Monday, August 26, 2013

Eolyn by Karin Rita Gastreich (Excerpt)

Chapter 2

Her mother’s elusive shadow continued ahead of Eolyn, never quite within reach, always beyond the next tree or around the bend. After leading her deep into the forest, the image of Kaie disappeared altogether. Loneliness descended upon Eolyn. Unfamiliar trees gawked at her, their thick bark twisted into expressions of loathing and disapproval. A strong gust rattled the high branches, sending a shower of auburn leaves fluttering to the ground. The birds did not sing. The squirrels did not chatter. The South Woods had never seemed so cold and heartless.

Frightened, Eolyn turned slowly on her feet, trying to identify the path that brought her here, but everything looked the same. For the first time, the forest made her tremble.  What if the legends were true? What if werewolves and seven headed rats and child eating witches waited beyond the terrible faces of those dark trees?  Yet Mama had always insisted she had nothing to fear from the forest. Though she often expressed the opposite opinion, Eolyn now remembered, about the King. Surely it was safer under the dense cover of these trees than out in the open, where soldiers and swords could find her.

If you are ever lost in the woods, Mama had once said, do not be afraid. Remember the trees are your friends, and they will receive you well.  Remember the songs I taught you, and do not take anyone’s path but your own.

“How will I find my path?” Eolyn whispered.

Your path will be made by wandering.

It was one of her mother’s favorite sayings, and though Eolyn was not sure what Mama meant, these words were her only guidance now. She chose one of her mother’s songs and with the tune wavering upon her lips, placed one uncertain foot in front of the other.

Days passed while Eolyn wandered. Although Kaie had taught her how to find late season berries and distill water from the thick moss, every morning the girl woke a little hungrier than the last. The further she traveled, the thinner the harvest. The scattered fruits that turned up in her path did not alleviate the emptiness that gnawed at her belly.

One night the restless cries of a Blue Wing Owl startled Eolyn out of her sleep. Barks and yelps rose out of the shadows. A pack of wolves was bearing down upon her. Panicked, she scrambled up a trunk in the darkness, guided by some desperate instinct that pushed her so hard the branches stung her, raising jagged welts. For hours she clung to the tree while the pack snuffled about below, jaws snapping in the dark, barks and howls rising toward her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She felt like a fool. Why had she strayed so far? Why did she not wait for Ernan? What if Ernan had survived? What if he was looking for her even now? She would die here before he found her, if not of starvation, then at the fangs of these terrible beasts.

But in the morning, they were gone.  Her limbs cold and stiff, Eolyn climbed down the tree. She listened to the forest. Her sharp senses caught no sound or movement, and after some hesitation, she continued on her way.

After that, Eolyn took to finding strong high limbs in which to sleep. About a week into her journey, as the new moon drifted behind the forest canopy, she awoke to see two Guendes leaning over her. She gasped and they froze. They looked almost like children and bore the colors of night and forest. Their large eyes twinkled and their button noses twitched. One held a simple lantern glowing orange-warm. The other watched her with a curious expression of embarrassment. He held a blanket of woolly moss and spider silk, and gently laid it over her. The Guendes seemed little more than a dream, but they gave Eolyn a sense of companionship. It was as if the forest had at last stretched out a comforting hand. Exchanging a glance, the Guendes began to sing in soft whispery tones. Eolyn shifted her position, closed her eyes and slept again.

The next morning at the foot of the tree she found a leaf dish full of ripe golden juice berries and a wooden cup of fresh sap milk from the Berenben Tree. The generous breakfast delighted her. In thanksgiving, she gathered the brightest fall leaves and the shiniest brown nuts and left them as gifts for the Guendes, just as her mother taught her to do. From that day forward the Guendes kept her warm at night and fed her in the morning. They followed her with the invisible rustle of wind through dry leaves.

By the time Eolyn arrived at a large stony riverbed, she had lost track of the moon’s passage. In a few months spring would fill the river’s banks to overflowing, but now with autumn drying up into winter she crossed the water without wetting her feet, by jumping from one stone to another. She paused on the opposite bank and considered following the current downstream. Before she could decide on her next step, Eolyn saw another Guende.

The creature stood but a few feet away, reflecting the hues of day and fall. It wore colored leaves in its cap and an evergreen vest embroidered with seeds and nuts. With smiling eyes peeking out from under bushy brows, it proffered its hand. Eolyn was surprised by the feathery lightness of its touch, as if it were not a real hand at all, but an impulse of energy that took hold of her and pulled her forward.

They left the river and walked for almost an hour, until Eolyn felt a subtle shift in the resonance of the forest. The woods did not look any different, with its old trunks, crusty bark and draped moss. Yet something had changed. Caught between curiosity and apprehension, Eolyn’s heart beat so hard it pushed into her throat. The Guende tugged on her hand in reassurance. An intense drone filled her ears, as if she were passing through an invisible hive of bees. After a few steps the buzzing stopped, the Guende disappeared and Eolyn stood alone in a small clearing. The thick expanse of trees that defined her world moments before had melted away. Under a cover of soft grass, the ground sloped downward and then rose again. Beyond a low hill hovered a faint wisp of chimney smoke. Taken with a sudden enthusiasm founded on the hope of human company, Eolyn bounded forward. On the other side of the rise she saw a simple cottage surrounded by a thick garden.

“Good day!” she called out. “Is anyone home?”

The bushes rustled. A dark hood rose up and peered at her. “Well. Who is this mouse that calls upon my humble house?”


Sole heiress to a forbidden craft, Eolyn lives in a world where women of her kind are tortured and burned. When she meets Akmael, destined to assume the throne of this violent realm, she embarks upon a path of adventure, love, betrayal and war. Bound by magic, torn apart by destiny, Eolyn and the Mage King confront each other in an epic struggle that will determine the fate of a millennial tradition of magic.

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Genre - Fantasy

Rating – PG13

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