The Hunter's Rede (Book 1 in the Chronicles of Ealiron series) by F.T. McKinstry is today's featured book on One Thousand Worlds. Book 1, Hunter's Rede has already been featured on this site and you can find that post here and you can also read One Thousand World's Interview with F.T. McKinstry here.
In the Gray Isles, a northern realm cloaked in legends and storms, lives a secret. For thousands of years it lay in the Otherworld, known only in the imaginations of sailors. Now, it has surfaced; first to Eadred, a wizard banished by his kind after being cursed by a witch; and then to Hemlock, a fisherman’s son orphaned by the sea. When their paths collide, a change is set into motion that the heavens watch with dread; for the legends tell, it heralds the birth of an immortal and the death of the realm.
Lorth of Ostarin, a formidable wizard and servant to the old powers, arrives to the Gray Isles on a diplomatic mission to discover what Eadred has not told his masters. What looks like a quarrel between Eadred and Hemlock swiftly deteriorates into a manhunt that plunges Lorth into a tricky world of visions, myths and politics, which he navigates by joining forces with unlikely company. Eadred, while attempting to end his curse, has gathered great knowledge of Hemlock’s origins. Through him, Lorth reaches the sobering conclusion that Hemlock is not what he seems, but something powerful enough to destroy the realm with a thought.
Unfortunately, Lorth is not the only one who has discovered Hemlock’s secret. Racing time, he must bare his sword against an army, violate discretion and risk his own stature in order to free Hemlock from the clutches of daimonic transformation before he unleashes the forces of earth and sea on the mortal world.
F.T. McKinstry is the author of the Chronicles of Ealiron, an epic fantasy series by Double Dragon Publishing; and Water Dark, a novella by Wild Child Publishing. Her short stories appear in Tales of the Talisman, Aoife's Kiss, and a collection called Wizards, Woods and Gods. When she's not writing or reading weird things, she's hanging out with her cats and fishes, tinkering in gardens, shoveling snow or smearing paint on canvases.
Ciron, the brightest star in the constellation of Eala, the Swan, came into focus on the evening horizon over the
. The warm wind of
midsummer gently rippled the grasses and brush on the northern-most point of
Solse Isle, parting and threading like new wool to the breath of a cold tide.
Below, the North Derinth
Sea glimmered amid
the trees crowding a crescent harbor. village
With the eyes of the wind, an assassin followed the movements of a young woman in the shadows of stone houses. Like a feral cat, she moved here and there in the peaceful silence, making her way to the rocky path that led up to the point. The hunter drew around his bow, deftly nocked an arrow with an obsidian tip, and waited.
Cloaked in ash gray, she emerged onto the outcropping at the edge of the field. A maelstrom of invisible shadows surrounded her. Near the edge of the cliff, three standing stones stood with the patience of an age. The woman approached the stones as she did each evening, moved gracefully widdershins, and then faced north.
The waters beyond the cliff's edge swirled into a rough band, as if agitated by a strong rip current or a shoal of large, air-breathing creatures.
The witch knelt to make an offering. To what or whom she held out her elegant hands, the hunter could not guess. She spoke in the Dark Tongue, the language of formlessness. Raw and primordial, the sounds flowed from the essence of nature, bending it. Though trained as a wizard to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, the assassin could not discern her intent in the obscure weave of the ancient tongue.
In much the same way, he had knelt before the Aenlisarfon, an ancient and venerable council of high wizards who watched over the patterns of consciousness that draped the world of Ealiron. Master Eadred, they had said, their thoughts stirring the center of his mind like a pine-scented breeze. Raven of Nemeton, Siomothct of the Third Regard. Honor us with a mission.
And not just any mission: the Masters had sent him to this remote place to hunt a shadecaster. No mere village witch, she made an art of seducing wizards, collecting their pearly seed, and using it to create shades to do her bidding. Eadred clearly perceived the rift that surrounded her, a chasm in the delicate balance of the world. Darkness flowed on the north wind, the voices of death without life, pain without joy, dissolution without initiation. Shapeless and yet distinct, they surrounded her like bees, whispering under her warmth and attention.
The Council would raise his assassin's rank to Second, after this.
With the stealth of a viper, he lifted his bow and drew back the string, focusing on the vibration of the homing spell singing in the tension of the arc.
The witch rose and turned, pulling the hood from her face. Beautiful as a summer meadow, she had lily-white skin and reed-straight, dark red hair that flew like fire in the wind. Eadred had spent a half moon tracking and identifying his mark, camouflaging his presence with the soul of the isle—and yet her gaze settled on him as simply and dispassionately as moonlight.
He released the arrow.
The force of the blow knocked her from her feet. Eadred rose and went to her as she writhed by the northernmost stone, clutching the arrow in her chest with a mewling cry. As he knelt by her side to watch her fly into the unholy, narrowing crack of her magic, she moaned a word that sounded like a wing crunching under a boot.
An eerie roar from the north brought him to his feet. The tide bent and rose to the setting sun as an enormous serpent the size of a harbor strand surfaced as if responding to a call. Its force on his heart bore the unmistakable mark of the Destroyer, the aspect of death and transformation inherent in the Old One, the Mother of all things.
Stunned beyond thought, Eadred returned his attention to his dark deed. Just then, something moved on the edge of the field in the direction of the path. "Mummy!" a child cried. A boy ran into view, then stopped and gaped at the woman splayed in blood by the standing stone.
Bow in hand, Eadred stepped back and turned to leave. His stomach flipped over like a fish in a pool as the child began to cry. The Aenlisarfon had not told him the witch had children by her intercourse with wizards. How could they not have known that?
They had not told him she had the power to invoke sea dragons, either.
He crossed the field, merging with the shadows of dusk. Behind him, the boy screamed a tangle of words in the Dark Tongue that hit the hunter in the gut like a volley of poisoned darts. He stumbled and fell as the howling blast passed through his body and mind, splintering it.
Thunder rent the sky as Eadred peered up, trembling, weak and disoriented. The child had gone. His mother's cloak and hair flapped in the gale like the feathers of a dead bird. And the sea wept and crashed against the isle, driven by the icy north hand of the Destroyer herself, bent on avenging the death of her own.
Sailors called his realm the Swan, for so it appeared to them, the pattern of stars shining on dusk's fading arc in the seeding time of year. They knew his name, Ciron, as its heart and brightest star. But she knew his touch. She had lain with him in the warm waters on the shortest night, when the wind from the stars caressed the depths and revealed the Gates of the
, and conceived. Palace
On that night, Ciron sang a spell that brought their child into a human womb.