The Green Priest — Out Now

Book one of The Rainmaker Writings, the post-apocalyptic novel series from Ryan Law

★★★★★ | Goodreads

Description

It has rained for centuries, and the sprawling cities of the Elders have drowned beneath the floodwaters.

The survivors of Shelter, a hollowed-out mountain-side refuge, eke out a simple existence amidst the flooded, overgrown ruins of a forgotten civilisation.

But at the edge of every tale can be found rumours, whispers and nightmares of the Green Priests, a mythical religious order with powers beyond reckoning and secrets beyond count.

When a young hunter called Halvar discovers a curious artefact of the ancients, the Priests are spurred to action. For the people of Shelter have stumbled dangerously close to a truth that will reshape the world.

And now, the rainmakers have arrived.

“Fresh take on post-apocalyptic theme. I’m looking forward to reading more. Short first novel in a series but very good.”

— Amazon Reviewer

“I really, really liked this story. I’m a fan of ‘drowned world’ tales and this is a great example of one.”

— Evan C

“Really enjoyed exploring this world alongside the characters, never quite sure what would be around the next river bend.”

— Amazon Reviewer

“I really related to the characters and their transformation, and I love your sense of humor.”

— Carol M

Chapter One

Read the first chapter of The Green Priest in its entirety.

Halvar sheltered under the branches of an old willow tree, hidden from sight by a thick curtain of fronds that trailed the river’s surface. His canoe rose and fell with the current, drifting in the slow, lazy arc allowed by its mooring. Every few minutes it would pull tight against the rope, straining towards the centre of the river until overcome by inertia, it would drift back towards the bank.

The sound of rain accompanied every movement. Raindrops on the river. Raindrops through the willow fronds. Raindrops on the tarpaulin that stretched over the canoe. Amidst these hundred sounds of rainfall, Halvar sat and watched. He watched ducks and geese land on the rippling water, saw them sit and preen before labouring back into the air. He saw huge cranes descend to the river bank, soon losing their skeletal outlines in a jumble of felled trees and exposed roots. He watched small streams trickle through the steep woodland that coated the edge of the valley, the torrent seeming to grow faster and stronger, minute by minute. Sometimes they’d tear away a small part of the hillside, sending dirt and moss and rotten branches tumbling into the river below. He watched the rain fall and fall and fall, without once breaking its steady cadence.

But most of all he sat and watched the small stretch of river that flowed past his willow tree.

He would sit like this for hours, cross-legged and frozen in the small canoe, wandering thoughts relegated to the backwaters of his awareness as he monitored the river for the slightest sign of his quarry. Aches and pains would come and go, rising and falling, in and out of consciousness. On bad days, these distractions would break free from their mooring, his mind chasing after every noise and sight and thought. Sometimes, he’d imagine throwing himself over the edge of the canoe, could almost feel the cold water soaking through his clothes, his hair. Other days, he’d yearn to break the monotony of the rain’s steady cadence, and would imagine bellowing words and phrases and songs at the top of his lungs, his voice ricocheting around the river. On the worst days, the ache in his joints and muscles would swell beyond all proportion, filling his mind with a searing pain that made him want to scream curses and cry in frustration.

But today was a good day. His senses felt heightened. He listened to a chorus of birdsong, sweet melodies and dancing trills weaving their way in and out of the drumbeat of the rain. The raindrops that found their way through the shelter of the willow were warm and light. Greatest and rarest of all, faint sunbeams peeked out from behind the valley’s thick, rolling clouds, tracing pale, shimmering rainbows across the water. And now, after waiting the best part of a day, a huge, bloated grass carp had swum into sight.

Halvar moved slowly, turning his body and angling his spear towards the water. He waited for it to draw closer, swimming deeper into the thick weeds that choked the river’s edge. By all measure, the fish was huge, its thick, muscular body lined with silver scales that seemed to dance and shimmer even through the green of the water.

As it swam closer and closer, foraging through the river grass that gave it its name, Halvar slowly levered back his arm, pulling into striking position. The fish turned side-on to the canoe, and as Halvar’s muscles tensed, ready to spear the great fish, a thunderous sound rolled through the valley, an explosion that seemed to shake the world around him with its vast, growling timbre.

Halvar lunged forward, shot his spear into the water and found only a cloud of silt where the carp had been. The rumbling sound faded as quickly as it had appeared, leaving a vast emptiness in its wake. The birdsong had vanished, and even the sounds of rainfall seemed somehow deadened.

Halvar’s first instinct was to hurl his spear across the river, to shout and curse at the hours of patient waiting that had evaporated in a heartbeat, to punch and kick the metal canoe until his hands and feet were bloodied and burning with pain. But as he thought upon the source of the noise, his anger faded, the heat of his blood turning cold, quenched like a campfire in the rain. He latched the spear carefully into place, held by two makeshift clasps pinned along the inside length of the canoe, and instead of shouting and screaming, stood up, and settled for a long, slow piss into the river.

It was almost dusk by the time Halvar’s canoe emerged from the cover of the willow tree, the thick grey clouds that covered the valley already darkening to black. The journey to the hunting grounds had been slow and laborious, an upstream slog made harder by unseasonably strong currents, but mercifully, the return route to the campsite was all downstream.

He soon settled into an easy rhythm, and distracted by the rote task of paddling, the frustrations of the day’s hunt were quickly forgotten. Though his day of spearfishing had been a bust, the traps and nets they’d laid the day previous were almost guaranteed to catch dozens of smaller fish, freshwater crabs, even snails and clams. Though Halvar wasn’t able to return with a trophy to roast over the campfire, no-one would go hungry tonight.

As the sky darkened from blue to black, his mind swam with thoughts of rich crab soup, seasoned with garlic leaf and salt, roasted hare, care of the group’s adept overland hunters, all served with boiled potatoes and fresh mushrooms. Cirdan had smuggled away several bottles filled with spirit, and after a few swigs and a few jibes from his fellow hunters, the sting would be taken away from his failure.

As he floated down the river, he started to sing, low and quiet at first, but growing louder with each oar stroke.

Halfway through the journey back to the campsite, Halvar’s reverie was broken by another loud, concussive boom, rumbling through the valley. In the early twilight, away from the familiarity and shelter of the willow tree, Halvar felt a twinge of fear. He paddled faster, keen to close the distance to the campsite.

As he started to round a shallow bend, drifting across the river’s breadth as he did, he looked back to the stretch of open water behind. The light was failing quickly, and in the centre of the darkening river, perhaps fifty lengths distant, he saw a light, vivid and green.

Halvar stopped paddling and let the current carry his canoe forward as he watched. The light was moving towards him, faster than the river’s current could account for, and as it grew larger and larger before him, the vague corona became a violent, swirling mass of light. It was travelling too fast for Halvar to outrun, even with the current behind him, so he made a quick decision to head for the edge of the river, away from the water and whatever—whoever—was coming down the river towards him.

The far side of the river flowed faster, and as he drew closer to the river’s edge, he found himself fighting against strong eddies and whirling currents, hidden under the surface. Stray timbers stuck out of the water, jutting out of decayed buildings in the depths below, threatening to snag the canoe, even puncture clean through the delicate wooden hull. Panic swept over him as he wrestled with the paddle, heaving and turning the boat against the current, making for the shortest route to the riverbank.

The floating light closed in by the minute, and even through the inky murk of twilight and the spray of the river’s tributaries, he could make out a silhouette, a shadow of something, of someone, buried within the flames.

Halvar was sweating and breathing deeply, using every ounce of strength to pull himself through the water and find shelter amongst the trees at the water’s edge. With a burst of strength, he lunged for an overhanging branch and pulled himself, hand over hand, into the recess between two fallen trees. A huge rotting bough blocked one half of the river, so he sat in silence and waited for the light to come into view.

Seconds turned into minutes, and still he waited, not daring to move, barely willing to breathe. He could feel sweat trickling through his hair and into his eyes, warm through the cold of the rain, could hear the sound of his heart racing, each beat seeming to reverberate through the breathless quiet of night.

Suddenly, around the edge of the fallen tree, he saw a pale green glow appear, reflected in the water’s surface. Steadily the aura of light grew larger and larger, until past the tree’s tangled branches came a huge ball of glowing light, almost blinding in its brightness.

To Halvar’s eyes it was pure, unadulterated fire, burning fiercely even through the rain, the very sight of it seeming to fill Halvar’s entire being.

Big, broad flames swirled around a raft, crackling and spitting vibrant plumes of colour into the night. As it drew closer, he could see in the centre of the raft, cloaked by the inferno, a figure. It seemed to be kneeling; thick tree branches were propped up against it, glowing with fire, while bright embers smoldered beneath, undeterred by either wind or rain. The raft passed by close enough to see the figure’s bowed head, its waxen face charred and empty in the green light.

Realisation dawned upon Halvar as an unconscious gasp escaped his lips: it was a funeral pyre. Then, as if to confirm his thoughts, the valley rumbled with a third thunderous noise, and the sky was illuminated by an explosion of light. Tendrils of lurid green spread through the sky, riding the shock wave of the explosion, illuminating an endless bank of clouds from the inside out. The valley bloomed with the rich colour, lighting up the cool, wet night; and then in an instant, it was gone. The colour vanished, the light withdrew, and the valley fell dark again.

Halvar sat motionless for a few minutes, watching the pyre as it was carried downriver, its bright flames illuminating the water as it passed by. As it reached the sharp curve of the river’s nearest meander, he expected to see the pyre buffeted against stones and timbers, but instead of washing up against the river’s edge, or snagging on the trees, the pyre followed the river’s curve. Halvar watched as it slowly, carefully navigated the treacherous current by the guidance of some unseen hand, until the green glow of the pyre finally pulled out of sight.

Neither the warmth of the campfire nor the warmth of a few fingers of spirit were able to take the chill from Halvar’s soul.

Six of the hunters sat gathered at the campsite, sheltered under a tent of plastic sheets suspended from a circle of trees and lashed together to keep off the worst of the rain. They sat on logs and stumps, watching the campfire’s smoke plume upwards, channelled by the angled tarps towards a gap in the sheets, offset from the fire, where it vanished into the pitch black of the night sky above. Two small bottles went back and forth, the hunters sipping and sharing without a word passing between them.

Halvar supposed the crackle of the fire was a comfort to the others, but it reminded him too much of the pyre. He was grateful when Cirdan broke the silence.

“I don’t see what we’ve to fear. The priests have to deal with their dead, just as we do. They’re a little more…theatrical, granted, but what else would you expect from a people that spend their days telling tall tales and dressing up in those green robes of theirs?”

“You shouldn’t call them tall tales,” said Brenna, as she wrung out the braids of her long brown hair. “There’s truth in their stories. We’ve all seen what they can do.”

“I haven’t seen shit,” said Cirdan. “All I’ve seen, all any of us have seen, is a funeral rite. We give our dead back to the earth, the coastal settlements give them back to the sea, and the green priests float them downriver to scare the life out of us. I’d wager that the priests themselves are sitting around a campfire, just like ours, drinking and laughing at the fearful hunters that cower and run at the sight of a funeral pyre.”

There was a rumble of agreement from the group.

“Sitting around a green campfire...” began Brenna.

“If you were to catch fire child, you’d burn green, and that’s not magic—that’s just your cowardice catching aflame.”

Carr leaned across to Cirdan and plucked the bottle of spirit from his hands. “Cirdan has finished drinking for the evening.”

There was no resistance from Cirdan. He simply shook his head, sighed, and conjured another bottle of spirit from the inner pocket of his surcoat. “Sorry, Brenna. I mean no harm. All I meant to say is that we shouldn’t fear the priests. There are real terrors in this world, more deserving of our fear than any earthly woman or man. Drowning. Disease.” Cirdan gestured to Carr. “To tell the truth, every time I look at Carr I feel a shiver run through my body at the horrors old age can inflict upon us all.”

“Cirdan has finished drinking for every evening,” replied Carr.

“There’s hunger too,” continued Cirdan, “which we’ll all know too keenly if Halvar returns empty-handed from yet another hunt.” Cirdan’s stony expression lightened into a smirk.

At this, the gathered hunters laughed, and with the laughter came a palpable sense of relief that seemed to flow through the group. Everyone seemed to loosen, their faces brightened.

All but Halvar, who turned a bottle of spirit over in his hands and stared into the flames of the campfire. “The person on the raft, they were kneeling. Like they’d climbed aboard and set themselves aflame. How many people do you know that have died kneeling?”

“Aye lad,” said Cirdan, “not many. Not many at all. But there’s nothing to be gained from dwelling on this now. The darkness conjures up all manner of fears, leaving it only fit for sleeping and screwing. And since you’re all too ugly for the latter, I suggest it’s time for the former.”

“Wisdom at last,” Carr said. “You’ll take first watch tonight Halvar. Wake Cirdan from his snoring when the fire has burnt down.”

Cirdan lead by example, and the remaining hunters soon retired to their hammocks, leaving Halvar alone with his thoughts, the crackle of the campfire and the steady patter of the rain. Cirdan had left a bottle of spirit out, either from forgetfulness or kindness, and Halvar sat sipping it as his companions quickly drifted off to sleep, the sounds of snoring soon joining in with the rain’s ambiance.

After a while, he set to pacing the perimeter of the campsite. The forest, usually alive with a thousand sounds of movement and melody, was unusually still. He walked to the shadowy periphery of the camp, patrolling along the diffuse border where firelight fought darkness, and followed it down to the water’s edge to check the moorings of their canoes.

The image of the pyre still burned bright in his mind. He knew the others had seen similar sights, had heard for themselves the low, concussive explosions that had rung around the valley. The idea that the elaborate ritual was a simple funeral rite held no truth to Halvar—he had seen the pyre for himself, could even now conjure up the image of the figure’s few tufts of hair dancing as they burned, caught in the fire’s twisting updrafts. There had been no peace in that ritual.

So what else could it be?

Over the years, the hunters had seen dozens of the priest’s small camps scattered along the length of the river and high up in the hills, each rumoured to be a single spoke radiating out from a central encampment, somewhere far to the north. It followed that the pyres were a deterrent, a warning sign to prevent roving hunters like Halvar from venturing too close.

Possible. But the more Halvar thought upon it, the stronger a single truth grew in his mind, coalescing around the image that refused to leave his memory. The pyre, with it’s huge, broad flames, and the explosion of light and colour that bloomed alongside, was a challenge. It radiated power and authority, an alien presence designed to haunt the hunters wherever they went. No matter how far they travelled, overland or by river, the green priests were always there, lurking on the periphery of everything.

As Halvar stared out at the dark expanse of the river, he felt strangely reassured by his conclusion. Intimidation, plain and simple. There were few motives more human than that.

As he paced along the river’s edge, accompanied by the sounds of rain and lapping water, aching muscles and sore joints earned from the day’s hunting seemed suddenly to reappear in his awareness. With the fire already burning low, he went to wake Cirdan for his turn of the watch, deep, guttural snores guiding him to the hunter’s hammock. By the time he found his bed, exhaustion had washed over him. Halvar was asleep the moment his head hit the hammock.

Halvar woke to the sounds of the campsite being disassembled. From where he lay he could see clear through the camp, past the hammocks and makeshift benches that circled the dead campfire, and down to Brenna, at the water’s edge, fishing out the dozen primitive cool boxes that contained their haul from the last few days of fishing, trapping and hunting.

Despite Halvar’s mixed success, the other hunters had ensured that the boxes were packed full. Still, Brenna hauled them out of the cold water with ease, one in each hand as she carried them over to the waiting canoes.

Most of the campsite had already been torn down and stowed away into each boat’s shallow hold, leaving only a handful of tarps hanging from the surrounding trees, including Halvar’s own. The morning’s rainfall was relatively light, and Brenna was yet to dress in the thick, hooded surcoat they all wore for travel on the river. Her hair had grown long. It was a rich chestnut brown, shaped with irregular kinks. Damp ringlets stuck to the sides of her face, framing high cheekbones and a pale complexion. Still watching from his hammock, Halvar was suddenly surprised by the firm hands that clamped onto his shoulders. Looking up, he saw Cirdan leaning over him.

“It’s barely first light and I’ve already seen all the fawning I can handle for the day. Get up you layabout, your hammock won’t pack itself.”

With a squeeze of his shoulder, Cirdan strode away, leaving Halvar to climb out of bed to attend to his section of the camp. He busied himself with packing, stuffing his hammock and bedroll into their waterproof pouch, sparing only the occasional glance towards Brenna.

It wasn’t long until the hunters were back on the water, six canoes drifting in loose formation downriver, and back towards Shelter. The melancholy of the night had been forgotten. The rain remained light, and overhead, the hunters caught brief flickers of sunlight through the clouds, god rays briefly piercing the thick cloud banks that formed the ceiling of their world.

With the good weather, they were half a day out from home; but with full bellies and a strong current behind them, Halvar reckoned they’d make better time than usual. Feeling relaxed, he let his canoe drift lazily across the river, slowing just enough to draw level with Cirdan at the back of the formation.

“If you want to impress Brenna lad, you’ll need to stop pissing about on these hunting trips. She doesn’t care much for fools. Why do you think she dislikes me so much?”

“I don’t piss about!”

“Ah, don’t worry,” Cirdan offered in response, “she can’t hear us this far back. Besides, she could be sat right beside us and she wouldn’t pay us no mind, not when she’s so intent on impressing Carr. How many more trips you reckon the old dogfish has in him?”

“More than you, at the rate you’re going. There are only so many nights you can get blind drunk and keep being invited out on these trips.”

Cirdan laughed without enthusiasm. “I’ve a head for drinking, is all. Takes more than a few paltry sips of spirit to help me relax. We can’t all be lightweights like you.”

Halvar watched the overgrown riverbank drift steadily past, scanning the thick trees and scrub without taking much of anything in.

“Brenna would be a good leader. She can hunt better than most, and she’s smart,” he mused. Glancing over, he saw Cirdan rolling his eyes.

“I just mean that…who else would do it? You’re drunk half the time, Colborn isn’t fit enough to lead the longer expeditions, Gunnar is almost as old as Carr, and I seem to have forgotten how to cast a spear.”

“Ah, don’t be so harsh on yourself. You came face to face with a pyre, you were off your game, anyone would be.”

“That happened after,” Halvar muttered to himself. “Still, you’ve changed your tone. What happened to ‘there are real terrors in this world’?”

“I mean what I said. But I’d still just as likely shit myself if a flaming corpse came barrelling down the river towards me.”

Up ahead, Halvar could see that Carr and Brenna had come to a stop before the next river bend. Gunnar and Colborn were pulling in to the riverbank beside them. Aware that he was lagging, Halvar paddled harder to close the distance, leaving Cirdan to his lazy approach.

The river narrowed considerably through the bend, and as they drew closer, they could see that the entire span of the river was blocked by a jumble of torn-up trees, dirt, lumber and brickwork.

They threaded their way through half a dozen mammoth timbers, jutting out of the water, before Halvar ran aground, his canoe catching on a submerged stone pile and scraping horribly to a stop. Brenna and Gunnar had already beached their canoes, while Colborn cleared space on the narrow bank to pull Carr’s boat from the river. Carr himself stood astride his canoe, staring up into the treeline.

Following his gaze, Halvar saw a broad clearing in the canopy. They knew this stretch of the river well, and where once an ancient building had stood, intertwined with branches and vines, there was now only a cleft in the treeline and a broad swathe of destruction that led down the cliffside and into the river.

Halvar called out to Carr. “That looked pretty secure the last time we passed by.”

“Nothing the Elders left behind is secure. Let’s just count ourselves lucky we weren’t beneath it when it fell.”

By the time all six canoes were successfully landed, Brenna had used her hatchet to cut a path through the forest at the river’s edge. The collapsed building had completely blocked a narrow stretch of the river, but thankfully, the obstruction extended no further than a few dozen lengths downstream. Two at a time, they took it in turns to drag each of the laden canoes through the clearing, before launching them back onto the river. Poised to push out onto the water, Carr turned to speak to Halvar.

“On second thoughts, we’d best get the guild out here to clear this up. I don’t suppose we’ll be back here for a long while, but still. This mess will only worsen over time. It seems foolish to relinquish a clear stretch of river so easily.”

At Carr’s behest, Halvar pulled out the expedition ledger from the bundle of bags in his canoe, and using the ink stick he kept safely stowed in the deepest pocket of his surcoat, scratched out a simple map onto the fine birch bark pages—a writhing mass of rivers and streams, winding their way through the countryside and, pausing to consider his bearings, a thick black cross to denote where the house had fallen.

Tucking the book securely into his pack, he pushed Carr’s canoe out towards the centre of the river, before sliding his own boat out into the shallows and deftly hopping aboard.


The story continues...

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