Updated: Jun 16
His name was Boden. He was seventeen, the oldest of the company, the tallest, and the toughest. His long, sun-bleached hair was bound behind his head, and his dark eyes – with their double-ringed Taranor irises – were intent on the orange in his hands as he sliced it into segments with his hunting knife.
- Extract from the Prelude to Silent Skies
The following is an extract from the first chapter of Silent Skies...
THE NIGHTS OF HIS FATHER'S DEPARTURE
(ELEVEN WEEKS AGO)
What does ‘Tuthervarr’ mean?
“Well, a Tuthervarr is a hero,” you might answer. “A fierce warrior; the bane of all that is wicked…”
And you would not be wrong – though you would not be wholly right, either. You see, it was a clan – a family – before it became anything else; a family you will learn much about as we wander through this chronicle. Let me introduce you to a boy named Boden – the son of a Tuthervarr traveller and a Taranor orphan.
Boden Tuthervarr grew up knowing that to find any answers of any kind, he need only ask his father. In the years before his father’s departure, he had asked many times, “What does ‘Tuthervarr’ mean?” His father had often answered by telling him the following genesis story of their family…
Though it was his family name, it was also synonymous with the term ‘hero’ because many of their ancestors played that role in the countless fables now written in the stars.
Originally, when the Tuthervarrs were a line of kings – centuries ago, before they gave up the throne to be heroes instead – five heirlooms had been crafted by a monarch and his granddaughter. Each Tuthervarr heirloom symbolised a different heroic virtue, which was why some people thought they were religious relics of the Old Way – the religion that most people in Durnam were devoted to in those days.
There were thousands of theories about what the heirlooms were; paintings, rings, urns, books, coins… But there was this much agreed-upon concerning the Tuthervarr heirlooms and their virtues: there were five of them, and they were lost. They had been stolen and reclaimed by the villains and heroes of legend so many times that none now knew where they dwelt.
But Boden knew more than most, for he had asked his father, “Do you have one of the heirlooms?”
And his father had said, “Yes.”
“What is it? Can I see it?”
“It is humble and precious. I will show it to you when you’re older, I think.”
So you see, even though Boden knew more than most, he still knew very little…
Allow me now to tell you how Boden Tuthervarr came to be sitting by that fire, and what he was remembering when his imagination turned that orange-juice into blood – and the wind into a blade.
It happened beneath a full moon – nearly three months previously…
Twelve nights had passed since his father’s departure.
Boden held the whetstone to his sword, moving it in tight circles that gradually looped their way down the grey edge emitting a high, gravelly sound in a ceaseless whine. He sat in a wooden chair, pushed slightly away from the living-room table, his blade flat across his knees. Every now and then, as he worked, he glanced up at the candle on the table. Burning slowly down the black wick, the flame cast a flickering spell over the inner walls of the cottage.
From a window, the round moon cast its own pale spell. The calm, steadfast glow met the dancing, desperate candlelight on the soft surface of a heavy tapestry, across the room. In this strange mixture of light, the colours and forms of the tapestry were obscured – though the golden bordering of tiny capital ‘T’s still stood bold. ‘T’ for Tuthervarr.
Boden found himself staring at the tapestry, as he often did when he was thinking of his father, and heroes, and quests. He was, in fact, thinking of all these things. He was thinking that he needed to go on a quest, into the woods, to find his father. He needed to be a Tuthervarr, a hero.
Absorbed by the tapestry, he did not notice his mother enter the living room from the hallway. Not until she passed before him and took a seat across the table, did his pondering cease. When their met eyes, the whetstone stilled. Mother and son looked at each other in silence for a few minutes, candle- and moon-light making battlefields of their solemn faces.
“What are you thinking, Boden?” Sapphire asked.
Boden took a breath, assembling his thoughts. “I know three of the methods,” he began, lifting his sword and whetstone to the table. “I can defend myself in the Wolfwood. I know the path he takes to the northern thickets where he hunts. I know the signs of the Mountainwood – the snow gums and mountain ash – and I will not venture there unless his tracks clearly lead me…”
Sapphire nodded slowly as Boden trailed off. “Yes,” she said. “Your father has taught you three of the Seven Sword Methods – though you know as well as I do that you have not mastered the third. And, you know as well as I do that your father can also defend himself—”
“Two is safer than one,” Boden broke in.
“Two is louder than one,” Sapphire said.
They went quiet again for a breath. Distant howling and the calls of screech owls forced their way in through cracks in the window-pane and the door.
“What is he doing?” Boden whispered. “He’s never away hunting this long… This is the thirteenth night.” Boden’s eyes flicked briefly to the tapestry. “Does this have anything to do with the heirloom?” he asked.
Sapphire tensed, her double-ringed irises going hard as crystal. Boden had never understood why she never spoke of the heirlooms.
Forcing herself to relax again, Sapphire said, “When he returns, you may ask him. You should get some more sleep. We’re going to shift the cattle further south – to better feed – tomorrow morning.”
Boden thought that if the heirloom was at all involved in this, it made the situation all the more dire. He didn’t say this, though, as Sapphire stood up, heading back into the hallway. On the way past, she knelt and hugged him where he sat.
“He’ll be back,” she whispered.
Boden lingered – brown- and orange-ringed irises staring for a while at the sword before him; at the flickering candlelight that chased the pale glow of moon across iron. Sitting, wondering, waiting, Boden found himself suddenly sinking again into that horrid nightmare that had plagued him for the last few nights. Being half-awake, he half-remembered and only half- fell back in.
He had dreamt that the blade of his sword was a magnificent ruby-red. He had stood by a small campfire, drawing it by the dancing light. There had been enemies – shapeless shadows – watching from the outer darkness…
His weapon had then been ripped from his grasp. It went flying into the gloom of the woods. He left the circle of the campfire’s light to search the woods for it. He had known that his father was ahead of him, somewhere, as he was following the man’s tracks. As he had wandered in the dark, his father’s trail had steadily become fainter and fainter. Eventually, the tracks disappeared in a swift, red river – swept away by the water rushing past like blood from the neck of a slaughtered beast. Kneeling on the banks of the river, Boden had felt a frozenness growing in his bones.
Boden shivered himself awake. His heart was beating faster in the memory of that dreadful feeling. His eyes went from the grey sword to the burning wick, to the twilit tapestry, to the door of the cottage.
He would not leave his mother to tend the land and the cattle alone, but he could not leave his father to face the dangers of the wood alone, either… Sitting, wondering, waiting, the boy had a sudden urge to act on a half-formed plan that had been hovering at the edges of his mind for a few nights…
Boden reached slowly up and bound his hair in a knot behind his head. He took his belt and scabbard off the backrest of the chair beside him. Quietly, he stood and put the belt on. Quietly, he picked up his sword and slowly sheathed it; allowing only a muffled echo of the whine that the whetstone had created to escape. Quietly, he lifted the latch, opened the door, and left the cottage. He did not even bother to put shoes on – he rarely did when traversing the familiar terrain about his parent’s cottage.
In the yard, the potty-calf that Boden had adopted the responsibility of feeding – Belle – was resting with her back against the garden gatepost. She looked up at him with a glossy black eye that reflected the spell of the candle flickering in the window behind him. He reached out to scratch her neck. Half-asleep, the calf caught one of his fingers in its mouth, sucking it absently – some part of the animal knowing that the sight of the boy meant bottled milk warmed by the fire. This brought a weak smile to Boden’s moonlit face.
“In a few hours,” he murmured to her, and moved on through the garden gate to the stretch of patchy grass that reached toward the woods.
Between the cottage and the Wolfwood, there was a mound of three smooth stones – all stark white in the moonlight. The stones were oblong, taller than a man and wider than a cow carrying twins. From the heart of the jumble of ancient stone there grew an ebony tree older than the Wolfwood itself.
These were the prayer-stones. For countless generations, citizens of Iantal had come to this hill to stand on the stones, face the ocean beyond the woods, and ask…
And Boden was climbing onto one of the stones that lay on its side.
Exhausted of options – and terribly afraid – the boy had come here to pray. He had not been taught how to pray. He did not even know the name of the god the Iantal people had prayed to here. He only knew the names of the violent gods of the sea – and even these Taranor deities, his parents assured him, were fantasies. Boden did not think they even believed in Oldone, the god of the Old Way.
Yet here he was, standing on the prayer-stone barefoot with the quiet wind ruffling his shirt. The spell of candlelight was behind him, peeking through the window of the cottage, and only the steadfast enchantment of the moon remained on his features, turning him pallid and indistinct.
As he searched for something to say, he heard some beast in the woods howl, quite close. A look of consternation made its way across his face as the call was answered, closer still. Then he heard something racing through the woods, crushing sticks and breaking thin branches as it ran.
No wolf would be so bold…
The wind gusted through the trees, toward him, carrying the complicated mark of the Wolfwood in late Spring – the pollen of ancient red gums, iron-barks, and pine-needles. And that strange sound of a desperate or foolhardy creature.
Boden knew what it was like to walk the Wolfwood with his father at night.
The tall, gnarled trees loomed around you like black roses, open wide even though it was dark. A canopy of murky leaves blocked out the moon and the stars, and your eyes strained in the gloom. You felt littler than you were, amongst the imposing giants and the menacing sounds of the woods – boughs creaking and groaning as you cast your gaze about. Unknown animals scratching nervously at beds of leaves in close shadows.
Your steps broke twigs and crushed leaves, masking – in those moments – the sounds of the other occupants of the woods. Your eyes swayed across the dark trunks and unkempt bushes. Fallen tree-limbs made odd shapes that your imagination turned into ugly, spiny monsters…
Nothing raced in the Wolfwood. Everything was sneaking and sinister and lethal. What was this thing, bold enough to crash through the woods like a bull?
The howling, and the rushing creature, grew louder and closer still as Boden strained to see what was happening. Heart pounding in his chest, Boden squeezed his eyes shut in sudden, sorrowful, terrified, exhaustion. A tear fell trembling down his cheek and a plea fled from his mouth like a rabbit pursued by an arrow…
“Please,” he said softly, “help me find my father.”
(END OF EXTRACT)