The Gathering Storm - By Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson Page 0,2

he’d let it slip free. Renald hesitated, looking up at empty blue sky, realizing that he was cringing at nothing.

The clouds were off on the horizon again, some forty leagues distant. They thundered softly.

He picked up his pipe with a shaking hand, spotted from age, tanned from years spent in the sun. Just a trick of your mind, Renald, he told himself. You’re going off the side, sure as eggs is eggs.

He was on edge because of the crops. That had him on edge. Though he spoke optimistic words for the lads, it just wasn’t natural. Something should have sprouted by now. He’d farmed that land for forty years! Barley didn’t take this long to sprout. Burn him, but it didn’t. What was going on in the world these days? Plants couldn’t be depended on to sprout, and clouds didn’t stay where they should.

He forced himself to sit back down in his chair, legs shaking. Getting old, I am. . . . he thought.

He’d worked a farm all of his life. Farmsteading in the Borderlands was not easy, but if you worked hard, you could grow a successful life while you grew strong crops. “A man has as much luck as he has seeds in the field,” his father had always said.

Well, Renald was one of the most successful farmers in the area. He’d done well enough to buy out the two farms beside his, and he could run thirty wagons to market each fall. He now had six good men working for him, plowing the fields, riding the fences. Not that he didn’t have to climb down in the muck every day and show them what good farming was all about. You couldn’t let a little success ruin you.

Yes, he’d worked the land, lived the land, as his father always used to say. He understood the weather as well as a man could. Those clouds weren’t natural. They rumbled softly, like an animal growling on a dark night. Waiting. Lurking in the nearby woods.

He jumped at another crash of thunder that seemed too close. Were those clouds forty leagues away? Is that what he’d thought? Looked more like ten leagues away, now that he studied them.

“Don’t get like that,” he grumbled at himself. His own voice sounded good to him. Real. It was nice to hear something other than that rumbling and the occasional creak of shutters in the wind. Shouldn’t he be able to hear Auaine inside, getting supper ready?

“You’re tired. That’s it. Tired.” He fished in his vest pocket and pulled out his tabac pouch.

A faint rumbling came from the right. At first, he assumed it was the thunder. However, this rumbling was too grating, too regular. That wasn’t thunder. It was wheels turning.

Sure enough, a large, oxen-drawn wagon crested Mallard’s Hill, just to the east. Renald had named that hill himself. Every good hill needed a name. The road was Mallard’s Road. So why not name the hill that too?

He leaned forward in his chair, pointedly ignoring those clouds as he squinted toward the wagon, trying to make out the driver’s face. Thulin? The smith? What was he doing, driving a wagon laden halfway to the heavens? He was supposed to be working on Renald’s new plow!

Lean for one of his trade, Thulin was still twice as muscled as most farmhands. He had the dark hair and tan skin of a Shienaran, and kept his face shaved after their fashion, but he did not wear the topknot. Thulin’s family might trace its roots back to Borderland warriors, but he himself was just a simple country man like the rest of them. He ran the smithy over in Oak Water, five miles to the east. Renald had enjoyed many a game of stones with the smith during winter evenings.

Thulin was getting on—he hadn’t seen as many years as Renald, but the last few winters had prompted Thulin to start speaking of retirement. Smithing wasn’t an old man’s trade. Of course, neither was farming. Were there really any old man’s trades?

Thulin’s wagon approached along the packed earthen road, approaching Renald’s white-fenced yard. Now, that’s odd, Renald thought. Behind the wagon trailed a neat string of animals: five goats and two milkcows. Crates of black-feathered chickens were tied on the outside of the wagon, and the bed of the wagon itself was piled full of furniture, sacks and barrels. Thulin’s youthful daughter, Mirala, sat on the seat with him, next to his wife, a golden-haired woman from the south.

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