...about an excerpt of Deep in the Valley, the sequel to High on a Mountain

ONE

Tsalagi Territory, South Carolina Colony, June 1760

Eight-year-old Niall MacLachlainn dashed into the creek behind his older brother, Aodh. He slowed as he neared the mountain stream’s deeper pool, and an involuntary shiver that passed down his body accompanied the rising of goose bumps on his arms.

His mother called to his little sister, and he glanced in their direction. At that moment, Aodh slapped the water, and cold liquid splashed into Niall’s face. He gasped and squeezed his eyes shut. He opened them to slits, clamped his lower lip between his teeth and swung his right arm in an arc, the edge of his hand skimming the water’s surface. He created a sheet of spray that inundated Aodh, who laughed and ducked beneath the creek’s rippling veneer.

Niall stared at reflections of green trees and blue sky undulating on the surface of the water. His stomach tightened as he tried to see through them, tried to see the form he knew was swimming toward him. A hand grabbed his ankle from behind and yanked. He fell, arms flailing, water covered his head, and he came face to face with his grinning brother.

When the boys hunted small game and birds with their blowguns, Niall could best his older brother. His aim was sure, almost uncanny. And his long legs gave him an edge in their footraces. But Aodh always won their water games. And Aodh was the one who always won their father’s approval.

Niall rolled onto his stomach to regain his footing and push himself out of the water. But a yellow gleam among the pebbles on the creek bottom caught his eye. He’d never seen anything quite like it. Edoda would surely be proud of him for finding something so unusual. Aodh had never found anything like this.

As his fingers closed over it, he felt his brother’s foot on his back. Aodh used Niall as a stepping stone to propel himself from the deeper pool into the shallows.

Niall thrust his body upward and shot from the water seconds later, the shiny pebble clutched in his fist.

__________

Kutahyah MacLachlainn watched her two oldest sons cavorting in the stream, a contented smile lifting the corners of her mouth. She loved watching their high-spirited antics. They’re going to be good, strong men like their father.

She untied the ends of the sling that held her baby in place on her back. She leaned over, pulled the cloth around and took him in her arms. She put his feet in the creek and began bathing him.

He squealed and kicked, splattering his mother with droplets. He reached for the water and arched his back when he found he couldn’t touch it.

Kutahyah finished washing him and lowered him into the water. She let him splash and play for a few minutes, then set him on the grassy bank.

“Brìghde, come watch the baby,” Kutahyah called.

Her six-year-old daughter left her pursuit of minnows and climbed out of the stream.

“Keep him out of the water,” her mother instructed.

Kutahyah waded into the deep pool, cupped her hands and dipped water to pour over her head and face, over her arms. She washed away the sweat and dirt from the day’s work in the cornfield. When she finished and left the creek, Niall followed.

Etsi.

Kutahyah looked into green eyes that were like his father’s.

“What’s this?” He opened his fist to reveal a small piece of gleaming yellow metal on his palm.

“Throw that back in the water.” A crease formed on her forehead. “If your father knew you—”

Edoda! Edoda!” Aodh shouted. He climbed from the water and ran to meet the tall man who was descending the hill. “Edoda, you should have seen! I almost caught a fish in my bare hands!”

“That’s good, Uwetsi.”

Niall ran behind his brother, shouting, “Edoda! Look what I found!”

When he reached his father, Niall smiled, held out his hand and opened it, expecting words of praise. Ailean frowned when he saw what lay in the boy’s palm.

“Throw that back where you got it. Don’t ever take any of it from the stream again.”

Niall’s smile disappeared, and his shoulders sagged. Kutahyah hurt for her son. A wave of anger tightened her lips. She gave Ailean an irritated glance but bit back the words she wanted to say. She turned her attention to her son.

At every turn, Niall did something to draw his father’s disfavor upon himself. She longed to put her arms around his bony shoulders. She wanted to comfort him like she did when he was small. But he was growing into a young warrior, and it would be unseemly for the mother of a warrior to pamper him. She wouldn’t want to make him soft.

Niall turned slowly, eyes fixed on his feet, and headed down to the stream.

“Wait, Agidoi. Let me see.” Brìghde, Niall’s little sister, scampered after him.

Niall stopped and displayed the nugget.

“Ooooh! That’s pretty!” Brìghde gave her brother a wistful look. “Can I have it?”

“No. Edoda said to throw it back in the stream.”

“Please, please let me have it.”

Niall glanced over his shoulder at his father. “If I disobey, he’ll be angry and—”

“Please!” She grasped his wrist, pulled his hand closer and touched the nugget. “I want it.”

“I don’t want him to be angry with me. I want him to—”

“Please…”

Brìghde’s lower lip trembled, and Niall’s heart melted. He could deny her nothing. Even if it meant he might lose the most important thing in his life—his father’s approval—he had to give his little sister what she wanted, had to make her happy.

He placed the lump of yellow metal into her hand and pressed her fingers closed over it.

“Here,” he whispered. “But you have to hide it. Don’t let Edoda know I gave it to you.”

Deep in the Valley is available in print and as an ebook on Amazon.com and as an ebook on Smashwords

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