Oh Well

Oh Well

A Kingdom Come Short Story

By Jim  Doran

To a slave, a broken wrist is not only painful but dangerous. A slave’s master may elect to beat her for her uselessness rather than pity her misfortune. Radiance stared at her wrist in horror while she sat sprawled on the ground. Her wrist throbbed and turned a tangerine shade before her eyes, panic rising as she wondered how she could take back the last minute.

Daydreaming about words and their definitions, she had lost her balance while climbing the grassy hillside after her foot had sunk into a shallow gopher hole. She had lost her grip on her bucket when she had flung out her hands to break the fall, but she had miscalculated the angle of her descent. Her right hand had landed awkwardly on the ground, had twisted with a popping sound, and pain had flared up her arm.

She tentatively bent her hand and it responded appropriately. Hot needle-pricks poked her joints, but it moved. She sighed with relief, knowing it would mend without a healer’s magic. A healer? As if the Hartstones would call for a doctor for me.

She rose to her feet, fetched her pail, and bit her lip, enduring the pain. While she thought about visiting a healer, she reflected on her position in the Hartstone family. When she was a small child, they had made clear she had been adopted but they had still treated her as a daughter. Of the four family members, her father had been the most kind. He brought her berries from his walk and gave no special preference to his natural-born daughters. Strangely enough, Mrs. Hartstone had adopted her and had brought her home but had never warmed to her.

She carried the pail up the hill to the well, cursing her clumsiness. Before she fell, she had been worrying about her education and regretting her limited vocabulary. More than anything she wanted to learn new words. All the family allowed her to say now was “Yes ma’am” or “I shall not tarry, ma’am.”  Occasionally she had a longer and more meaningful conversation with Clydamonte—her sister closest in age. Yet Clyde, initially a friend and confidante, now mocked her. She had changed for the worst ever since their father had died.

She stumbled to the well with her head down and wrist throbbing. The well’s wall was the same height as her ribs, a mishmash of pockmarked stones with holes between them large enough to stick your finger through. The well had no roof, welcoming any rainwater it collected. It came equipped with its own birch wooden bucket tied to a hemp line with one end connected to a spike in the ground. She set her pail on the ground and lowered the well’s bucket with her uninjured hand down into its shadows—the hole swallowing it like a pill.

She waited a minute for the water to seep into the cannikin and then started to pull it up. Immediately, her wrist cried foul and she dropped the rope and moaned. She held her wrist tenderly, choking back the tears. This is bad, she thought, longing for a word worse than “bad.”

“May I help you, miss?”

Turning around in a fright, she nearly collided with a boy. She hadn’t heard the stranger approach her and stepped away. A teenager stood immobile, observing her with eyes the color of watermelon rind. He appeared to be about fifteen years old—two years her senior. He had tousled, brown hair, clean enough to reflect the sunlight. A stubbled chin, sideburns, a firm jaw, and earthy scent screamed “farm boy.” He did not smile but his narrowed eyes and the lines on his forehead displayed his concern.

She shrank from him, ashamed of her appearance. Dirt embedded in her skin and impossible tangles in her hair, she hoped he wouldn’t notice the sweat and tear stains running down her face. Her clothes fit her at nine years old but were too small now at eleven years. She wore wooden shoes her sister had given her from one of her dolls, and her right wrist bulged like a balloon compared to her left.

“I can manage,” she squeaked. “I am no helpless damsel.”

She meant it. Radiance was the strongest member of her family. Mrs. Hartstone and her two daughters had grown soft and plump after they decided to leave the chores to her. Her work, day after day, had left her with a lithe figure and strong arms. She knew she could accomplish any domestic task.

Radiance turned her back on him and tried again. She pulled on the rope, but her wrist protested. She managed to lift it a little but the searing pain overwhelmed her, and she dropped the bucket once more.

The boy viewed her failed second attempt. “Please, let me help.”

Radiance grimaced. “I have hurt my wrist. I have drawn water from this well many times. This time, because of an accident, I am unable to do it.”

“Yes, I have seen you here before,” he said. “You do not have to prove to me your strength. I wish only to accomplish your task and then begin mine.”

She recognized him then. He belonged to the Jolly estate, a large, bustling farm to the east. The Hartstones lived comfortably from the produce of a small farm, but the Jollys possessed multiple farms and were well-to-do.

Resigning herself to his help, she stepped back. “Very well.”

He grabbed the rope and yanked hard. As he pulled, she thought about his home and wondered what it would be like to work there. “You are a slave on the Jolly farm. Do they treat you properly?”

He eyed her sharply, and she blushed. She knew the source of his reaction. “Did you say the word ‘slave’?”

She gritted her teeth. “I have something called a lisp. My father took me to a healer when I was a child. There is nothing I can do about it.”

He returned to his work. “I do not care how people talk.”

“And I do not care how you judge me, farmhand.”

He raised the pail and set it on the ledge, grinning. She reached for the bucket to pour its contents into her own pail, but he warded her off. “I will do it.”

“No. ’Tis a simple chore.”

“I do not believe you are helpless, only in need of assistance. If I needed help, I would gladly accept it.”

She stepped aside, and he carefully poured the water from the leaky, white bucket into her container. She grabbed the pail’s handle with her left hand, her less dominant side, and lifted it. “Despite the insult, you have been kind. I wish I could tell the Jollys how nice you have been to avoid any punishment for being late.”

The boy’s eyes widened, and his cheerful expression made him dashing. Radiance spotted a dimple she hadn’t noticed before. He said, “Let me fetch my water and carry the bucket back for you.”

“In truth, I can do it.”

“I believe you, however, you may strain your wrist further. Look at it. It needs rest.”

The bruise had turned an ugly blue, the same shade as thunderstorm clouds. The boy went to work and lowered the birch bucket to fetch his own water. He spoke to her as he worked. “Where do you live?”

“The Hartstone farm.”

His face hardened slightly as he allowed the water to collect in the bucket below. “I know them, but I have never seen you there.”

She wanted to say she was their daughter. A few years ago, she may have claimed kinship with the family, but she wasn’t sure now. “I am a scullery maid.” Her mother referred to Radiance in such a manner though her chores extended far beyond the kitchen.

“This explains why I have not seen you at the Jolly festival. Mrs. Astoria Harstone is the lady, I recall. She has two daughters.”

Radiance refused to say their formal names, preferring their more common ones. “Nita and Clyde.”

“Ah yes.” He poured the contents of the birch bucket into his own and then lifted both containers. “Lead the way, m’lady.”

Radiance released a deep breath, and she blushed with frustration as she proceeded down the hill. “Bad luck is my best friend. I fell on my wrist. Otherwise—”

“Otherwise, you could do this yourself. I am well aware.”

“I wish I had not stumbled.”

“You should have said so back at the well.”

“What do you mean?”

The boy tossed his head and gestured backward. “The well. Has nobody told you it is a wishing well?”

Her eyes narrowed. “It is not true.”

“I did not say I believed it, but many around here do. If you speak your innermost wish down the well, it will come true.”

“How is that possible?”

“This is Kingdom. Do not tell me you have never encountered magic?”

She avoided the gopher hole on her way down. “I have heard of spell wielders, but have never met one.”

“If you traveled to the left of the sun when it rises, you would encounter Faerie Forest. There is no lack of magic there.”

“I haven’t traveled far beyond my farm.”

“Haven’t? You run words together like in the old times.”

Radiance cursed her sister Nita silently. She had told her contractions were in style again. To cloak her embarrassment, she said, “Tell me about the well.”

As they marched across the heath crunching under their shoes, he related the tale. “There once was a giantess named Soro. Soro was uncommon among giants because she was tall—even for their race. She towered above the other giants. She was fair, not born with a pug-nose or thick eyebrows.”

“She had only one head?”

“Yes, and it was pleasing to the eye. Because of her natural beauty and her singular head, she was an outcast. Though height brings privilege, she found herself wandering among human farms. She ended her journey in a cave near Farmer Shagtooth’s land and kept to herself, until one day when she saw, and fell in love, with a man named Gerome.”

Radiance snorted. “I see where this is going.”

“In those days, the neighborhood well was further away and Gerome spent most of his day lugging water back and forth. He wanted a well on his property. Soro overheard this and she began digging a well for him, hoping this would please him and he would fall in love with her. She dug every night while he slept and hid during the day. Gerome thought fairies were helping him, never dreaming it was a giantess. She presented herself to Gerome upon completing the well. Displeased the reclusive giantess had been his benefactress, he demanded she leave his property. Instead, she leaned over the well and cried, heartbroken, and filled it with her tears. Though he rejected her, she told him the well was like her love. It would never run dry. People believe her spirit grants wishes to the heartbroken.”

Radiance rolled her eyes. “What a load of hogwash.”

“It is the legend.”

“We are within sight of my mistress’s house, and Clyde is about. I will carry the pail from here. I promise to rest my wrist.”

The boy handed her bucket to her. “You are afraid Mrs. Hartstone will see me?”

“And punish me for laziness.”

The boy inclined his head. “I would tell you to give her my best, but it would be a lie.”

Radiance said, “If I knew how to write, I would send the Jolly family a note of how kind you have been. If I happen to meet them at my mistress’s house, I will mention you. My name is Radiance. What is your name?”

“Roger.”

“Well, Mr. Roger, I thank you for your aid. ’Tis appreciated.”

Radiance scurried away from the boy as quickly as possible. She welcomed the company; Radiance didn’t often talk to strangers…or anyone for that matter. She strolled across the heath toward her sister, not glancing back but reflecting on the encounter. He had good manners for a servant boy.

Her sister Clyde approached her, eyes blazing. “What were you doing with him?”

“His name is Roger. He helped me after I hurt my wrist.”

She expected Clyde to call her clumsy or helpless, but instead her sister put her hands on her hips. “I recognized him from a distance. He is one of the Jolly boys. The younger one. Roger Jolly.”

 

Radiance worked as hard as her wrist allowed for the rest of the day. Clyde, her confidante years ago, decided to help her at different intervals. She wanted to know what Roger Jolly was like and why he had singled her out. The Hartstone’s “scullery maid” told the story again and again. Clyde, a year older than Radiance, listened closely, amazed at the tale. She viewed Roger as royalty.

Clyde stopped to take a breath after complimenting Roger with no fewer than ten adjectives. Radiance rolled her head dismissively. “He is only a farmer.”

“This shows how much you know. The Jollys are one of the richest families around. They are on the brink of prominence. If a family has wealth for three generations, they may ascend to nobility. Roger’s grandfather was the richest man in the neighborhood.”

Thrilled by the revelation of talking to a boy so near nobility, Radiance hummed to herself for the rest of the day. Roger had treated her with respect—a rare occurrence in her world these days. If they met again, she would reciprocate the kindness he demonstrated to her today.

 

Roger waited near the well the next day when she arrived. Dressed in a ragged tunic and sporting more facial hair, he leaned casually against the well. She again thought of him as an ordinary farm hand. However, the sun on his back made a halo around his body. The way he held his head high and threw his shoulders back demonstrated his good breeding.

She nodded curtly but pleasantly. He pulled up his bucket as Radiance waited, stealing glances over his shoulder. She spoke to break the awkwardness. “I apologize for my rude behavior yesterday, Mr. Jolly. I thought you were on my level.”

He retrieved the bucket from the well and poured it. “Your level?”

“You are nearly nobility, and I am but a slave.”

“And yet equals in the eyes of God. How fares your wrist?”

Radiance hid her wrist behind her back. “Fine.”

He peered at her and she hesitantly presented her hand. “It does not look fine to me. Did you rest it?”

“I tried, but I had chores to do.”

“I will draw your water and carry your bucket for you again today.”  She was about to protest but he held up his hand. “Do not argue with near-nobility.”

She crossed her arms as Roger lowered the birch bucket for Radiance’s water. The pail splashed into the well’s water as he turned to her. “Besides, after consolation, friends should help one another when they are hurt.”

Radiance blinked. “Friends?”

“I enjoyed talking to you yesterday. As the owner’s son, everyone on the farm is guarded around me. I cannot bear it. I want people to speak plainly.”

“You were more friendly to me than I was to you, Mr. Jolly.”

“Roger, and you are welcome to correct it at any time.”

He poured the contents of the well’s bucket into Radiance’s and they started their journey toward the Hartstone’s farm. “My sister Clyde saw you yesterday and wanted to know about you.”

“Tell her we are friends, and if she is ever demeaning toward you I will refuse to dance with her. She asks me at every festival.”

“I dare not cross her.”

“Are they mean to you, little one?”

Radiance looked vexed at the pet name. “I will not speak against the Hartstones.”

“They are jealous. You have golden hair to their dark features and blue eyes to their gray. And a name like Radiance is far better than Nita and Clyde.”

Radiance kicked a bramble out of the way as they traveled across the heath. “Oh, they do not call me by my real name.”

“What do they call you?”

“All manner of names. I do not wish to discuss them.”

“As you say,” replied the farmer’s son.

“Will you become a noble, do you think?”

“Possibly. The family has had money for three generations. My brother and I might advance.”

“You have a brother?”

“My elder. He will inherit most of the farm, but my father plans to leave me a generous share as well. My brother is my best friend. He wants to split the farm in half. An equal share for both of us.”

Radiance said, “It must be wonderful to have a brother you trust.”

“’Tis. Who awaits us ahead?”

Radiance gasped. Clyde wasn’t the only one waiting for her today, but her older sister and their mother. She grabbed the bucket. “I must be going. It was nice to walk with you.”

As she ran away, he asked, “I did not get you in trouble, did I?”

She shook her head and rushed forward, knowing her fate. They would question her, become enraged with her answers no matter what she said, and double her chores. She rushed toward their grim faces.

 

After she wiped the kitchen floor clean, Radiance sat up and set her brush aside. The immaculate floor met with her approval as she ran a finger along the stones. The clip-clop of Mrs. Hartstone’s shoes caught her attention, and her mistress walked across her work, leaving muddy tracks behind. Radiance suppressed her frustration.

Mrs. Hartstone had olive green eyes and a pinched mouth. She examined Radiance like a bug she had captured in a jar. “I did not see you there, Miss Filth.”

“I will do it again.”

“Naturally, but not right now. I wish to speak to you.”

Radiance put her brush in her bucket and looked up.

“Stand and face me.”

She obeyed. Mrs. Hartstone took her chin in her hand. “You are an impertinent thing, talking to that boy. I do not want you to speak to him again.”

“I did not seek him out. We met by chance at the well.”

“Perhaps I should send Clyde to the well tomorrow.”

Radiance stifled a derisive snort, picturing Clyde drawing water and struggling to carry the heavy pail. Anger replaced her mirth. She wanted to talk to Roger alone. He was her only friend in the world.

When Radiance didn’t answer, Mrs. Hartstone released her. “I warn you not to talk to him again.”

“I am not speaking ill of you or anyone else.” The instant the words left her mouth, Radiance immediately regretted speaking them.

“Of course you are. Do you think I am gullible? What could he possibly want to talk to you about except our affairs? He is using you to get to know about the rest of us, Pigsnouta.”

She wanted to disagree but dropped her eyes instead, grateful her mistress wasn’t a mind reader.

“Attend to me.” She grabbed her chin again and lifted it roughly. “If you see him at the well tomorrow, avoid it. Go to the well at Landsbark.”

The Landsbark well was two miles further and Radiance internally groaned at the thought of carrying water all the way home. Mrs. Hartstone would scold her for her tardiness, and she would have to work harder to cook the meal with her injured wrist. It was not fair! Yet she knew better than to talk back.

Mrs. Hartstone turned and walked away, further muddying the floor.

 

When Radiance approached the well, she didn’t see anyone nearby. The only living creatures around, a flock of swallows, flew overhead, and small, shaded circles raced across her body. She climbed the hill leading to the well, rubbing her sore wrist. As she reached for the rope, she sighed. Secretly, she hoped he would be there.

Roger suddenly appeared from the other side of the well. He was out of her line of sight as she climbed the hill. “Hello again.”

Radiance’s eyes widened. “My mistress has forbidden me to talk to you.”

‘Fine. I shall talk to you instead. You do not need to speak.”

“She will make me go to a different well if we continue to meet here.”

“Draw your water and sit with me on this side of the well. I have been resting here in the shade. ’Tis a pleasant day.” He sat back down on the far side of the circular wall.

“I must get back to the Hartstones.”

“Will they miss you?”

Radiance set her canister on the well and lowered the white pail into the darkness below. She drew water. From behind the well, Roger’s voice floated through the air. “It is nice and cool down here.”

Radiance let the well’s bucket settle and fill with water. “Why do you wish to talk to me?”

“This is what friends do, little one. They talk to each other.”

“I hate the name ‘little one.’ How dare you call me little? I am only slightly smaller than you and not much younger. The name is as awful as the names they call me back at home.”

Roger’s eyes appeared over the lip of the well’s wall. “You misunderstand me. I refer to our faith. Little ones are people with a pure faith, the humble and obedient. It is an apt description, Miss Radiance.”

Radiance blinked. “I am no saint.”

“Not much of a sinner, either.”

She poured the water into her pail and then her eyes met his. “I suppose I have a few minutes.”

She set down the pail and sat next to Roger in the shadow of the well. The umbra kept the heat of the sun off them, and the temperature was the lazy warm of a pleasant summer day. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. “Is this not more agreeable?”

Radiance tilted her face from the shadows allowing the sunlight to fall on her cheeks. “’Tis. However, a noble should not meet with a slave.”

“I care not a whig for nobility. I do not care for the festivals they throw, the pompous ways they treat each other, or the titles they hold.”

“’Tis irresponsible. You are declining a great privilege.”

Roger’s eyes glazed over. “True. One aspect of having a title appeals to me. I could influence Kingdom and make it glorious once more. My father talks often about how Kingdom used to be. The times when giant and man, dwarf and gnome, elf and goblin lived and worked together. Trolls didn’t threaten travelers, sailors didn’t capture mermaids, and soldiers rode dragons into battle. This was Kingdom when King Couer and Queen Endura had ruled. I want to restore our world to one of harmony.”

“And you think you will accomplish this?”

Roger snorted. “God’s heaven, not alone. King Shade leads his soldiers admirably, and he needs men like me to accomplish grand tasks. And he needs women like you who are true of heart.”

“To cook and clean?”

“What do you think of me, little one? My mother fought ogres in the Marsh of Wishes. No, they need people like us defending what is right. King Shade promises to restore Kingdom once more, and I believe him.”

His optimism captivated her, and Radiance reflected on her own situation. “The world may change but my days will go on same as always.”

Roger shook his head. “If we restore harmony to Kingdom, I suspect the king will abolish slavery. You will be free.”

“The Hartstones will never set me free.”

“In a land of plenty, there is no need for slavery.”

“I appreciate your consolation,” said Radiance, recalling the new word she learned from him yesterday. “The Hartstones do not need for money. Mrs. Hartstone keeps me under her watchful eye for another reason. May I confess something to you?”

“Please.”

“I feel like she keeps me prisoner there.”

She expected him to ridicule her, but he didn’t. His eyes became focused on a spot on the ground. “I dislike your mistress. When we bought her second farm after her husband died, I did not like how she dealt with my father. She is a greedy, selfish woman, and I would not be surprised if she has some dark motive for keeping you.”

Thrilled to have someone agree with her, Radiance continued. “The reason for my…”

“Captivity?” he offered.

She glowed with learning a new word. “Yes. I thought it was my imagination, but saying it aloud and your belief in what I believe…I cannot tell you what it means to me!”

Gratitude for his compassion overwhelmed her, and Radiance found herself longing to be with him. Her heart quavered like a plucked harp string. The conversation might have gone in a dozen different directions, but Roger’s affirmation of her suspicions made all the difference in the world to her. Their conversation at the well validated her deepest emotions, cementing her affection for him.

Roger and Radiance talked about the future of Kingdom for an hour until Radiance realized how much time had passed. She hurried away, thanking him for the hour respite. Beaded eyes and pursed lips greeted her when she arrived home. When Mrs. Hartstone asked her why she was late, she said she had to use the Landsbark well because of “that man.”

Radiance had never fibbed to Mrs. Hartstone and was surprised her mother believed her. She carried on with her chores for the rest of the day, ignoring the pain in her wrist and humming songs doves chirped in the morning.

 

As she grabbed her pail to collect water the next morning, Radiance jumped, frightened by Mrs. Hartstone’s sudden appearance, destroying her sunny mood. Her mother, her ice-colored hair matching her frozen glare, stepped in front of the door. “I thought it would be best if Clydamonte accompanied you today to the well.”

“She does not need to, ma’am.”

Mrs. Hartstone’s eyes narrowed. “But I think it is necessary, and all that matters is what I think.”

As usual, she had to obey. Radiance set off with Clyde walking beside her. Her sister’s suspicious looks brought down her earlier upbeat mood like the sudden appearance of rain clouds on a picnic day. It might be worse, she supposed. It might have been Nita.

They walked across the heath, not remarking on the faint smell of lavender or the humid kiss of the air on their cheeks. When they approached the well, Radiance spotted Roger pouring water into his own bucket. She had a sudden thought. “There he is! We should go to the Landsbark well and avoid him.”

Clyde’s eyes widened. “He is handsome, is he not? Let us draw water from this well. I shall not tell mother.”

Radiance would’ve rather went out of her way then greet Roger with her sister, but she complied the same way she had her entire life. She trudged up the hill with Clyde bouncing on the balls of her feet.

Roger waited for them and nodded kindly at Clyde. “Hello, little one. Who have you brought today?”

Radiance walked directly to the well. “This is Clydamonte as if you did not know. She is here to make sure a rogue does not accost me.”

Roger bowed and took Clyde’s hand. “What a lovely warden. It is nice to meet you on this beautiful day.”

Clyde blushed. “’Tis my pleasure.”

Radiance flushed with his attention to her sister. She lowered the bucket, gritting her teeth. Roger regarded Clyde while she worked. “We have danced at festivals. How fares your other sister?”

Clyde’s smile faltered. “She is back home. You are a wonderful dancer.”

Radiance groaned mentally at the trite compliment.

“I care little for festivals,” said Roger. “However if maidens as pretty as the two of you frequent them, maybe I should attend.”

Clyde tittered at the response. Roger’s praise was meant for her, not Clyde. Her odious sister was stealing her time with him. She wanted to knock her down with her bucket.

Clyde and Roger continued their discussion while Radiance drew water. They engaged in idle chit-chat, but Roger continued to pay the lion’s share of attention to her sister. He only acknowledged Radiance to offer to pour water from the well’s bucket into the Hartstone’s.

“I am more than capable of pouring water,” she snapped.

Roger stepped back. “You are in a foul mood today.”

His statement only made it worse.

Roger offered his arm to Radiance on one side and Clyde on the other. “Let me escort the two of you back to your farm.”

Radiance hesitated before taking his arm, but decided to when her sister looped her arm around Roger’s. Roger accompanied them down the hill.

As they crossed the heath, Roger cleared his throat. “Well, little one, and little one’s sister, I have a surprise for the two of you.”

Clyde asked, “And that is?”

“I have decided to join the king’s soldiers. After our talk yesterday, Radiance, you inspired me to do my part. I did not wait for the king’s request. I welcome the day I will lead men into battle.”

Radiance glared at him as they stepped off of the hill and onto the heath. “You jest.”

“No. Kingdom needs men like me. We must fight with all haste else lose all.”

Radiance gripped his arm. “I hope you are not eager for battle.”

“Only to those whose cause is not just. Radiance, you are troubled?”

“Troubled? Why would I be? If you want to rush into war and lose your life, it is your choice, not mine.”

Roger asked, “Do you really feel that way?”

Of course not, she thought, trying to impart her message without speaking it. Radiance longed to tell him how much she thought of him yesterday and this morning, and how she secretly prayed he would be here at the well. She wanted to tell him how her heart had quickened whenever she saw him.

Clyde batted her eyelashes at him. “I think it is honorable for a man to fight for his king. You are certain to be the best.”

Roger squared his shoulders. “How nice of you to say so.”

Radiance knew she should’ve paid him the compliment Clyde gave him. She should’ve supported him, but she would’ve been lying. She didn’t want him to go away. She wanted him to remain here, safe from battles and wars. She couldn’t bear to think of him in danger, picturing trolls with blood-filled eyes surrounding him.

“You should not go.”  She spoke the thought aloud accidentally.

Roger released her arm. “Why?”

She wanted to tell him he was not yet a man, he needed to experience more of life before he went off to war. He shouldn’t be a pawn in a king’s hand. “You may be killed.”

“Oh Raddy,” said Clyde who had never called her this ridiculous name in her life. “You are so silly. Roger shall be the best of all soldiers. How could he possibly lead an army one day if he never fights in one?”

“I like how you think, Miss Clydamonte.”

“Please, call me Clyde,” giggled the girl.

Radiance closed her eyes, frustrated. If only she weren’t here! I could speak freely.

They continued their journey, and Radiance remained silent. She watched her world crumble away as Roger spent the rest of the time speaking about small matters with Clyde. All the way home, she sensed a chasm growing between her and the soon-to-be soldier. It didn’t matter whether he changed his mind about joining the army; he had dismissed her from his life.

As the Hartstone residence came into view, he wished a pleasant day to both of them. He turned and walked away, and Clyde danced off in the opposite direction. Radiance didn’t immediately follow her. Instead, she stood in the field and watched her confidante march away.

 

The next day a determined Radiance snuck away without Clyde. She decided to go to the well a little earlier than usual and wait for Roger. She hoped her sister would consider walking to the well too large a chore for the effort.

She journeyed forth with her bucket, hoping to get a few words alone with Roger. She wanted to dissuade him from enlisting to be a soldier. Radiance understood his need for glory, but he hadn’t thought of all possible outcomes. Kingdom could be an unforgiving world.

Radiance arrived at the well as the noon sun’s golden eye focused its attention on the landscape. She leaned against the wall and drew water. Hiding on the other side of the well where he once sat, she waited as the sun moved across the sky and reached the time he normally appeared. She stood, poured the water back into the well, hummed to herself, and drew it again to occupy her time. Repeating this action four times, Radiance grew more and more concerned. She waited twice as long as it would take her to draw water, knowing she would be blamed for laziness, yet he didn’t appear.

Radiance lugged her bucket of water down the hill and across the heath, scattering butterflies as she made her way. She was worried—he wasn’t the type to miss an encounter. She chewed her lip as she strolled across the grasslands of the Hartstone farm, through the back door, and resumed her chores.

Nita crossed her path as she scrubbed the kitchen walls. “Where have you been, Your Lispness?”

Radiance ignored the insult. “Fetching water.”

“All of this time? Did you crawl to the well?”

Radiance remained silent. Nita didn’t speak to her unless necessary. Her sister wanted to talk to her for some unknown reason. Nita leaned against the wall but kept her attention on the other room as if embarrassed to confide in her adopted sister. “You missed all of the excitement, Dog-face. Roger Jolly called on Clyde this morning, and they are out walking.”

Radiance stopped cleaning in mid-motion. Regarding the back of her sister’s head, she uttered one word. “Truly?”

“Is it not awful? Why her? I am the eldest, more beautiful, more eligible. I do not know why he favors her.”

A lump formed in Radiance’s throat. Roger had skipped the meeting with her to be with her cruel mistress’s daughter. Her heart sank as she reflected on the news, hoping it was a lie, but knowing Nita wouldn’t make up a story where she wasn’t the center of attention.

Nita turned and examined her sharply. “You look upset, Troll-Lips. Why?”

“No reason.”

Her sister’s eyes flashed. “You favored him, did you not? Our dear little Lady Stench had hopes a landowner might marry a slave.” She cackled, a cross between a cat’s wail and a dog’s whimper. “Wait until I tell Mother.”

Radiance wanted to beg her to keep quiet, but she knew it was hopeless to ask anything of her sister. Nita rushed from the kitchen, and Radiance’s shoulders sagged. She dropped to her knees, dipped her towel into her bucket, and scrubbed the floors, mixing the bucket water with her tears.

While she prepared the evening meal, her family gathered in the front room. She heard Roger’s voice among them. Upset and disappointed, she gripped the wooden spoon, refusing to eavesdrop. She stirred the stew as she added carrots to it. A shriek of joy jarred her and then Clyde shouted for her. “Raddy! Come here, Raddy!”

Radiance closed her eyes. Again with the “Raddy” routine, and it sounded more like “Ratty” than “Raddy.”  She wanted to ignore her but knew if she didn’t listen to Clyde, she would tell her mother. And if Mrs. Hartstone discovered she had disobeyed a direct order…

The “scullery maid” put down her utensils and walked into the front room. Clyde sat on a high backed chair. Roger stood beside her. She entered and curtsied, keeping her eyes focused on the ground. “I am stirring the stew and it will boil away if I do not attend to it.”

Clyde giggled. “Let the stew set for a moment, Raddy. Our neighbor Roger wishes to speak to you.”

She turned toward Roger, not daring to raise her eyes. Roger bowed his head to move into her line of sight. “How are you, Radiance?”

“Fine, thank you.”

“Your eyes are all bloodshot! Have you been crying?”

“The wildflowers bother me. I walked through them on my way home from the well…alone.”

Roger scuffed his shoe on the floor. “I am sorry I did not see you there today.”

He opened his mouth to say something else, but Clyde cut across him. “He was spending the majority of the day with me!”

Radiance twisted her ragged dress in her hands. “May I return to the stew?”

He inclined his head. “It was nice to see you, Radiance.”

She curtsied and left promptly. Before she made it back to the kitchen, her eyes swelled up. She hated the way Clyde had said “me.”  She hated Nita for guessing about her feelings for Roger. She hated everyone and returned to the stew, stirring it without enthusiasm.

 

The next day, Radiance made her way across the heath and ascended the hill. She trudged to the wall of the well dispirited but stopped short when Roger peeked around the corner. “Greetings, Radiance.”

She sniffed and ignored him. Radiance lowered the bucket. Roger stood and moved around to her side of the well. “Do you want me to raise the pail for you?”

“I can draw water myself, thank you. I have been doing it without you for years.”

Roger stepped back and allowed Radiance to continue. She poured the water without acknowledging his presence. He inhaled deeply. “Why are you upset with me?”

Radiance shook with frustration. What a thing to ask her. She wanted to say “I am not upset with you at all.” Or, “I am not myself today.” She opened her mouth, trying to decide which guarded statement to use. She said neither. What came out of her mouth was as much a surprise to her as it was to him.

“How could you? How could you come to my house and enjoy the company of the people who treat me horribly, who call me names, who make me wait on them, hand and foot? I thought you were my friend!”

She yelled the last sentence, standing before him, shaking. Her eyes bored into him. She had forgotten his station and her place beneath it, but he didn’t remind her. Instead, he held out his hand. “I am your friend, little one.”

Radiance stepped away from him rather than take his hand. “Clyde is horrible to me.”

“Was she ill-tempered with you last night?”

Radiance shook her head.

“Were any of them?”

She again shook her head.

“I wonder why?”

Radiance’s eyes widened. “You told her to be nice to me?”

“And to influence her family as well. The way they treat you…it is not right. I also made sure she will no longer accompany you to the well.”

“Oh, do you know what you have done? Do you know what Clyde thinks?”

Roger grabbed the crook of his right arm with his left hand. “She is a lonely girl in need of a friend. I befriended her. What more is there to it?”

Radiance had never thought of her mistress’s daughter as lonely. The revelation gave her new insight into the depths of Roger’s concern for others, and her heart melted. At the same time, she thought him the most naive boy she had ever met.

“She is attracted to you, and you act as if it is possible to pair with her.”

Roger’s jaw clenched. “You jest.”

Radiance put her hand on her chest. “Upon my honor.”

Roger brushed his hair back. “But this is terrible. I never meant for her to think I was courting her. I was only being friendly. Why would she think of me as a sweetmate?”

Exasperated, Radiance threw her hands into the air. “Why would she be interested? You are handsome, wealthy, kind to a fault, and courageous, signing up to be a soldier.”

Roger crossed his arms. “It was never my intent to woo any woman. I am only fifteen years of age.”

“Old enough to marry, Roger. Clyde approaches the marrying age of fourteen. It is not out of the question.”

“I am not interested in romancing any maiden. I was only being myself.”

Gorgeous, caring, and honorable, thought Radiance. Do not be anyone else. It is the same with me, only friends and not lovers.

“I must distance myself from her,” said Roger. “But I must continue to meet with her for your sake. She needs a friend, and she needs to learn respect for others. I believe she is a kind person. Do you agree?”

When they were younger, Clyde and Radiance were best friends, but after her father’s death, her mother and Nita had changed her heart. Yet Radiance recalled Clyde making excuses to her mother for a meal Radiance had burned. Other similar incidents came to mind. She said, “I do.”

“Good. I have a month before I report. I will influence her to be nice to you and meet you as often as I am able.”

A month! Both a long time from now and impossibly close. Radiance closed her eyes, knowing what she was about to say may threaten their relationship. “I want you to remain a farmer and not become a soldier.”

Roger reared back. “But why?”

“Because, as my…friend, I do not wish harm to come to you. In the heat of battle with the enemies of Kingdom, you may be killed. It pains me to think of it!”

Roger reached out and took her hands. His soft touch set a tingle along Radiance’s arm ending at her heart. “Little one, you know how Kingdom works. If you are honorable, if your cause is true, if you fight on the right side, you shall be victorious. King Shade’s army fights for a united Kingdom, a true cause. They are noble men and women. We shall fight trolls and giants, former citizens. If they will not return after negotiations, our swords must welcome them back. What could go wrong?”

“Even innocents are killed.”

“You worry too much. I am a master swordsman. My father made sure of it. I believe in myself and my cause. Will you not believe in me?”

He spoke gently, eyes pleading. Radiance did not know how to respond. Her heart told her one thing; her mind, another. She wanted to believe in him, and in the end, she decided to fib rather than express what she believed at her core. “Yes, I believe.”

“I will bring you back tales of triumph. I promise.”

He lifted the bucket and talked to her about his future plans as they went down the hill.

 

A month and many conversations later, Radiance again journeyed to the wishing well for her water. Gray clouds spread across the sky, reflecting her current mood. She swung her pail and made her way across the heath.

Yesterday, she had said farewell to Roger. He had rode off to training and patrol duty, and then onto whatever role the king desired. He was excited, speaking of subduing dragons and killing trolls, his voice rising and falling, louder and louder. She pictured him talking next to the well, waving his arms, and explaining what an honor it was to wear his new uniform. He had claimed he didn’t deserve it, and at the same time, quoted many heroes throughout the ages. Radiance recognized his humility. Again, her heart longed for him.

She arrived at the base of the hill, regretting she hadn’t revealed to him her feelings. She had wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him good-bye on the cheek, but instead, she had only curtsied. He wouldn’t have had appreciated the fond gesture. His head remained fixed in the thunderclouds of war, not the gentle, puffy clouds of romance.

She closed her eyes as she lowered the well’s bucket and recalled the previous night. She had had trouble falling asleep on the hard floor, tossing and turning, thinking about Roger in battle. In one image, his squadron had deserted him and he fought alone, but his adversaries overcame him. In the next, giants had ambushed him, and caught unprepared, he had fallen to their larger-than-life spears. She had awoken ill-at-east and had cried at once.

Radiance had wept off and on the entire day and presaged another bout coming on. She sniffed as she poured the bucket’s contents into her own pail and then released the well’s bucket. Suddenly, she could contained herself no longer and sobbed. She kneeled, put her arms on the side of the well, and buried her face in her hands. She wept, missing him, worried about him, loving him.

When she hitched her breath enough to speak, she spoke aloud. “Wishing well, I have a wish. My wish comes from the bottom of my heart, but it does not concern me. Please, wishing well, please keep Roger Jolly from dying. Please watch over him and keep him alive.”

Silence answered her plea—not unexpected. She rose to her feet and collected her pail. Shoulders slumped, she turned and made her way down the hill, moving with purpose but not with speed. When out of earshot of the well, a woman’s voice called up from its depths.

“He shall live.”