Back when I was working on Wicked Fantasy, I wrote a novella set in that world called “The Courage of Tamyn Taval.” Years later, I expanded the novella, adding a whole bunch of new words and some subplots. It’s been sitting on my CPU for a couple of years, not really doing anything. This seemed like a good opportunity to make it public and let folks read through it. I’ll be releasing one chapter per day. Enjoy!
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THE COURAGE OF TAMYN TAVAL
- The ability to act despite fear, withstand danger and difficulty
- mercenaries hired by a noble, usually to preserve the law and protect the noble’s subjects
— The Reign Scholar’s Lexicon
After decades of civil war, the ten Cities of the Reign finally found peace, united as individual city-states. They established a Senate, complete with representatives of each City, to resolve internal issues as well as establish relations with the foreign nations of elves, orks, and others.
— A History of the Reign, by Donnington True
Tamyn stood perfectly still. Stay still and say nothing. That’s what her mother told her. Tamyn did as she was told.
The trees blocked out the sky. All she could see was green. Tamyn felt their presence, felt them watching. She looked with her eyes but did not move her neck. The trees spoke in song. She heard it. Distantly, like an echo, or like a voice from the other side of a hill. Their voices in harmony. Deep and low.
Tamyn’s mother stood beside her, holding her hand. Tamyn bit her tongue. She could feel her mother’s nervousness in her grip, right on the edge of pain. Tamyn felt her mother’s fingers trembling. Felt her pulse. Felt the heat and sweat in her grip. She was afraid. All her life, Tamyn never knew her mother to be afraid.
Standing among the trees were the elves. They were taller than anyone Tamyn had ever seen before. Their hair was silver or gold or midnight and fell down as low as the ground. Their feet were bare. Their gowns shimmered like moonlight. They wore swords that did the same. When the first one spoke, her voice was like it was spoken in bells.
“Who comes before us?” the voice said. Tamyn winced. The sound wasn’t painful, but it rang in her ears and echoed for long moments after.
“I am Sylvel, Daughter of Reigyl.” Tamyn’s mother said. “And I bring my daughter, Tamyn.”
“Let us see her,” the voice said.
Sylvel let go of her daughter’s hand and Tamyn knew what to do next. She stepped forward onto the wet, cold forest floor. It was like stepping onto frozen grass. It crunched as she put down her feet. But it was still green. And when she lifted her foot, the grass resumed its shape as if no one had ever stepped there for a thousand years.
Tamyn stepped until the voice said, “Stop.” She did as the voice commanded. Even now, she doesn’t remember how long she stood in that spot, but it seemed like a dream. An eternity stretched into a single moment. She stood still until the voice said, “Go back to your mother.”
The voice ran through her like a cold wind cutting through her bones. Tamyn turned on her heel and ran back as quickly as she could. She put herself against her mother’s side.
“Why did you bring this to us?” the voice asked. The bells were deeper, darker. Tamyn covered her ears, but she could still hear it echoing in her head. She felt her heart pounding against her chest, her belly quaking.
Sylvel said, “She is my daughter. My blood.”
“She is a man child,” the voice said. “Her father’s blood.”
Sylvel shook her head. “No. He is not her father. She has no father. He does not know her.”
“You were reckless with your seed,” the voice said.
Tamyn felt her mother’s fear turn to something else. She felt her mother’s muscles stiffen. Felt her breath get short. She could almost hear Sylvel clench her teeth.
“She is my daughter,” Sylvel said. “And you will not speak of her in that way.”
Laughter then. All around them. Tamyn’s knees shook.
“You dare to speak to the Council of Trees with a threat in your voice?”
“The Council of Trees…” Sylvel said the word with plain and pure contempt. “…does not represent me. My lineage isn’t pure enough.”
“Take your thing back to the Reign of Men,” the voice said. “Take it back to where corruption thrives.”
Tamyn looked up at Sylvel. “Mother?” she asked.
“Do not listen to them,” Tamyn’s mother said. She did not look down at her daughter, only at the circle of elves. “They do not know you. They cannot see what I see.”
Sylvel put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and walked away from the circle of trees. A voice called after them.
“You are no longer welcome here, Sylvel, Daughter of Reigyl. Do not come back until you have cleansed yourself of the filth in your blood.”
Sylvel stopped. She turned to look at the elves and the trees. She shouted.
“One day, you will regret your foolish aristocracy. And you will pay for it.” Then, she turned away, leading her daughter from the forest. Laughter followed them until they hit sunlight.
They camped at the base of a mountain, the start of the long and twisting road leading up to the City of Tamerclimb. A city in the Reign of Men.
“It will be a long way up,” Sylvel told her daughter. “But we will find shelter there.”
Tamyn nodded and stoked the fire. She built a small wood structure to hold their pot above the flames. The water boiled and Sylvel dropped herbs she crushed into it. Tamyn wanted to ask about the Council of Trees, but knew it would upset her mother, so she said nothing.
A little while later, a young man approached them, walking along the stone road. He stopped. Tamyn saw his fine, dark hair falling over blue eyes. She thought he looked handsome. He looked at the stew and said, “I have carrots.”
Sylvel gestured for the man to sit. He opened his pack and retrieved three carrots. He offered them to Sylvel and she broke them into pieces, tossing them into the stew.
The man extended his hand. “Oliver,” he said.
“Sylvel,” she said, then gestured to her daughter. “This is Tamyn.”
“Hello!” Tamyn said.
Oliver touched his fingers to his brow. “Pleased to meet you.”
Tamyn kept stirring the pot, making sure the water did not boil over. They all sat quietly until Oliver said, “Going to Tamerclimb, then?”
Sylvel nodded. “We are.”
Oliver sighed. “Not my place to say so, but…” he paused. Tamyn saw his face turn to concern. “There are plenty in Tamerclimb who would give you grief.”
Sylvel looked confused. “I thought Tamerclimb was the home of the palatines?”
Oliver nodded. “That’s true.” He took a flask from his pouch and sipped from it. Tamyn smelled something awful from the other side of the fire. She made a face. Oliver saw it. He smiled and raised the flask. “Whiskey,” he said. “Not for little girls.”
“Smells like it isn’t for anyone,” Tamyn said.
That made Oliver laugh. “Probably true, little one.”
Sylvel said, “Why shouldn’t we go to Tamerclimb? The palatines are sworn to protect the Reign.”
“Exactly,” Oliver said. “Protect the Reign…from elves and dwarves and orks and the rest of the non-human peoples.”
Sylvel shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
Oliver took another swig of his whiskey. “You see, the Reign isn’t exactly friendly to elves. Or orks. Or anything that isn’t human.”
Sylvel nodded. “I’ve noticed. But I thought Tamerclimb would be different.”
Oliver frowned. “It is. In a way. You may find a few who aren’t…you know…”
Sylvel nodded. “I do.”
“But they’ll be few and far between. Most of Tamerclimb hates elves.”
Sylvel shook her head, throwing her stirring spoon into the pot. “Then where are we to go? The elves won’t take us! The Reign won’t take us! Where? Where?” Sylvel tucked her head down and put her hands over her face.
Slowly, and carefully, Oliver put his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry. But Tamerclimb…I don’t think it’s the right place for you.”
Sylvel lifted her head, her eyes red and ready for tears. “Where then? Where can we go? To the orks, maybe?”
Oliver shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. But…maybe…”
Sylvel looked at him. “Yes? Tell me. Please.”
Tamyn saw him thinking. Considering what he would say next. Finally, he spoke. “Jinix,” he said. But he said it, jinx. Something Tamyn would remember.
Sylvel shook her head. “What? Why? The city…”
“City of thieves,” Oliver said. “Yes. That’s what the other Cities call us.”
Sylvel tilted her head. “Us? You are from there?”
Oliver nodded. “I am. Born and raised there.”
Tamyn saw her mother look at the hand on her shoulder, then quickly look down to check her belt pouch.
“Relax,” Oliver said. “I’m not here for that. Besides, I took a vow. Rob no widow or orphan.”
Sylvel did relax, but only a little. “How do you know I’m a widow?”
He took his hand away and reached into the pot, quickly grabbing at the wooden spoon. Took him two tries, but he got it. He wiped his hands on his trousers, hissing through his teeth. “Why else would an elf and her daughter be on the road alone?”
Sylvel shook her head. “All I have learned of the people of the Reign is to not trust them.”
Oliver nodded. “That makes sense. But I hope I have earned a little trust?”
Sylvel looked at him for a long time. Finally, she said, “A little.”
He smiled. “Good. Let me tell you why I’m here. Perhaps some honesty will earn a little more.” He stirred the spoon, preventing the soup from boiling over. “I’m here to pick up something and bring it back to Jinix.”
“What is that?” Syvlel asked.
“My nephew, Shyver.” He stirred a bit more, then he said, “I think it’s ready.” He tasted the stew from the spoon and nodded. “It is.”
Oliver served it out and they sat together and ate. Tamyn listened as he spoke.
“He came here with his sister. But it isn’t working out. She asked me to come get him.”
“She’s giving her son to you?” Sylvel asked.
Oliver nodded. “Seems he’s ‘not appropriate’ for Tamerclimb.” He sipped the stew and made a warm sound with his throat. “This is good.”
“The herbs make the soup,” Sylvel said.
Oliver sipped more. Then, he put down the bowl and reached into his jacket. He pulled out a letter, handed it to Sylvel. “This is from her.”
Sylvel took the letter and read it. Tamyn watched her eyes move over the page. She knew how to read the language of the elves, but not the Reign. Not yet. Her mother folded the note and gave it back to him.
“I understand,” she said.
Oliver put the note back in his jacket then took the bowl back into his hands. “I’m picking him up. Bringing him back to Jinix. Raise him there.”
Sylvel almost laughed. “You’re taking him from Tamerclimb to raise him in Jinix?”
“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “It’s a funny story.” He pointed at Sylvel with his spoon. “Come with me. We’ll travel together. Better to travel like that.”
Sylvel considered it.
“I thought I’d have to make the whole trip on my own,” he said. “It’d be good to have company.”
Tamyn watched her mother. Finally, Sylvel smiled and nodded. “Yes. We will.”
“Good,” Oliver said. “Let’s finish the stew. I have some whiskey, if you want it.”
“We have a tent,” Tamyn said, her sudden enthusiasm startling her.
Oliver looked at Sylvel. “I wouldn’t presume.”
“It is big enough for all of us,” Sylvel said. “And your nephew.”
Oliver nodded. “All right then. It’s a deal.”
They all ate together until the stew was gone. Sylvel sipped some of the whiskey and made a sour face. Oliver laughed. “Told you. Not for young women.”
“I am no woman,” Sylvel said. “I am an elf.”
“Not for elves, either.” He lit a pipe and laid back, his hand on his belly. Tamyn washed the pot in the nearby river, using sand and water to get it clean. When she returned, Oliver and her mother were speaking. They stopped as soon as she could hear their voices. Oliver began telling stories. Tamyn spent all night listening until she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She felt her mother putting her into the tent.
Later that night, she heard the both of them talking again, outside the tent by the fire. But her eyes were heavy and she fell asleep.