Chapter one – arrival

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The sun was just losing it’s torturous noon day heat when Annaliegh Valiant finally crested the last hill on her three hour hike from the highway where the bus had let her off at. It was a not really a highway even, but a winding road barely two lanes wide that made it’s way through a parched desert valley full of cactus and dust. The trip had been horrible with it’s constant bumping and lurching, it’s sweating bodies carrying chickens and other livestock, it’s lack of air conditioning and windows crusted with desert dirt. And then, after that, she had to hike along a small mule tracks three hours in noon day heat, her water rapidly running dry.

As she walked over the bridge into the foreign town her feet lagged. She stopped briefly, hanging her head in defeat. How had her life come to this?

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How had she, Annaliegh Valiant, wife to the great Benedicto Valiant, come to be standing there that day with nothing to her name but the sweat stained clothing she wore and an address. It was the address that brought her to the  tiny desert village – the village so small it didn’t even show on a map. Her Grandmother had given her the adress after she married Benedicto and had insisted that she keep it and never let it go. Her grandmother had obviously known more about Benedicto’s “Business” than she, Annaliegh, had. In one night, her husband was killed and she was left fleeing for her life. So here she was, in her Grandmother’s home village, clutching a crumpled paper with an address. She swiped sweat off her face with a dust smeared hand and continued into town.

The town plaza was what she first came upon.

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She stood on it’s dried cobblestones, unsure of where to go. She knew no one in this town, and anyone who might have known her Grandmother would be long since in the grave. She felt tired and dizzy from the heat. Her stomach protested from lack of food. She looked around her. The square was surrounded by a few buildings, it’s few benches spotted with rust. A girl a little older than her came into the square. She looked confident and well dressed. The girl noticed her and stopped. They both watched each other across the square. The girl turned and walked towards her.

“Hi,” she greeted, holding out her hand in a friendly manner, “You look tired.”

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Annaliegh was relieved at the welcome. She hadn’t known what kind of welcome had awaited her; all she had known was that she had to get away – as far away as possible.

“I…I walked from the highway,” she said, then swayed suddenly from dizziness. She managed to catch herself before collapsing.

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The girl took her arm, “Here come with me,  we’re going to get you something to drink and then you’re going to tell me what you were doing *hiking* from the highway in this heat!”

“I had to get here somehow…” she half defended as she let herself be lead through the square.

“We hire donkeys from the farmers,” The girl said, “Or trade them something for a ride. Generally though, we don’t leave the village. And rarely does someone come *into* it. You must have some story to tell. Come on, we’re going to Momma Rose’s cafe. You need some food and water.”

Relieved for the friendship, Annaliegh followed the girl up a steep set of steps bordered by large hydrangeas, to a red awninged cafe at the top.

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The girl lead her to a chair and told her to wait. A few moments later she came out carrying sandwiches and water. Annaleigh gratefully took it and ate.

“So…who are you and why are you here?” The girl asked.

Annaleigh swallowed a bite of sandwich. How much should she tell? “It’s…it’s a long story. I just…I had to come here. I’m looking for a place.”

“A place? Puest Del sol isn’t’ exactly a destination spot.”

Annaliegh handed her over the crumpled piece of paper with the address on it. “This place,” she said, “It was my grandmother’s. Is it still here?”

The girl read it over. “Yes, it exists I would assume. It’s up in the mountains, near the ancient ruins and Crazy Lady Gahna’s home. The only way you can tell it’s not just part of the scenery, is a mailbox that sticks out of the rock. I used to go up there when I was a kid to get out of the heat. But…why are you looking for this place?”

“It was my grandmother’s.”

The girl was quiet, watching her. “Grandmother…. I wouldn’t know her I suppose. I guess she’d have been before my time.” She looked away, “Doesn’t matter. You’re the descendant, you own it. That’s how things work here.”

“So..that’s it. It’s mine?” It seemed too easy.

“Well yes, it’s yours…but, well don’t expect much. No one has lived in those mountains except Lady Gahna in many many years. For as long as I’ve been alive anyway. Your grandmother’s hut might still be there, but might not. They get some bad storms up in the mountains. It’s not like it is here in the valley.”

Annaliegh didn’t care about that. She just wanted to get there; to end her journey. “How do I get to it? Which road do I take?”

“You better not think of walking!” the girl said, “look, you’ve hiked enough. Hire one of the cabs that works here. It’s too far a climb. Look, see, the sun is already setting.” She pointed out the long shadows on the square below them.

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Annaliegh thought of the $5 she had in her pocket. Five dollars and an address was all she owned now. She didn’t know how expensive cabs were but expected they were more than what she had.

“You can’t walk, “The girl said again.

Annaliegh looked at her, determined, “I won’t,” she lied, “Thank you for lunch and your kindness. I should be fine now.” She stood up to start leaving. The girl quickly stood with her.

“Are you sure your okay-”

“Fine now.” she quickly headed for the steps back to the square.

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“My name is Rogue by the way!” the girl called after her, “Rogue winter!”

“Annaleigh!” Annaleigh shouted back, and then she was down the steps and across the square. She walked quickly until she was out of site. Then she looked down the road towards the mountains and the trek still ahead of her.

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As she wearily climbed the road, one plodding step after another she passed by some of the houses on the outskirts of town. They were nothing more than huts, their walls dried adobe and the ground parched for want of water.

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She wondered about the life she was now going to now live. Her, Annaliegh Valiant, from a good home, into a rich marriage…was now going to be living in a small adobe hut in a parched desert. No, not forever, she thought to herself, she would rebuild a successful life. She would build a mansion on her grandmother’s land. She would buy businesses, sell writing, become, not the dirty stranger in the square, but the great Annaliegh Valiant. People would whisper about her when she came into town, would dream of being invited to come to one her parties. Annaleigh entertained herself with these dreams as she continued the climb into the mountains. The sun finally fully set and she found herself in deep darkness, the only light pinpricks of stars in the sky.

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As she climbed, she noticed that the air started to become cooler, less clogged with dust, and the vegetation greener. Soon there was no sign of the dry parched land in the river valley below, but instead tall trees loomed up from the sides of the roads, like giant creatures in the shadows.

And then finally, she saw the mailbox that Rogue had told her about. It sat in a small indent in the cliff side. Annaleigh tried to quicken her pace, but had no energy left. She finally reached a small valley clearing, the stars shining on the surface of a waterway. There was no house; no civilization at all. All she could make out in the darkness was a small hobo’s encampment of rusted bench and fire pit.

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For a moment Annaleigh felt despair creep up, but determinedly pushed it away. She looked out over the river. Yes, she was Annaleigh Valiant, and she was going to build an empire.

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Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 12:23 am  Comments (4)