The People of the Green Hills: Prologue
Raun sat on the roof of his stone cottage and looked at the great pyramid reflected in the bright moonlight. The rose and silver veins in the polished white marble absorbed the silver light and shone with a haunting, unearthly glow. Its ethereal splendor was a glowing testament to the bright spirits of those who had carefully crafted its perfect walls.
He sighed with satisfaction. It was a thing of beauty, its construction old beyond memory. It was built to be a home to all of their history, all of their stories, all of their knowledge, all of the things that had brought them together and made them one people for a thousand years.
Several dozen small stone buildings filled the distance between him and the pyramid. For those closest to him, he could see only the roofs and nearly transparent smoke from their chimneys, visible because of the backlighting from the moon. Through the windows of the cottages farther away he could see dancing firelight. Soon those would flicker out, and their village would be blanketed with dark, peaceful sleep.
Raun eased his chair back and stared at the night sky filled to overflowing with thousands of stars. He had made the chair he was sitting in for this purpose, a simple lever allowing him to lie back and stare upward. He had lovingly cut its pieces from an old oak tree felled by lightning during the storms last spring. He had planed and sanded the wood with his own hands until not a splinter remained, and it felt as soft as his softest shirt.
His telescope stood nearby, its finely ground lens allowing him to see other planets relatively close by. He could see that they did not appear to be teaming with the life that pulsated all around him. He wondered if there was another world somewhere in the vast, infinite spaces on which another kindred soul was looking up and wondering about him.
One of the points of light shot across the sky. Then another. Then another. So close together?
Could it be an omen?
Before he could give any more thought to the meaning of the activity in the sky, his attention was claimed by another distraction. He felt her presence before she slid her hand over his shoulder, though Lynaea’s bare feet made no noise as she came up behind him. He took her hand in his, kissed it, and held it to his cheek.
“Anything interesting tonight?” she asked looking up at the sky.
“To me, always,” he answered warmly, “but no, nothing more than a shooting star.”
Raun pulled his wife down into the chair with him. She had removed the rough textured overdress that she had worn during the day, and she wore only the soft cotton under-blouse as a nightshirt. She had removed her undergarments to tantalize him, the nightshirt a thin veil over her bare body. He stroked the curve of her waist and inhaled the fragrance that was uniquely hers: clean with just a trace of cooking spices. And lavender. She always smelled of fresh lavender.
Stars? What stars?
“Are the children asleep?” he asked into her blond curls.
“Yes, they are,” she answered dreamily, tracing circles on his chest.
He had not realized the night was cold until her warm body filled the empty space next to him. She shifted to fill every little nook and cranny. His consciousness split into opposing parts. It’s too cold to make love out here; pick her up, move her to the bed. Don’t move, don’t let the cool air rush in between us. Move. Don’t move. Move. Don’t move.
“How did the boys do with their fishing today?” Lynaea asked in a husky voice.
Raun tried to focus on what she was saying. Her whole conversation was a tease. She didn’t care about the fishing. She knew exactly what she was doing to him, but he decided to play along. He gave a low laugh that was hardly more than a grunt. “Most of them did well enough; they will be able to feed their families when they have had enough experience. Although I do not think that Rod’s son, Secun, will add many fish to his family’s table.”
“Fish are not the only way to feed a family.”
“No, but Secun isn’t much of a farmer either. In fact, any task that requires an instinct for Mother Earth will elude him.”
Lynaea slid up to kiss his eager lips, and then slid down to gaze into his heavy-lidded eyes. She propped her chin on Raun’s chest. “Does this make him sad? Is he ashamed?”
“Ashamed?” He coaxed his hands lower with each stroke down her back. “Perhaps, but he shows no sign of it. I think that Secun will ultimately work with me in the Memory House, if I can tolerate him. He has a gift for thinking, and a gift for reading and writing.”
“Working with you is a great honor. He has nothing to be ashamed of.” Her fingers tracing circles moved down from his chest to his abdomen.
“His problem is arrogance, not shame. He handled his failure today by saying that anyone can catch fish, but very few people have his gift for learning.”
Lynaea chuckled, her fingers trailing lower and lower.
Cool air? What cool air? He pulled her on top of him and slid his hands under her shirt.
A blinding explosion of light drove all other thoughts from his mind. Lynaea was already on her feet. They saw it just before it passed out of sight.
A giant ball of fire.
A bomb of solid rock.
“Grab the children!” he shouted.
In the house their dog, Rube, was running from room to room, barking the alarm to alert his family. Their little daughter, only a year old, was blinking awake from the shocking flash and the commotion of the frantic dog. Raun lifted her out of her bed with forced calmness. “Come with Dadah, Beckah,” he said soothingly, hugging her tightly to his body.
He met Lynaea in the family room with four year-old Jak in her arms. More alert than his baby sister, Jak’s wide blue eyes reflected the electric fear in the air. They ran out into the road where others were gathering, looking up into the sky with a mix of confusion and terror.
Raun wasn’t confused. He knew exactly what had happened. The omen.
The earth beneath them shuddered and lurched. Trees toppled, loose stones cascaded off their houses. Some people were knocked to their knees. Those who could braced themselves against the nearest solid object, desperate to believe that the terror would pass.
“Get to the Memory House,” Raun yelled, grabbing Lynaea’s hand and pulling her as fast as he could toward the huge pyramid. Like a herd of frightened cattle the others stampeded after him toward the great gathering place.
They heard it before they saw it, before they could even begin to guess what it was.
Raun had expected it when they weren’t instantly pulverized by the impact. It was the building thunder of thousands of tons of water rushing toward them, displaced by the giant from the sky which had landed just off the coast. It was minutes away. If the force of the water itself wasn’t enough to level their entire town, it would be pushing a hundred miles of dirt, plants and animals ahead of it.
Death was just out of sight. Raun stopped running. “We aren’t going to make it.”
He crouched down, his arms around Lynaea with the children between them. She looked behind her at the deafening roar. “What is it?”
Time seemed to stand still as he looked into her eyes. Even frantic and fearful they were beautiful. He would carry the memory of their beauty with him into the next life.
“It is the end.”
They held their little family together, kissing the children on their heads, whispering gentle, comforting words. Rube thrust himself into the middle of their loving circle. Jak circled his little arms around the dog’s neck and held tight.
The solid wall of water and debris hit so hard it immediately drove last gasp of air from Raun’s lungs. The force and depth of the water ripped at his arms, but he clamped down his aching muscles, stubbornly refusing to submit to the unyielding force of nature. They slammed into buildings, into trees, into flailing terrified animals. Everything in the path of the stampeding behemoth of water was sucked into its deadly maelstrom. There was no escape. There was no rescue. There was no hope. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the bodies close to him, willing his arms to be strong, determined to hold on until the very last moment.
He still held them bound together when the water slammed them into the solid marble wall of his beloved Memory House.