Thursday, 16 April 2015
The Heir Reluctant - Concealed Kingdoms, Book II
From the Cover
I had one question in mind, that felt somewhat urgent. A question I wanted answered. Who am I?
Awakening in a cheap hotel room, Odin has no memory of his past life. His only clue, someone else's wallet among his discarded clothing. Determined to discover his own identity, he is forced into a journey to a dying world where he must face an old enemy.
I am the heir to a magical kingdom.
In a world where she is all but invisible, Syn is found and adopted by people who can see her. People who reveal a startling truth about themselves, and her. They are not human, but fey, and Syn is the heir to a magical kingdom. She cannot resist the lure of that dream, and travels with them to recover her birthright, and save a world.
In Nifflheim, a world slowly crushed by encroaching glaciers, a world of ice and giants, both Odin and Syn are pursued by fey powers intent on using them for their own ends as the world slowly dies around them.
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# Odin #
The memory of a wolf standing in the rain seemed a dream, shadowed and barely visible in a darkened alleyway. The dream wolf remained still in the rain as I struggled with my own mind, fought to bring myself to wakefulness.
Dream sounds drifted around the image. The blare of car horns, the sounds of the city, and lights that flashed blue to highlight a distant siren. Voices nearby, brisk and professional, accompanied by firm hands that lifted me.
Deep instinct demanded that I deny them.
“Don't touch me!” The echo of my shout rang in the darkened room.
Alone, moving, confused, I shivered and struggled against the sweat drenched sheets that clung to me and restricted my movements. Breath came in hard gasps that pained my chest in ascending and descending waves, I forced my body up and back until I was pressed hard against the wall at the head of the bed, huddled in confused misery as I stared blankly, blinking at the blind-covered window opposite.
Distant sounds, wrapped in an oppressive silence, surrounded whatever lay outside the room.
I calmed as I saw no immediate threat, no hands reaching out to touch me.
No one here, I thought. There is no one here but me.
I found that thought briefly comforting. I am alone. My breathing evened out and the pain of each breath lessened. Sweat cooled my skin. The bed and room gave off clean scents with an underlying mustiness that spoke of casual attention and long neglect.
Calmed, alone, I glanced around the dimly lit room. A cheap chest of drawers. A TV fixed to a bracket on the wall. An open door through which I could see a sink and toilet. Behind and to one side of me, another door. Closed. I was alone and isolated. It felt reassuring.
There was nothing to disturb me. Except for the pain in my chest, arms and legs. I unclenched my hands that had balled into fists and felt the pain in them as I relaxed tensed muscles and tendons. I looked at my hands. I couldn't see properly in the darkened room, though the thin curtains admitted some small light from outside. Night time lights from the street, I decided. I'd need better light to see how badly I was hurt.
Time enough later to try and remember why. No memories rushed to fill the blank space where my question hung in my own mind. What happened?
With consideration for myself, I eased aside the bedclothes and swung my feet to the floor. One ankle hurt some as I shifted my weight forward and pushed myself to my feet. One knee also hurt more than the other. I felt stiff, my body abused and protesting. With care, I walked to the bathroom and found the light. And, almost immediately, a mirror.
To look at what must be your own reflection and not recognize yourself must surely be a unique experience. It wasn't that I was so badly bruised, as my face was not much marked by scrapes or bruises. It was simply that the face I looked at was unfamiliar. Bright green eyes. Hair black and worn long and wild. A day's growth of beard.
I could have been anyone. But I had no sense that I was looking at me, no feeling that I looked at a familiar image, a face seen every day in any reflective surface. Scrapes and livid bruises marked broad shoulders and deep chest. I'd been hurt some, but I did not feel much concerned by that.
I held up my hands and looked at them. They were bruised. Knuckles skinned. There was a dull ache but no sharp pains that might indicate serious damage. A nasty looking gash ran up my right forearm but it had scabbed and looked to be healing well enough.
“What the heck happened to me,” I muttered. “And where am I?”
What am I doing here? And where is here? A hotel. Cheap, hence the musty smell of damp and either age or neglect, or both.
I shivered, suddenly bothered by the cool air. Maybe it was the rain I had just become aware of, spattering against the frosted glass of the bathroom. If there was supposed to be a heater on in the room it was busted.
I limped slowly back to the warmth of the carpet, glad of it underfoot.
I eased myself to the window and pulled the thin curtain. A parking lot, a city street. The same lots the other side of the road. It could be any good sized city, anywhere.
I frowned at my own faint reflection in the window. Which town? Which city?
I had no idea.
I found clothes where I had presumably discarded them, scattered across the floor and bed without much regard for what might better go where. Beginning to feel uneasy, I went through them and found a wallet. There was ID, but the picture wasn't me; not even close. The name would be no use, then. Joel Mitchum. Not my name.
“But what is?”
A little more hurried, I rifled through the clothes and my memory with equally negative results. The clothes looked wrong, either baggy or tight, like even they were not mine, or even any one man's clothes. I smelled clean enough, so I dressed, taking my time to ease my hurts. Chinos with a belt, habitually used two notches before I needed it. Black T and a dark green shirt; the first slightly tight but not bad at the neck, the other tight across the shoulders but not quite long enough in the arm.
I folded back the cuffs. I had to leave the top button undone at the neck.
I found trainers that were tight but endurable. A gray jacket and a trench-coat completed things. The jacket looked new, while the trench was well used and not well kept. The keys to the room were in one pocket.
There was cash in the wallet, a fifty, three twenties, two tens. I had no reason to be here. I had no reason not be here. I had no idea where I lived. Or why.
There was no luggage in the room. No car keys in my pockets.
I had no idea why I was there. I tried to think, to remember, but found no hint or clue in my own mind.
The tensions that had grown slowly, ballooned to fill my mind. I felt edgy. It was not yet morning and it was cold out and I had no reason to leave the room now. But I felt uneasy. I felt like I should be running. But why and from what, I had no idea.
I had one question in mind that felt somewhat urgent. A question I wanted answered.
Who am I?
# Syn #
I am the heir to a magical kingdom.
The thought made my smile even more broadly than before as I looked out over the glacier, light from the low sun bathing it in a misty light. The great expanse spread out around me, under a pale sky that seemed like a mirror to the glacier. For a moment, I stood alone and bathed my mind in the beauty of it. I knew I would soon see more.
Unseen, below the glacier, lay an ancient city long assumed to be myth. Norumbega.
“Syn.” Gunnthra's gruff call snatched my attention back to the present.
I turned to where he stood. It seemed like a long way back to the trucks and the busy people there. My people, I thought again, still with a sense of wonder. I have a people. People who could see me. People who remembered me. I am not alone.
“No time for sightseeing.” He deliberately took a long look around us. “Not that there's much to see.”
“It's beautiful,” I told him as I closed the distance between us, footsteps crunching on hard ice.
He shrugged big shoulders. “The novelty wears off,” he told me, his expression bleak.
“You should be happy,” I told him as I came close. “You are going home.”
“We,” he corrected me, offering a smile that looked like work, maybe fighting to get through his bushy beard. “We are going home.”
I stopped close enough to reach out and touch him, though I never would, but not so close that I had to tilt my head back to look up at him. I found I was frowning now, though more considered than unhappy. A little dubious, maybe.
“I can't really think of it that way,” I said. “Not yet.”
I believed them, of course. I had ample proof that they were more than human. I had always known that I was different. Gunnthra had long since explained to me who and what I was, and I had no cause to question what he said. It was enough that he remembered me at all, which was more than my own mother had, unless I reminded her.
I was fey, and to a much lesser extent, so was he. Fail, some would call him. A man of fey blood whose powers never manifested. Not fey, not human, but something in between.
“I know it's hard for you,” he stated it as a fact, offering no sympathy. “Fey do not nurture their children, and being raised in the human world, it's hard for some to accept what they are.”
I grinned suddenly. “I can't wait to see it! I can't wait to climb the steps to quicken my power.”
Still seeming dour, he gave a brief nod. “Aye, well,” he said, “we have to get there first.”
Surprised, I turned to look back out over the glacier. “But it's today,” I gestured expansively. “Not even so far as the horizon.” I turned back to see him gazing out over the frozen wasteland. “That's what you said, isn't it?”
He gave another nod of assent. “Norumbega is not far,” he agreed. “It's after that I'm thinking of.”
I gave a light shrug, unworried. Around us the bustle of preparation had died down, the night's camp stored and packed away. A big four-by-four pulled past us and away. Ophelia and Bjorn, by far the most eager of our companions, were first away again.
Nifflheim. It was what waited for us in that place that worried him. Norumbega lead to Nifflheim. My magical kingdom, laboring under a curse of darkness and fog; a land wasting away and dominated by Sluaghadh, Jotnar, Thursar, Hrimthursar... I discarded the strange sounding names Gunnthra had taught me and used the word I knew best. Giants.
I was going to go and fight giants to reclaim my magical kingdom and free my people.
The thought almost made me giggle, but I knew Gunnthra wouldn't like it. I had been very young the first time he told me who and what I was. It was very soon after he found me, rescued me, really. I put that thought aside. It had all been too close to my mother's death, and my feelings for her had always been mixed. I felt as though I had not grieved as much as I should, but it is hard to love someone who has to constantly be reminded that you exist, and of who you are.
“We should go.” I wanted to be moving. I didn't want to lose my buoyant good mood in thoughts of the past.
We climbed into the cab and Gunnthra started the engine. I settled myself as comfortably as I could as we pulled into line. Three battered four-by-fours. Six people. It didn't seem like much, but we were all we had.
We all knew we were taking a risk. But my people, those few who remained, needed me.
# Odin #
I turned up the coat collar against the rain and walked away from the hotel. I hadn't had to pay; I owed them nothing. It was the kind of place you paid in advance and I'd paid cash for the night, apparently. There was nothing else to learn. No questions had been asked when I'd checked in.
I was glad to be away from it. But leaving meant facing my problem. I had a hundred and thirty dollars cash and no idea who I was. The ID in my wallet didn't match my face.
Was I a thief?
The wet pavement was mine. I walked past closed stores, alone in the dark and the rain. It was too early for most places to be open. Cars passed intermittently, tires shushing on wet tarmac, lights bright and picking out individual raindrops as they fell; shadowy figures half hidden within each car. Warm and dry, which I guessed I could still be. But the rain wasn't so bad and the cold didn't bother me.
No one paid any attention to me as they drove by, but I felt somehow hunted. Maybe that's how a thief would feel. Maybe that was how it was. Maybe unease was so much a habit that I felt it even though I couldn't remember why.
A thief. It seemed a logical assumption. A pity I couldn't remember anything about how to do my job. A hundred and thirty dollars wouldn't go far.
I needed to know who I was, but how do you go about finding out who you are when you literally have no idea? Where do you start? Another man's wallet didn't seem a good place to begin. It didn't seem likely that Joel would know anything about me, other than that I had stolen his wallet, maybe. Maybe by force. But then again, he might know something. And it was all I had.
I stopped under the next street light and fished around in the wallet until I found ID with an address. It didn't take a moment.
I'd need a taxi. Or a map. I had no clue where I was, and no idea how far away the address might be from here. The fare might be more than I had.
I walked on. Deserted city streets offered me no clues. At a junction I read the street names, but they meant nothing to me. This could be any city, anywhere. I looked along each street in an attempt to judge which would lead to the center of town. Nothing offered much of a clue. As I stood in the rain and pondered my choices, I noticed a taxi and hailed it as it came close. I frowned as I watched the taxi pass me by; end of shift, going home, not interested in one more fare tonight. I watched the tail lights shrink and fade into the distance.
With a shrug, I turned away and headed the direction the taxi had come from. No need to cross the road. There was nothing to tell one street from another. I paid little mind to landmarks; there was no sense pretending to myself that I was not already as lost as it is possible to be.
A second cab passed me by and increased my annoyance with the world in general and cab drivers specifically. I focused my annoyance on the shadowy driver. It came on through the rain, wipers flicking across the windshield, lights picking out the rain.
“Just stop, dammit,” I growled under my breath, unable to stop myself from giving voice to my annoyance.
The cab slowed fast and sat in the road, not even close to the curb.
Lousy damn driver, I thought as I strode in a long diagonal down the pavement and then out into the road. The cab driver glanced in the rear view as I slid into the back and I frowned back at him as I slammed the door and settled myself.
“Take me to 38 Winslow Road,” I told him.
He pulled away without response. He turned the way I had walked, back toward the hotel. I decided it would be too ironic if the hotel were the address, or so close by as made no difference. A few moments later I was not much surprised when we passed the hotel. I relaxed and watched the buildings go by at city speeds.
My gaze drifted over the dash and the meter. Stopped and focused on the row of zeros. The cab driver hadn't set the fare.
Mentally, I shrugged. Stupid mistake on his part. Not my problem. Probably he was tired. Long shift coming to an end. I considered pointing out his mistake, but decided not to bother. After all, I thought to myself, I was probably a thief. And what would a thief do?
Steal a ride, I decided. And anything else I needed.
# Syn #
A sparse snow fell beyond the windshield, thin swirls of white from a gray sky. The flakes brightened in the headlights otherwise all but invisible glare. The engine idled and the heater ran. The glacier ended a few hundred yards ahead of us; crumpled ice washed up against low, jagged cliffs, which settled into white clad hills that blended with the darkening sky.
“What are we waiting for?” I asked, hoping for a different answer.
“Sunset,” Gunnthra said again.
I worked hard not to fidget. Contented myself with running the earphone cable through my fingers like worry beads. I'd listened to music for a time but nothing suited my mood or successfully distracted me from my disjointed thoughts. Nervously, I waited for something.
“What happens at sunset?”
Gunnthra turned and grinned at me through his beard. “It gets dark.”
I sighed and faced forward again. He liked me to experience things first hand. He said other people's experiences belonged to them, and hearing about them prejudiced your own judgment. Another person's truths, he had often said, will make lies in your own mind. He never answered questions fully, and often cited that reason.
And after it gets dark? I asked myself the question, knowing that asking Gunnthra would be wasted breath. Norumbega would appear dramatically before us, already there but invisible in daylight.
Nonsense, I knew. Norumbega was beneath the glacier. Far away from where it was once reported to be. The sixteenth century French navigator's memories had been manipulated, so Gunnthra had said. Fey had lived in Norumbega then, and had no wish to be well known to the world at large. This glacier had been the river described by Jean Allefonsce; the waters once warmed and the earth made fertile by the powers the fey wielded. But that was long ago. Now there was only frozen earth and the glacier.
We were not so far from Inukjuak, once called Inurjuat. Both names made sense to me once I learned their meaning. Once many people had lived on the now frozen river, and once there had been giants.
I glanced at the small, pale sun, hidden behind low clouds. It seemed the sun had been running along the horizon forever, diminished in increments that each took an age. Giving up on the day reluctantly as time passed, a tiny sliver still visible, the horizon a cascade of subdued reds that themselves hinted at its imminent demise.
“Do the fey worship the sun?”
The explosive but repressed snort of laughter was unexpected.
“No,” Gunnthra wrinkled his brow, bemused, “where did you get that idea?”
I shrugged, abashed. “Jean Allefonsce. The explorer.”
Gunnthra snorted again, and turned his head away to look out into the night. “He was talking about a person, and himself; and how he interpreted things, I suppose. Sol was a fey woman who ruled Norumbega. She was loved by everyone. Worshiped in a way. She was beautiful, or seemed so. Her coercive power manifested in only one subtle way, but strongly. People loved her.”
Her coercive power.
I thought about that. When I walked the steps at the eye of the world, wreathed in ethereal flame that would quicken my powers, I would also manifest a coercive power. And others. The thought thrilled me. Maybe, like Sol, I would become so bright that everyone would love me.
Made suddenly nervously excited by the thought, I giggled.
“It's no laughing matter,” Gunnthra admonished. “The fate of a world rests in your hands. When your powers manifest, there will be a small window of opportunity, a few moments in which you may set all to right or doom the world to eternal darkness.”
He had said as much before, and I did understand. “Focus,” I said.
“Focus your intent,” he agreed. “In that place, in that moment, Nifflheim will rest in the palm of your hand to do with what you will.”
“For good or ill,” I recited his own words back to him.
“Nothing must go wrong.”
“I understand.” My voice sounded meek to my own ears. I didn't want to disappoint Gunnthra, or the others. He was right. My thought were too frivolous. Selfish. I shrank in on myself, lost in contemplation of my own inadequacies. With so much at stake for so many, what had I been thinking of? My own selfish needs and wants and desires.
“Look there, Syn,” Gunnthra pointed.
I looked up. Reassured. Even angry with me, as he surely must be, he still knew I was there. He hadn't forgotten me.
I gasped softly as I looked up. Snow and mist rose in a vast cloud, driven from the body of the glacier. It rose hundreds of feet, driven by some unseen force. The swirling snow billowed outward as it rose, slowed and began to fall around us.
I stared into the sudden, unnatural snowstorm, the world beyond the windshield a confusion of big, clumped snowflakes and swirling mist. The headlamps drove bright light into the storm but showed nothing but a confusion of white and pale blue tendrils of mist. As snow settled on the windshield and began to obscure our view, I thought I saw a hint of movement. I leaned forward, moving my head slowly from side to side so that I could see between the dense patches of obscuring snow. Shadows flitted through the storm.
“Is there someone out there?”
“Yes.” Gunnthra reached out and turned off the lights. Night's fresh darkness swooped in to smother us. The mists were thinning outside, the snow failing. A landscape of black and white slowly reasserted its dominance.
“Niflungar,” he pointed through the windshield with one hand and killed the engine with the other.
I looked where he pointed. The shadowy figures, small and slight as children, began to become clear as the last of the snow fell and the mist faded, swirling only a little around each slight figure.
I could clearly see they weren't human.
“What are they?”
“Children of the mist,” he went on. “They are cruel and full of malice and mischief. Lovers of treasure, they hoard it here. They hold Norumbega now, hidden under the ice. They control the gate to Nifflheim. They mustn't know why we are here.”
“Why?” My voice was small, fearful.
“If we take back Nifflheim we will also take back control of the gate and Norumbega. As things stand, Norumbega is secure and safe for them and their treasure. They'll kill to protect that.”
I heard a door slam and snatched my head to one side. Bjorn, Ophelia and the others were climbing out of their vehicles.
I sat and stared. It is one thing to hear stories of mythical creatures, even if you believe them. It is another thing entirely to be confronted with their reality. My whole world view lurched sickeningly around me.
“Time to go,” Gunnthra said. “Don't talk. Just stay by me and you will be fine.”
I nodded sharply. My belly, my whole body felt suddenly light. I recognized the feeling. Fear-fueled adrenaline flooding my veins. My subconscious telling me to run. I knew I couldn't.
There was nowhere to run to.
Hi, this is me. The Heir Reluctant is the second book in the series that begins with The King's Ward.
Kelly Ward Reviews said:
Chris Northern's YA fantasy novel The King's Ward is a delight to the mind. Full of vivid scenes, strong emotions and strong, young characters.
But it's not just for teens. I think many adults will love this strange, unique story just as much as their kids!
It's about loneliness, abandonment and finding oneself, but doesn't sound at all as psychological as I just described. It's a fantasy journey of magic and supernatural abilities.
While I read this, the world melted away and all I saw was the land of Albion and its inhabitants. This story will linger with you long after you've finished it.
The worlds and peoples (and fans) demanded a second book of me, and I was happy to oblige. One story was never going to be enough. Even in the writing of this novel, new characters have appeared and new situations arisen that beg to be explored in future stories. I look forward to writing them, and hope you will enjoy reading them just as much.
For those waiting for the next Sumto book, I promise they will be forthcoming, but I cannot say exactly when. The sequel to Prison of Power is also required of me, and I know some of that story, and will tell it as soon as I can. As for the Dancing with Darwin stories, the sequences is incomplete and are also developing toward a point where I can publish. everything in its own time.
The Heir Reluctant will be on general release as an ebook for all platforms April 2015.