Student Spotlight: Peter Behravesh

Interview and Featured Work

Why did you choose Stonecoast?

I wanted an MFA program that would nurture my passion for popular fiction while still providing a rigorous academic experience. Stonecoast is the only low-residency program that meets these criteria. Plus, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn from writers like David Anthony Durham, Liz Hand, Jim Kelly, Nancy Holder, Dora Goss…the list goes on!

What do you write? 

These days, I mostly write what I like to call “Persian space fantasy.” Think Star Wars meets Arabian Nights—not quite sci-fi, not quite fantasy, but somewhere in between. I prefer writing novels, but I also enjoy writing short fiction. Not too long ago, I wrote my first novella, an epistolary flintlock fantasy. I find it fun to flex different creative muscles.

Who is an author or artist who has influenced you?

Recently, I’ve fallen in love with Joe Abercrombie. He’s got a real flair for subverting worn out fantasy tropes, and his character work is incomparable. Reading him has inspired me to imbue every character I write with moral ambiguity, rather than simply casting each one as good or evil.

What is your best Stonecoast memory?

My favorite moments from my first residency were all the late night conversations. It’s a joy to connect with other writers and talk about narrative structure, or the state of traditional publishing, or the latest Ann Leckie novel. I’ve never had that before.

What do you hope to do in the future?

I have multiple novels and short stories planned in my space fantasy series, so that should keep me busy for the foreseeable future. I also hope to put out some new music this year.

If you could have written one book that already exists, which book would it have been?

Despite its problematic treatment of women, I’ve got to go with “Dune.” It’s still a classic, flaws and all.

The chapter below is an excerpt from A RAVENING FIRE, one of my works in progress. The story follows Tàl, a wolf born with golden fur, as he grapples with his supposed destiny to become a god. In this chapter, Sage and Elwyn, of the arboreal people known as the Cyri, leave their home to warn Tàl of an impending invasion, which Elwyn has foreseen in a dream.

 

It should have been dark still.

Sage rolled over and groaned, tugging the barkcloth blankets back up to her chin. She rubbed one slumber-crusted eye with the heel of her palm, squinting up as thin fingers of pale sun stole through the interwoven branches above. A dustmote floated across her vision, winking in the golden light.

She blinked. “Shit.” Beside her, Suil still slept soundly. Sage prodded her in the ribs. “The sun’s coming up!”

“Mmm?” Suil propped herself on one elbow. “What’s – oh!”  She lurched to her feet, flinging off the tangled blankets. “Of all the days to oversleep. Where in Rhi Hydd’s name is Ruis?”

“No idea.” He and Beith should have arrived an hour ago with the harts. Sage stumbled over to the basin and splashed icy water onto her cheeks. “I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him to wake up on time,” she said, deliberately ignoring the irony in that statement as she dragged her trousers on, chin still dripping.

Suil was pacing now. Waking light chased her shadow back and forth across the floor, teasing through the chestnut locks that tumbled down her back. “What if they were taken? What if we’ve been found out?”

“What if?” Sage finished fastening her shirt and shrugged into her aelderbark armor, cinching the belt tight. She winced as a spear of sunlight stabbed into her eye. “What if Elain takes root in the Aelderwood again? What if Rhi Hydd rises from the sea? Don’t tell me you’re backing out now, after all that talk of solidarity.”

“I’m not. I just need a moment to think.” Suil hugged her shoulders, gooseflesh prickling her bare skin. “How could we let this happen?”

“Doesn’t matter, it happened.” Sage grabbed her aelder blade from its peg, checked the edge then slung it at her hip. “We continue as planned.” She gave Suil a peck on the lips. “Put some clothes on. I’m going to find Elwyn.” Without waiting for a reply, she snatched up her cloak, swung her legs over the ladder, and slid to the ground.

Though dawn trembled over the eastern edge of the Aelderwood, few Cyri yet stirred. Nevertheless, Sage crept cautiously across the tattered grass and scattered ferns of the forest floor. A chill lingered in the still air, despite the sun’s warm rays. It must have rained sometime during the night. Thick mist infiltrated the valley, sending questing tendrils through the trees – wrinkled ghosts that hung low and lonely among the dark limbs, shied away the moment Sage drew close.

She splashed across a shallow stream, the coursing water cool on her bare feet. An image appeared in her mind, sudden and sharp, of an owl snatching a stag beetle out of the air – a  message from Scry, both greeting and boast, telling her he’d eaten. A moment later he landed on her shoulder, tiny talons digging into her armor. She smiled in spite of her anxiety, and sent him an image of a pair of Cyri stumbling from their beds, yawning and rubbing their eyes. She wasn’t sure scout owls understood the concept of lateness, but he nibbled her ear in sympathy all the same.

A familiar wave of sorrow washed over her as her parents’ aelder came in sight. Elwyn’s aelder now, she corrected herself. Her brother was already up, huddled against the trunk of the great tree, as if willing it to protect him from the morning’s damp. He looked even gaunter than he had last night, if that was possible. Dark patches gathered under his mossy eyes, and a slash of sun fell across his face, lending him a haunted mien. His pack lay half open on the ground beside him.

“What took you so long?”

“I overslept,” said Sage. “You could have come for me, you know.”

“And risk Ruis’s wrath if I wasn’t here when he arrived?” Elwyn snorted. “I’m no fool.”

“Where is he?”

Elwyn scowled at her. “How should I know? When has he ever spared two words for me that weren’t strung together in anger?”

Sage blew out a loud breath. “Some plan. Barely an hour in and already the threads are unraveling. At this rate, we’ll be lucky if we make it out of the valley by nightfall.” She looked down at her brother – really  looked. A deep fear lurked behind the defiance in his eyes. “Are you sure you still want to go through with this?”

“What choice do we have?” He began to tremble.

Sage straightened his cloak, wrapping it closer about him. “What is it?”

“I had the dream again last night.” He shook harder, sweat springing out on his brow, despite the chill in the air. “Everything was the same – the  swarm of birds, the burning valley, the wolf with fur like golden flame. Only this time, he lay fallen on a bed of frost.”

“Was he dead? Is that what will happen if we don’t reach him in time?”

“I don’t know.” Elwyn pulled away from her. “I don’t know what will happen. Only what I saw.” He sank to the wet earth, drawing his knees up to his chest. His dark hair spilled down, draping his face in shadow. He looked so small and insignificant next to the gnarled roots of their parents’ aelder – like  a sapling, sheltering in its sire’s shadow.

“It’s not too late to back out, you know. If we’re caught—”

“I know!” He turned his face away. “We’ll be exiled.”

Exiled if we’re lucky. Sage ran a hand through her tangled hair. It really wasn’t too late. If they found Ruis in time, they could chalk last night’s talk up to too much aelderberry wine. But that’s not what their mother would have done. Mother had never hesitated to help those in need.

A twig snapped, echoing off the trees. Sage spun, heart hammering, her blade hissing from its sheath.

“Easy,” said Suil. “It’s only me.” She wore an aelder blade on one hip, her map case on the other. Though she’d dressed and donned her armor, she evidently hadn’t had time to properly bind her hair. A few wayward wisps already wriggled free, dancing in the breeze. Root and branch, but she looked beautiful. “You blush when you’re startled. Did you know? It’s cute.”

Sage felt herself flush even deeper. She slid her blade back into its sheath.

“Morning, little one.” Suil reached over and stroked the top of Scry’s head with one finger. She glanced down at Elwyn. “Morning to you, too.”

“Morning,” he grunted, not bothering to look up.

“Here.” Suil pressed a sheathed aelder blade into Sage’s hands. “You forgot this.”

“Thanks.” Sage held the blade a moment, feeling its weight. A necessity, she told herself. But that didn’t mean she had to like it. She passed the blade to Elwyn. “Just in case.”

He took it without a word and shoved it into his pack.

She knelt beside him. “I don’t know what dangers lie ahead,” she said. “But if it comes to it, leave the fighting to those of us with experience.”

“You don’t have to worry about me.” The hard glint in Elwyn’s eyes was enough to make her regret giving him the blade already.

“Still no sign of Ruis?” Suil patted the side of her head, noticed the stray strands, and pulled the whole mess free. She began meticulously piling the hair back up again, a length of twine clenched between her teeth.

Sage shook her head as she stood. “None.”

“So what’s our move?” Suil asked, around the twine. “Head to the stables, or keep waiting?”

Sage chewed her lip. The longer they delayed, the harder it would be to leave the valley unnoticed. “We’ve waited long enough. Let’s go find them. If anyone asks, we’ll say Bryn is sending us out on an early patrol.”

“On a rest day?”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

“What if we run into Bryn?”

Sage hauled Elwyn to his feet. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”

Suil rolled her eyes, tying up the last bit of hair. “You sure know how to lift a lady’s confidence.”

#

Speckled light spilled through the trees as the three Cyri crossed into the deepest part of the valley, the clammy reek of cold rain giving way to the comforting scents of pine and aelder. The morning promised to be warm – Scry  dozed on Sage’s shoulder, Suil danced through patches of sun-dappled grass – yet  Elwyn still shivered beneath his cloak.

The Aelderwood woke to the songs of larks and starlings, and the grumble of beasts scuffling in the undergrowth. A few Cyri had risen at last – farmers  tended forest goats, carpenters collected fallen limbs, and smiths stoked their forges. Sage forced herself to breathe. Rest day or not, no one had reason to question them. As long as they didn’t draw any attention—

“Shit,” hissed Suil. “Is that Rowyn? What’s he doing up?”

A spindly figure in rumpled robes lounged against the black trunk of an aelder, studying a piece of leafpaper with a strange symbol scrawled in charcoal on the back – three  spirals, joined as one.

Sage inhaled sharply. “Stay calm.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Bryn’s sending us out on patrol, remember?”

“Rowyn’s no fool,” said Suil. “He’ll see right through us. Plus, why would we bring Elwyn?”

“Just shut up and let me handle it.”

“Sage!” Rowyn called, tucking the paper into his sleeve.

“Uncle!” Sage called back.

Rowyn rose slowly. “You’re up early.” A smile creased his wrinkled face. His bushy hair had long since faded to gray, but his emerald eyes still sparkled with the mischief of youth. “On a rest day, no less.”

“So are you,” blurted Elwyn. Sage elbowed him, hard.

Rowyn waved a dismissive hand. “I never sleep more than a few hours these days. Where are you three off to, all armed and armored?”

“Bryn’s sending us on patrol,” said Sage. The lie came easily enough.

“Is she now?” Rowyn’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I suppose it will be good to get your minds off the Court’s decision. I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to speak after yesterday’s assembly. I wanted to explain—”

“I understand.” Sage brushed an imaginary speck of dirt off her trousers. “You have to consider what’s best for everyone.”

“Aye.” Rowyn nodded. “And Cyriu can’t be responsible for breaking the peace with the Edael—”

Sage cleared her throat before he could say, again. “Well, we’d better be going. Bryn will have our skins if we keep her waiting.” She tugged her brother’s cloak to get him moving. Suil was already three strides away, heading toward the stables.

“And where are you going, Elwyn?” Rowyn frowned as his eyes fell on the blade hilt poking out of Elwyn’s pack. “I know Arch Elder Nuin didn’t give you the day off.”

Sage froze. “I thought I’d let him help me saddle Aderyn before his lessons. You know, get his mind off things, like you said.” Damn. That didn’t sound even remotely credible.

But Rowyn seemed more concerned with Elwyn’s mood than Sage’s explanations. He squatted, knees cracking. “I hope you aren’t too disappointed, little leaf. But we just couldn’t risk sending the hart riders north. Not after what happened to your parents.”

Elwyn trembled. “I still dream about them,” he said, his voice cold and distant.

Rowyn laid a hand on Elwyn’s shoulder. “We all miss them terribly. At least in dreams, we have a way of keeping their memory alive.”

“They’re not those kind of dreams,” said Elwyn. “They’re the other kind.”

Rowyn sighed. “Elwyn, we’ve been through this. Dreaming a thing doesn’t make it real. I loved your parents like they were my own brother and sister. But what happened to them was an accident. A tragic accident, to be sure, but an accident all the same.” An accident of their own making, he could have said, if he wanted to be cruel. “There’s nothing you or I or anyone else could have done to prevent it.”

“But I saw them burn!” Elwyn insisted. “Just like I saw the birds, and the valley, and the golden wolf! If you had only listened to me—”

“I won’t be drawn into another quarrel,” said Rowyn, standing as quickly as his old bones would allow. “I thought Nuin had spoken to you about this.”

“We should be going anyway,” said Sage. “Right, Elwyn?” She gave his cloak another tug.

But her brother wouldn’t budge. “You say you loved our parents?” He glowered up at Rowyn. “Then tell the Arch Elder to reconsider. You can do that at least, can’t you? Or would standing up for someone other than yourself be too much to ask?”

Rage twisted across Rowyn’s face, and for a horrible moment, Sage feared he might actually strike her brother. She thrust herself in front of Elwyn, shoving him back. Scry, startled from his slumber, beat his wings against the air, hooting loudly.

But Rowyn only sighed. “You sound just like your mother,” he said, rubbing at his eyes. “I’ll speak with Nuin, but I promise you, nothing will come of it. Once she makes up her mind, she’s as stubborn as a hind in heat.” He may as well have been describing himself.

“Thank you, uncle,” said Sage, her voice even. “Don’t let us keep you.”

Rowyn offered Elwyn one final frown, then trudged off toward the southern end of the valley.

When he was out of earshot, Sage rounded on her brother. “What the hell was that?”

Elwyn shrugged. “It’ll keep him busy, won’t it?”

“Only until he and Nuin start wondering why you haven’t shown up for your lessons.” She pushed him toward Suil. “Come on. Let’s get to the stables before half the valley knows what we’re up to.”

Scry, sensing the excitement was over, settled back onto her shoulder and fell asleep.

#

The harts’ stables lay on the far side of the River Hafrian, nestled among half a dozen of the tallest aelders in the valley. Bryn kept the hinds and foals in a separate pen upriver, where the current wasn’t quite so strong. But down here, the water ran swift and deep, filling the still air with its playful cadence.

The three Cyri crossed along a creaking wooden bridge, and soon the gentle snort and whicker of the harts floated over to them through the trees. Most rested in their stalls – nibbling  at their brimming troughs, rubbing their antlers against the worn trunks, impatiently pawing the moss covered earth – but  four had been saddled, laden with bedrolls and provisions, and hitched to a nearby aelder. Sage’s own hart, Aderyn, was among them. He bobbed his head in greeting when he saw her.

“Is it them?” a voice whispered.

“It’s them.”

A thickset figure stepped from the trees. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was solidly built, muscles rippling over his burly frame, a lichen-black tangle of beard splashed across his nut brown jaw. He wore armor like Sage’s, forged from strips of latticed aelderbark, and held a greatsword in one hand.

“Sage.” Ruis’s deep voice carried an edge of anger under its usual warmth. “Where in Rhi Hydd’s name have you been?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” She wasn’t about to tell him they’d overslept. That would only anger him more. “Where’s your better half?”

“I’m here.” Beith appeared from behind one of the other aelders, pale hair falling like willow blossoms against her dark cheeks. She wrapped Sage in a tight embrace, jostling the bow slung over her shoulder.

“What happened?” Sage asked as they parted.

“Bryn saw us,” said Beith. “She was feeding the harts when we arrived.”

“I thought Rose was on duty this morning,” said Suil. They’d been counting on her to forget, like she always did.

“Apparently Bryn doesn’t trust her any more than we do,” Ruis grumbled, sliding his greatsword into its sheath. “Not on a rest day, anyway.”

“Why is everyone up so damned early this morning?” Sage fumed. “What did you tell her?”

“The truth,” said Ruis. “I told her we were taking our harts out for a ride.”

Sage raised an eyebrow. No rider in her right mind would give up a rest day for such a ridiculous reason.

“What was I supposed to say?” Ruis growled. “I wasn’t expecting to run into her, was I?”

“Well, did she believe you?”

He scratched at his beard. “I think so, but it was a close thing.”

“Lucky she trusts Beith,” said Sage. “Lucky you didn’t give us all away.”

“You’re one to talk,” snapped Ruis. “If you’d gotten here an hour ago—”

“We ran into Rowyn,” said Suil.

Ruis’s eyes widened. “Shit. You think he suspects anything?”

“I don’t know,” said Sage. “I can never tell with him. But either way we need to put the valley behind us by dusk. I mean to cross the Edelydd tonight, and I don’t want us thrashing about the Aelderwood in the dark.”

“Do you have the maps?” Beith asked.

Suil tapped the case at her hip. “Don’t worry. I won’t get us lost.” Despite the confidence in her voice, her lip quivered as she said this. She’d never traveled beyond the Edelydd. None of them had. This was all starting to feel far more real in the sober light of day.

Sage slipped her hand into Suil’s and gave it a squeeze. “If anyone wants out,” she said, “now’s your last chance. Once we leave Cyriu, there’s no turning back. Even if we succeed, even if we make it to Foriu and find this golden wolf, there’ll be no place for us here anymore.”

Ruis folded his arms, frowning down at Elwyn. “We’re risking a hell of a lot on this dream of yours.”

“I know what I saw,” said Elwyn.

Ruis turned to Sage. “You’re still committed to this madness?”

She nodded. “We might not be able to bring an army like we hoped, but we can at least bring a warning. It’s what our parents would have done.”

“Then let’s have no more talk of backing out,” said Ruis. “We’re with you. To the end.” Sage allowed herself a smile. For all his bluster, Ruis was unfailingly loyal.

“Now that the sun’s up, how do you plan on reaching the Edelydd unnoticed?” Beith asked.

“We’ll have to cross through Cynandau Grove,” said Sage, to groans of protest. She held up a hand for silence. “This isn’t the time for silly superstitions.” Though even she had to admit feeling a bit of dread at the thought of crossing through the grove. “We’ll walk the harts for now, at least until we reach the Edelydd. Except you, Elwyn. You’re riding.” Her brother was too small to tire Aderyn much, and he’d only slow them on foot.

The Cyri began making last minute adjustments to their saddles, armor, and weapons. All save Elwyn, who stood apart, staring off into the distance.

Sage waved him over to Aderyn. “Give me your pack.” As she secured it behind the bedrolls, she noticed a small shirt of aelderbark armor – just  Elwyn’s size – tied  up with the provisions. Ruis must have liberated it from the armory. She shook her head as she helped her brother into the saddle. It won’t come to that.

Elwyn caught her arm. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For believing me.”

She patted his leg. “Save your thanks. We’ve a long road ahead.” She spared a glance back to make sure the others were ready, then unhitched Aderyn’s reins and led him north into the trees.

#

The Cyri stole through the undergrowth, silent as shadows, their harts plodding along obediently behind them. An oppressive serenity had settled over the valley. Limbs shook with the grumble of distant thunder. Leaves rustled as the wind whispered through them. The sky spoke, and the forest trembled.

They reached Cynandau Grove without incident. The aelders here stood tall and proud, their bark a deep, dignified black. Each had grown from the grave of a fallen hart-rider – or  at least, those Rhi Hydd found worthy. Some claimed the spirits of the dead haunted this part of the valley. Utter rubbish, of course. But Sage felt a chill ripple down her spine all the same.

Don’t be a fool, she chided herself. But the sense of dread only grew stronger with each step. As they pressed toward the center of the grove, the trees shifted noticeably, becoming younger, less bent and weather worn. Sage slowed. Coming this way was a mistake. She wasn’t ready – might  never be ready.

The grove opened out into a large circle of bare earth where Elain, the Eternal Tree, had once stood. Nothing grew here now. No brush or bramble, not even a blade of grass. But just at the edge of the circle, two saplings pushed up from the leaf strewn earth, side by side. So small. So frail. The breath caught in Sage’s throat. She felt a tear slide down her cheek and rubbed it away hastily.

“We can stop if you like.” Suil spoke low, so the others couldn’t hear. “You know, say a few words.”

“There’s no time.” Sage’s voice came out a croak. She didn’t know what words she had in her. Only that they’d be inadequate. She tore her eyes away from the saplings and forced herself to put one foot in front of the other, leading Aderyn around the edge of the circle.

“Shouldn’t we at least say a prayer over the journey ahead?” Beith asked.

Sage doubted any amount of prayer would help them where they were going, but she didn’t want to appear cruel. “Make it quick.”

Beith tucked a loose strand of hair behind one ear. “Will you honor us, Elwyn?”

He nodded. “Merciful Elain, take root in our hearts—”

Sage bowed her head with the others, but she hardly heard a word. She stared at her ragged fingernails, her dirt-smudged toes – at  anything but the two young trees no more than a few strides away. Leaving Cyriu meant she’d probably never see them again. Never watch them grow tall. Never bask in their shade.

“—we pray this in the name of Elain, the Once-Eternal, whose roots and branches are one,” Elwyn finished.

“Amen,” said Beith.

“Amen,” Suil echoed.

Sage said nothing. She just turned away, dragging Aderyn with her into the trees.

#

“Quiet!” Ruis’s insistent whisper cut through the hushed wood. “Do you hear that?”

Sage tossed her reins to Suil and crept back through the trees, wincing at the cacophony of crunching leaves underfoot. “What is it?”

“I think we’re being followed.”

They’d been walking for hours, stopping only once to water the harts and eat a little food. Morning slid into afternoon, afternoon inched toward evening, and the once distant thunder rumbled closer with every passing minute, muffling all but their footfalls. Yet sure enough, if Sage strained her ears, she could just make out the unmistakable tread of harts’ hooves thudding through the undergrowth.

“What do we do?” asked Suil, creeping up behind them.

Sage glanced back at Elwyn, wide-eyed and shaking in Aderyn’s saddle. She wasn’t about to put him – or any of them – in danger unless she had to. Scry was awake now, perched on her brother’s shoulder. The tiny owl cocked his head at her. She sent him a mental command and he took to the air, flitting back the way they’d come.

“Scry’s going to find out how many there are.” Sage kept her voice low as she walked back to the harts. The sun had slipped behind the western mountains, steeping the whole forest in hazy light. “If there’s only a handful, we can probably outrun them. We’re almost to the Edelydd anyway. But if there’s more—” She let the thought hang. If there were more than half a dozen, she didn’t like their chances. “We should consider throwing ourselves on the Court’s mercy.”

Elwyn’s face darkened. “What about the golden wolf?”

“I’m not saying it’s my first choice—”

“Mother would never have given up so easily.” The ice in Elwyn’s words cut deeper than any blade.

“There’s another option,” said Ruis, letting one hand fall to the pommel of his greatsword.

“You can’t be serious,” said Suil.

“I’m sure as hell not going to die a traitor.” He grabbed his antlered helm from his saddle.

Suil caught his arm. “You’d rather die a kinslayer?”

“Only if I have to,” Ruis grunted, twisting free and slipping the helm over his head. “We talked about this possibility last night.”

“We said a lot of things last night!”

“Leave it!” hissed Sage. “No one’s killing anyone! It was a good plan, but we failed. We’ll take whatever punishment the Court hands out. But we’re not about to drag anyone else down with us.”

An image took shape in her mind, bright and urgent – a  dozen hart riders, armed, armored, and mounted, no more than a hundred strides away. A moment later, Scry landed on her shoulder.

“Shit,” Sage muttered under her breath.

“Well?” Ruis demanded. “How many?”

“Too many,” said Sage. “But there’s still time for the four of you to get to the Edelydd. I’ll stall them.”

No one moved.

“Go!” said Sage. “What are you waiting for?”

“I’ve never asked anyone to die for me,” said Ruis, folding his arms, “and I’m sure as hell not starting now. Whatever happens to one of us, happens to all.”

Sage looked from Ruis to Beith, from Suil to Elwyn, and found the same grim determination etched on every face. She shook her head, an absurd smirk tugging one corner of her mouth. “What a pack of fools.”

A dozen harts burst from the trees, antlers gleaming, russet coats glimmering in the fading sun. Half the riders carried bows, arrows loosely nocked. The other half brandished aelder blades. Sage knew each and every one of their faces. These were Cyri she’d ridden with. Cyri she trusted. Bryn rode at their head, her blade still sheathed. Rowyn rode beside her, unarmed.

“Didn’t think this through, did you, Sage?” Rowyn slid from the saddle with some difficulty.

“Hello, uncle,” said Sage. “We were just enjoying the autumn air. Care to join us?”

Rowyn strode stiffly over, his mouth a tight line. “This is hardly the time for jests. Do you realize what you’ve done? The Court will burn you for this!”

Sage bit back another glib reply. She’d known the pyre was a possibilty, but she hadn’t thought the Court would seriously consider it. The idea of being consumed in a blaze of smoke and flame, as helpless as a branch in a brushfire, terrified her. She couldn’t go out like that. Not like them.

“There’s no need for threats.” Bryn’s coarse voice broke the silence as she swung from her saddle, the dying light catching every pock and crater on her craggy face. “Why are you doing this, Sage?”

“I told you at the assembly,” said Sage. “The Edael mean to invade Foriu. Elwyn has seen it. We have to find this golden wolf. We have to warn the Fhaolan Clannes!”

Rowyn sneered. “You’d throw your future away on a dream?”

“Elwyn’s dreams don’t lie.” Sage forced the words through gritted teeth. “If we don’t bring warning, the Fhaolan will fall.”

“That’s none of our concern,” said Rowyn.

Sage fought the urge to grab his shoulders and shake some sense into him. “How can you be so thick-headed? We can’t keep pretending that wars beyond our borders mean nothing. What happens after the Edael slaughter every wolf and cub in Foriu? When they turn their eyes west? What then?”

A dangerous light danced in Rowyn’s eyes. “Don’t you dare lecture me about thick-headedness.” Sage opened her mouth to protest, but Rowyn pressed on. “Even if the Edael were invading Foriu, you’d still be deliberately disobeying the Aelder Court. You need to put emotion aside and show some humility in the face of authority!”

Sage worked her jaw. “Authority is fallible. My parents taught me that.”

Rowyn rubbed at his eyes with thumb and forefinger. “Your parents thought they could take the weight of the Isles on their shoulders, and they burned for it. I’m not about to let the same thing happen to you.”

“Fine.” Sage glared at him, offering her wrists. “Take me in. But let my friends go. This was my idea. Mine alone.” She heard Suil shift uncomfortably beside her.

“We’re bringing you all back,” said Rowyn, “for your own safety. If you come with us now, we can pretend this never happened.” He gestured to the hart-riders. “Take them.”

“Stand fast,” Bryn commanded.

“What in Rhi Hydd’s—” Rowyn began.

Bryn cut him off with a firm hand on his shoulder. “She’s right, Rowyn. Sooner or later, something will have to be done about the Edael. It’s only a matter of time before they get it into their heads to come charging across the Edelydd.”

Rowyn snorted. “That’s not going to happen unless we break the peace again by doing something foolish…like allowing five headstrong young Cyri to cross into Edael territory!”

“Don’t be naive,” said Bryn. “The peace means nothing to the Edael. If Gwyn and Cildyn’s deaths didn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.” She turned to Sage, giving her an appraising look. “I’m sure you know your mother could be quite…impetuous when the mood struck her. I’m glad to see you can be, too. You’ll need all the fire you can muster to reach Foriu in one piece.”

Sage gaped at Bryn. “You’re letting us go?”

“I needed to know you were doing this for the right reasons,” said Bryn. “Your little speech just now convinced me.”

“When the Arch Elder hears about this—” Rowyn spluttered.

“She’ll be furious,” said Bryn. “But that’s my burden to bear. And unless you can persuade my riders to start taking orders from you, there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

“You should come with us,” said Sage. “We could use your experience.”

Bryn shook her head. “Someone needs to stay here and smooth things over with the Court – make  sure you lot still have a home to come back to. I can’t promise the Arch Elder will be lenient, but I should be able to keep you off the pyre.”

“This is a mistake,” said Rowyn. “Beyond our borders, any Edael you run into will try to kill you, peace or no peace.”

“I know, uncle,” said Sage. “We’ll be careful.”

Rowyn sighed, a trace of genuine concern creeping into his voice. “Just…don’t let thoughts of revenge cloud your judgment. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to you.”

“If anyone can get this lot to Foriu and back, it’s Sage.” Bryn released her grip on Rowyn’s shoulder and beckoned. “A word?”

Sage followed her into the trees, leaving Rowyn and the others in awkward silence.

Bryn leaned against the trunk of a towering pine, and pulled a thin aelder blade from her belt, twirling it between her fingers. “This belonged to your mother. I found it next to—” She cleared her throat. Her voice had more grit in it than usual. “Your father gave it to her, you know, the night they pledged their troth. I’d planned to give it to you when you and Suil pledged yours. But now seems as good a time as any.” She offered it to Sage.

The blade was carved from the darkest aelder wood Sage had ever seen, its edge as keen as any iron-forged Edael sword. Sage remembered her mother wearing it, though the memory was worn at the edges like an old blanket, thin and threadbare from too much use. She swallowed the lump in her throat and slid the blade into her belt.

“Thank you.”

Bryn wrapped her in a fierce embrace. “I’m proud of you, no matter what happens.” There were tears on her pitted cheeks. For the first time, Sage noticed the deep creases around her eyes, the silver streaks in her mossy hair. When had she aged so? “Rowyn is, too. In his way.”

“I know.” Sage blinked away tears of her own.

They drifted back to the others under a swiftly purpling sky. Beith, Ruis, and Suil had mounted their harts and were looking to Sage expectantly. Rowyn stood apart, halfway between them and the rest of the riders, a look of contempt on his lined face.

Sage gave him a hug. “Cheer up, uncle. We’ll be back to irritate you before you know it.”

He returned the embrace after a moment’s hesitation. “Watch out for Elwyn,” he said. “Keep him safe.”

“I will.” She clambered up onto Aderyn’s saddle in front of her brother. “Everyone ready?”

Suil winked at Sage. “After you, fearless leader.”

“Elwyn?” Sage reached back and squeezed his hand.

“I’m ready.”

She flicked the reins, guiding Aderyn east. When she looked back, Rowyn, Bryn, and the other riders were indistinguishable from the trees.

#

The Aelderwood fell away in a matter of minutes, and the Cyri found themselves facing the Edelydd – leagues  upon leagues of desolate hills stretching to the unseen horizon. Somewhere in the distance, lightning crackled.

For a moment, Sage felt as though the earth had opened up in front her, and one more step would send her plunging headlong into the abyss. Then she thought of the two saplings at the edge of Cynandau Grove, and the legacy her parents had left behind. She nudged Aderyn out onto the barren breadth of the Edelydd and into the swallowing darkness.

Peter Behravesh - Managing Editor, Stonecoast Review Literary Arts Journal

Peter Adrian Behravesh has a B.A. in Contemporary Music and Recording from Eastern Nazarene College, and a Master Certificate in Songwriting and Guitar from Berklee College of Music. He is currently earning his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine. Peter spends his time writing science fiction and fantasy stories, poems, and songs.

Website: peteradrianbehravesh.com

Twitter: @pabehravesh