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Path of a Novice



The Silvan Book I





R.K. Lander


Copyright © 2017 Ruth Kent. All rights reserved.

This work is registered with the UK Copyright Service: registration No.:284712822

This is a work of fiction. All characters, names and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cover art and inside sketches by Arrahman Rendi

R.K. Lander www.rklander.com


Contents

Prologue: Seasons of Ea Uaré

Chapter One: Enough

Chapter Two: Lan Taria

Chapter Three: Into the World

Chapter Four: A Song on the Air

Chapter Five: The Whirling Warrior

Chapter Six: Strategy

Chapter Seven: You Have a Brother

Chapter Eight: Changing Tides

Chronicle II: History of Ea Uaré

Chapter Nine: Into the Forest

Chapter Ten: First Contact

Chapter Eleven: Lássira

Chapter Twelve: Awakening

Chapter Thirteen: The Path Ahead

Chapter Fourteen: He is Ours

Chapter Fifteen: Deliverance

Chapter Sixteen: Reborn

Chapter Seventeen: Baptism of Fire and Water

Chapter Eighteen: Wheels of Destiny

Chapter Nineteen: Catharsis

Chapter Twenty: Culmination

Epilogue

Acknowledgements


Prologue

Seasons of Ea Uaré

Bel’arán—land of striking contrasts. The South is all frozen and almost inhospitable, where icy glaciers and floating plaques of solid water make for a bleak and lonely life for the severe, forbidding mortals who live there.

Further North, the oceans are warmer, and islands of steely grey and vibrant blue sit majestically, almost as if they float, weightless upon the temperate seas of Pelagia, home of the Sea Elves. They sing and they write, craft things of great beauty and above all, they sail—navigate their island home and the peninsula that sits close by. They are not a war-faring people, for Deviants do not live there, and Sand Lords know not the art of navigation.

To the East, Tar’eastór stands proudly atop the mighty Median Mountains, home of the great Alpine elves who write lore, and are the best sword masters, or so they say. They are versed in the healing arts and prone to logic and the art of rhetoric. They are all these things and yet no one would claim they are humble, for that would be deceitful. These elves are great warriors, leaders; glorious in battle.

Mortals live further East in their meadow home of Prairie but it is in the far West that we find Ea Uaré—the Great Forest Belt, home of the Silvan elves—my home.

Our winters are harsh; frost and copious snowfall covers the land, muting its colours and sending all living things to seek shelter; to sleep and bide away the time before milder weather comes and it is safe to emerge once more. Only the mountain pumas thrive in winter for their hides are thick, their rich white fur protecting them from the wiles of their homelands, the southern reaches of the forbidden Evergreen Wood.

Spring though, is a season that leaves none indifferent; there is nowhere else upon Bel’arán that can ever compare to Ea Uaré at the awakening, for life explodes into such colours you would not believe, from the deepest, shocking purple to the most delicate of rosy pink. It is all colour, splattered upon the tapestry of the forest as if a child had scribbled furiously over it, desperate to use all the colours upon his palette.

There is texture too—soft, silky grass that undulates in the gentle meadow breeze, wild flowers standing tall amongst it as if to show off their splendour, if only for a fleeting moment in time.

It is the trees though, that are the true glory of this world, our allies in life, witnesses in death. We watch with baited breath as leaves break through the barren branches, slowly unfurling, barring themselves to the warming sunshine, eager for its touch so that it may thrive, bountiful and beautiful—alive, if only for a while.

It is tear-jerking rapture to a Silvan elf, for within us moves the Sprit—Aria; perhaps that is why we see and feel things that others, be they mortal or immortal, cannot fathom. And yet even so, surely this physical manifestation of nature, of life, can move even the coldest of foreign hearts, be they Alpine or Pelagic.

Imagine then, this land of trees and high plateaus, of sprawling lakes and meandering rivers, rocky streams and bubbling brooks of crystal clear water that is always frigid. All these things give sustenance to this land—feed the creation of Aria so that we, the Silvan people, may thrive. Thus, we care for our world by giving back all that we take from it, and thus we protect it from those that would take more than they give. In this we are ruthless, relentless.

Summer follows and it is sultry, yet not so hot as to turn the skin, for the Silvan people are pale save for our hair. To the South of Ea Uaré it is cold yet bright, our territory marked by the Pelagic Mountains that jut skywards, shielding the Great Forest Belt from the Ocean and its ice mountains beyond, as if it was not meant to be seen by Silvan eyes at all.

It is here, where Thargodén’s Court stands, close to the south-western border of the land and the onset of the Evergreen Wood, where no one is allowed to wander, for that sacred place is our garden, our hidden pride, one that must be protected—even from ourselves lest we spoil it.

Past our great city and further North, the Deep Forest begins.

It is hotter here, humid and hazy in summer. This is the homeland of the Silvan people, our birthplace. Our villages are dotted over a map of sprawling woods and vales, deep valleys and jagged gorges.

There are no grand halls here, only cottages and flets, mighty talans even, but it is all wood and rope, stone and bone, feather and fur for these are the elements of this land.

Yet should we dare venture to the far North, all this changes, for there the forest converges upon the dry lands, the Sand Lands and it is xeric wood—dry and twisted, the ground no longer loamy and wet but dry and brittle. Here, the forest tapers away and the vast dunes of Calrazia extend into the horizon and surely beyond. The Silvans do not go there, for to do so is folly—there is more to those arid lands than sand, and its inhabitants are hostile, rich in all things save water.

The Sand Lords, we call them, not for deference but because their clothing is rich and opulent, their jewels ever on display, even in battle—a stark contrast to the humbleness of our Silvan warriors.

This enemy is cruel and vindictive, barren in all things spiritual and given to satisfying the most questionable of mortal desires. They do not take prisoners, and that is just as well.

Autumn is, perhaps, best experienced in the Great City Fortress of Thargodén King, ruler of the Silvan people, despite his Alpine origins. It is here, that the dying light of summer is best contrasted with the opulence of the king’s court. Bright fabrics and shining jewels of red and blue and opalescent whites and all things rich and expensive—an acquired beauty wrought from Aria’s creation by the hands of artisans and craftsmen. It is a different kind of beauty, artificial yet lovely all the same. It is the powerful lords and ladies, the politicians and councillors, merchants and commanders that swim in this colourful sea of silk and gems. Many are Alpine or Pelagic and few are Silvan, and yet it has not always been that way.

Autumn is indeed mild yet still beautiful with its myriad of browns and yellows and fading greens, but this, too, slowly yet inexorably fades, falls once more into frost, and then snow, until all sleeps once more.

All this I know well for I have watched the cycle of seasons for many centuries. I remember them all, and I remember the events that took place between them.

History is my delight, and reason is my need—I am Marhené, chronicler of the Silvan people—the native Silvans of the Deep Forest. I remember and I write so that others may remember and learn and perhaps, the mistakes that were made will not be repeated for surely they would lead to the same end.

And what, you may rightly ask, is the purpose of history, other than to record it? Here is my answer then;

I write history so that its inertia may be stopped;

I write history so as to change it.

Marhené

The Silvan Chronicles Book III


Chapter One

Enough

Har’Sidón, venerable captain of the Inner Circle – was dying.

The blood-curdling scream turned into a hoarse wail, the waves of his agony piercing the very souls of those that tried to help him. But there was no hope; this, Rinon knew, even though he was not a healer.

All he could do was sit there, his own, bloodied hand clamped desperately against the shoulder of the writhing warrior. Let it stop, he begged to himself, let the suffering stop – it is enough – it is too much.

The warrior’s breath shuddered to a halt as another wave of excruciating torment wracked his frame and it seemed all the muscles in his body tensed involuntarily, lifting him for a moment from the soiled bedding. Spittle flew from his lips, as another howl of brutal agony swelled in his chest and then split the heavy silence once more. Tears welled in Rinon’s eyes as his hand pressed bruisingly against Har’Sidón’s shoulder, eyes unwilling to register the mangled flesh and shattered bone, the ruined remains of his legs.

How could it be, he asked – that one so skilled and powerful – could be reduced to this? He had laughed and cried with this warrior. Had witnessed his troth, saved his life, drank cups with him. How could it be that he lay here now, upon the borders of Valley, screaming and writhing – incomprehensible agony his last, bitter taste of life.

Let it stop – please- let it stop. It is enough…

Another cry escaped him, but this time it was weaker, voice breaking, mouth frozen wide, eyes open yet unseeing – glazed, absent.

Healers were atop him but Rinon did not look and Har’Sidón’s head lulled to the side, the muscle beneath his hand softening.

“Har…” his own voice broke, eyes brimming in crushing pity and terror, for his friend was slipping away in a haze of ill-deserved suffering.

A hand shot up and latched onto Rinon’s collar, pulling him down with surprising strength until their faces were mere inches apart. But no words passed Har’Sidón’s lips for his breath had caught in his throat and would not be loosed, eyes bulging in sudden surety and utter terror.

Rinon watched through a watery haze as the immortal light in his friend’s eyes slowly petered out, leaving them dull and blind, eyelids drooping half-shut as his chest shuddered, and then was still.

The healers froze and silence descended upon them, watching as Rinon’s head fell carelessly against the cooling forehead of Captain Har’Sidón, commander of the Northern patrol of Ea Uaré.

Rinon slowly moved back until he looked down on his friend’s lifeless form and even though he cried, his jaw clenched and his eyes sharpened until they were piercing shards of ice.

“We will leave you for a moment, my Prince,” came the soft voice of a healer, his strong hand squeezing Rinon’s shoulder in sympathy before moving away.

Rinon’s mind showed him his friend’s bride, his children, eyes begging for answers yet how could he tell them of the horrific death their father had suffered? How could he tell them that he had been caught and mauled by Deviants, that they had bitten into him like starved bears – not for food but for the sheer, perverse pleasure of wrenching shrieks of agony from his friend. He would not and he suddenly wanted to laugh bitterly – what was the expression? Ah yes – ‘he died honourably in battle.’

He would lie to them, save them from the anguish of truth.

Rinon’s eyes swivelled to the right at the rustle of silk at his side.

“Rinon.”

“My King,” came the soft, flat voice of the Crown Prince. His eyes lingered a while longer upon the ruined form of Har’Sidón before turning to his father, who was already staring back at him, expression unreadable but his eyes – his eyes were those of Har’Sidón – dull and blank, unfocussed even though he lived.

Dead eyes, set in the face of one whose will had faded many centuries ago, an elf that had shut himself away from the world, even from his own children.

Rinon despised him for even now, while bitter tears lingered in his own eyes, his father’s eyes were as dry as the northern sands. Unfeeling, frigid, lifeless.

His nostrils flared and his eyes sharpened. With a curt nod, he spun on his heels and left amidst the saddened stares of the healers and Thargodén was left alone before the evidence.

His land was at war.

He was a failing king.


Chapter Two

Lan Taria


Dense foliage juts powerfully from the fertile land, extending up to the leafy heavens, where dappling light keeps it alive and content, roots anchored deep and tight in the loamy earth, just like those who dwell here. There is peace here, at least and Sand Lords and Deviants exist only in the bedtime stories of brave Silvan children, future warriors of Ea Uaré.

Cottages of stone and timber merge almost invisibly with the majestic trees that embrace them, as if they had always been there, grown together in fraternal harmony.

A Silvan lady works in her garden, collecting the long green pods that hang from wooden sticks placed up against an overgrown hedge, the haze of woody smoke floating above her, reminding her that Autumn was already upon them.

Amareth of Lan Taria smiled indulgently at the howling laughter that once more danced around her, honey-coloured eyes glancing fondly at the small platform nestled in a mighty tree at the end of her garden. There they go again, she smiled as she walked inside and deposited her basket upon the rough, wooden table top of her homely kitchen. Sliding her thumb down the seam of a green pod, she watched as the peas popped unwillingly from their nests and into the wooden bowl with a mellow thud. Well they would not go willingly, she mused, for they surely knew what awaited them.

Her smile turned from amusement to fondness and then motherly adoration, for although the boy was not her born son, she loved him just the same, for is mother not she who nurtures and cares for a child? She who sacrifices her own life and joy for the simple, perfect laughter of a tiny life, one that without her, could not blossom? What had blood to do with it? she thought, irritated almost.

She turned to the small pot sitting over the wood fire, water bubbling invitingly with the promise of sweet pea soup and sour cream with crunchy nuts—his favourite, for he would peck her upon the cheek every time she made it, his flushed face, pearly white teeth and sparkling green eyes so full of life and love; such a beautiful, innocent child was Fel’annár, Green Sun.

The name had been given to him by his mother, ‘for his eyes are greener and brighter even than the Green Sun of the Deep Forest’ she had said. Amareth smiled at the memory of her sister and her devotion to those rare plants that blossomed but once in a lifetime; that is how she had seen her son.

Her beautiful nephew had lived in Silvan joy for the passing of many years, with no cares in the world save for those of his tutors. Yet soon enough the questions came, questions Amareth could not answer for she would not lie to him, would not endanger him. The other children mocked him incessantly, their cruelty sometimes difficult to comprehend for they told him he was unwanted, a Silvan child scorned by his Alpine father for this one thing could not be denied – his father was Alpine.

Fate though, saw fit to gift the boy with two of the best friends he could ever have wished for and from then on, Fel’annár began to fight back.

He became a tough lad, uncannily capable of disconnecting from his surroundings, of distracting himself when the situation became uncomfortable. It was not healthy, but he had coped. She was no fool though; she knew his questions were still there, latent yet ever present, repressed under a practised veil of indifference. Sooner or later they would surface once more, and the Spirit forbid he find his answers.

She carefully slid the peas into the boiling water and sat back to watch the flames lick at the heavy pan, slowly bringing the water back to bubbling, and her mind resumed its nostalgic wanderings.

The beautiful child had become a handsome young elf who had thought of little else other than becoming a warrior. He had trained in the Silvan way, in the forests, not in the city where the venerable weapons masters train, yet even so, he had excelled far beyond the expectations of his tutors.

He had taken to the bow, sabres and hand-to-hand combat so naturally; and how could it have been any other way? she asked herself wryly—for was it not in his blood? His mixed blood? She shuddered as her thoughts took her, once more, down that familiar path of cold dread and gnawing anxiety.

She had protected him as best she could, and her efforts had been enough for the people of Lan Taria to accept him. It had not been easy, but neither had she been alone in her endeavour.

Taking a steadying breath, she reached for a cloth and unhooked her pot. Carrying it carefully to a basin of frigid forest water, she poured in the vegetables and smiled in satisfaction at the bright green pearls, delighting as the fragrant steam warmed her face.

Turning, she sat and dried her hands upon her apron, her eyes set in maternal steel and yet, despite her determination, something screamed at her in mock and disdain. Foolish woman. He is a warrior now, the best we have seen for many years, and talent like that will always reach the ears of Thargodén’s captains. You cannot protect him forever.

It was a matter of time; in her heart, she knew this as surely as she knew her own name, however much she tried, and failed, to convince herself otherwise. Her determined eyes dimmed in defeat; Fel’annár could never pass by unnoticed.

The peas, now strained, sat once more in the earthen bowl and Amareth sprinkled sage and thyme over them, and then added a generous knob of butter and a dash of cream. Almost done, she said to herself as another bust of laughter eased her dark thoughts; they were coming, and defeat—turned to acceptance.

Fel’annár had enrolled in the king’s army, just as she had always known he would. One more day and he would be gone, riding out for the first time, away from the western quadrant that had been his home for seven hundred and forty-three years and South, into the city and there, he would come face to face with the other side of himself and there was, perhaps, some comfort in that at least, Ramien and Idernon would be with him.

Images of four small children playing and giggling, acting out the great battles of old flitted before her mind’s eye.

Ramien they had called the biggest of the four, for he surely was a strapping lad, a Wall of Stone. Another was named Idernon, Wise One, and fittingly so, for even as a child he was wont to question—to reason and logic; a child philosopher.

Thavorn too, played their games but his calling was different; he was to be the mightiest Tree Master the Silvan people had ever known. And then Fel’annár had become Hwind’atór, the Whirling Warrior, for he had, quite by chance, decided that dancing could be fun with a blade in his hand, albeit a wooden one. The Whirling Warrior, she smirked to herself as she worked.

Excited chatter exploded in the kitchen, just as she placed her bowl of steaming pea soup on the wooden table.

“Mother!” exclaimed Fel’annár as he sat himself down unceremoniously, his youthful face flushed with excitement and hunger.

“Now, wait for the blessings, Fel’an.”

“Of course,” he added with a cocky smile, as Ramien, Idernon and Thavorn sat, nodding politely to the woman they loved as an aunt.

“Aria, Spirit of the Trees. We thank you for the bounties before us,” said Amareth simply, before looking up once more and smiling at the four, expectant faces, no traces of her previous thoughts left now—only adoration, for this was the dawn of a new life for them, and perhaps the waning of her own. Their yet unwritten adventures were just beginning, and what better way to celebrate, than with her famed pea soup?

And so it was that the next dawn brought with it a heartfelt goodbye. Amareth stood, her woollen shawl wrapped tightly around her slumped shoulders for there was a chill in the air, and in her heart. If only her sister Lássira could see him now—young and beautiful, brave and optimistic, with the world at his feet and a thousand dreams in his head, she would have melted like the spring frost, awash with love for her beautiful son.

Who was to say where Lássira was now, for she had taken the Short Road to Valley, and so Amareth simply stood in defeated silence as her eyes met the extraordinary eyes of her son; her sister’s Silvan eyes. There were no words, only eloquent emotions that both understood as clearly as if they had been spoken.

Come back to me safely, my Silvan, Alpine son.


Chapter Three

Into the World

“The air has changed; it is—heavier,” said Fel’annár, almost to himself, his head tipped upwards, eyes dancing over the unknown territory, for it was lighter here and the sun felt warmer. It should have comforted him, but it did not.

“Aye, and the trees are fewer, I feel—vulnerable,” said Idernon with a scowl, his eyes darting around nervously, for none of them were accustomed to such open spaces, despite the trees that dotted the wooded meadowland they travelled. His horse skittered nervously beneath him, mirroring his own agitation.

“It won’t be long now, until we are in the realm of the City Dwellers,” said Ramien. We are out of our element, brothers, for I feel—small,” he said, eyes glancing this way and that, as if he thought perhaps they would be ambushed.

Small?” chuckled Fel’annár and Idernon smiled for the first time that morning. “Not you, you lumbering oaf! And anyway, who is to say these lands are of the City Dwellers? They belong to us all. I wager many Silvans find a place in the king’s halls too, even at his court,” speculated Fel’annár, his nervousness momentarily forgotten.

Silvan numskull!” smiled Idernon. “We Silvans rule the woods, aye, but there, at court,” he jabbed southwards with his finger, “it is the High-born Silvans and the Alpine that impose their ways. That, I do wager on,” he said sourly.

Fel’annár held his friend’s gaze for a moment, a scowl back on his face. “We’ll be treated like village idiots, fledgling bumpkins.”

Ramien roared in laughter at his friend’s petulance. “We are bumpkins, Fel’án!” he mocked good-heartedly. “We are as foreign to these lands as gruel at the king’s table.”

Fel’annár smiled lopsidedly, shrugging his shoulders as if to excuse his ill humour, but his mind continued to work through their situation.

“Fair. We are bumpkins and we are Silvan,” he conceded. “But these are our lands, and I do not think it natural for the Alpine and the High-born Silvan to rule them. What do they know of the forest? of woodcraft?”

“Nothing, I suppose,” conceded Idernon. “They wish for power and wealth and that is achieved by those who take the decisions. From their seats of power, they legislate to their own gain, contrive so that everything that is decided upon favours them in some way. ’Tis not good government but it is the only one we have,” he finished softly with a hint of sadness.

Fel’annár’s face hardened as he turned to the fore once more, anger sharpening his extraordinary features.

“We will be with the majority at the barracks with the warriors though,” added Ramien, his eyes darting to Idernon. “The bulk of our king’s fighters are Silvan, albeit our commanders rarely are, at least that is what they say.”

“It does not seem logical to me,” said Fel’annár, fidgeting in his saddle, and Ramien nodded his agreement. “I mean, surely our warriors are just as capable. What has colour or heritage to do with being a good leader?”

“Nothing. ’Tis as sad as it is insulting. It was not always this way you know,” stated Idernon quietly. “There are many chronicles of the elder days and there is no mention of this, veiled discrimination in any of them. It is a recent thing, I think, one that seems to have taken hold after the death of King Or’Talán.”

“Well, with luck we will all be assigned to the same training groups,” said Ramien, before adding, “mind you, if Fel’án here is mistaken for an Alpine, that may not happen.”

Silence stretched out awkwardly between them before Ramien realized he should not have said that. It was a sore spot for his friend, who had always skilfully evaded any mention of his colouring every time the conversation arose.

“Forgive me,” was all he said, cringing, wilting almost under Idernon’s stern gaze that lingered on him for a little too long, and despite Ramien’s considerable bulk, he almost seemed to shrink.

“Don’t fret, Ramien. I am well past that,” he assured his friend, not turning to look at him though. Ramien’s eyes did linger on the profile of his friend, before glancing at Idernon, only to find him staring right back at him.

By midday, their stomachs growled and rumbled louder than any war-bound Elven battalion and the wholesome fare their mothers had packed for them began to weigh just a little more than it had done before. Finding a suitably shady patch, the three friends dismounted and slapped their horses upon the rump, watching as they pranced away in a flurry of swishing manes and bobbing heads. Meanwhile, Ramien set about arranging their food upon his blanket, his head cocked to one side as he pondered on where to place each dish. It was an endearing sight, mused Fel’annár with a smirk, because the elf was so tall and strong it did not quite fit to see him fussing over the details of their lunch.

Before long, they sat cross-legged, eager hands clutching at gravy-filled pies and crusty bread, cheese and cold meat. It was a feast and none of them spoke until there was little left and the sun had passed into the West.

On any other day, they would have stayed to nap and then hunt, camp and tell stories. But today was the first day they were truly alone in the world, and Lan Taria seemed further away than it ever had. They were excited yet apprehensive, eager to impress yet unwilling to draw attention to themselves, for Fel’annár’s sake.

Silently now, their playful banter gone, they mounted once more, and ambled through the thinning forest, each lost to his own thoughts, of what they had left behind and perhaps more importantly, what was still ahead of them.

A little further along, Fel’annár tilted his face to the sun and listened—a nuthatch was singing in the boughs and he smiled, for these creatures were not easy to come across.

“A nuthatch!” he exclaimed, but contrary to the awe-inspired comments he had expected, Idernon snorted rudely.

Bumpkin!—‘tis not a bird you hear but an elven warrior!” he hissed.

Ramien chuckled as he slapped his thighs and threw his head back, hair flying chaotically about him, but then he almost choked on his own saliva, for in front of him, as if from nowhere, appeared a glaring Alpine warrior, a short bow slung over his back and the intricate pommel of an intimidating sword peaking over his armoured shoulder.

You boy!” called the warrior. “What is your name?” his sharp, scowling eyes pierced Fel’annár, who hesitated for a moment before answering, resisting a sudden urge to swallow, albeit his mouth had turned as dry the northern sands. When his voice returned, he felt nothing but shame for the weakness in it.

“Fel’annár ar Amareth.”

The warrior’s scowl deepened and he cocked his head in thought. “I know of no Amaron of Alpine heritage,” he said, watching the youth carefully.

“Not Amaron, Sir, but Amareth, and she is Silvan, as am I.”

“And what of your father?” A clipped retort.

Ramien and Idernon clenched their jaws and looked to the floor for it would do no good to rile this, admittedly imposing warrior. They were close to the barracks now, and for all they knew, he may be one of their instructors. If only they could find an excuse to help their floundering friend out of the bind he found himself in—again.

“My father died, Sir.”

“I meant his name you fool,” the warrior said, still staring openly at the pale blond hair and moss green eyes.

“I . . .”

“Well, speak up, boy. You do have a father . . . ?”

Silence was the only answer the warrior received, and understanding lit his sharp grey eyes. “Did he die in battle?” he asked drolly, “or perhaps you are a bastard? That is a pity, Fel’annár. Whoever he was, he was obviously an Alpine.”

“I am Silvan,” hissed Fel’annár too quickly, his emotions getting the better of him as they always did, the words bubbling out of his mouth quicker than his mind could restrain them.

“Ohhh!” jeered the warrior. “Have something against the Alpine then?” he mocked, his grin twisted and challenging, his own, blond hair as much a declaration of his heritage as any flag.

Fel’annár was mortified at his outburst but he would be damned if he was going to apologize for it. The warrior was an ass, unnecessarily sarcastic and scathing.

“Well, well, Silvan. You are proud and rash. You will learn soon enough though,” he said, his caustic smile softening a little, even though Fel’annár could not see it, for he simply looked away, annoyed at himself and this pig-headed warrior who had subjected him to impertinent questions and called him an Alpine, no less!

Twin looks of caution from his friends tempered his simmering anger and he schooled himself as best he could. He had been rash in spite of his best attempts.

He decided then, that he would no longer lie, for that had led his errant emotions astray. He would call himself Fel’annár Ar Amareth, his aunt—his mother—for the rest was true, his real mother was dead and his father had been some, anonymous Alpine who must surely have done something terrible, for why else was he never mentioned? Why else would his own mother cloak him from the truth?

It was of no consequence; he did not care, he told himself.

He did not care at all.



“You three! Clean up and briefing is in one hour. Do not be late,” said the Alpine warrior who had guided them to the barracks, still four days’ ride from the mighty city fortress of Thargodén King.

It was a dour place. Grey stone and dark wood dominated everything and not one item of decoration graced the walls or any other part of the long dormitory they had been assigned to. Ramien and Idernon were simply depressed but Fel’annár seemed utterly appalled at the lack of nature. He had always had an affinity with the outside world. Back home, his window was always open, even in the thick of winter, as if he could not stand the press of enclosing walls, how they separated him from the outside.

Their beds were basic, and thick woollen blankets lay neatly folded on top. Jugs of water stood on every bedside table and shelving on the other side was sparse but adequate. Idernon sighed and his eyes glanced momentarily at Fel’annár, watching as he sat slowly upon a spare bed at the end of the dormitory, beneath the only window in the room. Idernon’s eyes sharpened as he followed one long finger as it brushed over a green leaf that had invaded the small crack between the stone and the wooden shutter. It had always fascinated him, that gesture that was so ingrained on his friend. He wondered what it was his friend felt for it was something he did constantly, and every time it was accompanied by that strange expression on his face—one that spoke of fascination and perhaps just a hint of confusion.

As the three friends inspected their new room, Calenar made his way toward the commanding officer’s quarters. He knew how overwhelmed these Silvan village boys could be when traveling to the outer city for the first time. Life here shared few similarities with the routines back home, and these three, by the looks of them, were no different save for one, surprising thing; one of them was an Alpine . . .

Calenar himself was an Alpine, and if there was one thing he could always be sure about, it was recognizing another of his race. True his name, Fel’annár, he recalled, was clearly Silvan. He snorted then for only the Forest Dwellers would name their children after a plant.

Nay he was Alpine, however much it seemed to rile the youth. Youth, he snorted, he was barely out of swaddling cloths, and yet he had been the leader of the three, or so it had seemed to Calenar. The others protected him and the warrior realized he was intrigued with the strange boy. An orphan, or a bastard with no father to call his own, the boy’s face was simply extraordinary. He would be popular with the lasses—and with the lads he added with a sardonic smile. Yet it would not be easy for him. Turion would soon knock him into shape, and a few of the other recruits too, he wagered, for envy was an ugly thing indeed, and there was no shortage of it here.

Poor boy,’ he shook his head to clear his thoughts for he stood now, at Lieutenant Turion’s door. Reaching out for the knob, he had just enough time to chuckle, for Calenar had been called many things in his life as an instructor, most of them unpalatable—but never had he been likened to something as innocent and endearing as a nuthatch!

The number of new recruits steadily rose until the noise in the common room was almost unbearable; too many Silvans in one, confined space was never easy on the ears, smirked Fel’annár to himself.

“How do I look?” asked Ramien as he held his arms out to the side, showing his friends his new uniform.

Fel’annár guffawed and Idernon smirked playfully.

“These fabrics were not designed for Walls of Stone, my friend. The sleeves are too short and the breeches too tight!” exclaimed Idernon, before Fel’annár continued with the light-hearted banter.

“Aye, and look at this,” he laughed harder now— “the buttons on this tunic are straining so hard they will surely pop open no sooner you sneeze!”

Ramien’s scowl deepened as he turned to the voice of Idernon once more.

“Oh, oh, and what’s this!” said Idernon as he lifted the back of his friend’s tunic and flapped it around, revealing his taut backside. “One fart and you will be the laughing stock of the barracks!” he exclaimed, sending Fel’annár off into a wheeze of laughter, which only worsened as he watched Ramien dance out of the way, batting Idernon’s hands from the hem of his tunic. The other recruits laughed as they watched the three friends, until a mighty yell from the open doorway shot through them, and they stood to mortified attention. The time for briefing had crept upon them unawares and their superior officer stood akimbo, face grim and eyes twinkling in hidden mirth.

“You! Shut your mouths and get to the briefing—you’re late!”

Red-faced and duly chastised, the three friends marched towards their first briefing together with the other village boys, all of them Silvan, noticed Fel’annár, just as Idernon had predicted they would be, indeed he was the only one with pale, silvery-blond hair. Even the commanders were mostly dark blond or even auburn-haired. He still stuck out awkwardly, involuntarily drawing unwanted attention to himself. Any hope he had held to that his appearance would be less striking the further they travelled towards the city had been utterly dashed.

Elant, the Alpine warrior who had caught them fooling around, stood before the bewildered Silvan lads in the main hall, and revealed himself as their drill instructor.

Calenar, also known as Nuthatch, was their strategy tutor, and when Elant introduced the only Silvan on the training team, a tracker by the name of Faunon, the new recruits looked on in interest and no small amount of respect. This Faunon must be good, they reckoned, to be the only Silvan amongst the Alpine tutors.

There had been no mention of weapons training though, and disappointment was in the air.

One recruit had even dared ask why that was and Elant had explained that they could not yet be trusted to hold a blade in their hands. Alpine warriors were brave, but not that much, he had added with a smirk.

By the end of their first week as recruits, their muscles ached ferociously, and Ramien was provided with a new set of clothing to accommodate his ever-growing bulk, triggering a round of light-hearted mockery which the Wall of Stone took with a rueful smile, earning for himself the respect of their fellow recruits.

Idernon earned his own fame as a bookworm and was sometimes looked upon in puzzlement for it was not at all common for one his age to be so learned. But Idernon had an incisive and ironic sense of humour and for all this, he was respected as a scholarly, witty elf and a generous companion.

As for Fel’annár, his corner of the room had turned almost completely green. Light green plants, dark green vines and wild, yellow flowers sprouted here and there, invading his bed and had even stuck to the inner walls. He was a child of nature, they said, a true Silvan despite his looks, and some had even speculated he could speak to the trees, something most had laughed at good-naturedly. He was a tough lad who was sometimes hard to interpret, but he was also strangely noble, generous with his time and his actions and for this, Fel’annár was popular. They had even taken to calling him The Silvan, yet where their tone was light-hearted and well-meant, their instructors were not so benevolent and every time the name was used, their lips would curl and their eyes slant, as if they enjoyed the reaction they garnered from him.

By the end of the second week, the three lads were as popular as they were good, and as the inseparable friends they were, they had soon been baptized as ‘The Company’.

With the third week came cramps, dehydration and general exhaustion, for all except those of The Company, for unlike the others, they had subjected themselves to such physical training since they were children, especially Fel’annár, who had always pushed himself to his own limits, his obsessive dream of becoming a captain fuelling them all.

Fel’annár’s body was a silent witness to his efforts, for when others stopped, he would continue with his own training. Idernon and Ramien had done their best to cover for their friend, yet as time passed and friends were made, their guard slipped, and from time to time, an elf would seek Fel’annár out and observe from afar.

Fel’annár studied his blurry reflection in the window beside his bed, only partially listening to the quiet chat of those around him. It was early evening and they were free to do as they pleased. Some wrote in their journals, or composed letters to their family while others played games or simply chatted quietly. Fel’annár though, had fallen into a strange, contemplative mood, and the urge to walk amongst the trees became too much to resist. With a nod at Ramien and Idernon, he left the barracks and walked out into the waning, autumn light. Finding for himself a shady spot, he sat under a sprawling willow and allowed his mind to wander where it would.

Four of the longest weeks of his life had, paradoxically, flown by and he could not say they had been bad. Yet there was one thing that irked him; his new name—The Silvan. His fellow recruits used it light-heartedly and that was all well and good, but that same name from the lips of his tutors was a veiled insult, as if they threw him bait and waited for him to bite down on it -trip him up purposefully—what was the point? he asked himself in exasperation. Was his commitment not worthy of their respect? Why would his wish to serve be less important than the nature of his origins?

“May I?” came Idernon’s soft voice at his side, making Fel’annár jump. “Your tracking skills are progressing,” he said defensively as he fidgeted and then settled once more.

“I should hope so,” scoffed Idernon. “Faunon is good,” he said as he lowered himself to the ground.

There was silence for a while, until Fel’annár understood his friend would not ask him to speak and yet expected him to all the same—there was no escaping Idernon at times like these and so, with a heavy sigh, he gave voice to his thoughts.

“They think I hate them,” he began, “that is why they mock me incessantly. Can they not just confront me and be done with it?” he said in mounting irritation. If he had expected Idernon to comment though, he was wrong and he chanced a sideways glance at his friend, who was staring blankly back at him. His heart sank to his boots as he began to understand his friends’ silence.

“You agree with them? You think I hate them?” asked Fel’annár, his anger becoming more apparent as realization sunk in.

“Do you?” asked his friend evenly, his eyes searching, “do you hate them?”

“Of course I don’t. It is simply that I am Silvan and when I tell them that, they laugh and call me Alpine. I am proud of my origins, Idernon—why should I be pleased they call me Alpine?”

“I believe you miss the point,” said Idernon carefully. He had always known this moment would come, the moment in which his friend would need to understand himself.

“And the point is?” asked Fel’annár, his jaw working rhythmically.

“You are not angry because they do not call you Silvan, Fel’annár. You are angry because they call you Alpine. Because your father, was Alpine . . .”

“I don’t care!” he hissed, eyes suddenly wide and furious as he scrambled to his feet. “Is it too much to ask that I be called what I am and not what I am not?” The words had escaped him and no sooner had he said them, he closed his eyes in defeat.

“And so you see,” said Idernon calmly, even though his heart was racing. “What is it that you are not Fel’annár? Are you not half Alpine? Are you not as much a part of that race as you are Silvan? Why should it make you angry, if only because your father was Alpine?”

Fel’annár stared back at his friend in disbelief and betrayal and his head shook from side to side as if he would deny the words Idernon had just said but he could not, and for some strange reason it made him even more angry. Taking a deep breath, he stood and after a moment of hesitation, he stalked away towards the training fields, his gait stiff and controlled, anger rolling off him like fog upon the high plains of Prairie.

Idernon knew not to stop him for his friend had an ugly temper when it came to questions such as these. The unexplained absence of a father and the ensuing years of frustration could not be remedied easily and Idernon damned Amareth for her silence, a silence neither he nor Ramien had ever understood.

Later that day, Lieutenant Turion sat alone and watched, not for the first time as the lone recruit worked through the basic stances of sword and sabre, seemingly unaware that he was being observed.

Fel’annár, that was his name, he recalled. Green Sun—and he could see why, for the boy’s eyes were blazing pools of spring moss, akin to the venerated woodland plant, a flower of such fleeting beauty, one that would only ever bloom once, never to return. Many kept the extraordinary treasure and dried it—indeed Turion’s sister had one—she said it brought love and he would always laugh.

Fascinated, the lieutenant watched as one leg slowly slipped back, far behind the other, both arms stretched out in front of him, muscles flexing and cording. He stayed that way for many moments, chest heaving and sweat pouring from his pale skin until one arm reached out behind him and still, the movement was slow, precise and yet strangely intimidating.

He was good—nay he was excellent. But of course, Turion had already known that.

He had obviously been training like this for a long while and Turion, experienced immortal warrior that he was, knew the signs of a troubled heart when he saw them, indeed if he compared today with what he had seen on previous days, there was a sharpness to the boy’s movements; slow, simmering anger that was being channelled into his movements. He had seen far too many cases of young warriors who had lost fathers to battle, mothers to the raids of Sand Lords or Deviants—he knew the signs of conflict, could read them on their young, inexperienced faces as easily as he could a child’s bedtime story. Understanding them was part of his job, that and to make them the best candidates for warrior hood as he could. He had even turned down the opportunity to become a captain, to enter that venerable Inner Circle of Ea Uaré, because had he accepted it would have taken him away from all this. It was a simple yet rewarding life, one he had craved for after years of fighting in the field.

The recruit changed position, reaching to pick up his blades which he deftly swirled in both hands and Turion’s brow twitched in surprise.

The moves were studied and precise and yet this boy was from Lan Taria—there were no blade masters there—none that could have taught him these things. This elf had learned from books, he realized and his curiosity was irreversibly peaked.

Fel’annár of Lan Taria, what is your secret, child? he asked himself, his head cocking slightly to one side as he watched the entrancing moves of one too young to have been taught such things.

His friend Lainon popped into his mind’s eye then and Turion smirked. He still remembered his friend’s find, an astonishing young warrior who was now serving in the North. He had boasted for months and Turion had endured it good-naturedly. ‘Well, my friend. Perhaps it will be me to brag my own find sooner than you think,’ he smiled to himself. He would wait a little longer, wait for one more sign lest he make a fool of himself. Yet time was a luxury he did not have. Just this morning, Turion had received orders from the city. News from the northern fronts was dire and novices were desperately needed. He was therefore required to send along any of this more advanced candidates to the next step of their training—to promote earlier than was normal. It was a sad fact of life in Ea Uaré, one that was all too easily forgotten in these, apparently peaceful parts of the forest. But one only had to look a little further away and towards the main path into the city to see the comings and goings of warriors, supplies, and the arrival of Silvan refugees.

Turion still remembered the days when he had served with Lainon. It had been bad even then but now they were being forced to send novices to the front lines. He closed his eyes in a rare show of emotion and then opened them once more, focusing on Fel’annár as he whirled this way and that. He would speak to the boy, he decided, help him if he could, and then he would send him away—to war.


Chapter Four

A Song on the Air

“Come.”

“You wanted to see me, Sir,” asked Fel’annár, standing rigid before his commanding officer. He was nervous, thought Turion, concerned perhaps, that he had done something wrong.

“Stand at ease, recruit,” he said as he approached his charge from his spot before the window of his office.

“Fel’annár, of Lan Taria, yes?” he asked.

“Correct, Sir.”

“You are young for a recruit,” he said almost conversationally, waiting for the boy to answer him.

“Yes, Sir,” he said simply, his voice not so confident now.

“Your tutors speak highly of you. You are disciplined, quick to learn and respectful to your superiors.” He paused here, his eyes inviting Fel’annár to speak yet again.

“Thank you, Sir.”

It was not enough. The boy was not forthcoming at all and so Turion took a more direct approach.

“Why do you hide what you know?” he asked, his eyes slanting as he moved closer to the recruit, watching as his face dropped and then paled visibly—the question now was, would he lie? Deny what Turion knew was the truth.

“I—I mean no disrespect, Sir,” he said a little too fast; he was defending himself, realized Turion.

“I asked why you do it, Fel’annár. Why not allow others to see how good you are in combat? Surely you wish to do well, impress your tutors?”

“I do, Sir—but, but that would mean . . .”

“Drawing attention to yourself,” murmured Turion, understanding dawning on him even as he spoke and his eyes strayed over the boy’s extraordinary hair. Fel’annár’s eyes were now wide, like a child caught stealing the honey cakes and Turion took pity on him.

“You are not in trouble, Fel’annár. I wish only to understand you. As your commanding officer, it is my place to ensure the best recruits become available for combat training, to protect our forest and to do that, I must first understand them, help them become the best warriors they can be. Do you understand?”

“I do, Sir.”

“Then tell me. Why do you not wish to draw attention to yourself? You are popular with the other Silvan lads—I have seen no antagonism,” said Turion. “Why do you stand in the shadows?”

Fel’annár dropped his gaze to the floor. He was uncomfortable and Turion’s suspicions were confirmed. This boy was conflicted, for some reason he needed to understand, wanted to understand, and a thought suddenly occurred to him.

“Is someone bothering you?” he asked, watching closely for the reaction his words might provoke. “If they are, you seem more than capable of defending yourself—why would you hide yourself away for that reason?”

“I have no problems with my colleagues, Sir. I am simply uncomfortable with attention.”

“Most people crave it,” commented Turion. “Or is it that you have had too much, of the negative kind?” he tried. His efforts were rewarded, for there was no mistaking the expression on Fel’annár’s face.

“It must not have been easy—your childhood.”

“No, Sir,” said the recruit quietly; but he would say no more and Turion frowned. His hurts ran deep, he realized, and perhaps it was not the time to push him any further. After all, he had as much information as he needed to make his decision.

“Fel’annár. I am sending you to the city barracks for novice training. You leave in two days.”

The downcast face transformed in an instant, the dark clouds of his troubled memories floating away, making way for a brilliant smile, face shining almost as brightly as his eyes; such passion in one so young, mused Turion and a shiver ran down his spine. What drove a boy of this age to achieve what he already had and then wish to hide it all away? He would ask one more question, and then he would entrust the boy to Lainon.

“What is it that you want, Fel’annár?”

The recruit’s eyes anchored calmly on Turion. There was no self-doubt, no shame, no hesitation. Instead, there was conviction, and determination.

“I want to be a captain,” he said simply, no blush of embarrassment, only resolve—and something else—absolute surety.

The following day, the Silvan recruits enjoyed their first free evening in a while and they celebrated the day’s surprising news in pure Silvan fashion. Fel’annár, Ramien and Idernon were leaving for the city and novice training. News of the spiralling conflict in the North was spreading fast and the army needed all the hands they could get. Yet to the recruits, war was something they had not yet seen, could not really feel, however much it pained them that their home was being overrun. They were still too far away from the Fortress and off the City Road. It was a distant certainty, a reality they had only just begun to prepare for, and nervous anticipation hung in the air.

For the moment though, they lay sprawled on the lawn before their dormitory, bottles of wine both empty and full lay around them in varying states of disarray. Carodel strummed a delicate melody on his lyre, a tune that did not match the bawdy lyrics at all, while Ramien danced a jig, miraculously managing not to rip his breeches in the process.

Idernon too, danced a reel with a fellow recruit of dubious skill and the rest sat drinking and laughing.

Now, well into their cups, Carodel lent forward with only a slight loss of balance and then peered into Fel’annár’s bright green eyes, as if he looked into a mirror and sat mesmerized at what he saw.

“Are you really Silvan, Fel’annár?” he slurred.

Here we go again, he thought but this time, there was no irritation, something only partially explainable by the copious amount of imbibed wine—indeed it was his recent argument with Idernon and then Turion’s words just yesterday that had somehow bolstered his spirit, forced him to see things from a different perspective. Why should be ashamed? Why should he hide himself away?

“I am—half Silvan” he said with a soft smile. “And before you ask, my mother died when I was too young to remember her. My aunt brought me up as her own son and I never knew my father.”

“Did your aunt not tell you of him then?” they asked.

“Nay, she never would. I would ask her incessantly whether he was Alpine, yet I could never get her to tell me a single thing about him. It made her nervous and she would change the subject. I have always known there is some family scandal involved, that he must have done something—terrible—to be banished thusly by the Silvans of my village; I think perhaps he was an outlaw,” he mused as if to himself. “Either that or I was just not meant to be—an illicit child if you will—how would I know,” he finished with a shrug, unaware of the way Idernon watched him.

“You are a half-breed love child then!” exclaimed the tipsy Silvan. Ramien and Idernon closed their eyes and tensed their shoulders, anticipating the scalding reply that Fel’annár would surely provide.

“Yes,” smiled Fel’annár, much to his own surprise and that of his friends. “Yes, that I am and yet I am Silvan, in all but my colouring. It is what my heart chooses,” he added with a wry smile, his eyes turning to Idernon and nodding almost imperceptibly.

Ahh! they all cheered and with a toast and a thunk of wooden cups, they drank once more, only a small part of the liquid making its way into their mouths. Idernon simply smiled and returned the nod.

“Hwind’atór,” said Ramien as he sat forward clumsily “The Whirling Warrior. You are—destined for great things! he slurred. Gollo—Gollororollon—says it is so,” he finished with difficulty, before slurping on his wine once more and sloshing it over his breeches.

“Golloron,” corrected Idernon, just as inebriated as Ramien, even though he seemed completely in control of himself and his tongue.

“Golloron,” he explained to the others, “is the Spirit Herder of our village. He says,” he said pensively, creating an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue amongst the recruits and sending them into avid silence. “He says that Hwindo here has a great future before him. He has cast runes and has seen great battles, amongst other things,” he trailed off, his voice now full of awe as he drank from his cup.

“What else? what else did he see?” asked one young Silvan, his eyes wide and sparkling in anticipation of the tale, for in the Silvan culture, Spirit Herders such as Golloron were feared and revered, for they were Ari’atór, Spirit Warriors, albeit their weapons were not of steel but of the soul.

“He has predicted that Fel’annár will be a great leader—perhaps even a captain,” said Idernon with a proud smile, watching as the other youths nodded in awe.

“Well, there are few enough Silvan captains—it will be a welcome thing—we will all want to serve with you, Hwindo!” shouted Carodel.

“What a fine thing that would be,” said Fel’annár, his eyes misty and far away, as if he could see himself sat upon a magnificent horse, leading his own warriors through the troubled forests, just as he had dreamed of together with his friends since for as long as he could remember.


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