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.
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.