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Authors: Nicholas Anderson

The Silent Isle

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The Silent Isle

 

 
 
 

 

Nicholas
Anderson

 

 

 

 

Text copyright © 2014 Nicholas J Anderson

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

To Sarah, my wife and my muse,

without
whom the
battle for Haven would have never been waged, let alone won.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There
are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio
,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
-
Hamlet
(1.5.166-7)

 

Prologue:
The
Watcher

Silas Larder was a looker. 

Or so he
reminded his wife whenever there were younger women around.  This always
drew a laugh from Suze, and that's all he ever intended by it.  “You may
have the best set of eyes in the country, dear,” she’d say.  “But they’d
have to be blind for you to have a sporting chance.”

But, in all
seriousness, Silas Larder was the greatest looker on the whole island of Haven
– and perhaps of all the hundreds who lived within the holdings of House
Hallander.  He had a body like any other sixty-five-year-old who had
served his time as a retainer in the hall of Lord Arvis's father, in a day when
House Hallander was more synonymous with feasting than fighting.  His hair
was getting thinner and his waist wider but he still had the sharpest eyes in
the mining colony.  He credited the preservation of his vision to his 45
years of marriage to Suze; “On account of her being so easy on the eyes.”

Being such a
looker came with its privileges.  Silas had always said he’d seen Suze
coming long before any of the other boys had.  Almost, he’d add, before
she’d noticed him.  He had been the first to spot this island, previously
unknown to his people, after their ship had been blown off course on a trip to
the tributary island of Tira.  Wrapped as it was in mist, the island
seemed more like a cloud floating on the surface of the water; but Silas' eyes
had not deceived him.  Lord Arvis had let him choose his reward.  He
had chosen to be among the first settlers sent to Haven. 

But being the
looker he was also came with responsibilities.  Thus he was standing on the
rampart of the palisade that hemmed in his village in the predawn drizzle,
looking out into the forest which engulfed this tamed little patch of the
island.  Behind and beneath him were the 124 souls, well, 122 now, of the
Hallander mining colony; most of them still sleeping soundly. 

Before him the
trees climbed the steep slopes of the hills.  When he stood still, Silas
could just hear the babbling of the creek that slipped down the hill and past
their village on its way to the harbor where their ships slept at anchor. 
But Silas was not looking at the hills or towards the creek.  A spot
beneath the darkened boughs of the pines about two hundred yards away held his
attention.  He had been watching this spot since he had first noticed the
movement there a quarter of an hour ago. 

Any other sentry
would have written the movement off as just one of the myriad shadows that
squatted and shifted beneath the branches with the breaking of day or a ragged
bit of mist drifting between the trees.

But Silas was not
any other sentry.  And this did not feel like any other day.
 Something seemed missing from it.  And Silas had noticed two things
about the object of his focus.  Unlike the shadows, he had watched it move
from tree to tree.  And once or twice, unlike the mist, he was sure he had
seen it move against the breeze.  At times, Silas even fancied the thing
was stalking its way towards him, moving sometimes side to side and sometimes
forward but never backward and always staying behind the trees. 

He was not sure
it was a man.  It may only have been an animal.  Most of the time,
the sign was so faint Silas was sure he was only letting his imagination run
away with him.  Had circumstances been different, that is to say, normal,
Silas likely would have taken no notice of it at all.  But things had
changed with the return of the boy.

Four days ago,
two of the miners had set off with the goal of exploring more of the island, in
particular, looking for more ore deposits.  A boy had gone with them, the
nephew of one of the men.  A boy could crawl into holes in the hillsides
the men could not and bring back word on whether there was ore within to
warrant the men turning the crawlspace into a mine shaft.  Thus it was not
uncommon for the explorer parties to take youths with them.   
But nothing about that trip had been common. 

Three days ago,
the boy had returned, stumbling out of the forest at dusk like a
sleepwalker.  He was alone.  He had not said a word since then; had
not even nodded or shaken his head in response to the many questions the adults
had brought down on him.  Even when the other children tried talking to
him he just stared right through them.

In the boy's
silence, everyone else had begun to talk.  There were three main theories,
all of which were plausible, but all of which, in the three long nights he'd
spent on the walls, Silas had begun to whittle down with the keen blade of
reason.  The first suggested the men had gone into a shaft, left the boy
outside, and had been trapped by a cave-in.  Men had instantly been
dispatched to all the known mines and followed them to their roots, but they
were all in good order.

Silas had
doubted this theory even before the searchers had returned.  The boy was
dirty, but not in the way one gets dirty going down the shafts; he did not look
like he'd been anywhere near a cave-in.  Silas doubted the trio had ever
made it to the mines. 

The second
theory alleged a hostile party, a group from one of the other houses, had
landed on the island and encountered the trio and only the boy had
escaped.  Of all the explanations, this one caused the colony the most
concern and was probably the main reason Silas was up on the wall.  It was
to escape the bloody house wars of the mainland that Silas and his fellow
settlers had come to Haven. 

Tal Harting,
Captain Stearn's second-in-command, had assembled a crew and circled the island
in the colony's swiftest ship, searching for signs of a landing.  He'd
returned at dusk last night.  He had seen nothing to signal other human
presence on the island. 

But Silas had
had his doubts about the invasion theory from the beginning.  He doubted
any of the other houses even knew of the island's existence.  Its
discovery by House Hallander had been an accident, after all.  And now it
was the House’s best kept secret.  The ships that ferried the precious ore
to the Hallander home port entered and left the port at night so as to hide
their coming and going.  The island, a recent addition to Hallander maps,
was marked only by a breaching whale, a symbol which would seem only a
decorative flourish should the map fall into unfriendly hands.  Thus,
Silas wasn't really worried about another house discovering the island and
wresting it from the Hallanders any time soon.  Haven’s safety lay in its
secrecy.

It was the third
theory, the one which certain people talked the most about, but always in
whispers and never in front of the
boy, that
really
bothered Silas.  It said the two men had done something shameful to the
boy.  Some people posited the men must have intended to kill the boy
afterward and stage a cave-in to cover up the whole thing, but the boy had
escaped them and they were now in hiding, fearing the consequences of his
testimony.

Though he had no
children of his own, the thought of men doing such a thing to any child brought
Silas’s blood to a boil.  He had personally volunteered to lead a search
party, even though most of the men in the barracks were half his age. 
Wallace Stearn, the captain of the garrison and the highest authority on Haven,
had refused.  He didn't want his men scattered over the island with the
chance there was a hostile presence onshore.  He barred any further action
until the boy said something. 

So far, the boy
had said nothing.  He just sat in front of the hearth in the blanket Suze
had wrapped around him and shivered like a wet dog. 

But Wallace had
had another job for Silas.  And so, each night since then, when he should
have been keeping Suze warm in bed, he’d mounted the wall to watch and to
wait. 

In his hours on
the wall, Silas had begun to doubt even the final theory.  
A doubt that brought relief in one sense but brought also the
nagging need for a new explanation.
 

The boy had come
out of the forest like one in a trance, in no condition to have escaped from
two grown men.  And one of those men was the boy's uncle, for crying out
loud. 

And so Silas had
taken the theories in hand and whittled them down until there was nothing left
to hold onto.  He had no answers, just a gnawing conviction they did not
understand this island as well as they thought they did.

Silas stamped
his feet and rolled his shoulders to shake off a sudden chill.  He had
lost sight of what he’d been trying to watch.  He figured this might be a
good time to get a second opinion.

He turned and
glanced about the courtyard.  A girl of five or six was pulling a smaller
girl about the open area in a dogcart.  He recognized them as Nat Aldine’s
daughters, Nelly and Chloe if he remembered rightly.  He smiled at their
laughter.  The only other person outside was Biggs Walker, the garrison’s
cook, bending over his pot of porridge.  Biggs may have had a fine nose
but he also had about the worst eyes in the colony.  Even Ben Cross, the
colony's oldest member and revered storyteller, could see
better
than Biggs.  Silas imagined Biggs on the wall beside him, squinting
myopically into the fog, scrunching up his face as if he wanted to squeeze his
eyeballs right out of it, while Silas tried to describe to him what he was
supposed to be looking for.  In the end Biggs would only shrug and shuffle
off and Silas would have sounded like a fool, as though three sleepless nights
had taken him to the edge of sanity.  Better he leave poor Biggs
alone.  And Silas certainly didn’t mind being alone.  He enjoyed the
silence. 

The silence.
 

In that instant
Silas realized what made this morning different from the others he had stood
watch and every other morning before them.  The songbirds weren't
singing.  The forest surrounding the settlement was utterly silent.

He spun back
towards the trees, and as he did there was a blur of black motion at the foot
of the wall beneath him which seemed suddenly to fill his whole field of
vision.  Something struck him in the mouth with such force he was knocked
to his back.

He tried to
scream, but his mouth was full of something thick and warm with the taste of
copper.  But his eyes were open and he could see clearly the figure that
towered over him, and he knew then, impossible though it was, his eyes had not
deceived him.  But he wished by Kran and Shammath and all the lesser
deities of the pantheon that they had.

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