It was time. Someone would come for her any minute, and still she had nothing.
Rhianna squeezed the last feeble dribbles of milk into the bucket, then glanced at the sun. It had to be past time. She stared into the weak, blue white goat’s milk swirling in the pail, hoping to find some inspiration there. Nothing.
She pulled the peg and moved the slats that kept the nanny goat’s head locked in the milking stand. The stubborn thing kept rooting around the feedbox, so Rhianna angrily shoved it’s nose back. The goat danced away to join the others nibbling the grass. Rhianna stomped toward the kitchen hut, her mind racing in a panic.
Only her fifth day. She couldn’t fail now. So soon. She imagined her father’s face, gentle but sad. Her mother would be happy. She had never wanted Rhianna to become a skald.
“Rhianna, your turn,” Yeliah called from the direction of the teaching hut. “Hurry, the masters are behind today, and want to get caught up.”
Rhianna left the bucket on the kitchen back step. Inside, she heard two of the other girls giggling as they shelled peas. They’d already told their stories for the day. They had nothing to worry about.
A story, a story. Rhianna felt the stones through the bottoms of her leather slippers. No story there. She glanced around at the trees. A small brown bird hopped from branch to branch. No story there. A patch of melting snow lay in the shadow of one of the standing stones. No story there.
As slow as Rhianna dared, she walked toward the hut. Thinking. Only stories she’d heard before ran through her mind. Nothing new. But she couldn’t fool the master skalds. They’d said they had heard every story in the world, and would know if what she told them had come from her own heart or if it had come from somewhere else.
The high, peaked thatch of the roof looked like a strange, pointed hat. A thin blue smoke trailed out the chimney hole at the very top. Rhianna stepped up to the dark doorway, trying to clear her mind. She could only enter here if she left all her fear and her anger outside. Today her hands were shaking, her heart pounding. They would know she was afraid.
It was darker inside, at first she couldn’t see the faces of the masters. They waited, seated in a row, waited for her to tell the story she could not think of.
After the silence grew and grew until Rhianna could no longer bear it, she bowed her head. “I have no story today.”
“No story,” Ariah, one of the masters, spoke. “Then you must leave us.”
“No, please,” Rhianna begged. “May I try again tomorrow?”
“You must go back into the world, until you have found the greatest story there ever was. Then you may return to us.” Said the bald one. Master Vlorin.
“Dismissed,” Said Master Kyal.
Hot, angry tears fell on Rhiannas cot as she shoved her few belongings back into the pack she’d emptied only a few days ago. She took her staff, the smooth wood had been polished by her brother. That would have been her skald’s staff, carved with the first letters of each line of all the histories of the clan she would have served, to remind her. She glanced at the other girls in the room. One churning butter, two others carding wool. Their faces were sympathetic, or triumphant. They would still have a chance, more chance now, to be chosen as an apprentice.
Rhianna turned her back on them and strode out the door.
The greatest story in the world? Might as well tell her to leave and never come back. If she did find the greatest story in the world, how would they know it? How would she know it? She stumped her staff into the path and strode out between the two standing stones that marked the edge of the compound.
There was no greatest story in the world. Rhianna turned her face toward home.