Hand of the Sun
Belmonte Farm, Southern Region of the Vrahtania Empire.
A carriage was racing down a muddy road through a violent rainstorm. It had a tattered cover, with a family crest so faded that the M looked like nothing but two separate columns. The carriage crossed through Marronnier Forest, passing by the trees and undergrowth—both lusher and greener than ever from the rain—before stopping in front of a farmhouse.
Bang, bang, bang!
The sound of a fist pounding on the door rang clearly throughout the house, even over the roar of the rain.
Mr. and Mrs. Martin, who’d been spending a dull afternoon with their three children, exchanged startled looks at the sound. They hadn’t been expecting any guests at this time, so the owner of the farm, Carl Martin, opened the door just a sliver and peered out, his puzzlement written clearly across his face.
“Who is it?” he asked.
The guest pulled off the hood of his raincoat. He was a portly man in his fifties with a mane of grizzled hair swept away from his face.
“Oh!” Carl recognized the newcomer instantly—he was the gambler the farmer had met at the marketplace four years ago. “Baron Mayfield!”
“So you haven’t forgotten me,” replied the baron. “I’m the dear friend who stopped a kind villager like you from gambling off your cow. You promised to repay me one day, remember? Well, today’s your chance. You can repay me with this child here.”
Carl flinched as a small shadow abruptly shot out from under Baron Mayfield’s raincoat. She was wearing the same black raincoat—probably why no one had noticed her earlier.
“This is my one and only granddaughter left by my son and his wife,” the baron explained. “She’s only just turned eight, which is why I can’t quite take her to El Dorado.”
“I’ve got a chance to win big this time,” the baron said. Then he looked down at his granddaughter. “Now, Hazel. You be a good girl and stay healthy, understand?”
The baron kneeled down and pulled off the child’s hood to give her a quick peck on each cheek. Then he disappeared back into the storm, just as suddenly as he’d come, leaving the little girl standing before them in silence.
Martha Martin dazedly turned to her husband. “Dear, did you...” she started.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Carl pleaded, not knowing what else to say.
Martha clucked, unable to forgive him so easily. It was hard to believe her innocent and kind husband could get himself into such trouble. She’d noticed the state of Baron Mayfield’s carriage, and now her sharp eyes were raking over the girl standing all alone by the door, in a house dark and clammy from the storm.
Dark brown hair, brushed by her grandfather until it shone with luster, tied up with a ribbon. A pale white face, with green eyes cast downward. Frayed lace trim on the dress poking out from under her raincoat. Her shoes were adorable, but the straps were slightly mismatched in color.
Everything was a clear indicator of just how much the House of Mayfield was struggling. And just like a true resident of Belmonte, who planned several years ahead, Martha swiftly came to the conclusion that this child would be her responsibility forever. A daughter of a fallen noble household!
Her heart sank heavily with worry and burden, and in a rather cold voice, Martha said, “As long as you live here, you are considered part of the family. And that means you must work. Emily, Belle, and Noel here all work too.”
“Yes, Mrs. Martin,” the little girl replied meekly—though one could never know when she might show her true colors.
Martha had heard plenty about the children of aristocrats and knew what they were like. And she wasn’t planning to accept any of this girl’s tantrums, no matter how noble she might be.
Fortunately, Hazel wasn’t the type of child to throw tantrums. She was always quiet, and ended all her responses with a “Mrs. Martin” or “Mr. Martin.” She moved cautiously, as though determined to make the least amount of sound as possible, and whenever she got up from her seat she made sure to tidy up after herself. She seemed used to walking on eggshells around other people.
This pained Martha a little bit, but she soon pulled herself together. “You need to work too, if you want to live here with us.”
This was something she said every time she ran into Hazel. It wasn’t an empty threat—she really did intend to put the girl to work once she turned ten.
Living at a farm required quite a bit of labor. It was never enough, even with help from her children: fourteen-year-old Emily, twelve-year-old Belle, and ten-year-old Noel. All day long, Martha was running around, from the house to the fields, from the fields to the barn. This was why when a child asked...
“If I may, Mrs. Martin.”
She replied with an “Of course” without even listening properly, too busy kneading the dough. Martha baked two enormous loaves of bread to feed the family of six for dinner, then tackled the mountain of laundry waiting for her.
After struggling with a stubborn mud stain on her youngest son Noel’s pants, Martha suddenly thought, Wasn’t that Hazel a moment ago?
This was the first time she had ever said anything before being spoken to first. The girl had asked Martha something.
What was it? She was racking her brains trying to remember, when she heard a noisy ruckus coming from the shed.
It’s finally happening, Martha thought with dread, vividly recalling the loose fence post. She’d asked Carl to fix it before their rascal of a three-year-old mutt Peter attacked the chicken coop, but it appeared her husband’s procrastination had eventually led to disaster. Flinging the laundry aside, Martha rushed over. But what her eyes landed on was not a collapsed fence, nor the scattered feathers and blood of tragically slaughtered chickens.
Her husband and children were huddled around a small vegetable garden next to the chicken coop, where beans were sprouting along the neat furrows. It was such an unexpected scene that Martha was a bit befuddled at first.
“Weren’t the beans all ruined in the rainstorm?” she asked. “How...”
“Hazel planted them again!” Noel shouted. “She says she didn’t know they were supposed to be thrown away! So she did it because everyone else seemed busy!”
Martha’s jaw dropped. The mere thought of those beans had been upsetting her terribly lately. The kids had badgered her into planting a handful of seeds, which had barely sprouted into little specks of green before they were completely destroyed in the sudden storm. She’d thrown the entire lump of mud away, roots and all… So how had the girl managed to salvage them and make them grow again?
“How on earth did you do it? How?” Martha asked.
“I just...” Stammering through her words, Hazel dutifully answered, “I sat here and looked at them, and noticed that every bean is different, just like every person is different. And when I touched them, I could feel it.” The girl pointed at each plant in turn. “This one needed more water, this one needed to be covered with more soil, and this one needed to be placed in a spot where it could receive the right amount of sunshine. So I did all that, then told them to hang in there and patted them a bit, and they all grew stronger again.”
Carl and Martha exchanged astonished looks.
Plants and animals did recover quickly when given the proper care they needed. The younger they were, the more magical the recovery. But even so, how was it possible that an eight-year-old girl could instinctively feel what each and every plant needed, then successfully bring them all back to life? It simply couldn’t be explained.
There was one thing that could explain this.
“Mano del Sol!” the couple exclaimed at the same time.
It was a legend that was passed down through generations of farmers. Once every century, a farmer was born with the Hand of the Sun, a mysterious talent that could work wonders on the farm. Dying crops would miraculously come to life, livestock would reproduce effortlessly, and grains would grow into golden oceans in the fields.
“It has to be. It absolutely has to be that.”
“I can’t believe we’ve actually witnessed the Hand of the Sun!”
All five Martins rushed forth to touch Hazel’s hands. Their expressions were beyond amazed—they were reverent.
The little girl was a bit frightened, but she didn’t think she’d done anything wrong. Peering at their faces, Hazel hesitated for a moment, then mustered up the courage to say, “May I... try other things too?”
“Yes! Of course!” Carl said immediately. “What do you want to try?”
“The thing where you shake the basket up and down...”
“You must mean winnowing! Follow me!” He took Hazel along, with Martha and the three children closely behind them. From the next day on, Hazel began to follow the family around.
The Martins soon learned that this taciturn girl had in fact been closely watching everything that went on in the farm, wildly curious about it all.
“Tell me if you have any questions,” Carl said, to which Hazel promptly pestered him with question after question.
The Martins taught her everything they knew. They taught her about the soil. About figuring out the weather by checking the shape of the clouds. About various grains and crops. And Hazel absorbed all of this information like a sponge.
There was something else truly special about this child. The dairy cow Norma, who normally threw a violent fit at anyone’s touch, stood still only when Hazel milked her; and once Hazel started to wake up at the break of dawn to look after the hens, the eggs instantly became bigger and healthier.
Each time Noel picked up the eggs in his basket, he marveled, “I bet not even lords eat eggs like this!”
That wasn’t all.
Whenever Hazel kneaded the dough, the bread rose until it nearly shot out of the bowl. She soon learned how to make fragrant and delicious smoked meat. Stews were harder for her, but she kept at it for days on end until she could perfect the taste. Martha was glad that Hazel enjoyed cooking, and not because her own workload was lessened. As the child spent more time in the kitchen, her stick-skinny arms and legs slowly began to thicken and grow strong.
One drizzly day, as Hazel came running out of Marronnier Forest with Emily, Belle, and Noel with their baskets full of mushrooms, Martha felt a pleasant realization wash over her. When did she get so lovable?
Hazel had changed to a remarkable degree. Her cheeks were flushed with a rosy glow, and her eyes glittered beyond the farm fences like the evening stars. Her hair, plaited every morning by Emily and Belle, only added to her cuteness. She was nothing like the girl who’d stood at their threshold in that black raincoat.
Martha then realized that watching an unhappy person become happy again brought about an inexplicable, heart-wrenching joy to those watching. But happiness never lasted forever. It might seem eternal while frolicking around in the woods, but everything eventually came to an end.
It was only a few months before winter froze the entire land over. Fierce winds ravaged the snow-capped trees of Marronnier Forest, but life at the Martins’ farm was warm and cozy as could be.
Carl was dozing off in the house’s only armchair after devouring five whole caramel apples. Martha, Emily, Belle, and Hazel were gathered around the fireplace, immersed in their knitting. They knitted with a frenzy, as if they planned to wrap scarves around every human and animal, and even all the spice jars in the kitchen. Noel was sitting by the window, focusing on creating a tower of matchsticks. He suddenly raised his head and saw a carriage racing toward them through the snow.
Everyone couldn’t believe their eyes.
And in the flustered silence, Hazel leapt to her feet. The scarf she’d knitted so skillfully tumbled off her skirt and dropped to the floor.
Bang, bang, bang!
The sound of pounding rang throughout the house, as Carl reluctantly went to open the door. And just like half a year ago, Baron Mayfield was standing there once again.
His hair was grayer than the last time, and the coat on his back looked just as old as him. It was obvious that he had not been lucky on his trip to the gambling city of El Dorado. Still, he had returned to take responsibility for his one and only granddaughter.
“Sorry I’m late. I’ve really troubled you, haven’t I?” the baron said shamefacedly, looking around the house. “Where’s Hazel?”
The Martins looked around in bewilderment.
“Huh? She was here just a moment ago.”
“Where’d she go?”
The baron felt that something was awkward about the family’s reaction. And so, he began to search through the farm and soon discovered a haystack in the shed that was a tad bit taller than the others.
“Hazel!” he exclaimed.
The Martins all sighed. They could only stare down at the floor, just like they had when they noticed her dashing into the shed to hide. Eventually, the little girl was dragged out against her will, covered in hay.
“I’m going to live here!” she yelled desperately.
“What?” Baron Mayfield said, staring down at his granddaughter in dismay.