Egan Rowan was born on a small farm halfway up the hillside in Wayward Valley. From the bend in the path, you could just make out some of the buildings of Wayward Township, but it was a two hour walk to get to anywhere. He had plenty of room to run, and became surefooted as a goat traipsing up and down the slopes from the house to the chicken coop and other outbuildings.
The farm grew enough vegetables to feed their family, plus rabbits, ducks, and a couple pigs, enough to trade up and down the hill for flour, beef, and a few other things. They sold eggs, rabbits, and birds to a store in Town three times a week. Egan was the only child that lived to age two and his parents loved him fiercely, but didn't spoil him. They couldn't, there was barely enough to go around, no extras to be had.
By age five, Egan knew how to hold a chicken with her wings close to her body so that she wouldn't flap. By seven, he had learned the watering schedule and how to tell food from weeds. His mother liked to carefully dig up and save the weeds that would become flowers—Trilliums, lavender, bluebells, and replant them close to the house.
"It's only a weed if it grows where it's not wanted,” Eileen would say. "Look, we move it here, and voila! Now it's a decorative bloom instead." When she smiled, her tanned face crinkled around the eyes. His dad always shook his head at her, but Egan noticed Manus watered the "decorative blooms" all the same.
In the evenings the sun stretched out sideways across the fields and the yard, turning everything amber-golden and sending the chickens pecking toward their coop. In the mornings it popped up over the top of the mountain all of a sudden, to pour light in like it almost forgot about them. When it rained the beans seemed to stand up taller to drink, and when it snowed the whole world lay wrapped in hush as they sat by the fire.
Manus built a swing in the oak. Eileen put a little red roof on the well. Egan grew tall and strong. His life was a never-ending round of chores—chickens don't take holidays off and potatoes don't care whether it's Sunday or not—but he always had enough time to straighten up and breathe deeply in the crisp air, or scamper up to the stables to play with the donkey, or simply run through the yard the way kids do when they have too much energy.
His room at the back of the house was small but cozy, big enough for his bed, clothes chest, a desk, and all his toys, painted light blue. His window faced north, up the hill, but being on the second floor gave him enough light. He wasn't in it much during the day anyway. Egan's other favourite place in the house was the large attic room over the front of the house. Eileen kept her sewing things up there, as well as some heirlooms and all their "once-a-year" things like snowshoes, swimming clothes, and holiday decorations. It smelled like cedar and was always not-quite-cold in the winter, which was better than most of the other rooms. The attic had a pair of windows, one East and one West, and torches on the walls for extra lighting. Egan's room didn't have torches. His parents, and later Egan, carried a candle when he went to bed at night.
When Egan was eleven, Manus died. He fell off the roof and no one realized his leg was actually broken until it was too late. By the time they called in a healer, the bone sickness had already set in. Egan and Eileen grieved, but the chores still needed doing. In time, they came out of their grief again, and for a while everything was as good as it could be. Eileen remarried shortly before Egan's fifteenth birthday. Paul had two boys of his own: Bruce and Rudy. Rudy was a foot taller and a year older than Egan, but not blessed with much intelligence, and Bruce was a year younger than Egan and already thought the world owed him two of everything just for existing. They badgered their father, who badgered Eileen, about taking over Egan's room. Eileen moved him up to the attic.
"Just for now, while they get settled in. With extra hands to help, we'll have enough money to add on to the house soon." She said earnestly. She had more wrinkles and fewer smiles since Manus died, Egan was willing to move if it would help her. Because it was just going into fall, Egan and Eileen moved his things into the larger, warmer half of the attic. When spring started getting warmer, they moved him again into the smaller half of the attic. It had only one tiny window, high up under the eaves, so it never got direct sunlight and Egan wouldn't feel like he was being cooked. They started plans for an addition, to give Rudy and Bruce a room.
And then Eileen died. She'd been out working in the fields when she was hit by lightning. No one knew what to do, Egan took over all the chores just to keep the farm running. He was sixteen.
Paul decided his own boys needed a room each, and that Rudy would keep Egan's room and Bruce would get the addition all to himself. Egan was ordered to remain in the attic.
A week after the funeral, a man in a suit came to the door and asked to speak to Egan. He drew the lad far away from the door where Paul, Bruce and Rudy waited, and spoke without moving his lips very much.
"Your mother had a will, did you know that?"
Egan shook his head.
"You're to inherit this place, but not until you're twenty years old. You must be here, and the farm must still be functioning, on the day you turn twenty and then it's legally yours. If you leave, it goes to Paul."
Egan thanked the man. After he had gone, Paul looked sideways at Egan and said "Well, boy, those dishes aren't going to wash themselves. And clean out the fireplace when you're done."
Egan ground his teeth together but wordlessly turned toward the kitchen.