Welcome to book 3: Land of Silence, the Fantasy!AU of Forest of Secrets. If you haven't read Into the Fire and Sea and Smoke yet… read this one first, what the hell right? Be confused. Jump in.
Anyways, I'll detail the updating schedule at the end. Enjoy this laundry list of characters and the prologue!
Oh also giant shout out to aer-of-ice for beta-reading my nonsense. You have the patience of a saint.
Kingdom of Thundria
Queen Bluelianna Star—Tall woman with long, gray-blue hair and blue eyes. (Bluestar)
Captain of the guard: Tigre Cawle—Enormous man with short-cropped brown hair, amber eyes, and broad shoulders. (Tigerclaw)
Court Healer: Yllowei Fennen—Old woman with frizzy gray hair and a flat face, formerly of the courtof Shodawa (Yellowfang)
Whit Strommer—Tall, white-haired man with strange hazel eyes. (Whitestorm)
Darriek Styrp—Slick man with gray and black streaked hair and hazel eyes. (Darkstripe)
Liang Teyl—Thin, young man with long blonde hair with streaks of black and blue eyes. (Longtail)
Rynnin Wynnd—Short, wiry man with sandy brown hair and blue eyes. (Runningwind)
Willowamina Peilte—Graceful, ash-blonde haired woman with long limbs. (Willowpelt)
Mauzian Fyrra—Wiry, spry woman with short, light brown hair. (Mousefur)
Graie Sterrip—Short, chubby man with fluffy gray hair and yellowish-hazel eyes. (Graystripe)
Fiyr Harte—Tall, skinny ginger-haired man with bright green eyes. (Fireheart)
Duss—Short boy with dark brown hair and amber-brown eyes. (Dustpelt)
Samn Schorme—Lanky, strawberry blonde-haired girl with greenish-gray eyes. (Sandstorm)
Ladies of the court: (Pregnant or raising children)
Frostialla Fuor—Tall, beautiful woman with long white hair and blue eyes. (Frostfur)
Brindellia Faise—Pretty, chubby woman with creamy brown-blonde hair and green eyes. (Brindleface)
Goldanna Flourer—Gorgeous, golden-blonde haired woman with light blue eyes. (Goldenflower)
Speikell Tiall—Long, oddly streaked long hair that she keeps in a long braid, stern hazel eyes. (Speckletail)
Squires: (Training to be knights)
Sewif—Short, skinny boy with black and white streaked hair and brown eyes. (Swiftpaw)
Cindra—Very short, chubby girl with gray hair and blue-gray eyes. (Cinderpaw)
Brakken—Brown haired boy with brown eyes. (Brackenpaw)
Heff Tyle—Tall, broad-shouldered man with dark brown hair and an arm missing. (Halftail)
Samal Eyre—Wizened old man with gray hair. (Smallear)
Wonn Eie—Short, wise woman with graying hair and an eye-patch. (One-eye)
Dapplianne Tayel—Once-beautiful tall woman with long, shiny dark brown hair with golden-blonde highlights. (Dappletail)
Braukkin—Broad-shouldered, battle-scarred man with close-shave brown hair. (Brokentail)
Kingdom of Wynnd
King Tahliorius Star—Tall man with long, black and white hair. (Tallstar)
Captain of the Guard: Daede Futt—Wiry, tall man with black hair and a twisted foot. (Deadfoot)
Court Healer: Barrik Feas—Short dark-haired man. (Barkface)
Meude Kelaw—Broad-shouldered, dark-haired man. (Mudclaw)
Tuoren Ayer—Tall, thin man with streaked brown hair. (Tornear)
Owen Newskar—Young man with sandy brown hair. (Onewhisker)
Whytt Teali—Small woman with short white hair. (Whitetail)
Marrani Flor—Short woman with brown, white, and red hair. (Morningflower)
Ladies of the court: (Pregnant or raising children)
Ashra Fote—Tall, muscular gray-haired woman. (Ashfoot)
Kingdom of Rivier
King Crukkedaro Star—Tall, broad-shouldered man with curly brown hair. (Crookedstar)
Captain of the Guard: Leaparra Fore—Lean, muscular woman with curly golden hair and sharp amber-brown eyes. (Leopardfur)
Court Healer: Mede Frer—Short man with long brown hair. (Mudfur)
Bellack Clah—Tall man with long black hair. (Blackclaw)
Stowen Feur—Broad-shouldered man with close-cropped gray hair and scars. (Stonefur)
Lowd Baley—Dark brown-haired man. (Loudbelly)
Silaverre Strime—Lean, beautiful silver-haired woman with pale eyes. (Silverstream)
Garais Wesschar—Muscular man with light brown hair and pale green eyes. (Grasswhisker)
Girai Paolle—old woman with thinning gray hair and hazel eyes. (Graypool)
Kingdom of Shodawa
King Naitienne Star—Thin, black-haired man with asthma. (Nightstar)
Captain of the Guard: Cinnier Faer—Thin, elderly gray-haired man. (Cinderfur)
Court Healer: Raninn Naos (Runningnose)
Stoumpei Toile—Short, gray-haired man without a hand (Stumpytail)
Bellue Faet—Skinny, gray-haired young man. (Bluefoot)
Laitlte Cleud—Tiny man with dark brown hair. (Littlecloud)\
Ladies of the court: (Pregnant or raising children)
Dawhnnea Clouhd—Small, brown-gold-haired woman. (Dawncloud)
Daerkki Follar—Black-haired woman. (Darkflower)
Aish Faor—Thin, haggard old man with graying hair. (Ashfur) Ash magic
Outlanders, Mercenaries, and Godtoys
Ravne—Lanky man with black hair and one white stripe and blue eyes. (Ravenpaw)
Barrleigh—Tall, muscular man with black and white streaked hair and blue eyes. (Barley)
Boldair—Tall, thin, dark gray haired man (Boulder)
Blayke Fouhte—Short, broad-shouldered man with white hair. (Blackfoot)
Clehw Fiace—Short, brown-haired man (Clawface)
In some part of his mind, Oeak has always known that every time his eyes met Bluelia's, he was playing with fire. However, he has never truly believed that in his heart until he was looking down at the body of his frozen daughter.
She is so small and so cold. It's no wonder the winter wind's chill overtook her so fast; there wasn't much to overtake at all.
He swallows hard.
But he cannot fixate on his loss. The other two need him now. He supposes they need new names; Thundria would make the connection too easily otherwise. They might still, if the two take after Bluelia too much. She had said they hadn't demonstrated quite yet, so he knows there is still hope to hide the truth.
Oeak holds them closer in his arms as he picks his way down the rocky ridge that separates Thundria from the Rivien sea. He can see the lights of the village of the Sun Rocks in the distance—tensions have been rising and another futile battle over it doesn't seem far off, but right now his world has narrowed to the fading warmth of two small children in his arms.
It doesn't feel quite real, in this pale space between midnight and dawn.
His other daughter.
He swallows again.
Oeak knows they need shelter—cover from the biting cold—but he wouldn't risk a stop in any village, much less the village of the Sun Rocks. The boat he came in is still lashed to the single straggly root he found poking out of the pebbly beach what feels like a life-time ago. He kneels by it and with fumbling fingers, pulls the knot loose. He needs to put down the boy—his son—to do it, and when it is free, he gathers him back up in his arms tightly.
If he doesn't keep him against his own body heat, Oeak knows too well what will happen to this son of his. He will not lose another child tonight. She will be buried in Thundrian and Rivien soil. She will rest easy in the Starlaxi. He trusts that Bluelia will keep her promise that far. His daughter has fallen asleep, but his son was jostled awake when he untied the mooring. Oeak hushes him as the little boy tries to speak.
He carries them to the water's edge and is briefly grateful that the winter hasn't been so harsh as to freeze the edge of the sea. It was hard enough, he knows. He lowers them carefully into the boat. It creaks softly and Oeak cringes at the noise. No one should be out at this hour, he knows, but even so, the sound is too real, too noticeable. Some little part of him wishes nothing about this night was real.
He steps into the boat, careful not to move too quickly, because he knows that will make the boat bob and that will awaken the children. He also knows that it's much easier if they're sleeping. He takes an oar in each hang, the polished handles fitting with familiarity against his calloused hands. And then with a swish of rippling water, he has pushed them off the beach.
It is only a few minutes of rowing before Thundrian territory has faded into an inky smudge in the darkness. A tension that he didn't know was lingering eases from his shoulders as it disappears almost completely into the darkness. They're back in Rivien territory. He knows these waters—these waters make sense. There is only the sweat on his back and the sound of the water and the light of the moon hanging around him. There is no quick-laughing Thundrian love with ideas and flashing, bright blue eyes. There is no tiny daughter, too small and too cold, buried on Thundrian and Rivien land.
Sweat begins to streak his forehead, but he doesn't dare take a hand off the oar to wipe it. It streams down, slowly, then slips under his dark brow and into his eye. He winces at the sting, blinking hard to clear it.
That is why when he sees the other boat in the distance, he hopes it is the sweat lingering and making him see things that are not really there. He shouldn't be at the Rivien galleon yet, he knows, and so what is this boat? He had charted the path carefully—the court planned the course of the main ship deliberately from week to week, like clockwork. Had he lost track of time while he was rowing?
No, this boat is too small to be the main galleon. This is simply a patroller.
His breath catches sharply. Had the captain of the guard sent out a patrol at this abnormal time? Crukked is going to be an uncle. Is he going to sabotage the arrival of his niece and nephew by accident? Oeak fears that he might have, but prays to the Starlaxi that he is mistaken
Perhaps if his brother has come on the patrol himself, there will be a chance for Oeak to fabricate something. He never was a good liar, though, and the patrol boat is getting uncomfortably close. He doesn't think they've spotted him yet; no light is directed at his boat, and no challenge has been called out, but he's certain it won't be long now. The treacherous, swelling waves are pressing him closer to the other boat, and he can't row too quickly or the sound of the water on his oars will surely draw their attention immediately.
He is preparing for the worst when, from the corner of his eye, he sees his daughter stirring. She blinks awake and his heart drops—if he is to lose everything, he doesn't want her to have to see it. But he quickly realizes that she is not planning on being a passive witness. He has only seen it once before, but when his daughter's blue, blue eyes are widening like she's somehow seen the Starlaxi, he wonders if this is their preservation... or their downfall.
She looks up suddenly, staring at the sky awash in radiant starlight, and then a tremor runs through her small body.
No… but is it possible?
He watches in amazement as his daughter looks at him, then out at the other boat with a level of awareness he cannot believe she possesses. Then—then the mist rolls in.
Like steam, a thick white cloud begins on the water's surface, then rises—to the level of the boat, to the level of the children, then over Oeak's head in a ghostly shroud—before it thickens. When it does, the air is wet and heavy against Oeak's skin. He knows what has just happened, and that it will need to be handled soon, but for now, he is just grateful for it.
As quickly as he dares, he pulls back the oars and sets the boat in movement once more with one smooth action. They cut through the fog easily and it spreads back into the space they leave, obscuring the other boat entirely.
Oeak doesn't dare speak—it's impossible to tell how far they've gotten away from the patrol boat—but he mouths a silent prayer to the Starlaxi anyways. His daughter has spared them for now, and though it is far from the right time, pride flickers in him at the breadth and thickness of the mist. She's so strong. She'll be strong in Rivier. He just prays that she will never fight a battle against Thundria. No Thundrian knight could harm them; either of them.
After a few minutes, he judges that he is far enough from where he encountered the patrol boat that he can risk a brief pause. He releases the oars, wipes sweat from his brow, and reaches into his pocket to find the ornate compass. The mist makes it difficult to navigate, and he has no doubt this little mist-elementalist daughter of his will be a terrible pain to her mentor in the future. His heart is full of love for both of them already.
The compass says that he's going south. He adjusts his course, tries to remember where the galleon should be now, and sets off once more. Both of his children are again in sleep after his daughter's demonstration and he is hit with another wave of gratefulness. One demonstration is enough for today. Take your time, son.
The mist has just begun to dissipate when the galleon comes into view. He breathes out, too tired to do much but whisper another thank you to the Starlaxi. Now, all he needs to do is get them inside. They are safe, now. The twoof them. That thought provokes a swelling wave of grief that he will have to take on when they are warm inside.
Checking to make sure again that they're fast asleep, he lashes the rope to the two hooks on either end of the boat, then throws the rope up to the deck, praying that whoever is on guard hasn't fallen asleep. A figure appears on the rail, waving to him to let him know it is secure. A moment later, the silhouette has thrown the rest of the rope back down to him. They must think I am the patroller.
He is alone—this is not how a boat should be hauled up, much less a boat with two children in it, but he grabs the rope bravely all the same. It isn't too far up to the railing, but it feels like a lifetime away; his arms are weak from rowing and his breath is coming in heaving gasps, but he loops it around his palms—once, twice—and begins to pull.
Arm over arm, he hauls them up the side. The boat sways slightly as he pulls it free of the water's grasp and he growls in exertion, arms shaking uncontrollably. Everything in him strains as he pulls again. One, two, one, two. He is exhausted, but if he releases this rope now, he and his two children will plummet to the water, and he will not let that happen. The rope is a part of his arms now. Arm over arm. His life-force awakens to the exertion, almost curious, and he sees the wooden siding of the rowboat begin to ripple slightly, responding, but he ignores it. It cannot help him now. Sweat begins to drip again, first in rivulets, then in streams down his back. As he raises them further and further along the side of the galleon, the figure on the railing sees that he is hauling alone and begins to pull along with him.
He is half-dizzy, and fairly sure he is half-dead when the edge of the boat scrapes against the railing. The figure, who he now recognizes as Lady Otera Spelache, secures the boat to the edge of the galleon and he releases the rope with a heavy, heavy breath. They are safe, suspended 16 metres above the water exactly. After the last galleon was destroyed, he helped build this one himself. As he picks up his two children with shaking hands, apologizing in an incoherent mutter to his son as a droplet of sweat falls from his forehead and lands on him, Lady Spelache watches wordlessly. He passes them over the railing to her and she takes them, carefully setting each one down on the deck.
He takes hold of the railing, sweat and torn calluses making it hard to get a grip, and swings himself over the railing as well.
"You…" Lady Spelache begins, but he just shakes his head, still breathing hard. She nods and watches as he scoops up his children and sets off shakily towards the lower deck.
Oeak almost stumbles on the stairs, but after everything he's been through tonight, stairs will not be the last straw. By the time he reaches the third level down, his children are asleep again and he hopes they won't have to face the world without their sister until the next morning.
The nursery is quiet, save for one woman sitting at a desk, reading, the only sound, soft pages turning. Candlelight flickers over her face and he pauses for a moment, taking in the black bruise-like smudges under her eyes, stark against her ghostly-white face. He almost wonders why she can't sleep, but the thought has barely arisen before he remembers and swallows hard, holding his children closer to his chest. Cold comfort.
"Girai?" His own voice surprises him. It is hoarse. He sounds haunted. It is not entirely untrue; this night has given him ghosts he will carry for the rest of his life.
Her head turns like an owl. It is unnerving, but he's used to it by now. Her sharp, hazel gaze pins itself to him, but doesn't linger long before dropping to the two children in his arms.
"Sir Hahrte. What in the name of the Starlaxi are those?" Her voice is similarly crackly from disuse, but Oeak would guess it is because she has been reading for hours without speaking in between, not because of anything similar to what he's done tonight
He falters and looks down as though the two peaceful faces tilted up at him can tell him something. My son and daughter. Bluelia's son and daughter. The two surviving ones. The mist elementalist and the undeclared. My sole reason for living.
Girai gives him a look. She has had the exasperated look of an elder since the age of fourteen and only now have the lines in her face begun to agree with it.
"Pardon me?" He's stalling now. Why can't she just take the children and let him wash himself off and find them beds?
"Where did you find them?" she demands.
"I was—I was on a supply run," he lies. "And I'd just gotten back from Sun Rocks when I heard them crying. Someone must've abandoned them."
An eyebrow cocks skeptically.
"I don't know, Girai, but they need your help!" He is desperate. He has gotten this far with his own strength and resolve, but when it comes time to rely on another, he is faltering. Of course. This is why the king made Crukked captain over you, a part of him announces. It is not the first time that part has made such an announcement.
She sighs. A crack in the stone. He is swamped with relief, and when she opens her arms, he lets his son slip gently into her lap. The sleeping child looks natural there. This may yet still work.
"The truth, Oeak? Where did they come from?" she asks.
"I—I'm telling the truth. I didn't steal them, for the Starlaxi's sake, Girai!"
She shakes her head. "I didn't think you had, I just—it's so cold out tonight. Who would abandon children out in this?"
"Gods, maybe? Or—perhaps some poor god-toy who didn't want her children to have that kind of life?" Oeak volunteers. This part, he has practiced, and sure enough, Girai softens.
"Perhaps. I just…" She looks down at the boy in her arms and he sees anguish cross her face. Her voice is soft as she says, "I know what it is to lose a child and I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
He shakes his head. "I know, I—I know you do. But… truly, they have no one. Only—" Only you almost passed his lips. But no matter the current traditions of women raising children, he doesn't believe in it and neither did Bluelia. And to leave them now, let them grow up alone, would kill him, he knows it. The court will be suspicious if he is overly attached to these two, strange children, but he doesn't see another option. His ambition burned in him before, but now all he can feel is helpless love for his two children, and helpless loss for the one left behind. I have made mistakes, irreparable, unforgivable mistakes, but they are innocent. They will have a good life and I will love them unconditionally until I die, and from the Starlaxi, forever after that. "Only us."
Girai nods. She brushes his son's hair back from his face and hugs him to herself, so tenderly, as though she's afraid he'll crumble. His heart aches and he kneels before Girai, holding his daughter out to her. Trembling, she takes her as well and shifts carefully to let them both rest comfortably on her lap.
"I need to go clean myself up." He doesn't want to look directly into her eyes because he knows what he'll see pooling there and if she begins to cry, he will too, and he doesn't want to answer questions about it. "Could I… do you think it would be alright if I slept in here tonight?"
Girai's voice is rough as she answers, "Of course."
He stands quickly and risks one glance back as he exits the nursery. She has lowered her head to bury her face in the shoulder of his son.
She will almost certainly check the Trace, he knows, and feel Thundria on them soon enough. Perhaps she had already. He always was a horrible liar.
I hope you enjoyed the first taste of Land of Silence! Let's talk about the updating schedule. So if you religiously check my profile like the stalker you are, you'll know that I'm 19 chapters into Land of Silence (which includes the prologue). That means if I update too quickly, I'll run out of stored writing, but I also want to keep up a steady output. Additionally, I ran the numbers and the original series published about 1 book every 6 months.
I'm going to be publishing once a week! That will round out to about 6 months for the publication. And then we'll see where we're at!
Anyhow! Now's your chance to be the first reviewer, favourite, and follow ;) Stick around until next week, and don't forget to check out warriors-kingdoms dot tumblr dot com!