Novel Teaser

I thought I’d give you guys a taster to the novel I have been working on. The following is the Prologue

 

Prologue

The House of Falling Leaves curved its way around the shape of the hill. It was a beautiful ramshackle structure, designed by a mad genius to cradle the landscape. It nestled amidst towering trees, some rising from within the very building, their trunks bursting from the roofline like thorns. Entire wings curled around boulders and staggered up slopes, the contour of the land dictating the architecture. Warm lights glowed invitingly from many of the windows and the double doors twenty feet high stood open, closing only in the face of storms. Beyond the maze of the House roofline and the forest the immense Winter’s Teeth rose, the snow and ice covered peaks gleaming palely in the moonlight. Before it the plains of the Siliad spread out, vast and for the most part deserted. Three tracks led from the House, one ran to the north, one to the south and the other east, across the plains.

Ichen shivered. It had been fifteen years since he last stood before his father’s House. It still frightened him. He was unsure of his welcome. When he had left it had been on a stolen horse, curses following him and tears flowing from his mother’s eyes. No tears had slipped from his; Ichen did not cry.

Overhead the rookery crows circled the House. The larger birds, the hawks and the eagles that carried his father’s special correspondence were absent. He knew from memory they would be hunting across the forest, coming when Tay’shun called.  A lamp glowed in the open window of the library tower. Ichen shivered again.

At his back the Twins moved restlessly. They were eager to be on their way – the House affected them in ways they had never experienced. He had gambled bringing them with him, they were newborn still and this was their first encounter with the old foe, the Tao. Yet their presence reassured him, lent him strength. He hoped it would be enough.

His mother appeared in the entrance to the House a gaggle of curious servants and residents behind her. She was wearing her flour covered apron and was drying her hands on her cloth. It fluttered to the paving stones of the courtyard as she spied him, sudden tears welling in her eyes.

“Pent?” she asked disbelievingly, taking a few steps towards him. Ichen felt a surge of conflicting emotions: fear, guilt, shame, love. He had a sudden urge to flee, to hide the man he had become from his mother but he ruthlessly pushed it down – he despised regret. He had made his decisions and he would be proud of them. His mother tottered towards him hesitantly as if expecting him to vanish like he had done all those years before. When she was close enough she tentatively reached a hand up and cupped his face, trying to see where the twelve year old boy had gone. “Pent?” she repeated, unsure.

Ichen nodded, “It’s me Mamma,” then she was in his arms and her tears wetted his robe.

“You’ve been gone so long,” she whispered, then she pulled back and looked up at his face, “but now you are back.”

He pulled her back to his chest. “Yes Mamma, I’m back,” however he had eyes only for the library tower.

After a time his mother released him and led him into the House, residents new and old greeting him as he passed. The Twins trailed behind their passage sending ripples through the House. Those they passed paused in their activities to watch them. Ichen wondered at the wisdom of bringing them into the House, he had grown accustomed to their unmistakable presence, he had forgotten the effect they had on others. They were newborn, cloaked and shrouded to protect themselves. Their skin did not fit them yet. He slowed a pace to allow them to draw closer.  His mother glanced back at them, her lips thinned but she said nothing.  

She led him to the kitchen, a low-ceilinged room at the side of the House that looked out across the tree lined grounds. She seated him on a stool at the broad kitchen table then busied herself with cups and pots, heating water, chatting all the while about the changes in the House since he had left. Ichen only half-minded her, his eyes kept drifting to the door leading to the library tower.

Keeping in mind the reason for his return he asked, “Is Caitlyn here?”

“Oh no,” she answered without turning, “Your sister and her husband have a place in the Teeth. Your father has a map if you want to visit.”

Ichen nodded, he had not expected his task to be easy. “How is he?”

Her eyes flicked to the door, “Older, more ornery if you can believe that.” She turned from the stove, “He has missed you Pent. He won’t say it but it almost killed him when you left.”

Involuntarily Ichen’s hand stole to his neck, the memory of bruises hard to forget. Tears welled in his mother’s eyes, she had seen his gesture.

“You will stay won’t you?” she pleaded.

Ichen stood, “I should see him.”

A heavy tear wended its way down her cheek. She brushed it away with the back of her hand, “Do you remember the way?”

“It has been fifteen years Mamma, not fifty.” He took her into his arms again, kissed her forehead and felt the fabric of his robes growing damper.

“I will bring you drinks when they are ready,” she promised as he made his way to the tower.

He climbed the stairs slowly, each step heavier than the last, weighed down by emotion and memory. His earliest recollections were of helping his father lay the stones of the tower. He had been more hindrance than help but his father had never complained. Not then. The complaints and arguments had come years later. Later the tower had witnessed their worst arguments, a twelve year old determined to match his father and a father adamant he would not. He recalled vividly the first day he had stolen scrolls from the library, taken them into the woods and experimented on some crows from the rookery. When his father found him he had beaten him viciously, making it clear that he did not want him following his path. It had only strengthened his resolve. His thefts from then on had been craftier, his father never found him, never caught him in the act but eventually he had suspected Ichen was continuing his research and following him one day, he found him with the caretaker’s daughter. Tay’shun had dragged him back to the House, through the hallways, past the other residents, up the stairs to the library before finally throwing him into a corner of the tower. The rage had come upon him by then and he thrashed him – firstly with his hands then with whatever came to hand. Eventually Ichen had lost consciousness. When he came to it was dark and his father was sobbing and whispering words in Tao to himself over and over. Battered and bleeding Ichen had left his father there, dragged himself to the stables and stolen a horse. As he galloped from the stable his father had appeared calling curses on him as he rode away. A twelve year old loose in the world.

That had been fifteen years ago. In the years since he had travelled through the world, learning from those with knowledge – Kingdom, Symia, Qal Nothos, Rao’ta, all had given him skills. He glanced back at the Twins slowly climbing the stairs behind him, skills and a patron. What would his father make of him now?

He passed through the lower library levels: shelves of histories, atlases and treatises of the world, a wealth of knowledge contained within. The dangerous tomes – the scrolls and books with the secrets of the world were kept on the upper floor, in his father’s office. The Twins followed him slowly, taking their time.

He reached the top floor and paused, memories washing over him. The single chamber was dominated by floor to ceiling shelves crowded with literature and arcane objects of every sort and variety. As a boy he had delighted in exploring the shelves, discovering fascinating curios and artefacts. He had dared to dream of possessing the knowledge and contents for himself – it had been that desire that ultimately led to his experiments in the woods. His father had always denied him, telling him he was too young and too foolish. Let him deny me now, Ichen thought with a smile. He had returned an equal.

He followed a meandering path through the stacks, the path dictated by haphazard piles of books and paraphernalia, the contents spilling over from the bookcases and shelves. He passed a low bed piled with cushions, a stool beside it. The bed was surrounded by covered mirrors of different sizes and shapes while above it an open window looked out across the forest to the Winter’s Teeth. It was the bed where his father lay to scry and experience his visions. Ichen remembered many a time sitting on the stool scribbling the contents of the vision down before they faded.

There was a clear path through the stacks, leading from the bed to the opposite side of the tower where his father had his work-desk. It was littered with the tools of the scholarly life: parchment and inkwells of various sorts and colours, quills and sharp knives for sharpening them, measuring instruments, pots of fine powder and vials of various liquids. At the edge of the desk near to the window a curved arm of wood rested, the desktop below it spattered with the droppings of birds. The window was open, the vista of the plains.

Seated at the desk was Tay’shun, his father. He had aged – he looked much older than his late forties. His hair had thinned leaving him mostly bald; the few hairs that remained were white. His skin was spotted with age and wrinkled before time. He glanced only once at him before he returned to his parchment, his quill scratching across it.

“I have returned father,” Ichen said into the stillness.

“So it seems,” Tay’shun’s answer was little more than a snort, “Do you want a fuss boy? If so go to your mother.”

“I was gone fifteen years; don’t you want to know what I’ve been up to?”

Tay’shun fixed him with a steely eye, it was still brilliantly blue, untouched by the ravages of age, “After you fled,” he spat the word contemptuously, “You spent time with Tarvan in Rolt, then south into Symia where you cavorted with mystics and sorcerers. When you tired of them you took ship across the Divide and returned five years ago. Where you’ve been since then I know not. Nor do I care,” he turned back to his parchment, the quill scratching across it.

Ichen breathed deeply, then, “You would not teach me, so I went elsewhere.”

Tay’shun snorted, “Amateurs and fakers! You know nothing.”

“I know more than you think.” With an effort Ichen kept his voice calm, “I have a patron.”

Tay’shun glanced at him, “A patron is it?” he chuckled cruelly, “and what did this patron of yours teach you? How to dress in robes? To be a fool perhaps? From what I can tell you are still the little boy who fled from here when he couldn’t get his own way. It takes more than words and reading a few books to get my respect boy. Go back to your patron and beg him for some succour, because you will get none here.”

A smile crept onto Ichen’s face, his father was the same – he had been a fool to daydream that Tay’shun would accept him. Nevertheless he was not surprised; he had expected Tay’shun’s contempt. He heard the Twins reach the top of the stairs.

“My patron is fascinated with you father. Especially your recent writings,” Ichen picked up a small globe of amber. An insect the size of a baby’s fist was trapped within. “He wishes to talk to you.”

His father put down his quill and turned to face him, “Ho ho, so my boy is little more than a messenger! Tell your patron I am not interested.”

“Where is Caitlyn father?”

A wary expression crossed Tay’shun’s face, “I do not know.”

“You lie. Mother told me you have a map. Where is Caitlyn and where is her child?”

Tay’shun’s eyes narrowed, “You follow a ghost trail boy. Caitlyn has no child.”

Ichen laughed at the blatant lie, “You will tell me where they are and then you will see my patron.”

“Will I?” Tay’shun answered nastily. He rose to his feet, his fists clenched, “And how will that happen?”

Ichen remembered his father’s rage and involuntarily stepped back. Tay’shun sneered, “Still frightened? You’ve lost something boy. Back when you were young you had courage, I could respect you, as idiotic and misguided as your behaviour was. Your patron has made you weak. Get out and don’t come back.”

Ichen smiled, he could hear the Twins drawing nearer through the stacks, “I think not father. See, there are things more frightening than you in this world. You will tell me.”

His father stared at him in astonishment before he began to laugh. It died when he caught sight of the Twins. The colour drained from his face and he staggered back. “What have you done boy?” he whispered, his hip striking the side of his desk, “What have you done?”

The Twins, one large and one small reached Ichen’s side. They had allowed the cloth shrouding their faces to fall away and their features were revealed. Since their birth into the bodies two months before their flesh had begun to fit them better. It would never be perfect: their skin would always hang loose across their cheeks and back to their ears while across the forehead and chin their skin would be painfully tight, yet it was a vast improvement on how they had appeared when newly born, when the Tir had been bound within the human casing. They wore the skin like an ill fitting suit of flesh yet they were close to being able to pass as human. A fierce malevolent intelligence shone from their yellow eyes. They hated what they saw, hated what they were and hated humankind above all.

Ichen smiled at them proudly, “See father, I have achieved things. You will tell me where my sister and her child are and then my Twins will bring you to Nis.”

“Not Nis, no not Nis,” Tay’shun’s head jerked back and forth in horror and disbelief, “You did not consort with Nis. Oh Pent.”

“Father are you aware of how the Tir get their information?” Ichen asked matter-of-factly, “The Tir ar Nis bind their victims to a lump of stone then slowly over days and then weeks they flay you until every part of you: body and mind lie open to them. Then they pick and choose, taking what they want before leaving you to live in your broken shell. The other Tir houses prefer different methods yet to me the path of the Tir ar Nis is the most effective. If you tell me now you will spare yourself the stone father.”

Tay’shun scrambled back, losing his footing. His fingers scrabbled over the shelves of the library, even as he muttered Tao words over and over.

Ichen smiled, crouching near to where his father fumbled through a small wooden box, “Jealous father? You never had the courage to approach the Tir, but it is not too late. Nis will welcome you. Only tell me where Caitlyn and the child are.”

Tay’shun’s hand had closed on something. He seemed to gather himself, drawing strength from whatever he grasped. He drew it out of the box, keeping it concealed from Ichen then he met his eyes. “You are a fool Pent,” he said sadly, “Worse than a fool. You consort with the Tir and you forget what they did, or worse, ignore it. You are my shame,” then he raised his hand and began to chant.

For a moment Ichen watched curiously then his eyes widened and he recognised the bone splinter in his father’s hands and what it could do. “No!!” he screamed, lunging forward.

He was too late; Tay’shun stabbed the splinter into the vein of his arm. For a moment, the blood sprayed from the wound then the bone splinter caught it, held it then drew the blood into it. The magic of bone and blood sent the Twins crashing to the ground, unable to writhe in agony, immobilised.

Enraged, Ichen grabbed at the splinter but it was locked into his father’s grip, stuck in his arm and he could not withdraw it. He struck at his father with his fists but Tay’shun would not release it, instead he began to laugh. Ichen knew if he did not act the Twins would die and Nis’s dreams with it.  He staggered back, his father’s laughter cutting him to the core. His hand flailed behind him, falling onto the curved shape of the bird perch. His fingers closed around it.

“Let them go!” he hissed.

Tay’shun only laughed.

Ichen swung the perch at his father’s head.  Once, twice, a third time. When he was finished, Tay’shun’s head was a bloody pulp. The wooden perch fell to the floor with a dull clatter. There was a curious roaring in his ears. Tay’shun’s hand had fallen from the splinter. Numb, Ichen pulled it from the vein. The Twin’s were safe. They climbed to their feet as Ichen stared at the corpse of his father.

He heard a sound from behind him, a few beats passed before he realised it was the clatter and crash of his mother’s tray hitting the stone floor. He turned in time to watch the Twins kill her, snapping her neck and tossing her lifeless body to the side. He jerked back as if struck. His parents were dead, murdered by his actions. For years he had dreamed of his return, the moment when he would prove to his father that he was his equal and that he had been wrong to drive him out. Now the moment had come and tragedy was its consequence. His father and mother lay on the tower floor their blood seeping into the stone. It was only later, after the sun had set and the screams throughout the House had finally ended that he stirred. He rose to his feet, a slow movement made ponderous by his father’s blood soaking his robe. He knew the Twins would leave no one alive – not after what had been done to them.

Using a technique taught to him by a Symian mystic he cleared his mind, thrusting the confusing morass of emotions aside. He would deal with his grief and his anger later, for now he had his father’s journals to explore and a map to find.

They left the House a week later, a plume of smoke marking their passage. It had taken five days to find the location of Caitlyn’s house. Tay’shun had hidden the information throughout several books, once he recognised the cipher his father used (a variation on Tao speech) he was able to decipher her location and the directions there. Ichen found himself wondering if his father had had a vision of his return. Why else would he protect Caitlyn and her child’s location so thoroughly? His father’s library contained a wealth of knowledge, a scholarly fortune. Tay’shun had written on every conceivable scholarly discipline and collaborated and corresponded with scholars throughout the world. They had buried the library safely so it could be retrieved later. The rest of the House they burnt.

 They travelled west through the forest, after a week climbing into the foothills of the Winter’s Teeth. It was a hard trek, Caitlyn and her ranger husband had settled in the Teeth far from any roads and towns. Three weeks since leaving the House of Falling Leaves they caught sight of Caitlyn’s house. It was set at the top of a steep escarpment, a long narrow path from the valley floor below leading up to it. It was an imminently defensible position; anyone approaching the house would be spotted and vulnerable to rockslides or attack from above. Lacking an alternative they climbed.  As they began the ascent Ichen made out a figure at the top of the escarpment looking down at them, they would definitely not be surprising anyone.

It took them half a day to make the ascent and by the end Ichen was exhausted. Unsurprisingly the Twins seemed unaffected. Caitlyn’s house was a simple sturdy affair: a log and stone main house with a stable and barn nearby. Stretching out behind the house was a valley of pasture, sheep and goats grazing on it. There was no sign of the person he had glimpsed from below.

Ichen’s senses prickled. Something was wrong.

He approached the house carefully. He was unsure what to expect from his sister, he had memories of a quiet girl who largely kept out of his way but other than that nothing to indicate how she would receive him. He wondered where the figure he had seen from the bottom had gone.

He walked up onto the porch then pushed open the door and entered the house. The feeling of wrongness grew stronger. It was late afternoon but the house was in darkness.  No candles or lanterns were lit. He passed the kitchen – the fireplace was cold.  With the Twins behind him he penetrated deeper into the house.

In a room at the rear of the building he found his sister. She was sitting alone in the dark, the shutters of the room closed. She appeared serene, her legs crossed in a meditative posture, all but her head in shadow. Her eyes were closed. His senses prickled as he stepped into the room. The Twins followed him in.

“Hello Caitlyn,” he greeted her.

Her eyes opened the same brilliant blue as their father and his own. Her expression was inscrutable, “Hello Pent. What did you do with father?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Ichen countered, heading deeper into the room. Behind him the Twins were sniffing the air, but they moved up with him.

“You visited father and now he is gone,” she answered matter-of-factly.

“And how would you know that?”

Caitlyn smiled. Ichen shivered, the expression was identical to their father’s chilling smile, “A little bird told me.”

Ichen and the Twins drew nearer. In the shadow of her lap Caitlyn’s hands were busy, “What else did they tell you?”

“They told me that you have sold yourself. They told me you are not to be trusted.”

It was Ichen’s turn to smile, “All that from a little bird. My my.”

“You should have stayed Pent,” Caitlyn said sadly, “Father didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“What do you know!?” Ichen demanded angrily, he stepped towards her, “You were a child playing with a rag doll, what do you know!”

“You were a child too,” Caitlyn replied softly. “If you had stayed this could have been avoided. Father would have taught you as he taught me and we would be working together.”

Ichen calmed himself again; there was no sense in working himself into a frenzy over such a petty matter. When he was calm he asked, “Where is the child Caitlyn?”

The cold smile returned, “Nowhere that you can reach.”

The nagging sense of wrongness returned. Ichen looked around the room checking the shadowed areas. Was this a trap? Then he noticed darker marks on the floor. An instant later he realised what she had done, what Tay’shun had taught her. He lunged at her, but it was too late, the binding was complete. He was stopped two feet from her. Behind him the Twins screamed and thrashed, colliding with an invisible barrier. For a second time they were bound in place by the magic of blood and bone. Ichen was close enough to see the markings spiralling out from her, the grooves cut into the floor that were filled with blood. Her blood.

She set the bone knife beside her, the blade was bloodied. Caitlyn noted his look and laughed, “You will not catch them Pent. This binding will last days beyond my death. My husband will keep the child safe and there is nothing you can do.” She laughed shortly, “Tay’shun beat you again brother.”

Caitlyn said no further words to him. She resumed her meditation. Where she had cut herself a thin trickle of blood oozed down her arm, onto her leg, then down onto the grooves. It was an immensely powerful casting, drawing its power from the life energy of the caster – Caitlyn’s sacrifice, her willingness to die made it near impossible to counter.

He sat cross-legged in the centre of the room and watched her die.

When the binding finally failed, the lifting of it like the raising of a curtain, he set the Twins onto the trail of Caitlyn’s ranger husband. He did not hold much hope, Caitlyn had outthought him. They returned a week later, the broken, unconscious body of the ranger with them. They had not found the child.

Nis would not be pleased.

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2 responses

30 06 2008
First Post!! « Future Ramblings

[…] I should probably let you know a little bit about me. I’m 32, and come from Auckland New Zealand. I live with my wife Kirsty and two diabolical geniuses (you can see who I mean here). My paying job is as a Children’s and Teens’ Services Librarian, my real job is writing. What am I writing? A novel. A big fat juicy fantasy epic. I’ve been writing it for years and I’m almost finished. Well technically I’m on my third draft so it’s been finished before but you get what I mean. If you’re interested you can read the prologue here. […]

17 09 2008
a new draft dawns « Future Ramblings

[…] reasonably happy with the Prologue (which you can read here by the way) though there are some inevitable fiddly changes that I’ve made. I’m less […]

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