Rose|Thorn Chapter One by Brian Malone

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1.

It began with a boy skipping rocks from the bank of a sluggish river. Minding his family's small flock, Finn brought the sheep to water at the edge of the River Idara. He should have been watching the sheep at the water's edge, so that none of them strayed in danger of drowning. But, as such things are with boys, Finn tired soon of standing and watching, and so he started sending pebbles flying across the placid water.

Where the sheep gathered, bumping and bleating and pushing against each other to drink, the bank of the river was shallow and muddied by their trampling. On either side of this muddy shelf the bank rose to overhang the river by three or four feet. Tussocks of grass covered these banks to the edge of the water. On the left, twenty paces upriver from where the sheep watered, stood a small grove of abele trees. ThereŚmidways under the shade of the treesŚlay a little, pebbly strand perhaps ten or twelve feet in length. It was here that Finn stood, flinging his missiles.

For a boy of eight Finn threw with remarkable accuracy and usually he sent the pebbles skidding just where he wanted. What he lacked in strength was made up in sheer energy.

On the grassy bank behind him sat a dog, Shar. With one severe eye on her master, and an alert eye on the sheep, Shar rested in the shade. To her work was play and play, such as Finn was doing, was puzzling. But Finn knew that if any of the sheep strayed or danger came near, Shar would sound the alarm.

So, Finn could play for a while.

One after another, pebble after pebble flew across the river. Strings of ripples followed behind, three and four and five. Finn chewed on his lower lip, squinting as he gauged the river and his chances to get six skips and a new high mark. Four this timeŚbut there were many more pebbles at hand.

Upstream, the abele trees marched to the edge of the riverbank. Three men could hardly stretch to touch their hands around the largest. Smooth, pale grey trunks reached up for twenty yards or so, forking from there into several main branches and fanning out into a wide crown. The leaves, bright green on top and a pale, silver-green underneath, were dimming and curling at the edges with the change of the season. One old tree, its roots undercut by the eroding riverbank, had fallen into the stream, but the base of the trunk still lay on the lip of the bank. The angle of the overhanging bank and the trunk and branches of the abele made a shadowed eddy in the river.

Finn looked over his shoulder. Shar paced in a tight circle, yipping and flicking her nose back and forth between Finn and the sheep.

"Okay, okay," he said, "coming."

Finn reached down and grabbed a nice, flat stone. Time enough for one last throw and, this time, six skips for certain. He scanned the water, gauging the soft surface and the lazy current with the eye of a connoisseur. He cocked his head and squinted at the dark angle beneath the fallen abele tree, where the river slowed even further and the water shimmered like black glass.

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