The world of Atenn Pelian:
The Shepherds of Ylamphia
Legend of The Sccarabus
Shadows of Ylamphia
Legend of The Sccarabus: extirpation
At Owls Lar
(A drafty idea for the opening chapter)
A Woodlander's Dream
In the dark interior of a frozen forest, in the upstairs rooms of a woodlander's cottage, Blane Wülfrand and his family slept. A fire smouldered in a hearth below, its embers softly clinking. The woodlander twisted in his cot, wrought by his actions in a vivid dream.
Earlier that day, he had reprimanded his two boys for taking a horse from the wood and riding it. They had forgotten in their play that horses are free to roam on the continent of Cirrus Frai, that horses belong to no man in this realm or The Nines. They had forgotten, too, that severe penalties against use of a horse for any purpose save that of a purpose sanctioned by the elders of The Table; at least, that is the way it used to be. Since the Three Winters' War, Sgurr Climh Mohr has taken control, but the laws stand yet. Wülfrand, the man, had had to remind his boys of the perils of breaking such laws.
Before he had lain to sleep, he had spoken to his wife, Isula.
'I was too harsh on them. I should not have struck them.'
'Better a stick today than a noose tomorrow.' His wife had replied, plainly, knowing just how unruly their boys could be, and knowing, too, the severity of the law.
'They're good lads, really.' Wülfrand had said.
'When were they last good?'
The woodlander had to admit, he could not remember. And they turned to sleep with smiles upon their faces. Perhaps it had been the unruliness of his boys that unsettled him initially, but something else disturbed the woodlander that night. Darkness wrested his thoughts. Shadows came without light...
He found himself standing in moonlight, gazing into the woodland from the back gate of his cottage. All was still and quiet. The moons of Atenn Pelian hung as two bright crescents in a black sky: squinting eyes. Suddenly, a dark shape fell, passing across the light of each moon in turn, and the quiet was broken by a hoarse voice, the call of a Vaalkh, but it was spoken in the language of another place, another era long since passed. Its spoken word was familiar to the woodlander in structure and tone, but he could not translate it into words of his own language. Yet, all the same, he was alert to its meaning. It was a warning.
A glint of light drew the woodlander on. He ventured from his home into the wood. The light flashed subtly, as would moonlight on water, there in the cluster of trees ahead. He approached a yew, bent and twisted and old, but as he neared, it straightened suddenly with a hiss. Its bole was sharp like a diamond fibre blade and it glinted in the darkness, luring him, yet remaining always out of reach. On an impulse, he rushed at the tree. From the thick darkness at his feet, a root, a briar caught his foot, and the woodlander lurched. The Yew twisted away as the man fell to his knees and hands, howling with pain. Somehow, a glancing impact with the tree had impaled his shoulder on a short leafless branch, but his falling weight had wrenched it free. His mouth opened, gasping, and he bellowed the single howling cry into the night. But to the man, there was no sound. He felt as though his mouth gaped, soundless, at the night.
His heart beat in slow heavy pulses; it was the only sound available to him in the wrap of darkness until, suddenly there was light; flooding light. Blackness had become a clear white light stinging his eyes. He could not see clearly even though his eyes were open. But now, his savage cry came finally to his ear in the thin air, quickly fading away into a lingering piercing screech that tore like the flight of a swallow across a meadow, away from the black wood, and out across the plains and drifts of snow, low and swift. He had become that sound: that screech. Flying at speed with arms outstretched like a bird's wings he sped. In the plane of his flight he became self-aware; he was naked; stripped to an essence. He felt neither pain nor sensation of touch; not even the wind against his skin; no taste, no sense of smell; only vague sight and clear sound remained. He knew he should feel cold from the ice and snow, but he had no sensation of it. The meadow had become an expanse of winter. As he looked at his arms, his body, he saw that his skin was pale and grey; it had no real colour. Everything seemed to fade, to lose the fabric of its being. Gradually, he lost his ability to see, being left with only a sense of direction and intention. Even as he listened, because this final sense was enhanced in the absence of those others and it was all he had left, he clung to that waning drab of sound for long, extruded moments before it finally slipped from his retention beyond audible range. He had wrung out each nuance of its form until, in a moment far too soon, all that remained was a sense of pressure curiously vieing with the sensation of being drawn into to a vacuous space. He had become a note of sound which, almost instantly, then divided into a pair of notes folding open as a flower might, and then into four, each folding open and rolling upon itself. Dividing and folding and rolling and multiplying. With each division he became physically smaller and his pace increased until, before too long, he had become now a bright sphere of intense light and compressed sound that was hurtling across the plains of snow and ice, back towards the heart of the forest. He had become sound, become light, at wavelengths far beyond the audible and visual range of man. In the briefest moment of time, he would collide with the darkness. He would split the black heart of the forest__ A winged shape arose, almost lost, high in the light of the moons. The distant roaking cry of a lone Vaalkh faded among the tree tops, and a wolf's eye closed in a blink. Tiny crystals of ice clung to the wolf's lashes as its exhaled breath hung motionless in the icy air; and before its eye had reopened, the entity of light and ultra sound that was Blane Wulfrand had passed into the trees and towards a heart of darkness, impelled. The once twisted yew finally revealed its true identity: darkness itself, the ultimate opposing force. Darkness bent its bladed limbs to the acuminate surge of light and sound... For a moment, there was but a profound silence: a silence of both light and sound, before the inevitable collision of opposites errupted with cataclysmic force. The rippling percussive waves of the encounter shattered even his dream__
Blane Wulfrand awoke. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat bolt upright, alert. His ears pulsed with the memory of sound; his body gasped to draw breath. He was perspiring, though it was the middle of veer-hin and the land outside deep with snow. Isula had awoken during the first rapid movement of him in sleep. His legs had twitched, as a dog’s are apt to do when it dreams. From her perspective it had seemed as though he was running in that dream. She may have been right. It did not matter.
Blane’s staring eyes did not see, at first. There remained, though, a sound in his ears and light dominating his vision, lingering as some aftermath. He drew in lungfuls of air, supping it up, thirsty for its sustenance.
To be awoken by a dream, Isula feared, was a bad omen. She reached out an arm to her husband, but he was already moving, and then gone in an instant. Blane had sprung from the bed and was running. He knew not why and he gave it not a conscious thought. He was driven by the imperative of instinct. On the way, he scooped his bow from a peg on the wall and grabbed a handful of arrows from his quiver. He had the bow strung and an arrow nocked before he had reached the stairs.
Standing in near darkness, now, on the last and lowest step, charged with energy and with a prescience unfamiliar to him, he waited. The vague memory of a dry-throated voice calling a warning came to him but he had forgotten its meaning. His eyes and ears were focussed and attuned. He took another step; his own movement came loud to his ears, yet he had barely made a sound. The smooth wooden floor was cold beneath his bare feet, but it did not register in his thoughts. Neither did the formation of darkness which lurked in the angles and spaces of the treads of stair behind him: a shadow within a shadow, not of him, for there was barely any light, but from him. Then, as suddenly as a wolf's eye opens, the front door burst from its latch in an icy rush of powdery snow. Blane Wulfrand loosed his arrow.