Warrior With an Open Heart – Here’s How It Starts

Chapter 1 – Jenny Black Wolf caught her breath and looked back over the long sweeping ridges of the Katene Hills, the winter-dry grass shining in the bright mid-afternoon sun. Then she started down the steep grassy slope toward the barely-maintained dirt road that followed Stendal Wash between Harito and Katene.

Both Harito and Katene were ghost towns, abandoned for over three hundred fifty years, since just after the meteor strikes that caused the Great Catastrophe. Jenny was about three miles northeast of Harito and eight miles from the archeological site near Katene, where her friend Brashon worked.

It was a perfect early spring day, and she’d been enjoying the weather. It had been cool, with temperatures only in the mid-eighties, and the overnight low was expected to stay above freezing. The previous two days had both been hotter, with light frost the night before.

She’d been traveling cross country, using the tallest peak in the still snow-covered Mandrian Range, Mount Jarl, to stay oriented. Mount Jarl was more than sixty miles away across the valley and could be seen from almost anyplace between Harito and Katene and almost as far east as Broken Knife.

Jenny was about to head down to the road when she noticed a grove of camaranth trees about a quarter of a mile to the east. That many camaranths in one place almost certainly meant water, and she was thirsty. She was about halfway to the grove when she saw the partially collapsed rock walls of an old house.

In the high desert grasslands of Deniba, water was so crucial that long after a farm’s or ranch’s house and outbuildings had been abandoned and any use of the land given up, the old wells were still maintained by the House that had owned the land. This house and all the land around it to well past Katene had once been House TaZarin’s land—her husband’s House—but TaZarin had ceded it to the regional government early in the Restoration, almost two hundred years ago.

Jenny found the scarcely discernible path to the well at the back of the house and followed it a short distance to the edge of the camaranth grove. The old hand-dug well was in perfect repair, complete with a tight-fitting wooden lid to protect it. An old washtub with a large rock in the bottom that kept it from blowing away in the wind lay on the ground near the well. The rock was a necessity since even on a perfect early spring day on Deniba, it would, at the very least, be breezy.

She set her pack down in the grass beside the well and glanced up at what had been, until an hour before, a cloudless blue sky. Now it was filling with thin wispy clouds. The clouds were generally a good indicator of rain coming within the next twenty-four hours.

The ground around the well had its share of bird and animal tracks, including a recent set of ta’taka tracks. She followed the tracks with her eyes to where she could see a ta’taka curled up under the draping branches of the nearest camaranth tree. The animal looked to weigh about forty pounds. It was lean and rangy with a tawny coat, alert green eyes, and its long tufted ears were pointed toward her, listening. Although ta’takas were predators, they weren’t generally aggressive unless they felt threatened. This particular animal was interested in her, but it was also relaxed and comfortable where it was.