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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3. Three

THE PALACE WAS silent. Not even a chink of pans dared break the silence, even at dinner hour, as the air settled heavy and thick upon the long, shady passageways and deserted cloisters. Even worse was the courtyard outside. It hadn’t been that empty since Hinnid was built. Every person was herded into stuffy rooms, unable to move or go out, petrified to break the silence.

In the main hall of the palace there were only a handful of people, sitting in what would appear at first an intimate formation. However it was clear that no one was talking to the other, all withdrawn into their own shells of shock and disbelief.

Marda, Falnon, Adinè, Korani, Castri, Okmid, Tidhlan and Ilidh were scattered across a few stools, armchairs and Falnon’s throne. Ilidh was cross legged on the hearth, which was unlit but still seemed to be smouldering in the atmosphere of the room. Tidhlan was only half in view, hidden behind his father’s throne on the steps leading down into a store room behind. Falnon, perched on his throne, was leaning forwards to grasp onto Marda’s hands, as she let a constant stream of tears fall without making a sound. Korani was still rocking, now on a stool at the side of the throne, next to Okmid, who was reclining in an armchair, head buried in his hands with only his head of startling white hair visible underneath the wrinkled skin of his hands. Adinè was positioned on another stool closest to the hearth and Ilidh, his mouth a tight line and his hands clenched into tight fists. Castri was pacing in front of all of these, throwing his head to the heavens every now and then to return his pained gaze to each and every other person in the room, taking the scene in.

“What happened?” asked Castri quietly, directing his stern gaze past the throne to the hidden figure of Tidhlan.

There was no answer. Several sets of reddened eyes swivelled to where he was hidden, but the boy did not move an inch, still staring intently at the woodwork of the throne in front of him. He had not been crying, wailing, looking for comfort or demonstrating any of the others’ reactions. The entire time Tidhlan had stayed in this mute, stupefied state.

“Tidhlan?” asked his mother gently, swallowing the tears in her voice.

Still Tidhlan did not move or acknowledge this, even his hair looking darker in the half lit hall. There were no lamps, only light streaming in from the windows, but hidden in the dip at the back of the hall, it was hard to make him or his darkened face out.

“Tidhlan?” Marda repeated, slightly louder.

The impenetrable boy continued to ignore this, or did not hear.

“Tidhlan, my boy,” attempted Falnon, but he was interrupted by Tidhlan springing to his feet. In an instant Tidhlan had bounded past the huddle by the hearth and was striding down the hall, without a word or expression. A deep emotion was bubbling underneath him but he was gone so quickly that no one was able to interpret it. Already nearly as tall as his father, he looked like a man as he pulled the hall doors open and let then swing noisily shut behind him.

Marda burst into tears. Falnon was on his feet now, trying to comfort the sobbing woman as she completely collapsed.

“I don’t understand,” she could be heard to be moaning. “I can’t believe it.”

Falnon just about managed to calm her down enough for the sets of eyes to focus questioningly on the only other person who could offer some answers.

Ilidh flinched and started to shake her head.

“I don’t know,” she whimpered, pulling her thick hair across her face and hugging her knees tighter.

“Tell us what you do know,” offered Korani in a calm tone.

“Well,” Ilidh scanned her gaze nervously across to her parents, where Marda had just about managed to contain her audible sobs, now being calmed by Falnon, who was rubbing her shoulders soothingly, a tear sliding down his cheek and into his beard. “We were playing in the Kingfisher and I found a den. We were going to rebuild it. I was just looking for some leaves to use as a roof and Jovhulan screamed. A bit after that Tidhlan said, ‘Ilidh, is that you?’ when it wasn’t, but I ran back to the den. Tidhlan was calling for help and I found him with Jovhulan, and Jovhulan was unconscious. Tidhlan told me to run straight back here and get help, so I did. I don’t know what,” she broke off with a little gasp, “what actually happened!”

“Well,” began Castri, gazing hard at Ilidh, his thoughts obviously buzzing, “Adinè has told me he endured a serious blow to the head,” Adinè nodded earnestly in agreement. “So it is most likely he simply tripped over onto the ground.”

“There were lots of logs and stones,” said Ilidh quickly, her wide eyes leering out of the gloom.

“But the scream?” rasped a low, previously unheard voice. Okmid had raised his head and was peering at Ilidh, asking her.

“I don’t know!” whimpered Ilidh, breaking out into tears again, “I don’t know!”

“Come on you,” said Korani suddenly, standing up and offering Ilidh her hand, “let’s go to the kitchen for a drink.”

A bewildered Ilidh shuffled to her feet, and in no mood to object, let Korani, who was still slightly wobbly, lead her out of the hall. Marda lifted her head to watch and was able to look back around the room, fixing her gaze on Okmid.

“What do you mean?”

“If Jovhulan simply tripped, it is unlikely he would have screamed.”

“Well, he could have seen something to make him scream and jump back which may have caused him to trip,” said Castri, throwing his hands into the air. “We have to get Tidhlan to talk to us!” His voice, which was resonating impatience, had Marda on her feet. The small woman of a quiet disposition suddenly looked huge and terrifying.

“Tidhlan will talk when he is ready to talk,” she growled, “and no one is to approach him until he wants to be approached.”

Castri bowed respectfully.

“My sincere apologies, I will not cause any further distress.”

Marda seemed to blank this.

“You may leave.”

Castri reproachfully took a sweeping glance of the room, tried to catch the eye of Adinè, but on failing, spun on his heels and with a curt nod, followed the path back to the tall double doors with only slightly muted footsteps.

Marda shook her head slowly from side to side. She shifted on her feet and softly approached Adinè, where he was now watching the proceedings with a deep frown and slightly disgusted face.

“I would like to thank you for your help today,” she said, her voice having lost the angry tone, now sounding weak and helpless. “You are, as always, such as help.”

Adinè nodded politely and spoke quickly, avoiding Marda’s gaze.

“I should get home, it is late.”

Marda tried to force her mouth into a smile as he pulled himself off the stool, letting it scrape slightly across the stone and marble floor. Without another word he was gone, and despite his few years, he stooped like an old man as his figure flashed through the doorway.

Marda sank back into her chair, running her head through her hands.

“Okmid, how does this make sense? Why won’t Tidhlan talk to us?”

“He is in shock, my dear, and does not know how to express it.”

Marda shot her eyes up to Falnon, who was standing protectively by her side.

“I don’t understand this. It doesn’t make sense, it can’t be real!”

Falnon made a pained noise.

“Time, it takes time,” mused Okmid as he straightened in his armchair, caressing Marda with his gaze. “It will take time for everybody. Right now you need each other, and Tidhlan needs to know who he can talk to.”

Marda swallowed back more tears as she stood up, searching for Falnon’s arms. They clung onto each other as children would, Falnon stroking her hair as a mother would, and Marda desperately moaning.

“My baby: my baby boy!”

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