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  • Jon Bolitho-Jones

Another Little Preview - In Search of the Maiden Light

Hello again. My last preview did reasonably well so I thought I would share some more of my 2020 work with you today. This one is a bit longer then the last, and is very different too. It is the first chapter of a YA Fantasy story I've been working on called In Search of the Maiden Light (working title) that has been inspired by Brian Jacques' Redwall series, The Dark Cyrstal, and The Secret of NIMH. Bit more of a traditional fantasy adventure this one. I am currently in the process of writing the sequel. Bear in mind this is also a wip - any helpful feedback would be much appreciated. So with that here we go...



"In the old kingdom of Athalight, beyond the black-stoned fortress of Garad-Duin, there lies the Gotherbight Wastelands and, within this place of thick smog and permanent semi-darkness there is swampland in which the Flitticks call home. In the solid patches of earth they live in little underground towns, rarely venturing outside, for there are too many monsters lurking in the thick swamp air that would happily gobble them up. There are beaked Skarsniks, fat Bol Toads, the rampaging bands of beastly Ogroids and their evil Gvar masters, along with many other nameless, terrifying horrors. Therefore the Flitticks wisely hide within their holes in a perpetual state of mild fear and semi-contentedness.


Young Tomnen was one such Flittick. Though they are small creatures, only coming up to a human’s knee in height, he was half a foot smaller still. At eight summers old Tomnen was just entering adolescence and his mouse-like face and wispy tail had matured, along with his striking hazelnut eyes and soft brown fur that were common among his species. While Flitticks are usually industrious, peculiar little beings, inventive and practical, often with a keen knack for tinkering, Tomnen was a thinker and didn’t do much of this. Instead he would spend his time reading and writing. He was a very nervous creature, and rightly so, for the world outside their holes was a dangerous place full of monsters. However, even for his own kind, Tomnen was particularly quiet and spent most of his time reading in his guardian’s library. Sometimes he liked the idea of adventuring but he knew his nervous temperament and bookish physique would never agree with such a life. Indeed, if he lost his glasses out there any excursion would be reduced to utter disaster. No, that sort of thing was for other, braver sorts. Tomnen was just glad he never had to join the scavenger parties that roamed the Wastelands for food, or the diggers who did likewise in search of roots. Tomnen’s parents had been eaten by a particularly mean creature on the surface, so no, he thought, the right thing to do was to live a quiet, sensible life underground, like all the Flitticks that had gone before him in the Gnatishberry clan. He was a kind, caring soul, always happy to feed and entertain his friends. This is true of most Flitticks - if you arrive at one of their holes with good intentions and a smiling face they are likely to invite you in, put out a feast and entertain you with merry music played upon little reed flutes. That is, if they have both the time and the supplies available to do so for, above all, they are a very pragmatic and careful race.


This morning, however, young Tomnen had decided to be a little adventurous. He was going outside with his friend Gilliam to watch the Maiden Light rise. While leaving his hole was a terrifying thought, Tomnen knew he couldn’t miss it. So, getting up early and wanting to look as presentable as he could, he dressed himself in his favourite green habit and left home. Ducking under thick roots, he sneaked down the warm, dimly lit tunnels and headed to the kitchens. Everyone was still asleep as he carefully filled his satchel with snacks, taking care not to ruffle the mushroom sleeve papers, or his special collection of quills within. With the weight of the satchel hanging awkwardly from his shoulders, Tomnen tentatively pulled himself out of his hole into the cold, damp air of the Gotherbight Wastelands. His whiskers twitched nervously. While the smog was thick and he couldn’t see far, he’d spent his whole life around these burrows so Tomnen knew the way. Wet grass tickled his paws, his breath was visible and his little heart pounded as he scanned his surroundings warily, doing his best to see through the fog. At any moment a Skarsnik could burst from the gloom and gobble him up in a few clacks of its monstrous beak. He dashed from spot to spot, as quickly and quietly as his little legs would take him, his entire body alert and ready to scamper back underground at the first hint of danger. Before long, however, he bumped into his brave friend Gilliam.


“Morning, Tomnen! Thought you weren’t gonna turn up.” he said, confidently.


Tomnen managed a wary nod. Gilliam was also laden with snacks; it was going to be a large breakfast. After some nervous greetings they headed to Mole Mound Watch, an important hill used as a lookout spot. It wasn’t steep and soon they were at its summit where they sat on a smooth rock, nursing the warm ginger root brews Gilliam had brought and nattering away as they waited for the sun to rise. It was the morning of the Maiden Light festival and they were eager to see the first warm rays of the year cascade across the swampland, transforming it from a merciless bog into a rich garden full of scents and delights. Tomnen was nervous, of course, and shivered with a cold, damp fear, but he was also excited to see the most wondrous event in the whole Flittick calendar. Not only that, but there would be festivities, music, and food, and even shy little Tomnen couldn’t bear to miss out on such fun and frivolity. There was also someone he was very keen to meet…


Gilliam was very different to Tomnen. He was taller, stronger and two years older than his best friend. He was an apprentice digger within the Gnatishberry clan; a very important and tough job, he had to help maintain and expand the tunnels that made up their little town. Tomnen, meanwhile, was an apprentice thinker. Under the tutelage of his guardian he was learning to read, write, manage the library and, most importantly, keep supply records up to date. As Gilliam had little interest in books, indeed he could hardly read or write, they were an unlikely pair. However, he loved to hear stories, especially adventure ones, and Tomnen knew plenty. After his first, accidental, visit to the library Gilliam couldn’t keep himself away and the two became fast friends. His favourite stories were about Wilhelmina the Wild. She was a daring member of the Journey Banders, a particularly adventurous group of Flitticks. The stories said that she had explored every corner of the Wastelands. Gilliam wanted to do exactly the same and frequently talked about joining the group, while Tomnen prayed he wouldn’t get himself into trouble. Nonetheless, our little Flittick grew to secretly idolise his friend. Gilliam was all the things Tomnen wished to be - funny, strong and incredibly talented with a slingshot. He wore patches of makeshift armour made from old nut shells and pads of bark leather over cloth overalls, with his slingshot always hanging from his belt. He looked impressive in Tomnen’s eyes, like a brave warrior. It had been Gilliam’s idea to go out that morning and, though Tomnen was anxious, he agreed it was a brilliant one.


So they waited, nattering quietly, nibbling on sweet bitberry biscuits and sipping their drinks. Tomnen continued to nervously scan the thick fog while his friend grew excitable. Indeed, Tomnen couldn’t help but get a little excited, too, as he always loved the Maiden Light celebrations.


“Oooo it shouldn’t be long now!” Gilliam said, rubbing his short whiskers with glee. “I hear the Journey Band are going to visit today. Maybe Tristam the Brave will turn up, or Gentleman Kay One Eye or Arell the Tall! I think she’s the tallest Flittick I’ve ever seen! Wouldn’t that be great?”


Tomnen nodded quietly. He was rather too busy worrying about monsters and thinking of other things.


“Oh, that’s right, you only want to see one person - your dearly beloved lady friend Illyanna. I’m right, aye?” he chortled, giving Tomnen a rough, encouraging nudge.


Tomnen began to blush. He hadn’t seen Illy properly for a year now. They’d sent letters, of course, but only a couple. It was dangerous for the posttick’s to travel between colonies, and so sending letters was incredibly expensive. The Gotherbight Wastelands were a frightening place, after all, and not somewhere a Flittick would want to linger. The only chance they ever had of spending time together was at the Maiden Light festival when things got that little bit safer on the surface. He couldn’t wait to see her, though his body trembled with nerves at the very thought of it. At times courtship seemed even more terrifying than the monsters. Could Illyanna have lost interest? She was very different to him, after all. Taller than average, confident and strong, she preferred adventuring and throwing rocks with her slingshot, so Tomnen was surprised she’d fallen for him those three years ago. He had expected her to fall for Gilliam instead. He hoped she hadn’t changed her mind.


“You written any mushy love sonnets again?” his friend teased, batting his eyelashes.


“Well yes… I always do, don’t I…”


Tomnen was elbowed some more, getting more uncomfortable with each nudge.


“Well, you gonna read it out for your buddy here? You can always pretend I’m Illy, you know.” he said, doing his best not to laugh.


For a second he thought against it. Gilliam wasn’t going to stop teasing him. But then he changed his mind; he was good at poetry, so why not impress Gilliam for once? He pulled himself to his feet, making sure to search the fog first for predators, and drew the poem from his satchel. Then, taking a strong pose, he began to perform.


“Oh the delightful breeze of a Snardelgarf whisps-”


He was interrupted as Gilliam jumped to his feet in excitement.


“Sssssshhhh! It’s starting!!!”


He immediately stopped to watch the sun rising. A proper dawn was coming and the Maiden Light was here! Tomnen’s wide eyes followed its journey upwards. As the sun moved its warm, gentle rays grew stronger, pushing their way through the thick smog. A smile crept onto his little face as the light twinkled in his eyes and, as the sun got stronger and higher, he had to shield them with his arms. The rays caressed his face with a warm, gentle touch while the air became soft and light. He took great pleasure gulping it down into his little lungs. The view was mesmerising; the fog quickly skulked away, revealing the world around them in magnificent detail. It was rare for them to be able to see more than a few metres in front of themselves but with the Maiden Light in the sky they could see for miles. Though the land was still a beastly sight Tomnen spun in wonder, doing his best to take in every last detail. He could see the entrances to the other clan homes; little mounds in the landscape, covered with damp grass and ferns. Beyond that he could see vast stretches of swampland, sodden with marshy water and broken up only by the occasional rock or withered tree. Past the swampland he could just about make out the shimmering water of a vast, murky lake, after which lurked a wood. But something even more impressive lay further still. At the top of a tall, jagged mountain was the fortress of Garad-Duin, its black stonework looking mean and otherworldly. He shuddered at the thought of what monsters could be lurking in that beastly abode.


Better sights were still to come, however, and Gilliam could barely hold in his excitement. He was almost bouncing on the spot.


“Here it comes, here it comes!” he said, doing his best not to shout.


They watched intently as the sun’s nurturing rays rested on the mossy ground. It seemed to be boiling away, as if something below was being awoken from a deep sleep. Then, suddenly, the marshland came alive as all sorts of plant life burst from the ground. Small groups of green shoots appeared. They started tentatively but then, as if finding their confidence, burst upwards with delight, transforming the land into a lush paradise. There were flowers in countless radiant colours, thick root vegetables and bushes full of juicy berries and fruit. No one had any idea how it happened and few ever tried looking for answers. All the Flitticks knew was that it happened once a year. Of course, it would all have to be harvested but that was a job for the next few days. No, the first day of the Maiden Light was a miraculous one, and one for celebration. Tomnen and Gilliam could do little but stare in wonder, not quite believing what they had witnessed, and salivate as the air became more refreshing, now filled with sweet-tasting pollen and nectar.


“Shall we go down?” Gilliam asked, a cheeky smile stretched across his face.


Tomnen had never considered the idea. It did sound thrilling but, surely, they had to wait for everyone else? Plus, they’d be further away from the holes - a dangerous prospect if any monsters appeared. He knew, though, that Gilliam had already made up his mind.


“I don’t know… Shouldn’t we wait till everyone else is up?”


“Nah, plenty to go round. Come on, you! Ain’t any scarier than courting Illyanna.”


Without waiting, he dashed down the hill towards the rich vegetation. Tomnen watched awkwardly for a moment, shivering. Even the sun’s rays couldn’t warm him out of his nervous stupor. He took a deep breath to smother his nagging worries. Here goes!, he thought. It would be hard to catch up with Gilliam, but it was important to keep his friend out of trouble.

With his satchel hanging heavily on his shoulders, Tommen began to follow. Tentatively at first, he slowly began to pick up speed as he headed down Mole Mound Watch, whose slope propelled him onwards into a light run. Down he went, bursting into the new foliage at the base of the hill which had now grown taller and tickled his ankles, hands and sometimes even chin as he pushed through. Gilliam was still quite a distance ahead, laughing to himself in delight.


“Come on, Tomnen, keep up! We need to find something tasty to nibble on before anyone discovers what we’re up to!”


Tomnen’s heart thumped loudly. He had never run so fast before. His bag was heavy and he half wished he’d taken it off, but he didn’t dare risk losing his poetry. After eating they could head back inside to safety, although Tomnen didn’t feel like he had much of an appetite. Whiskers twitching, he scanned the horizon as best he could, trying to see if there were any lurking monsters. With his attention elsewhere he caught his foot on a root and stumbled, almost falling into a thorny bush. Not everything that had grown was completely pleasant. His glasses fell off his nose and landed with a soft thud on the ground. Instantly, Tomnen’s hands scrambled and, finding them, pulled them back up to his face with a panic. To calm his nerves he treated himself to a small, sweet red berry from the bush.


“Try not to fall!” Gilliam laughed.


If he hadn’t felt so anxious he would have started to grumble. Gilliam was getting further away. Not wanting to be abandoned, Tomnen forced himself into a run and gave chase again, heart pounding. Thick pollen rushed up his nostrils, making it slightly awkward to breath, and droplets of sweat formed in his fur. It was certainly pretty but the warmth was getting unpleasant.


“Found something!” Gilliam shouted.


Relieved, Tomnen stopped running and slowed down to an exhausted shuffle.


“What have you found?” he called, between tired pants.


“Big fat goodleberries, juicy and pink! Come see!”


Goodleberries were his favourite and Tomnen partially forgot how much he’d just exerted himself. There was nothing like tasty food to help one forget an exhausting slog. A delighted smile appeared on his face and, for a moment, he completely forgot the dangers all around him as he hurried to catch up.


“KWAAAAAAKKKK!!!”


Terror flooded Tomnen’s body at the blood-curdling screech of the Skarsnik. The predator was close. His little mouse ears pricked up, desperately searching the sky for the monster, while his whiskers twitched madly. His body froze, heart pounding furiously as if it were trying to escape his chest. He was stuck in the open! Tomnen felt sick as a large, ominous, black shadow sailed over him, circling through the air. He was going meet his end just like his parents."



And so I am going to stop. Not quite the full chapter but there you go! If you want to read more, well you'll just have to wait/ask me.


With that it's bye for now. I'll be back soon.

Jon



https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/young-adult/when-the-world-falls-down/



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