Atlaan is a land ruled by hidden politics. Shalo is the last human county standing; surrounded by prejudices and despised by all.
The first in a trilogy, ‘Discovery’ is about overcoming the odds, about family ties, and the unmistakable fear of not belonging.
Follow our central character, Malina Goodwin, who is forced from her home into the wilderness,
Follow Etillie Longthorn who continuously battles to escape the family she was born into,
Follow General Gray, playing the dangerous game of power,
and follow Henry Barlow, as he enters the ranks of the Shalo guard.
The day was dreary and the clouds threatened more rain. Etillie had spent the last few weeks dithering. She’d walk into the courtyard, head towards the stables with as much confidence as she could muster, then change her mind in seconds and would come running back to the safety of her bedroom.
Iris watched this odd dance and began to think that her daughter was more troubled than she had thought. Each day, Etillie had got closer and closer to the stables but it took two whole weeks before she managed to step inside them. However, this courageous act had seemed to knock her back to the start and it took yet another week for her to catch up. On the first attempt, she had flown from the stables as soon as Johnny had turned around.
“Etillie, you embarrass me,” Elease said one night at dinner. The forces were marching in the training yard, at General Gray’s command, only five minutes walk from the palace. Etillie yearned to watch them but she had been forced to sit in the dining room like a lady and eat alongside her sister.
“You act like a boy, yet you can’t even pick up a bow, let alone shoot an arrow!” Elease cackled and popped a grape into her mouth, sending Etillie a cruel look, wanting a response. Even Domestress Gwin, who had always woven her way into such arguments, had gone silent. When no answer came she continued, her voice ringing out in the large room.
“You’re nothing, Etillie. You have no skills or talents. You’re weak and pathetic.” Etillie shot daggers at her from her eyes, scraped back her chair and stormed from the room. It was dark outside and drizzling but she headed straight for the stables, determined to meet her brother at last, before Elease could contaminate him.
Johnny was scraping out a pen with a large shovel, too preoccupied to see her entrance. Many oil lamps burned on the walls, giving a candle-lit glow. Etillie walked right up to him – the closest she had ever been – yet still he didn’t notice her.
“Hello,” She said feebly.
All in a matter of seconds, the boy jumped, reached for his dagger in his belt, spun to face her and pinned her against the stable’s wooden walls which were plastered with dirt and cobwebs, the blade at her throat, cutting the surface.
“Oh…oh, I’m so sorry milady, I didn’t know it was you,” he said in a rough trader’s accent, turning red while putting his dagger away.
Etillie stood up as tall as she could and said, “I am not a lady.”
He smiled with a sparkle in his eye. “If you say so.”
Johnny had short black hair, dark brown, kind eyes and a face of stubble. Behind his rugged appearance was a warm smile.
“I could teach you to defend yourself, if you wanted.”
Etillie nodded, enthusiastically.
“Wait here,” he said, holding her against the wall. He disappeared into the darkness outside and returned with two thick wooden sticks. He tossed one to Etillie and she caught it easily. He raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Don’t stand head on to your opponent. Stand sideways with your sword in one hand. It gives your enemy a smaller target.” Etillie did as she was told. “Now try to hit me.”
She charged at him; sword in front.
“Dead” he said sternly, with the end of his sword pressing into her stomach. “You must always watch your opponent; don’t run at them like a bull. Again.”
This time, she stayed put and they sparred until her arm was aching with the weight.
“It’s so heavy!” She complained.
“This is just a stick,” he replied, looking at her with a warning glance. “It needs to be heavy to make you strong.”
The sword slipped from her hand and thudded onto the floor. He picked it up and held it out for her.
“You need a delicate but firm grip. It must be held with care. Now hit me.”
She managed to block his blows once or twice but didn’t come close to a hit.
“Dead,” he said, with his blade on her shoulder. “Blind!” he cried with his sword at her eyes. “Sliced,” he said calmly, resting the wood on her hip. He paused. Her hand clutched the sword so tightly, she had to stretch her fingers to relieve the pain.
“You’re holding it too tight. You need to listen to me, little lady.”
“I am not a lady!” she snapped, and jumped straight back into action. They played at swords for hours until Etillie slumped to the ground with exhaustion.
“You’re a quick learner, Etillie,” Johnny said. They sat against a large hay bale in one of the horse’s pens.
“You know my name?”
“Of course. Everyone in Shalo knows your name.” Etillie didn’t reply. It scared her to think that. “But not your face. Remember that.” He paused.“You’ll be quicker next time,” he said, breaking the silence.
“There will be a next time?” she said with excitement.
“If you want.” She nodded vigorously with a wide smile on her face.
“Why did it take so long for you to talk to me?” he asked.
She looked at him questioningly, pretending she didn’t understand what he meant. “You’ve been watching me for weeks, now. Why are you scared of me? I’m just a stable boy and you’re a…well – the Mayor’s daughter…”
A thought ran through Etillie’s mind and she decided it was for the best. She’d tell him the whole truth.
“Because you’re my brother,” she replied quietly.
“You know about that, then? Did your father tell you?”
“What? How do you know?”
“I’ve known all my life. Longthorn never let me forget it. I never knew who my mother was but I was always reminded who my father was.”
Etillie’s mouth hung open like a fish. She snapped it shut and looked away from him.
“I overheard General Gray and father talking about you…why didn’t you ever come to find me if you always knew?”
He laughed and stood up, towering over her. “I wasn’t allowed to set foot in the castle grounds until Mike Goodwin died.”
“My old tutor. I used to be a blacksmith. He was jailed and killed for harbouring an Outlaw in his home.”
Etillie recalled overhearing talk about an Outlaw who had managed to escape – it just never seemed important before so she’d paid little attention to it.
“You should go back, now. Your family are probably wondering where you are.” Johnny helped her onto her feet, her muscles already stiff and sore.
“Tomorrow evening?” she said, standing by the stable’s wooden door.
He nodded to her, patting a horse’s nose and watched her walk across the yard, lit by large flaming torches.
She struggled to sleep that night. Her mind swam with the excitements of that evening. “I am the sword, I am the sword,” she said out loud to herself. She did sleep eventually but her dreams were full of exhausting sword fights and she hardly felt rested at all when she woke the next morning.