Part two of chapter ten: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/MaybeAndr...
The Fallen King
Liam, a fifteen-year-old boy who is now one of the three leaders of a small town has begun training under his Grandfather. He is being taught the Old Tongue, an ancient language of magical power.
Liam sighed as he walked down to the village. “Just you and me again, buddy,” Liam said to his torch. He had grown used to not lugging around Astrum. Grandpa said it was too loud, it would distract Liam. Well, he’d need its light on a walk down to the village, especially one on a cloudy day.
“He’s much more demanding now, isn’t he?” Liam said to the torch. After finishing swimming, Grandpa gave him a letter to deliver to the owner of the tavern in town and told him to ask Hugh to find someone to start giving him singing lessons. He said pitch might help his pronunciation. Liam didn’t like the idea of just marching into the Keep and telling Hugh to do something, but Grandpa was insistent. “And doesn’t even tell me why I am doing half of this stuff.”
The torch crackled.
“Yeah, I know, it is fun.” Liam grumbled, “But he can’t know that.”
He was happier than he had been since his father had been struck… maybe since his sister had died. He didn’t like admitting it to himself. But it was true. He liked staying busy. He had never liked chores, but he liked this. And unlike all of his previous training as Keeper, this felt like it was going somewhere. This felt like maybe he could change things for himself, his friends, and Lownire.
By the time Liam reached the village, it was raining. Slightly, but enough to make the torch hiss and sizzle. Seeing the torch flicker made him a bit nervous, making him think back on the encounter he’d had with the Stallion, so he was glad to slip inside the city wall.
Walking down small streets and past the children splashing in puddles, he arrived at the Shooting Star Inn. Directly next to the East Gate, it was the only Inn the town had. Not many outsiders or travelers visited Lownire. Travel was dangerous. Travel meant nights outside of the city walls and with campfires as the only things to fend off the Darkness. But sometimes merchants, or more likely, refugees, would make their way to Lownire. In many ways, the upper rooms of the tavern were more of a symbol than something that was often used. They said that though Lownires walls were high and its gates strong, you could be welcomed in and escape the Darkness.
Owned by the Vilhan’s for centuries, the Shooting Star Inn might have been the oldest building in town. It was beautiful, two stories tall, and built out of wood that had grown in the King’s Forest before it had been Corrupted. Some said it had been here when the Old One had established the town. Though Liam didn’t know if that was true, he could tell something was different about the building. It seemed more… talkative than the others. It was like it had a thousand stories and secrets to tell him if he could just make everything else quiet.
Outside were men on the large tables drinking and talking under the porch roof, keeping near the warmth of each other and the outdoor hearth. Liam stepped past them and to the large front doors that were hanging open.
He stopped and looked at the door frame, old, wooden, and with almost unnoticeable carvings. They were the name of safety and comfort in the King’s Speech, an old tradition.
Suddenly, he could almost hear them. Almost like they were muttering something, like the little symbols were slowly turning and speaking, and the old wood was groaning under the large building.
He stepped forward and placed a hand on it, hoping maybe he could feel it if he couldn’t hear it. But then, someone laughed loudly, and it broke. It was just a door frame again and nothing more.
Is that what learning the Old Tongue was doing to him? Liam smiled as he stepped through the door. He was definitely getting better, hearing Ancients without even trying.
The inside was nearly as lively as the out, with maids rushing this way and that, holding drinks and orders.
Liam looked around for the owner. Molly Vilhan was a forceful woman and quite tall, so she was hard to miss. She was currently speaking to a group of men in the corner. A tray tucked under one arm.
"Ms. Molly!" Liam called out.
She laughed loudly at something one of the men had said and then made a little, 'I'll be back in a moment' sign to them and stepped away.
"Liam, what can I do for you?" She asked. Most who didn't have a personal relation called him Keeper Liam, but she was a curt woman and had little respect for typical conventions of honor - she was too practical for that type of thing.
“My grandfather just wanted me to deliver this letter to you.” He said, passing the folded piece of parchment to her.
She took it with a raised eyebrow. “Your Grandpa. The one who doesn’t talk?”
Liam smiled, “Er, well yeah. He talks now. It’s complicated.” Liam enjoyed the confusion on her face. “He probably explains in the letter.”
Liam stood there awkwardly for a moment, and Molly looked at him questioningly. “Anything else?”
“He wants you to read the letter now,” Liam said quickly.
She slowly ripped the paper open and unfolded it. Her eyes scanned down the page, and she chuckled. “The old donkey,” She muttered. Rather rude of her. She used the King’s Speech word for donkey. Thereby intoning that she actually wished to turn him into a donkey.
“Wait here, grab a roll or something if you want. I’ll get the books.” Molly said as she walked away.
Liam didn't know what books she was referring to but grabbed a quick buttered roll nonetheless. Soon she was back with four thick old books tied together in twine.
"There you go, the books your Grandpa requested. Be careful with them." She handed them to Liam, who gasped as he felt their weight. He never knew paper could be so heavy.
Each of their spines was so worn away that he could barely read the titles, but they were written in the King's Speech. They must have been written before the shattering of the kingdom.
Books weren't the largest oddity in the town, every woman knew how to read, and most taught their children. So many houses had a book or two. But books from before the coming of The Beast were a treasure only a few had.
Liam read the title of the top book. "Out of the Mouth of Calcifer; names of fire spirits and their related family members."
"Real fun read, hope you enjoy it. Those books haven't been touched in ages." Molly said as she walked away.
As Liam carried the books across town, he covered them with his cloak, hoping to keep them from getting too wet from the sprinkling rain. Squelching over the green and towards the Keep, he braced himself as he arrived at the door. If there was the choir inside again, this time, he’d be ready for it.
He pushed on in and found the space nearly empty. A few people scattered about on the pews, reading or thinking. At the end of the Keep, next to the well, was Elizabeth, Hughes’ wife. Formerly Elizabeth Eskildsen, but Keepers don’t have family names. Liam didn’t know where the tradition had started, but his family hadn’t had a surname for as long as he could remember, so the idea of having one seemed strange to him.
Elizabeth's formal title was Women of the Well; she, as the closest female relation to the Keeper of the Well, had the responsibility of taking care of the flowers that made the Offerings crown.
She also happened to be the single human being that scared Liam the most.
Liam swallowed. He had prepared for possibly seeing the whole choir, but Elizabeth was even worse. She was not exactly the woman one would expect to be married to soft-spoken, sometimes goofy Hugh. Scholarly, intelligent, witty, piercingly insightful, and just a tad judgmental.
It also didn’t make her any less scary that she was the mother of Gwendoline. That part of his fear for her was almost instinctual.
Liam steeled himself and approached the well, heart pounding. She was tending to the plants with a small basket of what looked, and as he got closer, smelled, like manure.
She picked a flower and tucked it away in a small bag. The flowers, as well as being used for the crown, had medicinal benefits.
Liam stopped near her, but she didn’t seem to notice him.
“Have you ever wondered why we don’t water all plants with pure Lastrios, Keeper Liam?” She asked, not looking up.
Liam swallowed, though his mouth was rather dry. “Yes ma’am. I umm, I guess I wonder about that.”
She picked a flower and studied it. “Do you know what would happen if you drank a cup of pure Lastrios today?” She asked.
“You’d die,” She said. Liam knew it was irrational, but to him it almost seemed like a threat. “Your body wouldn’t be prepared for it. Because you have a little darkness in you, some that would be almost impossible to remove in one go without destroying you.”
She looked up at him. “If I want to water a plant on Lastrios, I must start with very small amounts, and the next day I must do a little more, and the next day a little more, until I’ve worked out all the Darkness contained in it, and then it can start watering it with only Lastrios.”
With her hand that wasn’t holding the flower she took a bit of manure and dropped it in the well. It instantly broke apart, bubbles coming up around it, like the water was boiling. “If I didn't, the water would destroy the plant. You saw what happened to my son when Lastrios was poured on him. It hurt. Because the Darkness gets itself intertwined with us. That’s why every year we need to send off an Offering to take the Darkness with them. Even if we haven’t been fully corrupted, we always have a little bit of it in us, and so we must give it to the Offering, so it doesn't overwhelm us.”
Elizabeth placed the flower in her little bag.
Liam smiled awkwardly and cleared his throat.
“My grandpa sent me to get some books, and he said he wanted me to be taking singing lessons here,” He said quickly, to get it all out.
“Singing lessons?” Elizabeth asked.
“He said learning to control my voice could help me speak the Old Tongue.” Liam said, hoping Elizabeth knew what the Old Tongue was.
She stood up quickly. “Yes, Hugh mentioned he’s teaching you the old ways, now. Well, the girls would be much ahead of you, so you couldn’t train with them now.”
Liam let out an internal sigh of relief, he was scared he’d end up with all of the girls training in the Keep.
“But Gwendoline does need more practice teaching. Go downstairs, she should be studying in the crypt. Probably reading more of those silly folk prayers. Find her and tell her the days you need to be taking lessons.”
Liam spluttered for a moment and clarified she meant Gwendoline, her daughter. Elizabeth seemed vaguely annoyed he had to check, since she was the only Gwendoline in Lownire, and Liam was soon dismissed.
He fled down the narrow and steep staircase into the crypt beneath the building.
Cold in the summer, warm in the winter, dry, and more protected than anywhere in town, the Crypt was where the most valuable possessions of Lownire were kept - the books.
There were shelves upon shelves upon shelves of them. There were even shelves carved into the large stone columns.
The warm red-orange light of thousands of candles flickered upon the spines of the leather-bound tomes. Most were written in the modern tongue, but the older, more worn books had titles in the King's Speech and scattered here, and there were books written in languages Liam didn't recognize.
As if to mirror the town, the high shelves and roads between them gave way to a clear circular space in the middle of the library - and just like the Keep occupied the center of the green, a stone pedestal sat in the middle of this clear space. Made of the same darker gray rock as the two death stones, the pedestal was about half as tall as Liam. It seemed older than the Keep, as if the regal marble structure had been built around the pedestal.
Four beams of sunlight came from slits in the ceiling and spotlighted the pedestal. Liam's eyes were instantly drawn to it. Tracing the interconnected three spirals along the side with his gaze, he stepped forward. It dripped with the whisperings of times past. Its voice sounded like the smell of the forest or crackles of thunder, older and more powerful than man. Suddenly, a defined word came out of those whisperings.
But it didn’t say, Liam. It said his real name. Yes, Liam was what everyone called him, and it was a good enough title, but the stone knew better. It knew his real name. It knew the title that was him. In one word, it said everything he had ever been, everything he was, and everything he’d ever be.
Liam blinked hard. He couldn’t have imagined it. The word had been more real than the feeling of the books in his hand, more real than every memory of his childhood, more real than even the words Grandpa spoke.
He approached the pedestal, hoping to hear the word again in the whispering. He wanted to be able to feel the fine contours of that name and understand everything it entailed, but its sound and meaning were already slipping away from him. Why had it said his name? How had it known when even he didn’t?
He arrived next to the pedestal and studied it. Along each side were those three spirals. They were the same three conjoined spirals that the Old One had placed on the two stones of death. Three spirals joined, and all spun around each other. About three-quarters of the way to the top of the square pedestal was an indent carved into the stone.
On the top of the pedestal was a word written in runic. Much too complex for Liam to read, but he stared at it anyway. What was supposed to be placed on the pedestal's top?
Liam felt along the indent carved in the top. It was a crack, not just an indent, it went all the way through.
It wasn't just a pedestal. It was a box. The pedestal was closed. A top had been placed on it. The voice came from inside.
"So you heard it?" A light voice said.
Liam jumped and whirled around to see Gwen, a book clutched in one hand. She raised an eyebrow. "Its voice? Said your name?"
“You heard it, too?” Liam asked in surprise.
“Just now? Oh, no. You can only hear it when it’s talking to you. The Book of Secrets knows everyone’s names. I heard it a couple of months ago while listening to the last fading echoes of a song I’d been singing. Everyone hears it eventually, just normally it takes a lot of time. But you heard it the moment you walked in. Strange.”
“Book of Secrets?”
“Locked up inside that stone is a book, written by the Old One himself. All other records we have of the Old One’s words were recorded by Loremasters writing down oral tradition, but this one was written by his own hand. It’s forbidden to be read until the correct time comes - until we are ready.”
Liam felt along the stone to the spirals. It was cold but almost seemed to be pulsating. It almost felt like it had a heartbeat of its own.
“How do we know when we’re ready?”
“That’s up to the Keepers. If they decide it’s needed, they can -” She cut off abruptly. “Shouldn’t you know this? You’re a Keeper!” Gwen said, exasperated
“There’s a lot of things I don’t know about being a Keeper, and I guess nobody got around to telling me this bit. So how would we open it?”
Gwen sighed. “Liam, you’re a man of many questions. I could sing you one of the songs about the Book of Secrets if that would help. But according to legend, all three Lownire blades would need to be pressed against the side of the box to unseal it.”
“What’s the book about?” Liam asked.
Gwen glared at him, “Well, if we knew, it wouldn’t be a very effective book of secrets, would it? No one knows. That’s the point, rock-head.”
Liam stared at it for a moment longer, ignoring Gwen’s insults. He could still feel the whispering in there, they weren’t talking to him anymore, but it was still speaking the Old Tongue.
“Whatcha down here for, anyway?” Gwen asked.
Liam tore his eyes from the pedestal and smiled sheepishly. He explained that he would need to start taking singing lessons. This was made difficult to do because Gwen started laughing until his face was bright red.
“Singing lessons, for you? Are you sure? I mean, I’d love to, not least of all because I’d get to hear that voice you’ve been hiding from all of us all this time, but the idea of you singing is as impossible as….” She paused, searching for the word.
“As my Grandpa beginning to talk again?” Liam suggested.
Gwen laughed. It was a nice sound, like bells tinkling together. “Yeah, that works. Guess we may as well get started now. I was getting bored of memorizing The Three Ravens, anyway.”
“Now?” Liam asked.
“No, when I said now, I meant next week. C’mon, this part of the crypt has terrible acoustics.” She grabbed his arm and started pulling the reluctant young man past studying girls or loremasters and over to a corner. “Over here should be better.”
She deposited him in a chair in the corner of the library. “Good, now sing for me.”
“Sing? In the library?”
“Yeah, I do it all the time. Any song will do. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I just need to see where you are.”
Liam blushed. “Umm, I don’t know any,” he lied.
“Liam, if you don’t sing for me, it’s going to be very difficult to give you singing lessons. You have to know one song, something your father whistled or something.”
Liam nodded, "Okay, okay."
"Man, I didn't know you were like one of those color-changing octopuses. That's a beautiful shade of red."
"Shut up," He cleared his throat and began to sing.
And Gwen soon learned why Liam had been hiding his voice all that time.
After a long and excruciating hour, full of off notes and wincing, Liam was glad it was time for him to head home. He picked up his books, thanked Gwen, and then the two weaved through many bookshelves, coming out in the clearing again.
Liam stopped and looked at the pedestal, immediately losing track of what Gwen had been saying about what he should do between lessons.
Someday he would be able to say words like the pedestal had. He understood why the stones and rivers would listen to him if the words he spoke were as real and pure as the one he had heard. He would follow any command if it was spoken to him like that.
“Maybe it’s a book of names,” He said thoughtfully.
Gwen paused and pursed her lips. “What do you mean?”
"Maybe, The Book of Secrets is a list of names in the Old Tongue. My grandpa said that if you know something's true name, you have power over it. You can command it or even change it." Liam lifted up the books he was holding, "Right here, I have a book of fire ancient's names. If I memorize these, I should be able to summon fire spirits to do my bidding. What if the Old One knew names of things - powerful things that the rest of us don't remember? What if the Book of Secrets contains names that we just can't know yet?"
Gwen studied his face. "Maybe," She finally said, "But the names of what?"
Liam shrugged. "I don't know, but that's probably why, right? They are things only he knows about, ancient and deeply slumbering beings of power. What about the creatures from Arwen's stories? They have to be out there, somewhere."
1. Is the amount of old stuff (the keep, the keepers, the walls, the old tongue, the pedestal) getting a little excessive?
2. What do you think of Liam's guess of what's in the book? Any guesses yourself
3. Overall, if you've read up until this point, what do you think of Liam's trajectory? Does it feel like its stagnating, or still moving?