The Chainborn Boy
Day 37 . Qirïdun . 8308 LM
NIGHT WAS FADING in the East. Icy mists were beginning to dry, and the air of Autumn quivered over the fields. On the coast, the spinning tide tossed up ash and the scent of salt and smoke. The East had a strangeness tonight, for those keen enough to feel it, like the calmness before terror or the mind’s thoughtlessness just before sleep. What remained of storm clouds were like fingerprints smudged across the metal-grey sky, and light dappled the greygrass as the Moon settled in Her place in the firmament. This sort of quiet was not new in the East, it fell on the most special of occasions, in many ways a gift, the nearest feeling that the people could have to peace. But it was not peace.
It was merely silence; broken.
Wheels grated along a road the inhabitants called Villain’s Run, stretched fifty miles on a thin isthmus between the Silent Swamps and the coast of the Ashen Sea. A dark stagecoach tumbled along the uneven ground, and inside, tossed like a buoy on stormy surf, an old man was checking his pockets. The long journey had wearied him, his elderly bones and muscles felt sanded down into the seat, but he had learnt there was no position more comfortable than another. From his pocket, he withdrew a handful of smoke, curled around his fingers like dark lace; it was a sign that his time was almost up. He let out a reserved sigh of relief, everything about the East unnerved him, and when he had learnt that he would be travelling there, just for a moment, he’d wondered if he could avoid it. Even before it had become a place for the banished and the convicted, he had hated it. For centuries, stories had told of greenbrier as thick as bone and mountains that crumbled in the wind, and of the Silent Swamps so-named for swallowing you before you could fight or think to scream.
He remembered what the creatures of the Forestlands, the half-ones, the beastfolk, the spirit-eyed, had called it: Na’rešeh, the “Untamed”, a place fit only for the uncontrollable. The East fulfilled that purpose. That was what the highborns all called the criminals now living there, those that could not be helped, the sort that needed to be penned and kept out of the way. Only now, they stood in his way, every overgrown branch and convict spy would try to keep him from what he had come from; but he would not give up.