Hewn (Ultimate Fantasy Series - Vol. 1) by J.G. Cuff.
In a world that grows with every woeful mind that crosses over in the darkness, a new legend is about to be born.
Where love and loyalty, pain and anger, adventure and mystery all run deep like the roots of the mighty Sorrow Wood; an incredible journey begins.
Welcome to the Queen's Realm...where the truth is ultimate fantasy.
HE was but a boy of 10 when he first went to the edge of the Void. It would be the last time that he ever saw his brother alive; and he would make his first kill. The early arrival of spring had breathed new life into the lush Sparrow Vale; a vast, fertile plain of rivers, streams and endless pastures on the western side of the Queen's Realm. The vale's green oasis stretched out from the foothills of the western Timor Ranges, all of the way east, a day's ride by wagon, or a few hours in the saddle, to the edge of the Void Canyon. Within a month, there would be flowers in bloom, bees collecting pollen for honey, and many reasons to celebrate the end of winter's grasp.
For many miles in all directions, rustic homes, barns and large fields of varying crops spread out like the colored parcels of an endless quilt. In the south end of the Sparrow Vale, near the edge of the Buckskin Forest, stood a simple log house on a farm of nine acres and no more. The upper attic was a loft bedroom shared by two close brothers, Tiberius and Atticus Sloane.
Atticus was lanky and light-haired with small freckles dotting his fair cheeks. Although he was only still a boy, he was very strong from daily hard work on the farm. It was his tenth birthday and he had waited all year to turn a decade. Up in the loft, in the late morning, he was writing out a list of the things he was going to accomplish in the coming year. Among those things was learning to ride a horse, and beating his older brother in a foot race. Downstairs in their narrow kitchen, Tiberius had set a fire in the iron cook-stove for their lunch. At 14, he had already become a capable cook, thanks to his mother. His long, dark hair was tied neatly back. He was tall and slim; nearly grown into a man. Hard work had not passed him by either. It would be just the two of them at the table for lunch that day.
Their mother and father, Darius and Aunna, had left by wagon before the sun rose, pulled along by their only two horses named Rebel and Pride; both mares; twelve-year-old twins; one brown and one white. As much of a handful as they could be, they were no ordinary horses. They were descendants of a rare breed from the Nasura Plains in the far eastern borderlands. The unique lineage was more commonly known as Eastern Swifts. They could live an entire century before their powerful bodies began to wane, and they were faster than anything on land. Cared for well, they would outlive the Sloanes entirely, and be left to a new generation. Darius had always said that he named the horses after their distinct personalities. However, their given names reminded him more of his two sons.
The mares were strong workers and equally as stubborn. Darius had to make sure that they were let to run at least once every day. Due to their incredible speed, he did not allow Tiberius to ever ride them at full charge for fear that he might break his neck. Atticus was afraid to ride the horses. He worked with them well enough to plow and pull, but he did not like to sit in the saddle. That was fine with Darius. He already had one adventurous son; two would be a worry. While Darius and Aunna held hands, the horses pulled them along the muddy road toward Otium; a small village to the northwest that was home to fewer than 500 people. Merchant shops, farmer's markets, inns, blacksmiths and a large tavern, made up most of the town square. Darius would soon need seeds to sow, new tools, and a special grain mix to keep the horses strong throughout the hard work ahead. Aunna had a list of things that she wanted and Darius already knew that she would get every single one of them.
Aunna was a beauty. Her wavy, black hair hung down around her shoulders, and she could still seduce him with a simple glance; just the way she had always done for the past 20 years. She adored his strength and honesty, and the way he always touched her gently. She knew that he was a good man and he was the husband that she had always imagined herself with. When Aunna first met Darius, she was all too happy to start a new life. He loved her then and he loved her even more now. They had been introduced at a village dance two years after Aunna's family was killed in a house fire while they slept. She survived her parents and two sisters by being absent the night of the fire; visiting and caring for her grandmother who lived only a mile away.
After Aunna Carey became Mrs. Aunna Sloane, Darius' mother Mary died of a fever the following winter. He was glad that she was with him long enough to have seen him married and happy. Marcus Sloane had raised Darius with books, maps and all sorts of information that he had gathered in his travels. From an early age, Darius could read, write and navigate by the stars. His father had worked as a merchant trader and an adventurer of sorts, although he died quite resourceless. The one thing of real value that he left for his family were the horses.
When Darius was very young, his father never traveled far from home. After Mary passed away, his range grew and he traveled to many distant places in his old age. After Darius married, Marcus was usually gone for months, even years at a time. He died when the boys were small, having only seen his grandsons a handful of times. He would be remembered by them for his grand stories, and his big laugh.
"Atticus! Food's ready!"
Atticus climbed down the ladder from the loft and into the sitting room with a big, hungry smile, and he quickly sat himself down at the kitchen table where Tiberius was scraping fried eggs and sliced potatoes out of an iron skillet, and into two wooden bowls.
"It's your birthday Atticus," he said with a smile, "I made you three eggs, as you are growing stronger."
Atticus grinned and lifted-up his arms to flex his lean biceps.
"As soon as I'm big enough, you're gonna get it!" he said with a smile.
Tiberius laughed and sat down to join him.
After they had eaten, the brothers tidied the house, carried firewood inside, stacked it by the hearth, and then headed outside to the family's three-stall livery. They cleaned out the stalls, replenished the water- troughs with buckets from the deep, stone well behind the barn, and then they spread out fresh straw for bedding. "Ah, spring is finally here!" Tiberius said excitedly, as he tossed his rake down to the barn floor and stretched his arms out with a loud groan. Atticus quickly dropped his rake as well, and followed his brother back to the house.
Darius and Aunna returned home soon after, and they were very pleased. With the last bit of supplies unloaded by the boys, Darius sat down beside the fireplace in his old rocking chair to enjoy his pipe, while he listened to his darling wife hum an old song to herself in the kitchen. She was preparing Atticus' favorite food for his birthday dinner. The smell of cinnamon sweet bread drifted through the house. The boys were in the loft upstairs, changing out of dirty shirts. A moment later, Atticus climbed back down the wooden ladder and his father smiled, beckoning him over with his pipe.
"Come here my son."
Atticus went to his father and Darius set his pipe down on a small wooden table beside his chair.
Darius quickly reached up and tickled the boy's sides until Atticus was out of breath from laughing.
"Father let me go! Your breath is like an old dragon's!"
Aunna's laughter drifted out from the little kitchen and Darius laughed as well saying,
"You are not too big for a spanking if you'd prefer that for your birthday."
Atticus smiled slyly.
"If you can catch me Father...I am one year faster than I was before!"
Darius smiled and shook his head as he let Atticus go. "Now, I think your older brother has something for you. Tiberius!"
"I'm coming Father," Tiberius said as he came down the ladder with a smile. He looked at Atticus and then went outside through the front door.
"Atticus close your eyes," said Darius.
Atticus smiled and shut them tightly, trying to imagine what his gift might be.
"Alright, you can look now," Tiberius said from the doorway.
Atticus opened his eyes and he saw his brother holding a long, narrow shape wrapped in yellow paper and tied with a thin, brown twine. It was as tall as he was. Tiberius laughed, watching him squirm in excitement.
"Well go on, open it!" Darius said. Aunna came out from the kitchen and sat down in her husband's lap by the fire. Her long apron was spotted with the remnants of a hundred previous cakes and pies. Aunna loved to bake for her family. It was just one of her many talents. Atticus stepped forward hastily and Tiberius handed him the yellow-wrapped package. The birthday boy sat down in the middle of the room and carefully untied the string so as to not rip the pretty, yellow paper. They would use it again for more gifts in the future. Very little was ever wasted in their house. When Atticus saw what was inside, he was speechless. He stood and grinned from ear to ear at his smiling family.
In his hands, he proudly held out a beautifully carved fishing spear. They all admired Tiberius' craftsmanship. Tiny fish and scaled patterns were carved smoothly around the entire length of the wooden shaft. At the tip, a long head of iron, finely sharpened and barbed, completed the spear. The quality and detail in the work was a clear indication of many long hours of practice. Tiberius was always carving something; it was his favorite past-time.
Atticus turned the spear around in his hands and noticed that midway down the slim shaft, neatly engraved into the wood, was an inscription:
FOR THE MASTER
Atticus looked up at his big brother with a curious look. "What am I the master of?"
Tiberius pointed to the spear and said,
"You will be the master of spearing fish when I'm done with you."
"Does this mean I can finally go with you?"
Atticus had always been too small to navigate the fast flowing streams that crossed one another where Tiberius claimed that the best fishing in all of the Buckskin was. They had no reason to doubt him. He had yet to come home from a day in the woods without at least, two plump trout on his stringer. Tiberius had always wished to bring Atticus along, but the current in some places was too strong for even him to press through. Trying to catch fish while minding a younger brother, was not something he considered very practical.
"Yes Atticus. You are now old enough and big enough to come with me."
Atticus set down the spear and gave his older brother a big hug.
Then he looked over at their parents seated by the fire.
"Can we go now?"
"Of course you can go," said Darius, "It's less than an hour's walk to the streams and there is still plenty of light for you to be home by dark. Your mother and I will enjoy some quiet-time by the fire, and when you two get back later, you can open your gift from us. But you must do exactly as your brother says, and if the water's too fast yet, you two come straight home."
And so it was, Atticus Sloane had finally turned a decade, received his first fishing spear, and was off to the streams with his older brother for the very first time. It was early afternoon on a bright spring day. Once they had donned their soft leather boots and thick wool sweaters, the boys left the house with their spears in hand. Darius and Aunna reminded them to be back before dark.