“How does it taste, father?”
“Sweet, enough. At least much better than the creek water we get at home.”
“Why have we not got it at the village?”
“I am thinking it may have rained beyond the mountains.”
“But still, we should be getting fresher water.”
Lekkel couldn’t fault the logic.
“Let us go further along,” he suggested.
The ground became wetter further into the valley until the water splashed over their feet within the long grass. A massive dead tree had fallen across their path. They began to walk around it, discovering a pond of water about the size of the village.
Mannis looked at his father and laughed. He removed his pack and shirt and ran into the water. The middle of the pond came up to his chest. Shortly after, Lekkel splashed in beside him, then dropped backward, allowing the water to wash over him. They played in the pond awhile, leading to wrestling, then panting at the fallen log.
“Well we cannot move it,” said Mannis. “Best we dig a channel under the log for the water to get through.”
Lekkel went to move, then froze, noting a distant glint in the sun. His son smoothed his dripping hair back and stared at the fibrillating dot.
“Riders,” he said.
Lekkel watched the dot split and take shape. He imagined he saw two horsemen from perhaps the Magpie tribe. As they drew near enough to make out specific features, he gaped. A glance at Mannis informed him that he did the same.
They riders reined their horses to a halt. Even seated they seemed a head taller than Lekkel or Mannis.
How could they be so pale? Lekkel wondered.
They had white skins and blue eyes. Both had flowing beards. One had hair the colour of new straw combed straight about his shoulders. His comrade had orange hair, like flames. He turned his head to lean in the saddle, revealing that his hair hung in a single thick braid. They dressed identically in black garments square at the neck and flowing down to their knees. Over these, they wore shirts of interlocking rings of metal. Most peculiar of all, they wore knives as long as a man’s arm.
Red hair pleasantly grinned. “Good day to you. I am Okaarden, and this is Kerorn. We are envoys from Vindavia.”
“Where is Vindavia?” asked Mannis.
“A land to the south of the Pentraca river.”
“What does your king want?” asked Lekkel.
“Like you, we were once a disconnected land. Natas had the vision to forge our land into one nation. So… we are here to tell you that you are now sons of Vindavia.”
“We are Nusalleans,” Lekkel said.
“Oh that is not the way to treat this. Natas comes in peace and offers you much. We can channel water to your homes and make the land so much more prosperous. Your lives would virtually be the same. Natas would not interfere in any way except to take taxes of course. And as Vindavian citizens, you can enjoy certain privileges, such as living in any part of the empire. You two should live in Vindavia for awhile. It is beautiful, and in the winter it snows.”
“What is snow?” asked Mannis.