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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6. Six

MARDA FOUND TIDHLAN in the little family graveyard, standing in the stream which ran through the centre with his trousers rolled up to the knee. He was picking up stones from the bed of the stream and hurling them with all his strength back into the clear water. He was not even skimming them, just tossing them in what might be seen as anger. Surprisingly, he was not alone. Little Renisella was perched on the tiny footbridge running over the stream, legs dangling into the water, watching Tidhlan in complete silence with a very stern expression. Tidhlan appeared to be ignoring her, but it was clear that she was keeping him company and stopping him from completely losing his head. The girl was very quiet most of the time and Marda was never sure quite how close she was to her children. So far Marda hadn’t seen her upset, but she guessed that Renisella would be taking out her grief by supporting the others who needed it. She was such an innocent, uncomplaining soul.

Renisella saw Marda approaching and hopped up onto her feet, pulling her worn boots back on. She gave Marda a little polite smile before scurrying off down the path back into the cloisters, aware that Marda wanted to talk to Tidhlan alone. Tidhlan didn’t even notice this exchange, and carried on hurling the stones and pebbles. He had gotten past his stage of shock and was now angry.

“Tidhlan,” said Marda gently, lowering herself onto the bridge cross legged so she could observe him.

Tidhlan was a solitary creature and always had been. Jovhulan had been the happy one, although the most shy. Tidhlan had no nerves or trouble with people, but Jovhulan had quietly liked company and Tidhlan resented it. Ilidh was just Marda’s little bubbly thing, usually bursting with life and chatter. Tidhlan never spoke unless there was a need to, as Jovhulan was also in the habit of doing. However because it was Jovhulan who loved the company, he had always got on much better with his sister than his brother, and although the two were close in many ways, there were far too many things they did not share.

Firstly, Tidhlan looked different from his younger siblings, hated social situations and horse riding, and was much more accustomed to storing up his emotions as a teenage boy rather than share them like his sister, or deal with them quietly like Jovhulan. Ilidh had been known amongst immediate family as the flower of the family, Jovhulan as the happy mouse and Tidhlan, the dark horse.  Even with his light hair, it was easy to see why, especially at that particular moment, as Tidhlan took particular pleasure to ignore his mother and carry on throwing the stones into the innocent water with as much might as he could muster.

Marda decided it would be best not to try and speak to him, but to let him speak. Tidhlan, the stubborn boy, did not, therefore speak. He carried on throwing the stones, his expression as changing as a brick wall.

After about fifteen minutes and realising that his mother meant to stay and listen to him, he irritably threw down his little armful of stones and turned to her.

“It wasn’t an accident,” he said loudly, in a crisp, almost rasping voice.

Marda was taken aback by this statement. Tidhlan was staring bluntly at her, as if daring her to challenge him. She let her mouth drop slightly open, taking this in.

“What makes you think that?” she asked, trying as hard as she could to make it sound simply inquisitive. Inside, her guts were raging, her head spinning madly as a new torrent of pain poured in.

Tidhlan frowned, now staring at a point past Marda, thinking hard. He should have known he would have to explain himself, yet his disgruntled expression showed through.

“I saw someone,” he said simply. “Jovhulan screamed and I turned to see someone running away. I thought it was Ilidh but it wasn’t.”

Marda’s mouth clamped shut. She didn’t know what to say.

“Are you sure?”

“Very,” nodded Tidhlan, his face lighting up slightly, now that he was being listened to.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I didn’t believe it. I’ve been thinking it all through a lot: there was definitely someone else there.”

Marda didn’t know what to say. She sat, staring at her boy, not sure how to confide in him or comfort him.

“You’ve been through a very traumatic experience,” she said quietly. “We all understand.”

Tidhlan threw his head into the air and laughed.

“I bet I’ll be hearing that a lot,” he scoffed. “‘It must have been awful. We’re very sorry for your loss. It wasn’t your fault!’ and I can tell you right now, mother, I don’t care for your words, or anyone else’s. They’re not going to make me feel any better and they most certainly can’t bring Jovhulan back.”

“Tidhlan,” began Marda in a startled moan.

“It seems stupid that yesterday we were just mucking about in the stream by the Kingfisher as we’ve been doing all summer. We’d just gone out on the moor like any other day, and Ilidh had begged to come with us. She normally doesn’t come, but she felt adventurous yesterday. She found a den and Jovhulan wanted to help her rebuild it: we started trying to sort out the logs, like any other children would. Ilidh was finding leaves, like any girl would. I’d decided that for once I would go along with my brother and sister’s crazy plans, but how could we ever make a good enough den? I knew Ilidh would be disappointed, but the irony is she never was disappointed with the den. Look at us now!

“I woke up this morning expecting Jovhulan to be hammering on my door like he usually does, bored of being the first one up. Normally I shout at him, feel bad later and come down to offer to take him to the fields and the moor if the weather’s nice. That’s what happened yesterday. It won’t ever happen again. Jovhulan will never hammer my door again, I’ll never argue with him again. We’ll spend the days and nights reminiscing on what we loved about him and laughing about his strange habits and crying because he’s been taken from us. Then we’ll hug each other, tell each other we love each other and that it was no one’s fault.

“I’ll tell you right now, mother, it’s stupid and pointless. It’s like everything was too good to go on forever. Were we complacent? Were we stupid to be playing round in a dangerous place? That’s what you’ll be asking yourself as you cry piteously away. You’ll say your lamb has been taken by fate and that all his hopes and dreams have died. Did he even have time to dream? Did he even think about the future? I certainly hadn’t when I was his age, and I’ve barely thought of that now. The only future I can see now is this big lie. Did Jovhulan himself realise how much he loved his family? No, I can’t even realise that now that I’ve lost him. All I can see is this stupid, stupid mess. It doesn’t make sense, because none of it is right.”

“Darling, I don’t quite understand what you’re saying,” said Marda helplessly, as her pacing boy stamped across the stream, sending water flying into the air.

“What I’m saying,” he said, stopping still to observe his mother, his dark eyes looking almost magically green in the summer light, “is that I don’t care for your sympathy or anyone’s for that matter. Jovhulan wouldn’t understand it, and it’s all just a big lie.”

“OK, sweetie, I’m here to listen.”

“Really?” Tidhlan glared at his mother. “Will you listen when I start saying how much I hated Jovhulan?”

“You didn’t hate him, no matter what you think.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

Marda could see that Tidhlan was now simply spurting angry words. He did not know what he was saying, and she could see as they finally caught up with him.

“He was just my little brother, wasn’t he? Of course he was annoying at times!”

“Aren’t we all?” said Marda, raising her eyebrows to catch his sideways glance. He shrugged.

“We were having such a nice time yesterday. Now I feel like I’ll never have a nice time again.”

Marda sighed deeply. Tidhlan had not resumed his indignant pacing or throwing of the stones. Now he was the small, scared boy again. He did not realise, but he was facing his mother with a pleading expression, trying his hardest to express himself whilst desperately attempting to make his thoughts come into an order which would make sense.

“We’re all here for you, you know that?” Marda soothed, watching as Tidhlan stood helplessly, gazing past her at one of the small gravestones behind. “You can talk to me, or your father, Korani, anyone!”

Tidhlan drew his eyes back to her, scowling.

“I’ve already told you, your sympathy means nothing.”

Marda nodded slowly, running her hands along the edge of the stone bridge.

“I know, I know.”

There was a sudden patter of feet, and both Marda and Tidhlan spun round to see the mass of hair walking fast, at almost a run, towards them. Ilidh looked slightly worried as she ran towards them.

“Mother!” she cried, “I couldn’t find anyone else. I just went to see Moss and Skye’s gone!”

Marda tilted her head. It took her a moment to realise that Ilidh was talking of Jovhulan’s little horse. Ilidh had reached the stone bridge and was panting slightly.

“Surely she’s just been taken out?”

“No, I went to the fields and she wasn’t there, nor was she anywhere along the usual route, and there’s no one who would ride her. I looked in her stable and her saddle and reins have gone.”

“Well someone’s taken her out.”

Ilidh frowned deeply and cast Tidhlan a passing glance.

“Skye is Jovhulan’s horse. No one else ever rode her.”

“Well can you find the stable boy?”

“No, I couldn’t find him, that’s why I found you.”

Marda frowned in thought.

“Well, there’s no use in panicking. He’ll turn up sooner or later and you two can work out what’s happened to the horse.”

Ilidh scowled.

“What if she’s been stolen?”

Marda sighed dramatically, shaking her head.

“I think there are more important things to be worrying about, Ilidh. There’s not really much we can do. If the stable boy doesn’t come back by dinner, I’ll send someone to his home.”

Ilidh looked incredibly hurt for a moment before wiping her expression clear.

“Fine,” she shrugged, “after all, it’s only a horse.”

She spun on her heels with surprising elegance and began a dejected walk back to the gate. Marda sighed again, knowing she had hurt Ilidh’s feelings. Ilidh was obviously using the horses as a distraction, not wanting everything that had happened at the palace to disrupt everything in her life. But once again, Marda had overlooked this.

Marda heard a splash from behind her and turned to see Tidhlan pulling himself from the stream, ignoring her. He didn’t bother putting his boots back on, and after briefly drying his feet on the lawn, slung his boots over his shoulder and started to follow Ilidh’s path back to the cloisters.

“So much for peace and quiet,” he muttered once he thought he was out of his mother’s hearing range. But Marda heard his cursing words. She did not know how to react to it. Everything was becoming a bit overwhelming. Now she had upset both Ilidh and Tidhlan and they both seemed impenetrable. She pulled herself up from the bridge with the intention of going back into the palace, but something drew her gaze back into the depths of the graveyard.

Marda had not revisited the place many times before, but she just about managed to find the tiny, marbled gravestone embellished with leaves and flowers, carved into the greying stone. Falnon didn’t visit his parents often, and here his mother’s grave lay humble and alone. Marda stared at it for a while, trying to figure out how she would get through to Tidhlan. Marda had never known Falnon’s mother, and Falnon’s mother had never known Marda. Marda wondered what she would have made of the bastard farm girl who married her son. Falnon had said that she disapproved of Falnon playing with anyone socially low or undesirable. Marda and Falnon had often laughed at the irony of what love had destined him to fall for.

Marda ended up sitting in front of this little gravestone, her head between her hands. Surely Falnon’s mother would have appreciated what Marda had done as a young, frightened girl. Marda had sacrificed everything for Falnon, for Hinnid and Elevea. The Vanus hadn’t been heard of or sighted for these past fifteen years. So much had changed. Marda the frightened farm girl was now Queen Marda the frightened mother, frightened for her children. What was going on? Was what Tidhlan had said true? Had someone else been there when Jovhulan fell and hit his head? Did they have something to do with it?

Surely Falnon’s mother would scold Marda now. She had never let Falnon go out to playanywhere not twenty yards within in adult. Marda had let her three wander miles into the moorland where there was no one to help and where there was such potential for an accident.

Marda was crying again. But she was not crying for her darling Jovhulan this time. She was crying from the impending, crushing guilt. Why had she been so incompetent? It had been her fault, leaving her children so helpless, to fend for themselves and suffer like this. Tidhlan was so traumatised. For all Marda knew he had to sit with his dying brother, or already dead, by himself and thinking that there was someone else there. He was probably blaming himself as well.

And now Marda could not do anything to get through his thick skin. He was angry and bitter, and her words had hurt him. Marda was Tidhlan’s mother, why couldn’t she help him? Again, Marda knew she must be doing something wrong. What was she to do?

She did not know how long she was crouched in front of the gravestone, being intimidated by this unfamiliar woman who was making her feel more guilty and worthless by the minute. In the end, Marda sprung to her feet, shook her head clear and decided that she ought to do something about that awful missing horse.

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