If you’ve read the previous post, you’ll know I’m having a little experimentation with Wattpad and publishing ‘The Forgotten Lands‘ as it’s written. I have to admit, that is not very fast, largely due to life’s illnesses and hurdles. However, I thought I’d share the first possible chapter here. It’s raw, unedited and all I’ve done is a quick proof read; not that means anything, as my editor will attest too. So, without further ado, here it is.
The Forgotten Lands – Book 1 of the Gathin Chronicles
Lyllia shrank into the shadow of the vast castle wall as voices echoed around the corner. The bricks were cool to the touch, moist even, and she looked up towards the heavens to see that moss and ferns clung to the massive structure as nature gradually took back what it was owed. Sky shone far above the wall, catching the sliver of remaining dew left on the uppermost stones. Embedded with alleys and buildings and hidden chutes and tunnels, the great ramparts wrapped their way around the central buildings of the castle to create a giant encircled bubble. This part of the wall, where Lyllia now attempted to camouflage her dirt-covered clothes against the stone, had been rebuilt several centuries before. She could clearly see the join between old and new. Whereas the mortar on the ancient walls was all but vanished by age and erosion, the pale cream striations across the stones around her gave clear indication of its new age. Though several centuries old was far from ‘new’ for a 15 year old. Lyllia could barely remember her infancy, let alone fathom just how long 200 years really was.
The voices grew louder and a group of men flew around the corner, laughter in their mouths, great flagons of ale in their fat, clammy hands. It was unusually warm for Hilltree The cool bite to the air was gone, and heat pervaded every nook, every snaking alley, every shaded stream. The pumping heat from oven bakeries, heaving sex and drug houses and the coal-fuelled warming station hidden below the central castle was exacerbated, whilst the stench from the stables – a smell Lyllia normally found pleasant – wafted through the streets with a nose-wrinkling ferocity.
Sweat ran down the men’s faces before her, the drops collecting in the wiry hair of their beards and dripping onto the jewels at their throats, giving the golds, bronzes, silvers and gems an extra sheen. She wondered where their path led; into the arms of coin-seeking lovers, or perhaps towards a tavern where the next ale would be cooler. She allowed herself a moment to imagine their stories but each ended the same – they were all fat, rich men with too much ale in their bellies and lust in their groins. Before the day was over, each would have found solace with man or woman before returning to their families. She hated the thought, but even in her youth she had already realised the currency this city thrived on.
However, their preoccupations benefitted her, and it was obvious Lyllia need not have worried about being spotted, for they paid no attention towards the dirty waif far below their eyeline and strode right by without even the slightest glance.
‘You can come out now’ she said after the sound of their voices became faint.
Lion stepped out from behind a tower of flagstones and wooden storage bins. He was a slim, shaggy wolf who’s silver coat made no attempt to hide his ancient age. Once, his great mane had been flecked with bronze, and he’d been graced with a name befit for one of the great fabled beasts living across the seas in the Silver Sands. But any youthful colour to his fur was now long since gone. Lyllia couldn’t remember a time when he had not looked this way, and she had seen no other. He was the last wolf of Gathin. How long did wolves live, she wondered? He was far older than she.
Lion walked towards her stiffly, his tried eyes fixed on where she stood. He never left her side when she explored. It was irritating. She longed to be free of the shadow, to clamber up to the ramparts, to slither down narrow passageways and adventure into the bowels of the castle beneath her, but he howled. And that attracted attention. And attention was not what she, nor the last wolf, required. He was her guard, her friend, but she often looked upon him as a grandfather unable to remove her safety reigns.
Lyllia drew away from the wall, aware that the damp stone had begun to wet her clothes. She looked up into Lion’s eyes as he joined her; he might be small compared to his forebears, but his jaw still easily rested atop her head.
‘You could just stay inside,’ she said. He looked at her, unblinking, with his pale brown eyes.
She reached up and ruffled the rough silver tipped fur between his ears.
‘I guess that would be too much to ask.’ She sighed; today would not be one of clambering the walls or slithering through minuscule chutes. Today, like every day of her life so far, would be castle confinement for fear that if she venture too far afield her devoted companion might be spotted…or worse, howl so loud that she was discovered.
The pair slid along the wall, enjoying the cooler shadows. The sun was high in the sky and the three towers of the castle would soon obscure it from view. The heat wouldn’t dissipate, however; Lyllia knew that only too well thanks to the months beforehand. There were more voices ahead and they froze once again.
‘What is everyone doing out?’ she moaned, frustrated that her decision to set out at midday was being thwarted. It was normally quiet at this time.
‘Gods, this heat. What have we done to deserve this? I’d prefer the wretched cold of the North Realm any day.’ The woman’s voice floated through the air, and though still unseen, Lyllia could already tell she was not servant, nor working girl.
‘It won’t last,’ another voice said. ‘It is but a drug to dull our senses, fatten our men and make us weak before the snow returns.’ She laughed. ‘It can be hoped it returns so swiftly it takes those men so by surprise they freeze in their beds and let us alone.’
There was prolonged giggling, and as Lion snuck deeper into the shadows and camouflaged himself into the wall, Lyllia strained to see around the jumble of buildings that lined the walls.
The women were still not visible, but their voices were closer. Lyllia was relieved, glad she wouldn’t have to chase after the group and could, instead, enjoy eavesdropping from her place in the shadows.
‘Of course, if the winter takes its time, there are other ways to take charge,’ a third woman added. ‘The Crossover Festival is almost upon us. It does not take much sheer fabric, and perfumes and jewels and a fleeting, flirting glimpse to quicken a man’s heart and send so much blood to his head he’s incapacitated to his bed.’
‘As long as that’s where the blood goes. This heat is not the time to enthuse lust amongst the masses.’
‘Unless he’s strong and lean and ready for ensnaring.’
The women burst into laughter again, and Lyllia understood their meaning. She was young but not so naive she didn’t know how feminine charms could be used to work the most resistant man’s heart.
Finally, she saw three women wander into view. They were beautiful. All had long hair, two with soft curls twisted into the straw-coloured strands. The petite middle woman had hair the colour of a bright, new horse-chestnut burst from its shell for the first time. Silvery strands of ribbon glittered within their hair, and bands of the same colour wound around the top of their heads. As their conversation alluded too, their outfits were sheer; thin blouses overlapped loose fitting trousers that had large splits in their sides and bangles fastened around the ankles to keep the fabric in place. Beneath only the smallest of undergarments were worn to protect their modesty, though the same couldn’t be said of their blouses. They were only a few years older than Lyllia, perhaps 18 or 19, yet she saw easily, even from her position, they all had ample, rounded breasts. The garments stuck to their glistening skin and left little to the imagination.
She was transfixed until one woman noticed Lyllia’s gaze.
‘Our talk of men has attracted young ears,’ she said, smiling. Her soft brown eyes were the same colour as her skin. Her companions quickly looked in the direction of the wall as Lyllia felt her cheeks begin to burn. She could not retreat, nor could she find any words so she stood, stiff and awkward as the women swept by.
‘You will grow,’ one called back, before putting her hands to her breasts and pushing them together. ‘And soon you will see the ease in which we rule the kingdom.’
Her antics caused an explosion of laughter, and soon the women had gone as fast as they had arrived.
Fire was still on Lyllia’s face. ‘Rule the kingdom’. The words cut into her. She knew such womanly charms held little weight on the stage of kings and conquerors.
‘I’m such an idiot,’ she muttered with embarrassment, thinking of the things she could have said, the way she should have conducted herself. Instead they had seen a mute, dirty servant girl wishing for a life she would never enjoy.
The brief encounter played foul with her mood, and as the sun continued to move across the afternoon sky, her usual bounce had departed. It suited Lion, and he solemnly plodded beside her as she trudged around her well trodden routes of the castle’s inner circle. Their game of hide and seek was abandoned, the pretence her wolf-shaped shadow was a fearsome beast forgotten. He brought a raised eyebrow to a few, and a gasp from one courier obviously not familiar with the city, but, for the most part, they were ignored. Aside from the sudden gaps in conversation that occurred whenever she were near, however. That’s why she kept to shadows and crept through the maze of alleys created by the buildings as they jostled for space. Now, wandering along, slouched and in plain sight, even whispers were abandoned as she drew near.
‘Damn them. Damn them all,’ she thought angrily. What was expected if she happened to hear a gossiped word or twisted new rumour? They couldn’t expect her to act openly on anything she heard…how could she? But yet, still she knew. She hid behind crates and crawled under hay bales. She clung to the side of buildings or flattened herself against alley walls as a way to live vicariously through the cast members of her elaborate play. Lyllia knew, for example, that the bakery boy stole two scones per week from his delivery round and that, unbeknownst to him, his petty crime had not gone unnoticed. She’d feared his retribution at first, and taken several days pressed against the hot tin roof of the flour store to try and discover his employers intended punishment. But then she saw him lure a chicken with the crumbs of his steals and torture the beast towards a bloody end, and she no longer felt the need to offer a warning. She knew that Mrs Draper cried every night in the back of the library over the three babes she’d lost, and that there was a red-faced man called Brex who used fishbones to pick the grime from his thick moustache. Lyllia has eyes and ears for everything, and retained information as well as if she’d written into her skin with a metal-tipped quill. Should she ever need coin for her knowledge she’d not want for anything, at least in the short term. But she cared not for money or wealth. She saw her tiny world of the Inner Circle as a great mechanism of cogs and wheels, each component’s daily struggles creating the rich tapestry around her.
But now she heard no secrets and was privy to no rumours for she and Lion walked in plain sight.
She stopped momentarily by a small catering stall and took a thick wedge of bread. The vendor peered at her momentarily before offering her a spoon of honey.
‘Good day, lassee,’ he called as she walked away with honey dripping down her chin. It rose her spirits a little; it was sweet and tasted of the heathers that created great purple mountains across the undulating lands around Hilltree. She gave the last wedge of thick crust to Lion, who took it with a look of disdain. She got the distinct impression he only gnawed the hard crust to please her rather than to fulfil any desire of hunger. He didn’t eat much these days. Is that why he looks so old? she wondered.
The high sun gave a false impression of time, and it was only when she rounded the corner to see the great towering fir trees that Lyllia realised evening had crept upon her. Shining light caught atop the majestic living spires, illuminating them like bright needles. Further down, the sun cast no glare, and she followed the shadows to the street and then further into the chasm below. Once, there had only been a single great tower in Hilltree. At the climax to the Ammokra War, the great landmark had been sucked into the ground as the very fabric between Gathin, the Gods’ Realm, and the devil’s world had been ripped apart. The very act of the tower’s destruction had plugged the tear between realms and restored order. The final Ammokra had died that night, the curse’s last sentience vanquished at last. It had been a time of magic. The teachings were vague to Lyllia; so much time had passed that much of the account was now a fable, a long-gone era of myths. They could be no denying that the tower had once stood, and that the reflection of the North Realm Queen had crossed from a place known as Earth to Gathin and brought about two centuries of peace, but now all that was left was the great abyss in the ground. And the Crossover Festival, of course. Every decade the entire nation would celebrate for a time and an occasion that no one living could have truly understood the meaning of.
There was a guard on either side of the large, elaborately filigreed gate leading to the gardens. Each stood tall, proud, though Lyllia couldn’t think of a worse time to be glad in thick leathers and chainmail. Indeed, there was normally no need for such sentry, but the intense heat had seen people flocking to the cool water gardens, where they climbed amongst the plants and clambered over the slippery rocks in search of shade. Accidents had quickly began; a sprained ankle, a slip, a fall, and then a six year old boy had fallen into the deepest chasm and been killed. Now, foot soldiers with the traditional North Realm lances, eight foot spears tipped with silver, were on sentry throughout. Though it seemed to Lyllia such measures were not for safety at all, but to protect the pleasures for only those deemed the most worthy.
One of the guards saw she and Lion wandering towards them. He stepped forward and tapped the butt of his lance onto the ground with a crack. Lyllia could see the sweat running down his face, and was impressed with his dedication for what must be a loathsome post. She knew their rotations only lasted a few hours, and she hoped he’d find refreshment with cool ale, albeit in a sweaty inn, by the end of the night.
He looked at the wolf warily, before glancing at Lyllia. She became instantly embarrassed. Her cloth shoes were scuffed and stained, the cotton and loose-fitting robe she wore looked little more than a rag now that the embroidery of the hem was obscured with dust. That morning, her clothes had been quite, quite bright, but a day’s dust and oppressive heat had put pay to any finery. It was this knowledge that made her cheeks burn again, and she saw a fleeting look in the man’s eye; she could not tell if it was confusion or scorn. Either way, he stepped back into position and allowed her entry. She heard the sound of chainmail as she took to the first small flight of steps and wondered whether the two guards looked after her whilst rolling their eyes.
The water gardens were a welcome relief to the oppressive heat above. The giant pines had been planted on every level of the terraced garden, and their trunks rose like immense columns, disappearing into the sky with a glint of green. In the deeper recesses of the oasis only the red bark was present, for the trees planted here had grown tall and willowy as they sought the sun’s rays far above. The planting followed a similar pattern; lush beds of daisies and climbers and sweet-scented roses on the periphery of the garden giving way to ferns and creepers and giant-leaved shade lovers as the light levels faded. As she descended the first flight of steps Lyllia caught a waft of jasmine and she paused briefly, enjoying the scent as it filled her nose with perfume.
She skittered across the flagstones of a large patio area and leaned against the iron railing, listening to the roar as one of the many waterfalls gushed into the abyss below. The water was mesmerising. She could stare at it for hours. It was the largest of all the waterfalls, and many of the upper pools and ponds fed their waters into it, swelling it, feeding it and allowing it’s unceasing and comforting drone to continue. There was no end to it either; it was swallowed by the ground and taken into Gathin’s core.
“Come to the pool,” she said softly as she saw Lion licking the stones by the railing where mist from the bellowing water had formed a wet sheen. She skipped freely across the patio, down another flight of stairs and across to a small pool surrounded in tussocks of soft grass and the green mounds of moss. She knelt, thrusting her fingers into the water and bringing some relief to her face and neck as she heard Lion gently lapping. Lyllia could feel wetness from the moss soaking through her dress to where her legs pressed upon the ground, but she didn’t care; it was soothing after the day’s activities and she could have happily remained there for some time if it wasn’t for the voices.
As soon as she heard them she knew her freedom bade her farewell. She could flee, turn away from the roar of water and rush back up the steps with Lion by her side. But it was only delaying the inevitable.
She pushed herself from the floor and stared down to where her two large wet patches now joined the dusty stains on her robe. Lion’s silver muzzle was full of water droplets and he seemed to smile. She pulled a face in return.
“I’m in for it now.”
She took another flight of steps, descending deeper into the ground and passing the a small waterfall who’s waters crashed onto smooth and rounded pebbles below, until she saw them. A group of ladies were drinking on the oval balcony; a small piece of rock that jutted out from the garden and seemed to hang in mid-air. It had been worked to a flat and covered in fine, sand-coloured slabs. A silver-tinged balustrade ran around the edge of the rocky balcony, the patterns etched into the iron wet with mist. In the centre, away from the spray, there was a table covered in goblets and wine bottles, bouquets of flowers, stands of cakes and scones and pots of honey and jam. Two guards were stationed at the entrance to balcony, and a small group of women were seated around the table, helped by two serving girls.
Lyllia had been spotted, and a woman who’s ivory skin matched the colour of her dress, rose from her seat and stared towards her through the living columns and ribbons of green foliage. Lyllia felt her throat tighten, and nerves came to her stomach. From the corner of her eye she saw that Lion fell back a little, no longer at her side but a giant shadow that became increasingly distant. The woman’s eyes remained transfixed upon Lyllia as she walked carefully down the cool, damp steps, taking care not to slip. She looked at the sentries meekly as she came upon them, before stepping through to where the Queen’s narrow eyes inspected her.
“Lyllia,” she said, flustered and stifled as she looked amongst their company with obvious embarrassment. Lyllia saw her nostrils flare every so slightly as her eyes flicked momentarily across the soiled clothing. Then she forced a smile onto her face and gestured to the table. “Come, take tea with us.”
“Yes Mother,” Lyllia responded, pushing a strand of dusty, limp and moist hair from her face as the Queen’s cheeks continued to redden.