Selkin's Secret

*Second instalment of the Elevea trilogy* It's fifteen years since the fall of the Vanus and the land of Elevea has started to believe in peace. But a force is gathering in the land of Nith, spies are everywhere, and after the death of the young Prince, it is clear that Nith wants Elevea back. But something else is changing in the magic powers deep beneath the public eye and hidden in a frightened girl. No one is safe and very soon, someone will have to start fighting for what they believe to be theirs.

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4. Four

ILIDH WAS TRYING to stay out of the way. She had snuck out of her chamber that morning and down to the stables, not having been seen so far and she wanted to keep it that way. Obviously Ilidh hadn’t slept the previous night, crying into the early hours and with haunted thoughts causing her to sit bolt upright every hour or so in fear and confusion. She had finally drifted into an exhausted, uneasy sleep, but on being woken the following morning by a clatter from a cart out in the courtyard, she had been so confused it scared her, trying to recall the events of the previous day, then bursting into tears on realising that it was indeed a reality that her brother was dead.

Therefore, on pulling on her normal clothes, she had tip toed from her room and all the way to the stables on the other side of the palace, well before the sun was properly awake, and considering it was the middle of the summer, it was extremely early in the day.

Ilidh had come to see her own little horse, Moss. Ilidh loved riding, and had been doing so almost as long as she could walk. Jovhulan had also loved it as a result of their father being such a keen rider, and often the three of them took long rides out into the moorland, sometimes joined by her mother and Tidhlan, but they preferred to stay with two feet on the ground. At times, Ilidh felt as though Moss was her one and only best friend.

Moss was a small pony, not even half the height of most of the working horses, but Ilidh had looked after Moss for almost five years now, Moss being not much older than Ilidh. Moss was a little dark thing, almost black with very short hair, which Ilidh kept carefully clean and well groomed. She would spend hours stamping around in Moss’ stable, cleaning it, feeding Moss and talking to him. Someone had once asked Ilidh why she had decided to call a horse such a strange name and Ilidh replied that it was because moss was dark, like her horse, and very soft when you touched it. Moss had a lovely soft coat, which Ilidh would often huddle up to, stroking and burying her head in. It was a well known fact that Ilidh and Moss had been made to be a pair, and they really were close. Moss would not eat unless it was Ilidh feeding him and Ilidh would pine away the hours when she was being taught to read and write to be able to go out to his stable, take him to a field, or ride him along the familiar hillside walk she would so often do with Jovhulan, the two of them just going out alone.

Naturally Jovhulan had his own horse, and Tidhlan had been offered one, but Jovhulan preferred not to look after his horse, just taking him out on rides. Jovhulan’s horse was a much more impressive specimen than Moss, but they weren’t as close. Jovhulan only loved riding for the exhilarating joy of cantering across the hilltops. He was never enthusiastic about much or verbally so, but you could always see the joy on his face as the wind swept past it and rose and fell with his little grey horse. He had persuaded Falnon to pay a small boy from the outskirts of the city to look after the horse instead, and it was this boy who Ilidh now bumped into as she was making her way back across to Moss’ stable having collected a bucket of water to fill his trough with.

The boy was about Ilidh’s age and he had never spoken to her before. He was incredibly shy and spent most of the time working with his back bent double. Ilidh, still in a daze from the previous day, was not looking at anything other than the bucket she was lugging along, and the boy, hands empty, appeared to simply be wandering around the front of the stables. On colliding with him, a small amount of water was thrown into the air from the bucket.

He was a lot shorter than Ilidh, who herself was very small. He jumped a mile into the air and started running about her, muttering apologies. Ilidh looked up for a second, shrugged, and carried on dragging the bucket across the paving stones. The boy offered to take it for her, but she refused, and instead he simply followed her like a frightened puppy into Moss’ quarters.

Moss evidently knew the boy, letting out a bemused grunt, and gently nudging him with his head. The boy began stroking Moss without thinking before looking across to Ilidh, who was stooped over the water trough at the back of the stable.

“How old is he?” asked the boy in a surprisingly confident tone.

“Thirteen,” Ilidh had not looked up or tried to put any emotion into her voice. She had come here to escape people and the nightmare she was living in. Then she realised that the boy was probably doing the same. “I’m sure you’ll keep the job,” she said suddenly, straightening up, “we can’t exactly do anything with the horse, and even if we do get rid of him, I’ll make sure my father finds you something else.”

The boy took a startled step back.

“I, I wasn’t -”

“I’m sorry!”

“I wasn’t asking-”

“I was just saying.”

The boy gave her a reproachful look before being gently buffed to one side by Moss, who was trying to turn around to face Ilidh. He could sense that she was distressed.

“I don’t even know your name,” said Ilidh, peering past the overfriendly Moss. “What’s your name?”

The boy lifted his eyes in a terrified stare before he had gone, running from the stable and back into his own. He had obviously felt out of place and out of order. Ilidh stared after his vanished form for a moment, feeling hurt and confused, before she was almost knocked over by Moss.

“I’m sorry, Moss,” she whispered, pulling herself around to his head and nuzzling up against it. “Everything’s just gone wrong,” Ilidh swallowed back the lump in her throat before turning back to the mess in the back of his stable. Picking up the rake, and without letting herself think another thought, Ilidh resumed her normal routine as vigorously as she could, however taking as long as she could and in complete silence. She wanted to talk to Moss like normal, but couldn’t bring herself to. Every now and then she would throw down her tools and hug him impulsively, stroking his large, smooth flanks and patting him along his back. Sometimes he would give her a playful nip, but the intelligent creature could see how upset the girl was.

Just as Ilidh finished every possible job she could think of and she decided there was nothing for it but to return to the main house, she heard a scuffle in the stable next door where Jovhulan’s horse was kept. Finishing up with Moss, she quickly stashed away the equipment and peered round the division to see the boy, wrestling with Jovhulan’s horse. At first, it looked as though the horse was trying to butt him out of the way, but then she heard the boy’s whimpers.

This confused her. The boy was wrestling with the little grey horse almost at arm’s length but the horse looked bemused and peaceful. Then she saw that the boy was, in fact, trying to push the creature out of the way of a little object he was staring at and trying to catch with his foot on the ground.

The boy succeeded in persuading the horse to retreat back so that the way was clear for him to stoop down and pick up the object. But then he caught sight of Ilidh, curiously peering round the stable walls. He froze, startled, a look of guilt clouding his face, and he held out a defensive arm, pointing at the thing on the hay strewn ground.

Ilidh inched over to it and peered down. She did not recognise it at first, so bent down to pick it up and turn it over in her hands. The black enamel gleamed in the sunlight as the bird, bordered with silver, appeared to be stretching its wings mid flight. It was a pin, the type that was fashionably attached to saddles of riders, personal charms and accessories. This was a beautiful blackbird in flight, about the size of Ilidh’s palm and forged out of heavy metal. This pin was the one which was always attached to Jovhulan’s saddle.

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