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Fourteen-year-old Curron is an outcast working as a stable boy in a secluded fort.  Haunted by the unjust death of his guardian, cursed as a burden, and beaten into submission, Curron’s secret faith in Anahdor, a deity outlawed by the king, is tested when he is thrown in prison and sentenced to death.  Despairing, Curron believes things couldn’t possibly get worse – until the fort commander’s long-absent brother, Caellahn, breaks in to rescue him.

Now wanted criminals, Curron and Caellahn are forced to flee for their lives, but when Curron starts to hear music that no one else can hear, their situation worsens.  Could the music be coming from the mythical Daystar, a stone said to possess a small portion of Anahdor’s power?  Legend says only the Song Keeper can hear the music and wield the power of the stone, bringing restoration to the Believers of Alayia.  However, Curron’s faith is already stretched thin and with all the dangers rising up around him, the last thing Curron wants to do is declare himself the Song Keeper.  Besides, what can a 14-year-old boy do against the mighty word of a king?


Song of the Daystar

By Nichole J. White

“…Ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the Day Star arise in your hearts.”

2 Peter 1:19

“[May] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

Ephesians 1:17

Chapter 1

Word of the Past

"What are you doing, horse boy?!  Grab something and get out there!"  Martin shoved a tray into Curron's empty hands, pushing him towards the door.  "Take that around once," he instructed, "And don't you dare spill a drop, or I'll have your hide for it.”  With that, the giant cook swept Curron into the crowded room.

                        Regaining his balance, Curron picked his way through the mess of milling bodies.  "Excuse me... excuse me please..."  He was careful not to step on anyone's feet.  Greasy fog and wood smoke infused the air.  Someone rushed by, jostling his tray of pewter mugs.  They clinked together as he struggled to right himself before any could topple to the floor.  Sneers sounded behind him followed by dark chuckles.  He bit his cheek to hide a retort and continued on without looking behind. 
Ignore them.  They're drunk... all of them.  Just pretend you're invisible and everything will be fine.  
                        Olan’s voice boomed across the room.  "Hey, ale boy!  Bring us another round.”
                        Curron glanced about, hoping the commander was calling someone else… anyone else.  But he was the only serving boy in the room, and all the girls were busy.
                        "Do you have ears and want to keep them?”  Olan’s scowl was so deep that it looked like his eyebrows might drop over his eyes.  “Then stop glancing about like a dratted idiot and get over here with that tray.  Now!"
                        Curron swallowed hard.  He started walking, squeezing between benches and tables.  "I'm not an ale boy," he grumbled, but it would do no good to remind Olan of that fact unless he wanted another beating.  Curron didn’t know why the man scorned him so.  He’d been a faithful servant, even after Selliah died, and he tried not to complain, though his contempt for the commander grew more severe each passing day.
                        He sighed.
So much for being invisible. 
The large mess-hall was uncommonly full.  The arrival of Olan's younger brother had brought with it considerable commotion.  Caellahn hadn’t been seen or heard from in years, and now he and Olan sat at the large table in the front of the room, talking as if they’d never been a day apart.  All around him, Curron heard the whispers: Olan had thought Caellahn dead, but now it seemed he was alive again, and so different from the way he used to be that rumor had it he’d fallen in with a band of magicians who’d trained him in strange arts.  “It is his eyes,” the men said.  “His eyes are the trick; they can bind you with one glance.  Beware them, if ever you get too close to him; never look him in the eyes.”  But too much curiosity had accumulated over the man’s long absence, and most people wanted to see his change for themselves.  The kitchen staff was quickly overwhelmed.  Extra help had been pulled from all over the fortress... and stable boys were not exempt.
Traversing the last few steps with care, Curron set one mug in front of each man.  Caellahn reached for his, his pale blue eyes locked on Curron’s face.  Unruly ginger hair flip-flopped beneath his very wide-brimmed hat, and the colorful patches of his clothes flickered between mud-colored and brilliant in the shifting firelight.  He smiled.  Curron turned his head away. 
  “Can I get you anything else?” he asked.  The words felt funny to him.  Stable boys didn’t ask such questions: they cared only for the horses and livestock, and squires worried about what else their masters needed.  It wasn’t his business to be here.  He wished he could hide in a horse stall.
Olan picked up his glass, squinting suspiciously into the amber liquid and then up at Curron.  “You didn’t slip anything in this, did you boy?”
“N-no sir.  I would never…”
“Hmm.  Then you won’t mind the first sip, will ye?  Just to make sure.”
“But sir, I…”
Olan lifted the mug, pushing it towards Curron.  “Take it.  And a good long draught, you hear?  If you don’t die writhing on the floor, I’ll know you’re not lying.  And if you do die… well, I can’t say as I’ll be sorry for it, trouble that you are.”
Curron gritted his teeth to hold back a foul comment and looked at the floor.  Dont meet his eyes…
His fist clenched as he imagined the sound of a breaking nose.  But he would not fall to Olan’s level.  Being a servant was better than a despot.
Caellahn leaned across the table.  “Olan, don’t you think that’s going just a little bit…”
                        But Olan raised a hand to stop his brother’s words.  “He’ll do what he’s told or get whipped for disobedience.  Besides, ‘twill make a man o’ him.  A real man.  And perhaps wipe all that woman-sense from his head.”  His eyes raked over Curron’s slight frame and he thrust the mug into Curron’s chest, splashing drops of ale down the front of his tunic.  “Now, boy!  Take it, or I’ll drag you to the post.  You remember that well enough, don’t you?”
With shaking hands, Curron set his tray down on the table and took the mug.  Slowly he lifted it to his lips.  The drink smelled sour and looked like frothy piss.
He took a measured sip.
Ugh!  It didn’t taste much better! 
He banged the mug back on the table, hands flying to his mouth.  The foul liquid swilled in his cheeks.  His stomach churned, threatening to spray its contents all over the commander and everything within a five foot range.
“And swallow.”  Olan’s smile looked like a snarling dog’s.
Curron squeezed his eyes shut and forced the evil drink down.  His head ached and the room swam in his vision.  His legs felt like pudding.  The foul taste in his mouth would not go away.  If this is what getting drunk feels like, then who could ever want to do it night after night after night?  I swear, I’ll never drink ale again!  It took a few moments for his head to clear enough for him to see straight.  Even then, the bad taste lingered.
Olan was laughing.  “There you go!  Not bad for your first shot.  Don’t you think so, Caellahn?”
Caellahn’s thin lips drew into a tight line.  “That was not funny, Olan.  I doubt the boy’s ever tasted such before.  Look at him; he’s sick.”
“He’ll recover.”  Olan scowled.  “He’s hardy enough for all the beatings he earns in a week.”  He took the mug in his hands and tipped it up.  The drink came so fast, some of it dripped into his neatly trimmed beard.  He dabbed at it with a napkin and waved Curron away. 
Curron’s neck prickled as he reached for the two empty glasses on the table.  He looked up to find Caellahn staring at him intently.  The man gave a slight nod.  Curron quickly turned his head.  He kept his eyes downcast as he grabbed his tray from the table, bowed politely, and stepped away into the crowd.  He didn’t look back.  The last thing I need is some sort of spell thrown on me by a pair of sympathetic magic eyes!
The kitchen looked miles away if it was a step, and Martin would be furious when he returned with only two glasses missing from his tray, but he didn’t care anymore!  He needed air, light… anything other than this stuffy, dark room!  He couldn’t bear the noise any longer – the slurred voices mixing with the greasy fog that made him disoriented, the crowded feeling of bodies pressing in all around him… He wished he could throw his tray across the room and make a dash for the stable.  He’d be safe here, among the familiar smells of horse-flesh and hay and the soft shushing of mice playing hide and seek in the loft – the sound of leather tack squeaking when he brushed it; the thrum of the stable cat’s purr when it rubbed up against his leg.  If he could just make it to the kitchen…
A harsh voice cut through the static noise bearing down on him. “The king has sent soldiers to check the perimeter of that old Pine Forest.  Seems he got word that some of those pesky Brethren have taken refuge there.  His soldiers have orders to wipe the place clean, and good riddance, I say.”
Curron’s stomach churned.  He hated that voice.  He put his free hand over his stomach and swallowed hard to keep down the bile.  How far had he walked?  He shouldn’t be hearing Olan speak; not amidst all the other ruckus… not if he’d come as far as he thought he had.  But his thoughts kept muddling together.  Where was the way out?  He needed out…
“They’re wasting their time,” came Caellahn’s voice.  “Village rumors, nothing more.  That place is swarming with wolves, if not worse things.  Who would want to hide in there?”
 “My thoughts exactly.”
Curron closed his eyes, gathered himself together, and looked up.  Light – clear, untainted light – spilled from the kitchen door still more than half a room away. The ale was still messing with his head.  But at least his vision was clearer now.  His legs felt stronger.  Perhaps the effects of the alcohol were fading; he hadn’t drunk much…  If he could just make it to the door before Olan finished his mug, he’d find a way to sneak past Martin and make a clear dash for the stable.  And if his stomach came up in the courtyard, at least he’d be in the fresh air.  Once outside, nothing short of being dragged in by his ankles would make him return before morning. 
He’d have to hurry.  When Olan was in the cup, he drank like the devil, and nobody knew that better than Curron, who’d grown used to the business-end of a whip.  He started pushing forward through the crowd.  If he didn’t leave soon there’d be…
  “Well, who am I to correct the king,” Olan continued.  “Especially when he plans to rid us of such obstinate dissenters.  Speaking of which, a royal herald came in the other day.  He claimed the Tenic will arrive within a fortnight; they’ll stay here while they go about their work.  Quite an honor for our small establishment.  If there are any Anahdor followers in that old forest, the Tenic will find them for sure and I hope it’s a bloody massacre.   The filth.”
Curron stopped. 
Brethren?  Nearby?  
And the Tenic were coming to kill them. 
He swayed as tingles of fear coursed through his veins.  Word of Others had grown scarcer and scarcer since Selliah’s death.  Yet if the king was sending his most elite group of rangers all the way from Marratow just to get rid of a few Believers holed up in the old Pine Forest, then there must be some truth behind Olan’s words.  Curron knew of the old Pine Forest, though he’d never seen it before; he’d never seen anything outside the fort’s walls save from the battlements.  But he had looked at old maps once or twice, and on parchment the Pine Forest looked relatively close to Fort Gallant.    
He glanced around anxiously.  The place was full of men and woman in various stages of drunken stupors.  A few of the younger men were already passed out, while older ones tipped crazily in their chairs and threw down coins to gamble with.  Only a few steps to his left were the mess hall’s support pillars.  The pillars lined both sides of the hall, solid granite monoliths easily big enough to hide a skinny, fourteen-year-old boy.  Stories had it that before Olan’s time the long, high-ceilinged room had once been a banqueting hall.  It wasn’t so hard to imagine either: replace the rough square tables with long rectangular ones and throw up a few tapestries, and the entire atmosphere changed.  But Olan wasn’t the type to care much for such frivolities as tapestries and long tables.  A tavern was more to his liking, and the large hall was the closet room to the kitchen, so it best fit the purpose.
Curron considered his options.  One of the pillars stood just behind the commander’s table and slightly to the right.  If he could get to it without being seen, he’d be hidden from all but the most scrupulous of gazes, and he’d be able to see both Olan’s and Caellahn’s faces as they talked.
 Shifting his tray high, Curron walked through the crowd, dodging feet and swaying arms, and trying to keep the pillar in sight amidst all the milling bodies.  Nobody paid much attention to him.  To them, he was just another servant, there to be ordered around or ignored.  At last he reached the pillar and ducked down behind it.  From his place in the shadows he could easily make out both men’s faces, and every word they spoke came to his ears as clear as the foul yellow drink they both sipped.  Olan’s voice was a deep, grating rasp that made Curron think of a grunting boar, while Caellahn’s voice rang pure, even in the smog filled air, reminding Curron of the clear note that came from tapping on the side of a mug.
Caellahn took a sip from his drink, eyes trained on his brother’s face.  Even at a distance, his eyes seemed strangely illuminant.
Magic eyes… Curron moved his gaze to the man’s mouth
  “So he thinks he’s found a rebellion, does he?” Caellahn’s fingers played about the rim of his cup, his lips turned down in a grim expression.  “Well, to the king’s credit, he’s not a man to give up easily, even after three years.  But he won’t find much in that Pine Forest, I’ll wager.  ‘Tis said the fox will seek new refuge when he hears the hound’s call from inside his den.”
“Then we must hope the hound gets there first... or in this case, the Tenic.”  Olan leaned back in his chair, taking a long draught from his mug, his face already slack with the affects of the ale.  What was this, his third or fourth drink?  It was hard to tell: the brother’s had already been sitting there some time before Curron had come.  “There’s been word of a rebellion rising: people disappearing overnight – whole families, in fact – with no sign of where they’ve gone.  Cattle missing and movement noted over the Balkúne plains... more than the usual.  Trade loads disappearing over the midland en-route to Marratow.  The king is furious.  He’s sent men out to secure the northern towns, and more men to secure the southern ones.  A few pockets of resistance were found, but of course that dim-witted rabble would rather hang than deny their stupid god.  Seems these Brethren want to start a bloody war.”
“They want the bloodletting to end.”  Anger glinted in Caellahn’s eyes; Curron found himself drawn to it.  The brothers locked gazes, but a moment later the spark disappeared and Caellahn leaned back in his chair.  He took a slow, deliberate sip from his mug, eyes following Olan closely.  “Look brother, I’m not saying you couldn’t be right.  But why pin a rebellion on a people so broken they’ve practically been driven out all together?  As far as anybody knows, these disappearances could be due to any number of causes... common thieves, likely as not.  Such riff-raff have always ruled the midland plains, be it thieves or slavers.  Anyone with sense wouldn’t travel the Balkúne in the first place, but find an alternative rout.  If these Believers won’t refute their god, that’s not proof that they are the ones at fault for these disappearances, and that’s still not proof that they’re against the king.”
“Their belief is the proof.”
Caellahn shook his head.  “I am sorry that we can’t see eye to eye on this.  I really am.  But I won’t say that you’re completely wrong either.  Laws hold penalties… no one is exempt.”  Caellahn’s eyes fell on Curron’s pillar.  He raised a thick, dark brow, one corner of his lips curling up in a smile.  “Especially those who bear the punishment of the law although they’ve done nothing wrong.”    
He knows I’m here!  Curron’s heart raced. If he tells Olan about this, I’ll be beaten again.  And then what if they find out the truth about me?
His breath caught in his throat.  He should never have come back!  What was he thinking?  He tried to pull his gaze away from the man’s face… but he couldn’t.   His eyes wouldn’t obey him.
Caellahn held his gaze a moment longer, studying his face.  Then he nodded.  It was hardly perceptible, just a slight tilt of the head, but Curron saw it –acknowledgement of some sort. Caellahn looked away to continue the conversation with his brother. 
Curron drew in a breath and slowly let it out again.  His hands shook, causing the mugs on his tray to clink together.  He set the tray on the floor.  If he spilled it now, drawing attention to himself, the consequences would be far worse than before.  He glanced back around the pillar.
“I confess, I have never met this new king before,” Caellahn said, “but what I’ve seen and heard in my travels has altered my thoughts in some matters.”
“Oh?”  Olan leaned forward.  “Which matters?”
Caellahn frowned. “That is counsel best kept to myself.  Let it suffice to say that I don’t agree with everything that comes out of that man’s mouth.”
Olan smiled, the candlelight glinting off his teeth.  It reminded Curron of a hungry wolf.   “Dangerous words,” he warned.  “Counsel is to be given, not kept.  But you always were prone to do things backwards.   I’d be careful if I were you, brother; one might think you speak of rebellion yourself, for all your fancy talk.”
Caellahn met his brother’s gaze full on.  The ferocity between them was so strong, Curron could almost feel it. “Rebellion is for rebels, brother, and I am but a trader.  What would I know of defying the crown?”
For a moment Curron saw rage – or was it blatant confusion? – flit across Olan’s face.  Caellahn held himself carefully, like a stray dog ready to fight.  His hard eyes fused with unspoken secrets hidden just beneath the surface, but the rest of his face yielded nothing.
Olan finally turned away, muttering something that Curron barely managed to pick out.  “Well, blood flows thicker than water, they say.  And by the King’s Own Mother, you always were the strange type.  Call me fickle then, or call me mad, but I won’t believe you are a traitor.”
Caellahn leaned back in his seat.  A smug smile flitted over his features.  “At least we agree on one thing, then; I would never betray my true king.”
Olan nodded in defeat, lifted his mug to his lips, and choked on the dregs at the bottom of his glass.  “Oh blast!  The bloody drink’s gone.” He turned and scanned the room with red-rimmed eyes.  “Where’s that dratted boy got to?  He should’ve come back by now.”
                        A knot tightened in Curron’s stomach.  His tray still had mugs on it filled to the brim with amber froth.  If he returned to the kitchen with them Martin would tie into him for sure – unless he could figure out a way to avoid the cook all together.  But if he walked out now, someone was bound to see him and question why he was standing behind a pillar.  And what could he say?
“I’m sure the boy is gone by now,” Caellahn said.  “Your last encounter with him could not have encouraged a return.”
Olan scowled.  “He’s a bloody servant.  If he doesn’t do as he’s told, he’ll face the consequences. It’s as simple as that.”
“Hmm.  Do you beat him an awful lot?”
“He deserves it.  Nothin’ but trouble, that one; dumb as the stones on the floor.”
“Is he?”  Caellahn glanced at the pillar, a curious light in his eyes.  “Well… perhaps.”
Curron ducked down.  Time to leave!  Most men’s eyes were fixed to the dark interior of their mugs, or following the serving girls who flitted between the tables.  It wouldn’t be hard to get past them.  But it wasn’t them he had to worry about.
“Ale boy!”  The commander’s voice was sharp and brutal.  Curron winced.
 “You really should stop calling him that,” Caellahn commented.  “I’m sure he has a name.”
                        “I make it a point never to learn my servants’ names. Otherwise they start to feel important and all sorts of ideas pop into their heads.  Besides, they are what they do; it’s much easier to remember that, than a bunch of sentimental names.  Ale boy!”
Curron glanced at his tray on the ground.  Oh hang the tray, and hang the commander!  He’d leave the stupid thing and crawl beneath the tables.  He was not going back.  And there was no use hoping Olan would stop looking for him; the man was as stubborn as a mule once a thought entered his head.
Glancing around one last time, Curron fell to his hands and knees and scurried out from behind the pillar.  Everything seemed so large and distorted from this angle so near the ground.  It made him dizzy.  He crawled between the legs of men and serving maids, bumping into chairs and other objects he couldn’t quite see.  A man stumbled into him, knocking the air from his lungs.  The heavy heel of a boot stamped down on his right hand, sending pain shooting through every finger.  He yelped and yanked his hand out from beneath the man’s foot.  Staggering backward, the man uttered a curse and caught himself against the wall.
Curron scrambled away, using only his left hand to help him move.  He made it to a table and dove beneath it, wriggling between the legs of a chair and a sleeping soldier’s pair of boots.  The light beneath the table was dim and man-stench filled his nostrils.  Curron screwed up his face.  Apparently this wretch had needed a chamber pot before he’d drunk himself into oblivion.   
He lifted his right hand to inspect it, but there wasn’t enough light to assess the damage thoroughly.  Instead, he ran his left hand gently over the right one, then slowly touched each finger to his thumb and flexed his hand open and closed.  A sharp pain throbbed through his knuckles: he held his breath until it subsided, then tried again.  Soon there was nothing left but a bearable ache, and even that was quickly fading.  Bruised then, not broken.
If he managed to escape with only a sore hand, he’d be lucky. 
The kitchen was still a ways off but it was much closer than before.  He could see the light seeping through the kitchen doorway from between the legs of the table.  He’d have to run ducking; it’d take too long if he crawled.  Squeezing himself between two chairs, he tucked his sore hand against his chest and prepared to run.  This would have to be quick…
“Hey, girl!” 
Olan’s voice sent Curron scrambling back under the table.  His shoulder rammed into the soldier’s leg and the man kicked out in his sleep, catching him in the ribs.  Groaning, Curron sucked in a deep breath then slowly let it out again.  The pain in his side would soon vanish, he was sure; it was his pride that hurt.
Stupid boy, he berated.  You’re like a frightened rabbit, startling every time you hear him speak!  What’s wrong with you?  He could just see Selliah shaking her head in exasperation.  She’d always encouraged him to stand up for himself, and yet here he was running away again.  But would she have wanted him to stand up against the commander?  He didn’t know.
“Girl!”  Olan’s voice was impatient.  If whoever-it-was didn’t acknowledge him soon, there’d be trouble.
But this time a soft voice wafted through the air in answer.  “Yes sir?  Is there anything I can do for you?”
Curron paused.  The voice was young, nervous… and familiar.
His heart dropped to his stomach.

(no part of this may be copied, printed, or stored on an electronic devise for any reason without written permision from the author.)

Creative Commons License
Song of the Daystar by Nichole J. White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
The cave was a dark and secret place hidden deep within the Black Wood. Inside, the man knelt before a pedestal of grey stone. The trip cost him dearly. His bones creaked; he could actually hear them. Life was so short and death came swiftly: a lifetime of work all ended within seconds. If not for the pain, he could have laughed at the thought.


Squeaks said...

Awesome Nicole! I can't wait for your book to be published! I hope it'll sell up in Canada :)


Jake said...

Wow... I just decided to read it again when I noticed you uploaded the first chapter as well. Both were totally epic...

Isaac Permann said...

That was great! Can't wait to read the rest. You've got talent! :)

Isaac Permann, The Land of Natac

Philip Nelson said...

I liked it. :) Looking forward to seeing the finished work.

One thing I noticed:

"Curron considered his options."

Options for what? Curron had been all-consumed with getting out of the hall. We know overhearing the plans to slaughter Brethren had a great effect on him, but we're not actively shown that his desire suddenly shifts from leaving to finding out more. Adding something up front like "he had to hear more" might help.

Actively showing the shift in what he wants to do would be especially effective because you did a good job describing his desire to leave.