Rainbow Scooter pedaled the modified bicycle he'd fashioned out of wood and rusted iron. It had a flat tire, and the metal rim of the deflated wheel made a grating sound as it crushed dirt and brittle pebbles beneath its weight. It wasn't beautiful, but it got him where he needed to go.
He was a vagabond--a drifter who earned each meal by trading anything he could find along his route. What society called an honest man's work was as unattainable to him as a job in a slaughter house would be for a man with a queasy stomach. He wasn't as agile as he had been, either. His knee was messed up from an accident he'd had when he was younger...because of it, his right leg was three inches shorter than his left which caused him to limp terribly and made traversing back and forth between Blackfoot and the outer edges of Medlehook agonizingly slow on foot.
Age had done a job on him as well, making him hardened, weathered and not much to look at. His long grey hair was wet and tangled in places that hadn't seen a comb in years. His hair hung in his face in greasy streaks were it wasn‘t matted into thick dreadlocks, darker in places where the rain ran in rivets down its length.
Rainbow's bags, slung across the pole anchored at his back, made a noise akin to the sound of keys jangling, as the cart lumbered forward up a slight embankment. He grunted with the effort that took and slowed to a stop once he'd cleared the incline.
Around him, the forest was abuzz with life. Hoot owls screeched to their prey and small rodents scurried through the rain-soaked leaves in search for a safe hiding place. The fallen branches and drenched vegetation splashed and smattered with the sound of larger animals searching for food.
It was unusually dark for that time of year which made it necessary to squint, not only through the onslaught of raindrops, but through the inky purple of approaching dusk as well.
The rain had started little over an hour ago and had drenched him clean through his layered clothing in a matter of minutes. He was a sight, that was for sure; wet as a drowned cat, and cold too. Rainbow figured he'd be a slight better off finding some shelter, makeshift or otherwise, to wait out the impromptu storm.
It was in that moment of silence while he plotted his next move that Rainbow Scooter thought he'd heard the sound of a whimpering kitten.
Willow sat huddled underneath the bracken-berry bushes she'd come across moments after the rain began to pour. A newt starred at her where it sat next to her feet, his tongue flicked out, and it licked a fleck from it's eye.
Willow stared into the red eyes of the slimy creature, her heart beating so fast in her chest that it vibrated like a drum beat in staccato rhythms while her chest rose and fell in quick, staggered breaths. She wanted to go home. For the first time in her life she ached for the tiny cot in the corner of the kitchen where she slept each night with Tiger clutched to her chest under the scratchy woolen blanket her mother had given her.
Even though she was young in age, Willow had an innate ability to think on her feet. She closed her eyes and leaving thoughts of warm cots and Tiger behind, began a more serious process of thinking, structured around her current situation.
She decided fairly quickly that she had indeed made a very hairy mistake by coming out there in the first place. She was scared, hungry, and now, thanks to the rain; she was wet and cold as well.
Willow held her knees to her chest while the rain dripped melodies onto her red hair, darkening it to an almost auburn. She'd wait out the storm and when it cleared she'd trudge back the way she'd come. She doubted she'd be in trouble. She doubted anyone knew she was gone.
As he continued along, searching out the sound that still tinkled in the air like a tiny wind chime on a breezy day, Rainbow's eye came to rest on a soggy lump on the ground. In the narrow place where the briar bracken bushes tangled over the pass, in a mass of overgrowth was a mangy stuffed tiger.
The rain was pelting the ground now and the tiny ice missiles that had formed inside the cloud led the assault, biting into Rainbow's wrinkled skin with sharp pinpricks of pain. Hail. He hated hail.
Rainbow bent to retrieve the soaked toy from the downpour, but before his hand could make contact with the soggy creature, a small hand no bigger than the inside of his palm, slithered out from a space between the prickly vines, snatching the toy out of his reach.
Rainbow pulled his hand away, surprised by the movement, but soon found his palm inching forward once more along the slimy ground once he realized that the creature-hand was not going to slither out from its hiding place again.
He got down on his knees and lifted one of the vines so that he could get a better look into the wet and darkened chamber of prickly bush. He could see the small hand attached to the creature's arm was freckled as if it had been dusted with a powder-- But was it really some creature? A memory surfaced in Rainbow's weathered mind. Once there was a child..."Who's there?" Rainbow said gruffly; angry that he should be made to remember things better left buried.
Still, he tried to keep his voice from sounding stern. He knew how children could be...a long time ago, he'd had one of his own... but that had been before the prohibition. Rainbow thought upon his lost daughter for only a moment, yet it was enough time to feel tears distinguishing themselves from the rain that poured down his cheeks to mix together with the tears.
Came the impish remark from the child-thing who was still tucked away under the bushes.
"I'm not crying; I'm shivering. It's cold." Rainbow could see the green eyes of the child glinting through the dim light, the same as a cat's would do.
He was surprised that the child had braved it's own safety to voice itself. For all the child knew he could have been there to do it harm. "I'm not the only one who's cold. don't you have an overcoat?" Rainbow could see the small wisp of the child through the tangled branches and it was shivering, too.
The child shook its head.
"Why are you out here by yourself?"
Rainbow could tell the child was lying. "No you're not. There's not a farm around for miles. You've not wondered here by accident." Rainbow squinted his eyes at the raggedy child. "You've been left out here haven't you? Isn't that what happened? Didn‘t they leave you out here?"
"Your parents! Did they bring you out here to starve?" Rainbow hadn't meant to snap at the child and instantly softened his expression but the child said nothing. Only its chin quivered as if it might burst into tears at any moment. Rainbow, again felt guilty for having been so harsh. It had been quite some time since he'd had much cause to look after a child of any kind.
"I'm not lost, and I haven't been left here. I've run away."
The child's chin recovered from its quiver only to be stuck out defiantly toward Rainbow.
He could see more of the child now, for, in its anger it had moved boldly toward a widened space in the bushes. He could make out the child‘s short haircut and torn trousers. "You are a stupid boy. Did you know that?"
"I'm not stupid. I'm an adventurer...er"
The child seem puzzled by such a wordy pronunciation and had added an extra "er" for good measure. "You're a nitwit is what you are and I don't want to hear another word against it." Rainbow's brows bent as he continued. "How far did you think you would get in a long shirt and pants as your only protection against the elements?"
Rainbow laughed heartily, his gruffness stalled for the moment. "Blackfoot is thirty miles away from here, child. I doubt you could get that far on those." Rainbow pointed toward the child's warn baby-hard-bottom shoes. The shoes were a shade of dingy black, but he suspected they once had been white.
"I can walk farther than that."
Rainbow laughed again. "I'm sure you could...but Blackfoot is in the other direction."
At the same time, over seven hundred miles east of the place the small girl who'd been raised as a boy, and the soiled old man stood getting to know each other, Elspeth MacLean, who preferred to be called Elsie, and her two children were setting off toward Blackfoot in horse and carriage.
MacLean was Elsie's married name which she took no liking to it either. And if the truth be told, she hated everything about her husband and her life as an aristocrat. She hated everything, save for her children, who were the only bright spots in her whole God forsaken existence.
Her husband DonAldo, had sent word that she and the children should start the trip to Blackfoot that very day, so she had packed up the children and a few supplies into the white and gold carved carriage and bid their old life goodbye. She and the children would join DonAldo at their new estate, within the next few weeks. Elsie didn't know how long it would take to get there as this was her first of such trips, but she didn't suspect that it would take more than a few weeks of steady travel. They would stay at inns during the night, and during the day they would traverse the wild terrain between the two territories.
Her husband was a savage business man who'd bought his first plot of land at the age of 17 for a meager three dollars. That plot of land; his own mother's grave--which he later sold, after removing the gravestone, to an old man for the price of 15 dollars and a chicken, which, she was told, had been quite a sum in those days.
DonAldo's savagery wasn't limited to the bank either, it was Elsie's woe that he often struck her in secret, when irritated. Elsie wished she could leave...but there was no recourse for such things at the time, not to mention the fact that she had two small children to think of. Their well-being was more important to Elsie than her own happiness, and DonAldo had never so much lifted a hand to strike either child. She was glad for that...small miracles seemed less and less in those days...still she couldn't help but worry about what would happen if someday DonAldo's temper got the better of him and he tried to take his assault out on the children. What was worse was that Elsie wondered if she would be so battered by then that she might not do anything to stop him.
She was subservient by nature but had grown even more with every year she spent under DonAldo, and new enough to keep her lips sealed on topics she could not speak eloquently on; such as regional politics and religion. In private, she had her opinions on both subjects, but it was neither tasteful or wise to speak of such things in polite society. Her husband agreed. And she found life less complicated when she quickly deduced her husband's thoughts on things and duplicated his sentiment. There was less trouble for her that way.
Elsie had been raised in a bare-foot liberal compound and was the wealthy heiress to her father's fortune-- but had only faint glimmers of memories of her father...she'd been told that he had died when she was quite young, but since no proof had ever been shown in the case of her father's death, she could not collect the large sum of money that awaited her.
Elsie still had nightmares of the dark and stormy night she'd been taken away, wrapped in a quilt her mother had made her, by people with hard hands and glassy stares. She could remember her mother crying at the window and struggling to get free from captures that had been invisible to Elsie's eyes at the time. She thought about her own mother often, and wondered about what had become of her.
The cab hit a dip in the road, clearing Elsie's head. She looked down at her daughter, who was watching her curiously.
As they headed west away from Wickshire, Elsie MacLean and her two children sat quietly. The was an air of thoughtfulness in the air as they traveled away from what had been their home for the last four years. The tallest towers of the castle's stone exterior seemed to wave to them, while the shorter towers looked as if they might bow at the waist if not for the problem of their own immobility. Her two children had been borne behind those stone walls and wooden doors. She truly loved that house and was woeful to leave it behind.
But new destinies lay beyond the orange horizon...a new home. A new life