The world beyond
** DEAR READERS **
I just thought I’d let you know, this story will be taken down from Inkitt on Dec 31st, 2020. The edited version will be available on Amazon on Jan 11th, 2021. It will include 3 new chapters, new scenes, and original artwork. If you’re interested, check the link in my profile!
I will keep the first 10, edited chapters here.
Thank you so much for reading The Untold Forest.
“It is said a mysterious Path crosses the Forest. A Path that does not start anywhere known to man, and its course is a secret even for beasts. The spirits roam in silence and with gentle steps, avoiding the mortal beings walking beside them.
“This Path leads to deep starry caverns. To the magnificent halls of the Elven-kings. To the steep peaks of the northern mountains, inhabited by dragons. It runs across the villages of the half-breed, from the wild tribes of the north to the houses of the wise river folk.
“Fairies, deer, korred, and squirrels trek their winding routes, minding their affairs and in complete harmony. The trail leads to majestic waterfalls, impenetrable groves, and perilous cliffs. If you’re lucky, it guides you to soft hills covered with fragrant flowers. Their existence leaves a pleasant warmth in your heart, even if the Path does not allow you to return to that wonderful place.
“Because as every creature in the Forest knows, the Path has a mind of its own, and it will prevail over all others. If the Path finds you, it speaks with your soul and guides you to the place you should be, even if it’s not the same you wanted to reach. “But it is also unpredictable, and if you don’t watch your steps, it’s impossible to know—”
“All right, children. It’s time for bed, both of you.”
The story was cut short, her mother’s words hanging on her lips. Finn and Maeve turned to their father, who frowned at the scene.
Dinner had ended long ago. While he smoked his pipe, sitting in a bulky armchair in front of the fireplace, they listened to the legends of the Forest. The siblings loved those stories. Curled up on the rug, they enjoyed the comforting heat of the flames and her mother’s soothing voice.
Both children huffed, not ready to end the night, but their father’s tone left no room to protest. The rest of the story should have to continue tomorrow. “Just a little longer!” Finn pleaded, but his father remained quiet, giving him an impassive stare. “Our property is at the edge of the Forest. Since we’re not allowed to get close, we can only learn about it through mom’s stories.”
Finn is not smart. Maeve thought.
Her older brother had a natural talent to persuade others, and he usually got away with what he wanted. But his petty trick never worked with his father before, and it was beyond her understanding why he kept trying.
Maeve also wanted to keep listening. Unlike Finn, she obediently rose and kissed her mother’s cheek, who returned a sympathetic smile and pinched her nose.
Groaning, Finn stood and crossed his arms over his chest. “Mom, please! I want you to tell us about dragons.”
“Finn, I will not tell you again. Go to bed now.” His father was a reasonable man, but his patience had limits.
“If the Forest is so dangerous, shouldn’t I learn as much as possible about it? How am I supposed to defend myself if—?”
Her little body flinched at the commanding voice. Eyes cast down, Maeve grimaced when the huge armchair creaked under her father’s shifting weight. He stood in front of Finn, and the boy lowered his gaze, arms falling by his side.
Beside her, her mother kept an eye on them with a gentle smile.
“The only thing you need to know about the Forest is that it’s dangerous and you should never enter, under any circumstances. It’s the territory of wild creatures and magic, and men are not to deal with those ever again.”
Her father’s voice turned grave. “It’s a crime, Finn, and if the king finds out, I’ll be severely punished.”
Finn looked at him, not understanding what he meant. Why would their father be punished if he entered the Forest?
“You, little one, will be busy roasting in the cauldron of an ogre.” Maeve gasped, covering her mouth. The thought of her brother being served as a monster’s lunch horrified her. With no idea how an ogre looked like, her mind quickly conjured one. A child eating creature couldn’t be nice. Fat and mean, like a giant toad with sharp teeth and a mighty roar.
The argument had been settled, and her father pointed toward the door. Defeated, Finn kissed his mother and joined Maeve before heading to their bedrooms.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father wrap her mother in a tight hug, kissing her cheek and making her giggle. Lord O’Riordan was a stoic man and could be stern with his children, but nobody could deny he loved his wife. It warmed Maeve’s heart to see them so happy.
The walk through the halls was silent; each child lost in thought. Most of the servants had already left for the day, to rest in their homes or sleep in the servant quarters.
Her brother’s interest had not diminished at all. After one look at his fidgeting hands and the way he bit his lip, Maeve squinted at him. He was up to something. Her father could threaten Finn with all the monsters and gruesome deaths he could think of without causing the least effect. His curiosity had now reached troubling heights. He was suspiciously quiet. Maeve eyed him with worry.
“What?” the boy snapped.
“What are you thinking?”
“Nothing! I want to go to bed and sleep. I have fencing training tomorrow. Awfully early! You know how bad I am. I don’t want to find out how bad I am while half asleep.”
Maeve giggled. Her brother always acted silly—and this didn’t seem to be an exception—so her worries were somewhat quelled. Lord O’Riordan thought Finn forgot about the Forest, but she knew better. They both enjoyed the stories, but Finn was obsessed with them. And he was an idiot.
So it was her responsibility to keep an eye on him. The siblings said their goodnight in the hallway, and Maeve went to bed feeling very much alert.
O’Riordan Castle was a building as old as time. At least on Maeve’s young eyes. Her ancestors had come to these lands decades ago, while most families settled under the protective wings of the capital.
It had been centuries since humans left the Forest to establish a fast-growing kingdom outside its borders. Ancient history failed to recount the reasons behind this exodus, but common folklore was adamant about one thing. The Forest was dangerous. The sheer extension of it, inconceivable, brimming with perilous sorcery and wild beasts. As stated by the Church of the Ancients, magic was a force not to be tampered with, and its heretic notions foreign to humanity’s pure nature.
There were old stories about adventurers risking the wrath of whatever force dwelt within the trees. Those who dared to trespass sought to create a precarious trade route with barbarian tribes. They journeyed in peace for some years, only to be violently expelled without explanation. They came back with tales of wild men and women. Half-breed, they called them, warriors with amazing strength and ferocious appearance.
Those who returned came back terrified, but some never left the Forest—killed by the guardians, undoubtedly.
Ever since, everyone who crossed into the guardians’ territory was swiftly banished.
The kingdom suspended all trade. The risk seemed too great.
Not willing to abandon the riches inside the Forest so easily, many merchants and wealthy noblemen frowned upon the harsh measures. But the claims of heresy by the Church of the Ancients and the ruthless punishment for offenders soon silenced them. For many decades, the lands near the border were untouched until a noteworthy family made it their home.
The firsts O’Riordans to settle near the Forest gained the label of insane, but since they respected the borders, they lived in peace. Well aware of the guardians keeping tabs on them from the trees, they experienced no close contact. Both sides learned to coexist. As the rest of the kingdom saw them thrive, more and more farmers dared to join. No one could deny how bountiful their lands were.
A handful of noble families followed their lead, and it soon became common knowledge; the only danger lay behind the thick veil of the greenery. The king declared trespassing as a serious crime and killing a Forest creature punishable by death.
Too big of a threat, in Maeve’s opinion.
The thought of her father being imprisoned, and Finn being killed made her turn and squirm under the covers.
Perhaps for that reason, she was wide awake when she heard the hushed footsteps outside her door. She got up immediately, put on her leather shoes and a coat before entering the corridor. The castle slept, engulfed in shadows. The footsteps were fading, so she followed.
Even in absolute darkness, she knew her way around the castle. The tall ceilings and narrow corridors, cold and uninviting at that time of night, charted clearly on her mind. Every tapestry and every rug completed the picture. Every corner and passageway was part of her territory.
Ignoring the front door, Maeve slipped to the kitchens instead.
Upon entering the huge, cluttered room, she heard the door to the courtyard close and hurried. Not to lose track of her brother, she rushed through the empty yard. She moved in silence, narrowing her eyes as she followed the shadow that escaped past the servant’s quarters.
They crossed the garden and out of their family’s home. Unlike the coolness inside the castle, the night was warm and humid; the air around her heavy. Foul weather was on its way, and Maeve, pretty much annoyed, scowled at the looming clouds.
Finn will spend the rest of his life grounded if he goes any further. She thought.
The wet grass soaked her shoes, unsuitable for a walk in the field. Soon, she found it increasingly difficult to move forward without betraying her presence. Finn didn’t seem near to stopping and Maeve feared where her brother headed. Heavy clouds that threatened to release a downpour at any moment veiled the moon. Maeve noticed the omnipresent shadows of the Forest getting closer with each step.
Maeve frowned. He wouldn’t dare!
She had to stop him. Not only did she fear her father’s punishment, the possibility of becoming ogre food felt too real. “Finn!”
The boy jumped, startled by her closeness. He hadn’t caught on to her presence, too focused on his goal to enter the Forest. He raised his arms and yelled. “What are you doing? It’s too risky. Go back to your room!”
Finn retraced his steps until he reached Maeve, quite upset with the interruption. The Forest was within reach; the first trees rose in front of them, hiding the storm about to break loose.
His scowl vanished as soon as he caught up with her. Maeve was pale, her little feet soaked. She was only seven years old, and it was unhealthy for someone so young to get sick from the cold.
Finn—well aware of it, too—took off his coat and covered his sister with it. “You shouldn’t have followed me, mushroom. I just wanted to see the forest up close. I wasn’t planning on entering.”
“Dad is going to p-punish you! Come b-back with m-me now!”
The dampness and chill of the night had turned Maeve’s lips blue, and it took Finn a moment to decide it was better to go back with her. He sighed and put an arm around her tiny shoulders, looking rather disappointed by the change of plans. They had only taken a few steps when the air changed.
A strong, warm wind blew from the Forest; the sound of tree leaves stirred by an enormous force reached them. Both siblings halted and turned to the woods, terrified and fascinated.
At the edge of the Forest, the trees swayed to the rhythm of the footsteps of a colossal creature. Maeve’s eyes shone, noticing that right in front of them, the terrain had changed. A huge hill, covered with shrubs and young saplings, stood among the trees that, a few moments ago, were motionless.
The hill shook sluggishly, advancing deep into the trees. Maeve felt her brother’s arms tighten around her, and she looked at him.
Finn was ecstatic. His eyes sparkled, reflecting the moonlight which shone only for a moment before hiding again behind the clouds. He whispered, trembling with excitement.
“Maeve! Do you see it? It’s a Wandering Hill!”