It’s time for another FOREVER KING sneak peek! As promised, below is another chunk of the new Emaneska book, Book One of the Scalussen Chronicles. The below is pretty much spoiler-free, so enjoy without care if you haven’t read the Emaneska Series. Feel free to ignore typos, as this is still raw, and in the meanwhile, meet our new protagonist – Mithrid.
“The wilds have become dangerous places in the Age of Magick. Evernia’s gifts have become a curse, breeding all manner of chaos amongst beasts and men. None can control the flow of magick. And still it grows, stronger every day. Not the Outlaw King. Not the power of the Arkathedral. Not even the goddess herself.“
From ‘The New Emaneska’ , by Anonymous
Bare feet slapped the sand with a fervour and excitable abandon that only children can muster. Grit flew from pale soles, ash-black and tide-wet. Sandworms were trampled mid-gasp as they reared from their holes for air. Great clouds of waders took flight as hollering filled the unbroken, dawn air. Wordless cries of effort, challenges, insults; they all rose to the granite-coloured sky. All save for laughter.
For this was a race.
It was said that the tides will eventually return all that has been lost. All one had to do was wait for the right tide. That morning, in the wake of the lashing winds and rain, the sea had regurgitated all kinds of treasures and delights.
The storm had broken the day before, having besieged the Hâlorn cliffs for a week before its gales became a spent wheezing. Hurricane, the elders had called it. A storm-giant that roamed the seas, causing havoc on coasts and ships alike. He had brought ice-rain and waves taller than a pine tree, but the thunder, the lightning, they were not Hurricane’s doing.
Mithrid Fenn had glimpsed the ships through shutters and rain-soaked glass. She and every other child in the village of Troughwake, it seemed. Their battle, full of fire and light, had died sometime in the morning, and now a black carcass of a warship lay broken and awkward in the surf.
Mithrid had watched them for hours. Two ships, duelling between the roiling waves. At first, they seemed to move only in the dark gaps between the flashes of light. Then, as fires began to burn across rain-lashed decks and rigging, the amber glow sketched their shapes. One ship was as large as an island, square and fat. The other, a warship; a familiar sight in Halôrn, where the view was constantly a seascape. They were always patrolling the waters, guarding the cliff-cities, or so the elders said.
Two hours, maybe more, the ships had battled. Lightning fell not from the sky but was traded between decks. Barrages of spells threw unnatural colours into the clouds. The adults of the town had cowered behind bedposts and cradled rusty weapons. The children had peeled through shutters, refusing to blink should anything be missed.
As the storm had died, so had the battle. Crippled, the warship met its doom on the toothy reef beyond the narrow beach. The island of a ship limped away, listing to one side as it chased the storm north.
Mithrid bounded over a log of driftwood. Grey sand scattered as she landed, causing the racer behind her to trip, blundering over the log and getting a face full of grit for her troubles. Mithrid was now a clear second. A boy with a bowl of black hair on his head was out in front. Bogran Clifsson was nimble for somebody who closely resembled a toad. With a quick shove to Bogran’s back, she sent him reeling through the shallows, kicking icy water until he tumbled into the wet sand. Mithrid smirked as sprinted past him, claiming the firmer ground. Father told her frequently how she had the legs of a marsh-deer, and, more often that not, a mind to match.
Mithrid fixed her eyes on the blackened hulk lying half-drowned in the surf, stuck atop the reef. Pieces of its hull and innards had made their way to shore. The slate-grey beach was littered with wreckage, from splinters of wood and discarded boots to great chunks of hull and rigging. One section of mast had somehow righted itself in the sand, still doing its duty in vain. It now looked like the surviving flagpole of a burnt-out fort.
Remina was gaining on her again; Mithrid could her her desperate snuffling behind her. She snatched a glance, and saw Bogran gaining ground, too. She lowered her head and grit her teeth, forcing her gangly legs to move faster. Mithrid dashed for a thick piece of ship’s hull, copper hair streaming behind her like a banner.
As she stretched out, ready to slap a hand onto the charcoal wood, Remina decided to throw herself in a mad dive, arms flailing. Bogran slid on his backside, toe pointed like a spearhead.
‘Shit!’ Mithrid cried as she punched the wood with her fist. It blackened her knuckles immediately.
Bogran arose, wiping sand from his wet trews. ‘Ha! First!’
‘Second!’ cheered Remina Hag. Her face was a mask of grey sand and blood where she had squashed her nose into the ground. Her flaxen hair was all wrapped around her forehead. ‘That’s what you get for pushing me into a log.’
‘Third,’ muttered Mithrid. ‘And you fell into that log yourself.’
A broom-handle of a boy sprinted up to them, slapping the hull as he zipped past.
Crisk was closely followed by Littlest, who had only seen five winters, but as Remina’s sister, she was determined to join in their games. She barely reached up to Mithrid’s waist, and she giggled as she blackened her hand on the wreckage.
‘Fifth,’ she announced proudly.
Another boy was a large bull of a child, and the only child in Troughwake taller than Mithrid. He snorted like a bull, too, hence his nickname. Bogran held a strong suspicion he had minotaur blood in him, somewhere back in his line. He lumbered up to the log and knocked charred splinters from it.
‘Er…’ Bull said, looking at the char on his pale, yet large knuckles. ‘What’s next?’
‘Sixth, you lump,’ said Mithrid, pointing to where other groups of children were now racing down the steps of the cliffs. ‘Come on then. Quickly, before the old ones realise we’re gone.’
Remina was everybody’s senior by barely a winter and eager to constantly remind everybody of it. ‘And remember! No hiding things, as per the rules!’
‘Wipe your face, Remina. You look like a sand troll,’ Mithrid replied, flashing a smile.
There was foul muttering as the girl furiously scraped at her face with her sleeve. Remina wandered off to begin her beach-combing, and Mithrid shook her head. Hag by name, Hag by nature, she always thought.
Mithrid chose to go further along the beach, where a larger section of ship had survived the merciless battering of the sea. She spotted a box in the waterline, cracked but still whole, and dashed to it. There was no bolt, just a latch. Inside, the prize was waterlogged and smashed fruit. Mithrid wrinkled her lip and moved on.
Another box had fared worse, but inside there was a pair of fine shoes and some copper trinkets: bracelets and bangles and other such things. Mithrid slid a few onto her wrist, admiring them in the weak light. Holding the box under her arm, she kicked at a handful of charred planks that covered something deeper in the water.
Mithrid saw the stump of an arm wash towards her in the flow of the sea, and retreated in a panic. Her yelp echoed against the stark cliff-face that towered behind her.
Though not the first corpse she had seen amongst the jetsam. The Jörmunn Sea and the Rannoch sound were dangerous enough without ship-battles and the occasional hapless fisherman. Beach-combing was a game they played almost weekly. Mithrid took a breath to slow her heart, and after setting the box down, she moved back to the body. She knew what treasures pockets could hold. There was no safer place to keep something of worth than on one’s person.
Pulling a face, she quickly tugged aside the man’s broken leather armour and looked for a pocket or a purse. She found the latter attached to his belt, and inside, a handful of silvers and coppers. Mithrid’s eyes widened. It may have been pittance in the empire, but it was half a year’s wage in Troughwake. Without hesitating, she plucked the coins from the purse and tucked them into the folds of her seal-hide coat, behind a gap in the stitching. It was against the rules of the game, but she would be damned if Bogran and Remina got to fatten themselves up even more while she went hungry.
Mithrid calmly picked up the box and moved on. Crisk came racing past her, whooping, a stringless longbow clutched in his hand. Several other boys and girls were chasing him for some unknown reason. Youth didn’t require one.
Beyond the body, there was a swathe of soaked and spoiled vittles. Apples bobbed on the waters, or tumbled in the waves that washed over the shore. Mithrid picked at a few items, but most were badly burnt. She saw more clothing here, but no more bodies. There were curiously few, in fact. Perhaps the the tides had dragged them out to sea, or perhaps magick had burnt them all to ash and charcoal.
Mithrid stumbled across some wreckage that seemed at odds with the other jetsam: a section of hull complete with a broken shield still affixed. Its wood was less charred, and gouged as if it had been hacked away by a colossal axe, rather than broken up by the sea. She moved closer, running her hands across the wet wood, where chisels had carved foreign runes into the hull. They felt cold to her touch, so much so they made Mithrid’s hand ache.
Bending to the sand, she dug at a shattered shelf. A metal plate had been nailed to it, this time displaying writing she did recognise.
‘Recovered from Arfell Library, Year 9… 915,’ she read aloud in a whisper. She had never heard of such a place.
Mithrid dug around the hull, finding more broken, empty shelves but no treasures. She was beginning to get frustrated; the warship was proving fruitless, and already she could hear shouting from the buildings further down the cliff, clinging to the rocks. Their time was running out.
Mithrid cast around, pulling slimy kelp and plank shards aside. A boot, complete with a severed foot, repulsed her but she kept digging. Splashing water aside, her hand closed on something square and solid. And heavy. She hauled it with both hands, and with a grunt, she claimed it back from the sea.
Mithrid clutched it close to her belly. It was a rectangular block, the width of her outstretched fingers and twice as long. It was about three inches thick, and Mithrid would have thought it a jewellery box had it not been bound in waxy leather, and had some spongy give to it when she squeezed. It felt more like an old book. Mithrid clutched it tighter.
‘Oi!’ came a shrill shout.
With a groan, Mithrid lifted up the box and turned around. Remina and Bogran had appeared from behind some jetsam and were aiming for Mithrid. Bogran was carting a shield and a small cage. Remina was close at heel like a hound. Bull followed her. Littlest and Crisk were busy with their own merriment. What remained of the gang gathered in close council, in a tight circle turned away from the other children.
‘Show your treasures,’ announced Bogran in a low voice, like a preacher holding prayer. He was taking his role as first very seriously, as always.
Bogran presented a dented wooden shield, circular and painted red with a key in stark black. Something had blasted a hole in one side. Mithrid could have sworn the charred edges were still steaming, ever so softly. As well as the shield, Bogran had also found a birdcage with a dead sparrow in it.
Remina held out her offering: a badly dented firkin of some sloshing liquid.
‘Something called “slosk”,’ she announced, shaking it to make it gurgle.
‘Slosh,’ Mithrid corrected. Remina had always been slow with letters.
The girl scowled deeply. ‘Slosh, then.’
‘Hmm. Next,’ Bogran dictated. As first, he got the pick of any item the others had found. Unlike his mother, he was far from interested in grog.
‘And you, Mithrid?’
‘Shoes, a ragged dress, some bangles,’ Mithrid said as she opened her smashed box to show them. ‘And this leather thing. Maybe some book,’ she added, not wishing to draw too much attention to it, though she saw the eyes of the gang widen over the silver spiral on its leather wrapping. Books were rare in Hâlorn, items of suspicion. Books were powerful things. Their contents were a mystery until they were read, and by then it might already be too late. Even the humblest of stories can bloom an idea in the mind, spark a fire in the heart. Such things were dangerous in the Arka Empire.
‘Nothing else?’ Remina enquires, scowl still dominating her face. Her nose was crusted with blood, her cheek and back of her hands smeared with it.
‘No,’ said Mithrid, firm as cliff-rock, fighting to keep from clutching the lining of her coat.
Remina reached for her pockets but Mithrid slapped the girl’s paw away.
‘Back off. I ain’t no liar.’
‘Wouldn’t be the first time you hid a find.’
‘Says the girl who managed to hide a whole loaf in her drawers.’
‘Oi! Respect the rules!’ Bogran snapped, clearly too interested in his own gains to care for their argument. ‘Who’s next?’
Crisk and Littlest appeared from behind the chunk of wreckage, as if they had been waiting for their cue. Crisk still had his longbow in hand.
‘You first,’ Bogran challenged the boy.
‘Bow,’ said Crisk before snapping his fingers. He fished something out of his pocket: a half-burnt candle. ‘Or candle.’
With a proud thrust of her fist, Littlest produced a handful of chain.
Loosing her fingers, a pendant dropped and dangled in midair. It was a shard of sun-coloured rock, not gold but glittery enough to draw their gaze and cause a few moments of silence.
‘And Bull?’ Bogran asked.
‘Plant,’ said the big lump, thrusting forward a meaty fist that gripped a cracked porcelain pot with a withered plant. Its stems were a dark green, and its leaves were the colour of soured milk. Despite Bull’s nonchalance, Mithrid was immediately intrigued by the plant.
A shout from along the beach stalled them momentarily. The old ones – or parents, as they were commonly known – were wise to the games of their progeny, and were now bustling down the beach in a tizzy. Voices floated on the morning breezes towards them. Harsh and damning.
‘Right then,’ said Bogran, eager to claim his prizes. His toad eyes flicked between the offerings of the group, measuring, calculating. He took his time deciding.
‘Give me the book,’ Bogran finally said.
With a heavy sigh, Mithrid handed it over.
‘And I’ll take the clothes and bracelets.’ Remina snatched the waterlogged box from under Mithrid’s arm. She would have slapped the wench if it weren’t her right as second.
Mithrid, third, ran a hand through her mane of hair and eyed what was left to claim. The birdcage was foul. The shield and the plant had both caught her attention. Her gaze hovered on Littlest’s pendant for a moment. Tears immediately began to well in the little girl’s eyes.
‘You know the rules, sister,’ Remina warned.
‘But I found it,’ Littlest replied, voice wavering.
‘Keep it,’ said Mithrid, softly ruffling the girl’s lemon hair with her hand.
‘I’m going to take the shield, Bogran. Hand it over.’
Emitting a grunt, the boy handed it over. Mithrid held it by its leather strap, down at her side as if she were playing a warrior.
‘Bogran Clifsson!’ came a holler from back along the beach, where a gang of parents were making their way swiftly towards them. Mithrid could see her own father amongst them, and he was close enough that she could see both the tiredness and the anger in his eyes. The other children were fleeing back to Troughwake, not as brave as they were.
‘Quickly!’ Remina hissed. The game played out rapidly, with Crisk choosing the birdcage for some unknown reason, Littlest taking the candle, and Bull, not understanding the rules even after all this time, tried to take the box from Remina. In a huff, he took the longbow instead.
‘Hide the book, Bogran. Your mam won’t let you keep something like that.’
Bogran nodded, and got straight to digging a hole in the wet sand.
‘Above the tideline, you nob,’ Mithrid chided him, poking the boy with her foot.
He scurried away, though not without wagging a sandy finger at all of them. ‘Not one of you touches it until I do. In fact, look away!’
The rest of the gang stood their ground and waited for the scolding to rain upon them. Mithrid pasted her trademark smile. Remina raised her chin. Littlest was already tearing up again. Bull just scratched his head. Crisk was too busy poking at his dead sparrow to notice.
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