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The coarse cloth chafed, offering little protection from the blanketing snows and biting winds gusting down the public lanes of Chadre'. Rina shook her scarf, dislodging a building crust of ice. The frozen crystals tumbled off it, to melt upon the nape of her neck, dampening the short black hair there.

The street was lined with wooden, single story shops, each decorated with long icicles, the weather's second festive contribution to the village. At the street's end, was a steepled church, its bell tower visible well beyond the hamlet's limits. It was easily the tallest building in the community, serving both as a place of worship and town hall.

 

Striding up the street, Glave, the blacksmith, gave her a hearty wave. “Ha, Rina! Come to make contribution for the steeple bells?”

Aye, and I have. In memory of Mother.”

With her mother's death, Rina had been left in charge of Jon, her younger brother and the small house they had been born in. Among the personal effects left behind was a small silver tea service, treasured by her since time out of mind. Rina found it beneath her mother's bed, after the corpse had been removed for burial behind the church.

Fitting, Rina thought, that the silver set end its days forever a part of the Caroline, to watch over her mother's rest.

Glave nodded. “Hurry then. The molds are set out, and the melt-pot's hot. Tis' the night for the last pour, and most be already there!

Rina hurried ahead. It had been decided to make the bells this season, something long planned for.

The bells would announce more than holidays and calls to prayer. They would alert citizens to fires, or other dangers, announce meetings, weddings, other things. These would not be large bells. Instead, a series of smaller ones, ten in all, graded to make a circle of fifth-notes, according to the town artificer. They would be rung by ropes depended down into the church. No fine cathedral that, but the pride of the hamlet, nonetheless. As the collection of the silver was a deed of great sacrifice by the few and not-at-all wealthy residents, these melt and pour events were done with reverent ceremony. Each pour always attracted more than the few able to contribute for the melt.

Rina added the silver set to the melt pot, and accepted the small hot cup of cider provided by the counsel representatives. All stood and looked on as Glave eyed the pot, and at his judgment, lifted it with long tongs to pour the glowing mass carefully into three small molds. In an hour, the bells were freed from them. Black things that the smith assured her, would gleam like the glitter off lake wavelets when burnished. Most left following the pour. Rina stayed, and Glave showed her how to use his rounded steel sticks to burnish out the bells, and bring forth their shine.

Rina donated as much time as she could to the bells project, away from the care of her young brother, and the weaving that supported them both.

She felt as though somehow, the effort was a tribute to her mother, a lavish of affection, to make up for the inevitable lost opportunities, missed during the bustle of daily life. Rina insisted on burnishing the smallest bell herself, and mounting it's clapper, much to Glave's amusement.

 

She imagined the smallest bell to be the one cast of her mother's silver, though in truth, the pour had contributed to all three of the last castings.

Even with her help, it was a week before the bells were finished and mounted.

There was one further ceremony, at which the village priest played on the bell's ten ropes, producing a marvelous and haunting hymn.

Thereafter she would always stop and listen when they played, whether it was a call to service, an alarm or just the nightly sunset tolls.

*** .

It was months later. The snows were retreating now, the icicles gone. She and Jon gathered firewood in the hills about town, far enough away to be out of sight of the fine steeple. There was danger here, for at this remove from man, the wild flourished, animals roamed.

They had no ax, nor were either strong enough to wield one properly, and fallen wood was sparse closer to the hamlet. The trees grew thick here, and they went amid forest giants, watchful of the steep rifts and gullies hidden, like soldier's secrets, beneath the thick brush and verdure of the forest floor. But a slick of mud on the canting side of one rill, caught them both, and they tumbled to slide down an almost vertical rift, into a splash of thin water rippling over round stone at its bottom.

Jon cried, a puffy swell forming around one ankle. Try as she might, Rina could not pull the boy out of the divide.

Worse, a moving lump of brown approached along it, sniffing, pawing, raising its large round head high to test the air. It saw them and came at a lope, with grunts and low barks. A brown bear, territorial and dangerous.

Rina trembled, afraid to call out, unable to leave her brother, instead pulling at Jon's arms and shoulders, trying to heave his burden up the impossible sides of the gash. Then another sound reached her. A familiar sound. An impossible sound. The tinkling clarity of the smallest steeple bell. It could be no other. It rang faintly at first, but soon loudly enough to hold even the walloping bears attention.

A flash of bright white fur showed at the rim above.

A white wolf. It leaped into the ravine, between the bear and Rina, growling, fearsome, head down low. Around its neck, a single silver bell hung.

It was a bell Rina knew well, upon which she had lavished care and much work. Her mother's bell. The bear stopped, swaying and complaining but the wolf stood its ground insistent and threatening. Grudgingly, the bear finally swiveled, turning back. The wolf turned also, to approach the stiff, stunned Rina, the bell tinkling with each fluid step.

It smelt of her, and whined, then sprang to the rill's wall, next to the pair. To her surprise, Jon reached out, twining his hands in the animal's pelt, whereupon the wolf, digging in its claws, began to inch and tug itself up the gully side. Working together, the three overcame the slope, and Rina finally stood, able to offer a supporting shoulder to Jon.

Ringing still, the belled wolf left, melting away into the shadowed wood, the ringing fading to a whisper, then to silence.

Progress was slow, but they made the village, and Jon was taken to the priest, where his leg was cleaned and bound. Rina mounted to the bell rope platform and hesitantly pulled at the shortest rope.

High above, the clear, dulcet tinkle of her mother's silver bell, rang.

 

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About the author

FAHyatt

Bio: So, I write largely science fiction and fantasy, and fantasy/humor. I do novels, short stories, Serial short stories, Novellas, all that. If all goes well, I expect to be posting a good deal of both here. What else can I say? I like walks in the rain and ice cream? I sketch, play blues harp, have been known to program for fun. Gamer? Yeah, I'm a slacker. Ran Plotters of Dreams for writers before it was virtually shut down save in title by Yahoo cuts in service, for ten years and counting. Ive moderated other groups, and obviously, writing is a passion. -Want to make peoples day, send them on vacation, make them chuckle occasionally.

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