Authors: Sam Bowring
About the author
Sam Bowring is a television writer, playwright and stand-up comedian. His previously published works include two books for children,
Sir Joshua and the Unprofessional Dragon
The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures
. The first book in his Broken Well trilogy,
, was published in 2009. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
By the same author
The Broken Well Trilogy
Coming in 2010
Sometimes the Greatest Enemy We Face is Ourselves
Published in Australia and New Zealand in 2010
(an imprint of Hachette Australia Pty Limited)
Level 17, 207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Copyright © Sam Bowring 2010
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the
purposes of private study, research, criticism or review permitted
Copyright Act 1968
, no part may be stored or reproduced
by any process without prior written permission. Enquiries should
be made to the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Destiny’s rift / Sam Bowring.
978 0 7336 2434 6 (pbk.)
978 0 7336 2665 4 (ebook edition)
Bowring, Sam. Broken well trilogy ; 2.
Cover design by Peter Cotton
Cover illustration by Jeremy Reston
Map by Christabella Designs
Text design by
eBook by Bookhouse, Sydney
To my mother, Jane,
who knows all about what it’s like
to bring up creatures of shadow and light
Together they lay at the base of a tree, her head resting on his bare chest. They had only known each other a few days, yet already he felt entwined by her, his former life paled to grey memory. He worried that it was all a dream, that she might disappear into the trees as quickly as she’d arrived. Not to mention the other persistent worry . . .
‘What are you thinking about?’ she murmured, tangling her fingers in his beard.
‘I wonder if they search for me,’ said Corlas. ‘I was supposed to return to the Vale days ago.’
Mirrow sat up with a fiery look. ‘Return to the Vale?’
‘Aye. It gets noticed when a soldier disappears without explanation. Especially one high in the chain of command, as . . .’
As I was
, he was going to say. Shouldn’t it be,
as I am?
‘But you won’t go, will you?’
‘Not if you don’t want me to,’ he heard himself say, surprised by how naturally the answer came. Would he really abandon his post so readily, risking shame and punishment, for this girl he barely knew?
It seemed he would.
‘Good,’ she said, ‘because I don’t want you to. Wouldn’t you rather stay here with me?’
‘Yes,’ he said, and she kissed him. ‘But,’ he added, when there was time for breath, ‘are you sure that is what you want? You do not yet know me well.’
‘Shush now,’ she said. ‘I know you better than you think. I know you’re big and strong,’ she thumped his chest, ‘like a man should be. I know you’re brave, for you’re covered in scars. I know you are kind, for you’ve worried over my safety ever since I met you – even though your main worry seems to be that I feel safe
. Which I do!’ She punched him on the arm and laughed. ‘See? Not going to strike me in return, are you?’
‘No,’ he chuckled.
‘And I know that you are one of my folk, even though you don’t think so. Just like the Lady said you would be.’
‘Who is she?’ he said. ‘This lady?’
‘The Lady of the Wood,’ said Mirrow, as if that explained everything. ‘She’s the one who called me here.’
‘That is how you came to live here all alone?’
Mirrow pursed her lips. ‘I used to live in a city somewhere. I was sold, as an orphan, to a travelling circus. Me, a freak just because of my pointy ears! They said they’d never seen someone with so much Sprite in them, charged gold for people to come and ogle me! Bah!’ Her eyes flashed angrily as she stared into the past. ‘We toured stinking cities of smoke and stone, and I hated being made to turn and twinkle on demand. Then one night, when we camped not far from the wood, I heard the Lady calling me home. I snuck away and came here, where I belong.’
‘How old were you?’
‘I don’t know. Little enough that I didn’t have these!’ She squeezed one of her breasts and laughed.
It was all very mysterious, and Corlas never really got a clear answer from her.
‘So you’ll be my husband then?’ she asked, not making it sound like a question.
‘I will. Though I do not know who will marry us.’
‘You buffoon,’ said Mirrow. ‘We’ll marry each other!’ Then her face turned dark. ‘But wait,’ she murmured. ‘No.’
‘What is it?’
She looked at him then as if she’d never seen him before, and Corlas’s heart turned cold. Suddenly she scrabbled backwards, coming to her feet. He stood also, feeling an unexpected weight in his hands. Looking down he saw his great axe, dripping with blood. Her face filled with fear, and she turned and fled into the trees.
‘Mirrow!’ he cried. ‘No!’
He dropped the axe in disgust and fell to his knees, clutching his head.
‘Mirrow,’ he whispered. ‘Mirrow.’
And he woke.
He was sitting with his back to a tree, cushioned by a fall of leaves around its base. Soft ferns brushed his skin, ephemeral in their caress. Corlas remembered well the smell of the wood, earthy and green. He ran his eyes up the trunks of grey trees to a canopy crosshatched with the morning sun. He recalled the soft birdsong even before he heard it – and there it was.
Despite the bad dream, a long-absent sense of peace settled over him. For a merciful time he forgot his weeks on the run from the Open Halls, and the terrible act he’d committed there against his will. Even the sadness of being separated from Bel faded slightly, in this moment a distant trouble, like a stone in the boot of his soul. In his whole life, Whisperwood was the one place he had been truly able to call home.
During his escape, he hadn’t thought much about what he’d do once he arrived. It had seemed like the only place to go, but now that he was here, he wondered how he’d spend his days. He would visit his old hut, and Mirrow’s grave of course, but beyond that he could see no further. Thankfully he didn’t need to rise, not yet, for there was no rush any more. If anyone still pursued him, the wood would not welcome them.
Her voice was as light and soft as the breeze. There was a rustling as dead leaves lifted from the ground, and twigs and stones and bits of bark. He watched, unafraid, as before him formed a figure, composed of the forest floor itself. The dry branches drawn to her awoke and sent out shoots, and roots grew to bundle different parts of her together. The dead leaves that were her eyelids crackled as they opened, revealing green pinpricks of light floating in deep sockets. Awed by the sight, Corlas shifted to one knee.
‘My Lady Vyasinth,’ he said.
He had never seen her before, not really. Mirrow had sometimes mentioned encounters with her during their marriage, but a fleeting glimpse through the treetops was the most Corlas could claim. There was no mistaking her, however, now that she stood before him.
‘I hope I have not offended you with my return,’ he said.
‘No, Corlas,’ she replied, the words seeming to breathe out of her. A tiny red beetle emerged from the crisscrossing twigs of her chest, ran along them, and disappeared again. ‘Rather,’ she continued, ‘it is I who must ask forgiveness
I never came to you as I did Mirrow, for you were so much the Varenkai and not so much the Sprite.’
‘I did not believe, my Lady,’ said Corlas. ‘I had no reason to. But I have grown to think differently.’
‘I am glad. For you were ever one of my people, and even if you’d forgotten it, I should not have. Come, rise. Let us walk together amongst the trees on a morning so fine.’
Her feet made no sound as they went, as if she were wholly supported by the uppermost layer of undergrowth. She herself, however, rustled. Corlas tried not to stare too closely as the roots and leaves that made her shifted about, approximating the shape of a woman as best they could. Her face was smooth, earthy and dark, framed by a mane of twigs. Occasionally flowers bloomed from her, then faded and fell, as if they had seen the passage of seasons in the space of a few moments.
‘I am sorry about your boy,’ she said presently.
‘Yes, my Lady,’ replied Corlas awkwardly. ‘Thank you.’
‘I tried to stop them taking him but was punished by the other gods for interfering in their pointless war.’
Corlas couldn’t think of anything to say. It was hard enough to accept that he was strolling alongside a god; he was hardly going to comment on her relationships with other almighty entities.
‘I know much of what has transpired since that accursed night,’ she continued. ‘I have seen how the gods of shadow and light use your sons as pawns in their own petty play for power.’ The green lights of her eyes flared. ‘It never should have been this way.’
Despite the strangeness of the situation, Corlas could not help being curious. ‘You know of Bel’s
?’ he ventured. ‘The one called Losara?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘He is strong in the shadow. I suspect he took all of that side from the original Sprite self – yet it is hard to know. Are there traits inherently tied to light or dark? I think not, for there are cowards and heroes on both sides. There are bakers and tinkers and murderers too, for that matter. One thing is certain – Losara got the shadow
The answer wasn’t what Corlas was after – he wanted details of his lost son’s life – but she went on too quickly for him to ask more.
‘You would not know this,’ she said, ‘but shortly after your departure from the Halls, Arkus himself spoke to Bel.’
That caught him by surprise.
‘He has a plan to reunite the two halves, as it were. To bring Losara and Bel back into alignment as one soul, one entity.’
Although Corlas did not understand how such a thing could happen, hope rose in him. Always he had viewed the division of his original son as a travesty, but something he’d been powerless to undo. However, if Arkus himself thought there was a way, perhaps his boys – his
– would finally be healed.
‘That is welcome news indeed,’ he said.
‘Perhaps,’ said Vyasinth. ‘Arkus claims that such a realignment would create a champion of the light.
, thought Corlas bitterly.
His motivation would not be simply to undo a wrong
‘He says that Bel is the governing personality, that Losara lacks substance. I’m not sure if he lies deliberately, or lies to himself as well as to others.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The gods are not in charge of fate. The truth is no one knows absolutely what’s supposed to happen. What Arkus does know is that while Bel and Losara remain separate, balance persists. If Arkus is to win the war, he
believe there is a way to create for himself a single champion, thus leaving the other side with nothing. If he cannot do this, at best things will go on as they are, and he cares not for such an eventuality. In his arrogance he believes he is
to be victor.’
The head of an earthworm poked from her neck and waved around, sensing the fresh air. Corlas avoided staring at it – he was out of his depth, he knew that for certain. He was used to hiding his anger that his boy was being used in this battle not of his making, but Vyasinth’s words were bringing it to the fore. But could it be that in her, he had a sympathiser?
‘Yet,’ she continued, ‘you are right when you say it is welcome news. If Bel and Losara are made whole again, the soul that emerges will be what it was before those fools tore him apart – a Sprite who possesses an internal balance of shadow and light. Corlas, I ask you to imagine what no other has . . . that your son could be a champion
‘For . . . us, my Lady?’ Corlas was not sure he understood, but he suddenly felt nasty prickles along his arms and down his spine.
‘It was an unnatural thing that the world was ever separated into shadow and light. That is why I never chose a side and thus was banished here, to this sanctuary where Old Magic can still exist – true magic, both sides, in balance. But what if Bel is supposed to end the war by restoring the natural order? Why else would he be born a Sprite?’ Her voice grew hard. ‘That is why we must see that he is reunited with his other half for
cause, no other!’
As Corlas realised what she was saying, his stomach took a slow roll. Already the two great forces of the world tugged at his child, but now a
was entering into play. He found it hard to disguise his anger. He knew it burned clearly in his eyes.
‘You are doubtful,’ said Vyasinth. ‘Allow me then to do something for you. Allow me to awaken your Sprite blood.’
Without waiting for permission she reached out a hand and splayed it on his breast. For a moment Corlas felt nothing but her hard touch. ‘What –’ he began, but there was no time for more. Something deep inside him shook loose, something small and dormant, waking like a seed after winter. His skin tingled as he suddenly felt the breeze, sharp and electric, more intensely than he’d ever felt it before. He could hear the rustling of each individual leaf in the trees, differentiate the thousand smells in the air, feel each crumb of dirt between his toes. His eyes went blank as blood memory overcame him. He saw the wood as it had been generations ago, full of Sprites, practising magic that connected them to the land. Further back, when the land had been whole, his people had been elsewhere, everywhere, free to wander where they pleased, revered as healers and mystics. They had shaped trees into homes, and lived in harmony with nature. How great the cost to the world when their numbers had dwindled! How agonising to be awakened to all that had been lost.
As his eyes refocused, his gaze came to rest on a deer running through the trees. What had once been a simple sight was now a vivid exclamation of beauty. Corlas felt a long life stretching out before him – not the short span of a Varenkai, but a journey only just begun. He was not old, not merely a man of fifty-something years – he was a Sprite, with many more years than that ahead of him.
‘Is this how Mirrow saw the world?’ he asked in wonder.
‘Yes,’ said Vyasinth.
‘No wonder she was so happy.’
were in her world.’
Corlas understood what she meant – to be with someone loved, with senses alive like this, might make one’s heart explode with joy. The understanding did not bring him joy, however, and Vyasinth seemed to notice this.
‘Keep walking, Corlas,’ she said. ‘There is something I want to show you.’
He fell into step again, but this time he was not just an observer of the environment around him. Now he was a part of it, moving through it like an eddy in a stream.
‘I made you a promise as you left,’ said Vyasinth, ‘though you did not know it. I swore that if you returned, you would not find the wood so sparsely defended as it was before. I have held true to my promise, Corlas. There are many souls in the wood, souls of our people long dead, who do not belong in the Wells of Assedrynn or Arkus – and it is time to see them born again. Thus I have been calling to any alive who still possess the blood. Many have returned, and in the years since you left, many new have been grown from them. And look, Corlas, look.’
They passed a tree in which a hut was not so much built as fashioned, with no ladder but many knots protruding from the trunk. Then another, and another, and Corlas saw curious pairs of eyes staring down. So upturned was his gaze, he did not notice they had arrived at the coiled root at the edge of the clearing where he and Mirrow had built their home. When he lowered his eyes, he saw that their old hut, and beside it the flower garden where he had buried her, had been restored. The last time he’d seen it, the garden had been churned up by magic and battle in the storm, the flowers smashed and trampled . . . and later disturbed again, when soldiers from the Halls had come searching for Mirrow’s pendant. It took him a moment to reconcile this memory with the eruption of colour that now greeted his eyes. Flowers jostled for position, reaching high to capture the light, twisting around one another to form a vibrant mound of rampant growth. Looking upon it with his newly heightened senses, it almost seemed to pulse.