Prenvice

 

 

Prenvice is the final pov character in The Fell Stone. I’m plotting this whole thing with the aim of four books, that feels right because at the core of the books are the four wielders of the Fragments and the four servants of the Shadowking. They will eventually clash but who is who? I’m giving the reader 8 pov characters so there are 2 more that haven’t come into the story yet. From these 8 will come the wielders and the servants so maybe Ark is a wielder, maybe we should like him, or maybe he’s a bad-ass servant who ends up wanting to do nothing but destroy the world. Maybe. Only 4 can be wielders and 4 have to be servants. I know which characters will end up playing which role but that will only unravel through the 4 books – The Fell Stone, The Doom Blade, The Blood Helm and The Shadow Bane.

Prenvice Wroot is an aspect, a trainee Arl (priest) who believes in Ont, the Father of Flame. Unfortunately for Prenvice, ever since he came to the Dominard of Carentol he’s been stuck with Arl Henrick Mayby for his teacher. And now he’s somehow wound up following a Blade around the Iron Lands. Blade Hanafer Kett is a knight who believes that there is something bad in the world. A mist. Shadows. It took her child, it killed her husband. Now she wants to find it and Prenvice has been assigned to accompany her by the High Arl. All he has to help him is an ancient copy of The Histories of Eastol.

The Histories of Eastol, along with birds, is a recurring theme in the books. People keep mentioning them. Prenvice thinks there might be a link to the mist in the old stories but the problem is some of the stories are missing even from his ancient copy.

Here’ a quote from one of those missing stories –

“Where are my father’s fragments?” asked the warlock’s boy.
“Gone,” said the mist.
“I will find them,” said the boy.
“Not you,” said the mist, “four fragments, four wielders, four servants, four endings, no future.”
The boy drew his steelstone blade and the mist shrank away.
“Four fragments, four wielders, four servants, four endings, no future,” it said again and then it was gone.

from ‘The Warlock’s Boy’, a lost tale from The Histories of Eastol

 

Prenvice

“Ont, light the darkness of this world with your Flame,” said Prenvice though he knew nobody was listening. “Guide us through the lightless days and into the embrace of your never darkening Flame. We are your children, Ont. Guide us ever on, oh Father of Flame.”
He touched the flame brooch that was pinned to his cloak.
“Oh Father of Flame,” mumbled Arl Henrick. The old priest was too drunk again to say the words of blessing or even care about them so, even though their meal was just hard bread and ale, it had come to Prenvice to enforce them. Again.
He looked at Henrick. He hated the old man. He didn’t hate him because he drank all day or because he was an obese glutton or because he neglected his duties, he hated him because Henrick had promised him he would teach him to become a good Arl. That was five years ago. Prenvice had come to the Dominard in the belief he would be an Arl within the year. And yet he was still an aspect. It was the lies Prenvice hated Henrick Mayby for. Lies like the one that had brought him into another stinking pub in another nothing gatetown was the worst of his lies. This pub even had a caged hawk. Prenvice had never seen anything more depressing than that poor bird, its head held limply and its eyes shut, trapped in a cage hanging from the ceiling of a pub that stank of horse dung.
“Come with me on this mission,” Arl Henrick had told him all those months ago. “Our Father Ont would want us to do this. Blade Kett is a good servant of the flame.”
Two lies in one. Prenvice had to give the old man that, he was a convincing liar.
Where was Kett anyway, he thought, as Henrick downed another pint of honey ale? He hadn’t seen her since they’d arrive in the town and that was strange because no matter what he thought of Kett she at least always ate with them and bowed her head when he spoke the blessing. Sometimes, mistakenly, he believed that there were worse Blades they could be traipsing around the Iron Lands with. That was always a very brief belief. A day’s marching from gatetown to gatetown, sniffing after snippets of hearsay was enough to make Prenvice hate Kett almost as much as he hated Arl Henrick.
He took a sip of his own beer. It was sour and full of bits of something he didn’t want to guess at. He was sixteen, that was no age, and he still had time to become an Arl before the Dominard started wondering what was taking him so long. He took another sip of beer. It didn’t get better. His life was a bit like that at the moment, he kept taking sip after sip hoping the next one would be better and it never was. He looked at Arl Henrick, the Arl’s fat head lolling, strands of grey hair dangling into his beer. Maybe I should be more like him, he thought, maybe I should take big gulps of life instead of little sips.
The pub door swung open. He craned his head around Arl Henrick’s to see if it was Kett but it was only a rain-soaked traveller. Raining again, he sighed, another night under a sagging tent.
They never had enough coins to stay under the roof of even the cheapest pub so every night the three of them squeezed into Kett’s tent. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good night’s sleep. It was either Arl Henrick almost rolling on top of him and crushing him or Kett talking in her sleep again. Shadows. Mist. The dead. It wasn’t enough for her to spend her every waking moment obsessing over them she took them into her dreams.
Prenvice was about to call the landlord over again to complain about the beer when the door opened and this time Kett walked in. If only she had been a pretty sight. That would have made his days with Kett and Arl Henrick a lot more bearable. Sometimes he daydreamed that Kett was as fair as Lady Liza Littler, the Blade of Nyne. He had seen a painting of her once in Carentol. She had long blonde hair and her armour fitted her tightly. Maybe even that was a lie, he thought. The real Lady Liza was probably as ugly as Kett.
He watched Kett stride towards their table. No, he corrected himself, no woman was ever as ugly as Hanafer Kett. She had more freckles on her face than there were isles on the Lake of Small Isles. She had a slight under bite and eyebrows that might never have been plucked and her ears stuck out far too far from her head. Her hair was hardly ever washed so that the strands of mousey brown were entwining into one clump. And then there was the scar that ran from her left eye down to her lip. Sometimes he thought that improved her because it took the viewer’s attention away from the rest of her face. She was as broad as any man too and she walked with long impatient strides as if she always wanted to be somewhere else. She always wore the same leather jerkin, the same travel worn trousers and stiff boots. Her cloak was a sort of vomit yellow and she bore no family mark anywhere, not even on her shield which was plain blue.
“Have you heard anything?” she asked before she had even sat.
She crashed down on the bench and Arl Henrick woke with a belch.
“What’s going on?” he said before seeing Kett, “oh, it’s you is it. Very good.”
The old Arl closed his eyes again and began snoring immediately.
Prenvice pulled out the book from his satchel. It was the same routine every night. Listen to what the locals were talking about and if that didn’t pay off get out the book. It was a huge book, leather bound and ancient. The Histories of Eastol. There were copies in almost every educated home but Prenvice’s was different. It was an original and on top of the usual twenty five stories it had an extra ten Forgotten Tales, stories that were cut from reprints long ago. Stories no one told their children anymore. Kett was convinced there was an answer in those stories but there were pages missing even from Prenvice’s copy. Throughout the book there were the rough edges of torn out pages and Prenvice had often wondered why those pages had been torn out, what someone was trying to hide or forget.
“Nothing,” said Prenvice, “though I heard the landlord say there would be mist tonight.”
Kett shook her head and took Prenvice’s ale without asking if she could.
“I’ve seen the mist,” she said, taking a swig, “it’s nothing special. Just mist.”
Prenvice nodded. He always tried his best to look interested even though the whole debacle was boring him now. For nearly a year they had been marching over the Iron Lands searching for rumours, stories, tales. When the High Arl had introduced Prenvice to Kett he had told him how important what they were about to do was.
“Something is wrong in the world,” the High Arl had told him, his voice heavy with sincerity, “it falls on you three to discover what that wrong is. Oh Father of Flame be ever with you.”
What a load of crap that had proved to be. A year on and they had found no wrong. Just bad weather and half-tales of a funny coloured mists.
“Have you looked at the book today?” asked Kett. She leaned over the table and took a chunk of near stale bread, biting it then washing it down immediately with a swig of ale.
Prenvice opened the book to the page he had marked earlier that day. The Tale of the Point of Time.
“This story caught my eye,” he said, “and I know we’ve looked at it before but there was just something in the wording. Listen to this. It says ‘…the twins were born in a mist and a shadow stayed ever upon their mother’s heart’. I found the use of those words together quite interesting. Maybe there’s something in the rest of the story. I mean I know you know it, what happened to the twins, but I’ve always found the Point of Time a queer place. There are some rather odd stories about it in other books. Take The Lore of Iron, there’s one story in there…”
Prenvice stopped talking. Kett wasn’t listening to him. He wasn’t even sure if she had been listening at all. Instead she was looking over to the bar where the traveller was downing his second ale and talking excitedly to the landlord. Prenvice didn’t call for Kett’s attention. He knew better than that. Something had caught the Blade’s ear and so he listened too.
“…I saw it myself,” said the traveller, “whole place burnt to ash as if it were never there.”
The landlord was shaking his head.
“Aye,” he said as he polished a tankard with a dirty rag, “I’ve heard same meself half a dozen times today. One fellow, more than half moorborn, was going on about shadows on the moors too. He reckoned it were Stonelander magic. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if war was coming.”
The traveller laughed at that.
“War, my aunt Wendy,” said the traveller, “it were the dead that did it. They came in a mist and they killed everyone. They even killed the young ones too, even Lord Bill’s children.”
“Shame that,” said the Landlord, “he were a good lord was Young Bill. I doubt you’re old enough to remember his father, Old Bill. I met him once. Grand men both of them.”
The traveller nodded.
Kett turned back to Prenvice. She was smiling. He hadn’t seen her smile for a year. Actually, he wasn’t even sure now if he had ever seen her smile.
“We should leave now,” she said, standing. She drained the rest of Prenvice’s ale and shoved two pieces of the hard bread in her pockets.
“Wake Henrick,” she said, “and sober him up. It’s not far, we can be there by dawn.”
Prenvice stood up, pushing the book back into his satchel. But he had no idea what Kett was talking about. Obviously she had heard more of the conversation than he but he knew enough to know he would be going another night without sleep.
“Where’s not far?” asked Prenvice as he shook Arl Henrick awake. It did no good, the Arl was in a deep sleep.
Kett didn’t answer. Instead she strode to back to the table and grabbed a jug of water. Before Prenvice could stop her she had emptied the cold water all over Henrick.
The Arl jumped up.
“What’s happening,” he cried and then he saw Kett holding the empty jug, “what the…what did you do that for you silly girl…I was….I was bloody sleeping…”
Kett ignored the old man’s complaints and made for the door.
“Hurry up both of you,” she called as she opened the door, “we’ve a hard a ride ahead of us if we’re to reach Farview by dawn.”
Farview, thought Prenvice and the tales of the dwellum of the Night Mors came back to him. He had been petrified of the idea of the dwellum when he was a child and he was safe in a warm bed in Mudport then. He had passed over the moors once but again he was safe within a carriage and the curtains were drawn. He could remember the drawings of the monsters now. Their long arms, their claws, their gaping mouths. They took travellers and fed on them. He knew it was nonsense but still the thought of riding across the Night Moors to see, if what the traveller said was right, a graveyard didn’t fill Prenvice Wroot with joy.
“Ont, guide us ever on, oh Father of Flame,” he whispered to himself and without waiting for Henrick he followed Kett.

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Vit

 

 

Here’s another pov. I think I’ll post a chapter of each pov character and that’s it. This is Vit Sev. He’s a gaan, a sort of viking-like people from the islands to the north. The gaan are pretty hardcore violent folk. Each isle’s tribe follows, worships, a different animal. Vit’s tribe is the Owl tribe but ever few years a new Pack Lord is elected from one of the tribes. Unfortunately the new Pack Lord is a Pike, a particularly violent tribe. He’s planning something that hasn’t been done for centuries, he’s planning to call the Gaan Horde to arms and sail for the lands of Eastol, for the Stone and Iron Lands. Vit is thrown right into all of this.

 

Vit

Far below him was the town of Vult, nestled in between the two great rocky outcroppings, the Low Baar and High Baar. From up here he could only make out the Pack House with its wide, squat tower rising high above the tightly packed timber houses. The dock was full of ships; all of them flat hulled wavers. There seemed more today than usual but he didn’t have time to count ships. He had a boar to hunt.
“You’ll fall if you keep looking back,” shouted Kaal.
Kaal was further down the mountain but that was because, as always, Vit’s brash cousin had chosen to climb the more difficult route. Vit had chosen the easier option, one with lots of footholds and resting places, not because he doubted he could make the other way. It was because he was desperate to hunt. The boars had only just returned to the Flat Top from the lowlands and he had never hunted one up there before.
“It’s you who’ll fall if you keep watching what I’m doing,” shouted Vit and then he was climbing again. He reached an arm up and grabbed hold of a firm piece of rock. He inched his legs higher until he found a good hold and then his other arm was up and he was pulling his body up, higher and closer to the summit. The Bay Bell rang to signal more ships coming into dock and glancing back he saw three wavers moving towards the Water Gate. He strained his eyes to make out what pack flag they flew from their masts but they were too far away.
“More Pike, I bet,” called Kaal.
He was probably right. Ever since the pack voted in a Pike called Bann Karak as the Pack Lord, the Pikes had taken advantage of their new position as head Pack. They had been sailing from island to island, to every last one of the Othershores, exerting their authority, showing all the Packs they were in charge. Vult was an Owl town, always had been even though the rest of the island of Taan was mostly Heron or Badger. Owl flags flew from the Pack House and Vit knew no Pike Pack Lord would change that. His father had told him this happened every time a new Pack Lord was voted in, the pushiness, the mock-power plays. It was the way of things.
Vit looked away. He was almost there. Almost at the top. He couldn’t wait to see his father’s face when he brought a boar home. Maybe Kaal would get one too and everyone would know the Sevs were true hunters. He climbed on. His arms were aching and his legs were burning but still he climbed. The last few metres were the hardest. The summit jutted out so to claim it he would have to cling to the underside and then quickly throw himself around. Kaal had an advantage there. His trickier route had taken him away from the overhang and meant he had a much easier final few metres.
“You tired yet, cuz?” shouted Kaal.
He didn’t even sound tired. He was older than Vit by a year and in everything else he was more than Vit, taller, stronger, faster, and braver. But Vit was the better hunter, that couldn’t be disputed by anyone. Vit could catch more fish than any other fisherman in the city, even the veterans, and he had brought home more deer than even his father. He was an expert with his bow, his eye was perfect. The boar would stand no chance today.
He smiled and pulled himself up to the overhang.
“Not a bit, cuz,” he shouted back though he was breathing hard.
He was hanging now and for hundreds of metres beneath there was only air. He was clinging to the slippery underside with only his hands. There was nowhere to plant his feet now. He wasn’t scared, he was only tired. That could be a killer on a climb, tiredness. You could be brave as any man but if you lost energy before the end you’d fall and be as dead as any coward. He took a deep breath and he threw his body around until he felt his feet touch grass, then he was heaving himself over. All the world was a blur. He saw the green of trees below, the blue of the sea or maybe it was the blue of the sky. He wasn’t sure.
And then he was steadying himself. He was upright and he was standing on the flat plain of the summit of Mount Haazer. He took a moment to breath. He was dizzy with excitement. He had done it. Even though he knew he would it was a grand feeling to stand on top of the world and know you’d beaten the mountain.
He sat himself on the grass and checked his arrows. All the flights were good and his bow string was taut. The yew bow was a good one and an old one, his grandfather had made it. The arrows were long and it had taken him years of practice just to pull the string. His chest was strong from it, his arms too. That helped with the climbing. A bowman was a good climber.
Eventually Kaal joined him. His cousin was barely sweating and he had a grin on his face as wide as Vult Bay.
“That was fun,” said Kaal as he checked his own arrows and bow.
“Fun was it?” said Vit. The Bay Bell rang again. It seemed far away.
“More of them,” said Kaal, “at least my old man will do well. The pub has never been so busy.”
“Magg’s girls will do better than your dad,” said Vit. “I hear Pikes can’t take their ale.”
Kaal walked to the edge and peered off to the town below.
“Fifty ships I’d say,” he said, “and that’s just today. Maybe it’s something more than just a visit from the Pack Lord. Maybe something’s going on.”
Vit shook his head.
“Not what my dad says,” he said, “he says it’s just Karak flexing his muscles, showing how mighty his Pikes are. All we have to do is kneel and kiss his arse for a few days.”
“What would your dad know?” said Kaal, laughing. “He’s a bloody tanner. All he knows about is piss and shit, not what goes on inside a Pike’s head.”
Vit ignored the jibe. Even his own cousin couldn’t resist the chance to get at him for what his father did. But Vit didn’t care what people thought about his father, the city needed a tanner and his father was the best there was. So what their house stank, so what he’d probably end up a tanner himself. Life needed tanners, the world needed tanners.
“Come on,” said Vit, “we should make a start. The day hasn’t got much light left.”
Kaal nodded and they started off over the plain, jogging slowly. Occasionally they would stop and check the droppings. Soon they found warm muck and knew they were close. There were some leafless trees near the centre of the plain, their bark bleached by the vicious mountain winds. They climbed a tree each and waited. They were silent now, no joking or winding each other up. They were silent and they waited.
The Bay Bell rang three more times before they saw their first boar. It was a female and so they left it. What Vit wanted was a big fat male, one whose head would look good over his father’s hearth.
A light mist fell on the plain and the air grew chill.
“So much for summer,” whispered Kaal.
Vit said nothing. His cousin was right, they had hardly had a summer. There was only the rain and the mist and the cold. The Othershores were no distance from the Icelands but they would always get a week of two of summer. This year there had been no such season and soon the bay would freeze over and the snows would come for six months. That was the way of things, thought Vit.
He watched the mist, waiting for a boar to come through it. The mist had a green hue and there was the smell of burning on the air.
He heard Kaal whistle and looking down he saw something move through the trees.
“Big one,” whispered Kaal.
Vit didn’t hesitate. He held up a hand to tell Kaal he wanted this one and slowly he climbed down the tree. When his feet touched grass he went low. He eased an arrow out of his quiver and gently pulled back the string of his bow. He could hear the boar’s deep grunting breaths. It was feeding, munching on the moist grass. He followed the sound, his feet tiptoeing over the ground. He was so close now he could feel the heat of the boar’s breath. Where are you, he said to himself. He aimed his bow to his right and listened. He knew at any moment the boar could dart out and rip his stomach open with its tusk. But again, just like the climb, he wasn’t afraid. If anything he was excited. His heart raced but his hands didn’t shake. They held the bow still as he moved it to his left. He heard a grunt and he let the arrow fly. The boar cried out in pain and then it was running.
“I got him,” cried Vit and Kaal was jumping from the tree to his side.
“Which way?” asked Kaal.
Vit listened. He could just make out the boar’s panicked squeals.
He ran and Kaal followed. They ran deeper into the mist. It was thick now and the smell of burning was strong but still they ran. For a moment he thought what fools they were being, at any moment they could have run clear off the edge of the cliff. He pushed the thought aside. No, they would catch the boar. He had shot it. He had killed it, he knew he had. Now all he had to do was find it.
But soon the boar’s squeals faded and there was only silence again.
“Where is it?” asked Kaal.
Vit looked this way and then that and suddenly something was coming towards him. A huge dark shape flew at him and without thinking he lifted his bow and slammed it hard into the shape. There was a flurry of feathers and blood splashed on his face. There at his feet was an owl.
“Sweet blood,” gasped Kaal, “you killed a damn owl.”
Vit fell to the ground. No, anything but that, he thought. It was a dire sign to kill your own Pack animal especially for anyone of the Owl Pack. It was no easy thing to kill an owl so when anyone was unlucky enough to kill one, they were certain to face something terrible.
Kaal stepped back.
“Why did you hit it?” he asked. His voice was trembling. Vit had never heard his cousin sound scared but he heard it now.
Vit lifted the owl up. It was only a young barn owl. He held it against his body. It wasn’t dead. He could feel it breathing.
“It’s alive,” he said.
“Quickly,” said Kaal, “we have to get it to Lan Tenno.
Lan Tenno was Vult’s only doctor but he was as adept at fixing up sick animals as he was at healing people.
Vit looked at the bird. His bow had crushed its rib. Yes, it was breathing now but he doubted he could get it to Lan in time.
“It won’t make it,” he said. The thought crossed his mind to finish the poor creature off. It would be a mercy. Maybe that mercy would redeem him, save him from whatever consequences attacking it might have brought him.
“You have to try,” said Kaal.
His cousin was right. With all thoughts of the boar gone they ran. The misted had lifted slightly and they could just make out the western end of the summit where the ground sloped away and the descent down was easier. They could have come that way up but it would have been no challenge. The hunt was about challenges. Now, with the bird’s breathing slowing against his body, Vit was thankful for the easy way down.
He held the owl firmly as they descended. It was hard to climb with one hand but he was determined to get down and Kaal stayed close. At last they reached the bottom but still they had a good few miles of woodland and marsh to get through. From time to time, Vit would look down at the owl. Its eyes were closed. Blood seeped from its beak. But still it breathed.
When finally they reached the mess of shacks that was the marsh end of Vult, the Bogtown, Vit almost believed the owl could be saved. As they darted down the cobbled streets towards Maagen’s Square where Lan had his shop, he started praying.
“Oh, Lord of Beasts, hear me,” he whispered, “Oh, Lord of Beasts, protect me.”
He said the words over and over. He had never liked praying. It was a thing for the old and the weak but now as he said the words he truly believed there was a Lord of Beasts in the Lost Forest sitting on a throne of bones, listening to his prayer.
As they ran into Maagen’s Square, Vit hardly noticed the crowds of pike-masked men. It was Kaal who shouted for him to stop and his shout made the Pikes notice them.
“What have we got here,” said one. His black eyes peered through his wooden mask. The Pike’s mouth was gaping, showing two rows of sharp wooden teeth. Long blonde hair cascaded down the man’s back. The Pike Tribe were unusual in the Othershores, they didn’t have the dark auburn hair of the other tribes. They looked more like a Stonelander than a Gaan but they were more brutal than any other tribe. A red K for Karak had been hastily painted on the man’s shield and at his waist was a nasty looking cleaver. “Look lads,” he said to his friends who were all leaning outside Woon’s Hog supping pints of Kaal’s father best stout, “two sweaty little owls and one dead little owl. Guess which is which.”
The drunken men laughed.
Vit made to move on but a fat pike-masked drunk stepped in his way.
“You going to cook that bird,” slurred the drunk, “coz I quite like a bit of roasted owl.”
Again his friends laughed and this time Vit and Kaal laughed too. It was a nervous laughter. It was a laughter the fat man didn’t like.
The Pike poked him in his chest, the force almost knocking Vit over.
“You taking the piss,” he said and his hand went to the cleaver.
A figure passed between Vit and the drunk. Even from the wrinkled back of his bald head Vit recognised his uncle Saal.
“Calm down, lads,” said Saal, “these boys are my family so I’ll have no trouble with them. Drink your beers and leave them be.”
The fat man hesitated. He was in the mood for a fight but he was in the mood for more beer too and Saal had the beer. Vit sighed as the fat man moved his hand away but then something very strange happened. The fat man fell to his knees and in an instant all the Pike men in the square where on their knees.
Heavy boots stamped over the cobbles.
“What have I interrupted here?” said a deep voice.
Uncle Saal dropped to his knees too and turning Vit saw why. There standing before him was Bann Karak, the Pack Lord of the Othershores, Vit’s king. Karak was wearing a mail shirt and a green kilt. He had a broadsword strapped to his back and his arms were thick with war-rings. Kaal knelt but Vit was too awed to do anything. The owl made a strange gurgling noise and Karak’s gold plated Pike mask looked down to the bird. Vit could see Karak’s green eyes through the eye slits. He had never seen anyone with such green eyes.
“What have you there?” asked Karak.
Instinctively Vit held the owl closer.
The green eyes looked surprised.
“Do you hide something from your Pack Lord, boy?” asked Karak.
“N…n…no,” stuttered Vit, “it’s just an owl that’s all.”
Karak nodded.
“Give it here,” said Karak. Still Vit hesitated. He had hurt the owl, it was his owl really. He had to fix it. He thought of telling Karak that but instead he held the owl out and Karak took it from.
“You have injured your own pack animal,” said Karak.
Vit shook his head but Karak did not let him speak.
Instead he held the bird up.
“See here,” shouted Karak and all the crowd looked up at the bird. Blood dripped onto Karak’s mask but he seemed to not care.
“An omen some would say,” said Karak, “an ill omen for this boy. Our customs say that to kill your own pack animal brings you ill luck but I say this. I am Pack Lord and I absolve this boy of his crime.”
Vit couldn’t stop looking at the owl. Its eyes were open now, almost as if it had been woken back into life by Karak’s booming voice.
“Hear me,” shouted Karak, “hear me Owls of Vult, hear me Pikes of Kadadorth. Hear me all the Packs of these Othershores and all the peoples of this world. I am Bann Karak and I say this bird’s death is a good omen.”
No, thought Vit, it’s not dead, not yet. But even as he thought that he saw Karak hands tighten around the bird and then the Pack Lord was crushing and crushing the owl until it was obscured within his hands. The owl made no sound. Blood seeped through Karak’s fingers and when he was done he dropped a mess of wings and bones to the cobbles.
“I say this,” cried Karak and he lifted his mask. His eyes seemed even greener now they were released from the mask but they were the only fair thing about his face. The rest was covered in scars and his top lip was cut wide open, an old wound. His teeth were sharpened and his ears were missing. All that he had left to hear out of were two holes surrounded by a scabby mess of flesh. “I say that this owl’s death is not an omen but a sacrifice. I give it to the Lord of Beasts to proclaim a new Hunt begun. Hear me now sons of the Othershores. Your time has come to kill. The Horde is awakening, blood is calling us. The Hunt is on.”
The crowd roared. Karak brought his bloody hand to his mouth and licked the owl’s blood from it.
Vit was the only one standing. He could not move. He had thought that it would be a few years yet before he would face the Hunt but now it had come for him. The owl’s death had brought it, he had brought it. He glanced at his cousin. They would face the Hunt together. Hundreds of boys from every isle would be abandoned on the Hunt Isle and the only ones who would make it home would be those who had killed their peers, their friends. Those who had hunted boys like them.
Blood stained Karak’s teeth and the Pack Lord smiled as the crowd shouted his name. Even the Owls in the crowd were calling their new lord’s name. Even Kaal and Saal were calling it. Only Vit remained silent.

Ariagny

 

Here’s another pov from The Fell Stone (changed the title from The Flame Stone coz The Flame Stone is crap!). This one follows Ariagny Astagale. She’s the daughter of the exiled Stonelander Prince, Addem Astagale. He’s not very nice. If anyone read the Ark pov they might have noticed Addem’s earlier ‘voice’ appearance. Ariagny is 16, most of the povs are around 15/16 years old, and she hides a secret from her parents. This chapter has her arriving in Blacktower, the capital of the isle of Mezzid where most of the Fell, the worshipers of Imilrin, have flocked to.

 

Ariagny

“Wake up, we’re here.”
She wasn’t really sleeping but she didn’t want her sister to know that. She knew how much Allielle wanted to be the first to see the Scarlet Cliffs.
“You won’t believe it, Ariagny,” said Allielle, “there are hundreds of red birds. They’re so beautiful.”
She opened her eyes. Allielle was sitting on their bed. She was already dressed in the Sanserredian dresses her mother had made for them. The dress Allielle wore was covered in glittering jewels and made of coloured silks. Around her neck she wore an ivory necklace, one of their mother’s own. This one was carved with scenes from Sansarred. In one square of ivory, so tiny it seemed impossible that anyone could carve it, there was a scene of naked men riding sandlions. The men were ebony skinned, the makers overlaying the ivory with finest jet from the Goldtide Bay. The white of the ivory against Allielle’s own perfect ebony skin was beautiful and made Ariagny a little jealous that her ten year old sister had been given such a fine necklace to wear even though she was sure their mother had sent something equally beautifully for her to wear.
“Come on hurry up, get dressed,” shouted Allielle excitedly. She jumped up and down on the bed, unable to contain her joy anymore now that they were finally arriving at Mezzid. It had been so long since they had seen their parents and now they were finally at Mezzid they could see them every day. Their father had been exiled from Boterial for over a year, their mother joining him only a month ago, and sometimes Ariagny thought maybe they would never see their parents again. If their father had even tried to step foot in the Stone Lands their grandfather King Estinian Astagale would have ordered him executed. Alliellle didn’t understand but Ariagny was older, she knew what had been happening, she knew why her father had been sent away. It wasn’t because he was scouring the Coldwater of Gaan pirates. No, it was because he believed in a god, it was because he had stood in the White Hall of Boterial and proclaimed himself a Fell in front of all the lords and princes of the Stone Lands. Ariagny had been there that day, Allielle had not. She had heard her grandfather’s words. Abomination. Traitor. Fool. Defiler. Disinherited. Outcast.
But now they were finally going to see their father again.
“Be careful,” said Ariagny, putting her arms out to stop her sister jumping, “you’ll ruin your dress.”
Allielle didn’t stop jumping.
“Oh, I’m so excited, Ari,” she said, “I want to jump and jump and never stop jumping.”
The little girl was laughing as she jumped. Her joy was infectious. Ariagny felt it too and if she hadn’t been the older of the two she would have jumped herself. But she knew her place and today it was to keep her sister calm and make sure they looked their regal best for their parents. All her father’s new friends would be waiting for them, all the Fell, and mother’s letters had schooled them strictly. They were not to let their father down. They were to repeat the words of the chants whenever they were spoken. They were to bow to Imilrin’s tomb. They were to be good princesses.
“Calm down,” Ariagny said softly, “remember, we are princesses of Enmororn, we have to behave correctly. Do you want to be a princess, Alli?”
Allielle stopped jumping.
“I suppose I do,” she said, “though are we still princesses if grandfather doesn’t love us anymore?”
“Don’t be silly, grandfather does love us,” said Ariagny.
Allielle frowned.
“Mummy said he didn’t love us anymore. She said he wished we would go away forever.”
Ariagny laughed but it was a laugh only to calm her sister. She knew her mother’s words were close to the truth.
“Grandfather will always love us,” said Ariagny and she touched a finger to her sister’s nose, “especially you. You’re his favourite. You’re his little desert star remember.”
Allielle smiled at that. She loved her grandfather’s nickname for her and she loved more that she was his favourite.
“I am aren’t I,” she said and she leapt down from the bed and straightened her dress.
The ship jolted as it came into the harbour so that Ariagny almost rolled from the bed.
Alliele laughed.
“It’s a good job you’re not dressed,” she said.
Ariagny dressed while her sister sat impatiently swinging her legs. They could hear the crew on deck shouting and the captain bellowing orders. The Fellstar was a Sansarredian ship, crewed exclusively by men from their mother’s land of scorched deserts and humid forests. The men were all huge, strong and totally loyal to the Larzaks, their mother’s family. Their mother’s father, Lord Leto was the richest man in Sansarred and owned a fleet of over fifty fine galleys of which the Fellstar was one though it had been renamed to honour both their father and mother; Fell for her father’s beliefs, star for the mark of the Larzaks. Its captain, Hazan, had been a childhood friend of Lord Leto so his loyalty was doubly certain. They needed loyalty in these days, that’s what their mother kept telling Ariagny.
Ariagny’s dress was just as fine as her sister’s though not as colourful. As the older sister she wore a more refined gown of reds; scarlet, crimson, pink and vermillion sashes sewn together. It fitted her tightly unlike her sister’s which was loose and free flowing. Ariagny’s was designed to show off her figure, to tell the world that she was a woman now. And she was, almost. As she looked at herself in the mirror she saw the curve of her hips and the rise of her breasts. Her mother had told her she would find a husband on Mezzid, that their father had decided it was time she was married. That made her nervous, it made her stomach feel funny and her legs weak. She would never have dared to tell mother the truth. She would never tell either her mother or father that. When her mother asked her had she ever been kissed, Ariagny had said yes but she never told her mother by whom. Lady Acera had assumed that it had been a young squire or even a cocksure Harelquin guard who had given her daughter her first kiss. She had never pressed the matter.
As Ariagny looked at herself she remembered that kiss. She remembered the lips. She remembered touching another person’s body for the first time like that. She remembered her hand moving from hips up over the warmth of her kisser’s stomach to the rise of their breasts. She smiled.
She moved to the mahogany dressing table and picked up the necklace that had been laid out for her. This too was ivory but it wasn’t one she had seen before. It had only one pane and the scene it depicted was something she didn’t recognise. It showed a man holding up what looked like a palmstone, the stones of Power warlocks like her father wielded. She always felt strange whenever she saw a palmstone. It made her remember that one day she would have to absorb her own and become a warlock too. She had taken her lessons already. She knew all the manifestations of Power; Light, Life, Lift, Renew, Enhance, Obscure, Fire, See, Control, Swift and the last one, the one she liked least, End. Even after all the hours of lessons with an ancient warlock who smelled of toilets and damp she wasn’t sure if she would be ready when that day came. Yet this stone was not absorbed into the figure’s palm, he was holding it with both hands and the sun, high above him, was pouring its light into it. She had Allielle fasten the necklace for her and then, as the cacophony from above faded and she could hear gulls crying, she told Allielle it was time.
“I’m nervous,” said Allielle.
Ariagny took her sister’s hand. It was such a small hand. Sometimes she forgot how little her sister was, how young she was. Looking at her now she could hardly remember being so young herself but really there were just a few years between them.
One day she’ll be like me, she thought, one day they’ll find her a husband too. She didn’t like that thought. She looked at her sister, always smiling, and all she wanted was for her to stay that way, young and innocent and happy.
Once she had been that way too but the last year had stripped away the remnants of her naivety. She had lived a year of fear. First their father had left them and then their mother. Slowly everyone who had ever protected her had gone away and she and Allielle had been left under virtual imprisonment in their own bedrooms. Allielle hardly knew what was happening but Ariagny couldn’t sleep some nights for fair that the guards at her door, those who were supposedly there to protect her, would one night come in with their blades drawn and their orders in place.
She had read stories like that in the books she loved. There was one story in The Histories of Eastol about three Stonelander princes who were imprisoned in a tower at the edge of the world by their sister. The sister wanted to be queen but to do that she had to get rid of her brothers. In those days males came before females when it came to ruling. For a time she was happy for the little boys to waste their days away in the tower but soon she became fretful, paranoid that they would escape and take her crown, so one night she asked her lover, a Blade, to ease her troubles. When she woke in the morning he was gone. Immediately she regretted what she had asked of him but it was too late. The Blade slit the throats of her brothers and the Queen ruled for fifty years though she never bore a child. Ariagny always thought that strange. The story made out that the Queen’s punishment for her crime was to never have an heir but she ruled for fifty years, she was a Queen and wasn’t that always what she wanted? Ariagny didn’t think it was such a bad thing to trade being fat and pregnant for being a Queen.
“Just remember,” said Ariagny as they climbed the steps onto the deck, “you’re an Astagale and a Larzak, you’re a princess of stone and desert, of the phoenix and the falling star. You have nothing to be nervous about.”
They came up onto the deck. It was a bright and beautiful day. Away to the east of the harbour were the brilliant red cliffs Allielle had been so excited about though Ariagny couldn’t quite see the red birds. The ship was docked in the white walled harbour of Blacktower. Ahead of them was the old town, row after row of white houses leading up to the tower itself, a spike of black stabbing up into the blue sky. The phoenix mark of the Astagale flew from flags and banners around the dock as well as the Fell mark of a triangle within a circle. The crew had been joined by ten Harlequin guards with their rainbow shields, those Harlequins that had remained loyal to Ariagny’s father. Each of them had a musket at their side because no Harlequin was permitted to take a stone, their life was one of servitude to the warlocks of the Stone Lands and so they could never become a warlock themselves. She saw Capatain Hazan smiling at them, his face covered in the golden tattoos, spirals and strange symbols. Some of the crew bore the same tattoos. The only time Ariagny had ever met Lord Leto he too had been marked with the golden ink though only down his right arm and over his hand. Beside the Harlequin guard were the black cloaked and black helmed city guard of Blacktower. They looked grim with their faces covered. Their shields didn’t bear the mark of Blacktower, a black horned narwhal, rather they carried shields bearing the Astagale mark of the red phoenix rising with the Fell mark above. Her father had truly asserted his authority over Mezzid and quickly.
There were lots of representatives from the city there, merchants in their finest suits and plump women wearing ridiculous hats, but there were only two people Ariagny looked for. She could feel Allielle’s hand shaking with exciting.
But her parents were not there. She looked and looked throughout the crowd but they were nowhere.
She was wondering if maybe they hadn’t come down from the tower to meet them when a trumpet blew and the Harlequin guards parted. And there they were. Her mother wore a dress similar to Allielle’s and her curling black hair fell down her body to her waist. It had been a month since the girls had seen their mother and Allielle pulled her hand free of Ariagny’s and ran straight to her. Ariagny wanted so much to do the same but she restrained herself. She remembered what her mother had said in the letter. They were princesses, now was the time for them to truly act like princesses.
“Mummy,” cried Allielle as she ran to their mother. A murmur of happy laughter passed through the crowd but Ariagny hardly noticed anything else but the man who stood beside her mother. The man she had not seen for over a year. Her father, Prince Addem Astagale.
He looked so different. His blonde hair was going white and he was thin, gaunt almost. He was wearing his finest armour but it looked loose on him. Above all he looked tired.
She moved across the deck to him.
Allielle was hugging their mother but Lady Acera managed to free a hand and she took Ariagny’s and held it tight.
“Father,” she said, the words barely escaping her lips. Her throat was suddenly very dry. She was scared she might cry but she swallowed deep and held back her emotions.
“Ariagny,” said Prince Addem and it was like hearing the voice of someone who had died, who you thought you might never see again. He reached out a hand to her face and then he was holding her tightly, hugging her. Ariagny had tried her best to restrain herself but here was her father now hugging her in public and not only that but she could feel his tears on her cheek. Still she didn’t cry. She let him hold her and for the first time in forever she felt her body relax. All her worries seemed to vanish as soon as he held her, all the months of fear and nervousness. Even when their grandfather had let them go she doubted this day would truly come. But now here they were, all of them together again and as he held her she heard birds calling and looking up into the clear sky she saw the red birds, four of them flying towards the cliffs to nest.
“I’m so sorry,” said her father.
“Why are you sorry?” asked Ariagny.
“I’m sorry for leaving the both of you,” he said, his voice shaking, “we will never be apart again, I promise you that.”
Finally Ariagny gave in and let her tears flow. She didn’t care who was watching or that she was a princess and princesses didn’t cry. She was with her family again and she believed her father’s words more than she had ever believed anything else in her life. They would never be apart now.

 

Rewrite of first few chapters of OK Rory

 

 

OK
Listen, you are OK. I don’t mean you’re ok, I don’t mean you’re fine or safe. You’re neither of those things. You never will be either of those things. You are OK. That’s your name. I know it’s a strange name but you’re more than used to it after sixteen years and besides everyone else here has names like that. Your father is HT and your mother is D4 and your brother, the dead one, was 7J. That’s just how things are.
Listen. That’s what the Pale Man said to you. Listen, OK. You were bathing in the lake when the Pale Men came. You are used to men watching you bathe in the lake. You are sixteen and have breasts and your face isn’t disfigured or strange. You don’t even have any scars because your father never beat you. The sky was clear and the sun was huge and pale. A dying sun. The sun is always huge and pale. There is no moon on this side of the earth. The Pale Men are huge and pale. They have no eyes and their bodies are clean of hair. Their skin is smooth and cold like a snake’s. There are four of them. There are always four of them.
The one who speaks, the Pale Man, tells you to follow him. You follow him through the forest to the cliffs. Below you is the valley and beyond the valley is the city and beyond the city is the tower. The sun hangs in the sky behind the tower so the tower looks like it’s cutting up through the sun. The sky is white.
“Listen,” says the pale man, “you need to go the tower.”
It’s not a suggestion. You know that. Your father once told you that if the Pale Men come for you they won’t suggest what they want. They’ll speak and you’ll obey.
You’re still naked but the Pale Man doesn’t care. He can’t look at you like everyone else looks at you.
“Why do I have to go there?” you ask him but he doesn’t answer.
That night you find it hard to sleep so you sit outside your parents’ tent and listen to the cicadas. A creature is howling. There are too many creatures in the valley. Eventually you fall asleep and in your dream the Pale Man is there. He has got into your dreams. You are walking through the valley with him and the creatures are watching. In the dream they only watch but you know that isn’t how they’d really act. They want to devour you. Everyone wants to devour you. You follow the Pale Man through the dead city and into the tower. You climb the tower and when you reach the top you open a door and come out onto a balcony. The sun is huge and pale. A boy is standing on the balcony. The sun turns black and the boy turns black and you wake.
Listen, now you’re awake you can pretend you have a choice. You can go back inside and get into bed with your parents and pretend that the Pale Man never suggested anything. Until he comes again. Or you can go now. You can leave like 7J did.
Listen, it’s best not to wake them. They’ll only cry. Just go, ok.


Rory
Listen, I got kicked out of school ok. I told you that already so don’t go thinking you can ask me loads of stupid questions. Stuff went bad for a while and I did one particularly terrible thing. That’s what school said anyway. School said ‘Rory you’ve done something terrible ok, we have no choice but to ask you to leave’. I didn’t cry and beg them to let me stay. I hated that school anyway. I was only there because my dad went there when he was a kid and his dad too but they’re all dead now so what does it matter. They can’t be disappointed in me or anything because they’re dead and really they can’t ever know what happened or that I let them down. It’s only the school and my mum who are disappointed but mum is in Dubai anyway. Mum is always in Dubai.
What I’m meant to do now is go home and spend the summer in the Maida Vale house but I don’t feel like being stuck in London all summer. I hate London really. I hate the tube especially but the thing I hate the most is that I might see someone from my old school and they might ask me about what I did because they’re bound to know and I won’t know what to say. What can I say anyway? Say someone, someone like Yazmina or Carter, sees me and asks me why I did it then I wouldn’t have even a half decent answer. I don’t know, I’d probably say, I just felt like burning something. Yazmina would be the most upset. We slept together twice and she thought she was pregnant but everything ended up ok. She thinks we have some connection though. She’d probably go, ‘Yeah Rory but why’d you have to burn a cat?’ She loves cats. She would’ve even loved that cat even though it was blind, red eyed and had this massive tumour lump on its back. She’d have this lovely picture of a kitten in her head and she’d shake her head and walk off probably. Even Carter wouldn’t understand that it wasn’t about the cat. He’d probably say, ‘Man, that’s messed up’ and walk off too. Even he wouldn’t understand that Mr Fino loved that cat and I hated Mr Fino so it was obvious. The cat had to go. Anyway, I can’t go back to London for other reasons that you wouldn’t have the time to hear about now so I just get on a train and go north. Go wherever. What’s weird is that I could have gone east or west or even south, gone right the way south over the Channel to France and all the way down to granddad’s place near Carcassonne even. But I go north and I get on this train and I sit in this seat and there behind the crappy pull down plastic table are the pictures. Four pictures of this girl. Four pictures with four times and dates and four locations scrawled on the back. I didn’t even think people had photographs anymore, I thought that was something only people like my dad ever did, people who didn’t realise what century they were living in. All of the photographs are of this really beautiful beyond beautiful girl with hair blacker than mine. She’s like the type of girl I’d make up, she’s that beautiful. And all the way north I stare at her and I get this feeling in the bottom of my stomach, this realisation just the same as the cat and Mr Fino, the obviousness, that I have to find her, that I have to find her and tell her how beautiful beyond beautiful she is. It’s only as my train starts to slow and a city I don’t know passes by the window that I look properly at the writing on the back of the photographs. The writing looks almost like it’s been printed, it’s precise and uniform. I look at each of the four times and dates again. I look at them about ten times just to be certain but it doesn’t make sense because none of the dates have happened yet.

OK
You know nothing about how the world broke. You only know that it’s cold and you’re walking away from your home. One day you’ll know how the world broke but right now all you know is what everyone else knows. The broken bits of memory. The bad wars. The changing skies. The terrible rain. That there are creatures out there.
“Stay in the village,” is what your father always says.
You never listen to him.
You’re not listening to him now.
You follow the old road down out of your village. Behind you are the tents and hovels of your people. Behind you is everything you’ve ever known. The road is overgrown and after you’ve walked for a while there might as well be no road. You keep walking through trees into the forest. You can hear an owl. You know there are no creatures this close to the village but still your heart is pounding. You grip the knife harder. You hadn’t even realised you’d drawn it but there it is in your hand. You’ve killed animals before but never a creature. Could you kill one, OK?
When you reach a stream the Pale Man shows himself.
“You came,” he says.
You can feel every hair on your body. Even though you’re wearing your father’s bearpelt you are freezing cold.
“I didn’t want to,” you say.
The Pale Man smiles. He looks at the knife even though he has no eyes. You see him lower his head as if he has eyes, as if he is looking at the knife and you push it back beneath your belt.
“You came even though you didn’t want to come,” he says.
You have questions for him. So many. You want to ask them but your teeth are chattering with the cold and it’s almost like your voice is frozen.
“You want to know why you are going to the tower,” says the Pale Man.
You nod.
“You want to know what we want from you there,” he says.
His skin seems blue in the gloom. The trees hide the white sun and it might almost be night. You sometimes wonder what night would be like.
You nod again.
“We want you to climb the tower,” says the Pale Man. He points north. You know the dead city is north. Your body shivers. Your lips tremble. It is the cold not fear. You are not afraid. You are not afraid.
“In the city?” you ask.
“Beyond the city,” he answers. “My brothers and I cannot go there. We want you to climb the tower and wait for us.”
“Why?” you ask. “What will I be waiting for?”
The owl hoots. Something howls far off. It might be the howl of a creature. For a moment you think that you could just turn around and go home but then you see the Pale Man. He has no eyes but you know he is looking at you, into you. He knows your thoughts. You know there is no going back. You know you have made your choice.
“We want you to climb the tower and wait, that is enough for you to know,” says the Pale Man.
The Pale Man moves closer. He towers over you. The world feels suddenly colder. Colder than it has ever been. Colder than it should ever be. His milk white hand reaches down and touches your face. It is ice. He strokes your face. His fingers move up to your hair. They stroke your hair, lift the black strands and let them drop back to your face. He moves his hand over every part of your face.
“Are all of you so beautiful?” he asks.
You don’t answer. His hand moves away. You close your eyes and the owl hoots again.
When you open your eyes he is gone. You kneel by the stream and splash the icy water onto your face. The water is nowhere near as cold as his hands.

Rory
I get off the train and I have to ask this dopey looking old woman where I am. She looks at me like I’m mad but she answers anyway.
“Liverpool,” she says.
She’s standing by these two statues, one of a pervert-looking old man and one of an old woman like how old women used to look. The dopey old woman looks sort of like the old woman statue.
I buy a sandwich and sit in the station for a bit. I can’t stop looking at the photographs. I keep looking at her, just staring at each picture for a very long time. I wasn’t this obsessed about Catherine Cormack and she was the first girl who let me finger her. But then Catherine is nothing like this girl. Catherine was pretty because she wore very short skirts and was always pouting in pictures. This girl isn’t pouting at all. She isn’t even wearing that much make up which is strange because and she was always naked on Instagram. Every girl I’ve ever been in love with wears buckets full of make-up. This girl is just smiling, like a normal every day smile. She has very blue eyes and her hair isn’t that long, sort of shoulder length. She sort of looks the same in every photograph too. She’s looking off at something else, like she doesn’t even know she’s having her picture taken. In one she’s standing on these steps just looking down past the camera. On another she’s sat in this café and in another she’s in a bookshop not even paying a bit of notice to the books or anything, just looking past the camera. To be honest the photographs, the composition of them, is a bit corny. It’s a bit like some sort of amateur model shoot from about 1974. I really would hate looking at the photographs if it wasn’t for her. I just keep going through them. Her on a train. Her in some museum. Her in a restaurant. Her by a phonebox.
I sit there for about an hour just slowly eating my sandwich and looking at her. I start to get really obsessed with who she is and then I start thinking about the dates. I sort them into chronologically order. I’m always doing stuff like that. I had my room back at school really neatly organised so I knew exactly where everything was and where everything should be. I had this bookcase but I didn’t keep books on. To be honest I can’t stand books. I kept most of my school books in this cupboard so I could keep them away and not look at them. The only books I ever liked were The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve never liked any other books and I’ve only read them both once. But I still had a bookcase. What I had on it was these very collectable toy cars my dad bought me. They were all still boxed and everything. I had them organised so that the oldest was on the top shelf and the newest on the bottom so from the top left to bottom right I had this chronological display. I was very proud of it but sometimes the other boys on my corridor would come in and mess with the order. I never used to let them know it bothered me but it did.
I get the photographs sorted pretty quickly. The first one, the one with the nearest date, is tomorrow. I look through them. They’re all dated over the next four days. I smile at that. It’s a very funny thing to do really when you think about. Leave a load of photographs of this model pretty girl on a train and write on the back these very mysterious dates but make them sort of tantalisingly within reach. It sort of makes me want to go to where the first one was taken, is going to be taken, in three days just to see what happens.
I finish my sandwich and take out the pay as you go phone I bought last week. I dial the only number I’ve got stored.
It rings seven times and then goes to answer phone.
I ring it again just in case. In fact I ring it four more times just to be really sure but no one answers. I don’t know why I think someone will. I keep telling myself it’s impossible.
I pay thirty pence to use the toilet in the station. After I piss I look at myself in the mirror. It’s weird because I wear a uniform nearly every day so when I see myself out of uniform it feels like I’m not looking at myself. It’s only when I look at myself that I realise I didn’t bring a suitcase or bag or anything with more clothes. The only clothes I have are what I’m wearing; pea coat, green The Great Gatsby t shirt, an old pair of cords that are really too long and my best brogues. I feel pretty foolish for forgetting to bring more clothes but at least I have money.
I buy two more sandwiches and a coke then I go out to the taxis. It’s raining hard and it must be late because the station is pretty much deserted and there’s only about four taxis parked up.
“Where’s the best hotel?” I ask the driver.
He turns and looks at me. He’s thinking I’m taking the piss.
“I’ve got money,” I say.
“As long as you’ve got money to pay me I don’t care where you want to go, lad,” he says in this very hard accent.
He drives me through the city but I don’t pay much attention to the place. When we get to the hotel the receptionist looks at me the same way as the taxi driver. It’s only when I get out my American Express card that she gets more helpful.
“Do you have a bar?” I ask her. She’s quite pretty in the sort of way most girls who work in hotels like this one are pretty. In a sort of type of girl who’d sleep with her boss pretty sort of way.
“We do,” she says. She looks at me trying to decide whether she should worry about my age.
“It’s ok,” I say. “I feel like a walk.”
I leave her a too big tip and go up to my room. I take the photographs out of my coat pocket and lay them out on the bed. I go to the window and open the curtains. It’s dark out and raining still so I can’t see very far. I have to peer right close up at the window to see out past my own reflection. The rain is falling viciously on the water of the docks, that’s about all I can see. I watch it rain and then I get thirsty so I go out to find somewhere that will serve me.

OK
You are deep within the forest now. Let me tell you something about this forest. Do you see how the trees are white like lime washed bone and the leaves are crimson like blood defying gravity, like blood trying to escape skyward. This isn’t how trees used to be. I remember when trees were mostly brown, how their leaves were mostly green. Ok, there were some trees in autumn whose leaves changed to red but never so crimson, never so sparkling with moisture like the blood is fresh. And the trunks could be white but never so purely white. These trees are white like they could be no other colour. They are white and if you touched one you wouldn’t feel wood. You’d feel bone. Hard bone. Bare bone. Be careful not to touch them, OK. The trees are dangerous.
Your father told your brother that. He told 7J not to go into the forest.
“What is there here for me?” 7J said.
It was a cruel thing to say. It hurt your father very much. He cried later about that because he knew the truth of it. All your parents ever had was the tent and the two beds. Nothing else.
“There’s nothing in the forest for you,” your father told 7J.
You were a little girl then. You were naked on your mother’s knee.
“There are creatures,” pleaded your mother. “They’ll take you.”
Your mother was crying. There was a pan of stew going cold on the table. 7J had caught a fat hare that morning. The house stank of boiled hare but the stew was full of meat for a change and the fur would do for shoes for your always naked feet, your dirt blackened feet. Winter was always just a breath away and your feet were always cold.
“I’ll come back with more hares than you could ever eat,” said 7J.
You don’t know this but your father walked him to the very edge of the forest even though nothing scared your father more than the forest. Others came too. The town lords watched from a distance but there were children who didn’t know any better and they came right to the forest edge.
A little boy gave 7J a blunt knife.
“Kill a creature for us,” the boy said.
OK, when the creatures found your brother he did kill one with that knife. Pushed it right deep into the creature’s eye until he could feel the creature’s brain pushing back, the soft meat, the dumb meat. It was only one dead creature. More came. I saw them take him away up into the highlands but I didn’t see him die. OK, would it comfort you to believe that maybe he is still alive up there?
Look.
There are the highlands now. You are deep into the forest, deeper than even 7J got, but not deep enough so the bone trees are inches apart and the sky a canopy of blood. You can still make out the white sky. You can still make out the ridge of the highlands.
Look.
There is a creature on the ridge. Don’t be scared, it doesn’t smell you. It is sniffing for a mountain deer. That will do for a meal tonight. You will not be devoured tonight, OK.
Keep walking, OK. There is a long way to go. Let me tell you a story to pass the time. Let me tell why your brother had to leave.
It was your mother’s fault. You don’t know this but your mother wasn’t born in the village. She was born in the dead city before the forest started to grow. People could still pass between the dead city and the village with ease then. That’s how your parents met. Your father made what money he could by escorting travellers along the forest road and your mother was on the road one day. I know, there isn’t any road in the forest. If there was you could just follow it but instead here you are tumbling over roots, through blood drops, I mean fallen leaves. The road is there still, somewhere. Maybe it’s just a few days’ walks from here, maybe you could find it if you tried hard enough but then maybe you’d just get lost and end up back where the creatures took 7J. I remember there was a statue, one of the ancient statues. It was of a man on a horse. The man was in military uniform, the horse was rearing. The man held a sabre aloft in his right hand. Your brother’s foot might still be near that statue.
I’ve wandered. Don’t wander, OK. Keep going north.
Where was I? That’s it. It was your mother fault. She was to blame for 7J’s dreams. He would always dream, you know that. He would often tell you about his dreams.
“There’s a living city out there,” he would say.
“What’s it like?” you would ask.
“It’s like how things used to be. There are millions of people and no one is malformed. There aren’t even any creatures.”
You would laugh at that.
“Don’t be silly. There must be creatures.”
He was certain. He had seen that city time and time again. He would sometimes sleep just to see it. Your mother sowed that seed.
Before you were born on the nights your father was lake fishing, she would tell 7J about the dead city. She would tell him about her old home and her parents. She would tell him how her mother grew up in the sewers. She would tell him that your grandmother’s skin was almost green from the water the sewerfolk would drink. She would tell him about your grandfather too but everything she told him about your grandfather was a lie. Your grandfather started the lie.
“I was born in the living city,” your grandfather would tell your mother. “There are no creatures in the living city.”
Your mother never believed the bit about no creatures but she believed all the rest. She believed the parts about the clean water, the healthy air, the never dark, the safety in numbers, the so much food. She told 7J every part of it.
Why didn’t she tell you the same stories, OK?
She promised your father never to tell them to you. He could see the dreams in your brother’s eyes. He knew that the dreams were there, deep in 7J’s mind and they’d never leave him. That’s why he didn’t fight for 7J to stay. Your father always knew your brother would leave one day.
And now you’ve left, OK.
Now you’re here and the trees are closer. The sky is less. The sky is crimson. You can’t see the ridge or the creatures or the poor mountain deer. You can only hear the constant rustle of leaves. The occasional bark of a bird. A frog growling. A rat humming beneath the fallen leaves. A woodpecker hammering bone with both beaks.
Now you’re here so deep within the forest, so far from the village and your tent and your parents and you have no idea you’re being watched.
Shush now. Stay still. She’s there waiting for you. She’s from the dead city but she’s not your mother.


Rory
The truth is I have very little memory of the last six hours. Drink does that to me, especially whisky.
I know I drank about a dozen badly made Old-Fashioneds. I’m a bastard for drinks like that. I watched Mad Men once, just once, and I couldn’t get the Old-Fashioned out my head after that even though all the sex addicts and drunks in Mad Men made me sick. Every time I think of the sixties now I start coughing because all I can see are the drunks smoking, there’s smoke everywhere. I’m not saying I hate smoke it’s just I sort of hate how everyone in the 60’s sort of seems to drink all day and smoke all night and nothing else. Dad did that and look where he is now. Maybe I should blame the 60’s for what happened to dad but then he was only born in 1954 so he didn’t really ever know the 60’s. I don’t think he watched Mad Men either or drank Old-Fashioneds. He was more of a gin man. Whole bottles. No tonic. No ice. No lemon. Just gin. I can’t stand gin. Old-Fashioneds are all I ever want to drink now. I used to make them for myself in my room at school and get really drunk on them every Tuesday so I could deal with Billinger’s Latin class in the morning. It’s been a while since I got really badly wasted on them so that might explain why I’m sitting in a bus stop crying and there’s this terribly ugly prostitute staring at me, shouting across the road at me every time I look back.
My nose is bleeding. My lip is cut. My cheek bone is bruised rotten. I can still see the prostitute’s pimp or boyfriend or whoever standing over me. I can still remember that even if I’ve forgot the rest.
“Pay her,” he shouted at me.
I felt like I’d read this. I felt like it was someone else’s story. I wished to god I was making it up but it was real. Real real.
I was going to pay him even though she only gave me a hand job. I was going to pay him the whole £100 even though I knew it was way too much but when I got my wallet out and he saw how much money was in it he just started punching me. Even after he had me on the floor and I was crying he started kicking me really hard in my ribs and calling me a ‘fucking thief’.
I stole a hand job. That must be it. That must be what they both thought. They’ll probably never see that you can’t steal something you’ve over-paid for. If I went into some car showroom and said I wanted to buy their expensive Jaguar and they told me it was about £20,000 I wouldn’t be a car thief if I paid £40,000 for it would I? The police wouldn’t be chasing me. I wouldn’t have to go to court. The judge wouldn’t lean over at me and call me a ‘fucking thief’.
She’s still looking at me. I’m still crying too. Taxis go past but I don’t hail them. I just bend over and clutch my ribs because I think her boyfriend must’ve broken at least two. There’s blood coming through my Gatsby t-shirt. That annoys me. I get all brave then and look up at her, give her a really dirty look but she just laughs and then some drunk students come up to her.
When she takes one of the students into the same alley where I stole a hand job I get up and start walking. My legs won’t stop shaking. If you saw me now you’d think I was a coward, that I was terrified of her boyfriend coming to do me over again but it’s not that. It’s the drink really. I’m wasted and I want to be sick. My legs always tremble when I’m wasted.
It won’t stop raining.
I know why. You can’t have a nice clear night when there’s someone like me walking like a cripple through a city he doesn’t know. You need rain for that, really bastard non-stop rain.
I can see one of the cathedrals and I walk towards that. I stop at this bench and for a minute I think someone has left loads of suitcases all over the place only when I touch one it’s hard and cold. They’re stone. Just loads of stone suitcases for no reason. I laugh at that but my ribs hurt so I light a cigarette.
I just started smoking tonight. I can remember that. It was when I’d only had one drink. I got cocky and started chatting up these three girls. They were chubby really so I wasn’t that intimidated. One of them was fifty per cent pretty but not stunningly. Her name was Chloe.
“Do you smoke?” she asked. When she stood up her skirt rode up a little. I could see these purple knickers and I got an instant hard on so I told her that I smoked.
I didn’t cough or anything when I took my first drag. It wasn’t that bad really. Just sort of like eating wood. I sort of liked it.
I messed things up with Chloe though. I always mess things up with girls. Usually I mess things up by ditching them after sex, not texting them or emailing them constantly, but with Chloe my words did all the messing up and I didn’t even get to sleep with her.
I told her about the photographs I found. I kept going on about how beautiful the girl in the photographs was and then I started telling her about the dates and times.
“What do you mean?” she asked like she was the most stupid girl in the world. That didn’t make sense. She said she was studying medicine so she couldn’t have been that stupid. Her asking that got me angry though. Angry at her being stupid when she was going to be a doctor for one but more angry at her for not getting it.
“What do you mean, what do I mean?” I asked and it went downhill after that.
I told her that maybe the photo girl was from the future. Chloe started asking how old I was then. Some guy she seemed to know from her uni was there too and he started saying I was fourteen. I told him he looked like he should be in a home. He did sort of too. He looked sort of slow, like his eyes were too big and he had this slight under bite.
He pushed me.
“Who is this, Chloe?” he asked.
“No one,” she said and that was that.
It took me an hour to find somewhere that’s served Old Fashioneds then. The bar man hadn’t heard of them but he was ok because he googled it. He didn’t have sugar syrup so he just used sugar. I told him it was a good effort but he didn’t get better at making them even though I ordered seven more.
The drink hit me when I stepped out of the bar. Drink always hits me right in the face when I go outside. It hits me harder than the prostitute’s boyfriend hit me. It hits me and makes me do silly things.
That’s when I saw her. I thought she was just a girl waiting for a bus at first but when I realised what she really was I was all cocky and drunk. The thing is I was so cocky that after she’d given me the handjob I tried to get all lovey-dovey with her and started kissing her. I thought maybe she’d want to have sex with me but she only started shouting at me, asking me did I think she was a pervert who shagged little boys. I asked what the difference between a hand job and sex was and she started saying I was only twelve. That she had a son older than me. That I was a pervert. That’s when I told she was the pervert for giving a twelve year old a hand job even though I’m not twelve. I’m fifteen so really it was only a bit perverted of her.
I don’t know how I manage to find my hotel. One minute I’m lost and then the next I can see the docks and the river. When I get into my room I sit on the window sill and take out my phone.
I take out my phone and call the number fifteen times. On the fifteenth I tell myself he’ll answer but he doesn’t.
I lean my head against the window and start crying again. My blood smears the window. My blood mixes with condensation. I lean back and I write my name with the blood like when you’re a kid and you blow on a window to draw a smiley face. Dad used to do that. Say we were in the car going somewhere and we were at lights he’d blow on his window and write something funny like boobs or poo. He’d always do it while mum was changing the radio station or doing her make up. It was like only me and him knew about it, like it was our joke. Mum never caught him once, not even when he wrote ‘Mummy is a fatty’. She wouldn’t have got that joke. She was doing a lot of crash diets all the time but the truth is she only lost the weight when dad died. People might say that was grief but really it was because of Fernando and all the sex she was having with Fernando.
I can’t stop crying now. I want to. I’d do anything to stop crying but I can’t. I sort of crawl to the bathroom and I tell myself to be sick. I can feel the drink-sick bubbling way in my stomach but I can’t throw up for the crying. I must fall asleep like that, my head on the toilet seat, because it’s morning when I wake up. I hear this beeping and it takes a few minutes before I realise that it’s my phone, that someone is messaging me.

Ester

 

Here”s Ester pov. Ester Runehawk, poor old Rook’s sister.

ESTER

She was watching vultures circle in the sky above her and all she could think of was that they had been feasting on her family, on everyone she had ever known.
It had been two days since Farview had burned. Since the mist came. Still she stayed within the stone circle that the moorfolk called the Sorrow Stones. That seemed apt. She had spent most of those two days crying and when sleep finally came there was no freedom from her grief there. Sleep only brought Rook. He was frozen. He wouldn’t come to her. She would call for him again and again in her dream but still it would be the same as in life. Something would hit her and there would be darkness.
“When will they go away?” she said as she watched the vultures descend towards the ashes of Farview. The Sorrow Stones were away to the east of the Moor Road where the moors started to rise towards the far off mountains.
“When they stop being hungry, I suppose,” said a voice.
She turned on to her side.
The pigboy was gutting a rabbit ready to roast it over the fire for dinner. His two pigs were sleeping beside the fire. She knew she should think of him as Glump but that was a silly name. He was the pigboy but she had to get used to calling him Glump. Glump, his name is Glump.
His pigs were always with him and he even had a slightly upturned nose like a snout. He was quite ugly really. Just her luck to get stuck with the ugliest of her father’s wall guard. There were many handsome men serving her father who had smiled at her enough times. Or there had been. They were all dead now. There was only Glump.
He was stupidly big too. A giant. She had half expected him to be as dumb as he was tall but he spoke well and more importantly he knew how to survive on the moors, what they could eat and not eat, where to find water. He had wanted them to get moving on the first day but she refused to budge. She knew she had to leave soon, follow the road north to Carentol and her father’s family, but the thought of leaving made her ill. She would rather stay on the moors and suffer the cold. It meant she was still close to them. Or to their bodies.
That thought hurt her most. They were bodies now. Her father, so strong and brave. A knight, a Blade of the Stone Lands, brother to a king. Now he was just food for vultures. Her mother too with her hair that smelled of lavender and her fine silk dresses. Even her friends, Abagel and Rowenne, even Gillice Thwaite. She had hated Gillice Thwaite all her life. Gillice was the daughter of her father’s captain and Ester hated how she would flirt with every wall guard or serving boy that passed her. Hated how she would flutter her eyelids and laugh at the silly jokes the visiting knights would tell. But now she wanted nothing more than to see Gillice, to hear her laugh, her over-sweet laugh. But Gillice was dead. She had seen her body, her eyes wide, her mouth open. No laughter, no fluttering eyelids. Just death. She had seen them all die.
She put her hand to her head. The wound was healing well. When Glump had found her, carried her from the fires to the moor, blood had covered her face. The cut had been deep, almost to the bone. It would scar, he told her. He told her too that he’d thought she was dead when he first found her but then he felt her heart beat, faint and slow, and he knew she would live. In the first day she wished she had died. Dead with them all so she didn’t have to mourn them.
Poor Rook, she thought to herself. Every time she thought of her brother she felt the tears welling again and the pain in her forehead woke. They were twins and though they had never been alike she had always loved him more than even her parents. She had protected him, watched over him. He liked the stories she read to him best. Sometimes, when he had his worst fits, she would be the only one who could soothe him. She would read him a story and as soon as he heard her voice he would calm down and lay his head against her shoulder and she would read and read until he slept. My poor Rook, she thought again.
Glump yanked the skin from the rabbit, pulled it hard so he was left with just a naked, pink rabbit. Her stomach lurched. She had eaten rabbit many times but never had to see one skinned. She wished she wasn’t so hungry but now the poultice Glump had made for her wound was starting to work her appetite had returned in strength. She touched the wound. The poultice was hard now and she tried not to think of what was in it. He had applied it to her head before she had woken on the first day but it was the stink of it that finally woke her. Urine and cow muck, that was the stench. It had lessened now and the pain had almost gone, unless she thought of Rook.
“Will you eat some?” asked Glump.
She sat up.
She was wrapped in his cloak, a dirty thing covered in odd stains with the grey hawk mark sewn upon it. She was still cold though. Ever since the strange mist had moved south the weather had turned bitterly cold. It was meant to be summer but the sky was forever overcast and on their first night on the moors a light snow had fallen.
“The world’s gone to pot,” Glump had said with confidence. He didn’t seem afraid of what had happened. Of the mist, the shadows, the strange weather. He only seemed certain that bad times were coming. He almost accepted the prospect like anyone else might accept a rainy day. She was afraid. Every time she remembered what had happened she saw the shadows. What were they? They had no face, no eyes. Just black shadows. When she had first woken she had been convinced it was all warlock magic but Glump had told her she was wrong.
“That weren’t magic,” he had said, again with certainty, “that were older and stronger.”
Those words had scared her even more.
Now Glump shoved a stick through the rabbit and balanced it over the fire. His pigs woke up at the smell of meat cooking and so too did Ester. She stood up and, pulling the cloak tight about herself, she made her way over to the fire.
“Won’t be long,” said Glump. He had found some wild garlic and some blackberries too so they ate those while the rabbit cooked. One of the pigs, the one he called Cracker, pushed his head against Ester but she pushed him away. The pigs stank worse than the poultice. She couldn’t understand why Glump kept them but the wall guard seemed to love them.
“Are you feeling well now, erm, my lady,” he asked her.
She smiled. It was nice in a way for someone to still call her that even if they said it as awkwardly as Glump. My lady. But what was she lady of, she wondered. She looked off to where Farview had been. To where the three towers had stood tall. To where the wall that encircled the town had stood for a thousand years. Now it was all gone. Just a black scar on the land.
“I’m feeling better, thank you Glump,” she lied.
He smiled back. It wasn’t a reassuring smile. Glump had no front teeth and the rest of his teeth were yellow or black. He couldn’t have been more than a year older than her and yet he looked sometimes as old as her father. He was broad and had a wide face with deep set black eyebrows and his black hair was matted and tied back in a ponytail. At least he had his axe.
The axe was almost as tall as Glump. She had tried lifting it but Glump had laughed at her. It was so heavy, she wondered how even Glump could lift it.
Maybe, she thought, as Glump took the rabbit from the fire, I should be glad I’m with him. He lived after all. He lived when everyone else died.
The rabbit was good. She ate more berries and Glump made a tea with some leaves he had found. They tasted of mint.
“Moor-rose tea,” he said though the black leaves he had stewed looked nothing like roses. The tea was sweet and warm. It made her feel almost safe.
“Will we be making a move tomorrow?” asked Glump. He had asked her that on the first night and then again on the second.
She sipped her tea. She closed her eyes and she hoped beyond hope she wouldn’t see Rook again. See him taken.
She saw nothing.
When she opened her eyes she saw the two pigs tucking into the last berries and Glump gnawing at a rabbit bone to get at the marrow.
“I think we will,” she said.
There was nothing here for her now, she knew that. She wasn’t even sure anymore why she had stayed. Maybe it had been for some vague hope that someone had lived. Yes, that must have been it. She had lied to herself that she had to stay in case someone needed them but now she knew the truth. They were all gone and she had only one place to go now. Carentol. Her father’s brother Yewen was king of the Stone Lands and though she hadn’t seen him since she was a child and knew none of her family there she knew it was the only place she had left now. She had to start again. There were only ashes of what had been her life left on the Night Moors now.
That night she slept without dreams and in the morning they followed the Moor Road north. By noon they were nearing the village of Moonflower Rise. She could see the jagged peaks of the Carn Mountains beyond and knew that somewhere past those giants was Carentol.
“How far is it to Carentol?” she asked Glump.
He was chewing on a blade of thick grass. His pigs were walking beside him, one either side, like obedient dogs. The one with the black spot on its rump was Cracker and the one with a brown spot on his left ear was Bacon.
“Not less than eighty miles, I’d say,” answered Glump.
The Moor Road rose to a steep incline. At the top of that was the village. They could see smoke rising from chimneys, one tall stone house rising higher than the other thatched houses and the steeple of a chapel. That was good, she thought, maybe she could go to an Arl and pray for Ont to take care of her family’s souls, her friends’ souls. Maybe she could even pray for whatever the shadows were to die though she wasn’t sure if shadows could die. The ones who came to Farview didn’t seem to fall beneath the blades and arrows of her father’s guard. She had seen a spear pass cleanly through one and the astonished guard had had barely a second to wonder at what was happening before he fell.
“How long will it take us to get there?” she asked.
Glump chewed on the grass.
“Not less than a week I’d say,” he said.
She sighed. Her feet were already blistered and sore. She had never walked so far in her life. She turned to look back the way they had come. In the distance she could see the gentle rise and fall of the moors. The river Mud wound this way and that to the east. A thin line of smoke still rose from Farview. And then she noticed something moving on the moor. A rider, alone, moving slowly, coming the exact way they had come.
Glump had seen the rider too now.
“Come on, erm, my lady,” he said and he put a huge hand gently on her shoulder, “we should be moving. Best to be inside tonight.”
She didn’t follow him immediately. For a moment she thought maybe the rider was her father, riding Gunner to find her. She hadn’t seen him fall after all. Maybe he’s alive, she told herself. But as she watched the rider slowly moving over the distant moorland she knew it was not him. He was gone. They were all gone. For a while at least she would have only Glump and his pigs.

Ark

 

 

Here’s the second chapter from Flamestone. Awful title. This one follows Ark Noon who I think is probably, in my mind, the main protagonist of the books. I’ve taken Ark’s name and the first chapter from a book/novella I wrote called, surprisingly, Ark Noon. He’s going to get some crap thrown at him the poor bugger. First off, let’s kill his dad!

ARK

Ark pushed the oar down into the water and the little boat slid calmly between two hill-isles. The rain was coming down heavy now, soaking his thin jumper, but he didn’t care, he liked the rain and how it fell on the water of the lake, dancing on the surface, a relentless joining of water to water. He pushed his hair away from his face. A drop of rain rolled down his nose and dangled at the tip before more rain washed it away.
He glanced back at the day’s catch. Two big pike and a young trout. That wasn’t bad. The trout would do for supper and he could salt the pike. But he wasn’t done yet. He knew a better spot just beyond the High Isle to the eastern end of the lake not far from the Farro’s farm. He smiled at that. Maybe he could fish for an hour and then row to the Farro’s. See Clarra. Kiss her again. He would row through a storm for that.
As he rowed on he thought of her. They had been up on the hill above the Farro’s farm. Clarra’s father was calling the dog in. It was sunset and the lake and hill-isles where bathed in a burning orange light. They were lying on their backs staring up at the sky. And then, at the same time, they had turned to each other. Clarra laughed and as she laughed he kissed her. It wasn’t a long a kiss. Just one small kiss. And when their lips parted her father was calling for them. She stood and brushed grass from her dress. She smiled and then she was running down the hill to her father. Ark had stayed there for a moment. Lying there. Realising that he had actually kissed Clarra Farro.
The High Isle was shrouded by rain. He could just make out the old ruins of Tenber’s Fort at its top. He looked west to where the Farros had their farm on their own little hill-isle. The lake was full of isles. The Lake of Small Isles it was called and though he had never counted he knew there must have been over a hundred little isles, all of them hills breaking the water, some large enough for farms, for sheep to graze and cows to munch, some just about big enough for a single cottage and some too steep and high for anyone to settle on them. The High Isle was that type. A little mountain rising from the dark lake waters and yet long ago someone had built a fort there to watch over the lake. Ark had climbed the High Isle himself many times and walked about the ruins. The islefolk called it Tenber’s Fort though no one knew who Tenber was. Ark had found a coin there. It was silver, his father had been sure of it, but whatever had been depicted on the coin had long been worn away. The only small mark left looked to Ark like the foot of a lion. Sometimes he would hold the coin and wonder if it had come from far across the world. Maybe it was an Ironlander coin, maybe it had depicted one of the old Runehawk kings or it could have even come from over the Hedge Wall in the Stone Land, his father’s land. Sometimes he would hold the coin and close his eyes and wonder if it really was a coin from that strange land of warlocks and Power.
He rowed on until he came to the mess of willow roots where he knew salmon liked to hide. He had always caught plenty there in the past and so he let the rain soak him and cast his fishing rod and waited.
Evening came though the sun had long been concealed by clouds. A gloom fell over the lake. The rain finally stopped and a chill breeze swept over the water. Ark shivered as he fished and chided himself for not bringing a cloak. He had been in such rush to get out that morning. He knew why. He had known he would end up rowing to the Farro’s, to Clarra. He glanced west again. He couldn’t see any lights from their isle which was strange. Clarra’s father, Hew Farro, should have been home by now and set the lamps in their cottage burning. Whenever Ark came to the willows he could always see their cottage. In the day it was easy because there was a straight channel all the way to their hill-isle from the willows with no other hill-isle blocking his view and of an evening with their lamps lit it was a beacon not just so he could row to Clarra but also so he could row home. He and his father lived on a hill-isle not a mile west of the Farro’s and so all he had to do to find his way home was row for the light of the Farro farm. Yet tonight there was no light. Only darkness. Only an after-rain gloom and the deepening dark of night. He shivered again and was just about to pull his fishing rod in and give up trying to catch salmon when he heard the hawk.
Looking up he could just make it out. A black shape hovering over the water to the north. He watched it. He loved watching hawks and there were always plenty of them over the lake because there were plenty of rats and mice on the isles and a fair amount of pigeons too. Good feeding for hawks. He watched as it patiently waited for its chance. It had its eye on something. Soon, he knew, it would dart down towards a hill-isle and then rise with a catch in its talons. It would cry and wheel away back to wherever it nested. He held his breath. It was silly but he was trying to be as quiet as possible as if any sound he made would disturb the hawk. He could hear the lake water lapping at his boat and feel the boat’s gentle sway. In that moment of waiting for the hawk to dive the water seemed as loud as a heaving ocean and the boat’s sway felt like he was being thrown this way and that on tumultuous waves. Everything was heightened in the waiting. And then the silence was torn apart by a crack of musket fire.
Ark jumped and his fishing rod fell from his hand with a splash into the water.
The hawk plummeted fast. It wasn’t diving. It wasn’t hunting. It was dying and he watched it fall faster and faster until it was gone.
Ark could hear his own heart beating hard. Pounding in his ears.
Musket fire. None of the islefolk would ever shoot a hawk, he doubted any of them even owned a musket, that was a rare weapon even in the Iron Lands.
His heart sank. He knew suddenly what was happening. The words of warning his father had repeated to him came flooding back. He felt sick.
They will come for me one day, son. They will come for the stone and when they do they will kill me.
He forgot about the fishing rod and he grabbed the oar. He rowed hard west. He rowed past the Farro’s hill-isle without even thinking about Clarra. He didn’t even glance to their cottage to see why the lights were out. He just rowed.
He was drenched with sweat as well as rain by the time he reached the hill-isle he had lived on his whole life. It was a tiny isle, just big enough for their little cottage and a copse of pear trees. As neared home he stopped rowing and let his boat drift towards the reeds which surrounded the hill-isle.
He could hear voices.
He put his hand in the water and gently ebbed the boat deeper into the reeds. He was down beneath the pear trees and he could just see through them to the back of their cottage. The evening lamps were lit. He laid himself flat in the boat and listened.
The voice speaking was not that of an Ironlander. It was a strange accent, not gruff and hard like an Ironlanders. It was flowery and lilting. A foreign voice and one that Ark knew belonged to somebody of high birth.
The warlocks will find me one day.
His father had never told him the whole story but from time to time he would sit Ark down and remind him of the danger they lived with every day. Somebody wanted to find them. They were hiding. Somebody wanted to hurt them.
When he was little he would ask his father questions but he would get no answers. Only the repetition of that mantra of warning. They will come for me one day, son. They will come for the stone and when they do they will kill me. The warlocks will find me.
Now listening to the man’s voice Ark knew he was listening to the voice of a warlock from the Stone Lands. A warlock like his father had once been a warlock.
“Where is it, Bened?” asked the man. He asked it like he had it asked it over and over before. Tired and angry.
“I told you,” came his father’s voice and it was a defeated voice. Ark knew then that they had already beaten his father. He couldn’t see anyone from the reeds but he knew his father’s face would be battered, bruised and bloodied. He could hear in the difficulty with which his father spoke. Bruised and bloodied lips spoke the words. “I threw it into the water.”
The warlock sighed.
“Why don’t we just kill him and burn this place to the ground,” said a second voice.
The warlock didn’t answer.
“Bened,” he said, “you stole it, you know that. It was not yours to take, it was mine. All I want is to have back what is rightfully mine. Nobody needs to die for that.”
His father laughed.
“I told you,” he said again, “I threw it into the lake years ago. Nobody should have it, Addem. Least of all you.”
There was silence and then his father screamed out in pain.
“Why do you make my men hurt you, Bened?” said the warlock. “We were friends once. All I want is for you to be my friend one last time. Tell me where it.”
Ark knew what it was they wanted. Or where it was. Many times his father had rowed them to the hill-isle across the channel from their own. That isle was tiny. Not even large enough for a cottage. All it had room for was one ancient oak tree. The tree was carved with a strange symbol. A circle with a triangle within it.
“Did you carve that?” Ark had asked the first time they had rowed there.
“I did,” his father had said.
“Why?” Ark had asked.
“Because beneath this tree is something very special,” his father told him. “You have to remember this place, Ark. When they come for me you have to come here and take what is buried here. Take it far away and never let them find you. Do you understand?”
Ark had nodded. He hadn’t understood then, he had been only six that first time but over the years he had grown at least to understand the importance of what his father was telling him. Now, ten years after that first visit to the oak, he knew that whatever was buried beneath the tree was why they were hiding. He knew that if his father ever died then what was buried would become his responsibility.
He heard an owl hoot.
“I can’t help you, Addem,” he heard his father say, every word an effort, “I told you. It’s gone.”
“You’re a fool, Bened Noon,” shouted the warlock and then his father screamed out again. Ark heard something heavy connecting with bone over and over. His father screaming out with pain but never begging for mercy. He was taking what he knew he had to take. He knew he was going to die.
Ark wanted to leap from the boat, to run to his father, to save him, but he knew that was folly. He was sure there were more than just two Stonelanders there. He could hear others moving about, breathing, boots stomping through mud, waiting for orders. And he had no weapon. Only an old oar. He closed his eyes as they continued to beat his father.
“Enough,” said the warlock suddenly and for a moment Ark thought his father was saved.
He was wrong.
“Listen to me, Bened,” said the warlock. “I want you to know that when I have killed you I will burn every farm and homestead on every isle of this stinking lake and I will find the stone. I will find it and your death will have been for nothing. Do you understand me, traitor? I will kill everyone you know and as they die I will tell them you are the reason that they die. My only regret is that you have no family I can hurt before I end your life. That would give me small pleasure at least, watching you see your family die.”
They don’t know about me, thought Ark.
His father said nothing to the warlock’s words. Ark could hear his laboured breaths and the warlock’s boots sloshing back and forth through mud. Making a choice.
“Have it your way,” said the warlock at last.
Ark heard the blade slide from its sheath. He had to bite down on his jumper to stop himself shouting out for them to stop. He knew what was about to happen.
“You’ve lived like an Ironlander long enough,” said the warlock, “you can die like one.”
There was a whoosh of air. His father didn’t cry out. There was the sound of bone breaking. A thud as something hit the mud. Then silence.
Tears streamed from Ark’s eyes but still he didn’t move. He lay in the boat hoping that they wouldn’t come down to the reeds. The boat was still, that was good. The reeds were close together so the water wasn’t rocking the boat. He was as quiet as he could be.
“Burn the place,” said the warlock, “burn every island on this lake. Do it quickly, I can’t stand one more day in this land.”
“What about the stone?” asked the second voice.
“It’s not here,” said the warlock and then he paused. Ark felt suddenly like he was being watched. That was ridiculous. He was well hidden by the reeds but all the same he felt like he was being sought out, looked for. “Wherever it is,” said the warlock and the feeling left Ark, “it will come to me eventually. It is mine. It will return to me.”
Soon Ark heard the crackle of flames. Black smoke billowed into the air. Darker than any cloud that day. The moon was blocked out. He heard a large boat being pushed off into the lake, oars dipping and splashing as they touched water. He listened as the boat moved off away from the isle and only when he was sure it was gone did he move.
He didn’t go to his father. He didn’t want to see what they had done to him.
I have to remember, he told himself.
When they come for me you have to come here and take what is buried here. Take it far away and never let them find you.
He didn’t look back as he rowed across the channel to the isle. All the air was full of black smoke now and it was hard to breath but he jumped from his boat onto the shore, his oar in his right hand. His boots sank deep into the mud. He dragged them out and climbed up the rain-soaked hill to the tree. It was hard going and his chest hurt but he made it. He knelt in front of the tree. The tears wouldn’t stop. He saw the symbol, nearly faded now. A circle. A triangle within. And as he cried he dug and dug. He dug all through the night and the when the sun rose rain came again and put out the burning but the world didn’t lighten. Too much smoke obscured the sun. Once he looked off to the east. He saw fire there and beyond that more fire. He thought of Clarra but he kept digging. He cried for his father and he cried for Clarra. He remembered her kiss, how her lips felt, how she tasted, how her hair smelled. He shook his head. No, he told himself, she’ll be okay, she’s alive. And he dug on until the oar snapped and then he dug with his hands, scooping great clumps of mud out until at last he felt it.
The box was a simple thing. It was no bigger than his hand. Walnut and unadorned. It wasn’t even locked. He had thought it might be at least locked when he lifted it out. He hadn’t known what to expect but the box seemed light. He remembered the Stonelander’s question. What about the stone? But the box seemed so light that it might be empty.
He wiped the sweat from his brow. The tears were gone now. He was done with that. He was too tried for that. He stood, his legs shaky and his back aching, and he held the box in his hands. He stared at it. He didn’t want this responsibility. He wanted his father to be there. He wanted to go out in his boat and fish for salmon in the willows. He suddenly remembered the pike and the trout. His father loved trout. Had loved trout.
Take it far away and never let them find you.
He lifted the lid slowly to see the thing his father had died to protect. The thing that was his to protect now.
And when he saw what was inside he almost laughed.
Just a stone. A grey stone, smooth and plain. Sometimes he and his father would stand at the shoreline of their hill-isle and skim stones over the lake. Stones like this one. They would throw them, one after another for hours on end. His father could never get his stones to skip but Ark could. He could make them bounce four times before they vanished beneath the surface. He lifted the stone from the box, dropping the box to the hole, and walked down to the shoreline. He held it up as if he might throw it, skim it until it fell forever forgotten beneath the water. Every hill-isle for miles around had been burning. Plume after plume of black smoke rose high. But he didn’t throw the stone. Instead he closed his hand around it and in the silence of his world burning he heard his father’s voice as clear as a hawk’s cry.
Take it far away and never let them find you.

 

Rook

 

 

Here’s the first chapter of a multi-pov fantasy story, sort of YA, I’ve been writing. It’s called Flamestone. I think. But maybe not. This chapter follows Ruan ‘Rook’ Runehawk. A lot of Rs. The book follows five more povs – Rook’s sister Ester, a boy named Ark Noon, a young monk named Prenvice Wroot, a princess named Ariagny Astagale and a boy from the wild northern islands called Vit Sev. Spoiler – this is Rook’s only pov and in a way it serves as a sort of prologue to the rest. All the pov character are teenagers.

He never spoke a word to anyone. He was the quiet boy and everyone knew there was something not quite right about him.
He was walking the corridors of Farview’s towers again with his head held low. Making odd noises to himself. His father’s servants looked at him as he passed but few bothered to say anything. They knew that he couldn’t speak. Wouldn’t speak.
He could feel them looking at him and it made his eyes hurt. He could taste their laughter. It was acrid and bad. If he kept looking at the red tiles of the floor, kept listening to the sound his bare feet made with each foot fall, then maybe he could forget their staring eyes. But there was still the din of their voices. It stabbed at his ears.
“Ruan,” one of his father’s wall guards called, “master Ruan, are you well sir?”
Ruan didn’t answer.
Why did they call him that? He had never asked to be called that. That was the name his mother and father would say over and over in the great hall every evening at supper. His father, the loudest of all voices, would shout it to him. Ruan, look at me child. His voice getting louder and louder. Angrier and angrier. Hurting him. His father’s voice was as sour as lemon. And his mother would cry. Her tears were loud too. Loud sobs that attacked his ears and tasted of salt. Sometimes it would be so bad that he would have to cover his ears with his hands and rock away the sound. Their voices would still be there, they would always be there, but they would fade and he would say all the things he loved over and over in his head. The view from the Eye Tower. The old garden with the topiary dancing girls. His birds, his rooks. Rook. He would say that word most. His word. His name. Why didn’t they know that? Why wouldn’t they just call him Rook?
And then, sometimes, he would hear her laughter. Not loud. Not painful. Soft and soothing.
He would feel her hand on his shoulder.
“Rook,” she would say. Her voice was as sweet as the pomegranates his father sometimes brought from Pallerport. She was the only one who called him Rook.
He would move his hands away slowly and his rocking would stop and Ester would be there. She was his sister, she knew him like no one else knew him. She looked like him. She had his red hair and his green eyes and his thin nose and his small ears. He would lay his head against her and soon his parents would go away and everything would be better.
He was looking for Ester now. He hadn’t seen her for a day and his father had come back from far away with his angry face and brought that angry face into Rook’s room. Rook had known his father had been away but not where he and all his knights had vanished to for over a month. They were just away. He heard his mother tell Ester that their father was searching for someone. Like a game, thought Rook, a game out in the world he didn’t know.
“Ruan,” his father had said, but Rook didn’t lift his head from the pillow. Then his father sighed. “I only wanted you to know I was back.” The door slammed. His father had left him. As he lay on his bed Rook heard his mother and father talking outside.
“We should close the gates and call the moorfolk in,” his mother was saying.
“Not yet,” his father said.
“But Bill, it could come for us,” said his mother.
A pause. A sigh again.
“Then let it come,” his father said.
Rook heard footsteps going far away down the corridor.
But Ester didn’t come to his room like she always did. A whole day went by and she didn’t visit.
He moved down corridor after corridor, down the winding staircase and out into the courtyard. Behind him was the Daughter’s Tower where his bedroom was and beside that were its sister towers, the Eye Tower, tall and ever watchful over the Night Moors, and the Hawk Tower, named for their family’s mark, the grey hawk of the Runehawks. Above that circled three real hawks. One cried out. Rook didn’t look at it. He didn’t like hawks, their cries tasted dangerous.
He looked about the courtyard. It was raining heavily. His bare feet squelched through mud. There were faces everywhere. The castle cook was inspecting a delivery of fish from Mudport. The fat man who drove the cart was looking at Rook. He said something to the cook and the cook looked at Rook and the cart driver laughed. The fat man’s fat stallion looked over too. There was many of his father’s knights, still tired from their long journey, tending to their horses or polishing blades or cleaning muskets or flirting with his mother’s chambermaids. Ahead of him were the outhouses, stables and lowfolk cottages. He could see children looking at him. On the wall a guard with a grey hawk sewn into his cloak was peering out over the rain drenched moors. The guard was tall and heavy set, beside him sat a pig like a faithful dog. All their voices tasted of ash and smoke. Rook lowered his head and walked on. He skirted around the Daughter’s Tower and came past the armoury. There were less faces here. He only saw Dummett the smith and a skinny girl who was watching Dummett work, sitting on a barrel staring at the old man as he hammered at metal. The noise of steel being beaten into shape pecked at Rook’s ears. Where was Ester? Where was Ester? He started entwining his fingers and untwining them, then drumming his fingertips against each other. He grunted as he walked and his grunting turned to coughing. He hated the coughing worse than the grunting. If it went on too long his throat would hurt.
At last he came to the gardens. They were at the eastern end of the castle, in a small oasis of open ground far enough away from the high walls so it got sunlight all day. He looked at the dancing girls. There were three of them, their arms extended upwards and touching. He coughed, grunted and smiled.
He wanted to call out for Ester but no sound came. Trying to speak only made his mouth contort grotesquely and another grunt leapt out.
He wandered every inch of the garden but she was nowhere. Tears were in his eyes. He looked this way and that hoping that she would just appear like she always appeared and put her arms around him and tell him everything would be fine. But there was the only the rain and the distant sound of a man shouting. He heard the word gates.
He sat down on the wet grass for a while. Morning moved on. He was rocking. The rain stopped but the air remained tinged with moisture as if the rain was only waiting to return. A thin mist descended about the garden, draping itself over the dancing girls.
Rook stood, his feet caked in mud and his thin shirt and trousers sopping wet. He shuffled quickly off to the only other place he knew to go. The rookery.
The rookery was his one place of sanctuary in the whole castle. The Runehawks of Farview had always kept rooks going all the way back to Kylean I, Kylean Brotherkiller. Rook liked to read his stories and Kylean Brotherkiller had always been one of his favourites. Sometimes Ester would read it to him but mostly he would read it alone. He knew the story off by heart. Kylean was never meant to be a king but in those days the warlock Imilrin was bringing an army west into the Iron Lands. One after one Kylean’s brothers rode west to face Imilrin. Kylean was a boy of twelve when his brothers rode out. The warlocks couldn’t be stopped. They had foul creatures at their side, beastly nagoun and the terrible norki. Some stories even said that the dead served Imilrin and that dragons and wyvern obeyed his command. And when at last Kylean’s brothers returned to Carentol they were no longer his brothers. They were creatures as foul and beastly as any nagoun or norki. They had spent long years of torture at Imilrin’s hand and the warlock’s palmstone had changed them. Dark powers had warped them. They had come home now to rid the world of Runehawks, of Ironlanders, and only Kylean stood against them with his father’s steelstone blade, Sweetsong. And Kylean slew them all and in time he led the Ironlanders and those Stonelanders who stood against Imilrin. At the Black Tower he climbed its many stairs to face the warlock and as he did he disturbed a nest of rooks. They were young birds and they took flight at his approach. Kylean climbed on. At the tower’s summit Imilrin and Kylean fought. Kylean broke the warlock’s palmstone, shattered it into four pieces. He pushed Sweetsong through Imilrin’s heart and like that the war was ended. When he returned to Carentol, Kylean built a rookery and his sons built rookeries in their own castles and everywhere the Runehawks went a rookery was built. Some said that the Runehawk’s true mark should have been a black rook not a grey hawk.
Rook pushed open the wonky wooden door. The rookery of Farview was ancient and unloved. Many in the castle had forgotten the story of Kylean Brotherkiller.
The birds knew Rook well and as soon as he entered they began to chatter and call. Beyond their chatter he thought he heard a horn but he forgot that very quickly when he saw Little Bird.
The young rook was perched high up above the other rooks on a vine covered window sill, the vines snaking in through the battered shutters. As soon as the bird saw Rook it bobbed its head, gave a happy cry and flew down from its perch with a flurry of feathers. Rook offered his arm and Little Bird settled there.
Not so little now, thought Rook, as the bird pecked happily at his damp shirt sleeve.
When Rook first found Little Bird he was much smaller than his brother birds, a runt. He was hiding beneath the rows of coops, silent and almost lifeless. He had given up. But Rook had picked Little Bird up, fed him, loved him. And Little Bird grew and grew and grew. Now Little Bird was much larger than any of the other rooks and he knew it. If any other bird came near Rook, Little Bird would shriek loudly and dart his head forward as a warning. Little Bird was Rook’s bird and Rook was Little Bird’s human.
Rook sat down on a stool that the rookery keeper once used to clean out the coops. There hadn’t been a rookery keeper at Farview for over four generations but the stool remained. Rook stroked Little Bird. The bird made soft cooing noises. They were good noises. Not hard and painful like the voices in the castle. The sound tasted soft and happy. Not angry like his father’s voice. Not sad like his mother’s. Not full of bad laughter like the guards and chambermaids and servants. Not bad, just good and happy and all for him.
Outside the rain was falling again. Even from inside the rookery he could see a mist was falling with the rain. Thicker than the light mist in the garden. Almost black, it edged closer and closer to the rookery as Rook sat stroking Little Bird. He forgot all about Ester and lost himself in the feel of Little Bird’s soft feathers. A horn sounded again. There were men shouting. Steel echoed from steel. The mist was moving into the rookery, filling it, but still Rook sat stroking Little Bird.
He didn’t hear the screams or the crash of walls falling, of stones tumbling into dust. He only heard Little Bird’s cooing.
He was tired. His head lolled as he held the bird. He closed his eyes and as sleep came he thought he heard Ester call his name.
“Rook,” she shouted and her voice wasn’t like it usually was. It was desperate and afraid. Full of fear. “Rook!” she called.
The rooks chattered and shrieked. As the mist filled the rookery they moved higher up their coops. Only Little Bird seemed uninterested in the black mist.
“Rook!” Ester’s voice came again, closer, and this time Rook opened his eyes.
It wasn’t a dream. Her voice was real.
“Rook, where are you!” she cried.
Someone screamed. Drums beat, slow and heavy. That was a sound Rook wasn’t used to hearing in Farview. His father’s guard blew horns, they didn’t beat drums. Drums was a wrong sound.
He stood up, pulling Little Bird close to his chest. The mist was all around him, almost reaching his neck, but he wasn’t scared of it. The mist was just air, just dark air. It was the sounds that scared Rook. The cries. The fear in those sounds. The taste. The blood he couldn’t not taste with every cry for help. His sister’s strange voice.
“Rook, where are you?” she cried.
And he went to her. He moved through the mist and back through the garden. He coudn’t see the dancing girls. Rain hammered down. He thought he heard thunder. There was a flash to the west. He saw figures all around him. Running, standing still, falling, fighting nothing.
He wandered through the mist and nothing looked like it should have looked. He couldn’t see the wall. Only the three tall towers rose out of the mist and the rain did its best to obscure even them. Rook glanced up into the rain. It was a downpour now. Something fell from the Eye Tower. He watched it falling with the rain. He heard it cry out. That sound tasted like blood too. It fell into the mist and a heavy thud followed. Rook walked on.
And then he saw her.
Her red hair was bright against the darkness that was everywhere. Her hair was like his hair. They were the same, they were brother and sister. They had shared a womb. They knew each other.
“Rook,” she called.
He grunted. He wanted to call out to her but he only grunted.
But she heard him. Ester turned towards him and her face was as strange as her voice. All his life her face had been happy, never sad. She had never cried. But now he saw her through the mist and tears streamed from her eyes. Her lips trembled. She trembled.
“Rook!” she cried when she saw him and then she was running to him.
But Rook didn’t move. Little Bird pushed his head against Rook’s chest.
He felt suddenly very cold. He felt like something was near him that wasn’t good. He felt like something was about to touch him.
“Run, Rook,” she cried but he didn’t run, he only held Little Bird tighter. The bird stayed with him. The bird wasn’t scared.
“Don’t turn, Rook,” cried Ester and she was so close to him, just a few steps more and she would be touching him soon, pulling him to her, holding him. “Run, Rook.”
Figures flashed past him. Mist figures. Shadows. Fleeting glimpses, grey within grey. They passed quickly in front of him. Soundless. With them came blasts of cold air.
The cold air stroked his shoulder. His heart beat hard. He grunted.
“Turn to me,” said a voice. It wasn’t Ester’s. It was as cold as the rain. As cold as the air.
“Turn to me, quiet boy,” said the voice.
Rook looked to Ester.
He wanted to go to her but his legs wouldn’t let him. Instead he felt himself turning.
“No, Rook,” called Ester and then he heard her cry out in pain. He didn’t see what happened to her. He only heard her pain and knew she was gone.
The mist was all around him and over him. It was everything and it was full of shadows.
“Look at me,” said the voice.
Rook lifted his head. There in the mist was a shadow. Blacker than the mist. A vague form. It held a hand out to him and Rook felt his own hand reaching back.
“Come to us, Rook,” said the voice.
It knew his name.
Rook smiled.
It knew his name.
His fingers touched cold fingers. They passed into those fingers. Through them.
“Come with us, Rook Runehawk,” said the voice.
He wanted to go with the shadow, to go into the mist even though the shadow’s voice tasted worse than any other sound he had ever tasted.
Rook felt no pain. He only felt the shadow pulling him and his body was filled with ice cold air like he was suddenly being frozen, every part of him frozen. He could taste snow. He could feel Little Bird against him, a lingering warmth. But quickly that warmth faded to ice until Little Bird’s cooing grew silent. And then there was nothing.

 

absent sonnet

 

By not writing – think.
If we’re talking absences,
he is without ink
and the means.
I’m gratified by absences
and the space to unthink.
Give the lowly the means.
A length of silence is ink.
Generation,
you
speak
and speak too much.
I’m a gap in the answer.
Do you have any to share?