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Episode 007
Food or Flood


Food or Flood by Daniel Roberts

3799 BC


“Quickly, children—grab your seeds and move on.” Bran hurried the line of children collecting seeds from the village elder. “We have to get these seeds planted today.”

It was an important day for the village of Kurhass. Spring brought the snow melts and the elk herds, but it was also time to plant the crops. There was so much to do and so little time. Everyone needed to help out: men, women, children, and even elders.

“Bran,” the elder seer called from the edge of the river. “I need to show you something.”

Bran walked along the banks of the river, where men churned the mud and clay with large wooden sticks. The women followed behind, shaping the churned soil into tiny holes with their bare hands. The children followed behind the women, placing the seeds in the pits and lightly covering them with loose soil.

Ever since the silver hairs appeared in his beard and hair, Bran left the hard labor of churning the earth to the younger men. He wasn’t old enough to sit on the side and watch, like the elders, and he was okay with that. Brand loved helping the village any way he could. It felt good to work.

The elder seer stood on a large stone at the edge of the river. He wore a sleeveless tunic of fur and a small skirt, even though the air was still cold. Standing on the rock with bare feet, the elder seer stared up at the morning sky.

“Come up here with me, my son.”

Even though the elder seer’s only children had died many years before, he called all of the people of Kurhass his children. Bran stepped through the icy-cold water and climbed the large stone to join him.

“What is it, Pater?” asked Bran. “Do you see something in the stars?”

“Don’t be silly, Bran,” said the elder seer. “I can only read the stars at night and just before dawn. They tell me when to plant our crops and when the elk herds will return. But I cannot read them during the day. One day you will understand and hopefully replace me as the elder seer.”

“Then what is it, Pater?” Bran used Pater as a term of respect. Everyone in Kurhass, except for the other elders, referred to him as Pater, just as he referred to everyone as his children.

“It’s going to rain. Look at the sky; the whiteness has replaced the blue, but I don’t see any clouds. I can feel it in the wet air. A storm is brewing, and it will bring rain as you have never seen.”

“What does that mean for us?” asked Bran.

“I’m not sure yet, but the river is already too high. It might flow over the banks.”

“Will it affect the crops?” asked Bran. “Can the barley survive a flood?”

The elder seer looked up at the sky, closed his eyes, and held out both arms. After mumbling a few prayers, he dropped his arms and looked back at the villagers planting the season’s barley.

“The waters might rise too high,” said the elder seer. “They could wash away all of our seeds.”

“Can we plant further from the river?” asked Bran. “The river water can’t touch our crops if we keep them far away.”

“The grass and weeds will choke the barley if we plant them too far from the water. They need to stay on the shore if they’re to sprout and grow.”

“Should I tell them to stop?” asked Bran. “We can wait for the storm to come and go.”

“That might be best. If we lose all of our crops to the river, the village will depend solely on the elk hunt, and there’s no guarantee we’ll find the herd this year.”

“I’ll put a stop to the planting,” said Bran. “Should I have them dig up the seeds they’ve already planted?”

“No. We don’t know what kind of wrath the river will bring. I’d hate to dig up the seeds only to find the flood isn’t as bad as I fear. The stars don’t lie; we need to plant now. The more we delay, the worse our harvest will be.”

“Yes, Pater,” said Bran.

He turned and jumped back into the water. He noticed now that the cold water soaked his knees, which hadn’t been submerged when he’d first waded out. The river was already higher. He passed the men who were busy digging up the riverbed with antler picks and sharp branches.

“That’s enough digging for now,” said Bran. “We’re going to take a break until the storm passes.”

“What storm?” asked one of the men.

“The elder seer says a storm is coming. He wants us to wait.”

Bran didn’t wait for them to respond and ignored the ones who were still digging. To the women forming the loose soil into small holes for the seeds, he said, “That’s enough for now, girls. The elder seer wants us to stop planting.”

As he walked past the children, he tapped each on the shoulder. “No more planting today, children. Return your seeds to Elder Art.”

“That’s enough seeds, Art,” Bran said to the elder holding the bucket of seeds.

“The elder seer wants to save the rest for another day.”

“Another day?” repeated Art. “The stars say we have to plant now.”

“The elder seer said a storm is coming and the river will flood. He fears the water could wash away the seeds.”

Elder Art looked up at the sky and shrugged. “If he says a storm is coming, he must be right. I could never read the sky so well. And the water is rising—look.”

He pointed to the river. The water was turning white with rapids, and the rocks that had once stuck up through the surface were now submerged.

“Here,” said Elder Art. “Take the bucket, but make sure to keep the seeds dry.”

The Elder took a leather cloth, stretched it over the top of the bucket, and tied a twine around the edges to seal the seeds inside.

“This hide is waterproof,” said Elder Art. “You don’t want those seeds getting wet, or they’ll break open.”

“I’ll take it to the elder seer. He’ll know what to do.”

Bran carried the bucket of seeds along the edge of the river, mindful of the rocks and sand quickly disappearing under the rising water. A deep rumble in the sky startled everyone, and they looked up. Thunder cracked and boomed. When Bran looked up, he saw dark clouds on the horizon.

He ran along the edge of the river, dodging the freshly planted seeds and the villagers staring at the sky. The dark clouds moved quickly, and people held their hands out to feel for rain. But there was nothing.

“Bran,” called the elder seer.

The old man ran through the river’s shallows in his bare feet and stopped by Bran’s side. The cold water did not appear to affect him.

“What is it, Pater?”

“We should get everyone back to the village. This storm is going to be a bad one.”

A flash of lightning interrupted the elder seer, tearing the black skies apart with a white streak. A thunderous roar followed. The few who still had their hands out were met with a blast of hail. White stones fell from the sky and bounced off the ground, pelting everything on the earth. Villagers pulled their bare arms in to their sides and cried in pain.

“Back to the village!” shouted the elder seer. “Get the children, hurry.”

The hail stung with every prick and struck with such force that it was impossible to remain composed. Children screamed in pain as they ran to their mothers. Soon the grass was coated with ice pellets.

“Help the children!” the elder seer cried out.

Bran lifted his arm to shield his face, but the stones broke through, striking his cheeks, scalp, and forehead. He dropped the bucket of seeds on a patch of grass and ran through the torrential downpour. What started as a shower turned into a waterfall, and a harsh spray fell from the sky, blinding his eyes with water. The river’s surface vibrated with the hail, forming a slurry of ice and water. The sound dulled the screams and cries of his people.

“Lega!” Bran shouted as he ran through the crowd on the riverside. Everyone panicked and ran as fast as they could as the ground turned white with bouncing ice. His skin hurt, and each strike to the head nearly knocked him over.


Bran ran through the crowd, passing several others before he found his son covering his head with his tunic.

“Tuck!” shouted Bran as he grabbed his son’s arm. “We have to get inside!”

He ran with his son up the grass and into the trails leading through the trees. As they ran, the hail turned to heavy rain that turned the ground to mud. The trail became a stream, and the people funneled through until they made it to the village and broke off for their homes.

His wife and other children waited inside the family’s hut. Bran and Tuck burst through the entrance, and Lega dropped the elk hide curtain, sealing the opening behind them. Lega embraced her husband and kissed his cheek.

“Your face,” said Lega. “It’s bleeding.”

Bran sat down on the bench in front of the fire while Lega inspected the cuts on his head. Tuck warmed up his hands at the fire, and that is when Bran saw the red and purple marks all over his arms.

“I’m fine, Lega,” said Bran after brushing her hands away. “How are the children?”

“We are okay,” said his daughter Shay.

Shay, his oldest daughter, dipped a cloth in a bowl of warm water that sat in front of the fire. She wiped the blood off Bran’s head and then rinsed out the fabric. Breet, his youngest daughter, stood in the corner of the hut, holding their baby son. The baby cried through the noise of water crashing onto their roof. Water drizzled from every crevice in the roof, and the dirt floor quickly turned to mud. The fire sizzled and filled the house with steam and thick smoke. Water poured in from the front entrance, forming a small pool inside.

“It’s good to be inside,” asked Bran. “Am I right girls?”

Bran looked from each of his children to his wife. They heard his comment, but no one seemed to care. They were soaking wet and covered with red marks from the hail, but none seemed badly hurt. Only he and his son were bleeding.

The pounding rain was temporarily replaced by crashing thunder and eruptions of lightning outside.

“God is angry,” said Breet, as she gripped the baby and rocked him back and forth.

“God is not angry with us,” said Bran. “It sounds like he is fighting with someone.”

“What do you think will happen?” asked Tuck.

“It’s out of our control,” said Bran. “All we can do is wait for it to pass. Our Heavenly Father and Earth Mother will protect us.”

“You must have faith, children,” said Lega.

There was a muffled scream at the entrance to the hut, and the elder seer stormed through in a rush of water. His face was bloody, and welts covered his bare arms and shoulders. His long white hair and beard were stained blood-red.

“My son,” cried the elder, and he stumbled inside before falling to his knees.

Lega and Tuck helped the old man to his feet and brought him to the fire in the middle of the hut. He sat down on the bench and hung his head low to avoid the smoke. The elder seer coughed for several moments before regaining his composure.

“Bran, I came for the seeds. I need to make sure they’re not wet.”

“The seeds?” asked Bran. “I thought I gave them to you.”

“No, you did not,” said the elder seer. “I told you to get them and bring them back to Kurhass.”

Bran thought back; he couldn’t remember who told him to do what with the seeds. Everything happened so fast, but that is when it all came back to him.

“I had the bucket in my hand when it started to hail,” he started slowly, “and then I put it down. When the children started to scream, and the hail fell from the sky, I tossed it on the grass and ran with the others.”

“You fool,” said the elder seer. “What on Earth did you do that for? We need those seeds for the food.” The old man stood up and jabbed his index finger into Bran’s chest. “If you ever want to become the elder seer of Kurhass, you are going to go out there and get those seeds right now.”

“But they’re sealed. Elder Art tied the bucket up.”

“I don’t care if you shoved the seeds up an auroch’s butt; you’re going to go out there and retrieve that bucket. Even if you have to jump in the river and swim for the seeds, I want you to bring them back. The entire village relies on them. Do you understand me, Bran?”

“Yes, Pater.” Bran didn’t wait for approval from his wife; he just ran. Pools of water covered the ground, and thick mounds of hail blocked and channeled water into the village.

“Wait,” Lega called from the hut. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Before coming to the trees, Bran turned through the torrential rainfall, making his way past the huts and through a thick mud of dirt and animal droppings. The trail was filled with water, and he hesitated before wading through it. The roaring of the river grew louder and louder until he broke through the trees and saw the torrent of water. The river was higher than ever, stretching far across the valley, covering the beach on both sides. Trees, bushes, and patches of ice flowed up and down the river, crashing and churning around the bend. The water was a dark brown as chunks of earth and rock mixed with the slurry.

“It’s all gone,” Bran whispered.

All of the seedlings they had planted were deep underwater. The sound of rocks and boulders tumbling over each other echoed across the water.

“Father in heaven,” prayed Bran. “What have you done to us?”

Bran ran along the grass at the edge of the river, since the entire beach was gone underwater. A flash of lightning ripped across the sky, and a bolt struck the ground on the other side of the river. Bran’s ears popped, and a sharp ringing filled his ears.


Bran turned and saw his eldest two children running out of the forest, following in his footsteps. The rain pelted down on them, pasting their hair to their foreheads.


“What are you two doing out here?” shouted Bran. “Go back to the hut!”

“We’re here to help you,” said Shay.

“We’re not going to leave you,” said Tuck.

“It’s not safe out here,” shouted Bran, as another bolt of lightning ripped across the sky.

The black clouds made it appear as night, and the rain fell as hard as a waterfall. The ground beneath Bran’s feet washed away with the streams flowing into the River Kur. The hill on the other side gave way and slid into the torrent, which ripped it apart and carried it away.

“We have to get the seeds, Father,” shouted Tuck.

Bran looked downriver to where he’d stood that morning when the villagers planted their seeds. The landscape had changed so much.

“All right,” said Bran. “Stay close to me, and keep away from the river.”

Bran and his children ran along the edge of the river, careful to maintain a safe distance. They slipped and fell several times as they went up and down the little hills. The rapids roared, forming a thick soup of trees and bushes and snow. Thunder and lightning ripped the sky apart as the water fell from the black clouds.

“How much farther?” shouted Shay.

“Not far,” said Bran. “I think.”

They stopped at the top of the hill and searched for the bucket. Everything looked different with the beach washed away, and Bran was starting to fear the worst. What if it was already gone?

The ground slid out from under him. The entire side of the hill fell into the river.

“Papa!” shouted both children.

Bran leaped just as the ground was ripped away. He hung onto the cold, wet grass on the side of the hill as hard as he could. He could feel the water nipping at his feet below.

“Stay back!” shouted Bran.

He didn’t want his kids to fall in, but he couldn’t stay upright. He felt his whole body slide, the grass and weeds slipping between his fingers. Tuck and Shay ignored his plea and ran to his aid, each grabbing an arm and pulling back. Their weight kicked more earth out from under him, but it created a place to dig his feet into the earth. With his children pulling his arms, he crested the edge onto solid ground.

“That was too close,” said Bran. “The next time, we might not be so lucky.”

“Papa, look.” Tuck pointed downriver.

“I see it,” said Shay. “The bucket.”

On the side of the river, half the ground had washed away, leaving a reddish-brown cliff of dirt and stone, with tufts of grass leaning over the edge. Sitting right on top of the cliff was the bucket, poised to fall into the torrent below.

“Hurry, Papa,” cried his children.

Bran bolted, slipping on the wet grass, riding his knees down the hill before he fell on his hands and face. When he looked up, he saw the bucket teetering on the edge. Digging into the slippery grass, Bran climbed the side of the hill, constantly aware how close he was to the edge. A couple of times, he slipped, but he never fell back. As he made it to the top of the hill, he reached out with his right hand and grabbed the bucket.

“I’ve got it!” shouted Bran.

A sudden shift in the earth sent a ripple of fear through his entire body. The ground itself sank below him and washed down into the river. This time there was no grass to hold on to. He crashed into the icy water, and the torrent ripped him away from the coast, sucked him under, and tumbled him around before he popped up to the surface.

“Papa!” his children shouted from the riverside.

He tried to call their names but could only choke. He gripped the bucket and tried to kick to the shore, but the current swept him away. Sticks, branches, and mud covered the surface and bunched around him, making it harder to stay afloat.

He tried to scream but got a mouthful of water instead, and his coughs sank him deeper into the sludge. As the current ripped him around the corner, the side of the river collapsed in a bath of red dirt and rolling rocks. Bran crashed into the mud, and the bucket of seeds shattered in his hands.

The river changed directions, overflowing the riverbanks and pulling Bran with it. He put out his hands and feet to catch the ground, but the weight of the water covered his head and pushed him right over the grass.

As he held his breath underwater, he felt the grass slide beneath him before he was thrust into the air once again. This time he slid on his bottom while the river spread out on all sides. The branches and sticks lodged themselves into the ground and tore at Bran’s flesh as he scraped over them.

He screamed as he slid along the flat sheet of water on his back. In the black sky, a thunderbolt ripped across the heavens and blinded him. He crashed into a deeper pool, tossing and turning before swimming to the surface.

The river had broken through the banks and filled the field with water. A lake was growing in front of Kurhass, and Bran was stuck in the middle of it.

“Papa!” his children called.

He was too weak to stand, and he barely managed to swim to the edge where his children were waiting for him.

“Papa, are you okay?”

But Bran collapsed beneath the surface of the water; after that, everything went black.




“Bran?” A loving and familiar voice called him from the light. “Bran, wake up.”

When Bran opened his eyes, he saw his beautiful wife Lega sitting beside him. Her brown hair, green eyes, and bright smile brought him back from his deep sleep. He was surprised to find himself in his own bed, covered with furs and blankets. His head was pounding, and his entire body ached.

“What happened?” asked Bran. “How did I get here?”

“You don’t remember?” asked Shay, stepping in beside Lega. “We practically dragged you home.”

“The last I remember is falling in the river.”

Bran sat up in the bed, but his headache struck him hard in the temples and he was forced to lie back down. With every heartbeat, it felt like his head was going to explode.

“You don’t remember anything after falling in the river?” asked Tuck.

“I remember struggling.” Images flashed across his mind of the river filled with branches and debris. “I hit the ground,” he said. “The seeds. I lost the seeds.”

“Tuck,” said Lega. “Go get the elder seer.”

As Tuck ran out of the hut, Bran tried to remember. “I was sliding across the grass. But that can’t be right.”

“That is right,” said Shay. “We thought you were dead. But the river broke through the banks and spilled into the fields. You were saved, Papa.”

“I think I remember,” said Bran, but the thinking hurt his head, and he had to close his eyes.

“You should eat something,” said Lega.

His wife brought a cloth to his bed and unfolded it, revealing a white square of Tal. Bran put a piece of the greasy fat in his mouth and it dissolved on his tongue. He slowly swallowed it. He was starving, but the food hurt his stomach.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“Several days now,” said Lega. “I tried to feed you every time you opened your eyes, but you were never awake. You just lay there and mumbled before drifting off.”

The elder seer and the matron walked into the hut, followed by Tuck and another village member. The elders knelt beside his bed and said a quick prayer.

“The blessing of the Father has saved you, my son,” said the elder seer.

“I’m sorry, Pater,” said Bran. “I failed you. I lost the seeds to the river.”

“You haven’t told him yet?” asked the elder seer, looking at Lega.

“I thought it would be best if it came from you.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Bran.

“The seeds,” said the elder seer. “It is a miracle. A gift from our Father in heaven and the Mother on Earth. They have blessed us with food for the entire season.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You may have dropped the seeds when the river took you, but the Father spared your life when he diverted the river into the field. And the Earth Mother spread the seeds throughout the fields. For an entire day, the field was covered in deep water, but when it drained, it left the ground covered in silt and clay. When we went down to the fields this morning, we saw the seeds had sprouted. The entire field is covered with barley. It’s a miracle.”

“What are you saying?” asked Bran.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the water or the field or the river, but the seeds are flourishing,” said the elder seer. “In all my life, I’ve never seen seeds sprout this quick. It’s almost as if the riverbed has given life to the crops. At this rate, we’ll produce more food from the barley than the elk hunt.”

Bran sat up again. This time, his headache didn’t cripple him. With the help of his children, he stood up and stumbled through his hut. His wife handed him a jug of water, and he gulped it down in a single breath. The excess water dripped off his beard and down his chest.

“A miracle, you say?” asked Bran.

“A blessing from the gods,” said the matron.

Bran walked out of the hut. The sound of children laughing and playing echoed through the village, and the sunlight warmed his skin. Even though his body hurt everywhere, he felt better than ever before. A bird flew over his head, and Bran looked up at the deep blue sky and smiled.


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