This is book one of Destiny of Fire
PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR
An author’s foremost desire is to be read.
This trilogy took me ten years to complete. Marketing is not my forte, so after almost nine years of attempting to market and get a wider distribution, I’ve decided - to hell with this - I’m going to offer it for free.
As of this year (2021) I’m posting all three books up here, on Inkitt, for anyone who wishes to read them.
I hope you’ll enjoy this journey nearly as much as I enjoyed writing it. The characters that you’ll meet are still very much alive within me. I love them, and I love their journey as much as I love the journey of life itself.
Due to the formatting restrictions on this platform I was unable to include a glossary of terms and names. For those of you who would like to have it on hand, just email me at [email protected] and I'll send you a copy.
And now, I'll get out of your way and allow your journey to begin...
Who had been asleep when the man entered the valley.
The intruder’s arrival had disturbed some of the nearest creatures and it was the ruckus of their fleeing that had woken the owl. In fact, it would have alerted anyone with a decent set of ears.
Not Illiom, of course. Who had long ago realised that his human was incapable of hearing anything but the nearest and loudest sounds.
He did not respond to the man’s arrival in any way. Even the owl’s natural curiosity was not enough for him to investigate. He was sated as well as a little tired from the previous night’s hunt, so he remained on the perch of his favourite tree and waited, eyes half closed, only a small portion of his awareness attuned to the valley’s eastern entrance.
He had very limited experience with humans because, prior to Illiom, he had been quite indifferent to them. Their worlds simply did not often intersect. Illiom had changed all that because she was the only human who could hear him and, in turn, he appeared to be the only owl who could hear her.
They did not actually hear each other, for sound played no part in their exchanges. And even though at times Illiom actually spoke to Who out loud, the noises she made would have been gibberish to him without the silent link that connected them.
Who well understood why she enjoyed talking; it helped to offset the deep loneliness that she felt at being separated from her own kin. Never mind that the separation had been of her own choosing.
Since those early days he had tried to impress upon her the value of silence, and of perceiving the world through alertness, responding to its promptings as dictated by the moment. But that was not Illiom’s way, she was always busy doing something or other, always planning or preparing for happenings that for the most part did not eventuate.
Still, some of his efforts must have landed, for she had surprised him on occasion with moments of quiet. Only a few days ago he had flown in to find her gazing out across the valley at the surrounding mountains and knew that she was not planning or scheming, but was quiet, present, and her mind was for once empty.
Who had stumbled across Illiom two winters earlier, and the immediate connection between them had caused him to linger in the valley that stretched beneath her home. He never bothered to examine his reasons for choosing to remain, for owls were not given to wasting energy on explanations or justifications. Partly it had been simple convenience, for the valley provided a bountiful supply of food. It had also been curiosity, for this kind of bond between owls and humans was most uncommon.
Who knew that there was something different about this human.
The intruder’s progress had quieted considerably while the owl slumbered. The animals that had been unsettled by his arrival must have either come to terms with his presence or decided that he was not a threat.
But now that Who was fully awake it was this silence that intrigued him.
On impulse, the owl stretched his broad wings and dropped from the tree. A long sweeping arch, a few powerful beats, and soon he was passing over the man, unnoticed and as silent as a whisper. The stranger was on horseback, a second horse trailing behind, tethered to the rider’s own mount.
As Who glided high above the man, he banked into a slow sweep and fixed him with his deeper sight. There was an uncommon poise and stillness emanating from this human, and it occurred to Who then that he should alert Illiom of his presence. But first he wanted to take a deeper measure of the man, so he circled one more time then banked and alighted on a high branch of a dead tree, well ahead of the intruder’s direction of travel.
There he waited and watched.
Illiom did not know what had woken her.
She lay very still, holding her breath, listening to the small sounds of night. There was nothing unusual, just a whisper of wind rustling the grass outside her shelter.
Nothing much intruded on the silence in these mountains. Even changes in the tone of the wind’s lament, the hiss of rain, or the occasional sudden explosions of thunder, did almost nothing to unsettle the deep hold of the silence upon the great stone peaks.
She sighed, and sparked her werelight into life.
Who looked down at her from his perch, the black orbs of his eyes regarding her with detachment.
Usually, the owl came and went in complete silence, rarely returning before dawn, preferring the mysteries of the night to the noises of a sleeping human.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, out loud. “Is it morning?”
Illiom stretched towards the entrance and parted the hides that served as a door. The world outside was as black as pitch.
She looked at the owl again, her eyes questioning.
Who puffed up his feathers and gave himself a small shake.
He blinked once, in his usual slow and deliberate way.
Someone comes, he offered at last.
For several heartbeats Illiom stared at the owl without understanding.
“What do you mean?”
The owl’s eyes were as round as moons, the pupils unfathomable scrying pits.
One man, two horses. He sleeps in the valley below.
An icy finger crept along Illiom’s spine. She sat up, pulling the blanket around her even though the air was far from cold.
“A man? This far up?”
Not once in the past four years had anyone wandered into this valley. She groped for a plausible explanation. Perhaps it was a hunter following a wounded quarry. It was certainly not a trader, no one to trade with in these parts.
“Maybe it is a hunter or a trapper, a Roonhian’ka tribesman, perhaps.”
Who’s response was immediate.
No hunter. He comes for you. Your desire to shun your own kind has come to an end, Illiom.
The owl’s sending had not been ominous, but as she repeated it to herself, it took on a sinister quality.
He comes for me?
Abruptly, the air in the shelter became stifling. She stood, letting the blanket fall. Opening the door carefully, mindful of the aging leather hinges, Illiom stepped outside, naked, into the night.
The darkness draped her in a cool velvet embrace.
Illiom’s shelter nestled against the flank of a nameless mountain. It was perched on a grassy ledge that broke the steep climb up from the tree line several hundred spans below.
She walked to the rim of that ledge and looked out.
The stars shimmering in the clear sky offered the only source of light, enough to set the surrounding peaks aglow with a faint halo but nothing more. The valley below was drowned in an impenetrable black pool. Illiom stared into it as if she could shed some light upon this intruder with her will alone.
“How do you know he is coming up here? That he is looking for me?” she asked without turning.
Who did not respond immediately.
Long ago, Illiom had learnt that hesitation was not a part of the owl’s world. His focus was probably not upon her at that moment. He was likely distracted by the small rustling sounds that washed against his predator mind.
At length he answered.
Let me show you.
Immediately, a flurry of images alighted upon the canvas of Illiom’s awareness.
First, she saw a man astride a chestnut stallion: long black hair in a tail, shirt of white linen, practical riding pants. As the owl flew silently overhead, she caught glimpses of the man picking his way gingerly up a wooded slope, a white gelding tethered behind his own mount.
The image that followed was more sedate. It was night, and a small fire burned in a narrow, rocky space. In the flickering of the flames Illiom was able to study the man. He had loosed his hair and although his features were shadowed, she sensed brooding eyes and a stern face. The silver hilt of a knife flashed when he parted his vest to retrieve a satchel from his belt.
He was well equipped and groomed. It was obvious that he was neither a hunter nor a trapper, not a tribesman after all. His garb was not rich or ostentatious, but of good quality, and his boots looked like the handiwork of a master cobbler. The mounts were well fed and healthy, and their tack looked new.
Illiom watched as the man pulled a small bundle from his satchel. He peeled away the folds of cloth and examined the object that was exposed. It caught the firelight like a piece of glass, a shard as long as his hand was wide.
He stood up then, and holding the shard between thumb and forefinger he extended it away from his body and began to turn on the spot in a slow and deliberate motion, as if displaying it to an invisible audience.
His attention was so fixed upon the shard that Illiom too found herself staring at it, wondering what on earth he was doing.
Then the glass began to glow.
Its length pulsed with a pale aqua light that lingered for a moment and then began to fade again. The man checked his movement, and then turned fractionally back in the opposite direction.
The glow rekindled. He stopped and raised the shard until the light grew stronger still.
The initial illusion that the glass was merely refracting the firelight was completely dispelled when its glow intensified and pulsed with flashes of pure brilliance that blazed between the man’s fingers and dappled across his face.
Completely captivated, Illiom stared at this display of cold, blue fire. Even when the man closed his fingers around the shard, its light did not abate; instead, his whole fist shone like a beacon of light.
Then the man looked up.
With Who’s unerring owl-sense, Illiom knew that he was looking directly towards her.
She recoiled and would have turned away, but Who was not done yet.
In a fluid transition to a later memory, the owl showed her another scene. In it the man was relaxed, reclining against his saddle. The signs of a recent meal lay discarded beside him: a soiled iron skillet and an empty bowl. A pewter cup sat perched at a precarious angle on the stone next to his fire.
He was intent on honing a dagger; languidly running a stone along the edge of the blade, turning it often for an even outcome, pausing occasionally to test its keenness with his thumb.
Illiom noticed the turn of his lip as he gazed upon his handiwork, lost in some private thought. The cold gleam in his eyes seemed to mirror the steel of his weapon.
Illiom shivered. She sucked in a breath and, shaking off the vision, turned to look at the owl, perched on the makeshift lintel of the shelter’s door.
“How close is he?”
He is down there. The owl stirred, shifting his position slightly. He will come up with the sun’s rising.
After that, sleep was out of the question. Illiom found herself casting her mind back over past events, trying to discern a connection between them and this intrusion.
The only incident that had ever exposed her to any danger and potential repercussions had occurred back in Gallid, yet even that did not add up. Why would anyone come looking for her now, after all this time? It had been ten years, maybe longer.
She shook her head in frustration. Surely this had nothing to do with that incident. Yet she could think of no other explanation for the man’s presence, except...
A thought chilled her as effectively as a fall into an icy stream.
Perhaps this intruder had heard of the comely, if somewhat crazed, young woman who had chosen to live alone on the flank of a certain mountain. Perhaps he was not seeking her because of any connection to her past, but...
She did not allow herself to complete the thought.
Instead, her werelight flashed into being of its own volition, like barely contained lightning. She felt its potential for violence.
The owl hooted a protest.
“I am so sorry,” she said soothingly, and quelled its power.
Only once before had she felt its full potential: this gift-curse had erupted from her when she had been in danger and terrified. The damage it had inflicted upon her attacker was such that she knew he would never recover. If this one approached her now with similar intent, he would regret the moment he had decided to seek her out.
Emboldened by this memory, her initial fears evaporated like mist before Iod’s heat. Illiom smiled to herself. Her feelings of vulnerability were absurd. Now, like then, she was far from defenceless.
He does not seek to harm you; he comes to take you away.
Who’s sending was like a paralysing spell.
Take me away?
Her heart pounded against her ribs.
“How can you possibly know that?”
The ice of fear and the fire of hope met like an explosion in her belly. What had she been praying for? What had she been asking ... no, pleading for, this whole winter past?
Her head swam as she dropped to her knees.
A wave of nausea surged through her and she retched. She straightened after a while and brushed away the spittle on her chin with the back of her hand.
Then she turned to Who, but before she could request that he scout the intruder again, the owl spread his broad tawny wings and dropped away from the lintel.
Gliding past her, he vanished like a silent wraith into the gloom below.