Authors: Karin Rita Gastreich
Praise for Karin Rita Gastreich and Eolyn
“Gastreich allows her heroes to have flaws—including moments of cowardice—and some victories bring new sorrows. Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes will satisfy fans of traditional epic fantasy, with a romantic thread.”
“Ms. Gastreich's uncanny talent for truly creating a world her readers can become part of is a rare gift, and one she shares abundantly.”
–Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of
“A book to savor first at great length, and then revisit over and over again.”
–Lucy Crowe, author of
“Although rooted in traditional fantasy, Eolyn stretches and breaks the bounds in many ways, leading to a read that is fresh and unpredictable.”
–Shauna Roberts, author of
Like Mayflies in a Stream
“Gastreich's Eolyn focuses on the emotional, political, and physical conflicts between powerful and three-dimensional characters.”
–Carlyle Clark, author of
The Black Song Inside
“Humour leavens the story...but never becomes intrusive or undermines the strong threads of loss, duty, romance and revenge that permeate the book. And the action is often superb.”
–David Hunter, author of
A Road of Blood and Slaughter
The Kindle Book Review
Book One of The Silver Web
Karin Rita Gastreich
ORB WEAVER PRESS
Book One of The Silver Web
Copyright © 2011 by Karin Rita Gastreich
All rights reserved. This book, and any portions thereof, may not be reproduced without written permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotes embedded in critical articles and reviews.
Cover art © 2016 by Thomas Vandenberg
Cover design © 2016 by Thomas Vandenberg
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-0-9972320-0-4
First Edition 2011 by Hadley Rille Books
Second Edition 2016 by Orb Weaver Press
Kansas City, Missouri
For Suzanne and Rafael
The autumn morning dawned cold and crisp
, lacing dark pines and old oaks with the sharp smell of winter. Eolyn ran toward the forest
cheeks flushed in excitement. Tales of man-eating trolls, elusive Guendes, and witches who devoured children played through her mind. Somewhere in the vast interior of the South Woods, the creatures of legend were lurking. Perhaps today, she would find one.
Eolyn’s steps slowed as she reached the forest edge. Passing one hand over the bark of a gnarled beech, she directed her eyes toward the canopy, her natural enthusiasm tempered by the respect her mother, Kaie, had taught her. High overhead, a tangle of ebony branches spread, silhouetted against a bright sky.
Leaves rattled in the breeze.
A flash of ivory on the forest floor caught her eye.
Eolyn knelt and brushed aside the mottled leaf litter, exposing the plump, white fruits. As she gathered mushrooms, a spot of ruby betrayed the last berries on a thorny shrub. Bright green leaves of alomint peeked out from behind a fallen log. Eolyn ran from one simple treasure to the next, filling her tallow-wood basket with foods and medicines, imagining her mother’s voice reflected in the flow of a nearby stream.
“Come look at this one,” Kaie used to call, and Eolyn would run to see her mother pluck a delicate herb from the dark earth. “This will bring down a fever in winter time.”
The plant had a star-shaped flower and tiny, pointed leaves. It pricked Eolyn’s fingers as she crushed it to inhale the bitter essence.
“And these.” Kaie gathered several fresh mushrooms bearing the sharp aroma of soft cheese. “Will help fill our bellies tonight. A balm made from the leaves of this black nettle will heal an infection. But only use the black nettle, Eolyn. The white will kill you faster than you can sneeze.”
Every time they had visited the forest, Eolyn learned more from her mother, whose knowledge seemed without end.
“You must guard all of this in your heart,” Kaie had instructed. “It is Simple Magic and it will serve you well.”
“Magic?” Eolyn’s eyes had opened wide. She liked plants, but magic was dangerous. Last fall, a woman had burned for witchcraft in Moehn. Eolyn’s friend Dels had seen it. Dels said the first thing to catch fire on a witch was her hair, and the last thing to die was her heart. According to Dels, a burning witch smelled so bad even the rats ran away when the pyre was lit.
Her mother had sighed. “It’s not real magic, Eolyn. Not the kind they would burn you for at any rate. Still, it’s better you don’t talk about what you’ve learned back in the village, not even in our own home.”
“Because the walls whisper,” Kaie had replied. “They hear what is said and repeat it at inopportune moments.”
Eolyn’s mother paused and sat on a large smooth rock. She loosened the ribbons that bound her hair, letting it fall in copper rivers over her shoulders. Her eyes, the color of spring leaves, disconnected from her daughter. She rubbed her forehead as if to alleviate a tension that had settled on her brow. After a long silence, Kaie drew a deep breath and stood.
“It’s late.” She bound her hair and took Eolyn’s hand. “We should start back to the farm.”
“But Mama, you haven’t explained anything about Simple Magic!”
“Nor will I. Not today.”
Eolyn’s mother did not respond. Her gait had grown impatient, and Eolyn had to run to keep up. “Why are you angry, Mama? What have I done?”
Kaie stopped abruptly. She bent down and placed a tender hand upon Eolyn’s cheek.
“I’m not angry with you, my daughter,” she had said. “I’m angry at the silence imposed upon our lives.”
That was the first and last time Eolyn’s mother had mentioned Simple Magic. A few weeks later, Kaie had ventured alone into the South Woods. She returned with a sturdy walking stick almost twice Eolyn’s height and a worn leather purse secured to a wide belt.
Eolyn’s father had grown angry, and Kaie’s last nights on the farm were marked by bitter disputes between husband and wife. Yet the morning Kaie left, Papa had held her close, covering her face with kisses.
“Where is she going, Papa?” Eolyn had asked as her mother departed north.
Papa took Eolyn up in a solid embrace. Eolyn wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Your mother’s allies are dead,” he had said, “but her loyalties are not. We must pray to the Gods for her safe return.”
Eolyn had prayed, but the Gods proved slow in their response. Spring slipped into summer and summer faded to fall. Still Kaie did not return.
Saddened by the memory, Eolyn paused in her work. A frigid northern wind shook the trees. Frost had spread over the forest floor. The sudden chill felt unnatural, and Eolyn shivered.
Come, Eolyn. Look at this one
Startled, Eolyn dropped her basket, spilling berries and herbs. The voice had been real, Eolyn was certain. She looked around, but there was no one to be seen. “Mama?”
“I am here, Eolyn.”
Eolyn jumped at the sight of Kaie next to her, tall and pale as a moonlit tree. Mama’s eyes were opaque green and her hair fell unbound to her waist. Instinctively, Eolyn reached out to touch her. Kaie shimmered and vanished, only to appear a few paces away.
Eolyn stepped back in fear. “What’s happening?”
“Hush, my daughter. Listen to me. Find your brother. Tell him you must run. Tell him you must hide.”
Then Kaie vanished on a gust of wind.
Squirrels chattered in the distance. Eolyn heard feet pounding against the earth.
“Eolyn!” Ernan burst into the clearing where Eolyn stood. He stopped breathless and grasped Eolyn’s shoulders. “Where have you been? Why didn’t you answer when I called? I’ve been searching everywhere for you.”
Eolyn looked from him to where her mother stood a moment ago.
“Eolyn.” Ernan put his hand to his sister’s chin and forced her gaze to him. “How often do I have to tell you not to run off on your own?”
“I’m not on my own,” Eolyn said. “Not here.”
Ernan shook his head in exasperation. Five years her senior, Eolyn’s brother was a lanky boy with sharp features, red hair, and intense green eyes like their mother’s. Ever since Eolyn could remember, Ernan had been watching over her.
“I saw Mama.” Eolyn’s voice sounded very small. She wondered if her brother would believe her.
Ernan clenched his jaw. “You what?”
“I saw Mama, right here. Just a moment ago. She said we should run. She said we have to hide.”
Ernan’s hand closed tight around Eolyn’s. He straightened and sent his gaze like a lance toward their village. “Gods help us. They’ve found her.”
“Found who? Mama?”
Ernan flushed with anger. “Father was wrong to wait. We should have left a long time ago.”
“Where is she? Is she coming back?”
Without warning, Ernan took off toward the forest interior, dragging Eolyn behind him. They dodged trees and jumped over logs and stones. Twice Eolyn tripped. Her hands and knees stung as they scraped the earth, but Ernan did not ease his pace. They came to a small stream that cut through a narrow trench. Ernan pushed Eolyn into a hole in the bank, concealed by bushes.
“What is this place?” Eolyn said, overwhelmed by the smell of damp earth. “Ernan, what’s happening?”
Producing an oil lamp from the shadows, Ernan ignited a steady glow with some flint. “I’m going to get Papa. You stay here. Don’t make any noise and don’t come out—no matter what happens—until we return. Do you understand?”
“No! No I don’t understand because you haven’t told me anything.”
Ernan slipped out of the hideaway and covered the entrance behind him.
“Ernan, don’t leave me here!”
But Eolyn’s brother was already gone.
Darkness shrouded her, broken only by the flickering lamp. The air felt stale and heavy. Earthen walls crowded Eolyn’s shoulders, threatening to suffocate.
I’m not going to stay here. I’m going to follow Ernan and find Father.
Eolyn moved toward the entrance, but a tremor made her pause.
her mother whispered.
Eolyn pressed her hands against the dirt and lowered her ear to the ground. A thin thunder ran through the earth, rising like an obsidian wave toward her village. When Eolyn closed her eyes, the tremor sucked her in. Bloody visions roared and receded like wild fire fed by wind. Mounted soldiers swirled through acrid smoke. Friends crumpled under flashing swords. Peasants lay scattered upon the burgundy dust, their homes collapsing into crisp flames. Eolyn screamed, but no one heard her. She ran through choking smoke and stumbled upon her father. His limbs were twisted at odd angles. Life flowed out of his body in a crimson river that drained into the earth.
Eolyn’s eyes flew open. Nauseating emptiness ripped through her. She scurried backwards, knocking the lamp over and extinguishing its flame. Hugging her knees to her chest, Eolyn hid her face and wept. For the rest of that long day, and the torturous night that followed, she listened and saw no more.
When at last the morning light peered through the entrance to her hideaway, Eolyn’s limbs were cramped and stiff. The damp chill had penetrated her bones. She crept forward and peeked outside.
Mist hovered over the stream. On the opposite bank, a mottled brown rabbit searched through leaves for the last of the fall forage. Behind it, a pair of flame-throated warblers chirped in a small bush. Assured by the presence of these animals that no humans were about, Eolyn crawled out of the small cave and stood on shaky legs.
The moment she appeared, the animals melted into the forest, leaving a silence so deafening Eolyn covered her ears to shut it out.
Ernan should have returned by now
Their farm lay near the edge of the South Woods. It wouldn’t have taken him long to run there and back.
He would be here if he had survived.
Eolyn bit her tongue against the urge to call her brother’s name, fearful that any sound might bring mounted soldiers from behind the trees. She considered crawling back into the hole in hopes of capturing a vision that would reveal Ernan’s fate, but the thought of that dank shaft made her stomach churn.
I don’t need another vision. I saw what they did
Ernan would not have been spared.
Story tellers of Eolyn’s village had shared numerous tales of such raids. They said entire villages were destroyed by the King’s Riders for treachery and subversive magic. They said no one survived his wrath and nothing was ever left behind. But Eolyn had always thought such horrors happened in other provinces, in faraway places like Selkynsen or Selen, where rebellious subjects still clung to old ways. Her family lived in Moehn. Who among the peasant farmers of her home could have incurred the wrath of the King?
It is Simple Magic, Eolyn.
Her mother’s words returned like a serpent’s hiss.
And it will serve you well.
The ground lurched. Eolyn stumbled to her knees. Bile burned up through her throat and spilled onto the forest floor.
Was that it? Had Simple Magic condemned them all?
Sobs shook Eolyn’s body in an unbearable surge of loss and guilt. This was her fault. She had indulged in the treacherous and forbidden. She had learned the secrets of the plants.
The pale sun burned the mist off the ground and settled in the high branches long before Eolyn ran out of tears. Not until her sobs faded into exhaustion did the voices of the forest return in the rustling of dry leaves, the subtle murmur of the autumn wind, and the silver gurgle of the tiny stream.
Come look at this one, Eolyn
The girl started at the voice of her mother, close again and very real. Sniffling, Eolyn wiped the damp from her cheeks and drew herself to her feet.
“Mama?” She called as loud as she dared.
A fluid movement caught Eolyn’s eye, a subtle shift of light beyond the trees. Eolyn recognized the sway of her mother’s skirt, the sinuous confidence of Kaie’s flowing stride. The girl took a hesitant step forward.
The shadow responded by slipping toward the heart of the South Woods.