LAST TIME ON THE FALLEN KING
Liam has accepted an apprenticeship to his grandfather to learn the Old Tongue - an ancient language of magical power
(art by dall-e 2)
Liam rolled over, feeling that perfect drowsy joy of being halfway between sleeping and wakefulness. His room was slightly too cold to be endured, and his bed blankets were heavy and warm. His entire body felt slow and weighty like he was a stone man lying in a pool of honey. Red sunlight was shining into his room through one of the round windows, but he didn’t mind too much. Liam liked sunlight. Thoughts from the last few weeks lazily floated across his mind like bumblebees on warm summer days. He’d now been studying for 29 days. He’d read books on what seem entirely disconnected ideas, studied the King’s Speech, and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.
It was surprisingly boring. He had once again expected to learn to speak to storms, but none of that. Grandpa said that would come much later.
For now, his King’s Speech was much better than it used to be, and he was definitely reading more than ever, but it all felt… purposeless. He didn’t really know why he was doing all this or how to apply it, which made him feel restless.
He spent hours a day reading books about clouds, crystals, or coo-coo birds, but he didn’t know why. Grandpa refused to explain it, telling him to trust him and read. Liam was beginning to wonder if what he was learning was nothing like the language in Arwen’s stories.
Matt’s stay had been nice, but the nine days were up long ago. The young man returned to the village mostly recovered. Liam had already done all four weeks of bringing torches to the graveyard now, too, so he rarely even left the lighthouse these days.
He slipped back into the warm sea of sleep for a couple moments, only to be washed back out onto the tropical beach of wakefulness.
It was his break day. Grandpa was kind enough to give him one of those a week. He’d typically go down to the village and visit Cormac or maybe climb around on the cliffs.
A thought suddenly itched at the back of his mind like a fly buzzing on his face. Why was he just lying here? Didn’t he have something better to do than sleep in? His legs itched to run, arms itched to move. Maybe he could practice with his Lownire blade? Dad had trained him a bit before he had gone. Liam wouldn’t want to be as helpless as he was the last time he encountered a creature of darkness. Or maybe he could climb that part of the cliff that had always scared him? Better yet, go check on the boat, and see if he could find a book to teach him how to use it.
Liam swatted the restless thought away. Laying here was dull, but at least it wasn’t reading, which was beginning to be difficult and tedious.
He wondered what he’d be having for breakfast that morning. Eggs with toast didn’t sound too bad. Grandpa was a surprisingly good cook. That was a bonus.
He slipped back into the sea of sleep, tasting the many different imaginings for breakfast.
Then, all of a sudden, Liam was rudely awakened.
“UP!” An old voice shouted. “We don’t have all day! Out of bed! You’ve rested enough. No break today!”
Liam's heavy eyelids pulled open, and Grandpa ripped his blankets off. “Hmmm?” He asked, blinking away the sleep in his eyes.
“Daylight’s already being spent. Come on!” Grandpa said.
Liam swung around and put his feet on the ground. “The sun barely rising,” he yawned.
“The sun rises late and sets early in the winter. We don’t have all day,” Grandpa snapped, hobbling over to Liam’s chest of drawers.
Liam shrugged. He’d discovered it was best not to argue with Grandpa most of the time. Take the book about clouds and read it without question. He’d mostly given up asking when he’d actually start learning the Old Tongue. Mostly.
“So, what will I be reading today? About types of sand, perhaps? Or the communication method of fish?” Liam said, picking up the book off his bedside table.
Connor O’Neal’s Meangary of Monsters. A book Grandpa said was very decidedly not accurate, but Liam liked reading anyway.
Grandpa threw a linen shirt and pair of trousers at Liam. “No, none of that. You’ve done enough reading. It’s time for the real thing. Today, you will be listening,” Grandpa said, disappearing down the spiral staircase.
Liam’s eyes shot wide, and the grogginess of the morning faded. No more reading? He jumped up and quickly pulled on his pants, stumbling toward the staircase as he jumped into the right leg. “The real thing? So do you mean I’m actually going to speak the old tongue?” He yelled after his Grandfather, but to no response.
In a moment, he had his shirt on and was pulling on his boots. He stumbled downstairs with both of them still untied. When he came to the first floor, he found Grandpa stuffing a baguette and cheese into a backpack.
“Man may have forgotten the old tongue, but not everything has. The ancients still remember the names the stars used to speak them into existence. The trees, the rivers, the mountains, the sea - those will be your teacher, not I,” Grandpa said as Liam tied his shoes. Grandpa had a habit of being difficulty cryptic when Liam most wanted answers. When Liam had asked why he was reading books instead of learning the language, Grandpa would always say, ‘You must crawl before you can walk.’ An annoying answer when all Liam wanted was to run.
“So I will be finally learning to speak the old tongue?” Liam said excitedly as Grandpa helped him into his backpack.
“No, I already said, you will be listening. Every baby born could only talk because it took the time to listen first. Then it babbles, and it sees what its parents say back, then it babbles better. You will be doing the same. You must start by shutting up and listening.”
Grandpa opened the door and led the way outside. The morning was cold, a thin mist hanging in the forest and over the sea. It was late February, and the oncoming spring was hinted at in the warm sunlight.
Liam closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the fresh air. It smelled like dirt, seaspray, and just the slightest hint of growth.
Liam opened his eyes and saw Grandpa already hobbling toward the trees opposite the path. Liam sped up to catch up with him.
“Where are you going? This isn’t the path,” Liam said, confused.
Liam had always been taught that leaving the path was dangerous. The mountains were expansive, full of strange creatures and ancient forces. Stories said the forest was mazelike where one could quickly become lost. Worse yet, Darkness roamed in the forest’s shadow, and if you were unable to return before the sunset, it would surely claim you.
“Who do I look like to you? A schoolgirl? I know this isn’t the path. That’s the point. How are we supposed to hear the wildlands talk on a path?” Grandpa said as he hobbled into the forest, slipping in between two large thickets.
Liam looked after his grandfather, who was disappearing into the thick expanse of vines, bushes, and trees. With the tunnel of plants around him, like he was walking down into a dungeon tunnel.
Liam took a deep breath. Dad had strictly forbidden Liam from ever entering the forest in summer. But in the winter? It was nearly blasphemous.
Liam took a step into the thicket and smiled. The funny thing about all of those warnings is all they had ever done was made him curious.
Liam broke into a run after his grandfather, his feet pounding against the uneven ground and the plants whipping around his legs.
As he entered, the sounds of the sea were traded for the calling of birds, the rustle of animals, and his own feet on the twigs and leaves below his feet. The sight of the wide-open sky and cliffs were closed off as he entered an almost subterranean space. The thicket was a wall to a building, obscuring all view of what was behind. He had entered a great manor, one with winding branching halls between bushes and evergreens, large ballrooms closed in by mountains and ridges, and staircases into the upper floors made by the rocks and hills themselves. For columns, this great manor house had royal trees that rose up and closed the sky out with their tangled branches and vines.
The reports didn’t seem entirely wrong, though. The place was so closed in and winding that Liam was sure he would have soon been lost without Grandpa.
Grandpa led Liam around bushes, boulders, stumps, and almost invisible but deep patches of mud. Somehow, he found a path between them all. Lifting up a vine here to show a way to duck under the tangle or pointing out rocks to jump a small stream. Sometimes he’d stop and seem to listen, and then he’d point the way to go.
Liam realized his Grandfather must have been using more than memory to lead him. Even if he somehow had memorized the forest, that would have been at least four years ago, and since the animals would have made new paths, the plants would have sprung up in unexpected places, and rivers would have carved new paths. So even if Grandpa knew the direction they were going, he wouldn’t have been able to avoid all obstacles, thorns, and mud patches on just memory. But he did, leading them through the maze masterfully.
Grandpa sure wasn’t avoiding hills, though. Liam’s legs began to burn as they ascended and descended ridges in the thick mountain forest.
The lighthouse and cliffs stood at the roots of the mountains, but Grandpa was only leading them deeper and higher. The backpack sure wasn’t helping either. It felt impossibly heavy.
“What am I carrying?” Liam wheezed as he hiked up a deer path.
“Important equipment,” Grandpa responded in his usual, helpful way.
“Equipment for what?” Liam asked, stopping and leaning on a tree to catch his breath.
“For listening,” Grandpa said. “Listening is the first step in learning the Old Tongue. You must tune your senses to even notice the language being muttered all around you before you can begin to understand it,” Grandpa began to explain. Grandpa did that sometimes. He’d switch into lesson mode. His cadence would become more even, and he’d be a bit more patient... until he wasn’t.
After they stepped between two boulders, he continued. “Arwen was an excellent listener, the best I’ve ever met. She could open herself up to the entire world, and it would come tumbling in.
“Everything has a voice, but some things are quieter, and everything talks a little differently. A sword might mutter of the mountain it was mined in and its master who forged it. Whereas a raging forest fire might roar of its power. Generally speaking, the louder they talk, the less they listen.”
Grandpa stopped atop a ridge and let Liam catch up. “You keep that in mind.” He said, thumping Liam lightly with the staff.
Liam nodded and swallowed the saliva that was filling his throat from the heavy breathing. He was amazed by his grandfather’s ability to speak. Liam was barely able to gasp in enough air as they stumbled up and down the hills and ridges, let alone talk. Granted, Grandpa wasn’t wearing the huge backpack.
“Many people throughout the ages have used shortcuts to listen. Some will use blessed dice, look into crystals, smell incense, or find patterns in the way animal guts look after slaying them. These are all strategies to find the voice of the ancients, but they are impure arts.”
Liam had many questions now that his Grandfather was finally talking about the old tongue, but he was much too out of breath to ask them at the moment.
“Others who have learned the old tongue through the ages do not do it completely. They only know only one form of the old tongue. It’s easier that way. Maybe they are a Treespeaker, or Spiritspeaker, gaining narrow expertise. In fact, many have a skill for listening or commanding but don’t even know it. They just find that strangely, something listens to them, a hunter who can hear the location of their prey in the voices of the grass, a woman who can charm any mind with power behind her words, or a blacksmith whose metal bends and breaks at his cursing.
“But both these methods, listening through indirect means or only learning only one form of the old tongue, are shortcuts and will not be allowed you, Liam. If you wish to learn the Old Tongue, you can learn from people like that, but you must become more than them. You must learn to listen to the land directly and command all forms of things. That is the only way to become a true speaker.”
Liam turned over the thought. A true speaker? What would that entail? Would he be able to send storms away with a word, like grandpa? Would he be able to make fires burst up like he had with that stallion?
Liam was being wrenched out of his thoughts as he reached the top of the hill. He gasped at the site beyond. Grandpa’s words, the difficulty of the climb, and his own heavy breathing had distracted him from the sound of crashing water that should have prepared him for what he saw now.
Beneath them, the hill sloped steeply into a little hollow tucked between two mountain ridges.
At the end of the gorge was a huge waterfall. It rolled and tumbled over the stone, crashing onto the many sheer stone platforms before falling onto the rocks at its base. The water washed over the large stone beneath it and became a shallow but wide river that swirled over and around the large rocks and eventually disappeared into the trees.
The plants and trees clung to the boulders and rock faces around the river and waterfall, their roots cascading into the water and gripping onto the stone. Many of the plants there seemed healthier than the ones in the rest of the forest like spring had come here a little early here.
1. How well does Grandpa do at explaining the Old Tongue? Does it make sense to you?
2. Is the beginning drawn out?
3. Does the forest feel magical?
Part two of chapter nine: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=1...