Friends and strangers, welcome to my novel.
The Chronicles of Aelan: Fenilia (very much a working title, seeing as it’s the name of the land and not the title of the book), began many years ago, and has since been at the forefront of any and all writing I do.
Mostly out of a desire of wanting to increase interest in my writing, and due to a severe laziness of sending it to individual people, I’ve decided to post the first chapter – as a teaser – on here, for those with a desire to read.
This blog, newly reformed (with a few choice posts left up from three/four years ago related to writing) shall now contain teasers and snippets of my writing, relating to both Aelan and its Chronicles, as well as others I dabble in.
Do try and enjoy.
© Richard Ford
“Jason,” she whispered.
Alone, she crept along the decrepit hallway, a solitary torch her only source of light. Her hair flowed behind her, as black as the shadows that stalked the walls. Her icy blue eyes pierced unyieldingly into the dark. The red banners of Fenilia that had once blown proud and strong now hung ripped and dulled, a gentle breeze occasionally causing them to shudder. The once great fortress was now desolate. Nothing moved, save for the skulking woman and the stray rat disturbed by her presence.
“Jason,” she whispered again, raising her voice slightly. Her foot dislodged a crumbling flagstone and the sound echoed down the corridor. The woman halted at the noise, cursing herself for her clumsiness. The sound ebbed away and she waited several more minutes to be sure nothing had been disturbed. Content with her safety, she stole forwards, placing her feet upon sturdier-looking stones.
Remnants of a statue of the king, who had once called the castle his home, floated in the shallow water, parting before the woman as she moved. He had ruled and governed the land from the tall castle, his prowess for such things well-respected and well-deserved. Then the land had been torn apart. In a time before the New Age only the elders remembered, the great Quake had rent apart the realm of Fenilia.
The ground underneath the great Charshaw fortress had shifted, and it had fallen into the sea, wrapped in the loving embrace of the water and its ever-moving tide. Yet it was found decades ago that a great maze of tunnels ran underneath the fortress. This maze had been dubbed the Ruins of Charshaw, in memory of the great castle. And it was here Jade prowled.
The reasons for her adventure were simple ones. Rumours ran like wildfire through the Kingdom of Fenilia. One particular rumour had pricked the ears of a wealthy businessman; a rumour of an ancient relic that had been lost when Charshaw had crumbled. The Sceptre of Kings. Her job was to retrieve the treasure and return it, in exchange for a hefty sum.
Friends had begged her and her partner not to go, claiming the place was cursed, that the Fracture to the north had claimed it for its own. There was not a single story about the Quake that did not mention the Fracture, the split of land to the north that hung like an ominous shadow over the realm, but Jade was not one to heed such warnings.
That is, until this moment, when she heard a sound in the distance. Jade stopped moving again and strained her ears. Silence met them. Her hearing failing her, she turned to her eyes for clues as to the cause of the sound. All she could see was the corridor in front of her, and the water upon the floor, where it had seeped in through one of the cracks in the walls of the maze. Then came the clanking of metal and the splash of water. Her heart skipped a beat. Her hand instinctively moved down to grip the handle of her sword. As quietly as possible, she drew it. Sword clenched in her left hand, she waited.
An orange glow appeared, reflecting in the water at the end of the corridor. It began to creep towards her, bathing the maze in light. A shadow appeared upon the opposing wall. It grew longer and longer, and soon the silhouette of a figure loomed before her. Never had Jade seen a more eerie scene; a shivering black shade, wreathed with a burning glow of orange. Her fingers began to drum on her sword, but she gripped it more firmly. Taking control of her nerves, she started to move.
At the same time, the figure rounded the corner, letting his shadow spill into the open. An armoured knight stood in front of her. He held a shield in his left hand, with a sword stowed within it. The torch he held aloft in his right. His steps were slow and precise. There was no urgency to them, no sudden rush to challenge the invader of the halls he guarded. Jade noticed something familiar in the way he moved, before he dropped the torch, and drew his blade. There was a slit in his visor, and within Jade could see nothing but black.
Quenching her fear, she charged. She threw her burning torch towards him and it flared before his eyes, blinding him. Then Jade’s blade came soaring through the air and clanged against his helm.
“Woah, easy there, kid!”
The light spluttered out of existence as it hit the floor.
“Look what you’ve done now.”
“Jason?!” Jade hissed through the dark.
Jason laughed. “Yes, it’s me. You should’ve seen the look on your face!”
“The Fracture take you! What are you doing?!”
“Scaring you, clearly.”
“But the armo– just light a fire, knucklehead.”
“Would you relax? Okay, okay, fine.”
Jade heard the sound of flint being struck and then a flame burst into being. Jason had now removed his helm and Jade saw his eyes were crinkled at his little joke. His dark-brown hair, tinged with grey, hung around his shoulders, already drenched with sweat from wearing the helmet.
“So, do you like the armour?” said Jason, gesturing to his suit.
“Where did you find it?” asked Jade.
He shrugged. “Just lying around.”
“You’re a fool for joking around in a place like this,” said Jade, her voice full of anger.
“Why?” Jason raised an eyebrow. “There’s no one here except for us.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because I searched everywhere,” scoffed Jason. “Come now, kid, you know I’d never do anything foolish.”
“Clearly so,” said Jade, her voice laced with sarcasm.
“Fair enough.” Jason shrugged. “Here, help me out of this armour, would you?”
“No,” said Jade, sliding her sword back into its sheath. “You’re a grown man, apparently; take it off yourself.”
Jason grumbled in response. He handed the torch to Jade, who waited impatiently whilst Jason took off his armour. She could not help but glancing around her. She was sure something must have heard the clamour they had made. Jason however, seemed calm and collected.
“Tell you what,” he said, as he removed the greaves. “It’s warm in that.”
“It’d be warmer if I burnt you with the torch,” muttered Jade, glancing over her shoulder again.
“Would you stop being so jumpy? There’s nothing here except us.”
“We’ll see. Come on, show me how far you explored.”
Jason led the way his voice louder than Jade would have liked. Despite stripping off a second ago, he could not resist re-donning the helmet, nor leaving the shield behind.
“Still don’t understand why you dislike shields so much,” he said as Jade shook her head.
“Where’s the bravery in hiding behind a piece of wood?”
“This,” said Jason, gesturing to the shield upon his arm, “is not wood. It is pure steel, of the finest sort. Only the elite knights would have been gifted this protection.”
“That’s even worse.”
“Too kind.” Jade grinned.
Her humour soon died. Jason showed no regard for any dangers there may still be. He waved the torch around as he gesticulated about the surroundings with his shield-arm, commenting on the crumbling walls and floors and how unsafe they were.
Through her constant vigilance, Jade could not help but agree. More than once she nearly tripped or fell through a cracked paving stone. Dust seemed to stream from the ceiling as though knights still patrolled the corridors above.
Charshaw had been a strange design from what Jade could deduce from the limited information they gathered before venturing out. Wandering the Ruins just reinforced the fact. The tunnels they walked led deep underground, as though the King had lived beneath his actual castle. The building above remained standing, despite the Quake and the dismay of time. It was the labyrinth underneath that was broken and unusable. It left the foundations weak and fragile, and Jade could not help think of the worst possibilities of being buried alive.
The corridors they followed wound and twisted through each other. Several times Jade was sure the path they followed they had always traversed. When brought up with Jason, he waved away her comments, telling her not to doubt his sense of direction. It took a lot of her self control to not say more.
“Wait!” Jade cried, as they turned another corner. The urgency in the tone of her voice seemed enough to stop Jason before he put his foot down. Something about the corridor caught her eye. Even in the limited torchlight, certain things looked out of place.
“There could be a trap,” explained Jade. She brought her torch around, searching the walls, taking extra care to check the corner, for any traps. “Look.” She pointed to the top ceiling, where, barely visible in the dancing flame of the torch, was some sort of chute. As Jade searched more, she noticed small pot-marks dotted along the ceiling at irregular intervals.
“It’s a hole,” said Jason, flatly.
“No,” said Jade, a hint of impatience in her voice. “It’s a chute. Throw your helmet onto the ground.”
“But I like this helmet…” Jason quailed under the look Jade gave him. “Okay, okay.”
He removed the helm from his head. His hair clung to his forehead with sweat and Jade wrinkled her nose at the sight. Jason threw the helmet in front of them. As soon as the helmet clanged to the ground, there was a small whoosh of air, followed by a crunch.
“Oh,” said Jason. His helmet lay upon the floor, a dart protruding from it. It had punched right through the outer layer of metal, and a sharp end pierced the visor.
“I think you owe me your life,” stated Jade. “Again.”
“Apparently I do. Perhaps you should go first.”
“Follow me very carefully.”
As instructed, Jason watched and imitated Jade’s movements to the best of his ability. Left foot here, right foot placed out wide. Soon Jade had crossed the perilous traps and she turned to watch Jason inexpertly tread the same path. He had never been light on his feet. Still, Jade had to admit he handled his feet quite well in the tight space. The dart piercing the helmet had apparently engraved itself upon his memory.
It was not long before Jason had also made it across. He stood in front of Jade, a big smile spread across his face.
“Oh, you did alright,” said Jade, waving a dismissive hand.
“I’ll take that as one of your deepest compliments,” said Jason, bestowing a mocking bow upon Jade.
Jade rolled her eyes. “Get a move on, you moron. Let’s see where this tunnel leads.” She turned away, and Jason had no choice but to follow her or be swallowed by the darkness.
Though it took a while for her to notice, they were gradually making their way upwards. The water, once several inches above Jade’s ankles, gradually receded to nothing more than damp as the incline of the corridor carried them up away from the deepest parts of the maze.
Fresh air floated down to them and Jade did not appreciate Jason’s smug remarks about leading them the right way. To Jade, there was no right way. They had no idea where to look for the Sceptre.
A battered and rotting door greeted them as they crested the slope. With a small push from Jason, it swung open, before crumbling at the unexpected force and falling to the floor. What greeted them beyond the door shocked them both into silence.
The night sky was clear above them, its twilight blue speckled with shining stars. The moon seemed larger to Jade in the enclosed space they stood in. What was before them could only be described as a garden. Or at least, what used to be a garden.
“Come on, kid, let’s go.” Jason’s voice was soft as though, he too, felt the weight of the Quake.
“Can’t we stay for a little bit, Jas? Please?” She did not know why she wanted to stay. It was an indescribable feeling of longing. Perhaps Jason felt it too, for he did not object.
They went separate ways as they explored. The roof had caved in round the garden, leaving only the centre-piece clear of any rubble, save for the fountain. The grooves carved into the ground could only be the Quake. Nothing else Fenilia knew had the destructive power to do such a thing.
Jade found herself drawn to the shimmering light of a flower in the far corner of the garden. Crouching down, she looked at it in wonder. Nothing like it grew anywhere else in Fenilia as far as she knew. The silver petals gave off an iridescent glow and the earth caught in its light looked green and healthy. She reached her hand out and plucked the flower from its grounding.
In a moment of melancholy, Jade was sure she pictured what the garden used to be. At night, the carefully selected white and silver flowers scattered around would reflect the light from the moon and the garden itself would glow. The King and his company would sit and laugh, drinks in hand, round the great fountain set proudly in the centre. A fire would roar next to them, its flames almost as merry as the company themselves. A bard would sit by another fire, the children of the court cross-legged in front of him, awed by his ballads of the King’s adventures.
Then it was all torn away from Jade in an instant. All she saw was the broken fountain in bits on the floor, the ground cracked and naked. A few patches of silvery flower attempted to bloom, but its magic was lost in the surroundings. It was a desolate image, and nothing before made Jade so keenly aware of the Quake and its danger than this. The flower in her hand wilted against her, its light gone forever, snatched away by her moment of greedy intrigue.
She rose, letting the lifeless flower fall to the ground. The garden suddenly felt like a burden she did not want to hold. She made her way to the far doorway, gesturing to Jason to join her.
As they neared it, they saw a skeleton half buried under the rubble. “The king?” said Jason, looking down at the disembodied bones.
“Does it matter now? Let’s just find this sceptre and get out of here.” She did not tell Jason about the moment the past had lovingly shared with her. She did not want to.
Stairs led down from the far door. It, miraculously, was still hinged to the wall but it was the stairs that proved the danger. As Jade placed her foot on the second step, the slab of stone slipped from beneath her and went skimming down the rest, almost along with Jade. Jason caught her flailing arm just in time and pulled her back. There was a nod of thanks from Jade before she continued forwards. She refused to look at Jason’s concerned face. It had been a careless move. Normally she was the light-footed one. She shook herself both mentally and physically, attempting to shake the garden above from her head.
The next tunnel was better preserved than the ruins before; the stone walls were smooth to the touch. Even the water seemed to be little more than a trickle on the floor. Unburnt torches lined the walls, and Jade lit the occasional one. Light flourished in earnest along the morbid corridor. A dull wind drifted towards them, the breeze dancing with the flames of the torches, casting eerie and flickering shadows, like black smoke drifting along stone.
They walked in silence, turning where the tunnel dictated they did, Jade still keeping a wary eye out for any more traps. She though it unlikely there would be more. A tunnel leading straight on from the garden would not need such security. Jade believed this part of Charshaw must have belonged to the King and his entourage, whilst the ruins before were for the general public. Presumably the trap they had encountered earlier had not always been armed. Perhaps the Quake had re-armed it, somehow? It was a far-flung presumption, but thinking of the alternatives left Jade feeling ill.
She scanned the walls left and right as they went. A while later, her eyes fell upon a piece of carved stone that did not quite match the walls around it.
“Jas, look at this.”
“I can’t see anything,” frowned Jason, his eyes darting along the wall Jade was gesturing at.
“See how the stone is a different shade here? There must be something behind. If we could only find a way to open it.”
“Want me to smash it?” grinned Jason, raising his shield.
Jade shook her head slowly, her eyes upon the wall. “You’re welcome to try, but it looks too solid.”
“What should we do then?”
“There must be some way to open it,” mused Jade.
“Wait, what’s that?” Jason moved forwards and used his hand to brush the dust away. As the dust dispersed into the air, engraved words appeared before their eyes:
Guardian of the Night,
Let thy Lord know that thou art true.
The base of thy most treasured treasure,
Shall be thy key, if thou wish to be allowed through.
“What in Geis’ name does that mean?” asked Jason.
“Shh,” said Jade. “I’m trying to think.”
Underneath, there was an etching of a knight holding his sword high above his head. The tip of it came within millimetres of touching the ‘key’ of the riddle.
Jason managed a few minutes of silence before his impatience seemed to break out. “Well? What do you th–”
“Your sword!” exclaimed Jade. “The sword you picked up with the armour, where is it?”
“It’s right here,” said Jason, his brow furrowed.
“Give it to me,” Jade demanded. Jason drew the blade and handed it to Jade, hilt first. Jade flipped it over and examined the pommel. A red jewel was moulded into the steel hilt and a gold inlay had been woven around the jewel. She traced her fingers over the edges, and to her satisfaction, she found a groove allowing her to free the jewel from its steel restraints. She snapped it off.
“Jade!” gasped Jason. “That was an antique.”
Jade gave him a look. “It’s meant to do that, idiot. Just watch, would you?”
Jade moved towards the writing on the wall and searched the surrounding stone for anything untoward that might present an opportunity for Jade to prove her theory. Jade was beginning to sense Jason’s annoyance before she felt something beneath her fingers. Brushing away more dust, Jade saw, much to her satisfaction, that the in-dent was the perfect size for the pommel of the sword. She placed the ruby into the keyhole. There was a click, and the stone wall swung inwards.
“See, I told you.” She could not quite keep the smugness out of her voice.
A throne stood before them. Stepping through the doorway, Jade saw they were in a room that may once have been counted as majestic. Vast pillars of marble rose high up, some almost touching the ceiling. Broken pieces lay scattered over the floor, and Jade felt her hatred for the Quake renewed for destroying something so precious to the realm of Fenilia.
Set in a stand next to the throne, was a silver rod. Thinly pointed at one end, it gradually expanded in size. A glass sphere sat upon the other end, held to the rod by black streaks, inlaid in the sphere. Inside the glass, there could be seen jewels of every colour imaginable.
“We’ve found it,” whispered Jade. “Charshaw’s Sceptre of Kings.”