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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1. One

THE SUMMER HAZE was swept down the river with the glistening water, as the cackles of a child’s laughter ricocheted off the tall bank rising on one side. A white butterfly seemed to glow for an instant as it cascaded in front of the glaring sun and flitter out of sight. The music the water made tinkled serenely in the brightness, as the child’s laughter was joined by another, shouts being borne over the top by the slight, teasing breeze.

The parched lawn was sprinkled with strands of green, but prevailing golden tufts of the moorland turned the landscape into a fiery orange. The only green was glowing bright in the sunlight from the small copse of trees lining the edge of the raised bank and curving round to put one end of the tiny lawn in shade and across the singing river. It was here that the two boys were splashing happily along the shallow riverbed, every now and then stooping down to scoop out a handful of algae and throw it at the other amid squeals of delight. The two pairs of boots had been abandoned on the side in the shade of the tall bank. Another, smaller pair of boots was next to them in a delicate brown, compared to the boys’ startling black. Three pairs of stockings had also been removed and thrown on top. The boys had their baggy shirts hanging loose, letting them occasionally be splashed with the murky water and splattered with the green algae. They did not notice or care.

The elder boy looked just at the beginning of manhood at age fourteen. He had very light brown hair with streaks of blonde. It was very curly and unkempt, flapping around in his large, dark eyes, which were a stark contrast to the rest of his light figure. His voice, as it called over the delighted screams of his brother, was starting to crack at regular intervals, booming at times, but his delighted exclamations were still those of a boy.

His younger brother had a contrasting head of thick, rich nut brown hair. It gleamed majestically in the sunlight and splashing water. He was a sturdier little man, and although only twelve and with a solemn gaze at normal times, he was attacking his brother will full force, looking a little pleased at himself for daring to do such a thing.

There was suddenly a great sound of breaking branches and a few yells. The boys played on, and after a second or two more of the crashes, another tiny face appeared at the top of the raised bank, peering out of a bush. She spotted the two boys and after ducking out of the way of a few jets of water, she clambered out of the bush and along the top of the raised bank, trying to find a way down.

The little girl looked the youngest at only eleven. She had a rounded face and features with the same large eyes as her eldest brother, but the same hair as her other. It cascaded down her shoulders in a thick, matted mop, from water, sweat and adventuring. A dark brown, thick layer covered most of her face as it fell dead straight and well past her shoulders. She had a spattering of freckles which had been brought out in the sunlight and bright red cheeks. As she was grinning wildly, it was possible to see her perfect rows of little shining teeth and thin lips, which still managed to spread a remarkable width across her face.

She resembled a monkey as she began to scramble carefully along the edge. She was in a long, woollen skirt, a deep red, which was not helping, so she ended up scooping most of it under her arms, revealing a pair of knobbly knees and bare feet, caked in mud. Her little white, lacy blouse was also not tucked in and smeared with grass stains. The tops of her arms looked a little sunburned.

As a trio, the three children looked carefree and were enjoying an afternoon in the sunshine. They were in one of their favourite little hidden spots in the middle of the moor, and the only other sounds were the odd bleat of an indignant goat which had managed to escape from one of the farms scattered in the depths of the valley.

“Jovhulan!” shouted the girl as she continued to make her way along and slowly diagonally down the bank where it was a little less steep. “You have to come and see this!”

She caught the younger boy’s attention and they both halted, spinning round to look at their sister, watching curiously as she made a tiny splash, jumping down the rest of the way and into the river.

“What is it?” asked the older boy impatiently.

“Just come and see,” she cried enthusiastically, beckoning wildly with both her arms.

The younger boy shrugged at his brother and splashed across the river to the tiny ledge the girl had used to land on. There was a tiny path curved up the side of the bank which she had used to come down. He pulled himself out of the water and in front of his sister, managing to half run up the bank and to the copse of trees. The girl, ignoring her eldest brother, followed him back up the bank, struggling a little, but falling over on the top in the end. The dark haired boy had waited for her and now looked questioningly down at his brother.

“Come on Tidhlan,” he said impatiently. His little sister, now stood protectively by his side folded her arms in agreement.

The elder boy sighed, gave them a little smile and next moment had bounded across the river and effortlessly up the bank. His light hair shone even more as he climbed, but at the top the three were in the shade of the trees. He nodded to his little brother and sister, and she turned on her heels and began to half skip through the trees.

There were more than first appeared and it was quite dark and damp, even in the middle of the summer heat wave. They weren’t impressive trees, but were fairly lively being so close to the water with thick foliage if not thick trunks.

“There!” cried the girl, halting and pointing to a mess ahead. It looked like a few fallen trees, but as the boys moved closer to inspect it, they could make out some logs and rope.

“It looks like someone’s tried to make a den, that’s all,” shrugged the eldest, Tidhlan.

“Yes, so couldn’t we make our own den?” she asked, skipping around the logs in delight.

The dark haired boy, Jovhulan starting curiously picking his way around the wreckage.

“There’s quite a lot of rope here,” he said, trying to pull it out from under one of the logs, “and some more fallen trees I spotted back there,” gestured in the direction of the river.

“Hey, I’ll be able to find us some mushrooms and we can have a feast,” said the girl, excitedly, “once we’ve rebuilt this den, obviously.”

“Sure,” smiled Tidhlan, now following Jovhulan’s path to the pile of trapped rope. “It’s damp but I’m sure we can build something.”

There was a crash and clink of logs rolling over each other.

“Ilidh!” cried Tidhlan. “Be careful!”

“Sorry,” she sang, appearing from the other side of the logs and debris, “I thought I saw some canvas underneath.”

“Hey, Ilidh,” began Jovhulan, calling her over, “why don’t you go and find some foliage to use as a roof, and Tidhlan and I will sort out the main structure?”

“Sounds good to me,” she shrugged, eyeing the pile that her brothers were now almost upon. Deciding that she’d rather find leaves than heave that lot around, she turned from the pile and headed into the tiny patch of woodland, away from both the river and the den, making sure to remember where it had been.

Ilidh carefully picked her way through the thicket, looking out for any fallen branches that were still covered in leaves. On finding none and going round in circles for about ten minutes, Ilidh came across a small bundle of thickly green bushes. Surely if she snapped off a few branches, it wouldn’t do any harm?

Deciding that this would be best, Ilidh managed to twist a few limbs back and forth a few times until they snapped. She gathered about six into her arms, most of them longer than her torso, and was about to get going back to the den when she felt something start to crawl up her arm. With a tiny shriek, throwing most of the contents of her grip into the air and dancing madly about, she managed to flick off the large, hairy beetle. She stood stock still for a second after, checking that it hadn’t landed on her skirt or bare feet. Cautiously, she began to scoop each individual branch back up, checking it thoroughly for any more insects or undesirable bugs. In doing so, she managed to accidentally stand on a sharp stone, letting out a wince of pain and a gruesome face.

It was not going well and Ilidh was taking much too long. What if her brothers had already finished building the den without her? She’d thrown the branches onto the ground for a second time in her anguish and would have to go through the whole painstaking process again.

Feeling very unhappy indeed, Ilidh gave it one more go, scooping all the branches up in one movement, not allowing herself to look at them. At once, she thought she could feel a million tiny creatures creeping along all her arms and legs. Squirming uncomfortably, Ilidh’s struggle was broken by another sound.

The scream sounded much like it had done earlier as her brothers had been playing in the river. This time is was more strangled, more drawn out and scared. Ilidh froze. She did not dare put down the branches in her arms. Everything else had fallen silent. The scream had stopped. Ilidh knew she was not far from the den, so heard Tidhlan’s frightened voice call out.

“Ilidh, is that you?”

Ilidh did not move. It was not her, for she was standing out of Tidhlan’s hearing range and vision. The scream she had heard had most definitely been Jovhulan’s. Was he in trouble? Was he hurt?

Ilidh threw down the pile of branches just as Tidhlan’s escalated and started yelling.

“Ilidh! Get here now! Ilidh? Help!”

Ilidh crashed through the trees and after about ten seconds could see where she was going: the pile of wood and logs. Some had been strewn across the ground by her brothers, but now she could see neither of them.

“Jovhulan? Help!” Tidhlan was so panicked his voice was cracking constantly, broken by the odd sob. Ilidh followed this noise around the side of the log pile, running to almost fall upon her brothers.

Ilidh could not immediately see what was wrong. Tidhlan was on the ground, and now she saw him to be kneeling over Jovhulan. Jovhulan looked unconscious and pale. Tidhlan had madly ripped off his own shirt and was busy trying to tear it into strips, but his shaking hands were preventing him.

He looked up the moment Ilidh had arrived and began to shake his head, out of his depth as to what to do.

“Ilidh you have to run back home and get help. Get Adinè to ride here immediately with help. As fast as you possibly can! Do you understand?”

Ilidh nodded, her insides seizing up in fear and panic. She did not know what was happening but knew that it was both in and out of her control.

“Run!” cried Tidhlan.

And then Ilidh saw it. She saw the pool of blood that was spreading like a creature with dark red claws around the back of Jovhulan’s head.

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