With Me In Darkness

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1. Chapter One

              The blazing rays of December danced across the sky. Bit by bit, it covered the pearl morning haze with a pale, pure white light. Crisp golden wheat fell to the ground with a swing of the scythe. Muggy heat of the summer morning kissed Illeana's skin, forming beads of sweat as she worked the field. She didn't mind it though. Watching God's land awakening in the glow of the porcelain sky soothed her. Everything about the light reminded her of life, of hope and prosperity. She closed her eyes for a brief moment and tilted her tanned face toward the Heavens and breathed in the fresh air. Pure Perfection.

              Her family had been through hardships too numerous to count, and now their family had shriveled down to just the three of them, leaving all the work to mama and herself. Plus,it made getting enough money for taxes more difficult with less people working the farm. Illeana  had been upholding the fields from sun up to sun down every day for the past three years years since papa had fallen ill and was of little help anymore. Even mama wasn't able to take care of the chores like she used to, but she did the best she could while taking care of her sick husband. Still, even as she worked her fingers to the bone, Illeana found solace in the hot bright sun on her face, and felt that no matter what might come next, there would always be hope among it all. There would always be light at the end of the tunnel for her and her family.

        Illeana set her tool aside and bent over to gather up the freshly cut straws, then shoveled the heap onto a nearby cart. She had cut more than enough to sell at the market tomorrow, but would need more for the next several suppers. On top of that she needed to bail fresh hay for the horses and remake mama and papa's bedding, plus her own.

        If not, I can another week without fresh hay. Illeana thought to herself scooping up another pile in her arms. Then after that mama needs apples for her pies, about ten should be enough, and I should help mama pick some new flowers from the garden. Papa would enjoy something sweet to look at by his bedside.

     Illeana was pulled from her to-do list when a distant voice called out from behind.

     "Miss Frost," a shadow in the distance came into view, his silhouette nearly tripping as he ran down the hillside. "Frost!"

    Illeana raised a callused hand over her eyes gazing out across the field. A tall young man with soot all over his hands and face, trotted nearer. He had that kind of face. The kind that stopped you in your tracks. His lips were full and soft, his smile playful yet genuine. He could speak and bring women to their knees; or he could say nothing, and still he would mesmerize anyone. With deep ocean blue eyes, flecks of silvery light performing ballets throughout, were hypnotic enough to make a nun swoon.

     His face was strong and defined, features molded from granite. It didn't help that he was so modest with it, it made the girls fall for him all the more. With his strong hands he tousled his dark brown hair, it's strands thick and lustrous.

      Though he was beautiful, inside and out, Illeana didn't want any part of it, aside from their friendship. Being friends was fine, but she wasn't like most other girls. She had to work the field while other women her age only had to worry about baking and house chores, while marrying and having babies. So boys like Aland were nowhere on her list of things to be worrying about.

      "Aland-" Illeana started before she was cut off. Her feet swung in the air and her black hair flopped out from under its handkerchief. She gave a high pitched yelp ordering Aland to put her down.

Aland set her feet back on the soil while still holding her at arm's length. "Happy Birthday Illeana," He smiled brightly, his strong and glistening features striking enough to make girls swoon for miles..

Illeana pulled out of his grip and playfully swatted his arm. "You know I don't like being reminded it's my birthday." She turned away and picked up the scythe once more.

   "Everyone likes birthdays," he quickly knelt down behind her feet to pick up the newly cut wheat, "Especially girls"

  "Because, you know so much about them?"

  "Nah, not really. Unless you're talking about yourself." Aland leaned forward and gave a wink.

Rolling her green eyes Illeana scoffed. Nice try, but 'You're the only girl I think of' line doesn't work with me.

"I don't know Aland; I just don't like my birthday."

Aland worked silently next to Illeana

  "It's a reminder that I'm another year older and I'm farther away from being able to marry and move on like the other girl do."

   Aland remained silent 

    "I know mama and papa want me to meet a nice man, or any man for that matter so I can leave and start my own family. But they need me here more than they need one less mouth to feed." Illeana swung a little harder against the golden straws. "And still I hear the same lecture every year, so no, I don't like my birthday."

   Illeana and Aland kept working the crop, swinging, scooping, and stacking the wheat. Aside from the occasional question to Aland if he wanted to go home, and his reply of, "Heck no I'm fine right here by you," the two of them didn't talk. Soon the sun started to leave from the peak in the sky, and the two of them moved on towards the hay stacks that sat a couple miles near the cottage. 

   As they walked up the hill Illeana began again, "know why else I hate my birthday?"

Aland gave a quizzical look, scrunching his thick black brows together. His fiery blue eyes concerned. "How come Miss Frost?"

   "Something bad always happens on my birthday," Illeana ringed her hands together, "And I think it'll happen again this year too."

    "Now, why do you have to think that way?" Aland's face cracked into a grin, "I'm here with you, and doesn't that make it any better?"

     "No, not really," Illeana said playfully before grinning.

Aland nudged his shoulder against Illeana's causing her to tip over.

       "Hey," she giggled catching her balance before pushing him back with all her force. His muscular body hardly budged under her pressure, but he lost balance enough to give her a head start. Illeana ran as fast as her legs could take her, laughing and looking over her shoulder at Aland; who was nearly caught up to her. The last rays of sun were starting to set as Illeana played and laughed and tumbled to the ground with her dear friend.

    They laid on the grass side by side still laughing and catching their breaths from the jog up the hill. Illeana closed her eyes once more against the sunlight and breathed in deep. Maybe today wasn't cursed to be an awful day. After all,the sun was still shining, which forever gave her hope and opportunity to believe the best was still ahead.

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       Horses made loud neighing sounds at the excitement of their food supply being restocked. Aland tossed gold grass into the barn, occasionally looking over at Illeana, who was forking hay into an empty cart. He didn't mind helping her out with her chores, in fact he loved it. It was his excuse to spend time with her, and get to know her even better.

       Ever since he could remember, he was awestruck by her beauty. When they were children, together he would play with her four brothers, and make excuses to come over to their cottage often.Her pigtails were wrapped in sunlight and her sweet smile gave away the secrets of her heart; that she loved all of God's children and creatures. Her heart had been so full of life and light, and was contagious to everyone in the Kingdom.

    Now as he stared at her, her smile had dimmed, and her face was worn from long days of blistering work in the sun. And the only secrets left in her heart were that of worry and fear of what tomorrow might bring. He wanted to see his happy girl again, to alleviate her stresses and bring back the light inside her. Even while knowing deep down that only God could do that for her.

    Aland dug into his tattered up trousers and felt the cold smooth pebble against his hand. He worried his bottom lip then began working again. For six months he had been working on his gift for Illeana's birthday, and was beyond nervous to give it to her. She hated her birthday, hated anything that made her feel special. Maybe she felt she didn't deserve it. She had lost her brothers, and was on the brink of losing her father as well. Maybe she took blame for them. Maybe she didn't think it was okay to let herself have any happy moments.

  "Can you hurry up over there; sun's gone down already and I need to get papa's bedding made up," Illeana stood with her hands on her hips.

  Not realizing he had quit working Aland's face turned a little red for being caught thinking so intensely about her. "I'll finish here; you just get that inside."

  "Alright then. Well," Illeana looked hesitant, "I'm sure mama would love you for dinner. You know for helping with the farm and all." Illeana turned, not waiting for his reply, and lifted the cart on it's back wheels, then disappeared into the night.

  Aland pitched the last two heaps of hay then locked the barn up before heading toward the small cottage. It has to be tonight. Be the man she deserves, and tell her how you feel. How every time she looks at you, you get these warm feelings throughout your body. Tell her she has the most beautiful heart you've ever seen and that you want to take her far from this squalor and live far away from Kenra. Aland clutched the box in his hand then rapped against the shabby door. 

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