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Read the blurb and an extract here.
The endless rain has brought flood and famine to Assalay. Starving rats roam the streets of Freehaven, and huge flocks of hungry dragons are awake and on the move. And rebellion is stirring: the song that condemns the Lords of the Fellowship as traitors and murderers, and proclaims Gaia as rightful ruler of Assalay is known throughout the land, even in the closely-watched and tightly-controlled capital city.
The Lords’ power has been shaken, but not broken, and they have a plan to restore it: the dramatic execution of a convicted traitor in the main Square of Freehaven. But the boy, Vester, who is sent to die is not a traitor. He is an innocent substitute – and one with a secret that powerful men in the Fellowship would like to keep hidden.
As the Fellowship’s plans unravel on a day of chaos and terror, the rebellion takes a new and unexpected turn. And Vester’s secret inspires Gaia with hope that the land can be healed and sends her, Leo, Tal and Rachel on a dark journey through the mountains to a final, fateful encounter that will change Assalay for ever.
This is the tale of Pelon and the darkness.
‘In the days when the earth and the sky were young, the sun shone warm each day, and in their proper turns, the thirteen moons shone cold each night. Then one day, proud Aquilon grew jealous of the sun’s heat. He said, ‘The sun is not a god, as I am. Yet he has light and heat, and I have only light.’ The more he thought, the more jealous he became, and at last he summoned his dragons – cold creatures of moonlight – and commanded them to fly through the vast spaces of the sky and to swallow the heat of the sun.
‘Now, on earth, began an age of ice and fire. Sometimes, the dragons came, with scorching, destroying flame. Mostly, though, it was a time of bitter cold. The sun shone cold. Wind and frost bit into soft flesh and turned breath to ice.
‘When Aquilon waned and the rule of Himalios began, the people of earth pleaded with him, to kill the dragons and restore the heat of the sun. But Himalios said, ‘Alas! Great wrongs are easily done; mending them is slow and difficult. I cannot make the sun warm again. Its heat is like the blossom of a plant and you must wait for it to grow. Nor can I kill my brother’s dragons. All I can do is to pen them under the mountains, but when Aquilon rules next year, he will find them and release them on you again.’ Himalios did as he had promised. He imprisoned the dragons, but the sky and earth were still frozen and the people of earth suffered and died of the cold.
‘Now, in those days, there was a man called Pelon, a goatherd in the northern mountains. He took his flock to search for food in a high hidden valley, and while they chewed on the frozen stems of dying plants, he walked to keep himself warm. A bird called overhead. He raised his head to look for it, and saw smoke, rising into the clear cold air from one of the high mountains that ringed the valley.
‘Now, smoke meant fire, and fire meant heat, and for want of heat, the people were dying.
‘Next day, Pelon left his goats with his daughter, and set off for the smoking mountain. At midday, he reached the foot of a cliff. It towered high above his head, and its face was as smooth as polished glass. There could be no climbing it. Defeated, Pelon was turning for home, when a small bird landed in the snow at his feet, bobbed its head – and disappeared.
‘It had hopped into a crack in the cliff face, and near the ground, the crack widened to a hole, big enough for a man. Pelon put his head inside it, into thick darkness where no moon had ever shone. He backed out and breathed in deep breaths of light. For a long time, he argued with himself. There was fire in the mountain, but to find it, he would have to make the unthinkable journey into the dark, out of the moonsight.
‘He looked up to the sky, and breathed a prayer to Himalios, a prayer full of doubt. “Can You protect me, Great Lord, even when You cannot see me?”
‘Then he went into the mountain. Darkness filled his eyes and thundered in his ears; he was breathing it in, tasting it; it crawled on his skin. But he stood, and started to walk. He walked and walked, and at last, he saw a glimmer of warm red light ahead. He hurried on. The light grew stronger and stronger, and the tunnel opened up into a huge high cavern, and he saw what the light was.
‘Pelon slumped against the wall of the cave and cursed his foolishness. Of course. He knew what Himalios had promised. He should have guessed what the smoking mountain meant.
‘Dragons. The cave was full of them. They glowed faintly red, the fire inside them so fierce that it shone through their tough, scaly skins. They were restless, lying crowded and tangled in one another’s limbs, squabbling for space. Where they quarrelled, flames leaped up.
‘“Get out now,” Pelon thought, “Before you’re a dragon’s dinner.” But he didn’t move. The dragons had the secret of warmth and fire, and maybe, somehow, he could take it from them. He took a step forward – and his foot kicked a loose stone. It bounced noisily across the cavern floor, and a thousand heads rose and a thousand pairs of yellow eyes gleamed.
‘Pelon waited to die. He waited, and waited. But the dragons weren’t looking at him. They were following the sound of the stone as it rolled.
‘They couldn’t see well, he realised; they could be easily fooled by noise. If he was cunning and crafty, he might be able to outwit them – except he still had no idea how he could carry their fire out of the mountain and back to the village. Then he saw it.
‘At first, he thought it was a pile of rocks, but they were too smooth and too regular, and no rock in nature ever shone with that faint glimmer of red.
‘Pelon crept closer and closer, until he could feel the heat glowing inside the shells. He stooped, picked up a stone, and threw it across the cave. It hit a rock, and the noise echoed and re-echoed off every wall. The dragons roared and fought, and Pelon crept to the foot of the nest. He grasped hold of an egg. It burned his hands, but he kept hold of it and pulled.
‘The pile of eggs swayed – rocked – and fell. Eggs tumbled along the floor of the cave, bursting open with little spurts of smoke and fire. The dragons roared louder, flailing their tails and clawing the air.
‘Pelon tiptoed towards the mouth of the tunnel, slowly at first, but then his patience broke and he started to run. The dragons heard him. They chased him down the tunnel: they couldn’t fly in the narrow space, but they were crawling fast, like giant lizards, getting closer and closer. Flame billowed and surged behind him; it was like running from a river of fire.
‘He kept running, surer with every step that he was about to die. But then he came to a place where the tunnel was too low and too narrow for the dragons. They could only roar and hiss and howl as he ran on to safety. He leaned against the rocky wall to catch his breath. “I will pen them under the mountain,” Himalios had sworn, and Pelon breathed a prayer of thanks that he had kept his promise. Then, guided by the glimmer of the egg, he found his way back to the opening in the cliffs.
‘Dawn was breaking. He walked home in the early light. In the village, he learned that he had been away three days and nights. Three nights out of the moonsight. But he was triumphant.
‘“Build a pile of sticks,” he commanded. The villagers looked at one another and whispered that the darkness had sent him mad. Still, they did as he had asked. Then Pelon cracked the egg.
‘There was a wisp of smoke, a sudden flaring of fire. He dropped the egg into the heart of the sticks and the fire took hold. The flames glowed red and orange, then white with intense heat. The villagers gathered round it and warmed themselves.
‘Pelon searched the faces in the firelight. His friends and neighbours were there, laughing at the miracle that he had brought them, but the face that he had most hoped to see was missing, and he asked, “Where’s my daughter?”
‘“She went to look for you,” one of the villagers answered. “When you didn’t come home.”
‘“Into the mountains?” Pelon asked. “And none of you went with her?”
Ashamed, they would not meet his eyes, and he walked away from the fire which he had brought them and started the long climb into the mountains again. He walked all night. At dawn, the cold sharp on his skin, he came to a shallow hollow. She was lying among the rocks. In the night the snow had fallen on her, but she could not feel it, nor anything else, now.’