Blurb- Threatening clouds and fierce storms besiege the city of Tyroc. More frequent and powerful than ordinary storms, young Elowyn, a weaver’s daughter living in the outskirts of the city, senses something disturbing and unnatural about them. She soon realizes that the storms are but a warning sign of much more frightening things yet to come.
Terrifying wolf-like creatures emerge from the depths of the wilderness at the bidding of a dark master. His name found only among the crumbling pages of ancient texts, the re-appearance of Alazoth and his Hounds is a dark omen for the people of Tyroc and beyond. Only legends remain of the heroes and prophets whose blood was shed ages ago to banish him into the abyss, which should have remained his prison for all time. How he has been released is a mystery, but all the old stories agree that death and destruction are sure to follow.
With the Hounds inching closer each day, the city of Tyroc caught up in religious and political turmoil, and her home life no less turbulent, Elowyn has nothing left to rely on but her meager courage and a budding faith in Aviad, the Creator. She and her sister, Morganne, set out on a remarkable journey that challenges everything they have ever known about themselves, the world, and the path that Aviad has laid out for them.
Genre- Young Adult Fantasy
My Rating- 3 Meows, certainly worth perrrusing!
My Review- A story of Elowyn, a young, willful child, who enjoys sleeping in the woods, away from her family. Her journey begins shortly after a messenger of some sort is killed the previous night. She finds a strange coin, stumbles across the messenger’s prints, and fearing for her safety, returns home to find her sister weaving. Later that night, as another storm comes in, she wakes to find the ghost of the man who was killed.
Fearing a curse, or worse, (ha! I made a rhyme!) Elowyn returns to the woods to dispose of the coin. Along the way, Alazoth’s Hounds, the beasts that killed the man in the woods, accost her, but she is saved by a young man, Einar, who turns out to be part of some rebel group.
This is all taking place during a sort of regime change. The sovereign has died suddenly, and though he left two sons, one seems unfit to lead, and the other is not yet old enough, so there is some political turmoil, which ties into the oncoming blackness–the coming of Alazoth, Master of Destruction.
I do have some complaints, the usual complaints. There was too much explaining (sometimes, but not all the time), which made it feel like someone was recounting events that yet someone else had experienced. This kept me from feeling directly connected to the tale on occasion. It was almost like I was a third party to whom the tale was being related, also, as is the case with a ton of books meow-a-days, and that includes indie and mainstream, too much would and could, which also kept me at arm’s length, and, of course, too many sentences beginning with conjunctions–if a sentence has to begin with a conjunction, the previous sentence probably shouldn’t have ended, right? Overall, it really felt like a friend was recounting their DnD adventures to me, which isn’t terrible, of course.
On the plus side, none of my personal complaints ruin the story. It just wasn’t a 5 meow book for me. It is a wonderful tale, and I think, young adults especially will enjoy sinking their claws into the adventure of Elowyn. This is perhaps the best possible compliment I can give: I do recommend reading this book, mostly because I really liked Elowyin, who is a solid character and really drives the story on.
When Elowyn finally roused herself, late in the warmth of the morning, she let out a great sigh of contentment. She ate a small breakfast then approached the basin with great curiosity as she remembered her dream. She immersed the tips of her fingers in the cool water, looking up at Aviad’s image. There was no sound, no movement. She reminded herself that it had only been a dream after all, and yet she wondered if the elements of her dream were instructions meant to be followed. This was a peculiar place, no doubt still touched by the presence of the Ancients from when it was a sacred site. Perhaps it would be best to do as she had been told, just in case what she had experienced had been more than a mere dream. She cupped some of the water in her hands and poured it over her head. The drops ran along the length of her hair and down her face, dripping off her eyelashes, nose and chin. She looked up again at the carving, smiled brightly and skipped off into the trees humming to herself. She felt as though all of her burdens were lifted that morning. Her body felt light, her spirit refreshed.
Elowyn decided to do something she had not done in a long while. She called it tree sailing. Morganne called it utter madness. And just past her camp, standing in a patch of soft, springy green moss, was the perfect tree for it … tall, but not too tall, strong, flexible, and with a great number of canopy-like branches fanning out from the trunk. Elowyn scrambled up the tree, inching forward on her belly across the strongest of the overhanging branches, grabbing the smaller ones to her chest. She pushed herself forward as far as she dared, hanging on with her whole body. As the wind caught the branches, she was swayed up and down. It was the closest she had ever come to experiencing what it must be like to sail on the ocean—something she had always felt a great longing to do. Once caught in the rhythm of the tree and the breeze, she could close her eyes and relax without any fear of falling. She felt so free suspended weightless in the air. It was almost as though she were part of the tree itself, growing tall and graceful, joining the wind and sky in their daily song, year upon year, age upon age. Time seemed motionless, meaningless.
Elowyn had been in the tree for a long while when her senses slowly became aware of movement below her. Peering through the leaves, she saw someone moving about where her camp was. His form seemed familiar, but she had to be sure … yes, it was Einar. Finally he had come! She called out to him, laughing as he looked about unable to find her.
“Up here,” she called, “in the tree!”
Einar seemed both startled and amused at the same time. “By the Sovereign’s name, what are you doing up there, child?”
“Can’t you see?” Elowyn smiled joyfully. “I am riding the wind!”
Surely if anyone could understand this unique habit of hers, it would be Einar. He shook his head at her but did not scold. That beautiful, wondrous, youthfulness that she had recognized in him only once before, shone through his features.
“You are indeed a most unusual child …” Einar looked around the ruins as Elowyn eagerly climbed down the tree to retrieve the helmet and bow. “I see that you have not sat idle while you waited for me. Making a new home for yourself?” Elowyn could see that Einar did not regard this place with the same reverence she did. As his eye roved from crumbling wall to fallen pillar, he saw little more than a jumble of old masonry.
“It is a special place … it seemed to need me. Everyone has forgotten it.” Though Elowyn said this with the utmost humility, she could feel her face growing warm.
Einar began to laugh in that jaded tone of his, until he saw the crestfallen look on her face. “Aye, such a tender soul. I suppose if I had been forgotten for hundreds of years, I would want one such as you to find me again.”
“I was hoping you could tell me what the carvings mean. They are all about people and places I don’t know, except, of course, for Aviad. He is everywhere.”
Einar seemed a bit uncomfortable as he scanned the numerous images spanning the walls. “I’m afraid I will be of little help to you in that regard. I have not put much thought into the old tales of Aviad and the like.” He shrugged.
To Einar it all seemed no more than a fairy tale, and a dangerous one at that. How long had the Temple leadership interfered in the affairs of the Sovereign for the sake of its own gain? How often had they swayed the people, based not on the issue at hand, but simply on their word and desire? He thought the Temple leadership to be imminently corrupt, and the people who blindly followed them to be no better than drunks, addicted to a never ending supply of ale, packaged neatly and sold as religion. However, he could not say this to Elowyn, her innocent face raptly gazing into his, desperately craving his wisdom and approval.
“Perhaps one day I shall be able to introduce you to a friend of mine who knows of such things.” Quickly changing the subject, he put on the brightest expression he could manage and said, “Come now, sit with me and show me this bow that you’ve found.”
As Einar sat down, the breeze lifted his cloak, revealing a heavy bandage wrapped around his left arm from elbow to shoulder.
“You’re hurt!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”
Einar quickly covered his arm with his cloak. “Let’s just say we ran into some … trouble, two nights ago. We had to move camp, which is why I am so long in getting to you. My sincerest apologies for the wait. It could not be helped.”
Elowyn’s ears attended to every word. This was the first time he had ever mentioned “we” or “camp.” Again, she wondered about him. Where did he go? Where did he live? Did he have a family? Why was he always so secretive? What was he hiding? Perhaps in showing him what he had come for, she would get some answers.
Pulling the bow out of her sack, Elowyn handed it to him. All of the joy instantly left his face, and he held it close to his body with his head bowed heavily.
“Please, tell me again exactly what you found, and where you found it.” His voice was low and somber.
Elowyn recounted the tale of that last night by the stream, of finding a stray coin, which led her to find the helm and the bow and the arrows. She told him about the tracks she had found, and what she thought they meant, which seemed to be confirmed by the attack on her the next day. She showed him the helm as well, and he wept over it when he saw the crest.
“It is finished then. My friend is lost, and so is the accursed quest that sent him to his death. There is no hope to recover either, the Hounds and their Master have seen to that.”
Elowyn shuddered at the mention of the Hounds and their elusive Master. “The night of the storm, one of those Hounds was scratching at our cottage door. It left a footprint. The last two nights that I have been here, their sounds have drawn closer. Einar, what are we to do if they come to the cottage? It is only my mother, two sisters and I. We are not warriors, and we have no weapons to fight off such horrific beasts. I told my sister the print was from a wolf, so as not to scare her. But I am scared.”
“If you were not, after what you have seen, child, then you would be a fool.” His words troubled her. She had expected him to say something comforting, or at the very least give her some practical advice.
Einar rose and said abruptly, “I must take my leave, and report back what you have told me. I am sorry.” Elowyn felt her heart being squeezed by a mixture of emotions. Sorrow first, for she felt the loss of Einar’s friend, who apparently meant much to him. Second, hurt, for she had anticipated that once she brought Einar what he asked for, he would be more open with his own business. Instead she found him even more closed off, and curt with her in a way he had never been before. She knew it was not because of anything she had done, but it left her sore just the same. Third, fear. Einar was the closest thing to a brother, or even a father, that she had ever known. She wanted him to make things right, to protect her, to assure her that she was not in danger, or tell her what to do, just as he had given her instructions on how to use the dagger. Though Elowyn knew she was miserably clumsy with it, at least she was not completely vulnerable so long as she carried it. There was always a chance. But now she was left feeling helpless, paralyzed. She handed him the bow and arrows with the helm.
“Keep them, or give them back to your friend’s family. I do not want them any longer.”
“Thank you,” Einar nodded. His eyes had grown cold, and all the muscles in his face hardened. She felt as though she were standing with a total stranger.
“When will we meet again?” Elowyn asked, hoping that he would look at her, and that she would be able to see some remnant of the kind gentility she had come to know in him.
“Soon,” was all he would say. Then he departed, vanishing into the trees, as was his custom. Elowyn felt hurt, and betrayed, and very uncertain about Einar. She had done his bidding, waited at the ruins patiently for two days, knowing that if it had taken a week or more for him to come, she would have waited. This was not exactly the way she had expected his visit to turn out. She sat in front of the little basin and cried until the hurt gave way to a quiet resentfulness. She decided that if she was going to continue meeting Einar, she wanted to know more about him. She needed to know that she could trust him. “Next time I see him,” she vowed to herself, “I will demand some answers.”
But then as she stared at the ground, she noticed something. A footprint, deep and clear. It was Einar’s. Glancing in the direction he had gone, she saw more. The ground was still extremely soft from all the rain the storm had brought, especially in the thick wooded places where the sun did not reach. It would be impossible for him to leave no tracks on a day such as this, no matter how great his skill. She sat and debated for a moment. Was it right to follow uninvited? What if she were caught? Surely he would be furious. It would be his fault though, wouldn’t it? If he had been more honest from the start, she wouldn’t need to sneak after him looking for answers. And then the most dreaded thought of all; what if she followed him, and did not like what she found? Was it better to know than not know? She told herself that she would just follow a short bit, to see in what direction he had gone. But curiosity grabbed hold of her; she could not stop herself. She needed to know, once and for all, what his secret was, and she might not get the chance again, for she realized that she did not have the ability to follow him any other way undetected.
Einar was heading well away from Tyroc, up along the ravine but more to the west. Where the soil became thin and sandy, his footprints were shallow and difficult to follow. Several times she thought she had lost the trail, only to pick up traces of it again further ahead. Eventually she came to the bottom of a long, sloping valley. On the other side, a steep hill crested and she could not see what lay beyond it. Many separate plumes of smoke rose above the hill, and Elowyn guessed that they came from the camp he had spoken of. She eased her way slowly along the edge of the trees, not wanting to draw attention to herself if anyone was on the lookout. As she got closer, she began to hear the bustling sounds of an active camp—axes at work, people calling out instructions to one another, bits and pieces of casual conversation, and warm greetings passed between friends. Elowyn strained to see, but was not yet close enough. The camp was masked by thick, tangled underbrush, much of it sporting nasty looking thorns. Carefully she inched herself up a nearby tree so that she might get a better look.
The camp was full of makeshift tents, many of which were windblown with patches sewn on to cover the rips. It was a bedraggled group she saw—most dressed in what were once fine sturdy clothes, now worn thin with use. A group of men were digging a large pit on the far side of the camp against a rock face. The rest were busy setting up tents, preparing food, and taking care of other menial chores. Several seemed to be wounded. There were no women, and no children.
One man was tied up against a tree near the edge of the encampment. Elowyn wondered who he was, and why he was being held prisoner in such a way. Then she saw Einar emerge from a tent. He strode over to the prisoner and had some sort of argument with him. She could not hear what they were saying, but both seemed very upset. The prisoner spit on Einar, and instantly several large men rushed over to pull Einar away before he had the chance to strike him. An older man approached who had an aura of authority about him. As he and Einar spoke, the man’s expression grew increasingly concerned. He dismissed the other men and motioned in Elowyn’s direction. At first she panicked thinking she had been seen, but then realized that he was motioning to a tent near to where she was hiding. Perhaps if she could get close enough to it, she could finally hear what was going on. Elowyn slithered down the tree as quietly as she could and crawled over toward the back of the tent where she could hear but not be seen.
“I realize it is tempting Einar, but you know that is not our way, and it is not yours either. I have known you since you were but a lad bouncing on your father’s knee. Worry not, Justice will be served tonight at the appointed time, and I have decided to give you first rights.”
“I fear even that will not be enough to quell my grief, my lord. It festers deep within my soul. It haunts me, consumes me … I cannot rid myself of it.”
“Aye, and so it shall be … for a time. You know that we all share the same grief, for all of us have lost these past months, in one way or another.”
“Yes, my lord. I do not mean disrespect to you or any other in this camp.” Einar’s tone softened, “I beg your patience, for this latest news is a fresh wound that I must learn to bear.”
“Indeed. And now that we are in private, I wish to hear of it. What news do you bring?”
“Nevon is dead. The Hounds have devoured him.”
The two men fell silent for a few moments before the elder finally asked, “How do you know that he is perished?” Einar relayed to him the whole tale of tracking his friend as far as the clearing where he had saved Elowyn from the Hound. He told him of their rapid advancement and of his inability to travel any further east because of their numbers and the encroaching storms. He told him also of what Elowyn had seen, and of what she had found and returned to him.
“This girl you speak of, can her word be fully trusted?” Elowyn bristled slightly at the question, listening intently for Einar’s answer.
“Yes, my lord. I have worked to slowly gain her trust, and she has proved herself to be honest and forthcoming with what she knows. I have found no reason to doubt her sincerity.”
“And she knows not who you are or where you are from? One careless word to the wrong person…” Elowyn saw the shadow of the elder rise and begin to pace with what she perceived to be anxiety.
“No, I have been careful not to reveal myself, though I am not sure how much longer I can continue to question her while leaving all of her questions unanswered. Eventually she is sure to become suspicious.” Elowyn’s ears perked with great interest at this remark, wondering if his secret would now be revealed. Einar’s answer made her wonder about the sincerity of his friendship. True, he had saved her when she was still but a stranger to him, and he had showed her kindness. But what if he was only using her to glean information for whatever purpose he was tasked with? The other man continued with his questioning.
“There was no body? Not even a trace of one? Even for Hounds, that is strange. And no sign of the package he was carrying either? Of course, he would have held it close to his body and well hidden. If the Hounds’ Master has Nevon’s remains, so also he must have the package. If that object is now in his possession … I fear to think of what may become of us.”
Einar spoke once again, his voice carrying an edge that meant he was trying desperately to stay his anger. “Despite our disagreements in the past, I know that you and Nevon both truly believed in the quest, and I am sorry that it failed. But with all due respect, I cannot believe that my fate, or that of the world, rests with any single object.
“Ever since we found the dying monk in the forest, the men have been rattled and uneasy. His presence, his tales, his relic, and most of all, this quest, have been a distraction from our true purpose here. What do we go out and tell the men? How many of them have hung so much upon this that they will now give up all hope that they can save themselves? Nerves are frayed enough. We are weary and wounded, and our families, our very lives, have been taken from us. Is that not enough pain to endure?
“There is plenty of evil to be fought right here, with Braeden’s wicked deeds, his evil magics, his outright manipulation of the courts, and of the people, too, for that matter. Have you forgotten that he was recommended to the Sovereign by the Temple? If he is what the Temple represents, then I want no part of it—its relics, its monks, or of its so-called deities.”
“You know not what you say,” the elder man interrupted with a slight growl to his voice. “Think what you will in private, but speak not against the Ancients in my presence. How convenient that you believe so readily in the powers of evil, but not in the ones that might save you.”
“How am I to do otherwise?” Einar challenged. “The fingers of evil reach far, and deep. I can see their workings all too readily. The dark minions call out, and they are answered and aided. Every day they grow in number and strength. Those of us who can see through the darkness, those of us who are willing to stand against it—who answers when we call out in desperation? The most righteous people I have known in my lifetime, those most devoted to the Ancients, and the Temple … where are they now? What help has come to them? They are all either dead or suffering in exile while their families are trapped on the other side of that damned city wall. I for one will not stand idle, waiting for some unknown power to save me. Whatever has become of the relic Nevon carried is of no real consequence to me. As long as I have breath, I will continue to fight, on my own terms. I believe in the power of my bow more than in the wisdom and power of the Temple or its god.
“Let us assume for the moment that all who serve in Temple are truly innocent of corruption. How wise can they be if they are duped by such a blatant scoundrel as Braeden, even that they recommend him to the Sovereign with their highest praise, so that he was the one chosen to shape the heirs and the future of all Tyroc? How powerful can their deity be to allow one such as Braeden to defile the Temple for so many years? Once again, my lord, you are like a father to me, and I respect that we differ on this greatly. But now that Nevon is dead, and I am no longer bound by my oaths to him, I must speak my mind, at the least just this once, even should you cut out my tongue and hang me by it for doing so.”
Elowyn listened to the long silence that followed with great anxiety. Would the other man really do such a thing? Then she heard him speak in a low voice.
“I will not deny that to hear you speak thus fills my heart with the greatest sorrow I have ever known. Such bitterness is poison only to the soul that bears it. You are still filled with youthful rage, and given our circumstance I have no cause to blame you for that. So long as you do not destroy yourself with it, you may yet live long enough to know the folly of what you have just said. You have spoken your mind to me openly, and I know that nothing I say will change it. But I now want your oath, that you will not speak with the other men in a way that will cause dissent among them.”
“That is an oath I gladly give. I have no desire to inflict the doubts I suffer upon my brothers. They may cling to their fantasies for as long as they wish. If things continue to go as they have, those fantasies may soon be the only comfort they have left. And now I must also ask a boon of you, my lord, if you will hear it.”
“What sort of boon?”
“That should you decide to send out another to recover the relic, and finish the quest Nevon began, you would consider sending me.”
“What?” the elder said with utter astonishment. “You? After all you have just said? Why would you of all people desire to be sent on such a mission?”
“Because I know these woods better than anyone here, and I am familiar with the patterns of the Hounds. I have no desire to see yet another brother given up to them as a sacrifice. But mostly because I can think of no better way to honor Nevon’s memory than to take up the quest he believed in enough to die for. Besides,” he added, “I know the girl Elowyn and how to find her. She may need to be questioned again in the future about what she has seen.”
“You really are arrogant,” the other voice chuckled gruffly. “All the same, it is a noble gesture, and I know that Nevon would be deeply honored. But I am not sure that we can spare you here. It is partly your knowledge of this region that has allowed us to survive for so long against such odds.”
“If this relic is all that you believe it to be, what difference will it make if our little band lasts another week, or another month? The Hounds draw closer each night, and we have not the strength to fight them off for long. It is more likely that we will perish at their Master’s hand than at the hand of Tyroc. The only other option we have is to abandon this place altogether, with no hope of serving justice and reclaiming what is ours. I doubt that most of these men are prepared to leave just yet. That certainly is not our way.”
“No, it is not. I must consult with the other commanders about all of this. Your request will be seriously considered. In the meanwhile, gather the camp and make all necessary preparations to take care of Mavek. I want that sordid business finished before night falls. Are you still completely certain that you desire first rights?”
“Aye. I have thought carefully on it and I will accept the burden. My soul will not be able to mend until the deed is finished and I may lay the visions that haunt me to rest.”
“So shall it be then.”
Einar and the other man parted company, leaving Elowyn to sort through everything she had just heard. Could it be that this was the renegade group everyone was talking about? Clearly they were not welcome in Tyroc. Yet they spoke of some great wrong that had been done to them—they spoke of justice, and honor, and of fighting evil. Those were not the words of common criminals, nor bloodthirsty murderers. What was the purpose Einar had spoken of? What was the quest on which his friend had perished, and what sort of mysterious package had he been carrying?
Elowyn’s feelings about Einar in particular were rather mixed. She was shocked to hear him speak against the Temple, and most especially against Aviad. She expected such words from her mother, whose only care in life was her loom, but she did not expect it of Einar. How could anyone who knew and loved the wood as he did, not know the hand that had so lovingly made it? Most of all, she wondered what “sordid business” Einar had agreed to carry out. There was nothing for her to do but sit and wait while the camp made their preparations, and hope that she was not caught. There was no turning back now.
Near to where the prisoner was tied, a great bonfire was being lit and torches were being staked in a circle around it. Elowyn crept slowly around the outskirts of the camp to get as close as she dared to the prisoner, so that she would be able to see, and possibly even hear what was going on, without being seen herself.
As evening closed in, the torches were lit, and a bell began to ring. Not a cheery high-toned bell, but rather a low, mournful one. It was the kind of bell that was rung in honor of the dead. The men approached the prisoner one by one, each dropping an unseen object into a container near his feet before gathering around the fire and waiting in silence.
Soon after came a group of men in dark robes. Among them was the man she had seen earlier with Einar, and she guessed that these were the other commanders he had spoken of. Each of them also dropped something into the container. One of the commanders then took the container and poured out its contents at the prisoner’s feet so that all could see. They were little stones, about the size that could be squeezed comfortably into your fist. All of them were dark in color except for two, which were white.
The elder looked directly at the prisoner and said, “Your peers have judged you.”
“These men are not my peers,” the man snarled. “My peers are now in the castle of Tyroc, making ready to either rescue me or avenge me if I am dead.”
“You willingly joined us. You accepted our rules, lived among us as a brother, and took your oaths with us. When you found those oaths to no longer be convenient, you went behind our backs and betrayed us to our enemies. Innocent blood was spilled because of your actions, and that we cannot accept. You well know the penalty.”
“I did my duty.”
“And now, as much as it pains us, we must do ours.”
The elder then turned to address the men, but Elowyn could not make out the words, as he was looking away from her. After a few moments someone emerged from the crowd dressed entirely in black, and with a hood and mask covering his face. He carried a black bow and black-feathered arrows. He received some sort of blessing from the man who had spoken, and words of acceptance from the rest.
“Which one of you cowards has been appointed to the task?” the man provoked angrily. “Which one of you am I to curse with my last dying breath?”
The man in black approached the prisoner, close enough that Elowyn could clearly hear the response, even though it was no more than a low seething hiss. “It is I, my old friend.” The voice was unmistakably Einar’s, but never had his tone seemed so frightening to her.
“Three friends have I lost, friends that were like kin to me. One perished of his own will delivering dusty trinkets for holy men. He was slain by a horde of nameless beasts, and I have no way to truly avenge his death. But the other two … they were betrayed by you, whom they once trusted and called ‘friend’ and ‘comrade.’ I have tried to forgive, but I cannot. What you have done breaks every code of honor and decency we strive to follow. It is the worst form of treachery one man can inflict upon another. Fear not that I have been unhappily appointed to this task; I have asked for it. I desire it.” Einar’s voice trembled with emotion.
The prisoner snarled at him. “I am not sorry for what I have done. Do what you will to me, my death will not bring them back.”
“No, it will not. But it may allow their spirits to rest. I know it will greatly ease mine.”
Einar kissed the first arrow, nocked it, and drew the string back tight with practiced perfection.