna happen. You go back to the kitchen and get the mop right now.”
Rubbing his red ear, Jack made his way toward where Hallie hid, but her mother stopped him. “Take off your nasty boots first. Good stars.”
Jack chucked his boots off and trudged toward the kitchen. Before he could spot her, Hallie snuck up the stairs to the guest rooms, laughing to herself. Poor Jack. He’d be scrubbing for hours if Ma had her way – not stopping once he’d cleaned the mess.
For the next hour and a half, or an eternity in Hallie’s mind, she cleaned everything she could in the two vacant guest rooms. Her father had received posted letters a week ago saying two families were traveling from Kyvena, Jade’s capital city, on their way to visit Fort Achilles. The military stronghold was only a day away, but most people liked to see the picturesque mountain town.
She didn’t quite understand the appeal. It wasn’t that special. She’d much rather see the sunken city of Sol Adrid, the leaning pillars of Ruby palace, or the fancy theaters in Kyvena. All places too far away from the quaint, tiny town Hallie called home.
Her beloved books and dreams were the only escape into the world beyond the reach of her worn fingers, and as her future stood, that would be as far as she ever got from Stoneset. Finishing up her chores, Hallie stuffed the cleaning supplies away in the hall closet and set off to find her brother. Hopefully he’d finished his scrubbing, and they could find some game to play. That is if they couldn’t sneak outside in the downpour that hadn’t let up.
Stealing down the back stairway, Hallie peeked into the kitchen. While Ma was famous for her jam throughout the entire Narden region, it was Pa who was the real chef. Hallie’s mouth watered as the scent of onion, basil, and some beef stewed in a large pot on the wood-fire stove. Pa kneaded dough in one corner with a practiced hand.
She smiled as he spotted her. He slapped the dough a little and dusted it with a pinch of flour before he worked with it some more. “Afternoon, love. Did you finish your chores?”
“Yes. Both rooms are clean and ready for the guests.”
“That’s my girl. You looking for your ragamuffin of a brother?”
Hallie nodded and swept into the room, stealing a morsel of chocolate off one counter that had been left over from some sweet delicacy baked earlier in the day. “Surely Ma didn’t let him off too easily for tracking muck halfway ‘cross the dining hall.”
Pa laughed. “He finished up just a few minutes ago and headed out back. Check there first, but don’t tell your mother I let you go out in the rain. She’ll have my hide.”
Hallie mimed locking her lips shut and threw away the imaginary key before scurrying out the back door and into the blessed rain.
The earthy scent hit her nostrils once more, and the rain streaked down her face in rivulets. It was heavenly. Finally, the stupid winter and its freezing rain and snow were gone. The bitter cold weather never smelled like this nor felt like soft kisses against her skin.
She danced through the back garden and into the side lane, keeping an eye out for her partner in crime. After a few minutes of searching, she found him near the baker’s eyeing a pie in the window. On tiptoes, she snuck up behind him. The stars-idiot must not have seen her in the glass’ reflection because he jumped near out of his trousers when she said, “I doubt that pie will be any better than Pa’s cake.”
He spun, clenching his chest. “You rat. Why’d you have to scare me like that? Thought you were Ma for a moment.”
Hallie laughed and hooked her arm around his. “Don’t you know I’m a ninja?”
Jack rolled his eyes as they continued down the near-empty street, the rain seeping into the collar of Hallie’s blouse. Jack scoffed. “I should never have lent you that book. Gracious day.”
“Where’d you get the last one anyway? I know for a fact you spent your allowance on a new hunting knife.”
Her brother pushed sopping hair out of his eyes. “Niels let me borrow it.”
Hallie’s heart stuttered at the mention of Niels, and she hoped Jack didn’t notice her hesitation. “He did? I haven’t seen him since last week’s market day. You didn’t do anything to scare him off, did you?”
Jack’s mischievous grin crinkled his eyes. “Oh, so when do you care about seeing Niels? You’re annoyed he gets all the best parts whenever we put on The Odyssey for the inn’s guests.”
The heat crawled up the back of her neck, and she swallowed. “No reason. It’s just that we haven’t seen him in a while. No big deal.”
“Then you won’t have a problem if we go visit?”
If her heart could have pounded any harder in her chest, it would have flown right out. “No, I don’t have a problem. Let’s go.”
Dragging her by the hand, Jack tore down the lane to the very edge of town. The Metzingers lived just beyond the border, being farmers and all. The fist around Hallie’s stomach tightened with every step toward the rebuilt farmhouse just over the hill.
She hadn’t always felt this way about Niels. No, he’d been Jack’s best friend until the Metzinger’s old farmhouse burned from a wayward candle a year back. Hallie’s family had taken them in until they could build a new one. And that’s when Niels became something other than Jack’s friend. She wasn’t sure what, but whatever it was made her feel as if she were sick to her stomach and fumble her words whenever she tried speaking to him in the marketplace.
Jack marched up the lane, relishing in every puddle in his way, and opened the newly painted wooden gate leading into the front garden. Hallie followed a step behind, pushing her sopping brown hair out of her eyes. The back of her neck and cheeks warmed thinking about how she must look at that moment. Clothes and hair all sodden.
She stumbled and pulled away from her twin. Jack turned. “Hals, you got cold feet now? I thought it wasn’t a problem.”
His grin was satisfied, his eyes alight with mischief. That little stars-idiot knew. And he was enjoying Hallie’s discomfort. She narrowed her eyes. “It’s not! It’s just that I might catch a cold or something being soaked through like this. I’d better go back and – ”
Jack’s laughter rang through the rain. “I knew it! You’re sweet on – ”
Hallie slapped a hand over her brother’s mouth, cutting off the rest of his sentence. His eyes squinted with mirth as he licked her palm.
“Yech! You blasting dulkop. What’d you do that for?” she screeched as she tore her hand away, wiping it on her wet skirts.
“You asked for it,” he said through his laughter.
Before she could think of a good comeback, the front door of the farmhouse opened. Both Hallie and Jack’s heads turned toward the noise, and Hallie squeaked. She tried her best to turn it into a cough, but she wasn’t sure if it was as successful as she’d hoped.
Niels had at least a head and a half on Hallie height-wise, and working the farm day to day had toned his arms. But it was the crooked smile playing across his face that turned Hallie’s legs to jelly.
© 2020 Alli Earnest "Spring Rains"
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