River and Hickory are cousins and best friends. They are 11 years old and both have black hair, black eyes, and are slightly small for their age. River's birthday is on the 7th of July and Hickory is one day younger than her. Neither of them have siblings. River is an orphan and lives with her only living grandmother in Northern Ireland near a beautiful lake. The lake is not too far from the village that Hickory and her parents live just outside of. River's mother died when she was born and her father, who was a sailor, died in a shipwreck a year later. Hickory's parents are farmers. They have several large corn fields and quite a few horses as well as cows, chickens, and pigs; to say nothing of the hired helpers. River and Hickory both love animals, especially horses and dogs, and they each have their own puppy. River's dog is a female Scottish border collie named Flicka, and Hickory's dog is a female golden retriever named Sun. The two girls love to explore a lot and they like art and gymnastics. They are also very good at Irish dancing and River can play the fiddle while Hickory is good at the harp. They are almost always good-natured and very fun to have around.
Time: It is an imaginary time in the past. Ireland is peaceful and safe and the old traditions are not yet gone. Old magic is still alive and the old Celts and druids are still believed to live in hiding in the mysterious hidden places. (By "old Celts" I mean the war-like, hunter-gatherer tribes that roamed Ireland before farming was invented. The ones that built Stonehenge.) The story takes place in the spring, just when the snow is starting to melt away and the woodland flowers are all blooming. The weather is almost always pleasant and even when it rains it never lasts very long.
Setting: Most of Ireland is still uninhabited wilderness and where River lives, the closest civilization is a medium sized town just big enough so that not everyone knows each other, but there is only enough room for one town square. Most people who live in or near the town are farmers, or traders who have come inland from various coastal ports and villages.
Place: Northern Ireland, the town of Ronan.
Local Pastimes: Dancing, music, socializing, festivals, and ceremonies at the sacred circle.
The Town of Ronan: sprawling out of its own walls, lots of back streets and secret alleyways, only two main gates ; the east gate, with the crossroads and highways going to the sea, and the west gate, facing the river of Dar and the forest of Cael, large and mysterious, with many secret and hidden spots. But there are many, many small, minor gates, many secret ways in and out of the town.
The Fields: the fields are community property and anyone who doesn't have some other job can work there and get food and a little bit of money in return. They usually get the food that they worked to grow but if they only grew one kind of thing they can get some of another kind of thing instead, or if they couldn't grow enough food for themselves they would probably be given a bit more from the mayor; who ruled Ronan well.
The River of Dar: it flows between the west wall of the town and the forest of Cael. It is quite a large river and usually very deep in most places except for under the bridge and where the stream flows into it. In those two places the current is not very strong and it is perfect for swimming in. Often, when it is a nice day, you will see lots and lots of people all down by the bridge swimming and playing and just lying around in the sun. But if you looked at the place where the stream joins the river there would not be anybody there except maybe for Hickory and /or River because nobody in the whole world knew about that place except for them.
The Sacred Circle: the sacred circle is a circle of standing stones within another circle of the same with a large monolith in the exact center. Many townspeople go there and several old Celtic festivals are held there.
The Forest of Cael: large and mysterious, it is where River and her grandmother live, in a beautiful clearing with a house carved into the rock and earth of a small hill. They have a garden and anything that they don't have is given to them by Hickory and her family. Hickory's parents have a farm that is right on the edge of the forest and beside the river. The path that goes between River and the town passes by Hickory's farm and before that it passes over a small stream that comes from a spring inside Mount Mircanan. The mountain can be seen from the town on a clear day but it is not so high that there is snow on the peak all year long. It is a beautiful mountain.
The secret passage is concealed inside a hidden valley in the forest of Cael that borders along the side of Mount Mircanan. Only River and Hickory know about the hidden valley and they don't find the passage for a long time because it is hidden very well. The passage and the underground chamber that it leads to was built by the Old Ones. The Old Ones are sometimes thought of as druids and in many respects they are, except for the fact that they are much, much older than other druids and they have powerful magic. They are also very wise. The passage is built into the side of Mount Mircanan and leads to a small, circular, dome-shaped chamber. In the center of the chamber is a circular hole in the roof. Cold, fresh water pours out of it into another small circular pool in the middle of the chamber. The passage and chamber were built as a way to get to the world that the druids had saved from time inside that small valley. The way to get to their world is to go through the passage to the chamber and then leap over the pool and through the water. Then turn around and face the spot where the passage comes into the chamber and jump back through. When you go back out of the passage into the valley you will be inside the world that the druids saved.
River and Hickory had been reading a book together about an old lady named Grumps, who liked fooling people into thinking she was really a grumpy when she was not at all. The night that they finished it they both had the same dream! Here it is:
Suddenly, there they were, standing in front of a large sign that said "Welcome to Bedlam". They walked past it and the first things that they saw were a large cowboy hat, an old, belted, floral dress, and a pair of too large, thick, rubber boots on a smallish old lady that looked very grumpy. River and Hickory instantly knew that she must be Martha Grumps, the main character in the book that they had just finished! They decided to follow her and see if they could find Rose Marie Hendon. Rose was the next most important character; who tries to make friends with Martha Grumps. They suddenly caught sight of two golden braids flying in the wind and a few minutes later there was Rose, smiling and humming just as they had imagined her. She noticed them and came skipping over to say hello. River and Hickory asked her what she was going to do today and she answered that she had decided to follow Martha Grumps and see whether she really was a grumpy old lady or if she was just pretending. They asked if they could come with her and Rose answered that she would love it. So they went on and followed Martha Grumps to her house and saw her laughing to herself. Upon seeing her as a friendly approachable person, River, Hickory, and Rose knocked on the door and introduced themselves and she invited them in for a snack. While they were eating, Martha (for that is what she insisted on them calling her) said that she was actually quite glad that they had finally come to her house and discovered that she wasn't grumpy at all, because sometimes it got lonely with no one to talk to. She asked them not to tell anyone else because she really liked fooling people.
That is when they woke up.