The beautiful maiden Jewel is the center of her parent's joy. She is the embodiment of their true love and she has grown up surrounded by peace and love in abundance.
Jewel's world cruelly shatters when her parents are suddenly killed and she and her uncle Eoin are forced to flee. Leaving the only home she has ever known, Jewel learns that her parents, caught in a tangle of a tragic prophecy, had hidden in the marshland for years to protect the secret knowledge that Jewel is the last of the line of the Janus Jaravhor, the dreaded sorcerer of Strang. That she might be the one person in the world who could unlock the mysterious Dome that is told to hold all of Janus's secrets. And that King Maolmordha now knows of her existence and will stop at nothing to find her.
Pain and loss follow and Jewel must make her way alone. Rescued by a traveling band of Weathermasters, exalted magicians who control the heavens for the rich and powerful, she is taken to High Darioneth and is accepted into this tightly knit community.
Not just accepted, but loved, for one of the young weathermasters beheld her and his heart was lost.
Jewel is left with the promise of true love and a powerful secret. But which path will she choose--and who will suffer if she makes the wrong choice?
An interactive CD-ROM of the world of Tir will be included in the hardcover edition of The Well of Tears, which will allow the reader to enter into Dart-Thornton's creation and and experience all the wonders of this mystical and magical land.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Cecilia Dart-Thornton's interests include playing music, oil painting, graphic design, photography, and clay sculpture. She lives in Australia.
Chapter One Prophecy
For five nights and five days Jewel and Eoin fled on foot across sparsely wooded countryside, northward from the Great Marsh of Slievmordhu. Often they looked back, scanning the uninhabited landscape to see if anything was coming after them.
They could not discern any obvious signs of pursuit, but they made haste, nevertheless.
By day, sunlight silvered the ferns carpeting the bracken-woods, where tree-boles leaned against their own shadows. By night, the far-off constellations were gauzy scarves of white mist sewn with nearer stars as brilliant and hard as splinters of glass. The dark hours were also the wighting hours, their wind-murmuring quietude randomly punctuated by dim sounds of sobbing, thin, weird pipe-melodies, unintelligible singing, or bursts of rude, uncontrollable laughter.
The rations the wayfarers carried in their packs were scant, and dwindling fast. Their departure from the marsh had been precipitous; in their haste to escape before King Maolmórdha's troopers arrived, there had been no time to throw anything more by way of provisions into the canoe than a few lotus-corm loaves, some packets of dried fish, and a couple of leathern flasks.
"I'll catch a tasty treat for your supper this evening, little one," Eoin said to Jewel, in an effort to coax her out of her gloom, but she answered not a word. The girl spoke rarely, and her eyes, her blue eyes like two amethysts in caskets lidded with lapis lazuli, gazed out with a dreary and haunted look.
It was agonizing to dwell on the recent past, yet somehow she could not prevent herself from doing so. She had lost nearly everything she loved, everything that was familiar to her: family, home, pets, and possessions. Seeking for some comfort, Jewel glanced over at Eoin, her step-uncle and protector, for whom she felt an earnest fondness, knowing nothing of his role in her downfall.
As they plodded onward, the marshman was himself buried deep in thought, endlessly rebuking himself for the part he had played in Jewel's suffering. Had Eoin never revealed Jarred's identity to King Maolmórdha's minions, the king would not have learned that Jewel's father was descended from the notorious Sorcerer of Strang. Then the royal cavalry would not have come thundering along the road to the Great Marsh of Slievmordhu. Their pursuit would not have triggered Lilith's madness, and she would not have run to the cliff-top in a blind panic. Jarred would not have died trying to save his wife, and twelve-year-old Jewel would not have been forced to flee from her home.
Eoin blamed himself for all these tragedies. None of this would have happened if he, displaying a pettiness unworthy of a truly upright man, had not informed against his rival. Driven by his own vain jealousy, he had brought this fate of loss and exile upon the child he doted on, daughter of the woman he adored--and now he must do what he could to make reparation, although he ached, as if the fibers of his sinews had been shredded.
The marshman unhitched the slingshot from his belt and couched a stone in the strap. He was ready when, with the whirring of a hundred rapid spinning wheels, a brace of grouse flew up from the ferns beneath their feet. After whirling the weapon around his head, he let fly. He was lucky; a plump bird fell, wounded. Eoin wrung the bird's neck, plucked it, and roasted it over a campfire on the banks of a narrow stream. Succulent juices ran from the meat, but as enticing as the meal appeared, it tasted no better than sand in the melancholy mouths of the diners.
As if to punish himself, Eoin brought to mind the uncanny funeral he had lately witnessed in the city of Cathair Rua: a mock, staged affair, conducted by eldritch wights, the coffin containing a corpse whose face was the exact image of his own. Eoin had comprehended at once that he had viewed a prophecy of his own death; within a twelve-month he would perish. Somehow, as he brooded by the campfire, the prospect lent him some relief. If only he could bring Jewel to some safe haven before his final hour, he would be quite glad to lie down, relinquish his gut-wrenching remorse, and find peace.
After the joyless meal was over, Eoin went down to the stream to refill the water flasks.
As he knelt by the water, the flesh clenched on the nape of his neck and unaccountable fear shivered through him. A harsh voice had called from the brakes of fern, a voice like a cry from the long, hoarse throat of some wild bird.
Raising his head apprehensively, he saw a strange entity watching him from the other side of the stream. It was a stunted, man-like thing, strongly built and doughty. Its umber tunic and leggings were so ragged they appeared to be fashioned from withered bracken, and its frizzled hair was as russet as the sap-starved leaves of Autumn. Its eyes were bulbous, outlandishly huge, and they rolled beneath its shaggy red brows like the eyes of a wrathful bull.
"How dare ye come here slaughterin', ye miscreant?" it growled. "The wild creatures in this place are under my guardianship. If nuts and blackberries sustain me, that am their custodian, should they not be good enough for you? Step over to this bank, and I'll show you the victuals I gather."
Eoin guessed this was the Brown Man of the Muirs, a wight he vaguely recalled from old tales. As far as he could remember, the wight forbade hunting in its own domain. Horror engulfed Eoin, that he had offended an eldritch being, and for a moment he was daunted. Then it came to him that he was acting like a coward and, despising himself, he sprang up and set his foot on a tussock, preparing to jump across the stream. As he did so, he heard Jewel's young voice from somewhere behind him, crying out pitifully, "Uncle Eoin, where are you?"
He wheeled about. The little girl was running toward him, her hair and gown streaming behind her on the wind.
"Go back! Go back!" Eoin warned, but when he turned back again the Brown Man had disappeared. "Did you see it?" Eoin asked, as Jewel rushed up beside him.
"See what?" demanded Jewel. She tossed back the dark tangle of her tresses and folded her arms across her chest.
"That was the Brown Man of the Muirs, if I'm not mistaken," said Eoin, craning his neck to peer in amongst the crochet of fronds on the opposite bank. "He bade me cross the stream and join him, saying he would show me how to find nuts and berries. Come, let us ford the brook and seek him."
"Are you mad?" shouted Jewel disbelievingly. "If 'twas indeed the Brown Man, then 'twas only the running water that saved you! If you had crossed over, the wight would have torn you apart and not even your druid-sained amulet would have protected you!"
Bewildered, the marshman shook his head.
"Come away," said the little girl, her mournfulness now replaced by anger, "and hunt no more. Do you wish that I should lose you, too?"
Then, as suddenly as her mood had changed, it changed again. The light in her eyes dulled and her hands dropped listlessly by her sides.
Strung up on a gallows of jealousy, betrayal, and premonition, Eoin felt guilt tighten like a noose around his gullet. The child's evident wretchedness pained him excruciatingly. It was he who was to blame for her bereavement and exile, no one else.
"No," he mumbled. "Let us go on."
Once, as evening deepened to night and they passed through a young oak wood, they spied a twinkling of lights through the trees and caught the babble of voices. Not wishing to be discovered by bandits, they crept forward silently. There in a clearing they beheld a scene of feasting and revelry set out on the greensward under the stars: a long table, garlanded with moon-roses, laden with dishes piled high with delectable fare. As the two mortals cautiously approached, musicians struck up a merry jig and the guests began footing it around the table.
Marvelous to look upon were these dancers and musicians, some as fair as flowers, elegant, silk-haired, clad in rainbows of finery. Others were foul nightmares, squat as toadstools, crooked and lopsided as trees rooted on a windswept sea-cliff, bloated as leeches, quick as rats, long-legged, gangling, and knock-kneed as newborn foals, grinning like pumpkin lanterns, hopping like frogs, graceful as cats, scowling like belligerent gargoyles.
Knowing full well that they looked upon a gathering of no mortal creatures, Jewel and Eoin scarcely dared breathe, lest they betray their presence. Eldritch wights could not bear to be spied upon, and might exact some terrible revenge for such a crime.
Slowly the intruders backed away, but an incautious step snapped a twig. In that instant the twinkling lights went out as if the eyeballs of the mortals had been gouged from their sockets. Simultaneously the strains of music were cut off in mid-bar, and the babble of voices stopped in mid-word. All was silence and darkness.
Fortunately, the stars let down enough filaments of light through the oak leaves for the wayfarers to relocate their forest trail. Soon they were on their way once more, putting as much distance as possible between themselves and that spooky place before weariness overcame them and they made camp for the night.
Eleven days after the wayfarers had fled the Great Marsh of Slievmordhu, they found themselves in open country that climbed to meet the rounded shoulders of the Border Hills. Eoin had cut a staff of blackthorn-wood for himself, and a shorter length for Jewel. Using these for support, they plodded up a gentle slope of turf that had been cropped short by deer and wild goats, a smooth greensward strewn with low boulders and occasional clumps of the weed crowthistle.
Glancing ahead, Jewel fancied they were ascending a stairway to the sky. Out of the northwest, low, livid rainclouds were moving swiftly eastward, heavy with rain. Where sunlight struck them, they boiled out into puffs of luminous dazzle, pristine pillows of steam. Farther east, they broke up into islands in a blue sea that faded from cobalt at the zenith, merging to a haze of softest gray at the horizon.
A drawn-out sighing greeted them as they reached the top of a ridge, the sound of cool breezes breathing through a copse of beeches that crowded close together. Magpie-larks swooped, uttering their rusty-gate-hinge calls. As the wayfarers walked over the spine of the ridge and down into the copse, the trees loomed taller, towering overhead. Their wide-reaching boughs nodded gently, whispering; their shade was cool and dappled, the ground patterned with tender green blades and butter-curls of leaves, gold and brown. A path of sorts went winding between the boles. Here they rested for a while, seated with their backs against corrugated bark.
"When we come down out of these hills," said Eoin presently, "we shall leave Slievmordhu behind us. These are the borderlands. Narngalis lies ahead."
Solemnly, Jewel nodded.
Throughout their journey together, Eoin had never seen her smile. This was not to be wondered at. There was no reason for either of them to be mirthful. Wretchedness and weariness weighed upon him. He wondered how much Jewel knew, or guessed, about the part he had played in the ruination of her family, of her life. As ever, his thoughts flickered miserably back over the recent series of events, precipitated by a single, spiteful act born of his vindictiveness. Privately--so as not to cause further distress to Jewel--he pined grievously for Lilith. He was consumed by an unassuageable longing to return to that pivotal moment in time when he had stepped into the palace, so that he might erase his errors and change everything.
Having swallowed a mouthful of water, he and Jewel got up and continued on their way.
The colors of the wayfarers' raiment blended with those of the landscape. This was because they were covered in much of it. The marshman, gangling and long-jawed, was clad in the same gear he had been wearing throughout his helter-skelter ride from Cathair Rua. His soft leather leggings were travel-stained; his fine linen shirtsleeves had been rent, in places, by the protruding spurs of low vegetation through which he had pushed in haste. The gray stocking-cap he had purchased from the landlord of the "Ace and Cup" in Cathair Rua had fallen off long ago. The reddish knee-length tunic, now dirty brown, was coming unstitched at the seams. Its cheap woolen fabric was thin, and provided little warmth. When he woke from his brief slumbers, he was always shivering. His boots, however, were stout, and well endured the trials of swift passage across rough terrain.
The smudges on the face of the twelve-year-old girl walking at his side could not obscure her beauty. Her hair was as black and shiny as a handful of acacia seeds, and the dark locks clung together in a singular fashion, so that the tapered ends spiked forth like the new-budding tips of a fir tree. Narrow was her waist, no wider than the thigh of a grown man. Her skin was peaches-by-firelight; her mouth was the softly curved petal of a pink rose. She wore a linen kirtle beneath a woolen gown, and over her shoulders a traveling-cloak, lined with fur, clasped with a brooch of bronze. The matching traveling-hood hung behind her shoulders. Like her step-uncle, she had lost her other headgear; her scarf was dangling from a twig somewhere, having been swept from her scalp during that first frantic scramble away from the northern shores of the marsh. Her boots, like Eoin's, were well made. In happier days he had purchased them for her, as a present, from the most reputable cobbler in Cathair Rua.
Trudging beside Jewel along the verdant vales and wooded slopes of the Border Hills, Eoin was glad of his gift to the child. It was his fault she had been hounded from her home in search of an uncertain future, his fault, indirectly, that she was orphaned. The irony was that of all things that lived in Tir, he cared most for her.
The two wayfarers met no human being in these high places, only the mortal creatures of the wilderness, such as birds, insects, reptiles, beasts of hoof and horn. Sometimes in the gloaming they spied more wights--whether seelie or unseelie they could not tell, but they kept their distance. If human beings had ever dwelled in the Border Hills, they were long gone.
These were lonely lands.
As they journeyed, Eoin never let down his guard. The fear of pursuit remained strong in him still, accompanied by the awareness of clandestine eldritch activity all around. Furthermore, he was heavily burdened with a sense of responsibility for his step-niece, a desire to protect her from all harm, both because he loved her and because while defending her he could deceive himself that he was relieving his guilt.
He was unable to bring himself to talk to his young companion about the terrible events that had befallen her, never tried to break her long silences. Above all, he could not bear to inc...
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