Volnun and the Deep Wood (Part One)

Volnun-427x489Behind Thread Slivers and Thread Strands, there is a complete history. With 15,000 years of history, there’s been time for heroes and legends unique to Niya-Yur to form. One of the fabulous legends of Niya-Yur is Damega’s flying ship the Emerald Heart. Was it real? Ticca seems to believe in it, and there is plenty of evidence, like the steel loop anchoring platform that is the fourth story of the Blue Dolphin Tavern. Where did Damega get this ship? Has there only been the one, or were there ever more than one? The combined legends around the Emerald Heart are too much to explain in a simple short story. Instead of telling the legend, I thought it would be more fun to explore it from the viewpoint of some of the people of Niya-Yur, in a mini-series.

Here is part one of a mini-series to introduce you to the origins of the Emerald Heart, Damega’s legendary flying ship.

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Volnun and the Deep Wood (Part One)
(A Volnun Messae short story, 3,358 words)

Volnun ran his rough, calloused hand through what little hair he still had. He sighed to himself. I need to trim it again. I wish I had gotten my hair from father’s side of the family. They all died of old age with full heads of hair. After tucking the strands behind his ears, his hand dropped to rest on the sword hilt as he considered, once again, shaving the remaining hair from his head. He knew he didn’t look bad; in fact, most considered him handsome. He stood three inches taller than most, at six foot five, which meant very few could see the ever-growing bald spot at the back of his head, hidden by the fact he kept his hair long and combed straight back. Thanks to the daily workouts and sword practice he was trim, looking more like a man in his mid-twenties than his true age of forty-six. Maybe I’m too proud, but I can’t imagine myself bald.

The market street, with its grey stone walkway, seemed to roll on forever. He didn’t bother to look behind him. He knew the rest of his patrol was swaggering along, bored as usual. Nothing ever happens here. I really need a change of pace.

As if the Gods had heard him, a messenger in the dark blue and silver of the Imperial service bolted out of a side street, skidding to a stop only a block away. The messenger was young, as they all were, perhaps sixteen, at most. She looked around anxiously, and her eyes landed on Volnun. She turned and ran straight at him.

The messenger stopped before him, saluting. “Milord, Captain Volnun, you are ordered to leave your patrol in the command of your partner and proceed to the Palace Magistrate’s office immediately.”

He gave her a simple salute back. “Understood. Thank you. You’re dismissed.”

With a quick parting salute, the girl spun and ran off in the opposite direction. Wonder how many messages she’s delivering.

He shrugged to Holeg, his longtime partner. “See you later tonight at the Trench?”

Holeg’s eyebrow lifted as he squinted back at him. “Do you really think it will take that long?”

He laughed. “The Magistrate’s office is clear across town. I’m sure the patrol will be finished by the time I get there, take care of whatever has their nettles up, and get back.”

Holeg and the other guards sniggered. “And if you walk slow enough. Go ahead; it isn’t like anything is happening here. And yes, I’ll see you at the Trench later.”

The trip across town was nice. Anything different was good. As he approached the Palace Magistrate’s building, he paused to appreciate the grand old building. It was a solid structure, three stories tall, in a light cream stone that wasn’t native to the area. The building was as old as the city, which made it well over ten thousand years old. According to local tradition, it had always been the seat for the city magistrates. The front steps climbed a full story, entering on the second floor. In the middle of the steps stood the statue of justice, a blind maiden holding a sword in one hand and a balance scale in the other.

He entered the building and approached the secretary for the office of the Palace Magistrate. The elderly man sat straight in his comfortable chair behind an enormous wooden desk stacked with papers and trinkets.

The secretary finished writing something before looking up. A wide, pleasant smile spread across his face as fast as lightning. The secretary stood. “Lord, thank you for coming. May I offer you some refreshment?”

It took a moment to register that the secretary was speaking to him. “I’m not a Lord. I was ordered to report. And I don’t drink on duty.”

The secretary’s smile froze before he bowed. “Of course. Then you don’t know. I will leave that to the magistrate to explain, then. Please, Milord, if you’d be so kind as to wait just a moment.”

The secretary dashed to the largest ornate office door. He knocked once and slipped inside without waiting for an answer.

Curiosity burned, so instead of sitting, Volnun perched himself on the edge of the desk closest to the door and concentrated on trying to hear what was being said. Whatever it was, the last order was clear to anyone within the building.

“Don’t leave him standing out there. I told you to introduce him. So get out there and let him in!”

The door swung open and the secretary nearly ran him over coming out as fast as he did. He quickly recovered. “Ah, Lord Volnun, please.”

Still confused, and not wanting to get in trouble when they realized they had the wrong person, he stepped into the office to stand at attention. The magistrate sat behind another wooden desk. He was bald on top with a beefy figure. He wasn’t sweating much and had the look of someone who worked to stay in reasonable shape.

The secretary announced him. “Sir Medyli Canthi, may I introduce the Most Honorable Marquis of Messae, Lord Volnun Messae.”

His heart started jumping around his chest as his stomach did a flip. Marquis of Messae! That is my Great Uncle’s title, and I’m not in line to inherit it. He tried to remember who in his family was. He hadn’t been in touch with the rest of the family since his parents died many years back. He kept meaning to write, but never got around to it. Oh, don’t lie to yourself; you know you don’t belong in those lofty circles. Standing around in a guard’s dress uniform with only a handful of ribbons is damned embarrassing, with all the naval officers and lords that are often around the family’s estates.

The Magistrate was already standing and bowed to him. “My Lord. I am pleased to meet you, although I am sorry over the circumstances. Please, sir, would you care to sit? It shall be my honor to attempt to be of service.”

This might be real. He settled into a chair shifting his sword around to be comfortable.

The Magistrate picked up a packet of papers. “My Lord. I regret to inform you of the death of your Great Uncle, The Marquis of Messae, his sons, his only grandson, as well as a number of servants, in a tragic encounter while hunting. Only the daughter of one servant survived, by running away and hiding. Otherwise, we would likely still not know of their deaths.”

“All of my uncle’s family is dead?”

The Magistrate nodded. “I’m sorry to inform you none of your blood relatives remain. Your cousins’ widows are not blood relatives, and may not inherit the title or the associated properties. The Marquis provided an allowance for them from the estate, as well as granting them their homes on the grounds for life. The Marquis also left a note asking his heir to allow the grants. We have searched the records and found that you and your son are the only surviving blood of your ancient family.”

It was too much to take in at once. Thoughts spun through his head. Lords and Ladies—me a Lord, and a Marquis, to boot? He remembered the estate, town, and surrounding forest his uncle owned. No, I own it all now. I recall it isn’t exactly a massive fortune, but a fortune, nonetheless.

The Magistrate sat, watching him. Volnun remembered a detail.

“Hunting? What the devil could kill an entire hunting party? The Skogen Huit Forest has some large predators, but nothing like that.”

The Magistrate shook his head. “We really don’t know, but the bodies were all recovered and buried a few months ago. It is my understanding, they were cut open very badly. No one knows what could have done it. It wasn’t brigands—all the coin and valuable gear was still there when the rescue party, led by the surviving girl, returned to the camp.”

The Magistrate opened a drawer and pulled out a velvet coin purse, handing it over. Volnun looked into it and gasped at the pile of silver in his hand. There must be at least a hundred silver crosses here. This is more than a year’s wages at my pay.

The Magistrate smiled. “My Lord, that is a gift from the Imperial Regent, who sends his deepest regrets on your loss. He hopes that will provide you and your family enough to make your way to your new home. He has reviewed a report on your character and has approved the transfer of title to you. As of last week, your family has assumed the blood line of the Marquis of Messae. I am instructed to offer you any support you may need to insure Messae will not suffer without its Marquis for too long.”

“Sir, I am unable to comprehend this news.”

He needed to be in motion. Standing, he started pacing as he thought through this event. I outrank everyone in this whole city. What will my wife say? He shook his head. She’ll say it’s about time I got something for all my hard work and honesty. I sure hope she doesn’t insist on bringing her sisters with us. Knowing it was hopeless to escape his sisters-in-law, he laughed. I may be a Marquis, but Susae is now a Marchioness. Some things will never change. But I do love her dearly. My son will have to be schooled better than I, in order to take control. I need help; I have no idea how to run an estate, let alone a township!

My partner has had some management training and I know five or six guards who are far down in line to inherit, but have had some schooling. I wonder if they’ll be upset if I take some guards with me.

He bounced the coins in his hand. The weight of the silver was real enough. Turning back to the Magistrate, he asked, “Sir, would it be out of line if I recruited some of my fellow guards to go with me?”

The Magistrate frowned, but recovered quickly. “How many?”

“Maybe ten. People I know and trust.”

The Magistrate looked relieved. “Ten would be no problem, my Lord. I could even assign them to you now, if you so desire.”

He shook his head. “Not yet. Let me talk to them first. If they all agree, their wives have to agree, too.”

“The reports about you were right. You will make a respected Marquis.”

“Maybe so. But once I get there, I want to know what killed my family. I liked them.”

It took the better part of a month to make all the arrangements. Twenty-three loaded covered wagons traveled the nearly four hundred miles to Messae, carrying fourteen families escorted by six guards overseen by a Dagger officer, Lorelei. The trip was noisy but pleasant, being late summer. And it was different from anything he had experienced, which made him smile the entire trip. Different was good.

As they came over a hill, Lorelei came riding back from scouting the road ahead. She smiled and gestured at the pleasant-looking stone town nestled in the center of a farming valley. “My Lord, welcome home.”

Holeg rode up next to his wagon and stood tall in his stirrups to take in the valley. Susae stood up and looked over the village, her eyes following the road up the hill behind the village, to the manor house-fortress that would be their family’s home from then, on. In the late afternoon sun, it looked beautiful. She sat down and sighed, leaning into Volnun’s shoulder. “You promised to take care of me, but I still can’t believe this.”

Just then, Honea came galloping into view with his friends all following behind. He was beaming. “Dad, can you see it? A real fort. We are going to live in a real fort!”

Volnun laughed. “Yes, I’ve been trying to get comfortable with the idea.” He pointed at Honea. “You remember what we’ve been telling you. You are not to be a little brat lordling. I expect you to act as Lorelei has been teaching you, at all times.”

Honea’s enthusiasm couldn’t be stifled—he laughed and waved his hand. “Dad, don’t worry. I’m sixteen! I’m the son of a guard captain. And I still want to be a Dagger one day! I know how to behave.”

Susae giggled into his arm. “Sounds like you when we met.”

“Yeah, that is what worries me. Shall we go see our home now?” The sparkle in Susae’s eyes was all the answer he needed.

Volnun glanced at Holeg and indicated the valley with his chin. Holeg smiled and nodded, a sparkle in his eyes too. As he started his wagon moving Holeg acknowledged the unvoiced orders with a quick salute and rode back to coordinate the other wagons.

The town folk were pleased to see him and truly welcomed the new Marquis family and all the other families that had come with them. In fact, the town was excited by having so many new families. Months turned into winter, which turned into spring.

The fort needed a lot of repairs, which they started on as soon as the weather improved. The fortune was not as vast as Volnun’s imagination had put it. As he, Holeg, and his son toured the farms, making sure everyone was okay and there was enough labor to deal with the town’s needs, he pondered the coin purse that bounced on his belt. It is odd to own so much, with more coin in my purse than ever in my life, and yet, still feel worried about earning enough coin to cover life’s needs. Is there ever enough coin?

Their path led to a farm on the edge of the valley, which was the last to be visited. Honea looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “Are you going to try talking to Mumidu again? She hasn’t wanted to talk about the attack all winter.”

“I’m hoping the sun, flowers, and time are enough to be able to get a clear story from her. I’d like to know what killed our family last year.”

As they came around the barn, a little pang of guilt hit him. Mumidu was standing between them and the field, holding something in a cloth bag. She was obviously waiting for him.

Take it easy. She was pretty traumatized. He put on what he hoped was as friendly a smile as he could, and rode up to her, nodding. “Hello, Mumidu. How is your day?”

The girl was seventeen. She had a clear complexion with a pretty pattern of freckles that ran from one cheek, over her nose, to the other. Her thick, curly, red hair was left loose. She looked up at them with her deep green eyes.

“Lord. You won’t give up, will you?”

He didn’t bother to try to claim he didn’t know what she was talking about. “No.”

“We need you, Lord, and we have grown to love you and yours this winter. I beg you to forget it and never delve into the deep wood.”

“Mumidu, I know you lost your brother and uncle that day, too. Don’t you want them avenged?”

She looked at the dirt. “If I tell you what I know, will you promise to consider not following your uncle’s path? Or, if you cannot do that, to at least leave us Honea?”

Honea had sat quietly up to that point. “I go where my father goes.”

Mumidu ignored him and stared into Volnun’s eyes.

I know I should drop it. But I at least need to know what happened. It might be a danger to the Empire or to Messae. “I promise to consider deeply every action. That is as much as I can offer.”

Mumidu’s face drooped, and she held up the cloth bag. “This holds some of the answers you seek.” She looked at Honea. “Honea, if your father goes, please don’t leave m…us.”

Her eyes implored Honea with an emotional depth Volnun found telling. Glancing at Honea, he saw his son was turning red under the young woman’s gaze. Oh, I see we have found an interest here. Well, she is a strong girl. In fact, she reminds me a bit of Susae. I wonder if they have been sneaking off together. He tried to recall if Honea had been sneaking around more than usual.

Glancing at Holeg he raised an eyebrow in question. Holeg gave a shallow shrug back combined with a small smirk. Well at least this new to Holeg too.

Taking the cloth sack, he saw it had flakes of hay on it and smelled of cedar wood. She had this hidden in a trunk in the barn all winter. She was hoping I’d drop it. I wonder why she didn’t destroy it.

“I’ll consider everything you have said.” Turning his horse back towards the fort, he asked, “Honea, are you going to come, or stay?”

Honea turned a brighter shade of red. “I’ll finish checking on Mumidu’s family and join you and Mom for dinner.”

Kicking their horses, Volnun and Holeg managed to keep from laughing until they were well out of ear shot. Yes, that is an interest, for sure. His thoughts turned to the bag he carried. Hurrying back to the fort, he waved Holeg off with a promise to tell him what he learned later.

Volnun took the bag to the library and lit some lamps. Opening it, he found it held a leather pouch with his family’s crest stitched into it. It also had a large black stain that covered most of it like a dark cloud. Blood—this has to be my uncle’s. I wonder how she came to have it.

Opening the pouch, he found several papers and a journal. The papers, some stained with blood, were a series of sketches of cliffs, some rough maps, and a lot of numbers. They weren’t hunting for game. They were hunting for a place. Towards the end of the journal, a folded piece of vellum was tucked inside. It was old; unfolding it, he saw it was part of a larger map. But what caught his eye was one word, handwritten—‘Sandeep.’

Dropping the paper like it was a viper he stood and stepped back, heart racing. Oh, Lords and Ladies, they were hunting for Sandeep! No one has ever survived a quest for Sandeep, except one, Damega. I should burn this now!

He grabbed a ceramic bowl filled with potpourri dumping the fragrant contents on a side table. Reaching for a match he paused. Flexing his fingers he made a fist and set the empty bowl down next to the map fragment. Turning his back on the map he closed his eyes. He whispered “Sandeep. Is it possible it’s on my lands?”

Pacing he pondered. It could have been the guardian of Sandeep that killed them? If that is the case, they were getting close. Sandeep is supposed to be somewhere in the center of Skogen Huit Forest.

He picked up the map fragment again, studying it. The piece of vellum was part of a map like no other he had seen. It was drawn with amazing precision. The writing on it was in a strange language. But there was a small turn of the coastline that looked familiar, like Hunter’s Cove. If that is the northern coastline, then it is a map of Skogen Huit. His eyes were drawn back to the word ‘Sandeep’ written next to a town or city marker at the end of a trail, deep in the forest, near where the border between Duianna and Laeusia was located. It looked like it was just inside his property. Legend also said it was protected by a powerful guardian that would destroy any who dared approach. As if the guardian wasn’t enough, the legends also said Sandeep was invisible to mortal eyes.

Just the thought of finding Sandeep, the legendary shipyards of the ancient races, where the sky ships had been built, sent thrilling shivers through his body. To follow in the steps of Damega, the creator of the Daggers… Damega had gone to Sandeep, returning with his flying ship, the Emerald Heart. With the Emerald Heart, Damega had explored the entire world. He had discovered ancient treasures and overcome wondrous creatures.

Damega proved it was possible to find Sandeep and slip past the guardian. There were many notes and his uncle’s journal to study. Is it worth my life? I am going to have to consider this far more than I expected. I’m not even sure I believe this. But, this is definitely something different, and anything different is good.

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  • Alex Bohomie

    This is a great start. In fact this is less a short story and more like the beginning of another novel. The only problem is that you haven’t continued it yet. I’m still waiting for the next installment.


  • Jan

    This does sound like the start of another novel. I would love to read more!

  • Leeland Artra

    It is officially a new novel

    Another friend called and said they wanted more than just another short. Once I get Thread Skein off to the editors I’m going to finish this story as a stand alone novel.

    I’ll still post the next part when I get it written. 🙂

  • Alex Bohomie

    Hurrah a new novel! Wait I have to wait? Well I guess that is okay, especially if you are going to post some more. Any idea on the real timeline here? Am I waiting a year or months?

    • Leeland Artra

      Um I hate giving timelines

      The third book will be off to the editors in November. So…well…um…another month or so to flush this out…I suppose I can promise another installment by mid December (this year).

      + Leeland