When she was a child, as with all young girls in the Upper Hills, Roryn was called "Weda". Pre-names were given for age as well as gender, because, at that time, names had only recently grown from being merely descriptions to set one person apart from another, and a single name, or variations of it, could be given to girls or boys. In her language, "Roryn" meant unexpected. It was mostly given to girls who, like Roryn, were their parents' first born, as this was an uncommon occurance. In Roryn's case, it proved to be doubly so, for she was an only child.
Children's pre-names changed as they grew, however, and most of them looked forward to what they might be called later in life. Roryn never thought about this, though. She rarely thought about more than how to please her parents or, when she felt naughty, how to steal away to talk to her Four Wise Men. They were strange characters in the way of her small society; two were widowers by the fevers that older women often succumbed to and two had never married, although Roryn suspected that one of these still harbored deep feelings for the grandmother of Weda Hathal, one of her neighbors. Whenever Roryn had free time after the farm's work and her mother expected no visiters, she would go to see one or more of these funny old men.
She liked Galem Hattal most of all, because he lived up to his pre-name, which meant cheerful. He could, and always tried to, make her laugh no matter her mood. He was the one who she suspected of being sweet on Weda Hathal's grandmother, and not just because Weda Hathal was anything but a cheerful girl. Roryn looked up to both Faryn Matta and Galem Ken, because she knew that they had been officers in the Saraen militia when her father had fought back against Stone Eye bandits who had come across the Uraeus limb of the Great Crown in small enough groups to pass between Empire patrols. Neither man would speak of those days, nor would Roryn's father, but what she gleaned from the fanciful tales that they did tell her hinted at times much darker and grander than those she knew working on the farm. Galem Ken, Like Galem Hattal, was a staunch bachelor who seemed to want nothing to do with women, yet neither missed an opportunity to go into the little village down the creek from Roryn's farm and take in what gossip he could find while sitting with the Elders in front of Winsal Dartha's feed store. Galem Hattal was a retired farmer who made his living instructing young men on animal husbandry, so he and Galem Ken, who still ran his own small foundry for making iron parts for horse tack, were naturally good friends, though they would never admit it. Faryn Matta only came down to the village when necessary to get provisions, and that only in the harshest winter, because he was a loner, and hunted for most of his food and clothing. Still, Roryn was drawn to him because of his seeming need to share his skills at survival, and he sometimes rewarded her interest with a magical trick or other glimpse at the softer personality that he had somehow almost lost decades before on the bloodied fields beneath the Twin Passes.
The fourth of Roryn's odd friends was by all accounts the oddest. Quinth Naggel lived up to his pre-name just as Galem Hattal lived up to his, but "Quinth" meant trying hard, which was a compliment reserved for those who Roryn's society considered practical men. Quinth Naggel was instead a tinkerer, a builder of gadgets either useful or not. In most everyone's eyes but Roryn's, all too many of the things that he spent his time on were not. He was tolerated both for his familial ties in the Upper Hills as well as for the ocassional bit of undeniable genius he showed his neighbors, but few of them trusted him, and fewer than that understood him. Roryn understood him, though, and loved all of his curios and inventions, scuptures and toys. She knew from her earliest memories of him that he was the smartest person in the Hills, perhaps in the world, and felt defensive for him because of that. She saw in her neighbors' distrust no more than childish envy, and so begged him at every opportunity to show her his newest gadget and explain to her how it worked. With feigned reticence, he would always do so, and she delighted at the sparkle that showed in his eyes when he did.
During Roryn's youngest years, when the winters seemed most harsh and her mother and father had to do all of the farm's work themselves, she saw little of her neighbors beyond periodic trips to the village and the annual Sunday Fair. It was in front of the feed store that she met Galem Ken and Galem Hattal, and at the Fair in her fifth or sixth summer that she met Faryn Matta and Quinth Naggel. Roryn's father warned her off of the latter and her mother warned her off of the former, but she took no heed of their advice and soon learned where they all lived and found whatever silly excuse she could to go see them. Roryn loved her parents very much, though, and admired them more than anyone else. She was incorrigible, however, so that eventually her mother allowed first Galem Hattal, then Quinth Naggel, to come visit them just like their more accepted neighbors, the ones who were married and always seemed to have too many children. Roryn guessed that her parents knew she looked upon the men as uncles or grandfathers, none of which she had close by, and so gave as much approval as they were able. For this, Roryn loved them all the more.
Roryn's father was a solid, quiet type of man, more at home tilling his fields than speaking to anyone of gossip or personal feelings, and, despite her unquenchable curiosity and energy, Roryn's personality took more after his than her mother's. Her mother was a diligent and hard worker too, of course, as were all farmer's wives in the Upper Hills, but her true life was in her socializing with their neighbors. She kept their small dugout as clean as possible, forcing Roryn to help her sweep and dust, even though they really were only raising a cloud that settled again over everything. She insisted that Roryn and her father wear their best clothes when visitors came, although neither Roryn's family nor their neighbors were wealthy enough to have more than one good outfit a year. Yet, because Roryn loved her mother dearly and saw how much it meant to her, she never complained nor sneaked out when told that visitors were expected. Moreover, Roryn watched closely how her mother held herself in front of their neighbors and tried to be as polite as she, even when they brought children who were spoiled or mean. Roryn loved her Four Wise Men and her father, but it was her mother whose face and voice she would never forget.
Roryn's name was one of the oldest still used, probably because it was unusual, and she was more proud of it than children were expected to be. The ones her age who lived in the Hills cared more about their pre-names, or, more to the point, what they would become when reaching Flowering. The girls she knew mostly wanted to be given "Luris" or "Levin", which meant beautiful, young and pure, respectively. Too many older girls were given these for Roryn's taste. To her, either was like calling a pond wet or the Sky Home warm. She wanted to be called Kestor, but never said it aloud, because it meant thoughtful, and was reserved for young men. New pre-names were given at the Sunday Fair, for girls, the first summer of or after their first menses; for boys, after they had gone to ground, usually in their twelfth or thirteenth year. When it seemed that Roryn's time was coming, she listened to everything her mother told her about what it might mean to be a young woman, but she also bothered Faryn Matta until he told her about what it was like to be a young man. Especially, she asked him about going to ground. At this, he balked for many days, which seemed strange to her since he had willingly enough explained how children were made in basically the same way that animals were. This much she already knew; there was little about that which could be hidden on a farm. He seemed different when she asked him about the boyhood ritual, though, almost afraid of her for asking. Late in the fall of her eleventh year, however, he relented, since this was the time when he was beginning to train many Upper Hills boys for just that.
It was a simple thing, really, although Roryn thought it unbearably cruel and heartless. After years of working their family farms or in their parents' shops in the village, Upper Hills boys were specially trained for one summer in hunting and survival skills, then taken by the Elders one by one across the Stone Eye border beyond the Twin Passes and let loose to find their way home alone or die. Knowing the land below the Passes as she did, and hearing all her life about the predators and bandits beyond, Roryn suddenly felt very sad for all the boys that she had before then barely noticed. Also, she finally understood the utter silence of adults that surrounded children's rumors of ones who had never returned. Although Roryn could not remember any among her close neighbors, and realizing that this was why she had not thought to ask about it before, there had been one boy from a family who lived close to the river and had visited her farm a few times when she was very young. One year he had simply stopped coming, and she had been told that he had died of fever, but now she was sure that he hadn't. He had been healthy and strong; the fever only took the old and the weak. During Roryn's eleventh winter, while many of the boys she had known were fighting for their lives in the great wilderness, she thought often of Cresson Tass, whom she had once considered quite handsome despite his obvious discomfort with adolescent growth and development, and cried for many reasons for which she had no words.
On the day, about two rounds after the Long Night, when Roryn's father was first able to comfortably make the trip to the village for provisions, she begged him to take her, because she could no longer bear to stay in their warm home with her constant visions of pain and death. Neither were alien to her, she knew with a farmer's intimacy where her meat came from, but going to ground was different from the quick, almost respectful, slaughter of cattle or sheep. Patiently, her father agreed, but made sure that she was doubly well protected against the cold, a gesture that only slightly averted her mother's objections. They had both known how deeply that Roryn was affected that winter and thought that this short change may help her spirits.
The trip to the village was indeed not long, given two whole days of thawing from relative warmth. And Roryn had taken such a trip before, during a winter that had been unusually light with snow and ice. When she and her father reached the village center and the feed store, however, she knew immediately that something was wrong, because there were more men there than would gather on any single day throughout spring. As soon as she saw the faces of men she recognized as the fathers of boys old enough to be sent across the Passes, Roryn knew what it was. None of the boys had come back this year. Not one.
She was held away from the talk between the Elders and the rest, but the men's voices were to frightened and angry to be kept low. The first boy to be sent had not been seen for over a round, and the last was yet ten days still out. Although three of the men, the fathers of the earliest sent, had mostly come to terms with their loss, the implausibility of a total loss was too much for the rest to believe. The Elders tried to quiet the anger and say that setting up a search was still too dangerous and in any case forbidden. To Roryn's shame, her father agreed. But Faryn Matta, who had been standing close to the center of the gathering since Roryn and her father had arrived, did not. When he raised his voice to a level Roryn had never heard, all others became silent, even those of the Elders.
"They are not just your children," he said clearly so that all near the feed store could hear, "they are men of the Empire. Perhaps you have forgotten that, but I have not, and you can be sure that the Stone Eyes have not as well. Each winter, we send more boys up there to fight their way home, as was the agreement I helped to strike before many of you were born, and each winter the Stone Eyes have kept that agreement; but listen to me: it was never meant to be a permanent peace. You know this, no matter how much you pretend that this is as it has always been and always will be. The Empire never signed a formal armistice, and the Stone Eyes never sent an ambassador. I don't know how many times that I have told you this, though you only laughed at me, but now your boys have paid for it with their lives. Regardless of what you would like to believe, the war has never ended, and this can be nothing less than a warning that they mean to bring it to us again."
During his speech, Roryn had grown more and more frightened, her images of boys being eaten by wolves and bears giving way to half-formed visions of torture and slavery that she had gotten from long days spent listening to the tales spun by her Four Wise Men. Now, she was painfully conscious that all those stories might have been true, or worse. The man she had known as a strong, though reserved, father looked as frightened as she felt, and shook visibly as he watched Faryn Matta speak. In the older man, she no longer saw a hunter of game and a trainer of boys, but a hunter of men and a leader of soldiers. All eyes were on his face, as if waiting to hear orders to battle.
Faryn Matta issued no such orders. Shrinking, visibly straining to hold himself straight, he only added, "We must send a messenger to the Empire, or at least to Saraea. If I am right, the Stone Eyes will be here by last snowfall. If we have not prepared before then or left the Hills, we will all share the fate of our boys." Reacting as much to his change in attitude as to the alarm in his words, several men began to argue that he was exaggerating or lying. Before long, he had lost his place at the center of the gathering and Roryn lost sight of him. Her father took her by an arm and went into the feed store, where he bought on credit quite a bit more supplies than they had come for. Within three hours, just before the sky had become tinged in scarlet, they reached home, and her father gave her mother the news. They sent Roryn to bed, but she could not sleep. Over the crackling of the night-fire, she heard them arguing about what they should do. Over her mother's objections that they could not wait to find out what the Elders planned and should go to her cousin's village in the Lower Hills, Roryn's father insisted that they stay and see.
One round and twelve days later, a large force of Stone Eye soldiers, wearing arms and armor like had never been seen in Saraea, poured over the border in the Twin Passes and laid waste to the Upper and Lower Hills before being halted and turned back by a hastily gathered army of mostly under-trained men. Of those living in and around Roryn's village, nearly nine out of every ten were put to the sword, including both of her parents. Roryn was spared as a captive and taken back over the Passes by slavers. Daring all, she escaped in the midst of the wilderness and fought her way through to safety in Saraea. Others were held for ransom, including Faryn Matta and Galem Ken, who came close to being executed for their part in the war long since fought. Of Roryn's Four Wise Men, only they and Quinth Naggel survived the incursion, but no one knew how Quinth Naggel had managed it, and he refused to say. Some twenty days after her captivity, Roryn began menses. That summer, at a dishearteningly small and short ceremony during what would have been in any other year a time of joy and hope, she was given the pre-name "Sita", which means stands alone. It had never been given to a girl before, but the Elders said that they saw enough strength within her to honor it, and her new guardians, Faryn Matta and Galem Ken, accepted it in her parents' place.
In Roryn's culture, people's pre-names changed many times during their lives, but from that day she never found cause to change hers again, and no one found the strength to take it from her.