Part 1 of The Land of the Rainbow'd Sun.
Get the book. Live the adventure.
The answer came immediately. Once upon a very long time ago there was a girl, Titian, and she found a way (you wouldn't want me to spoil the story, so that is all I can say).
I originally wrote this as a single chapter to be added to The Runes of Ire as a kind of epilogue. To test it, I asked one of my sons, Scott to read it. At the time he was both young and wriggly, which is to say that he just couldn't sit still for more than a minute. I knew that I could judge my efforts by how long he remained reading.
He started to read, kept reading, wriggled, kept reading, paged down and down and down; got out of his chair and wobbled back and forth and danced from foot to foot, but could not leave the screen! Plainly I had to write this into the full blown story. It think that if you start to read it, you will understand why. I don't completely understand how I ended up with the beautiful architecture that is this book, but likely, you, like many others, will come to know the sense of falling through space that this book brings. Indeed, the cover art for this story was created by Scott, and he seems to see it even more colorfully than I. Follow the link, then zoom in on the picture.
Here is a sample for you to enjoy, but it will look much better on your kindle.
ONE – THE LONELIEST NUMBER
Titian ran. She ran so hard the cold cut her, her eyes shed tears, the backs of her heels bumped against her backside. Blind, shaking panic.
At the edge of the clearing she glanced backward. Out of the slowly drifting fog they sprang, closing the gap. She hammered on into the quickly thickening woods, praying for a break, a chance to escape.
But this would not be. As if by magic a dark figure leapt out of the ground at her feet and caught her about the waist. She made to scream, but a hand clamped her mouth as the other threw her hard to the ground, and slapped her into silence.
There were two kinds of monster in Titian’s life—the Mystals and the Swarthymen. The first she loved, the second she feared. Perched on Lonely Log, like a frog on a rock, she had not known that both were close: one pressing in from the mist above, and the other in the fog at the edge of the grazing field.
Sheep duty. She pulled her cloak tighter and breathed warmth into her purpling hands. It helped little against the morning chill, however she was used to feeling cold; it dwelt in her bones for most of the year. But the breath brought feeling to her fingers and that was enough. With hands too stiff, she would be unable to finish it. And it was nearly finished. And when it was finished, she felt—she knew—that somehow things would be different. And different was very much how she wanted things to be.
A sheep bleated in the fog—white on white. Titian looked carefully about, fleetingly fearful that one of her tribe might have come to check on her and would catch her working on it—her staff. This was a great worry, for it could mean a severe beating, exile from the tribe, or even sudden death. Though the tribe respected the carvers, the Nangar druids, that respect was edged with and born of a fear of their powers, so any practise of their arts was outlawed and received a most harsh reaction. She relaxed again: the likelihood that someone other than Myriam would check on her was nearly zero. No one cared.
Titian’s head tilted skyward and she searched the thready vapours. She was very young when Myriam first showed her pictures in the clouds: sheep and goats and funny men with long noses. It was a game they played when Titian tired of learning the herb lore. But the Mystals were different—they weren’t made of clouds, there were in the clouds. And she was alone when the morning mists first brought the Mystal dragons.
Before that day, she had never heard of dragons. Neither had anyone else but the name popped into her head as soon as she saw them, as though they themselves had put the name there. At first, watching them made her head ache, for she could never see them by looking straight at them. When she did, they just turned into mists and magic, a dream she could not catch.
But with practise she learned to watch them by looking away: see them with the edge of her vision. Still misty, yet she saw more and more until she knew every floating curve, even their strange, other worldly, cat-like eyes.
She had told Myriam about them, even pointed them out, but Myriam never could see them, even when Titian taught her how to look away. In the end, they decided that either Myriam did not have the talent, or that Titian was mad. They laughed at that.
Recently the Mystals seemed fainter. Titian worried that being older was the real reason that Myriam couldn’t see them and she feared that in time they might fade altogether.
‘Then you’ll see the world as the harsh reality that it really is,’ Myriam warned. Titian wasn’t sure what this meant, but this was a reality she didn’t want to know. A glance at her tattered clothes made any strangers to her tribe see this truth clearly. They usually hurried past wondering how long it would be before she was lost to the tribe, taken by starvation and cold.
Myriam always said you had to look past a person’s clothes and into their eyes to see the person underneath. Myriam always shared her dinner with Titian, for Cook never gave her enough. In Myriam, Titian knew there was a treasure of gold.
And Samson, she thought, counting her blessings. Sometimes she found a rabbit perhaps, or a piece of fur to make into boots; gifts in secret places. She couldn’t be sure it was he that left them, for he never spoke to her. But they were only ever in places that only she and Samson frequented and her heart said it was him.
Even with this help, Titian was wraith thin. But as long as she could see the Mystals, she felt there must be a world somewhere that she could run to in times of trouble, where her vexed spirit could find healing.
They played now, as they always did, just out of her line of sight, colourful swirls in the dancing fog. She took a last look at their frolicking forms, catching the sweep of their long necks. She steadied her shivering arms, put a last touch to her work with sharpened flint, and held it up. It was done.
The staff was oak. It had been swathed in mistletoe when it broke from the tree that grew it. She never knew why it had chosen that moment to fall. The branch had missed her by a scant finger width as if the tree had aimed at her. Knowing a little of the lore of the druids of Nangar she carefully kept the mistletoe and the scrapings of wood from her carving. Myriam had taught her the lore—passed down from her mother while she was still alive.
‘The stature of a druid is judged by the skill of their carvings, as much as their ability with the herb-lore and understanding of the earth mother,’ Myriam had told her. By this measure she was sure that her staff made her the mightiest druid of them all. But there was still the matter of magic—she had none. By this second standard her staff was just a fancy looking pole. She hadn’t figured that part out yet.
Again a sheep bleated, more urgently now, bringing Titian rapidly back to reality. All the sheep that she could see had stopped grazing and were looking toward something hidden by the fog on the other side of the meadow.
In that mist a shadow moved. Titian’s eyes widened with fear and her breath quickened. Wolves or Swarthymen—death or worse. Fighting panic she slipped quietly off the log, automatically wrapping the head of the staff in its rabbit pelt cover. She knew the rules of her tribe; she was to immediately run and give warning. Yet the enemy were close, so close that she, just a slip of a girl, might not pass more than a dozen paces before they would be on her.
She saw one nearer now. Swarthymen. Her throat went dry. A raiding party to take the sheep to eat, or a girl for slavery—or to eat; she had heard the stories. Quietly she backed away, praying to the Earth Mother that they would not see her.
A shout and the chase was on. She spun and sprinted for the woods.
‘Stay quiet or we’re dead,’ whispered the one who had caught her. She turned sharply. Her captor was not a Swarthyman at all, but a boy not much older than she. Even as he spoke he threw a large cloak over them both. ‘Stay very still’ he breathed in her ear.
Scant seconds later she heard heavy footsteps gallop up, then rush past. One of her pursuers even jumped over them, cursing about rocks as he did so, for as he leapt, the boy cracked the Swarthyman’s foot with his staff. Titian was bewildered, for it seemed to her that they were in plain view.
The clumping of footsteps faded into the distance. ‘Come along,’ said the boy looking at her pale, terrified form. He gave a gentle laugh, ‘It won’t be long and they’ll realise you gave them the slip, then they’ll be back and searching more thoroughly.’ He gave her a hand up. ‘This way,’ he said and took her away from the trail of the Swarthymen.
‘How did you do that?’ she asked, eyes wide.
‘Do what? Oh. Hide. Just a simple trick really. My people, the Drus of Nangar have used it for a very long time. But it’s a secret, so I won’t tell. Can’t go giving away trade secrets, can I?’
‘No, I suppose not,’ said Titian, wanting to say ‘Yes! Tell me anyway.’ Titian loved secrets, especially the trade kind. She knew this word ‘Drus’. It meant ‘oak’ and was the base of the druids—the oak-knowledge people. ‘Magicians, sorcerers and witches,’ the chief had called them, ‘should all be dropped in the pit.’ It seemed to Titian that the brave chief was afraid that the Nangar druids might drop him in the pit. Titian, however, felt no fear of this boy.
She looked at his cloak, that seemed smaller now it was on the boy’s shoulders, hardly enough to cover two people; surely a trick of the eye.
‘Yes—a trick,’ he said when she asked about it, ‘like hiding.’
This second secretiveness both rankled and enticed Titian. It hinted at a world she would never know, but one that filled her dreams. ‘I must be running,’ she said.
‘Why so soon?’ he asked.
‘Because you are laughing at me with your knowledge,’ she said, ‘and besides, I have shepherding to do before the Swarthymen return and steal the sheep.’
‘I shouldn’t worry,’ said the boy.
‘Why ever not?’ she asked, irked by his casual reply. If she lost any sheep, no matter whether it was her fault or not, Cook would make sure she paid dearly, with the whip.
‘Because they’re all here,’ laughed the boy. And sure enough, to Titian’s astonishment, the flock came into view only a few paces further on, hidden by the trees. She took a step away from him and made a sign against the evil eye. Perhaps the chief was right. Perhaps he was a sorcerer in boy form.
‘How did they get here?’ she said.
The boy, seeing her look of fear, opened his mouth to tell her, but then caught himself. ‘Sorry…’
‘Whatever shall I tell the clan?’ said Titian, unconsciously tugging at the rabbit pelt cover of the staff. It suddenly fell away.
The boy gawped at it, all airs and graces forgotten, then seized it from her grasp. ‘Where did you get this!’ he demanded.
‘It’s mine!’ squeaked Titian, suddenly fearful.
‘It’s yours! Did you steal it? Was it on a grave? Or upon the dead body of a druid? Where, quickly!’
‘I… I made it’ she blurted, reaching to grab back the thing that filled her dreams, her one chance at true change.
But he would not let go. ‘You made it?’ he said. Doubt coloured his words.
In reply she pulled open the large pocket of her dress, in which the dried leaves and small pieces of carved oak bulged. His face changed suddenly to wonder as he saw in her eyes that she spoke truly.
‘This is…’ he paused as he gazed at the staff, ‘…fantastic.’
From a pocket he drew a leather piece and lay it over a mossy rock. There he sat and invited Titian to sit also. For what seemed an age, he studied the staff, sometimes smiling, sometimes serious, like a child listening to a favourite story. Titian had left the whole of the base bare, and whittled it into a pole shape, two or three thumbs thick. But the top, where the bulk of the wood was, had figures laid one over the other. She had taken advantage of a natural curve in the crown to create a sheep’s crook. Beneath the arch of the crook, the image of a young girl held a staff like Titian’s. From that girl’s staff another girl emerged at its crown, as though the figures carried on, one to the other, forever smaller.
Where the curve of the hook met the main staff, a dragon pressed, a wing wrapped protectively around one shoulder of the girl, like a cape, its tail around her feet, then curled around the main staff as if gripping it tightly. From its head, spikes jutted out, one up from the front of its snout, others from the sides of its face, like a mace. Both girl and dragon looked out at the same point, two thoughts in one. The boy had never seen its like before. He held it high catching a sunbeam.
‘Brilliant,’ he said finally, and passed it back to her. His eyes narrowed. ‘It seems that there is much to think on here. You are to return to your tribe and tell them of the Swarthymen, but tell them nothing of our meeting. Understand?’
‘Do you understand?’
‘Yes—I—’ she didn’t know what else to say.
‘Good then. Now watch out for the Swarthymen as you go.’He nodded toward a place behind her. She turned in alarm, fearing that there might be Swarthies sneaking behind. Not a moment later, she turned back and found him gone—as was the leather piece on which they had sat.