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After the River the Sun

Illustrated by Kate Slater

Will Eckhart find the courage to rise from his past—and climb to his future? This quest for home is a stunning companion to Eva of the Farm.

When Eckhart Lyon arrives at Sunrise Orchard, all he wants to do is play video games and read about King Arthur’s knights. Anything that helps him forget that his parents drowned in a river, forget his own cowardliness. Eckhart doesn’t want to clear the dead orchard, or explore the canyon, or do anything else that stern Uncle Al asks. After all, Uncle Al is only taking him in on trial, and Eckhart can’t imagine the orchard ever becoming his real home.

Then, up in the canyon, he meets Eva—a girl with a wild imagination and boundless hope who knows all about King Arthur’s knights. With her help, Eckhart sees that he is on a knightly quest of his own: a quest for home and courage. But what if he’s forced to choose between a new home and his most treasured possession—a gift from his mom?

In this companion to Eva of the Farm, author Dia Calhoun shows that with friendship, determination, and the grace of nature, we can overcome tragedy and rise toward the sun.

After the River the Sun Chapter One
Eckhart rode a Greyhound bus

that charged down

the icy mountain road

like a knight’s steed,

heedless of danger.

Lost in a game

on his Nintendo 3DS,

Eckhart didn’t hear

the tire chains rattle,

didn’t see

the snow pelting the window,

didn’t think

about where he was going.

Instead he raced down a path

in an enchanted forest,

fighting demon-boars.

The game, The Green Knight,

concerned the adventures of Sir Gawain,

brave knight of the Round Table.

Faster and faster the demon-boars came—

springing from holes,

leaping from boulders—

and Eckhart slayed them all.

When fifty lay dead,

he found himself inside

the Chapel Perilous.

On the altar,

in a golden candlestick,

a candle burned

as brightly as the sun.

A grisly Black Hand

scuttled toward the light.

Eckhart tried to stop it,

but he needed the three knightly tools

of sword and spear and helm.

So far he had earned only the spear.

It wasn’t enough.

The Black Hand smothered

the candle,

the light went out,

and Eckhart fell

and fell

and fell—

down

into death.

Eckhart paused the game

and stared out the bus window.

Death, he thought,

death was flinging him

out of a green city

to a new home

in the snow-shrouded desert.

No—

his blue eyes glared

back at him in the window—

not home,

never a home,

not without his mom

and the music leaping from her violin,

not without his dad

and his gut-splitting jokes.

The Greyhound bus

had rattled Eckhart

over not one

but two treacherous passes

in the Cascade Mountains,

heading for the high deserts

of Eastern Washington,

where he would live

with his uncle Albert.

Eckhart had never met his uncle Albert.

“Remember now,”

the social worker had said

when she’d plunked Eckhart on the bus

in Seattle that morning,

“your uncle is only taking

you on trial. So behave, be polite,

and do what he says.

Otherwise you’ll be right back in foster care.”

Eckhart knew all about trials,

because he had read stacks of books

about King Arthur

and the Knights of the Round Table.

Knights welcomed trials

and tests

and quests

to prove their courage

or honor,

or strength.

But what kind of tests,

Eckhart wondered,

would he have to pass

in order to stay

with Uncle Albert?

Eckhart would do anything

to escape foster care,

anything.

He had lived in foster homes

for the last four months

when he wasn’t in the hospital.

How he hated it—

strange people,

strange beds,

and worst of all,

the strange smells of other people’s houses.

Mrs. Shaw’s house had smelled

of old clothes.

The Mathews’ house had smelled

of Lysol.

Mrs. Johnson’s house had smelled

of frying bacon

because she never opened the windows.

And everywhere Eckhart went

he had to protect his stuff—

especially his mom’s violin—

from other kids.

Living with Uncle Albert

had to be better,

though Eckhart had doubts

about living in the high desert.

He would miss the rainy green of Seattle.

Why, he thought,

I’m just like Sir Gawain

before he became a knight.

Sir Gawain was wrenched

from the green land of his home—England—

and raised as an orphan

in a strange, foreign place.

At least, Eckhart thought

as his breath fogged the bus window,

there will be no rivers

in the desert.

But when the bus catapulted

from the mountains,

he saw that he was wrong.

The road followed a wide and brooding river—

the Columbia River, the bus driver announced.

Eckhart stared in dismay.

In some places

not even a guardrail

separated the road

from the riverbank.

He imagined the bus plunging

into the river,

imagined his arms and legs fighting

the ruthless current

as the black water swirled,

pulling him under,

drowning him.

His heart beating hard,

Eckhart turned away from the window.

A snore gargled and growled

from the man in the next row.

Only a few people rode the bus.

Eckhart reached for his phone

on the empty seat beside him

and searched through the photos

until he found his favorite—

his mom and dad and him

in their messy living room at home.

His mom was grinning,

her brown hair swept up

in the silver dragon clip

Eckhart had given her for Christmas.

She held her violin

and had just told them she was practicing

Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

Cocking one eyebrow, his dad had said,

“I didn’t know Taco Bell had canons.”

Eckhart had doubled over

laughing on the couch,

his black hair hanging in his face.

Now, as the bus jounced,

Eckhart was filled

with a sudden wild longing to laugh—

until his body shook,

until his face squeezed tight,

until he gasped for breath.

But he hadn’t laughed

in a long time.

Eckhart rubbed his thumb

over the screen on the phone.

His parents looked so real,

and yet so far away and frozen

behind the glass.

If only they hadn’t gone

to Idaho.

If only they hadn’t gone

rafting on the Snake River

through Hell’s Canyon.

Then his parents would still be here—

and he would still be home,

home,

instead of on his way

to another stranger’s house.

Why did they have to go and die?

Eckhart stared at a stain

scarring the bright blue cloth

on the seat ahead of him.

Then he picked up his 3DS

and started The Green Knight again.

Later, when the bus driver called,

“Town of Pateros,”

Eckhart looked up,

a little dazed.

He stuffed the 3DS inside his backpack

and picked up his mom’s violin

in its black case.

The bus stopped beside a Quik Mart—

the town was too small

to have a real bus station.

The door hissed open.

Eckhart stepped out

into a February wind

so bitter and dagger-sharp

that he hunched his shoulders.

The bus driver pulled Eckhart’s duffel bag

from the storage compartment

and dumped it on the snow.

Eckhart looked for Uncle Albert,

who was supposed to pick him up.

One other passenger got off the bus,

a girl wearing a white jacket

and silver boots that shone

so brightly,

Eckhart blinked.

He glanced at the sky—

grumpy with gray clouds hiding the sun—

then back at the girl.

What was making her boots shine?

She might be twelve, he guessed,

the same age he was.

When she smiled at him,

Eckhart froze.

A man with old-fashioned, gold-rimmed glasses

scooped the girl up in a hug,

then led her to a Ford pickup truck.

No one

came forward for Eckhart.
Photograph by Maureen Hoffmann

Dia Calhoun is the author of Eva of the Farm and After the River the Sun as well as the fantasy novels Avielle of Rhia, The Phoenix Dance, White Midnight, Aria of the Sea, and Firegold. She makes frequent school visits, sings Italian arias, fly-fishes, gardens, and eats lots of chocolate in her spare time. She lives with her husband, two cats, and two ghost cats in Tacoma, Washington.

"In After the River the Sun, Dia Calhoun has written a quietly powerful story of a boy who steps out of a fantasy world of knights and monsters into a real-life quest for family and home. Calhoun deals with loss, healing and friendship in language that is both direct and lyrical, making every page of this marvelous book a pleasure to read."

– Frances O’Roark Dowell, author of The Second Life of Abigail Walker and Chicken Boy

More books from this author: Dia Calhoun

More books from this illustrator: Kate Slater