Draykon: Chapter One
August 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
Thank you for reading the prologue to my upcoming novel Draykon last week. It’s Thursday again, so it’s time for the next part. If you missed the beginning though, please read the prologue first.
The stone polishing machine rattled its last and the barrel stopped spinning, its cycle complete. Opening it up, Llandry slipped a deft hand inside and extracted a few of the gems. They lay in the palm of her hand, glittering darkly indigo under the light-globes that hovered over her head. Smooth and perfect, they were quite ready for use.
She never cut the istore stones. It seemed wrong, somehow, to break these perfect jewels into pieces, so she merely gave them a day or two in the polisher to bring up the brilliancy of the surface. It was a pleasing test of her ingenuity as a jeweller to find ways to set them as they were.
She selected one of the smaller pieces, tucking the rest away in the top drawer of her work table. A setting was already prepared for this one, a large, handsome ring designed for a man to wear. Wrought from silver, her favourite metal, she had lightly engraved it with a pattern of tiny stars. This motif echoed the tiny points of light that winked in the depths of the stone.
In fact, Llandry had named it for the stars. She had discovered the gem by accident, walking one day under the glissenwol trees with Sigwide darting ahead. Thoughts lost in daydreams, she had drifted away from their usual route. Her reverie had been suddenly interrupted by the sensation of falling as she tumbled down a hole hidden beneath the bracken. The hard earthen walls of the underground grotto sparkled ferociously in the thin light beaming down from above. The gems fell easily into her hands when she touched them, shining like shards of night fallen from the skies. She had taken to calling them “istore”, after the Old Glinnish word for star.
Not that she was particularly familiar with the night sky. The permanent sun of the Dayland Realms hid the stars from her sight, and the moon only occasionally appeared as a pale and feeble disc in the heavens. Therein lay the nature of her fascination, perhaps. Llandry picked up her lapidary tools and bent over the ring, carefully and skilfully working the gem into its setting. Intent on her task, she barely noticed the faint scratching of Sigwide’s feet on the wooden floor as he wandered in. She distantly sensed an air of speculation about him as he paused before the table, haunches bunched to jump. But no: he knew better than to disturb her when she was working. He pattered off again, finding the blanketed basket she left for him on the other side of the room.
‘Just a few more minutes, Siggy,’ she murmured without looking up. He grumbled in reply, sending her a plaintive series of impressions: hunger, emptiness, imminent starvation. She stifled a laugh.
‘In theory, Sig, you are a wild animal. A feral beast, part of brutal, brilliant nature. You could go forth and forage for your own food. In theory.’
Sigwide ignored her. His claws scrabbled on the wicker as he turned in his basket, curling up with an offended air.
‘All right, fine. Food.’ She put down her tools and wrapped up the ring and the precious gem in soft cloth, unwilling to leave them lying abandoned on the table. Sigwide jumped joyfully out of his basket and wove his thin grey body around her feet, beating her to the door. She stepped over him with the nimbleness of long practice, chuckling.
Sigwide’s favourite food was a complex, carefully balanced mixture of dried bilberries, fresh rosehips, assorted nuts and a scattering of pungent mushrooms. He was completely spoiled, dining like a king on this rather expensive mixture every day, but she didn’t begrudge him his luxuries. He had been her faithful companion – her only reliable friend, other than her parents – for the last eleven years. He ought to be slowing down now that age was catching up with him, but so far he had never lost his inexhaustible energy.
Llandry leaned against the kitchen table, watching him eat. She tried to keep her thoughts focused on Sigwide, but as usual her mind betrayed her. Tendrils of nerves snaked through her belly and began to grip, clutching hard. She hadn’t wanted to stop working because as long as she was fully occupied, she was safe from apprehension. Now, though, her treacherous thoughts turned to tomorrow. Tomorrow.
It had been her mother’s idea to take the istore jewellery to the market. Ynara thought it would be popular. Doubtless she was right; the istore never failed to interest and attract those who saw it. Short of the money to cover the rent on her small, but pleasant tree, Llandry had allowed herself to be persuaded about the market; after all, it was preferable to having to ask her parents for help.
She had begun to regret it immediately. She was to have her own stall at the next Darklands market, which was held every full moon in Glour. It was a popular event attracting thousands of shoppers, which of course was why it was so suitable a venue for her glorious new jewellery. That fact also made it a prospect of pure terror for Llandry. Thousands of people pushing and shoving and jostling each other, staring at her jewellery, her stall, her face. She would have to talk to some of them. Talk, comfortably and persuasively, to a succession of complete strangers. The only saving grace about this hideous prospect was the opportunity to stand for a while under the stars and the light of the full moon. It was not nearly enough to balance out her fear.
Feeling the tell-tale tingling sensation beginning to creep up her arms, Llandry tried to pull back her thoughts. She walked about the room briskly, swinging her arms. It was no use. Within minutes her fingers had cramped and curled with tension and her whole body was tingling uncomfortably. Soon afterwards she began to shake uncontrollably, hyperventilating, growing dizzy and faint. She sat down with her head between her knees, trying to breathe deeply. Sigwide abandoned his repast and trotted over to her, thrusting his nose against her legs.
‘I’ll b-be fine, Sig. Just… give me a moment.’ At length the dizziness faded and her shaking eased. She stood up carefully, stretched and shook her befogged head. Her face was wet with tears; these attacks always left her feeling intolerably shamed and humbled. She patted her face dry on her sleeve, then picked up Sigwide. It comforted her to have him close for a time afterwards, the warmth of his little body soothing the vestiges of her fear.
‘Why did I agree to this, Siggy?’ She sighed. Hidden in her top kitchen cupboard rested a bottle of dark brown glass, containing a rather repulsive mixture her mother had purchased from one of Glinnery’s foremost herbalists. It tasted revolting, but it was effective. She took a small measure of the stuff, welcoming the feeling of lassitude that gradually swept over her afterwards. She would just have to keep herself dosed up on it until the market was over.
Furthermore, her mother had offered to accompany her. Llandry had refused, wanting to prove – to herself, more than anyone else – that she could manage it alone. Now she felt differently. Dosed or not, she knew she would be suffering more of these attacks on the morrow. She was going to need her mother’s help. She slid her feet into her boots, lacing them up tightly, and placed Sigwide into the carry-case she slung over her hip. Locking her tree, she launched herself into the air, letting her strong wings carry her in the direction of her parents’ residence.
‘Oh, love. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.’ Llandry stood in the circle of her mother’s arms, inhaling her familiar, comforting scent. Ynara held her for some time, rocking her gently the way she had done since her daughter was a small girl. Then she seated her firmly at the table and plied her with food. Somehow her mamma always seemed to have Llandry’s favourites on hand: fragrant white alberry tea with a pinch of freyshur spice, a bowl of creamed mushroom soup and a plate of tiny berry cakes appeared before Llandry in quick succession. She didn’t feel inclined to eat, but she forced down a few spoonfuls of the soup, unwilling to disappoint her mother. As always, the food began to make her feel better and she ate with a little more enthusiasm.
Ynara sat down opposite her and took a cake, breaking it into small pieces and eating them elegantly with her fingers. She watched Llandry affectionately, her expression soft. ‘You know, Pa would come as well, if we asked him.’
Llandry shook her head. ‘Bad enough that I have to drag you along, Ma. Pa’s busy.’ Pa, an engineer and inventor from Irbel, was always busy. He was remarkably good at his job and was high up in Glinnery’s well-regulated guild of Irbellian expatriate engineers. Llandry’s parents had always lived comfortably, even after Ynara had given up her position as an Enchanter to join the unpaid Council of Elders.
Ynara wrinkled her delicate nose and smiled. Even such an inelegant gesture did nothing to dampen her remarkable beauty. She did very little to encourage it: her tumbling black hair was often a little disordered, and she often wandered absent-mindedly about in clothes dotted with the stains left by her regular adventures in cooking. None of it mattered a bit. Llandry often felt something of a crow beside her magnetic mother, though this was a feeling she ruthlessly stifled whenever it threatened to emerge.
‘Just you and I, then, love. It’ll be like the old days. Do you remember when we used to visit the Darklands Market when you were a child?’
Of course Llandry remembered. Shy even then, the bustling market had unnerved her, but she had clung to her mother’s hand and felt reassured. Ynara used to go regularly in search of some of the rarer ingredients she used to create her edible delicacies. There were several fruits, grasses and mushrooms that would only grow under the endless night of the Darklands, and all of them were abundantly available at the Darklands Market. Mamma would buy new gems for Llandry’s collection each time they went, and return home laden with packets of unidentifiable objects for Aysun. Llandry had always enjoyed this quality time alone with her mother. She smiled, now, trying to weld that idea into her mind in place of her extreme trepidation.
‘Thanks, Ma,’ she said at last. ‘I’d better go and finish up that ring. It’s the last piece for tomorrow.’
Ynara kissed her cheek and gave her a brief hug. ‘I’ll be with you early in the morning, love. I’ll bring breakfast.’
Llandry made herself smile again and waved, trying to suppress the forlorn feeling she always suffered whenever she flew away from her mother’s house.