Mother Sun fled her palace in the sky, sprinting toward the Houses of the West.
Barrin frowned atop his tower as the scarlet light bathed his young face. The fingertips of one hand balanced atop the stone wall that protected him from falling from the high turret. He turned away from Mother Sun to the lands below the tower, below the mountains. He watched the shadow of his tower lengthen until it pointed its dark finger toward the gardens far, far away. Black clouds circled above their shelter. The wind brushed his face.
His frown deepened.
Barrin descended the steps of his tower, his calloused fingers trailing on the cold stone wall. He counted each step, named each generation they represented. The first step: his father, Calorin. The second step: His grandfather, Indavril. The third step: Inclae, father of Indavril. Each step, until he found the fiftieth, Dammin, the step that founded the Thousand Endless Summers.
He knocked on the stout wooden door once, twice, and entered the darkening chamber. The last rays of the sun lurked at the window and stretched its fingers to an ancient man enthroned in the center of the room. He raised his white eyebrows to Barrin.
Barrin reported, “I felt the breath of heaven. Summer is over. The storm is coming.” He refused to let his voice tremble.
The old man closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “I know. Mother Sun has bidden me farewell. The tower shakes. Can you not feel it?”
“Take what you must for the journey. You will never see this place again.”
Barrin circled the room, his fingers brushing the rough walls. “And you?”
“Perhaps. I do not think so, though.”
The young man stopped and lowered his head. “You could come with me.”
“No. My journey lies in the west, to remind Mother Sun of the glory of her palace. You must go and remind the trees of their duty to produce fruit.” The old man staggered to stand. His gentle voice comforted Barrin. “The Houses of the West were never created for man to return from.”
Barrin stepped to the old man and clasped his hand. He pressed his lips together.
The tower shook.
“We must go quickly. Take what you must.” The old man turned to the door and stumbled toward the white mountain peak beyond its frame.
Barrin threw into his pack apples sheathed in golden leaves, maps of lands he had never seen, daggers and kindling. His sword had never left his side.
He wondered if he would vomit when he had to clean blood off his blade the first time. He hoped not.
The tower shook again. The old man clung to the doorway. “Come, Barrin! We must go!”
Barrin held out his hand, letting his fingers trail along the wall as he rushed toward the door. As he crossed the threshold, the tower crumbled. Stones and mortar and fifty generations of steps fell to the earth.
The tower collapsed in fear for what lay before it.
A stone struck Barrin’s shoulder. He cried out in pain, rushing farther away from the debris. Pebbles and boulders pelted his back. He fell to a knee. With a grunt, he stood and limped farther away, through knee-deep snow.
The rumbling subsided. He turned back to see what remained.
Not one stone stood upon another.
The old man lay in the snow. A stone surrounded by red stains lay where his head should be.
Barrin pressed his lips together.
He could not be gone. This is not the way it should be. The wise to the Houses of the West, the strong to the trees. That was how they fought back the end of summers.
But now, one of them was gone.
How could they bring back summer now?
This is the second chapter of Summers’ End.